"Perry, I can't tell you how grateful I am to have had your help on this case."
Jerry was standing with Perry in Perry's office, while Captains Caldwell and McVey stood to the side. Perry smiled, clapping Jerry on the shoulder.
"I'm always glad to help out a friend," he said. "Or two." He glanced to Mike. "What's going to happen now?"
"Well, we're all going back to Vandenberg," McVey said. "I'll fill out my report and Portman will be heavily interrogated. Her neurosurgeon friend is already being sought. And if she has a contact in the Air Force, he or she has to be found and arrested. And . . . well, even though we all know the truth by now, I'm not sure the Air Force at large will be convinced. Captain Caldwell may have to undergo a hearing to prove that he's really who he says he is."
Mike looked to Perry. "If that happens, will you represent me, Mr. Mason?"
"Why, I'd be most happy to," Perry said.
Jerry smiled. "And I'll see if I can pull some strings for you, Mike. You might not be able to get your old job back, but I might be able to fix it for you to work at the base." He walked over to the other man. "This time I'm going to stand by you."
Mike looked at him in amazement. "Thank you," he said. "You . . . all of you . . . have been kinder than I deserve." He glanced to Perry and McVey as well.
"Mike, we were both being manipulated by Portman," Jerry said. He shook his head. "That's some drug she uses. I felt woozy off and on for hours after it was supposed to have worn off."
"I'm glad she didn't get the chance to try it on me," Perry said.
"So am I," Mike declared. "No one deserves that fate."
"Speaking of Portman," McVey broke in, "what's happened to Mr. Drake?" He met Perry's gaze. "I haven't seen much of him since his and Major Reynolds' plan went down."
Perry sighed. "To tell you the truth, I haven't either, Captain. But I have a feeling he'll pull through just fine. Even if there are some obstacles along the way."
"I certainly hope so," McVey frowned.
"Will the three of you and Lieutenant Philips be joining us for dinner tonight before you have to go back to Vandenberg?" Perry asked, wanting to change the subject. In spite of their honest concern, he was sure Paul would not want them discussing him on this issue.
"You can count on it," Mike grinned.
"Good. Oh, Captain." Perry turned his attention to Caldwell. "Have you had any ill effects since the chip was deactivated?"
"None," was the reply. "It . . ." He frowned. "It looks like Portman's analysis was right; it can't be gotten out without a heavy risk to my life. And if I can live normally with it there, I'm in no hurry to mess with it."
Perry nodded. "We'll see how it goes, then." There was the chance, he supposed, that some kinds of electronic equipment could activate it again. Caldwell would probably have to go through a series of tests to determine if it was even safe for him to work at Vandenberg. But Perry would hope and pray for the best, as he knew the others would.
"That's all we can do," Mike said with a nod of his own.
". . . And that's the rest of the story."
Hamilton leaned back, watching Mignon as he finished his explanation of the Caldwell case. Mignon nodded slowly, seeming lost in thought.
"I see," she said at last. "Then everything is alright for Major Reynolds and his friend?"
"As far as we can tell, yes." Hamilton sat up straighter, watching as Howie came back into the room from getting a glass of water.
". . . I suppose the dream I had may have pertained to that woman torturing Major Reynolds," Mignon remarked. "I felt that I was responsible in some way. That could be because of how I spoke with him when he visited me. It was our conversation that led him to seek out Captain Caldwell and eventually resulted in his capture."
"I guess you could look at it that way," Hamilton said slowly.
"You still don't believe in prophetic dreams, Hamilton?" Mignon watched him, still calm and collected.
"Oh, I don't really know what I believe anymore, Mignon."
Instead of pursuing the topic, Mignon let it drop. Hamilton suddenly looked so tired. The last few months had greatly aged him. It was difficult, to have to be forced to accept things that he had not accepted for most of his life.
Hamilton was grateful for her silence. He used the lull in the conversation to turn his attention to the patiently waiting Howie. "And how are you doing today, Howie?" he asked. "Have you still been having those bad dreams?"
Howie shifted and looked away. "Well, kinda," he said. "Sometimes. Maybe not as much as I was."
"Good." Hamilton gestured for Howie to come closer. "Maybe sooner or later they'll go away completely. Or maybe once in a while they'll come back, but not for long. It's like I told you, Howie—horrible experiences take time to get over."
Howie nodded. "Yeah, I guess so." He made a face. "But I wish they'd go away and never come back."
"Me too," Hamilton admitted.
"Are you still having them too, Mr. Burger?" Howie asked.
"Sometimes," Hamilton said.
Mignon hid a smile. She enjoyed watching them interact. And, though Hamilton might not believe it, he was good with children. Larry had adored him and thought of him as an honorary uncle. Mignon felt that she was watching a repeat of that with Howie.
Lieutenant Tragg started and looked up as Lucy bounded into the kitchen. She was all smiles and excited about something. He could take a wild guess as to what.
"You're feeling better now, aren't you?" she chirped.
"Better?" Tragg set down his cup and leaned back in the chair. "About what?"
"Oh, you." Lucy plopped down at a chair nearly across from him. "Lieutenant Drumm just called. He said he wanted to make sure he had the right information for dinner tonight! You're going to dinner with him?"
"It's a group thing," Tragg said. "Everyone's going, to celebrate the end of the case."
"And you didn't say a word!" Lucy shook her head. Recovering swiftly, she leaned forward with her hands on her knees. "You are feeling better. I know it!"
At last Tragg smiled. "Yes, I am," he conceded. "I finally accepted that I had to put the past behind me and move forward. Funny thing is, it was a man who lost much more than I did to make me see that. Even his own life." At Lucy's expression he chuckled. "I'll tell you about it someday."
"And I'd like to know . . . someday," Lucy said. "But right now I'm just so thankful I have you back." She got up from the table and gave him a quick hug.
"Well . . ." Surprised at first, Tragg then returned it. He felt good, better than he had in a long time.
Jerry and Mike were quiet as they left Perry's office, each caught up in his own thoughts. They had not had much chance for conversation since Portman's capture. Most of the time had been spent with them being examined by licensed doctors to determine their states and what could be done for them.
"Mike," Jerry said at last, "you seem different than you did before."
"What do you expect?" Mike retorted. "The chip's deactivated. I'm a free man again."
"That's not what I mean." Jerry gave him a sidelong glance. "The last time we were able to talk in private you acted cold and hard. And you acted like we could never be friends again. Do you feel different now?"
Mike gave a resigned sigh. "Well . . . you already managed to piece together that I was partially trying to protect you when I said that," he said. "And the rest . . ." He raised his arms and then dropped them. "It doesn't seem important anymore.
"As far as I'm concerned, we're friends again."
"Even after what I did?" Jerry clenched a fist. "Portman really managed to get to me with her drug. I thought I wanted to kill you. I tried to."
"You didn't try very hard," Mike pointed out. "Anyway, you said yourself that we were both being manipulated by her. Let's just call it even, shall we? And move on."
Jerry smiled. "Yes," he said. "Let's do that."
He had the feeling they really could.
Mignon had left to take Howie home when another, somewhat hesitant, knock came at Hamilton's office door. He looked up in surprise. "Come in?"
The door opened and Paul was standing there, with an odd mixture of sheepish guilt and awkwardness on his face. "Hey."
Hamilton raised an eyebrow. "Paul, what in the name of . . ."
Paul entered, shutting the door behind him. "I need to tell you something," he said, all of a sudden blunt.
"Well, fine," Hamilton said. "When you look like that, I wish you would."
"I really was just putting on an act the other day, when Jerry and I escaped from Portman's place." Paul dropped his hands to his sides. "But she was trying to get to me. And I won't deny that she stuck some doubts in my head. I got past them, by the way. I want you to know that, too.
"But when I was trying to make Portman's goons think I was serious, I accused you and Perry collectively of using me and then singled you out first. It didn't go any further because they shot at Jerry about then. I would have specifically accused Perry too, if I'd had to." He drew a deep breath. "But I went after you first on purpose."
"Go on." Hamilton watched him, a bit puzzled as to where this was going. And, perhaps, dreading it a bit as well.
"I guess I half-thought that would be more believable," Paul said. "Portman knew about everything, including the . . . the trouble we've had. But that wasn't the only reason I did it." His shoulders slumped and he looked guilty again. "I think I mainly thought that, between you and Perry, if neither of you had figured out it was an act, you might not take it as hard. And maybe I'm wrong about that, I don't know." He gestured wildly with his hands. "I didn't have much time to think it out back then. But later, when it started sinking in, I remembered what you'd said that time we argued at the hospital and I wondered . . ."
"Paul." Hamilton got up, distinctly relieved now. ". . . I thought maybe you were going to say it was because you were really wondering if what you accused me of the other day is true. It's not, by the way."
"I know," Paul said. It was a relief of his own to realize that he really did.
"And I did at least suspect it was an act," Hamilton continued. "Perry figured it out first, but it made sense to me."
"Well, that's good." But Paul still hesitated. ". . . What if you hadn't figured that out, though?"
Hamilton considered the question. "I don't know," he admitted. "If I'd thought you were serious, I would have been upset. Hurt, too. But I can't say if I would've taken it harder than Perry. I don't even know what you were going to accuse Perry of doing."
Paul nodded. "And that's something I'm going to take up with Perry. Probably. If I bring it up at all."
"Maybe it would be better just to drop it," Hamilton said. "Nobody knows other than you and Portman. And Jerry, I guess. And unless it's something you're really starting to believe, it might save some needlessly hurt feelings to keep it that way."
"Yeah, maybe." Paul did not feel close enough to Hamilton to delve deeper into the matter, but he still wondered if it should be approached. He could not deny that he had felt upset when it sometimes seemed that he was not being considered as much as the clients. But he knew Perry cared. Portman had just been trying to warp things all around. Maybe Hamilton was right and it would be better to leave it alone.
"Of course, if it's something that's really bothering you, you should go ahead and say it," Hamilton went on. "Friends shouldn't have secret resentments between them. You know I always advocate saying what you really feel."
"Yeah, I know." Paul moved for the door. "Well, thanks. I just wanted to let you know where we stand."
"That's a lot, coming from you," Hamilton said.
Paul really was making an effort. Maybe, Hamilton hoped, they would be able to continue pursuing this idea of forging a friendship.
"What a case this has been."
Perry looked up from adjusting his tie as Della entered his office, complete with evening gown and fur stole for the dinner gathering. "Oh?" he greeted. "How do you mean?"
Della regarded him in amazement. "Mad scientists, dead men being brought back to life, mind-controlling drugs and chips. . . . I feel like I've been living in a science-fiction thriller for the last few days!"
Perry smiled and got up from his desk. "Don't forget old friends finally being able to patch up their misunderstandings," he said. "They've been on the outs for nearly twenty years. I'd say they've made some very significant steps in the right direction."
"You're right," Della agreed. "No matter what happened to bring them to that point, it's a blessing that they've made it. I just hope things will be better for them from now on."
"So do I. They both deserve it.
"And I see you were right, Della."
"Right?" Della blinked. "About what?"
"You were certain that Captain Caldwell wasn't a fraud," Perry elaborated. "Even when it seemed too impossible to be true, you believed it—and him."
"You shouldn't ever doubt a woman's intuition," Della said with a playful and satisfied smile.
"I suppose I shouldn't," Perry agreed. "It certainly came through this time." He smiled at his long-time secretary and dear friend. "Shall we go, Miss Street?"
Della extended her arm. "I'd be happy to, Mr. Mason."
As Perry escorted her to the door, Paul suddenly opened it. They all regarded each other in surprise.
"Well, I'm just on time," Paul declared.
"And we'll all be late if we don't hurry," Perry said. Although he still wondered what Paul had been upset about, this was not the time to ask. Especially when Paul was doing his best to make everything appear normal. Maybe it was something he would rather not discuss at all. So Perry asked a much different question instead. "Are you riding with us, Paul?"
"I was just coming to see if you'd like to ride with me for a change," Paul said. "My car's all gassed up and ready to go."
"I think that's a wonderful idea," Perry smiled. "What do you think, Della?"
"An evening of having our own private chauffeur?" Della half-teased. "I'm all for that."
"Alright then," Paul said grandly. "Then we're off."
The three friends left the office building, each more than ready for a few hours of relaxation and fun. Their latest case had been bizarre, and had left them with more than a few unanswered questions and some lingering uneasiness, but for a while they could put it all aside and be grateful that all had turned out relatively well.
In the end, good had again triumphed.