Steve and Kayce sat side by side in front of the oak desk watching the Director silently study the file before him. Kayce shot her husband a questioning look and Steve just shrugged, confused as to why they were both urgently summoned to meet with Oscar in Rudy’s office in California. They knew it couldn’t be any adaptations to their bionic systems since Rudy was in Washington.
Sighing heavily and sliding off his gold-rimmed bifocals he slowly closed the file. Looking at the attractive couple in front of him he began with a sincere apology.
“I’m sorry. I’m afraid I require the services of both of you.”
Steve immediately nodded his head negatively, “Oh no Oscar, we had an agreement. Since we had Kyle you promised we would never, ever be sent on assignments at the same time.” Kayce remained calm waiting for their boss’ response.
“I realize that but I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t absolutely necessary.” Kayce saw Steve take a deep breath to angrily express his distaste for the situation when the young woman placed a soothing hand on his forearm, “Steve let’s at least hear what he has to say, Okay?” Steve glared at his wife with a raised brow indicating his surprise that she was on Oscar’s side and he was not happy about it. Kayce was in fact on no one’s ‘side’ so to speak, she just knew getting angry and yelling back and forth was not productive.
“Thank you Kayce. I received word yesterday that the main part of our new defense satellite was stolen and will be auctioned off three days from today. We think we’ve located its whereabouts but it is very heavily secured. It will take both of you with your bionics to get in, get the item and get out.”
Steve spoke in a skeptical tone, “I don’t know Oscar, it sounds like a simple grab and run assignment to me.” He eyed his boss with an icy stare effectively telling him it was going to take a lot of convincing before he would allow his wife to accompany him on a dangerous assignment when they had a two-year-old child at home.
Oscar stood and walked to the window overlooking the grassy lawn. “This package is the brains of the satellite. It is suppose to replace the one already in orbit protecting us from our enemies. The same satellite that I’m told will be obsolete in the next thirty days because the Russians, and who knows who else, can now access it. This item is only two feet square in size but it weights almost 150 pounds.” I need one of you to be able to carry it and cover a lot of rugged ground quickly on foot.”
“Why both of us?” Kayce asked curiously.
“I wanted to just send Steve but with the heavy security he may make it in and out with some difficulty. The Secretary wants me to send both as reassurance that the mission will be successful, the equipment is that important. On this assignment failure is not an option.” He said sternly. Steve’s gaze went to his wife still not sure he wanted to agree to the situation. Oscar saw the non-verbal communication between the two, he couldn’t understand what was being communicated but he knew something was. “Steve, I tried to reason with the Secretary but he was adamant. Look at it this way, with the two of you together you can watch each other’s back.”
Kayce gave her spouse a wicked grin, “I certainly don’t mind watching your backside if you don’t mind watching mine.”
Steve’s thin lips bent into a crooked grin, “I always enjoy watching your backside.” He punctuated it with a wink and Kayce giggled.
“Well?” Oscar asked for confirmation that his two best agents would agree to participate.
Kayce gave Steve a slight nod and Steve replied for the both of them, “We’re in with one condition.” The couple stood to leave.
“We don’t leave until tomorrow.” Kayce eyed Steve with a furled brow wondering why that was so important.
“Done, I can brief you on the plane. I’ll send a car to get you tomorrow at 0400 hours.” Steve held the door open for his wife and said goodbye.
Heading down the hallway Kayce inquired why Steve wanted the delayed start. He looked at her with a serious expression, “There’s something important that needs to be taken care of.” He laid a gentle hand on the small of her back leading her through the exit door towards the parking lot. She had a strong suspicion she already knew what had to be done. It wasn’t long before they were entering the office of Dale Friedman, Attorney at Law.
Dale was an old high school friend of Steve, a man whom Steve trusted like a brother. Without needing to provide details Steve explained their time sensitive situation and it only took an hour before the papers were ready to be signed. Steve was glad he and Kayce had already spoken to their friends before making it legal. Opening the car door to allow Kayce to slip in Steve assured her, “Honey, it’s just a precaution.”
“I know.” She replied softly while sliding onto the leather seat.
Steve jumped in and saw the concerned look on her face, “Kayce we already talked about this. You agreed it was a good idea. What’s wrong?”
She gave him a weak smile, “I know what I said. Since getting to know Jaime and her husband Tom over the past year I know we made the right decision. It’s just…”
“A mother doesn’t like to think of someone else raising her child.”
Steve gave her a grin, “I have news for you, a father doesn’t like to think about it either. I honestly don’t think it will come to that. We make a great team no matter what we do together and it’s an easy assignment. We’ll be fine.” He patted her knee and added, “Beside I plan on growing very old with you.” They exchanged warm smiles and drove from the parking lot.
Steve dropped Kayce off at his parent’s house where they had dropped Kyle earlier in the day. Kayce explained the upcoming situation with Helen and Jim while Steve headed to Jaime’s house.
Jaime, dressed in a tee shirt and denim overalls, was surprised to see Steve parking in her driveway. She stood from her kneeling position in her flower garden and met him half way across the lavish lawn brushing the dirt from her hands as she went.
“Hi!” She greeted enthusiastically.
“Hi.” Steve replied plainly.
“What’s wrong?” Steve took a deep breath. He was able to keep up a strong and confident front for Kayce but on his way to Jaime’s he was having second thoughts on their upcoming mission.
“Oscar is sending Kayce and me on assignment.” He eyed her blue eyes, which showed her shock.
“He’s sending you out together?” She knew Oscar could be cold but this was unbelievable. Steve just nodded, “We agreed to go.”
Jaime was stunned. Steve continued, “It sounds like an easy drop and recover. The Secretary wants to be sure it’s successful so he ordered Oscar to send us both.”
“I see.” Jaime could see the tension causing Steve’s whole body to stiffen.
“I just wanted you to know Kayce and I had the guardianship papers drawn up today just in case. You know, better safe than sorry.”
“I understand.” She could see the worry clouding his azure eyes. “Steve I’m sure you and Kayce will be fine but if for some reason…. well…. you can be sure Tom and I will love Kyle as if he was ours. I mean who couldn’t love that little guy, he’s adorable!” She added to ease the tension and Steve smiled. “He will also get to spend as much time with his grandparents as possible.” He smiled at her ability to ease his mind. “Do you need us to take care of him while you are gone?”
“No. Mom and Dad are going to watch him.” He let out a long exhale, “Thanks Jaime, you don’t know what this means to me…to both of us.” She wrapped her arms around him and held him tight.
“You be careful okay?” She whispered into his ear.
“You bet.” He kissed her cheek and returned to his car. As Jaime watched him drive away she felt a chill run down her spine.
That evening the couple had a relaxing family dinner with the Elgin’s. Helen was more than happy to pamper her children with their favorites even though both of the pair insisted it was not necessary. The younger parents spent some time with Kyle before heading home, alone.
Kayce was still feeling confident that tomorrow’s assignment would be a success but Steve still felt an air of foreboding hanging over him. The experienced operative pacified himself with the thought that he was just anxious because now there was a child included in the equation. He glanced at his pretty wife across the front seat from him and she looked his way with a smile. He weakly returned it and a thought flashed through his mind, this could possibly be their last night together.
Arriving at their home well after dark they went right to the bedroom. Standing at the dresser emptying his pockets of his wallet and change Steve silently watched his wife begin getting ready for bed. As she ambled across the room to the closet he gracefully stepped in front of her. The two stared into each other’s face and Kayce got lost in the turmoil that was swirling in his blue eyes. She knew he was worried about the mission. Neither said a word a he placed a gentle hand on her jaw line and kissed her tenderly. Not wanting to stop there he deepened the kiss and slid her already unbuttoned blouse off her shoulders before pulling her against him. Kayce had no desire to resist his attention and went about her own task of undoing his shirt.
As the minutes ticked off the couple intimately explored each other’s body allowing their souls to touch, like so many occasions before, but this time they both could feel a difference. Most times, with their hectic schedules their lovemaking sessions were frequently done in haste and abbreviated. This night, however, it was slow, lingering and deliberate, with a desire to make it special, make it last. Halfway through their coupling there was an air of desperation that was almost tangible to Kayce. She wondered if Steve knew something she didn’t. Silently lying together in the afterglow she almost gave in to the tears that threatened to fall from her tired eyes.
Oscar yelled to get his voice to rise above the drone of the plane’s engines. Kayce and Steve sat in front of him both dressed on black jumpsuits, their helmets on their laps. The informed man covered the last minute details of the assignment before standing to wish them luck. Seeing the yellow light flash the couple stood, donned their helmets then pulled their goggles into place.
Oscar was tense wondering if Kayce would panic at the thought of jumping from the plane. Steve had told his boss she had only made three jumps in her life and that his wife had a fear of heights. Oscar was shocked knowing she had been in small planes since she was twenty years old. Steve told him she liked the false security of the thin metal airframe. Being out in the air with nothing but a silk chute terrified her. Stepping to the open doorway Steve also wondered if she would go through with this without him having to shove her reluctantly out the open door.
As soon as the green light went on the two men at the door anxiously glanced at one another before staring at the young woman. She immediately knew what was going through their minds. If she thought too much on what she was about to do, she knew she would freeze up so she quickly leaned towards them and yelled to Steve, “Last one down has to bury the chutes!” In a blur she was out the door. Steve just shook his head, gave Oscar a proud smile and followed after his wife.
They landed quickly and Steve set about burying the chutes. Kayce was well aware that with his skill and experience in skydiving her husband could have easily beaten her to the landing but knew his chivalrous nature would not allow him to watch his wife dig a hole big enough to bury two parachutes, bionics or no bionics.
As Steve went about the necessary chore Kayce checked her compass and crude map of the of the east coast of Central America.
“Ready?” He asked and with a nod from the woman they took off in a run through the dense trees, away from the rising sun.
Keeping themselves camouflaged in the brush the pair watched the comings and goings at the large estate over the hill. Steve described what he was seeing with his telephoto lens. There were two armed guards at the entrance to the secured outbuilding that housed their target. There was a third armed man patrolling the perimeter of the house. Oscar sent his team in at daybreak knowing from the latest intelligence report that the security force was doubled at night with the expectation that if the satellite component were to be stolen the attempt would be made under darkness.
Steve chewed the inside of his lip as he tried to think of a diversion that would be sure to lure all three guards from their posts simultaneously and keep them occupied long enough for them to grab their target. Kayce moved her gaze from the layout of the grounds to her silent husband. She quietly giggled at his furled brow.
He gave her a raised brow that asked the question, ‘what’s so funny?’
Her knowing smile grew into a grin and she whispered, “You’re thinking too hard.” She stood and pulled off her jumpsuit already sure her idea would work. Steve watched her and tried to figure out what she was planning. She quickly reached down and, with swift bionic tug, tore her jeans at her upper thigh.
“Give me ten minutes and those guys will be too distracted to see anyone break into that building.” Steve smiled at her plan knowing any full-blooded human male would not be able to resist her physical attributes, especially when she deliberately flaunted them. Before heading to the expensive home she whispered with a wink, “I’ll only be thinking of you sweetheart.” Releasing her shoulder length hair from her ponytail she was off in a light trot, her hair flowing around her face.
The two men guarding the steel bolted door were busy lighting their morning cigarettes when Kayce came on the scene. They never actually saw her but instead heard the splash as her body entered the cool chlorinated water near them. The two men, along with the third one guarding the perimeter, moved quickly to the poolside to investigate. Their eyes were as big as the grins on their faces at the sight before them.
Steve quickly doffed his jumpsuit as soon as Kayce headed off. He had full confidence on her ability to handle herself amongst the three men. He ran towards the house to get ready for her introduction. As he pressed his back against the house and peeked around its corner he was momentarily distracted by the poolside display, his mouth falling open with those of the other males, watching the newly arrived mermaid show herself.
She surfaced gracefully in the shallow end and came to a stand. Tilting her head back she gathered her long hair with both hands to squeeze the water out of the strands. Looking upward she saw the three pairs of eyes on her now see-through white tank top, the morning sunlight dancing off the water’s surface around her waist. From her lower position she saw her husband, through the audience’s legs, breaking the door lock giving him access to the vault.
She shot the spectators a dazzling smile and using a thick French accent innocently apologized for trespassing. None of the men answered, still stunned yet enthralled by the unexpected break in their dull morning routine.
“I’m sorry but my car broke down and I’ve been walking for miles. With the sun getting so hot I thought I’d cool off in this beautiful pool. I hope that’s okay.”
Not getting a response she was concerned they either didn’t understand English or were not buying her story. The guard on the left shifted his gun to a more useful position making her heart race faster. Between the men she saw Steve exit the storage room with the large case and hop over the small decorative wall. The suspicious guards began to scan the area without leaving the young intruder’s presence. An anxious Kayce was sure they would see Steve who was heading to the property’s edge. Needing to gain the armed men’s undivided attention she smiled and shamelessly exited the pool.
Watching from his crouched position in the wooded area Steve focused his telephoto lens on the scene and was mesmerized by her uninhibited display. Kayce slowly made her way up the four cement steps to exit the pool. He was shocked that she was only wearing her tank top and lace panties, both soaking wet. He reluctantly pulled his gaze from the beautiful woman donning her blouse and denim shorts to watch the three guards. With their eyes on the tanned beauty before them they stood stone still, their weapons conveniently positioned just below their belts. Steve just smiled as he moved off into the trees.
Steve waited for her at the point where they had separated and Kayce was soon at his side taking her sidearm from under her discarded jumpsuit. She returned the weapon on her belt then headed towards the pickup area when he turned her towards him. Steve was grinning from ear to ear. “I can’t believe you just did that. Here I thought I married a shy woman.” Steve stated trying to sound shocked and appalled.
She smiled back at him, “Steve I show more bare skin in a bikini when we go to the beach. Besides it got the job done.” She replied matter-of-factly.
He pulled her into a tight embrace, kissing her passionately. “You are incorrigible.” He said after they broke off the heated contact. She gave him a seductive grin, “You liked it huh?” He nodded with a smile and followed her swift lead carrying the package.
They only got a few yards from the residence when they heard a jeep fast approaching along the road. Ducking into the thick green foliage they remained unnoticed while the vehicle passed them by.
Kayce asked in a whisper, “Do you think they are onto us?”
Steve relayed his thought as he considered the possibility, “There may have been a silent alarm that our intelligence missed. Anyway it doesn’t matter we’re getting out of here now.”
Thinking it was clear to move they stood to continue their trek but before they could begin gunfire immediately echoed through the trees. Steve instantly dropped to the ground feeling the white hot pain in his back and chest.
Sucking in his breath he immediately staggered back to his feet and Kayce grabbed the case he had dropped. “Steve you’re hit!” She eyed the redness creeping onto his tan shirt.
He grabbed her hand and without a word began running towards their ride, knowing he had limited time. As his legs pumped furiously to keep the frantic pace he was grateful his heart rate and oxygen intake did not increase with physical activity. He needed his man-made legs to carry him the whole way. Unfortunately the bullet had done too much damage as it passed right through his upper body. Even if he had remained stationary the bleeding still would have caused him to weaken. Slowing, his steps faltered and he fell. Kayce was instantly at his side amazed at how much ground he had covered with his injury.
She helped him sit with his back against a large tree before scanning the area for unwanted visitors. Glancing at her watch she calculated they had been running full out for about ten minutes, getting them at least ten miles from their enemy.
She knelt next to the panting man. Steve groaned as she tried to stifle the bleeding. He knew what he had to do, “Kayce listen to me.” She looked up at his face. “You need to get the package to the chopper. You only have 10 minutes to cover 12 miles.”
“Steve I can’t leave you here!” She replied incredulously.
“You don’t have a choice Kayce. This is more important than either of us or what we want. You know that.” The young woman’s vision blurred as the water filled her eyes. She couldn’t leave him there to die alone. She couldn’t believe he was asking her to. “Kayce…please.” Steve pleaded knowing they were both running out of time. He placed his hand on her forearm that was applying pressure to his chest. She remained silent, her tears telling him how much pain the decision was causing her. Unable to speak she just nodded. “I’ll be okay Kayce. I’ll radio Oscar. He’ll send a chopper for me.” Looking at the blood loss Kayce wasn’t sure he could hang on that long especially with the enemy so close.
“Okay but take this you might need it.” Pulling her sidearm from her belt she handed it to him. Steve hated guns but he took it to appease her. She took a long look at his handsome face, beaded with sweat and filled with pain from the wound inflicted by the lead bullet. She leaned over him and whispered, “I’ll see you soon.”
“You bet.” He said as confidently as he could knowing it was a lie. The pair shared a deep kiss before the young woman picked up the heavy package and took off in a bionic run through the forest to the landing site. She could barely see where her rapid footsteps fell through the salty tears that steadily ran down her face at the thought of her injured husband left behind.
Steve groaned as he reached to his belt to retrieve his radio. He knew his wife better than anyone, knew what she would do in this situation. He quickly called Oscar to put things into motion that would prevent Kayce’s unsafe return.
“Snow White this is Grumpy. Do you read?” Steve was struggling to stay conscious long enough to protect the woman he loved.
“This is Snow White go ahead.”
In pain and unable to take a deep breath Steve strained to get the words out clearly. “Doc is on her way… to deliver the package… I’m out of the game so listen closely... Radio the chopper… make sure she gets on board… Have the crew… tell her you are already sending someone… to pick me up… It’s the only way she will get on board.” Steve stopped to take as deep a breath as the white-hot pain would allow, his breathing becoming irregular. Looking at the blood soaking his shirt he heard Oscar’s sullen tone, “I’ll send another for pickup.”
“No. It’s too late…No use risking more lives… for one that’s already lost.”
“Is there anything I can do to help?” Oscar asked in a sullen tone.
“Yes... help my wife get through this.” Oscar was too choked up to answer knowing what his friend was telling him. Steve voice carried through the box again, “Someone’s coming. I won’t let them take me.” In his weaken struggle to sit upright Steve’s tight grip on his radio kept it cued and Oscar could hear what was happening. Suddenly a gunshot was heard and only silence met Oscar’s repeated radio call as the hand went slack and the radio dropped onto the dirt.
The chopper settled onto the ground at the exact pick up time. With no one waiting they wondered if the operatives had failed at their mission. Seeing as they were not presently under fire, the pilot decided to wait a couple minutes before they aborted the pick up. Oscar’s voice echoed through their headsets, their orders were clear.
Suddenly they saw movement at the tree line and neither man was ready for the sight before them. The thin sandy-haired woman was running at an incredible pace carrying the heavy object she was sent to get as if it was only a two pound briefcase. She quickly swung it onto the chopper floor and yelled to the armed crewmember standing outside the rotorcraft, “I need to get my partner.” She tried to turn away and his strong hand on her arm stopped her. “Goldman has already sent another chopper for him ma’am. We have orders to take you back with us.”
“But I can’t leave him!” She screamed over the rotor blast.
The young military man pulled her toward the open door. “You won’t get there in time. They are probably already in the air.” She stepped on board unsure whether to believe the man or not. Deciding she had no choice she took her seat as the chopper lifted off.
On the aircraft carrier just off the coast Oscar paced the floor waiting for the unpleasant task of informing Kayce of what just transpired. He saw the black helicopter land on the ship’s deck and watched her fast strides carry her towards him as two the military men lifted the box carrying the satellite components into another helicopter for its return to NASA.
“Where is he? Are they back yet?” She eyed her boss not realizing he would manipulate her, as he just did, at her husband’s urging.
“Kayce sit down.” She stopped and stared at his face, the color draining from her face.
“He’s dead isn’t he?” She choked out seeing the sad look on his face. She thought it would be difficult to handle but not as difficult as what she was about to hear. “Where is he?” She demanded.
“He’s not here.”
“What do you mean he’s not here? They said you sent a chopper to get him.” She asked in a very controlled voice.
“Kayce, I’m sorry. He wasn’t brought back.”
“WHAT?! MY GOD WE HAVE TO GET HIM! HE’S HURT!” She jumped to her feet to exit the office.
“Kayce wait! It’s no use he’s already gone.”
She eyed him as the tears filled her eyes once again, her stomach tightening at the ramifications of what he was saying. If his words were true she left him there alone to die.
Oscar tried to explain the radio call but she refused to believe him. He insisted he was being truthful but she turned towards the helicopter, intent on flying in herself to get Steve. Knowing he had to stop her, Oscar offered to replay the recorded radio conversation. She stopped at the doorway a moment before turning to face the tall man pushing the ‘play’ button on the recorder. Standing still with her arms crossed against her blood-stained white blouse, Kayce braced herself for the sound of the familiar voice. Unable to believe what Steve did to prevent her from coming back for him her eyes closed as she cried quietly until the unexpected gunshot startled her.
“What was that?” She asked.
“Kayce he didn’t want to be taken prisoner in his injured state. He knew they would torture him. I’m assuming he turned the gun on himself to prevent that from happening.”
The distraught young woman choked down the bile that was rising in her throat. “My God, I gave him the gun. No, this can’t be happening. Steve would not take his own life, he wouldn’t.”
Oscar didn’t have a response that would sooth her tortured heart. He stepped forward to comfort her but she turned to head to the chopper. “Kayce where are you going?”
“At least I can bring his body home.” She spit out without looking back at the emotionless man. Oscar made the mistake of grabbing her right arm to stop her forgetting her strength. She spun and grabbed his arm with her left hand. Using her bionic strength she squeezed just enough to inflict sufficient pain to emphasize her point. “I am going in there to get my husband. I shouldn’t have left him in the first place. You can try and stop me but I will hurt you if I have to.” Seeing her challenging, icy blue stare Oscar released her arm knowing there was no way he could stop her. He nodded to the crew to re-board the chopper and hopped in behind her.
It only took half an hour for the pilot to bring the aircraft to the coordinates provided by the distraught young woman hanging out the open side door. Kayce wasn’t sure she was ready to see what was located below the treetops. The chopper was pointed towards the small landing area just yards from where she had left Steve. The anxious woman was out of the black machine before it even touched down. Oscar and the sole crewmember stood armed and poised to respond to enemy fire if it should arise. Oscar followed Kayce into the trees and found her standing at the base of a pine tree, frozen in place. He came to stand beside her. After swiftly scanning the area for unfriendlies he followed her gaze until his eyes fell upon the large blood stained section of dirt at her feet.
He heard her choke back the sob and placed a hand on her shoulder. Oscar noticed the marks in the dirt that clearly indicated Steve’s body was dragged off through the forest. Kayce was not hearing her boss’ insistent tone of voice telling her they had to go. She was shocked back to reality when gunfire erupted, bullets splintering the trees around them. She took off in a run while Oscar followed firing off all eleven rounds from his 9mm automatic at the approaching enemy. When the frightened pair cleared the forest the military man at the chopper returned fire blindly into the trees with his M-16 while the two jumped into the helicopter already leaving the ground. Kayce never said a word for the entire flight back.
As soon as they returned to the ship Oscar led Kayce, numb with grief, directly to the other rotorcraft, which was already fueled and held the secured satellite component. On their way back to California Oscar decided not to call ahead. He didn’t know what to tell Rudy at this moment as he stared at the grief-stricken woman across from him.
Linda, Dr. Wells’ assistant, brought the descending chopper to the doctor’s attention as it set down on the spacious lawn of the OSI property. He didn’t wait to see the passengers to deplane as he was already headed outside. He knew there was only one reason for Oscar to land the huge machine right at his doorstep. He just couldn’t understand why the director didn’t call ahead if Steve or Kayce were injured.
Oscar was quick to meet Rudy on the grass. Kayce remained in the large black bird trying to get control of herself. She felt if she stepped off the chopper it would make this whole situation real, too real, and she just couldn’t come to terms with what she had done. She sat frozen in her seat, oblivious to the world around her, an unending flow of warm tears silently falling down her cheeks.
“Oscar what’s going on? Is someone hurt?” He watched the tall man take in a shaky breath. When he made eye contact with the physician the unshed tears were obvious.
“I need you to look after Kayce; she’s in the chopper, while I make some calls.”
“Where’s Steve?” He asked in a low tone, feeling he knew the answer.
“He’s dead.” It was all he could choke out with the lump that was blocking his throat. Feeling like he was losing control he quickly sidestepped the doctor and headed inside, the wetness slowly covering his cheeks.
Rudy didn’t have time to allow the information to completely sink in. He covered the grass between the building and the helicopter swiftly, stunned at what he saw in the chopper. The two crewmembers just stood outside politely giving the grieving woman some space.
Rudy stepped into the rotorcraft and knelt in front of her. She stared out the window not even noticing his presence. Rudy reached up and touched her arm. “Kayce?”
She remained still and silent.
“Kayce, I need you to come with me okay?” She turned and her glazed eyes looked in the direction of the familiar voice but didn’t really see the person behind it. She stood without a word and allowed the soft-spoken man to lead her to the medical center. Halfway to their destination Kayce suddenly stopped and stared off into the distance. Rudy just waited and soon heard the soft voice.
“I left him Rudy. My God, I’m his wife and I just left him there.” Her gaze fell on the doctor’s sad brown eyes as she finished, “I left him to die alone.” Rudy wrapped a sympathetic arm around her and they moved on.
He got her settled on the couch in his office and was concerned at her unfocused stare. He quickly checked her over and was relieved the blood stains on her white blouse were not from wounds on her body. ‘It must be Steve’s blood,’ he thought as he stood and turned to Linda.
“Try to get that blouse off of her, Okay?” He whispered. Linda nodded and assisted Kayce with removing her blouse. The dark-haired lab assistance helped the traumatized woman lie down and placed a blanket over her shivering form. She told the Kayce that she would find another shirt to put over her tank top to keep her warm.
Kayce did not reply but remained staring at the ceiling. Oscar and Rudy witnessed the one-sided conversation before Oscar placed an arm over the doctor’s shoulder and led him to the adjoining room. He filled Rudy in on what had happen to their friend. During their short conversation the director rolled up his shirt sleeves causing Rudy to notice a large bruise on Oscar’s bare forearm. The tall man noticed the doctor’s stare, “I tried to stop her from going back for him. I forgot about her strength.” Rudy nodded knowingly, grateful she didn’t break Oscar’s arm.
Rudy went to talk to Kayce but she remained silent for over an hour, not even making eye contact with her friends. Oscar returned after completing a series of calls that completed the secure transport of the satellite component to a NASA facility.
He looked at Rudy who just nodded. “She’s still in shock and exhausted.” He explained removing a sedative from his drug cabinet. Oscar remained silent as the doctor injected the drug that would temporarily take the young woman’s pain away.
Almost two months crawled by and Kayce slowly learned to live with the grief and guilt that constantly saddled her shoulders. Oscar tried to honor his friend’s last request but Kayce would not speak to Oscar. She felt he could have done something to save Steve but chose not to. She could never forgive him for his part in the deception to get her back to the ship, even if it was Steve’s idea. Seeing how Rudy already had a rapport with the young woman Oscar stepped back and allowed Rudy to help her through this.
Rudy met with her on a weekly basis to help her work through the pain. She vented her anger at the OSI and God himself but she directed most of the anger at herself for leaving Steve’s side. Rudy tried to have at least daily contact with her even if it was just a phone call. It was weeks until she started eating normally again and sleeping without the help of sleeping pills. She suffered from daily anxiety and flashbacks that prompted Rudy to prescribe something to help.
His mother and grandparents looked after Kyle. The inquisitive child frequently asked when his daddy was coming home. The two-year-old’s mind could not grasp the idea of death or why his daddy could not be with him.
Back in Central America Steve was busy with his survival. He still didn’t have all the details of how he came to be with this unique man with the long white hair. He staggered out of the cave dwelling and slid down the rugged wall at the entrance, too weak to proceed further. With the sun shining down on him his mind reviewed what he knew.
He remembered the mission and Kayce heading off with the satellite component. He could recall talking to Oscar in the radio. He vaguely remembered the tall figure approach him and firing his weapon blindly at the shadow, his vision turning black as unconsciousness fell upon him.
His next memory was waking up here in the back country confused and in pain. An old white-haired man with a weathered face was talking to him while tending to his wound. His savior’s name was Dan Whitecloud, a Sioux Indian who was now living as a hermit here in Central America.
The experienced shaman explained to Steve that he was shot once in the back, the bullet exiting his upper chest. He treated the gravely injured man with old Indian remedies, herbs, roots and poultices. Steve thought back and could recall hearing Indian chants from a distance. The injured man was unconscious for most of three weeks from both blood loss and a raging fever. The older man admitted he didn’t think his new friend would survive his injuries.
When Steve asked how an American Indian ended up in Central America the healer was elusive, only stating he worked at the large mansion 20 miles away as a grounds keeper. Steve realized it was the same house he and Kayce lifted the package from. The operative also learned that the owner of the residence, a well-known businessman by the name of Robert Van Buren, was branching out into arms trading and other things. The elder man was not happy that his employer was selling out his native land.
As the days passed and Steve was more lucid he asked more questions about the man that saved his life. He was surprised how much the Indian knew of the goings on in the weapons trade. It would seem the old man frequently made himself part of the background, remaining silent and unnoticed, listening to what was going on around the estate.
He learned of who was involved in the daily operations. At one point Steve became intrigued by a supplier who went by the name ‘The Patriot’. The old white-haired man said he only saw ‘The Patriot’ once and suspected he was an American official of some sort, having high connections in Washington. Steve, who was still too weak to move about, stared at the cave ceiling trying to get a mental picture of the traitor. He was told the man had a stocky build, receding hairline and was in his forties. Knowing that could be many people in the government’s employ, Steve asked about anything unique about him. The old man, while handing Steve some soup from the fireside pot, seemed to recall a ring on the man’s little finger. It was gold with a chess piece on it. Steve’s eyes grew wide with shock and he sat up swiftly, immediately regretting his impulsive action as the pain in his back and chest re-introduced itself with a vengeance. He began panting as the man tried to force him back down.
“You said the ring had a chess figure on it. Do you know what it was? Was it a rook?” He asked urgently.
The healer paused to think before nodding in affirmation. Steve was shocked. There was only one forty-something man he could think of that was balding, stocky, and wore a unique signet ring with a rook on his little finger…Hansen.
Steve looked up at the bright sun as he shifted against the cave entrance. With his weak and injured body needing so much sleep to heal he had trouble with knowing how much time had elapsed since the mission. From what the old man had told him it occurred over a month ago.
Steve let out a heavy sigh as his thoughts turned to Kayce. He prayed she got out safely but was sure she was racked with grief thinking he had died. He wanted to go to her but now, with this new information, he felt he may need to investigate further, especially if Hansen was involved, besides the young man was far from strong enough to leave the cave let alone the area just yet. Hoping to make the most of his down time Steve planned to gain more information from the older man.
A few days later Steve was provided with that information, as ‘The Patriot’ had made a visit to the house while Dan Whitecloud was busy fixing up the garden. The men were meeting on the patio and Whitecloud took full advantage of it.
The white-haired man returned to his dwelling to find Steve trying to move about the area. He knew the young man was trying to gain some strength back before he could make his way home. Home, Steve thought with a smile, where his wife and son were waiting for him.
Over their dinner the Indian shared with his new friend what he had learned. He knew it would interest the young man since it involved him and his wife. It shocked Steve to hear that he and Kayce were set up on their last mission. Fortunately it was still a success for the OSI but it concerned Steve that apparently someone high up in the Defense Department was trying to get the two operative’s killed. ‘Why?’ he thought.
After three months Kayce was as close to her old self as Rudy figured she ever would be. He saw her less often and when he did she seemed healthy. It only caused him little concern when he was called upon for a special Defense Department project being completed at the Colorado Springs complex. He was told it would be for a period of seven months in which he would be confined there.
Driving to Kayce’s house Rudy worried how she would take the news. He had become her anchor and when things got too bad for her, knowing he was only a phone call away. Several times she had contacted him as the nightmares or the flashbacks returned to haunt her.
When the door to the Austin home opened Rudy’s eyes, finding nothing at his eye level, traveled down to the little blue-eyed tow-headed boy who answered the door. “Hi Uncle Rudy.” He gave the doctor the familiar lopsided grin that broke Rudy’s heart, reminding him how much he missed his friend. Stepping in the door he wondered if it had the same affect on Kayce when she looked at the increasingly familiar face on her son.
He tousled the boy’s sandy blonde hair, “Hi Kyle. Is your mother here?”
The little tyke took Rudy’s hand and led him to the family room where Kayce was on the phone. She hung up as they entered. “Hi Rudy. What’s up?” She greeted with a smile which he gratefully returned.
While Kyle busied himself with his toys on the floor Rudy sat down on the couch next to Kayce. “I wanted to let you know they are sending me to Colorado for several months.”
Kayce smiled. “Let me guess you are worried I’m going to fall apart while you are gone.”
“No, not really….okay maybe a little.” He saw her gaze fall on her son. “I’m okay Rudy, really.” She nodded to the little boy, “I have to be, you know?” She gave him a smile as he nodded.
“Is there anything you need before I go?”
“Nothing that I can think of.” She stood and gave him a hug, “Have a good trip.”
“Thanks and you know you can call my office if there’s an emergency. I’ll be checking in with them daily.”
“We’ll be fine Rudy. Don’t worry so much.”
“Okay.” He replied. “See you later Kyle.” The young child looked up, “See ya.” And went back to his toys.
In the following days Kayce did her best to keep busy, determined not to let the bad memories shake her, proving to the concerned doctor that she was able to move on with her life. Cleaning up the dinner dishes and she noticed it was time to change the wall calendar. She reached up to flip to the next month when she froze. The fifth of the month was to be her third wedding anniversary. She closed her eyes when the vision of bleeding Steve panting against the tree shoved itself into her awareness. She forced the picture from her mind but the sadness remained. Her mind was brought back to the present by a tap on her leg.
“Mommy would you read me a story?” Her son asked looking up at her with a hopeful expression.
“Sure Kyle. You go pick one out and I’ll be right in okay?” He smiled before running into the family room. As Kayce finished with the dishes, a feeling to sadness filling her heart, she looked into the other room and saw Kyle tucked into the corner of the over stuffed couch looking at his book. He looked so sweet she smiled. ‘I wish you could be here with us Steve.’ She thought before heading to join her son, wiping the tears as she went.
The days passed uneventfully and while folding the laundry one day Kayce was surprised by a midmorning knock on her door. Opening it she came face to face with an unfamiliar delivery man. He requested her signature on the form that rested atop his clipboard. She complied and accepted the small package that held her name. Thanking him she slowly closed the front door eyeing the small parcel with curiosity. She slowly un-wrapped it and sank quickly into the closest chair.
Taking a slow deep breath she opened the box to find a dazzling sapphire and diamond ring. She also found a small card that accompanied it and she read it slowly.
To my dearest Kayce,
These sapphire stones remind me of your beautiful dark blue eyes, the same eyes I hope to look into for the next 50 years. Happy Anniversary Sweetheart.
All my love, Steve.”
The young widow carefully removed the ring from its box and slid it onto her right hand with tears welling up in her eyes. She curled up on the chair and cried until no more tears were left. She never knew the human heart could feel so much pain. She quickly pulled her outer self together when she heard Kyle waking from his nap.
Ever since the delivery of the anniversary gift five days ago Kayce was sinking quickly into a very deep depression. The helplessness she felt was overwhelming. Telephoning Helen Kayce asked if her mother-in-law could take Kyle for a few days. Helen was more than willing but was concerned that Kayce never explained why. The Elgin’s knew the OSI would not send Kayce away after becoming a single mother.
Helen arrived to get the cute little boy and was surprised to see Kayce’s disheveled appearance. “Kayce is everything alright?”
“Yes Helen everything is fine. I just need you to watch Kayce for a few days while I take care of a few things.”
Helen wasn’t sure she believed her daughter in law’s reason but nodded understandingly not wanting to pry. Steve’s mother remembered all too well what it was like when she was notified of her first husband’s death in World War II shortly after Steve’s birth. Carl Austin never even got to hold his son. Being a young widow with a small child is a tough situation to experience. Helen’s heart went out to her Daughter-in-law.
Helen placed an empathetic hand on Kayce’s arm and explained, “I remember when Steve’s father was killed in the War. I was in shock for weeks. I just couldn’t believe he was dead.”
Kayce gave her a weak smile, “That’s just it Helen…I don’t believe Steve is dead…at least not all the time. I just don’t feel it in here.” The young woman laid her hand over her heart. Helen returned the smile, “You will dear, you will. It just takes time to sink in that’s all.” Kayce squeezed her mother-in-law’s hand knowing she didn’t understand what she was trying to say. “Your son will help you move forward. I know my little boy helped me more than he ever knew.”
When called Kyle came running to his grandmother excited about spending a few days at grandma and grandpa’s house. Kayce knelt down in front of the boy who was slowly growing into a smaller version of her deceased husband, wrapping her motherly arms around him. After requesting that he behave himself she told him she loved him and kissed him goodbye.
Helen was still concerned as she pulled out of the driveway. She planned on contacting Kayce in a day or two to be sure she was doing okay. Helen tried to reassure herself the young widow just needed time to work through some things then she would be back to her old self again.
On the third day Helen contacted Kayce by phone around noon. She was surprised when her daughter in law sounded like she had been asleep and slightly disoriented. Once again Kayce assured her she was fine but asked that Kyle stay with her and Jim a little longer. Even though her instincts told her Kayce was not fine Helen agreed and said her goodbye. While keeping an eye on her grandson playing with Steve’s old Lincoln Logs on the living room floor with Jim she picked up the receiver and dialed Rudy’s number.
The pieces to the puzzle were beginning to fall into place for Steve but with some pieces still missing the big picture wasn’t clear. It would seem ‘The Patriot’, also known as Hansen, former Director of the NSB, was supplying Van Buren with secret weapons he had acquired illegally. Mr. Van Buren had a legitimate cruise line business, Fantasy Cruise Line, and would use it to transport items without detection. It would seem Hansen and Van Buren were becoming millionaires at the expense of America’s national security. Hansen’s new residence on a cruise ship explained how he could stay hidden yet continue his treasonous work. His name was no doubt excluded from the ships manifest.
Steve let a smile grow on his face thinking how good it would feel to get to Hansen. He recalled how the man had him kidnapped and sold to Dr. Jeffery Dolenz for experimental study causing Steve to be seriously injured. Dolenz, his assistant and, of course Hansen, got away clean. The recovering man shook his head realizing that was over three years ago. He had almost given up on ever finding the elusive Mr. Hansen.
Steve’s made the heart wrenching decision to remain deceased so he could move about undetected. He needed a plan and Dan Whitecloud was more than willing to assist. Steve was curious why the Indian was so willing to help him. The old man explained he had done some bad things in his younger years that caused him to be a wanted man. He fled the United States fifteen years ago. Whitecloud look upon this as his way of making up for the things he had done, change his Karma so to speak. He also shared with Steve that he had children and possibly grandchildren, he never met, still living in the U.S. and was concerned for their safety if foreign enemies were threatening his native land.
During his next day at the estate the Indian searched through the owner’s desk, acquiring the information Steve required. The grounds keeper also passed on there was a project the business partners were planning. Something was being transported soon by cruise ship but it didn’t have a destination or buyer, at least not yet. Steve asked what the item was but Dan said it was never discussed in detail.
Whatever it was it would be held on the ship until a buyer arrived. It was then that Dan gave Steve the cruise ship’s name and schedule, including 5 ports of call. It was a 12 day cruise in the Caribbean; Steve was elated when Whitecloud informed the operative that ‘The Patriot’ was expected to be on board. Steve’s smile turned into a grin with the thought of an unexpected vacation in the sun.