She entered the darkened room quietly. A tall stately woman stood at the foot of the bed, watching and guarding the occupant. Marella nodded at Karen and gestured to the chair at the bedside. Karen Nelson slid into the chair and simply looked at the man next to her…. Each woman had her own thoughts about the man who now lay dying in the elegant colonial bed. Both had been intimate with him, and both had cared for and about him in their own different ways.
Somewhere, off in the distance, the sounds of Mozart emanated from the air as both women stood a silent vigil beside a man who had influenced both their lives. Karen looked at Marella, “Has he been conscious?”
Her coal black eyes never left drifted from his form. “He drifts in and out. The doctor says the end is very near. I’m glad that you came, Mrs. Nelson.”
She smiled sadly at Michael Coldsmith Briggs’ assistant. The years since she has last seen her had treated Marella very well. She still retained her exotic looks and beauty. Karen knew that the woman had long loved Michael, and that, like so many other things in his life, he had been oblivious to it, which made her all the sadder.
“Thank you for calling me. And letting me know.”
“He didn’t want you to know until it was over… I couldn’t do that to him…or to you.” She finally moved over to the window and solemnly looked out over the manicured grounds of the vast estate.
“Somehow, that fits what he'd want to do...but," and she managed a slight smile, "I really don't think he'd mind that you didn't exactly follow the rules...” Karen turned to the bed and lifted a hand. A hand that at one time had held and welded enormous power. A hand that had killed as easily as it had loved. She looked at the long slender fingers and remembered the feel of them on her body so long ago… remembered how he had made love to her…what he had taught her… She took the hand and held it to her cheek. A great sadness filled her as she knew she was losing one more important link to her past. She sighed and put his hand back on the bed, still holding onto it. She looked at the face, still handsome even at his age. She smiled, remembering the sardonic look that he often gave; remembering the wry smile the also frequented his lips. And she remembered the smile that he shared with her in intimate moments, one that was totally free of the mask that he always wore.
A single tear slid down her cheek, sliding to her hand, and wetting the coverlet on the bed. As she sat there, he moved slightly, opening his eyes slowly, feeling the gentle pressure on his hand. Blue eyes looked at her and momentary disbelief showed.
Softly, “What the hell are you doing here? I told them not to call you.”
She smiled gently at him, his usual controlling persona still evident even now. “Well…sometimes, orders don't exactly get followed...sometimes, they're bent...or disregarded. You know that. Besides, when Marella called me...I wanted to come. Just because you said for me not to come...that wasn't good enough to keep me away.”
He cleared his throat, looking at the woman in white now at the foot of the bed. “Thank you.” Marella nodded and quietly left the room. He said softly to Karen, “And thank you…for coming …even though…”
“I know…” she smiled gently at him. “You didn’t want me here…but, Michael, I wanted to thank you… one last time… for a lot of the things you’ve been in my life, Michael. Everything….”
He sighed softly. “I only have one thing, … to say, Karen.” He sighed again, his hand gripping hers more tightly. “Now that you're here, I want you to know…”
“Michael, just give me a moment…I know time is short… but please, let me finish… I want you to know that I am forever grateful to you for all you taught me, shared with me…gave me.” She touched his face. “For being Caitlin and my ‘Guardian Angel’ and taking care of all my family…Thank you, Michael.”
He sighed. He took a deep breath, and covered their clasped hands with his other. “You’re welcome, Karen Davis.” He took her hand and brought it slowly to his lips. “I didn’t do so well sometimes, but…I tried. I really did try.” He coughed slightly, his breathing becoming more labored. “There’s one more thing…I want you to know….” He kissed it tenderly, “Of all the women that I’ve known… that I was ever with… I loved only two...the last, well, I let her get away from me. It’s the biggest single regret of my somewhat less than sterling life. Regretted it from the moment she walked out of the bedroom, until this day. I chose not to tell her that I loved her. And for that…I am sorry.” His hand touched the tears running down her cheek. “I do love you, Karen.” He kissed her hand again, and let her hand rest entwined with his. “I’m sorry, Karen, but I need to sleep now… I’m just so…tired. Thank you again for coming to me…Thank you…”
He closed his eyes and began to breathe in a light pattern. Karen looked up as Marella re-entered the room, coming to stand on the other side of the bed. Both women kept a brief vigil, for shortly after Marella returned, Michael’s breathing slowed even further…then finally, without a sound, it stopped. His grip on Karen’s hand loosened and his face softened. Death came to him quietly and easily, ironic after the life he had led.
Karen looked up at Marella. “I’m sorry. I’ll miss him.”
“We all will,” she said
softly. “The Firm could never really replace him, so the ‘corps’ was
disbanded. We each went our own way, but he left us well taken care of
from his own personal fortune.”
“I’m sure he did.” She slowly rose from the chair. “I’ll be leaving, Marella. My transportation home’s at the airstrip. If you could have a car…?”
“You’re not staying?”
“No. You and I both know he’d hate the pomp and circumstance. And I don’t want to be part of it… to start the old Virginia rumor mill going after his death. You don’t know how the FFVs would love to have something to say. He deserves better and I’m not going to be the one to give them the ‘gossip of the month’.”
The other woman nodded. “The car will be down front in five minutes. I’ll see to it myself.”
She came around the bed, and extended a hand to Karen. Impulsively, Karen pulled her into a gentle hug. “Thank you again,” she said huskily. "He, ah, was always special to me...regardless of everything..."
The other woman wiped her own tears, then went to the nightstand by the bed and withdrew an envelope. Turning, she handed it to Karen. “He wanted me to make sure you had this…a few days…after it…” She caught herself and then continued, “He didn’t want you to come but I knew he needed to see you…and you needed to see him. He dictated this a few days ago, Karen. He knew he didn’t have much time. Read it on your way home. I think…it will be more appropriate that way.” And she quietly walked out the door.
Karen moved back to the bed, and bending over, kissed Michael’s lips one last time and whispered, “Goodbye, Michael …” She brushed the back of her hand against his still warm cheek and then left the room as quietly as she had entered it.
She watched the cottony clouds pass slowly by outside the window of the jet as they cruised at 40,000 feet. The unopened letter lay on her lap. For the longest time now, she couldn’t bear to open it. In some small way, she was almost afraid of what it’d say. She was tired of goodbyes. Those she loved…they’d all said goodbye and now, now she was beginning to feel so alone. Finally, almost absentmindedly, she picked it up and gingerly ran her finger under the hardened wax sealing on the back. Carefully, she withdrew the letter and started to read….
If you’re reading this, then I’ve gone on to whatever the universe holds for me. I have directed that this letter be personally delivered to you by one of my ‘corps’ – I didn’t want it to come by mail – you know that was never my way of things.
The reason for this letter, I guess, is to tell you what I could never do while I was alive.
I remember when I first met you…..up at String's cabin at Big Bear Lake. Remember? You were walking around in your underwear when I just happened to walk in. I really thought you would have hit me with that log, you know? I wouldn't have blamed you - you were supposed to be alone there and I show up unannounced. Then later, when I approached you at the airfield, you were almost aloof. I have to admit, at that particular point, you reminded me of me for just a bit. But as I got to know you, I realized how very real you were…and how vulnerable you really were, regardless of what you wanted everyone else to think. You loved with your heart, Karen…with not only your heart, but with your mind and your body. I guess, at that time in my life, I couldn’t give all that you really needed, and I’m really very sorry about that. More than you will ever know.
The day you left for your 2nd tour at Miramar, we parted on not so good terms. I don’t think you ever really understood my job. Then again, maybe you understood it far more than I ever knew. When you called me to help you find Harriman Nelson, I didn’t want you to ever know that I already knew where you were. I’d always known. Whether you realized it or not, I’d always managed to try to make sure you were all right. You and Caitlin. Funny – I somehow imagined her as my daughter, even tho she’s very much yours. She has your spunk, Karen – your heart. Maybe not your drive – but she’s definitely your daughter.
And then you met Harriman Nelson.
Nelson was able to give you what I couldn’t, Karen. He gave you himself, in every way possible. I could never do that – you knew that – and that’s why you fell in love with him and married him. He loved you, Karen…just as I know you loved him. Your son came to see me after Drew Morton was rescued - you knew that. Judd had made accusations about us to Sean. Things that were not true at the time. Once upon a time, before Nelson…but not since then. I hope your son realizes how lucky he is to have had you as his mother…and to have had Nelson as his father. He’s a fine man, Karen…definitely your son…and most definitely the son of Harriman Nelson.
Now that you’re finally reading this, I can tell you here what I could never do before. You, in a strange way, became my link to the realities of life. I told you once I could have gotten lost in you. Ever since day at the base…ever since our walks on the beach during that time. I meant that. However, my life was always the shades of gray, something I knew you had such a hard time living with.
I wanted to keep you safe. I always did try and I let the selfishness of my job get in the way of ever telling you. My job was one that held many dark secrets and I knew that one of them just might put you and Caitlin in danger, so I tried to keep you both safe. Maybe, if I had cared enough, I would have overcome my own fears and told you so but I couldn’t.
All these years, I’ve watched you flourish at the NIMR. You found, in Nelson, what I couldn’t give you. Ironically enough, you gave him what he needed in life as well. I know that you now know the history between us…and that our working relationship was love-hate…more hate, really…than anything else. But I knew that you deserved to be happy. And if I couldn’t be the one, then I couldn’t have picked someone better for you than Nelson.
I guess my rambling is at an end now…in more ways than one. I don’t know what my role in the universe is now - I’ve always believed there was a higher power at work and I just hope that He understood the things I did in my life, good or bad. I wanted you to also know that I’ll always regret not taking care of Judd before he harmed Caitlin…and I always knew you’d blame me for not doing it.
Please forgive me, Karen. Maybe I was never capable of giving you what you needed, or deserved, in your life…but I loved you…with all my heart.
Michael Coldsmith Briggs, III
Karen Davis Nelson sat alone on the deck at her home at the Nelson Institute of Marine Research. She was holding a half full glass of Glen Livet in her hand as she stared at the Ocean. She felt alone. Very much alone. She didn’t hear the door to the deck open and close, and she started when she felt a warm hand on her shoulder. She lifted her head and saw Lee Crane standing beside her, his face drawn and sad.
“I’m sorry, Karen. I know he was close.”
“Thank you…I guess…it’s just such a reality check, you know. First Harriman…and now…Michael.” She took a sip of the amber liquid and still staring out, stated, “He told me…he told me he loved me…all these years. Then…he just went to sleep…”
“I know, Karen,” Crane whispered. “I knew… that he loved you, that is.”
She glanced over at him, a slightly shocked but puzzled expression on her face. “What? What do you mean, you knew? How could you? I didn’t even know…”
“It showed, in the way that he’d look at you… in the way that he tried to protect you…and Caitlin. The way that he always seemed to be there when you needed him...or thought you did.”
“But…” and her voice was tinged with hurt…and fright. “Harriman…?”
“The Admiral kinda saw it, Karen…but, he never really said anything about it. He loved you too much to make an issue of it…but he did see the way Michael really looked at you. However, I guess, ultimately, he knew that he was the one who held your heart…besides, he was still too angry with Briggs about the beginning of the Institute…and how the CIA became involved with us.” Lee smiled slightly. “This was one time that Harriman Nelson allowed himself to be blinded by anger. And you…you were too much in love with the Admiral to really notice anything…or anyone else…in that way…” He shook his said sadly and an eyebrow rose slightly. “The Admiral also knew, deep down, that Briggs would never truly act on his feelings for you…”
“I never realized that you saw that in him…in Michael, I mean…”
He shot her a wary smile. “Believe it or not, men have intuition too, Karen. We just don’t make as much of it as you women do.”
Karen allowed herself to be surrounded by his arm and she smiled sadly up at him. “It all makes me that much sadder at his passing. Don’t get me wrong…I wouldn’t trade anything in all the world for what I had with Harriman. I loved him with all my heart and soul and I always knew he loved me in the same way. It just makes me sadder for Michael. I guess I always thought of him as a good friend…particularly after I met Harry. That’s all.” Sighing just a bit, “Maybe I was blind, too, I guess. Once there was Harriman…no one else existed for me in that manner.”
Crane hesitated a moment and then softly asked, “You were lovers before, weren’t you?”
She nodded. “Yes. And on his part, that’s all it ever was. We were lovers, but not in love. Or rather…so I always believed. We’d been together, oh, not quite a year, when I did ask him if he loved me…right before I left for my second posting at Miramar. He told me no…but he also asked me to stay with him, told me we were good together, but that he didn’t love me. I took it for what it was worth…it wasn’t exactly what I wanted in my life. What I really needed, but I accepted it and dealt with it accordingly.” She sighed and took another drink. “He had never really lied to me. Oh, I know that I cared for him in a way, even to the point of thinking I was in love with him in a fashion…but I realized that what I thought I had with him at the time wasn’t what I really needed in my life. But it was never the kind of love that I had with Harry. I think, looking back at it now, that I was in lust, not love, at that point in my life. Love was what I found when I met Harriman Nelson…then that became love and lust.” She blushed slightly as she realized how open she was being with Lee, but she continued anyway. She smiled at him, “Michael taught me a great deal about myself, Lee…in a lot of ways. In a way, he taught me to live again. He was the only man that I was ever with, besides Robert, until I met Harry. And what Michael and I did have was over, long over, before I came here.” She shook her head, and smiled sadly again. “You know, I’m going to miss him. He was always there… if I needed him. If we needed him.”
He rose, “But he wasn’t always there…and he didn’t exactly hold your best interests at heart, Karen. His utter refusal to do away with Judd…I’ll never be able to forgive him for that and frankly, I don’t see how you can either. The pain he allowed that man to put us…to put Caitlin…through. He kept my own daughter away from me…a child I never knew I had. I’m sorry. I know he was a friend, but I honestly have to say that I probably hated him as much, maybe even more, than the Admiral did or could have.” He hesitated several moments until he calmed somewhat, then his voice softened a bit. “Do you want me to send Caitlin over? I came as soon as Michael Taylor called…I think it would be better if you told her, all factors considered here, I can't be objective about it…” He paused, then stood as straight as his years would allow him. “I’m sorry that you’re grieving, but I, for one, won’t miss him and neither with anyone else here. That said, though, I am grateful to him for one thing … that he sent you away and you eventually came here. You made the Admiral complete, Karen…something he wasn’t until you entered his life. And your coming here gave me Caitlin, so I guess I do have to be grateful to him in a way for that. But that’s all.”
“I know, Lee, and I understand that, truly I do…and I thank you for coming over here, for me, if nothing else. I guess, in a way, Michael knew he could never give me what I really and truly needed. Maybe, in a strange way, he knew me better than I knew myself.” She sighed heavily, a tear forming in the corner of one eye. “He asked me once…a long time ago…if I was really happy with Harry. I think Sean was about, oh, 18 months old…it was the last time Michael came aboard Seaview. He and Harry had had one disagreement after the other over that mission…. Anyway, he was leaving and he came out here, on the deck, and the last thing he asked me that day was if I was happy…really happy. I told him yes…I was. He looked at me and said that was the only thing he ever wanted for me…to be happy. I think he must have felt that, by keeping his distance, he could watch over us.”
“Well…there were times he didn’t exactly do that too well,” Crane replied.
“I know, believe me I know…but he was there, for the most part, to do what needed to be done…when it was needed to be done. Do you know…and I just learned about this from Marella…that Michael was the one who was instrumental in Miguel Rodriguez’s death? He, ah, struck a deal with the drug lords after that animal bombed my office. I never knew about that. He was as shocked, and hurt, about what Judd did to us…and to Caitlin over the years…as we all were. He never forgave himself for it either, from what she said.”
Lee stiffened, his fist clenched, and he adamantly replied, “He didn’t do near enough.”
Karen placed her hand on her old friend’s arm and whispered, “I know…” There was silence for the longest time until she finally found her voice… “Would you mind asking Caitlin to come over? I want to talk to her for a while…if you don’t mind.”
He kissed her forehead gently and smiled a bit. “Of course not…but I do have to warn you…Caitlin will not be as forgiving as you are.”
“I know…but she still deserves to know…and maybe she’ll understand why I feel the way I do.”
“I agree…” He headed for the door. “Let me go call her to come on over.” Stopping just a bit, he looked at Karen. “Karen…know this, ok? The Admiral knew you loved him…and never questioned it. You really were the missing part for him…”
Karen Nelson sadly smiled and nodded, then turned back to watch the setting sun.
She turned when she heard the door open and close and saw before her two people in one. One was the daughter of years gone by and yet, the other, a woman of older years now. The white blonde hair now a soft beige; the figure, still petite and slim. The years had treated her well, the older woman noted as she gazed upon her daughter.
The younger of the two approached the older and stood quietly beside her at the railing. Silently, Karen’s hand reached out and covered Caitlin’s and the two simply stood, watching the waves crash on the beach below. There was a front coming in and the wave action below was becoming more and more turbulent.
“Lee called and said you needed to talk to me, Mom…what’s wrong?” Caitlin Davis Crane asked of her mother. Karen’s sudden quiet and reflective manner alarmed her. It was a sure sign that something was wrong.
Karen Davis turned to face her daughter. It amazed her to see this creation of her and Robert’s love for each other so long ago. And it never failed to amaze her how much like her father she was. For this, Karen was eternally grateful…for Caitlin was, for her, a loving reminder of the man she had loved so long ago. Almost in a whisper… “I wanted to tell you myself. Michael…is gone, Sweets. He died yesterday.”
There was a hesitation. Caitlin didn’t know what to say. Michael Briggs was a man for whom Caitlin had bittersweet feelings. Flashes of memories of the first time she met him so many years ago in San Diego to the angry meeting between them after the commissioning of the SSRN Nelson and the appearance of the daughter that Lee Crane never knew existed, thanks to Briggs. Then there were the incidents with William Ashcroft Judd, Jr. and his continued obsession with her, as well as destroying her mother and her family.
“I’m sorry, Mom…but I can’t be sad. For you…I’m sorry. But not for him. He allowed too much to happen to this family…”
“I know, Caitlin…I know. I just…wanted to tell you,” her mother whispered sadly. “I was…with him…when he died.”
Again, there was an uneasy silence between the two women. Finally, “Why? I mean…after all he did…or didn’t do…why in God’s name would you even consider going to him?”
“Because, Caitlin…Marella called me. Frankly, he didn’t want me to know…at least, not until it was over. She told me he’d been sick…failing…for over a year now. The doctors couldn’t help him…”
“I understand that, Mom…but how…after all he’d done to us…?”
Karen Nelson turned to face her daughter; a single tear ran from an eye and trailed down her cheek. “Caitlin…I don’t expect you to ever understand. There are times…when I don’t myself. However,” and she drew a deep breath and slowly exhaled, “…at this time in my life, I’m not asking you to. Michael made mistakes…horrible ones at times…but then again…who are we to judge? What happened to you…to all of us…is as much my fault as it was his. Michael…in his own fashion…tried to keep us safe…and sometimes he succeeded. Sometimes, he failed…miserably. And that was one of his biggest regrets…one that he took with him when he died.”
“How can you even stand here and defend him? Well…” and there was more than a tinge of hatred in Caitlin’s voice, “His regret caused a hell of a lot of people a lot of unnecessary pain. If he’d cared half as much as you say…he’d have never done what he did to this family. I’m sorry, Mom…I can’t mourn a person who caused so much hurt to me or to the people I love.”
Karen was quiet for a moment and then, in a whisper, replied, “Then blame me, Caitlin. Because it all comes back to what I did so many years ago. I can’t change the past…Oh, dear God! how I wish I could…We all have our regrets, Caitlin…we all do. But we can’t live our lives based solely on regrets. That’s not life…that’s simply existing.” She turned from her and then drew herself into a solid stance, reminiscent of years gone by. “Don’t you think that I’ve had my regrets, Sweets? I regret having killed Judd’s father…but you know something? It had to be done. If not by me…then by someone else. The man had to be stopped. You didn’t see Harriman when Lee and Chip brought him out of that building… Believe me, if you’d been in my place and that had been Lee…you’d have done the exact same thing. And don’t tell me you wouldn’t have…I know you too well.”
“I’m not saying that, Mom…however, Michael had numerous opportunities to get rid of that monster…and he didn’t do it, even though he said he would. He lied to us, Mom...he lied. Then he had the absolute audacity to keep Rose from Lee…and it was because of one of his missions that he got involved with those damn chemicals and we couldn’t have children of our own. And then…” and her voice caught before she could whisper, “What Judd did to me... No, Michael Briggs be damned. I hope he rots in Hell! I’m sorry for you, Mom...that you lost someone you considered a 'friend'…but I personally don’t give a goddamn rat's ass about him.”
There was a long period of tension filled silence between the two women. Unknowingly, they now found themselves at almost opposite ends of the deck, Caitlin with her back to her mother. She was angry…hurt…and yet, surprisingly sad. She’d known Briggs since she was 15. He’d always treated her kindly…almost like a favorite uncle would his favorite niece. However, later…after Judd, Jr. entered their lives and made it a living hell… she’d despised him. She could never understand how someone who was supposed to have cared so much for her mother…or for her…could ever let these things happen. And for that…she hated him…or so she thought.
Karen slowly approached her daughter from behind and silently slipped her arm around hers. Then, in a gesture as old as the ages, daughter gradually leaned on mother for support…and comfort. Finally, the mother spoke. “Right before I left, Marella handed me a letter. It was supposed to be my ‘notification’ that he’d died. He’d, ah, dictated it to her a few days ago and had instructed her to send it to me after he’d passed. However, Marella called me and told me he was dying and sent a jet for me to come to Virginia…”
She sighed. “Sometimes Michael, just like a lot of other people, was blind to what was right in front of his face. He’d made her promise not to call me…he knew she still was intensely loyal to him. Always was…but, in reality, I suspect she was also really in love with him…even after all these years. And you know…I wonder if he ever really realized it. Anyway…she’d known what he’d kept hidden away, deep inside, for so long…and because of her loyalty and her feelings for him, she called me because she felt I had a right to know.”
“Right to know…?”
“That he really was in love with me…after all these years…he finally told me…and then…he died,” Karen told her. “You never really knew why I broke it off with him, did you? Why I left you in northern Virginia that spring and reported to Miramar without you…”
“I just figured it was because I was in school…” Caitlin turned and faced her mother.
“Hmmm, that was partly it…but the rest of it was that I couldn’t deal with the grays of his world, Caitlin. He taught me a lot about myself…how to live again after your father's death. You’re way old enough for me to say this to now…but Michael was the first man I’d made love to after your father died. I was afraid, Caitlin. Afraid that I was betraying your father’s memory somehow. Michael taught me…that I had to go on with my life…that I had a right to. It had nothing to do with betrayal…it had everything to do with living. Problem was, in the end, what I really needed in my life, was something far deeper than what Michael was willing to give.” She smiled faintly. “It wasn’t that he couldn’t…it was more like he wouldn’t. So, in the end…in his own way…he did love me enough to let me go…and by doing that, I found Harriman Nelson. And you, my daughter, found Lee Crane.”
Caitlin Crane looked at her mother…and suddenly noticed how much she looked her age. “I know…but…”
“Caitlin…I’m not asking that you understand…or even grieve…or be sad. I just wanted you to know.” With a tinge of sadness, she added, “The three men in my life…I guess you could call them the three loves of my life…are all gone now. Each one of them special in their own way.”
“Did you love him, Mom? I mean…like you did Daddy? Or HN?”
“No, Sweets…not like your father…or Harriman. Michael and I…were never in love. But he was special to me, nonetheless.” And she took a drink from her glass, her gaze wandering to some distant point in the sky.
“Does…Sean know? That he's dead, I mean...?”
“No…I haven’t told him. I will, though. And like you…I don’t really expect him to understand…or even care.”
Caitlin finally placed her arm around her mother. “I’m sorry for you, Mom… I know how much you…”
Karen gently patted her daughter’s arm and then turned her gaze back to the advent of dusk over the horizon of the blue Pacific Ocean. “No…don’t feel sorry for me, Caitlin. If you must, then feel sorry…or even pity…for him. Michael was the one who made the choice to live his life without love. I made my choice to live with it.”
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea tm ©, 20th Century Fox, and the Irwin Allen Foundation and its related companies, all rights reserved. Any reproduction, duplication, or distribution in any form is expressly prohibited. This web site, its operators and any content contained on this site relating to Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea tm © are not authorized by Fox.
Michael Coldsmith Briggs, III appears courtesy of Belisarius Productions and Universal Studios.