Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Disclaimer: Paramount owns the characters. All original characters and creative content belong to me.
A/N: A tribute to the gorgeous Peter Graves.
The title is from a line spoken by Phelps in the episode “The Decoy.”
No Wrong Time to Love
Summary: Jim and Dana are adrift in a drug runner’s boat.
Phelps slowly regained consciousness. His last memory before Chatalan brained him with a pipe wrench was of Dana yelling his name, then the sound of gunfire.
He kept his body limp, his eyes closed and his breath even.
He could smell the hot salt of the ocean and the scent that rose from his own body. The hollow boom of waves breaking against the hull sounded in his ears. He heard the irregular rhythm of metal against metal, clanking out of time with the rocking of the boat. He listened for his captors. He heard pings and knocks and silence--the sounds of abandonment.
He squeezed his eyes shut then opened them wide, trying to think around the pounding in his head. He lay on a hard, narrow bunk. His mouth was sour and he reopened a cut in the corner of his mouth when he licked his lips. He winced and rolled his shoulders. His wrists were bound in metal cuffs above his head and the skin on the insides of his forearms itched and crackled with dried blood. He was desperately thirsty.
There was a warm weight pressed against his body. He craned his neck and looked down. Dana stretched out cruciform on top of him, her wrists tied to a rope looped beneath the bunk. Her tangled hair obscured her face but he could see that she was also gagged with a dirty kerchief. He felt her heart beat against his ribs. He closed his eyes briefly in relief.
“You’re awake,” he said softly.
She nodded against his chest.
“Are they gone?” he asked.
Dana shrugged her shoulders and made a noncommittal movement with her head.
“Can you move?”
She lifted her head and looked up at him. Her eyes were wide but not frightened. She nodded again.
“Slide up. Let’s see if I can remove the gag.”
She scooted up his body but couldn’t reach his fingers.
“Ok,” he said. “Come down here.”
She bent her head to his and he gripped the gag with his teeth. He dragged the gag from her mouth. She rested her forehead against his, gasping for air.
“Oh, god,” she said. She pulled back and looked at him. “That kerchief was disgusting. I saw Segovia use it wipe the sweat from behind his ears.”
Jim grinned. “Then I won’t tell you what I saw him using it for,” he said.
“Jim—.” She swallowed convulsively.
“Just kidding,” he said quickly.
She blinked in surprise. “You’re making jokes? At a time like this?” she said.
“How long was I out?” he asked.
“You’ve been in and out for about fifteen hours,” she said.
“No. You didn’t talk. They had no intention of interrogating either of us. They executed Solinski, tied me to your bunk and locked us in. They were…” She paused. “They were coming back for me about an hour later, when something happened. There was a lot of yelling and gunfire and then nothing. There was someone moaning on the other side of the door, but that stopped after a couple of hours.”
“They shot each other up,” said Phelps. “Arguing about the money.”
“I think so,” she said. She didn’t have to tell him that they were also fighting about who would get the first turn with her.
He looked up at his hands. He was cuffed to a ring bolted into the wall. His right hand was bluish and puffy. He tugged on the cuffs, watching the bolts. They were securely welded to the bulkhead.
“Shit,” he muttered.
Dana raised both brows.
Jim looked at her face. “What?” he asked.
“You never curse.”
“Yes, I do. Can we just try to get out of here, Dana?”
“It might be easier to try to loosen these ropes. I’ve been working on it for the last few hours. Stop twisting.” She pointed at his right hand with her chin. “You’re going to lose that if you keep pulling on those cuffs.”
“Right. Maybe we could—.” He started shifting around beneath her.
“The best way to help me is for you to be still.”
“Oh. Ok,” he said. He glanced around the room. “When you get free, we can use the bolt cutters those geniuses left by the door.”
“They didn’t think we’d have an opportunity to use them,” Dana said.
They gazed at each other for a long moment.
In their line of work, every job was essentially a suicide mission. When Jim and Dana missed the rendezvous point, their team would simply leave without them. There would be no rescue mission, no official search. The Secretary would disavow any knowledge of their actions. Phelps occasionally went after his people, calling it a “back-up plan” when he debriefed the Secretary; but this time, they were on their own. Paris was gone. No one knew where. Barney and Willie were not in the need-to-know for this mission.
They would be disavowed by now. They were ghosts; they didn’t exist. No one was coming for them.
“Well, get started, Miss. Lambert,” said Jim.
Dana had been tied across his body with her arms hugging the bunk. She twisted her wrists this way and that, trying to coax the rope into giving more. Jim watched her as she worked at the ropes. Grease smudged her forehead and her hair fell in sweaty strings around her face. There was a spray of freckles across her nose. She rested her chin on his chest.
Dana was a beautiful woman--one of the many reasons Phelps chose her for his team. A beautiful woman made for an excellent decoy, a trick he learned from the Russians. The KGB was not squeamish about using sex and drugs to get what they needed—techniques frowned upon at the time by the provincial United States government. J. Edgar Hoover found those techniques particularly distasteful and felt them to be beneath his army of well-groomed, cookie-cutter pretty boys. When the Secretary asked Hoover to put his best man on a special assignment, Hoover selected Jim Phelps, the prettiest boy of all. Phelps executed his mission so well that the Secretary decided to keep him. Hoover was livid. He threatened all manner of dirty business in an effort to get Phelps back--until the Oval Office stepped in. The Attorney General had pushed back his thick hair with two fingers and grinned with his big white teeth as he personally delivered Phelps’s transfer memo. “I’m sure you understand, Mr. Hoovah,” he said, in his New England drawl. “Phelps will be our man in Havana. The Secretary will be happy to answer any questions you might have about the new unit.” He paused, watching a girl from the typing pool pass by Hoover’s office door. “That is, if you care to ask him.”
Phelps never made it to Havana, but he spent a lot of time in Moscow pretending to be distracted by the beautiful women that the KGB threw at him, relieved to be away from Hoover’s avid stare. Napoleon Solo sent him a bottle of Dom with a note attached that read, “You owe me”.
Jim’s eyes lingered on Dana’s mouth then drifted down the strong column of her neck to the gap in her dirty coveralls. He could see the muscles that corded across her chest as she worked at the ropes. She’d been a ballerina and was still lean and strong.
“I don’t want to think about what might be under this bunk,” she said.
Jim’s eyes snapped back to her face. “I beg your pardon?” he said.
“My fingers keep brushing against something damp and…fuzzy. Judging from the smell in here, it could be any number of things.”
“I can’t smell anything but you,” said Jim.
“You aren’t exactly smelling like a rose either, sir,” she said.
“I didn’t say you smelled bad, Dana.”
“No. You smell terrible.”
She stared at him in disbelief. “I can’t believe you said that—wait. What just happened here?” She held up her left hand, freed from the rope. She laughed. “I was so busy trying to get my right hand free that I didn’t realize that they simply wound the rope around my left wrist.” She propped herself on his chest and examined the knotted rope on her right wrist. “See. Look at this. Chatalan was Peruvian. If I’m not mistaken this is a—.”
“Dana,” interrupted Phelps. “You don’t weigh very much, and I could actually be quite comfortable lying here for several more hours with you on top of me.”
“I can’t feel my hand,” he said.
“Oh! I’m so sorry. I’ll get the bolt cutters.” She got the bolt cutters and cut him free.
He stood, slowly lowered his shoulders and twisted the kinks from his lower back. Dana took his hand and messaged it.
“I think it’ll be ok,” she said. “It’s already warming up. We’ve got to clean those wounds on your wrists, though.”
“That can wait,” said Phelps, gently removing his hand from hers. “We need to make sure the boat’s abandoned and then figure out where we are.”
Phelps went to the door and was unsurprised to find it unlocked. Their captors had planned to kill them quickly. No reason to lock the door. He opened it and peered into the warm gloom of the corridor. There was a body sprawled over the raised threshold of the next hatch. His eyes on the body, Phelps silently counted off two minutes then stepped into the corridor. Dana followed, sidestepping behind him, guarding their back.
Phelps looked down at the man.
They could see the lividity pooling on the backs of his slightly bloated arms and flies crawled across his open eyes. A faint odor like rotten eggs and decaying fruit tainted the air.
“He’s dead,” Jim said.
“Yeah, I’d say so,” said Dana. She nudged the dead man with her toe. “Segovia. The last man standing. He gagged me after I spit in his face.”
Phelps stepped over Segovia and continued down the corridor. They searched the rooms on that deck and then made their way down to engineering. The engineer draped across a rail, his throat cut. Phelps quickly inspected the engine.
“A new engine on an old boat,” he said. “Good for drug runners.”
“Good for us,” said Dana. “And look. The diesel stores are a little more than half full. About twenty-five hundred miles in good weather. Assuming they were full when we left port, we can turn back and get reasonably close to the coast. We can’t have drifted too far in fifteen hours.”
“Let’s clear all the decks first,” said Phelps.
They searched the boat, checking crew quarters, closets, nooks and any other possible hiding place. They found only live rats and dead men. They used engine grease to record the fingerprints of the dead then rolled the bodies overboard.
Dana carefully sealed the print cards in a plastic pouch. “Solinski, Segovia, Chatalan, Paolo and Cartagena. May god have mercy on their souls,” she said.
Jim’s eyes were indifferent as he watched sharks efficiently disembowel Segovia.
Phelps sent Dana down to check the engine while he took stock of their food and water stores. The galley was full of canned bacon and hams, rice, black beans, mixed vegetables, orange juice, beer and powdered milk. There was also a forty pound sack of coffee beans and a large, shiny espresso machine. He had to hand it to Solinski. He had his priorities straight. Jim found bleach and a bucket and set to cleaning up the blood. After only a little over twelve hours, the boat began to smell like an abattoir. Luckily, most of the shoot out occurred on the top deck. The blood came up in long, clotted sheets that Phelps shoveled over the side. He was scrubbing the head between the captain’s and first mate’s quarters when Dana came up from the engine room. She blinked in the chlorine fumes. She held a broken fuel pump in her hands.
~~All Dressed Up
“A shiny new Rolls Royce engine and a smashed fuel pump,” said Dana. “All dressed up and no place to go.”
“Can you fix it?”
“I’ll see what I can do. There is machinist’s equipment down there, but they also pulled the electrical systems in the generators. I’ll have to do it by hand. And the back-up batteries for the radio and radar are missing. Why didn’t they just sink the boat?”
“Segovia was paranoid and delusional. Who knows what he was thinking?” said Jim.
“We’re dead in the water.”
“Maybe not. The engine is new but the boat is old. If I find what I’m hoping to find in the life boat, there might be some life in us yet.”
“What are you talking about, Jim?”
“Stick with me, kid,” he said.
She trotted after him as he strode down the corridor. He’d peeled down his coveralls and tied the sleeves low around his waist. His torso shined with sweat and was streaked with greasy dirt. She watched the muscles of his lower back flex as he climbed the stairs to the top deck. She could see the farm boy in the breadth of his shoulders and in his hard triceps. The breeze tossed his hair across his forehead when he turned to wait for her to catch up, his long lashes shading his blue eyes as he looked down at her. Jim Phelps was an angel-faced assassin, a one-man coup d’état; but in spite of his old-world manners and his cold-eyed skill with a long-range rifle, Dana thought that there was an endearing boyishness about him. Even as she knew him for what he really was, she felt a tug in her heart when he ran a hand through his hair. She understood Hoover’s obsession.
“You need a haircut,” she said.
Phelps frowned then grinned and looked away. He turned and reached down into a life boat that hung off the gunwale. “These old life boats were sometimes equipped with hand-cranked radios from the war. They don’t have much of a range but maybe we--.”
“Could use it to power the ship’s radio,” she finished for him.
“Yeah,” he chuckled.
“Stick with me, kid,” she said and winked.
“As long as I can stay upwind.”
“Hey! What is it with you? At least I don’t smell like a dead cow.”
“Because I’m a girl, I can’t sweat? That engine room’s about a hundred and ten degrees.”
Jim struggled to keep a straight face.
“Oh, ha ha,” she said. “I don’t know, Jim. That knock on your head…”
“Let’s see if we can power up the radio,” he said.
In the small bridge copula, Jim lay on his back beneath the radio console while Dana dismantled the crank radio. A panel was removed from the casing, exposing the wiring. Jim held a small flashlight between his teeth as he examined the circuit boards.
“Get out,” said Jim.
Dan turned to him with a screwdriver in her hand. “What?”
“Move, Dana! Now,” he shouted. He rolled to his feet and launched himself at her, propelling them both out the door. They tumbled onto the deck. Jim hurled her into the life boat with one push to the small of her back then leapt in after, covering his head with his arms and curling his body around hers.
The blast wasn’t as big as he expected but glass from the copula rained down on his bare back. After several minutes, he pushed up and looked over the gunwale at the ruined bridge. The windows were blown out and the door hung off its hinges. Smoke rose from the radio console.
“Damn,” he said.
“Is it bad?” asked Dana.
He looked down at her. “Bad enough,” he said.
~~Blood and Glass
Jim climbed out of the lifeboat. He picked up a gaff from the deck and walked toward the copula.
“Oh my god, Jim,” Dana cried.
He spun with the gaff raised, looking around wildly. “What? What is it?”
“Your back is bleeding.” She climbed out of the lifeboat and turned him with a hand on his shoulder. “Jesus,” she said, gently probing with her fingertips.
Jim shrugged. “Just a little glass. We’ll get it later.”
“We’ll get it now.”
“Mr. Phelps,” she said, frowning severely.
“Can I at least make sure nothing else is going to blow up in there?”
“If it was going to blow, it would have. I’ll go find some first aid. Don’t you do anything else.”
“Yes, doctor,” he said, but when she came up from below, he was sweeping up broken glass and debris, a bent cigarette clamped between his lips. Runnels of blood striped his back.
“Jim,” she sighed.
“It doesn’t hurt.”
“That’s not a good sign. Sit down and let me take a look.”
He sat on a crate and presented his back to her. His skin was stippled with pieces of glass.
“I can’t see a thing under all this dirt and blood,” she said. “Come on. Let’s go shower.”
“Um, I think I can--,” he started.
“You’re not turning old lady on me?”
“No.” He cleared his throat. “No,” he said again.
“Ok, then.” She turned and walked to the stairs that led below. When she noticed that he wasn’t following, she stopped. “Contrary to legend, Jim, you don’t have eyes in the back of your head. You can’t get that glass out by yourself. This is the easiest way to do it. We can’t risk an infection setting in.”
“Yeah. Yes, I know. I’m coming.” He walked over to her.
“It’s not like I haven’t seen a naked man before.”
“I know. I mean, I know,” he said, looking away. “We’re on the job. Think of it that way.”
“Me, too. Let’s go.” He didn’t move.
“After you,” she said.
“Right,” he said.
When they got to the captain’s quarters, he stopped. “The head between the captain’s and first mate’s cabin was relatively clean,” he said. “I scrubbed it down. I hope you don’t mind sharing. Sharing the bathroom, not the quarters, I mean.”
“I don’t mind,” she said. “I’ll take the captain’s cabin.”
“Oh, I wanted—fine. I’ll take the mate’s.”
She brushed by him and peered into the bathroom. “Wow. You really did clean it.” She reached into the shower and turned on the spigot. Water sprayed forcefully from a fixture in the ceiling. She tested the water with her fingers. “It’s only a little salty and it’s pretty warm. Must be from that tank on the deck.” She turned to him with her hands on her hips.
“Right,” Jim said. “Distilled seawater. These old long-haul ships…”. He trailed off.
Dana rolled her eyes. “How about this. I’ll go first,” she said. She began unfastening her coverall. When she pushed it off her shoulders, Phelps turned his back.
She grinned and stepped into the shower. For some reason, there was only brown surgical wash for both soap and shampoo. She lathered up quickly and scrubbed her scalp and skin with her fingernails. “Jim, you’re going to have to get in here with me sooner or later.”
“No, ok, right. Let me know when you’re uh, ready.”
“I’m ready now,” she said.
“Right,” said Phelps with his back to her. He slowly untied the sleeves from around his waist. He turned his body to the side, hooked his thumbs in the waistband and pushed the coverall down his hips. He stepped out of them. “I didn’t realize those were so dirty.”
“Jim, get in the goddamn shower.”
He stepped in and faced her. He concentrated on keeping his eyes on her forehead. He pressed his lips together and nodded once.
“You get the front, I’ll get the back,” she said.
“Oh. Of course,” he stammered, turning quickly. He ducked his head under the spray of tepid water. Dirt and blood ran from his hair. He poured some soap into his palm and handed the bottle to her.
“Don’t move,” she said. “Most of the glass is just rinsing off and the pieces are small enough to wash down the drain, but I don’t want us to cut our feet.”
“This might sting a little.”
“It doesn’t hurt. I told you before.”
She squirted soap on his back.
“Ahh!” he yelled, squeezing his shoulder blades together.
“I told you not to move.”
“Son of a bitch.”
“I warned you,” she said. “It’ll stop stinging in a minute.”
“No it won’t,” he said.
“Tough guy,” she grinned. She pulled three fairly large pieces of glass out of his back but they hadn’t gone in deep and didn’t bleed much even with the water running on them. She massaged her fingers through his thick hair, loosening the dirt and smoothing out the tangles. Phelps sighed and his shoulders relaxed. He stood with his head down as she gently rubbed the brown foam into his cuts. She watched her hands circle his smooth skin and thought about how well his finely-tailored suits hid his powerful body. She had stolen an glance at his penis as he stepped into the shower. His pubic hair was thick and straight and dark blonde.
“It’s not fair,” she murmured.
“Hmm?” breathed Jim. Her hands felt good on his body.
“Men are born with all the things that women covet.”
“Beautiful skin, long eyelashes. Have you noticed that?”
“I don’t spend a lot of time looking at men that way.”
She used her thumbnail to dislodge a clot of blood on his side. He gasped and jerked away.
“Did that hurt?” she asked.
She scratched at his skin again. He flinched.
“Did that—Jim, are you ticklish?”
“No,” he snapped.
“The great Jim Phelps is ticklish. Did Hoover know?”
Phelps shuddered. “That’s not funny.”
“He never got over losing you, you know.”
“Are we done here?”
“Um.” She inspected his back. “Yes. A couple of these need bandages.”
“Fine,” said Phelps. He turned and pushed her out of the shower stall.
When Jim emerged from his shower, he peeked into the captain’s cabin. Dana was cutting down the legs on a pair of denim pants. She wore a man’s white strap undershirt and nothing else. A soft breath of pubic hair peeked from beneath the hem of the shirt as she bent over the bed. Phelps felt a stirring in his genitals.
“There’s a crate full of these,” Dana said over her shoulder.
Phelps jerked back. He crossed into the mate’s cabin with his hands cupped over his sex, even though she couldn’t see him. There was a pair of denim pants and an undershirt on the bunk.
“I put a pair on your bunk,” Dana yelled from the captain’s cabin. “I’m pretty sure that I picked a pair that fits, now that I don’t have to guess at your size.”
Phelps pulled on the pants. The legs were a bit short and the waist a bit wide, but the inseam was right. He frowned and felt his face grow hot. His cock thickened again. This was ridiculous. He was old enough to be her father. In fact, he knew her father.
“Let me bandage those cuts before you put on a shirt.”
Phelps jumped. “You could give a guy a little warning,” he said, a little too loudly.
“Sorry,” she said, blinking up at him. She held a box of bandages in her hands. A curl of damp hair was stuck to her cheek.
Jim blew air out his pursed lips. “Look, I’m tired and I’m hungry and we still have a lot to do,” he said.
He noticed for the first time the dark circles under her eyes. She’d been through as much as he in the last two days. He reached out and tucked the curl of hair behind her ear.
“Are you hungry?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said.
“Let’s finish securing the boat then I’ll make dinner. Sound okay?”
“Let’s get to it,” he said.
“Wait,” she said. She motioned with the box of bandages. “Your back.”
He stood patiently while she taped gauze on the worst of the cuts on his back and around his wrists.
“There you go,” she said.
“Thanks, Dana,” he said. “That actually does feel better.”
They searched the boat again, this time looking for booby traps. They found no traps but they did find an automatic rifle with a full clip and three WWII-era hand grenades.
Jim pointed to the ruined copula. “Good thing the wheel is on the deck. At least we’ll be able to steer if we manage to get the boat going.”
Dana gazed out at the horizon. The sunset was sudden and bloody. The breeze cooled and she shivered even though she wasn’t chilled.
“Maybe someone was coming back,” she said. She turned to Jim. “That’s why the sabotage. They didn’t sink the boat, just hobbled it.”
“I thought about that,” said Jim. “We already dropped the drugs. No one’s waiting for Solinski. Segovia and the rest of them? Not the kind of men with a lot of friends and family. Everyone was supposed to take their cut and run--. What is it?” he asked.
She was watching him with a small smile. “That “explaining things” thing,” she said.
“I’m sorry. Barney told me once that even my casual phone calls sound like debriefings.”
“It’s ok. It’s…you.”
“We’ll fix the engine, Dana. I’ll get us out of here.”
She nodded. “I know,” she said.
The end of the daylight was a shimmering red line on the black edge of the ocean when Jim came up from the galley with their dinner. He cooked rice and black beans seasoned with chunks of ham and chilies, with a side of canned peaches. They had both showered again—this time, separately. The breeze was light and cool and the boat rose and fell gently with the rolling waves. Jim was fairly sure that no one was returning to salvage the ship but he didn’t want to take any chances. They ate without light, at a small table he set on the deck. Jim’s hair was bright, even in the dark.
Dana chuckled. Jim looked at her curiously, chewing his food.
“Your hair,” she said. “They could probably see it from space.”
He ducked his head. “How’s your dinner?” he asked.
“It’s good. Where’d you learn to cook?” she asked casually.
Jim didn’t answer immediately, chewing, swallowing and pushing his food around with his fork. Jim rarely talked about himself. Dana waited, holding her breath, hoping she hadn’t spooked him.
He shrugged with a tilt of his head. “There was some guy who was supposed to be a genius doing his post doc at MIT,” he said, finally.
“Barney,” she said.
“Yes, Barney. Hoover was very interested in his work. So were the Russians,” he said. “I was assigned to babysit Barney while he finished his project.” Jim laughed. “Barney was fascinated with “spies”, as he called us. He made every Russian tail on him and used to lose them—and us—all the time, just for kicks. How does the only black man on a city express bus to MIT fade two teams? I never figured it out and he never told me. Anyway. Thanksgiving rolled around and he went home to visit his family. He took pity on me sitting out in the cold in front of the house and invited me in. When I said no, his mother came out and threatened to have the entire family cram into the car and have Thanksgiving dinner there. There was nothing I could do. She even fed the KGB agents.”
“You’re kidding,” laughed Dana.
“I’m not kidding. I held a gun on them while she brought out a tray of turkey sandwiches and pie to their car. Anyway, it was easier to keep an eye on Barney by being his friend so I got to know his family, too. They had this huge kitchen and I could watch the front, side and back of the house from there. I was always under foot so his mother put me to work and taught me how to cook along the way. I went from peeling potatoes to cooking entire meals while she read a magazine with her feet up. “Good looks can only take you so far, James”, she would say. “Women love a man who is not useless in the kitchen”.”
“She’s right,” said Dana.
“It’s worked for me a little bit,” he said.
“That’s probably the understatement of the year.”
Jim cleared his throat and wiped his mouth with his napkin. “I’ll take the first watch,” he said.
“Dana, I don’t think--.”
She held up a hand. “I was just going to say, I’ll take the first watch. You have a concussion. You’re exhausted and you’ve lost a lot of blood.”
He studied her face. “Ok,” he said.
“No argument?” she asked, surprised.
He stood and began to clear the table. “I’m tired,” he said. “Wake me in two hours.”
“Sure,” she said, fully intending to let him sleep for as long as she could get away with it. “Leave the dishes. I’ll get them.”
“Wash them, don’t leave them in the sink,” he said. “There are rats.”
He looked out at the ocean. The last of the light had drained from the West. There was no moon. “It’s dark,” he said.
“I’ll be ok, Jim. I’ll wake you at the first sign of anything.”
“Two hours,” he said.
“Sure thing.” She watched him walk to the hatch. He rolled his shoulders and yawned. She followed with their dinner dishes. She glanced in his cabin as she returned to the deck and he was stretched out on the bunk, ankles crossed and hands folded neatly on his chest.
Dana slowly patrolled the boat, staring out at the flat black water, the rifle slung over her shoulder. It was difficult to gage distance on the ocean without instruments and the stars gave little illumination, but she judged the visibility to be about a half mile. They would have some time to prepare to defend themselves should another boat approach. Dana checked the rifle’s load and the grenade clipped to her belt loop for the thousandth time. She felt sure that she would see or hear any craft that came upon them in the night. At any rate, it was dark and they were running silent. Maybe they would go undetected if any bad guys showed up. Plan A was to slip over the side into the lifeboat and paddle quietly away in the dark; but after her experience with Solinski and Segovia, Dana decided to throw the grenade first, ask questions later.
She picked up her pace as she rounded the stern. She peered into the dark. Dolphins fed on phosphorescent fish a hundred yards off the port side of the boat.
“At least I know there’s no submarine,” she whispered.
She climbed the sawed-off main mast to the tiny crow’s nest. A canvas sail still hung in a rotted furl beneath it. Her view—such as it was—was 360 degrees, eight feet above the deck. The slight breeze alternated between cool and warm, damp and dry. The stars swirled above her. She felt as if she were flying.
She thought about Paris and their brief but hotly sexual affair. He called her “Mouse” and teased her gently until she fell into bed with him. She didn’t love him--even if he’d let her-- but she recalled how oddly beautiful he was, sitting naked in a chair, his lean body bathed in a spill of moonlight, lightly strumming his guitar, eyes gazing out the window. “Paris, come back to bed,” she’d called softly. “Shh,” he said, staring out the window. Later that night, he held her trembling body murmured in her ear a foreign language she didn’t understand. His cock was hard and hot inside her and she knew it was over. A year later, he refused a contract and that was the last anyone saw of him.
Dana was more disappointed than sad when her relationship with Paris ended. They coped with stress in the same way and it was nice to have a relationship that was safe, uncomplicated and physically gratifying. She had yet to find a suitable replacement. As much as they respected her as an agent, Barney and Willie thought of her as a younger sister. Even if she had been attracted to either one, she was not about to sleep her way through the team.
And for other reasons too numerous to name, Jim Phelps was simply not an option.
She was an agent with Bureau for five years and was beginning to get bored with babysitting diplomats’ wives and doing undercover ops at banks when she received the invitation from Phelps. The invitation came in a plain envelope that contained a single sheet of paper with an expensive watermark, on which was typed an address and time for that evening. She held it in her hands and stared at it with a frown. She looked up in confusion at the man who delivered it.
“You have to decide tonight if you’re in or out.”
“Do you know who--?” she began. But Illya Kuryakin had already walked away.
Phelps kept no office at HQ—since IMF was not supposed to exist—and ran mission briefings from his home in a towering block of upscale but anonymous condominiums. When she arrived, Barney greeted her warmly and escorted her to that vast, masculine living room. She could smell the pine logs burning in the fireplace and the aroma of meat roasted in red wine. A gigantic man in an Armani suit held a small plate and picked delicately at something chocolate with a fork. Another man sat in an armchair swirling brandy in a snifter. It was obvious Dana had not been invited to dinner. Barney introduced Phelps last. Phelps stood in front of a glass board, lighting a cigarette. His head was tilted to the side and he cupped the flame like a soldier in a foxhole. His blue eyes flickered over her and she felt like she’d been blasted with heat from an open oven door. All of the air left her lungs. Phelps flipped his lighter closed and continued with the briefing. She spent a good part of the evening trying to regain her composure. At the end of the briefing, he turned to her. “Miss Lambert?” was all he said. Dana simply nodded in the affirmative and she was in. This time, Hoover stayed out of it.
She quickly developed off duty friendships with the others but not with Phelps. His treatment of her was always formal and proper. She felt the distance he placed between them, even when the mission required they pretend to be lovers. Now they were on this boat, far away from everything and all she wanted was for him to fold her into his arms.
Dana heard a small sound below her. She quietly clicked off the rifle’s safety.
“I said two hours, Dana,” said Phelps. He looked up at her in the dark.
“He switched places with the bus driver,” said Dana.
“How does the only black man on a city express bus to MIT fade two teams?”
“I can’t believe I never thought of the driver.”
“Not the only black man on the bus.”
“Let that be a lesson to me.”
“Get some sleep, Dana,” said Phelps.
Phelps used his turn at watch to quietly do chores around the boat. He was still tired, bone weary, in fact. His head ached and the cuts on his back itched terribly. He’d catch a nap in the afternoon if things looked quiet.
He thought about his team. Specifically, he thought about Dana. He knew about her affair with Paris. He didn’t give it a second thought at the time. But now, two years later, he found himself troubled.
While he maintained strict professional boundaries between himself and his staff, Phelps had no prohibitions against members of his staff becoming involved. No one knew better than your team what it meant to be on the job. Spooks fucked like rabbits from the sheer adrenaline afterburn of nearly getting killed on a somewhat regular basis. Even Jim had a go-to girl over at UNCLE. The sex was not a thing that required deep analysis. It was pure, life-affirming release, usually detached from emotion.
Emotional detachment was something he expected from Paris. Paris was a stone patriot--absolutely loyal to the service, loyal to Phelps and loyal to the country—but he was also a cold-blooded bastard and would slit Phelps’s throat on order from the Secretary. Paris ended things cleanly—no regrets, no lingering romantic feelings. What surprised Phelps was that Dana just as easily shrugged it off. At the beginning of the affair, he thought he might have to do some damage control when Paris inevitably ended it. But Dana was fine. There was no change in her performance and she even seemed ambivalent about Paris’s sudden disappearance.
Phelps knew the impact he had on women. His good looks were a fact of his life. He noted Dana’s reaction to him at that first briefing but she seemed to recover quickly. She never once acted inappropriately towards him. She took a good look at him, dealt with it and moved on. Truth be told, it bruised his ego a little.
“Get over yourself, gorgeous,” Barney had said. “Not every woman you meet wants you.”
It made Dana all the more attractive to him.
He shook his head. “In another life,” he muttered to himself.
Phelps poured a bucket of black water overboard. He set the mop against the gunwale to dry and watched the sky brighten rapidly in the east. The day before, he’d dropped floaters over the side to see if they’d catch a current. Unfortunately, they gathered on the boat’s port side and bobbed aimlessly in the slight swells. It was too much to hope that they were on or near a stream. If they couldn’t get the engines working, the boat would drift in the direction the waves pushed her--hopefully toward land. But Phelps had not seen a single bird, not even an albatross. They were very far from land.
He bent over the side to pull up the net of beer and canned milk he had lowered twenty feet underwater to chill at the beginning of his watch.. He fished out a can of milk. It was quite cold. He didn’t feel like cooking and there was a case of muesli in the stores. Cold cereal and a freshly ground espresso would do for breakfast. A dolphin and her calf watched curiously as he lowered the net back into the water. The calf tried to follow the net but his mother hustled him away. Phelps took a last glance out at the sea and went below. He peeked in at Dana. She sprawled on her back in the captain’s bunk with one hand under the pillow and the other curled against her cheek.
Phelps stepped inside the dark cabin. Dana’s jeans scrunched in a pile on the floor. He picked them up and held them folded over his arm. He let his eyes roam over her. She wore one of the strap undershirts that she cut off at the waist. Her breasts were flat against her chest and he could see the dark circles of her nipples through the thin fabric. The coverlet was draped across her hips and the muscles in her abdomen flexed and relaxed with the rise and fall of her breath. Her exposed skin was pale and lightly freckled. He knew she was bare beneath the blanket. He dragged his eyes and his thoughts away from that image.
He reached out to wake her and nearly lost his hand.
Dana’s arm whipped out and sliced the air with a thin filleting knife and would’ve done Phelps serious damage had he not had her jeans folded over his forearm. Phelps stepped inside her reach and blocked her arm coming back to stab his thigh before she could sever his femoral artery. She sat up and clocked him a good one in the chin with a left jab. She was strong for a woman her size. She was also agile and quick. That made her lethal. She flexed her wrist and nicked him in the shoulder with the knife. He had his hands full and she would gut him if he didn’t do something fast.
He dropped himself full length on top of her.
True to her training, she hadn’t made a sound; but when he covered her with his body, her struggle turned desperate and she bucked and twisted wildly under him. Her free arm thudded uselessly against his back. The coverlet had slipped off and he shoved his knee between her thighs, pinning her. It was then that he heard her whimper softly.
“Dana,” said Phelps. He captured her flailing arm and pinned it over her head. “It’s me. It’s Jim. Stop. Calm down. It’s just me.”
“Let me up,” she panted.
“Are you awake?”
“Yes. Let me go.”
Phelps rolled off of her and lay on his side.
Dana scrambled off the bed. “Jesus, Jim,” she said. “I could’ve killed you.”
“I’m sorry,” said Phelps. He was still, his eyes on the knife she continued to grip tightly.
“You were on top of me. I thought they’d come back. I -- I thought--,” she pressed the back of her hand against her mouth.
Jim rose slowly from the bunk. “I’m sorry.” He took her hand and gently pried her fingers from the knife’s handle.
“What were you--.”
“Breakfast,” said Phelps. “I was waking you for breakfast.”
She blinked at him in the gloom. Her lips trembled and she laughed out a sob. “Breakfast?” she said.
He shrugged sheepishly and she laughed again. He watched her carefully. She seemed to be holding her breath.
“It’s ok to fall apart Dana,” he said quietly.
Her whole body started to shake and she pressed the flat of her fingers to her lips. Her eyes filled and spilled over. She gave a negative shake of her head. “No. I’m ok,” she said. She swiped the tears and hair off her face. She put her hands on her hips and nodded. “You just scared me a little. I’m ok.”
“Look at me, Dana.”
She frowned. “No. I’m fine. I don’t need you to--.” She paused and looked away.
“Talk,” said Phelps. “Let it out.”
“Segovia, told me--. He put his filthy hands on me and told me what he was going to do to me after you were dead.” She pressed her lips together and inhaled deeply. “He said they would all--. All of them.”
Phelps reached out and cupped the back of her neck with his hand. “Yeah, ok,” he said. “Segovia is dead. They’re all dead. It’s over, baby.”
Dana’s face crumpled and she started to cry. He pulled her to him and she sagged against his chest. He closed his eyes against the thought of what Segovia and his men might have done to her had they not killed each other first. Dana trembled violently in his arms as if she’d read his mind.
Phelps had been through this with each of his team. They all fell apart in one way or another occasionally. It didn’t even have to be a particularly dangerous mission to tip someone over the edge. The cumulative effects of stress would become too much to hold and it all came spilling out. It was the only time Barney consumed alcohol. He’d sit with Jim at his place and they’d silently drink into the early hours of morning, passing a bottle of Scotch back and forth between them until it was empty. Willie headed for the seedy bars near the docks where he was guaranteed to find a brawl he could jump into. Rollin Hand needed a big meal with a lot of wine and a woman with large breasts. Cinnamon would disappear for a day or two then come back as cool, unruffled and self-contained as she always was. Jim ran on the beach until his legs gave out.
Dana’s sobs slowed and he felt her arms come around his waist. He leaned back and held her face in his hands. He smoothed her hair back.
“Better?” he asked
“No, but yeah,” she said.
“I should’ve just yelled from the door or thrown a shoe at you or something,” he said.
Dana smiled and ducked her head. She looked down at herself.
“I’m naked,” she said, tugging the undershirt down.
“I’ve seen a naked woman before.”
“I think I’ll sleep in my clothes until we get off this boat.”
“Good idea,” said Jim. “Do you feel up to breakfast?”
She nodded, watching him silently.
“See you topside,” he said.
~A Weapon of War
They spent the day working on the boat. The radio was a total loss but Dana thought she had what she needed to fix the fuel pump. She explained everything she was doing as she dismantled and matched some spare parts she found. Phelps was disinterested almost immediately; but he enjoyed watching the breeze stroke her hair. He eventually fell asleep in a hammock and shade he fashioned from sheets as she hand-filed piston bores. The sun was low in the sky when he finally woke.
His eyes fluttered open and he saw Dana sitting in the captain’s chair behind the wheel.
“You’re so still and quiet when you sleep,” she said.
“Please stop letting me sleep so long,” he said, making no move to get out of the hammock.
“Tough luck, Mr. Concussion Head. Besides, I don’t mess with people while they’re sleeping.
“Are you feeling better?” he asked.
“Yes, actually. Working with my hands has always been therapeutic for me.”
She pushed him with her foot and the hammock swayed gently.
“You ever try to have sex in a hammock?” she asked, grinning.
He watched her with his eyes half-closed. “What’s for dinner?” he asked.
Dana shrugged. “That’s your department,” she said.
“You can’t cook?”
“Nope. And I don’t want to learn. But I did catch some fish.” She pointed to a large plastic bucket. “Tuna, I think.”
Phelps struggled out of the hammock. He walked over and peered into the bucket. Three large fish fought for space within its confines.
“You’ve been busy,” he said.
“Not really. The dolphins herded them alongside the boat and I scooped them up.”
“Give me a minute to wake up,” said Phelps. “I’ll cook.”
He yawned and stretched and scrubbed his fingers through his hair, flexing his shoulders and rolling his neck. The wind blew his hair into his eyes and his navel peeked out from beneath his shirt when he raised his arms above his head. He turned and caught her staring.
“What is it?” he asked, dropping his arms.
“IMF used to give out cyanide capsules.”
Phelps kept his face expressionless. “Used to. Yes,” he said, facing her squarely.
“Did you have one?”
Phelps nodded once.
“Would you have taken it?”
“Came close a couple of times.”
“I would’ve slit my own throat before I let Segovia--.” She stopped and bit down on her lower lip.
Rape was a weapon of war and torture. Always was, always will be. Phelps had nearly been a victim himself when a struggle in a dark Moscow alley turned into…something else. Phelps recalled how savagely he had fought and how he bashed the other man’s head into the bricks until his skull was mush.
“You’re safe now,” he said.
She continued staring at him--so intently, that he started to get uncomfortable.
“What are you staring at?” he asked
“Will you do something for me?” she asked.
“Anything. You know that.”
“I need to wash Segovia away,” she said.
“He’s gone, Dana. You saw. He’s shark chum.”
“That’s not what I mean. I need him out of my head.”
“There’s some pretty good rum in the stores but I don’t think we should--.”
Dana held up her hand. “I don’t want to get drunk, Jim,” she said.
“I don’t understand.”
“I need the memory of his hands on my body gone. I need to replace it with something else. Something good.”
“Dana, you have to tell me what you’re asking,” said Phelps. He knew what she was asking. He also knew that he might not be able to talk himself out of it.
She stood and walked over to him. She rested her hands on his hips. “I need you to make love to me, Jim.”
“You’re still in shock,” he said softly.
“Probably,” said Dana.
“You just think you want that.”
“I’m pretty good at knowing what I need.”
“The feeling will pass.”
“I know what you’re thinking, Jim. I know you’ve had a lot of practice with saying no to this.”
He did occasionally have to reject advances from members of his staff. Most of them got past it, even laughed about it. Some didn’t and he rotated them off the team.
“I’m not what you want, Dana. You need time. And you need to get off this boat,” he said.
She stepped into his body and wrapped her arms around his neck. He let her kiss him but kept his arms at his sides. He had to admit that it was a good kiss. She ran her fingers into his hair and stood on her toes to press her hips hard against his.
“You don’t know what I need. You’ve never been threatened with rape.”
His eyes blinked away from Dana’s.
She raised both brows. “Really,” she said.
Phelps was silent.
“What did you do after?” she asked.
“I went back to my room and burned myself in the shower for an hour.”
“Nothing.” He looked away again.
“You’re lying,” she said.
“I called a friend. Look, Dana. It’s not the same,” he said.
“It is the same, Jim. And this is me calling a friend. You need it as much as I do.”
“It’s absolutely the wrong time for this, Dana.”
“We could die tomorrow.”
“I’m old enough to be your father.”
“Do you realize you haven’t actually said no?”
“I just don’t want to complicate things,” said Phelps.
“Actually, it’s pretty simple.”
Phelps took a small step back from her. “I’ll cook the fish and the rest of those plantains. How does that sound?” he said.
“Will you stop being Mr. Phelps,” she paused and looked him over. “For at least twenty minutes?”
“Twenty minutes? I’m not that old,” he said.
“All right, thirty minutes.”
“Insulting my manhood is not going to get me in the sack.”
Dana responded by pulling her shirt over her head and dropping it on the deck.
“That’s not going to work either,” said Phelps.
She hooked her thumbs in the waist of her jeans and pushed them down. This was the first time he saw her naked body in full light. He exhaled softly through pursed lips.
“Ok,” he said. “That might work.”
“Always does,” said Dana.
“I can’t make you any promises, Dana.”
“I’m not asking.”
“Come here to me,” said Phelps.
Posted by girl6 at 8:39 PM