Passing the Torch

 

by

 

Jane Daffron

 

 

 

The officer approached the large home on the knoll with quiet trepidation.  He knew what he had to do and yet, he was dreading it.  Two days before he’d made the trip back east to confront his growing fears, only to have them calmed and dispelled.  And yet, what he had done before had inflicted so much pain and so much hurt on the one person who most assuredly didn’t deserve it.

 

Placing the key in the lock, his stomach felt as if it were in an infinite number of knots.  As he walked in, the familiarity hit him square in the face.  How many times had he come through that door in his youth, bounding with energy, eager to face the occupants who lived there?  But today…today, he was not looking forward to passing through this door.

 

Seeing Constanza, the housekeeper, in the hallway, he smiled slightly.  “Is she here?”

           

“Si, Senor Sean…she is.  In his office,” the woman nodded.  She hesitated a moment, then added, “Sean…she is hurt.  Hurt in ways you cannot imagine.  Not since the Admiral died, have I seen her like this…”

 

“I know, Constanza…I know.  And hopefully, I’ve come to make it better.”

           

“If that is possible…only you can.  What you accused her of…hurt her.  No matter what…she is your mother.  And as long as I have known her and your father…never would it have ever been true.  She loved…loves…him too much and still grieves for him.”

 

Sean Pearce Nelson nodded and then hugged the woman.  Like her mother, Maria, before her, she cared for the Nelson family as if they were her own.  “I just hope she’ll forgive me…”

 

“She will…she is your mother.  Now…get in there.  I will not disturb you,” and pointed him toward the study.

 

He walked slowly toward the closed door at the end of the house.  This room had become Karen Davis Nelson's sanctuary since his father, Admiral Harriman Nelson, died.  She’d told him once that she felt close to him there, among his things.  His scent was there and it was almost as if he were still alive.  Taking hold of the door, he slowly opened it and walked in.  His eyes had to adjust to the dimness as he saw her sitting there, in his father’s leather chair, working on some papers.

 

“Mom?”

 

She looked up and put the papers down on the desk.  “Sean!”  Karen rose from the desk and came around to face him.  She backed up a few inches when she saw the set of his shoulders and body.  “Are you all right?”

 

“Yeah…I’m ok.  The shoulder still hurts a little, but I’ll live.”  He smiled just a bit.  “I guess I’m a little like Dad.”

 

“Your father wouldn’t stay still, either.  He hated Med Bay with a passion and trying to get him to follow Jamie’s orders was an ordeal in and of itself,” she commented softly.  “At least sit down.  Where have you been?  Lee said you took off in one of the Flying Subs…didn’t know where you were headed…” and yet, she did know where he’d been but didn’t want to let on that she knew.

 

He took a seat in one of the overstuffed Queen Anne chairs near the desk as she moved back around and seated herself in the leather chair.  He stiffened and then his eyes met hers.  “Mom…I came here…to apologize.  I said some things…that I shouldn’t have…to you.”

 

She nodded slightly and then quietly sank back into the chair, waiting for him to continue.

 

Sean moved a little in the chair and then stood, walking over to the window.  As he gazed out over the yard, so many vivid memories flooded back into his mind.  Memories of her, his father, and himself…all so happy.  How could he have ever accused her of such a terrible thing?  Finally, “Judd showed me a picture…one of you and Michael Briggs.  You were obviously making love.  He told me…gloated almost…that it was taken while you and Dad were married.  Pretty much called you a whore.  I didn’t believe him…at first; Mom…I didn’t want to…but I remembered what Dad had said about Briggs.  That he didn’t trust him.  And I remember a couple of times that he was at the house and how Dad acted toward him…and how you acted toward…and with him.”

 

Karen could see the immense hurt in her son’s eyes.  She knew Judd would do anything…anything…to get back at her for what she’d done to his father.  The fact that her own son had doubted her had wounded her very soul.  And yet the fact that he knew now what this evil man was finally up to strangely calmed her.

 

“Why didn’t you tell me about him, Mom?  I mean…Dad refused to when Caitlin was hurt.  All he’d ever say was that he was an old enemy.  Caitlin wouldn’t talk about it…I guess she was still too hurt over it.  But you…you should have told me.”

 

Karen drew in a deep breath and exhaled slowly.  Caitlin had told her this day would come…that he would demand to know.  She had wanted to tell him so many times, but there just never seemed to be a right time for it.  How do you tell your child that you deliberately and cold-bloodedly killed someone in a fit of rage?

 

“I wanted to, Sean,” she remarked as she forced herself to steel calmness.  “But your father…he saw no need to.  The only ones who really knew…were Lee, Chip, and one or two others.  Caitlin didn’t even know…until after the attack…as to whom and why.  Your father, I guess out of force of habit, operated on the basis of need to know.  And you children…all of you…didn’t need to know.  We wanted to shelter you all… It didn’t concern any of you until…  And we’d hoped that the problem would have been taken care of long ago.”  Then almost in a whisper, “Someone made a promise to me that it would…”

 

“Briggs,” he stated.

 

“Yes.”

 

“Is that why Dad didn’t like him?”

 

She got up and came around to him, placing her arm through his, and guiding him out of the room to the deck outside.  “That was a small part of it…but this…” and she swept her hand outward as she looked over the NIMR compound grounds.  “This was the biggest reason.  Many years ago, when your father first started the Institute, he was engaged to another woman…a woman by the name of Katherine Campbell.  She was a Marine Biologist and he’d met her at a symposium in Brussels and they fell in love. Anyway…she and your father were to have been married just a few weeks before Seaview’s keel was to have been laid.  Some foreign agents tried to get hold of the plans for Seaview’s reactor and they kidnapped Katherine.  Your father, Lord love’em …he and an old friend of his tried to concoct a plan to rescue her.  It succeeded…until he came back to his home and found her dead in the hallway that led back to the bedroom.  There was a note that said something to the effect about paybacks are a bitch, aren’t they?  Your father nearly went out of his mind with grief…he blamed himself for her death.”

 

“But why?  I mean…he didn’t do it.  Somebody else did…those agents…”

 

“Because your father…was your father, Sean.  He took things very personally where the people he loved and cared about were concerned.”  She sat down in one of the chairs and looked up at her son.  He was so much like his father, in so many ways.  “I don’t know if you’re aware of it or not, but your father might well have stayed a bachelor had it not been for Caitlin and her efforts at matchmaking.  He was concerned that, because of what he did and who he was, he would put people that he cared deeply for in danger   And that even included your Aunt Edith.”

 

“Yeah, but Caitlin did get the two of you together…” he smiled slightly at the comments about his sister.

 

“True…your sister took it into her head that your father and I belonged together not long after we came here.  In retrospect, even he finally laughed and admitted that he never really stood a chance against her.  You know how she can be when she digs her heels in.”  She looked out over the grounds and then back into her son’s eyes.  “Anyway…your father was determined that Seaview would be built, but he was running short of money.  He’d used a lot of his own personal funds to get things started but building a boat of Seaview’s caliber and size was way out of even his league for his own personal finances.  From what I understand, a couple of men approached him with an offer to help find who killed Katherine as well as the necessary funds to build the boat.  However, there was a catch.  He’d have to agree that the boat would be available for certain jobs ever so often.”

 

“Jobs?  What kind of jobs?”

 

A small smile graced her lips.  “Didn’t it ever seem odd to you that Seaview was allowed to carry ICBMs as well as nuclear tipped torpedoes?  A true research ship, no matter whether if it were a surface ship or sub, wouldn’t be allowed to have such weaponry, now would it?  Your father had to make a deal with the devil, so to speak.  And one of those men that approached him was Michael Briggs.  So, I guess, Michael’s had his hands in all of this since the beginning.”

 

“Ok…I can accept that…considering what Briggs’ has done for a living.  But how did you get into all of this?  I mean…”

 

“Well, I never realized any of this until after your father and I were married.  I came to know Michael before I ever knew your father.  I never knew the two were acquainted or had anything in any way, shape, form, or fashion to do with each other.  Michael and I became acquainted through a mutual friend.  Someone who was a friend of his and, ironically, I had dated for a very short period of time.  Michael showed up at the friend’s home one weekend when I was house sitting for him.”  Karen softly chuckled at that memory – her standing in her underwear with a log in her hand, ready to do battle with the man in white who’d walked in on her unannounced.  “I found him, ah, interesting, and apparently, he, ah, found me a bit out of the ordinary because we each independently made inquires about the other.  Michael had plenty of resources to use, considering where he worked, but I called an old friend of mine at NIS to make a small inquiry for me.  Well, lo and behold, he then showed up at Miramar when I did my first training stint and he ended up asking me out.  So…out of curiosity, I went.  We ended up dating about a year before I broke it off.”

 

Sean stood with one hand on the railing and glanced back at her.  “I know that part of it…he told me.  I went to see him, you know…I went to Virginia.”

 

She nodded and quietly remarked, “Yes…I know.  I just hope you found the answers you wanted, Sean.  Michael can be…a bit guarded at times…”

 

He fell silent and didn’t respond.

 

“It wasn’t until our wedding that I found out that your father knew Michael.  I had absolutely no idea.  I should have guessed, but…”

 

“He said that you used some sort of special equipment to rescue Dad from Judd’s father…”

 

“Yes…I did.”  She smiled a bit and laughed quietly.  “Michael tried to bluff me and tell me that he didn’t know what I was talking about.  Fortunately for me, and unfortunately for him, I held a couple of trump cards.  In the short time I was with him, I learned very quickly to listen and learn.  I knew about secret funding and where some of the ‘bodies’ were ‘buried.’  So…” and she shrugged her shoulders, “I used it.  Poor Michael…he didn’t know what hit him.  I really don’t think he expected something like that from me.  Anyway, again, I still had no idea that the two men knew each other.  I didn’t even know that Lee had done some jobs for the Firm, either.  However, in retrospect, it makes sense, considering that they did a lot of work for ONI.  And ONI often did work in cooperation with the CIA.”

 

Karen got up and walked over to the railing and stood by her son.  “As I said, I didn’t know until the day of our wedding about their acquaintance…and then much later about the full relationship.  Yes, Michael and I were intimate.  But that was way before I knew your father.  I don’t know if you can understand what I’m about to say to you…but I’m going to say it anyway.”

 

She took a deep breath, slowly exhaled and then quietly told him, “Michael entered my life about six years after Caitlin’s father died.  I wasn’t sure whether or not I was capable of caring about someone ever again, Sean.  I loved Robert so much and then he was taken away from us.  I disappeared inside myself for a period of time.  I took chances…risks…that maybe I shouldn’t have because of my grief.  And I couldn’t help Caitlin because I couldn’t help myself.  Then this man came along and slowly entered my life.  He didn’t make demands on me…didn’t try to rush me into anything.  He simply brought me back into the land of the living, Sean.  He showed me that I could be alive…have feelings that I thought I was incapable of having again.  The only problem was…he wouldn’t allow himself to have those same feelings.  In some ways, he had the same problem your father had.  Because of who he was and what he did, he couldn’t…or wouldn’t…allow himself to fully commit to anyone for fear of them getting hurt.  I needed more in my life and my heart than what he was willing to give.  So…I ended the relationship.  Ironically…it happened right when I got the word about my second training stint at Miramar.  And it was then that I met your father.  And as they say…the rest is history.”

 

“But I remember he’d show up here ever so often and Dad was not pleased.”

 

“True…but that was because of the unholy alliance between the Institute and the CIA.  Your father hated having to make that pact…but he had to if he wanted to get Seaview built.  They had the money…he didn’t.  It’s as simple as that,” she commented.  “As far as Judd is concerned…Michael contacted me when we got your father back from the militia camp.  He was able to confirm General Judd’s identity and it wasn’t until later, when Lee and R.C. were kidnapped, that we learned about the son.  I made the mistake then by not allowing Michael to take care of him.  Then…when Caitlin and Lee were attacked…I asked him to take care of the problem.  He promised me he would.  Your father, if you remember, told you, most emphatically, that the authorities would handle it.  Your father didn’t know that I’d contacted Michael about resolving the problem.  This was my daughter that Junior had attacked.  My daughter.  And it was all because of me.  You have no idea how much it tore me apart, Sean…no idea.  I wanted the bastard dead.  And I can’t honestly tell you right now that my feelings on that matter have changed.”

 

“But Briggs didn’t take care of it, did he?  He knew where he was the entire time and he didn’t do a goddamn thing about it.  How in God’s name could he allow this to happen if he ever cared about you or Caitlin…?”

 

“I can’t answer those questions, Sean…I really can’t.  Michael was already retired by that time…his access to certain resources was limited.  Judd’s smart…he’s very smart.  Sometimes, unfortunately, these things take time.  As to what you saw…the picture that you said Judd showed you…that was taken before I ever really knew or loved your father.”  Her eyes glistened as she looked out over the blue Pacific waters as the horizon touched a cloudless azure blue sky.  “I think that from the moment I sat eyes on your father, my heart was his.  I didn’t want to admit it…I could have killed Caitlin at times for trying to throw us together…but in the end…she was right and I guess I knew it all along.  In a strange way, I suppose I have Michael to thank for some of it.  He showed me that I had the right to be happy…to be a full person and not to be afraid of loving again.  Because of that…because I found a confidence I never knew I had through him…I was able to love your father fully and completely.  And because of your father…I have you.”

 

“I’m sorry, Mom…I really am.  I thought…” he quietly spoke.  “I didn’t want to believe it.  It went against every grain in my body…but the picture…”  He looked at her.  She was older now…not the firebrand he remembered from his youth.  She looked 20 years younger than her actual age and still could easily intimidate if she so chose…and yet, right now, he felt like an errant child.  Looking deep into her tearful eyes, he realized how very hurt she was and how much she missed his father.

 

She took his hand in hers, just like she had when he was a child.  “I know, Sean…and I know what it must have looked like…completely out of context.  How he got that picture, I can’t even begin to imagine.  Apparently, Michael had a mole in his corps that he never knew about.  But it was never, never taken after I met your father.  I loved him…so very much…and still do.  I told your father once that I was very lucky to have known what a true ‘soul mate’ is.  I’ve had two.  First Robert…then Harriman.  There’ll be no others.”  A soft smile appeared on her face, “I think you’re beginning to understand what that means…if a certain lady doctor is any indication.”

 

There was silence now between mother and son.  Sean hung his head and turned it slightly away.  He didn’t want Karen to see the shame he suddenly felt.  The feeling of guilt washed over him in such intense waves that he finally had to sit down.

 

The silence was deafening…lasting an eternity until the son of Harriman Nelson rose and took an all too familiar stance in front of the woman.  Then, in a voice so eerily similar, “I promise you…he will never hurt this family again.  If it takes me until the day I die…he won’t.”

 

There was a sadness that enveloped Karen Nelson’s features.  “Don’t make promises that you can’t keep, Sean.  I know your intentions are good…but don’t.  William Ashcroft Judd is evil personified.  In fact, I dare say, he’s ten times worse than his father.  Your father…” and she drew in a slow, deep breath, “Your father wanted him dead, but he never lived to see that day.  Secretly, I think, after Judd attacked Caitlin, Harriman would have literally killed the man with his bare hands if he could have found him, regardless of what he said to you, me and or to others.  I hope I’ll live to see the damn bastard dead…but who knows?  People like him…they somehow manage to slip right through and keep coming back.”

 

“Well…he’s about to find out what the Nelson family is really all about.  It’s time, Mom.  It’s time that he found out.”  A sly smile played on his lips.  “You’ve always said that I’m my father’s son.  Maybe it’s about time that he found out how true that really is.”  He leaned back against the railing and shoved his hands in his pockets.  His jaw set and his lips thinned.  “This is my fight now, Mom…you’ve had enough.  It’s time that Mr. Judd and I come to an understanding.”

 

There was a hardness in her son’s voice that suddenly frightened her.  If she closed her eyes, she could see Harriman standing right in front of her, in his classic stance, echoing those same words.  And yet, Sean had no idea of how far this man would go to destroy her and all those she loved.  She sighed.  Maybe he was right.  Maybe it was time…but that, in and of itself, scared her even more.

 

She whispered, “Never, ever underestimate him, Sean.  Never.

An eyebrow rose as his eyes narrowed somewhat.  “I’ve got an advantage here that you never had, Mom.  I’ve met the man.” And he slightly touched his sore shoulder.  “Believe me…I’ll never underestimate him again.”

 

 

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