||JAG Story, Adventure,
words; 110 pages (8 ˝” x 11”)
brings Harm and Mac closer
“What part of ‘no’ are you having so much trouble with?” Harm barked at
Bud as the two lawyers exited the courtroom.
“Sir, it’s the best offer your client is going to get,” Bud sighed,
frustration clearly evident in his voice. “Even you can’t pull enough
rabbits out of your bag of tricks for the court martial to turn out any
better than the Article 32. Ten years confinement is very generous.”
Stopping to take a deep breath, “Okay, Bud. I’ll propose it to my
client, but I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you,” Harm smiled
apologetically before entering his office and closing the door loudly
“No improvement I gather?” Sturgis commented to Bud, frowning at Harm’s
“No, sir. I sure wish Colonel MacKenzie would hurry up and come back.
With every passing day, his disposition gets more and
Mac had been in Iraq for almost a month. Stepping in for the field JAG
who had slipped coming out of the makeshift showers and broken his leg
in two places. They needed an alternate senior JAG on short notice, and
Mac’s language skills placed her top on the list of contenders until a
permanent replacement could be found.
What was originally supposed to have been a two week TAD was now
crawling toward four weeks, and more and more, Harm was beginning to
resemble a bear awoken too early from hibernation.
Sitting down at his desk, Harm immediately clicked his flashing yellow
icon. A smile instantly replaced the furrowed brows when he spotted not
one, but two emails from Mac.
‘Hi Sailor, I laughed so hard at your last email my side still hurts.
Stop worrying about me so much. Rest assured, the only dangerous place
they let me anywhere near is the showers, LOL. And I have no intention
of breaking my leg. Honestly, Harm, you know how they protect their Jags
around here. I’m probably safer than you are. Speaking of which, how’s
the Beltway been lately?’
Grinning from ear to ear, Harm read and laughed at the rest of her email
and quickly scanned through the next one. This wasn’t the first time he
and Mac had been separated by a TAD assignment, but he couldn’t remember
ever missing her as much as he did now.
Since Mattie had left, he and Mac had been spending more and more time
together. Then she had that horrible accident on Christmas Eve and they
seemed to finally connect. For the first time in a long time, Harm
allowed himself to think that having Mac in his life could be more than
a dream. Their friendship was back on track and they seemed to be
growing closer then they’d ever been when the General assigned Mac to
Iraq. To make matters worse, the senior staff members were more than
overworked trying to keep up in her absence.
Harm knew he was being a little gruff… okay, a lot gruff, but he missed
Mac so damn much! Never before had he felt such empathy for the military
families left behind. Taking a deep sigh, he hit the reply button.
Somewhere in Iraq
“Colonel Howell would like to see you ASAP, ma’am,” the baby faced gunny
Mac couldn’t help but wonder; were these men all really that young, or
had she really just gotten that old? “Right away, Gunny. Thank you.”
She hit send and closed her laptop. Military communication had certainly
improved since she first joined the Corps. As much as she loved being a
marine, she didn’t want to think about how much lonelier she’d feel if
she couldn’t keep in touch with Harm as often as email allowed.
“You sent for me, sir?” Mac stood at attention.
“At ease. We’ve had more trouble reported at the prison. Some DIA
officials are reporting that recently captured insurgents are
complaining of brutal treatment.” Colonel Howell stood almost six foot
four, had sandy brown hair, and the deepest blue eyes Mac had ever seen.
He also had a wife and four children, not that it mattered to Mac. Her
heart belonged to only one military man, and he most definitely was not
“I really don’t want to do this, but I don’t have a choice. I’ve got no
one else available who can communicate with the detainees.” Howell
really disliked the idea of sending Mac to interview the prisoners. It
wasn’t so much the prison that worried him, it was transportation to the
prison. He’d lost three more men to insurgent ambushes. He really didn’t
want to have to write a letter home to whoever was waiting for Mac. “The
sooner we investigate this and submit a report, the better off we’ll all
“Mac.” Much like Admiral Chegwidden, Ken Howell reverted to Mac’s name
instead of rank when he had something important to convey. “No heroics,
please. I don’t want to send you home horizontally. Just interview the
people involved and get back here.”
“I’ll do my best.” Mac flashed a half smile. Ever since she’d ridden
shotgun with the Gunny to check out some rumors of Al-Qaeda hiding out
in a village not far from the encampment, the Colonel had been keeping a
closer eye on her.
Colonel Howell respected Mac as a marine, but his grandma’s southern
upbringing just didn’t mesh with the idea of a female so close to
combat. Hell, who was he kidding? He hated sending any of these kids out
to patrol the streets. Looking down at his watch, he did some fast
calculating; it was1300 hours, and a two hour drive to camp would put
them there at 1500. She’d have to get all the information she needed in
only thirty minutes in order to make it back to camp before sunset. No,
even she’s not that good.
“You’ll leave first thing in the morning, 0700.” He had to send her
soon, but the least he could do was make sure they traveled in daylight
0800 hours (1600 Baghdad)
“We’re expecting the new attorneys sometime this week. Lt. Vukovic will
sit second chair with you on the MacDonald case,” the General glanced at
“Lt. Mayfield will assist you with the Denning court martial.” His eyes
briefly shifted towards Bud.
Harm remained perfectly still in his seat, even though his insides were
squirming around. It was usually the General’s practice to address the
most senior officer first. He wasn’t sure what to make of this delay.
“Commander, that leaves us with you.”
“Sir.” Brother, this man may be shorter than Harm in stature, but his
glare could make a SEAL nervous.
“We’ve had more trouble in Iraq.” Cresswell was momentarily taken aback
at the obvious blanching on Harm’s face. Coates was right, he wasn’t
going to find two more impassioned people.
“There’s been another report of detainee abuse. The Director of the
Defense Intelligence Agency has sent a letter to some of the big brass
at the Pentagon. They’re demanding an immediate investigation. If we
want to cut this one off at the pass I’m going to need my best people
out there handling it. Colonel Howell has ordered Colonel MacKenzie to
do the initial inquiry. She’s not going to have enough time to devote to
this and keep up with the constant changes in the ROEs on the field.”
“Understood, sir.” Some of the color was coming back to Harm’s face, but
he wasn’t happy about Mac interviewing at the prison. The last time she
tried to interview prisoners was a few years ago in Afghanistan and she
wound up in the middle of an uprising with a knife to her throat.
“Perhaps it would be best if the Colonel were to wait for me to arrive.
Then I wouldn’t have to rely on second hand information regarding the
interviews.” That sounded a little like he had a good reason and not so
much like he was scared to death for Mac.
General Cresswell stared long and hard at Rabb before answering.
“It will take close to 24 hours to get to Iraq. I wouldn’t call that
expedient.” Cresswell was still glaring at Harm. This would prove to be
a very informative assignment, of that much he was sure.
“Understood, sir.” Harm stiffened his stance.
“Petty Officer Coates has your travel orders. Your flight leaves in
three hours. I want this handled quickly and quietly.”
“Aye, aye,” Harm nodded. Glancing down at his watch, he knew it would be
a crunch to clear off his desk, run home for a bag, and make his flight.
Iraqi detention center
1100 hours next day
Mac had been interviewing, or trying to interview detainees for over an
hour. She was getting absolutely nowhere. The first half-hour after her
arrival had been wasted convincing the powers that be that she needed to
interview the detainees one at a time, in private. A group interview in
the open was not going to work. She’d gone that route once before, and
would never make the same mistake twice in her lifetime.
“Gunny, remind me when we get back to base that I like my job.” Mac
cleared her throat. This was the frustrating side of her work; if she
had thought she was accomplishing something she wouldn’t mind. Having
angry, disrespectful men ignore her, or worse, spit on her, was not her
idea of a profitable way to spend the day.
“Yes, ma’am,” Gunnery Sergeant Todd Billings nodded, a small smile
tugging at the corners of his mouth. He liked working with the Colonel.
When she first arrived, he was none too happy to have been assigned to a
paper-pushing lawyer, never mind a female paper-pushing lawyer. It
wasn’t long before he realized Lt. Colonel Sarah MacKenzie was a force
to be reckoned with: marine first, lawyer second. He would follow her to
hell and back, mostly because he knew she’d bring him home.
“What do you say we take a break and you find us something to eat?” The
food in Iraq wasn’t anything close to haute cuisine, but it hadn’t
deterred her appetite any. She had taken a liking to Gunny Billings. The
kid looked like he’d fallen off a Boy Scout recruiting poster from the
Midwest, but she trusted him. In many ways he reminded her of a young
Gunnery Sergeant Victor Galindez.
“Yes, ma’am. If you need anything, Corporal Watkins will be outside the
door.” Gunny snapped to attention, then turned in search of a decent
Mac looked over the information she’d been given before leaving base
camp. She’d looked it over for hours last night. Nothing had changed,
but she reviewed it again. These damned accusations were a cauldron of
trouble just waiting to overflow and burn everyone within a fifty-mile
radius. At least she could safely assume the lack of willingness to
corroborate the recent claim by the allegedly abused prisoners to mean
the complaint was unfounded. She certainly hoped so; the Iraqi campaign
didn’t need another public relations black eye.
Airplane over Kuwait
Harm’s flight was preparing to land. It had been a nine-hour flight to
Frankfurt, followed by an hour and a half layover, before his connecting
flight to Kuwait. Now he would change from commercial travel to a C-130
to Iraq, leaving only an hour and a half flight to go. Depending on how
long before the next transport was available, it could be only a few
hours until he saw Mac again.
Packing his files away in his carryon, he returned all ten copies of his
orders, along with his letter of exception for the service weapon in his
suitcase. One phrase in his orders kept repeating in his mind over and
over, ‘Authorized to carry both M9 and M16’. Mac’s orders said the same
thing. In fact, everyone sent to Iraq had the same recommendations.
Extra firepower was needed; there wasn’t any post where safety was
guaranteed. Harm didn’t want Mac in Iraq, he wanted her safe back in DC.
Iraqi detention center
“How many more prisoners are there?” Mac asked Gunny Billings.
“Only two, ma’am.”
“Good, let’s get this over with.” Mac moved to the end of the room,
while Gunny escorted the next prisoner in to be interviewed,
“I don’t speak to women,” the prisoner informed the Gunny.
“Well, you don’t have any choice. He only speaks English.” Mac replied
in almost flawless Arabic.
The prisoner glared at her long and hard. When he took a step towards
the table and chair, Mac thought he was going to at least pretend to
participate as the others had. She’d already gotten three corroborating
stories; interviewing this character was nothing more than a formality
at this point.
“What can you tell me about your treatment here?” Mac asked, stepping
closer to the prisoner.
“I don’t speak to women!” the man screamed, grabbing the chair, he
raised it over his head and swung it in Mac’s direction.
Dipping to one side, Mac spun around as the chair landed on the table
beside her, cracking into several pieces. A broken piece of wood still
gripped tightly in her attacker’s hand connected with the side of her
arm at the same moment her leg swung around, knocking the angry man to
In what seemed like a flash, Gunny had the prisoner pinned to the floor.
“Sorry, ma’am! I didn’t see that coming.”
“Neither did I, Gunny, neither did I.” Catching her breath, Mac’s right
arm reached across to her pained left arm. What looked like a platoon of
Marines had stormed through the door and were now escorting the still
fighting prisoner back to his cell.
“Ma’am, we’d better get that looked at.” Gunny’s eyes showed his
concern, despite his outward calm. Mac’s arm was hanging somewhat limply
at her side, her sleeve torn, and a trickle of blood was pouring down a
trail to her hand.
“I’m fine, Gunny.”
“Ma’am, with all due respect, if I bring you back to the Colonel looking
like that, he’s going to have more than just my stripes.”
Mac couldn’t stop the laughter that erupted. “Very well, Gunny. Let’s
stop at sickbay on the way out of here.”
By 1400 hours, Mac’s arm was in a sling, bandaged, and they were all
packed into a humvee on the road back to base camp. Less than an hour
into the ride, they came across an improvised explosives attack on the
“Ma’am, it looks like we have no choice but to turn around in order to
get past this.” Gunny waved his arm at the wrecked and mangled vehicles
blocking their path. “The unit in charge is already in place and has
given us a recommendation for the best way to get to base. The alternate
route isn’t too far back the road. We’ll make camp in about two hours.
We should still beat sunset, ma’am.”
“There’s nothing we can do to help with this mess?” Mac glanced around
at the dozens of dead or injured bodies strewn about the roadside.
“No, ma’am. They’ve got it all under control. They’re used to this
ma’am.” He hated making it sound so callous.
The suggested turn off the main road led through the center of a small
abandoned village. Something didn’t feel right. The hairs on the back of
Mac’s neck bristled as the large vehicle hummed down the narrow road.
Everyone aboard was poised for action, they all felt it. The minutes
ticked by in slow motion until the first blaring sounds of rapid fire
were heard. Then all hell broke loose.
Gunfire was coming from every direction. Returning fire, Mac heard
Gunny’s voice echoing behind her. “Get us out of here!” Another voice
hollered back, “Can’t, there’s a car up ahead blocking the way.”
Just then, Mac heard a bullet fly past and stop silently beside her.
Quickly shifting to the other side, she tried to examine the young
corporal who had taken the shot.
“Stay down, ma’am. I’m okay.”
“You let me be the judge. Where are you hit?” Mac ducked her head,
hoping the next bullet didn’t have any of their names on it.
“It’s just my arm, I’m fine. Really.” The sound of another voice
screaming ‘incoming’ distracted the two Marines. Looking behind her, Mac
saw a nondescript blur swerving towards them, full speed ahead. Grabbing
her extra weapon, she and the young corporal made a last minute attempt
to dive out of the way before the oncoming vehicle struck. A ball of
fire blew around them upon impact, sending the occupants of the humvee
“Colonel, can you hear me? Colonel?!” Gunny Billings yelled loudly into
Mac’s ear. Scrambling to reach the radio, Gunny checked the corporal a
few feet away but was too late. The explosion had done what the snipers
Mac’s head felt like it weighed a thousand pounds, her insides were on
fire. The gunfire around her sounded so loud, yet hollow. Where was her
gun? She needed to return fire...the gun. Her mind was drifting to a
quieter, more comfortable place. She could hear him, was that Harm? No,
not Harm. The voice was too hard, too different... ‘Still taking
“I need that medivac, NOW!” Gunny shouted over the sounds of gunfire. To
hell and back, he thought, to hell and back.
Harm had been waiting in Colonel Howell’s office for nearly twenty
minutes. When the Colonel finally hung up the phone, Harm straightened
in his seat.
“Sorry for the delay. I’ve had two IEA’s in the last four hours, and now
it looks like there’s a coordinated ambush effort on all the alternate
routes around the problem.” The Colonel rubbed one side of his face
roughly before running the same hand through his hair and down the back
of his neck. “My medics are spread too thin. I hate days like this.”
“Yes, sir.” What more could Harm say?
“I’m expecting Colonel MacKenzie back any minute. I’m afraid we’re a
little short on space here. The only spare bunks left in officer
quarters are in Colonel MacKenzie’s tent. We don’t have the luxury of
separate facilities, and she’s pretty good about sharing. Until now
we’ve managed to limit it to female officers only so she’s had the tent
to herself, but she’s going to have to put up with you for the time
being. ” The Colonel wasn’t sure, but he thought he saw Harm squirm,
probably wondering exactly what ‘facilities’ weren’t separate. Surely he
wasn’t any more immune to Colonel MacKenzie’s assets than the rest of
them. If the Commander was any kind of man, his mind was most likely
already in the showers. Colonel Howell decided he’d wait until later to
mention how the men practically stand guard when she showers, allowing
her at least some privacy. Although, if he weren’t happily married, he
wouldn’t mind letting his mind wander to sharing the shower with her
“Sir,” a scrawny private stood in the doorway.
“About Colonel MacKenzie, sir.”
“What’s her ETA?” Colonel Howell moved around the desk to take a seat.
“I’m not sure, sir.” The private was starting to sweat profusely, and it
wasn’t from the oppressing heat of the Iraqi climate. No one wanted to
face Colonel Howell with bad news regarding Colonel MacKenzie.
“Explain yourself, private.” Howell could smell something was wrong.
“I believe she’s been injured in the ambush, sir.”
“Damn,” he mumbled under his breath. “What do you mean, you believe?”
“Her detachment radioed in they were taking sniper fire and had
casualties. According to Gunny, they needed back up and a medivac for
“One that we know of, sir.” The private was standing his ground.
“How do you know the Colonel’s been injured?” Howell noticed Harm’s
discomfort out of the corner of his eye. Something was definitely up
with these two and it had nothing to do with horny sailors and daydreams
of beautiful Marine colonels showering in the desert.
“Well, sir, when we told the Gunny the medivac units were tied up, he
shouted back ‘SHE needs help NOW.’”
“I see. Is the unit on its way?”
“It is now, sir. Yes.”
“Very well, report as soon as you hear anything. Dismissed.”
“If the Colonel is injured, where will she be taken?” Harm ventured to
ask as soon as the private had left. His control was hanging by a
“The field hospital. I’ll have one of my men take you there.” Howell
picked up the phone. “The two of you are...close.” It wasn’t really a
“We’ve been partners for nine years, yes, sir.” It was an honest answer,
just not the one Harm knew the Colonel was looking for.
Somewhere in Iraq
The chopper landed and uniforms were buzzing around like bees on honey.
Harm had been waiting only a few minutes, but it felt like hours. He’d
been through this once before, waiting to hear if Bud was going to live
or die, the difference then was Mac had been his rock.
At least Colonel Howell understood Harm’s need to be with her.
Harm stood up as Mac’s gurney came rushing past him. She looked so pale,
her face hidden under the oxygen mask. Her clothes were singed and
covered in blood. There was no possible way for Harm to begin to guess
where she was injured, he could only hope it wasn’t all her blood.
Following the gurney until it moved out of sight, Harm’s eyes were drawn
to the disheveled Gunnery Sergeant at his side.
“Were you with her?” Harm’s voice was barely audible.
“Yes, sir.” The Gunny hadn’t moved his eyes from where the gurney had
Harm studied the young man beside him and wondered if this was the young
kid Mac referred to so often in her emails as ‘baby face’. Covered in
blood and dust, the reality of war camouflaged his youthful features.
“What happened?” Harm turned towards the obviously distraught soldier.
“We were ambushed while rerouting to avoid an IEA.” As if only just now
realizing someone was talking to him, the Gunny turned to look at Harm.
“I’m sorry, sir.” He snapped stiffly to attention.
“At ease. It could be a while. You’d better take a seat, then tell me
“It felt wrong.” Gunny pulled the M16 rifle from his shoulder and fell
heavily into the closest chair. “From the minute we turned down the
quiet narrow road, it just felt wrong. Sure enough, partway into the
village, we were taking fire. They had us locked in and pinned down. I
managed to make it clear of the vehicle, taking up a better position on
the other side of the street to return fire, when I heard Corporal
Watkins shout incoming in time to see a small truck burst into flames on
impact with the humvee.”
Harm took a deep breath, his fingers tightening the hold on his cover,
his knuckles turning white with pressure.
“I got to the Colonel first. She was unconscious and covered in blood. I
checked Corporal Beaux beside her - he was already dead. Watkins had
taken some shrapnel in his legs but was still returning fire. I radioed
for help. I could tell the Colonel was in bad shape. I’m not a medic,
sir, but even I knew if I didn’t do something we’d lose her. Blood was
gushing from her thigh so I tied a tourniquet and applied pressure to
her bleeding shoulder. She still wouldn’t wake up. I honestly didn’t
think we would be able to hold out till the response team arrived. When
I saw our guys working their way up the street towards us, I thought I
was dreaming.” Gunny’s hands began running a path across the tops of his
legs, from his knee to his hips and back again.
“The response team?” Harm asked.
“No, sir. More marines caught up in the detour. They saw the fireball
and scrambled. They’re the ones who secured the area so the medivac
could land.” Gunny was still rubbing his legs, slowly working off the
“Sounds to me like you may have saved her, Gunny. Thank you.” Harm was
still gripping his cover as if Mac’s life depended on it.
“Doing my job, sir.” Gunny took a long look at Harm, “Permission to
“You must be the email partner.” A hint of a smile teased one corner of
“Excuse me?” Harm wasn’t sure he followed the question.
“The only time I ever saw the Colonel smile a ‘real’ smile, you know,
the kind that reaches her eyes, was when she’d been reading her email.
One time, I came in just before she closed her laptop. She must have
recognized the look of curiosity in my eyes, because she volunteered,
‘My partner at JAG.’ You made her happy.”
“And I thought she was counting ways to keel haul me instead of sheep.”
Harm cracked a small smile. He had hoped he had the same effect on Mac
as she had on him, he just hadn’t wanted to find out this way.
“Any news yet?” Colonel Howell came walking up to Harm.
“Nothing official,” Harm stood up at attention, “but according to the
Gunny here, it doesn’t look good.”
“At ease. Surely there’s someone here who can tell us something?” Howell
looked around. The operating room was nothing more than a large
container attached to a tent. Where exactly was he supposed to find
information? The entire field hospital was a scattering of tents,
containers, and old buildings fenced into an enclosed area. There were
as many MPs as there were medical personnel.
“A nurse came through there a few minutes ago, but didn’t say anything.”
Gunny pointed to the door Mac had disappeared through.
The three men sat staring at each other, the ceiling, and the doorway to
the OR. Neither said much. Occasionally someone echoed the other’s heavy
sigh of frustration.
“I’m going to need to get back,” Howell said, looking at his watch. He’d
been here for almost forty minutes. Mac was a good lawyer and a damned
fine Marine, and he hoped a friend, but no matter how worried he was
about her, things were still happening with the rest of the war and he’d
already taken out too much time as it was.
“I assume you gentlemen are waiting for news on Colonel MacKenzie?” A
soft voice spoke from the doorway.
“Yes ma’am.” The three sprang up.
“She’s in pretty bad shape. Broken ribs, wrist, multiple lacerations,
dislocated shoulder, second degree burns. Those are the easy ones.
They’ve removed the bullet from her shoulder and repaired the damage to
her leg. One of you do the tourniquet?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Gunny answered.
“Good job. You definitely saved the leg, maybe her life. There’s
internal bleeding. They’re operating now to find the source. If they can
stop it, then we wait and see.” Without waiting for any questions or
comments, the nurse pulled her mask over her nose and hurried through
the double doors.
“I need to call General Cresswell,” Harm mumbled.
“Already done. I’ll update him as soon as I get back to my desk. Make
sure I stay informed.” Howell nodded at Harm, then the Gunny, and headed
back to camp.
‘IF’, if they could stop it. The words rolled around in his head like
dice on a craps table. Of course they could stop it. They’re doctors.
That’s what they do. They do it every day. Don’t they? Dear God, please.
Harm flopped in the chair, his naval demeanor gone, the terrified man
“She’s tough,” Gunny offered quietly.
“Excuse me?” Harm looked up.
“She’s tough, but I’m sure you know that.” Gunny smiled a little.
“Yes, I do.” Harm appreciated the kid’s efforts. Mac was right, he had a
baby face. All these kids were too young to be here. “I know I said it
before...but, thank you.”
“She’d have done the same for any of us. She means a lot to you, doesn’t
she?” He was definitely overstepping the boundaries with a superior
officer, but somehow, it didn’t seem to matter here.
“More than I like to admit.” Harm berated himself.
The two men sat in silence. Time passed in slow motion. To Harm, the
quiet ticking of the clock on the wall pounded loudly, like a time bomb
waiting to explode. The seconds seemed like hours, the minutes like
days. The hours were eternal.
Gunnery Sergeant Billings had long since returned to duty, when the
nurse finally came to tell Harm he could see Mac.
“She’s stable now. The bleeding seems to be under control. They had to
go back in a second time, but her pressure is up and her color is good.”
Harm walked slowly towards Mac’s bed. The machinery by her side drew his
attention. Blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen rate, his eyes rose to the
IV bags. She was probably on a boatload of antibiotics to avoid
“Why is she on oxygen?” He moved even closer to the bed, his eyes
focused on the narrow tubing under her nose, not sure anyone was still
there to hear him.
“One of the broken ribs punctured her lung. We had to re-inflate it.
It’ll be easier for her to breathe with a little extra oxygen. She’ll
probably be on her own by tomorrow if there aren’t any more
complications.” A tall, dark haired woman answered.
“Is she really going to be okay?” Noticing her eagles, Harm realized she
must be Mac’s doctor, or one of her doctors.
“I’m cautiously optimistic. We almost lost her twice on the table. She’s
a fighter though, that’s very important.” Colonel Abigail Hawkins
watched Harm intently.
“Thank you.” Harm had taken Mac’s hand in his. His eyes glancing quickly
for someplace to sit.
“I’ll have someone bring you a chair. I gather you’re going to be here a
while.” Intrigued by the naval Commander’s apparent attachment to her
patient, Colonel Hawkins wondered what their relationship might be.
Family members generally weren’t stationed together in a war zone, and
these two were definitely more than drinking buddies. “But you won’t be
able to stay over night,” she cautioned.
Harm turned to look at the woman with all the answers. “I actually have
work to do. You’re sure she’s okay?” Harm turned back to Mac.
“As I said, we’re cautiously optimistic.” Colonel Hawkins waved at one
of the passing orderlies to bring a chair for Harm. “If you think of
anything else, just have some one call me. I’m Colonel Hawkins.”
Letting out a deep sigh, Harm turned fully to the woman. “Sorry, ma’am.
Commander Harmon Rabb, JAG Corps.”
“Go ahead and talk to her, it helps.” Smiling approvingly at the
handsome Commander, Abigail Hawkins turned her attention to her other
Harm took hold of Mac’s hand again, careful not to upset the clips on
her fingers, or the wires draped everywhere. “Oh, Mac.”
He leaned over her bed more closely, not consciously thinking he didn’t
want to be overheard but somehow aware what he wanted to say was for her
“I’m so sorry. I know you need time and space, but I need you. I don’t
care about anything else but you. I can’t do this without you, Mac.
Please don’t give up. Please.” One lone tear streamed down his cheek.
She just had to be okay. “I love you, Sarah,” he whispered quietly.
A nurse tending to a patient on the other side of the curtain couldn’t
help but smile.
Harm had no idea how long he’d been sitting with Mac when Gunny Billings
had shown up to take him back to base. On the ride back Gunny filled
Harm in on all he knew of Mac’s interviews. The notes she’d taken were
destroyed in the firefight, but Billings was able to give Harm fairly
detailed information. He even remembered the names of two of the
witnesses, as well as that of the nutcase that attacked her.
The soldiers were housed twelve to a tent. Officers were bunked as many
as three or four to a tent. Since Mac was the only female officer, she
had been on her own. Harm sat on his bed just looking over at where Mac
should have been sleeping. He’d given up on the case forever ago. He
just couldn’t concentrate. There would be no choice; he was going to
have to go to the prison tomorrow and check everything for himself. With
only three out of twenty witnesses willing to corroborate, Harm wasn’t
so sure there really was anything to corroborate. His instincts told him
this claim was just a DIA overreaction with a prisoner or two usurping
the publicity from the previous situations.
Despite his worry for Mac, the stress of the day and not having slept
much over the last 36 hours was beginning to catch up with him. His body
was giving out. Tomorrow morning he would go check on Mac first thing,
then he would have to tear himself away and find out for himself just
what the hell was really going on with the detainees.
Harm slept more soundly than he had expected to, he just didn’t sleep as
long as he should have. By 0500 he was at Mac’s bedside.
“Shouldn’t she have come to yet?” Harm inquired when the nurse stopped
to change Mac’s IVs.
“Well, she took quite a blow to the head. It’s probably best her body
rest while it can. When she does wake up, she’s going to be in some
serious pain.” The nurse reset some buttons on the machine by the bed,
gave Harm a soft nod, and walked away.
“I guess she’s right.” He spoke to Mac the way the doctor had
encouraged. “I just would feel better if I could hear your voice.” Harm
sat up against the bed, his hand softly stroking hers, carefully
avoiding the rest of her arm. He hoped it wouldn’t scar badly. He was
sure she wouldn’t like that. The doctor said the burns could have been
worse, but Harm hadn’t been there when they’d changed the bandages, he
hadn’t seen for himself. At least she wasn’t on oxygen anymore. Maybe
that was a good sign.
“I have to go to the prison this morning. I think you’re going to be
right, but I have to check it out. Besides, Cresswell might want me in
DC if I call him too soon.” Harm had no intention of returning to DC
without Mac. Not this time. Careful of her IVs, Harm stroked Mac’s hand
and continued talking to her about anything and everything he could
It was 0700 and Baby Face would be here to pick him up any minute. “I’m
going to have to be going. I’ll come back as soon as I can. Get all the
rest you need,” he said, still holding her hand. “Don’t forget, I need
you... I love you, Sarah.” Why hadn’t he found the nerve to tell her
that when she was conscious? Shaking his head, Harm prayed he’d get
After yesterday’s incidents, MPs were everywhere along the road between
the camp and the prison. Harm’s detail arrived without incident.
He interviewed all of the same people Mac had. The witness whose name
Gunny couldn’t remember had come down with second thoughts and recanted
his story. The other two corroborating witnesses gave the same story,
almost verbatim. Proving collusion was going to be easy. One of the last
people brought in was the prisoner who had become violent with Mac.
“What did he say?” Harm asked the translator, Sergeant Andrew Kepo.
“Those were a lot of words for nothing. You just tell me what he said,
I’ll decide whether or not it’s important.” Harm wanted to get back to
Mac. He didn’t need to waste time with a well meaning Sergeant.
“He said it’s about time we smartened up. He heard the woman who didn’t
know her place got what she deserved,” Sergeant Kepo repeated
Harm practically flew across the table. Knocking the chair out from
under the detainee, Harm grabbed his throat and slammed him against the
wall, his feet barely touching the floor.
“SIR!” Gunny Billings shouted, stepping up next to Harm. “Sir, the
Colonel doesn’t need you in the brig.” Gunny’s voice was calm, but his
eyes expressed anything but.
Harm took a deep breath. Not letting go, he looked at the interpreter.
“You tell this… ‘gentleman’… if he ever disrespects a United States
military officer again, he will answer to me personally.” Then Harm let
the man fall to the ground, picked up his notes, and stormed out the
“We’re finished here,” Harm called over his shoulder.
Harm rode all the way back to the hospital in total silence. Billings
and Kepo never said a word to him, and he didn’t bother initiating
conversation. He had everything he needed to rule the allegations false.
All he wanted now was to check on Mac. He could write up his report for
He’d hoped that Mac might be awake when he reached the hospital. He
understood it would somehow be less painful if she remained unconscious
while her body continued to heal, but he needed to hear her voice, to
know for sure she was going to wake up. What he hadn’t expected was to
find Mac not only back on oxygen, but wearing a plastic face mask
instead of the thin tubing. Her color seemed pale and some of the
machinery that had sat unused before was now blinking with activity.
Frantically, he turned to find a nurse.
“What’s going on?” He grabbed at the first medical person to come within
“If you’ll wait a moment, I’ll find her nurse for you.” The older woman
patted Harm’s arm gently. She wasn’t used to coming across concerned
family members out in the field, but she’d had enough experience to
recognize one when she saw one.
Harm sat at Mac’s bedside as he’d done so often over the last two days.
Her skin was hot to the touch, and her breathing seemed so labored. Her
chest would barely move and then suddenly heave outward. This pattern
repeated itself several times before a nurse finally appeared with an
“Why is she on oxygen again?” Harm immediately demanded.
“She’s had some difficulty breathing. The doctors are concerned she may
be coming down with pneumonia. It’s not uncommon after surgery like
hers.” The nurse smiled reassuringly.
“Pneumonia,” Harm repeated. “She feels like she’s burning up.”
“Her white count has been going up. She may have developed an antibiotic
resistant strain of bacteria, so the doctor has ordered a new cocktail
of high strength antibiotics. We’re expecting the lab results back
shortly. She has an infection somewhere. Wherever it is, these new
antibiotics should knock it right out.” The nurse smiled again.
“How serious is this?”
“If it’s pneumonia, it’s always serious. The infection is unsettling,
but she’s young and strong. It shouldn’t be a problem. I’ll be on duty
for another few hours, if you need anything just ask for Judi.”
Double-checking Mac’s lines, and machinery, the nurse returned to
continue with her other responsibilities.
Harm remained glued to Mac’s side for the rest of the day. Thoughts of
prison abuse, and reports for superior officers had completely fled. The
only thing that mattered was having Mac wake up.
“Excuse me, sir.” Gunny cleared his throat. Mac wasn’t looking good, and
at the moment, the Commander wasn’t looking much better. “I’m sorry to
disturb you, but Colonel Howell wants to see you in his quarters ASAP.”
Harm simply nodded his head. Gently he placed Mac’s still warm hand on
the bed, and walked out the door.
“Commander Rabb reporting as ordered, sir,” Harm saluted.
“At ease, Commander. I realize this is difficult for you. I know you and
the Colonel have been…associated for some time. We’ve only had her here
for a month, and half my platoon is waiting with bated breath for news
of her status. Unfortunately, I still have a war to deal with.” Howell
tossed the radio he’d been holding onto a stack of papers and sat down
behind his desk.
“Yes, sir,” Harm acknowledged.
“Sit down, Commander.” Howell paused, watching Harm take a seat. “I’ve
spoken with Cresswell. Apparently the Colonel’s replacement will be
ready to travel in a couple of days.” The irony of that information
hadn’t escaped Howell. “It looks like you’re my JAG until he gets here.
Cresswell wants a report on the prison incident yesterday and an update
on the Colonel every hour. I told him that wouldn’t be a problem. Will
it?” Howell looked at Harm pointedly.
“No, sir.” Of course it was a problem. Harm didn’t want to leave Mac for
a minute, not even to report to his commanding officer, but he would. He
was a naval officer and duty always came first, no matter how
distasteful it could be.
The report to Cresswell on the prison situation would be the easy part,
or at least Harm thought it would.
“Sir, you have a phone call from Commander Rabb.” Petty Officer Coates’
voice announced through the intercom.
“Thank you, Petty Officer.” She had gotten much better at following
protocol, and being less presumptuous. Cresswell was actually beginning
to think the office wouldn’t be the same without her.
“How is she, Rabb?” Cresswell boomed into the phone, the tone of a
commanding General mixed with a twinge of fatherly concern.
“Not well, sir. She’s got a bacterial infection that’s resistant to
antibiotics and they’ve got her on oxygen. They’re worried she may have
pneumonia.” Harm couldn’t hold back the small sigh that escaped.
“What’s the prognosis?”
“Yesterday they were cautiously optimistic. Today, I don’t know.”
“I’m sending Traci Manetti to replace you and the Colonel. I understand
you’ve worked with her before?”
“Yes, sir. She’s a fine officer. Her language skills and training came
in very handy in a serial murder case we worked together a few years ago
“So I’ve been told. Her Arabic isn’t as good as her Italian, but she’s
been studying since 9/11 and is anxious to put it to use. She should be
there in less than 48 hours.”
“Yes, sir.” Harm was a little concerned about Traci in a place like
this, but then again, she was a naval officer.
“Now, about the incident at the prison. What in the name of God were you
thinking attacking a prisoner?” Cresswell tried to take it easy on Rabb,
he knew this thing with Colonel MacKenzie had to be hard on him.
“Sir?” Harm was a little startled Cresswell had heard about it so
“You’re not going to deny it, are you?”
“I … persuaded a disgruntled prisoner that Colonel MacKenzie was an
officer in the United States Marine Corps and due the same respect as
her male counterparts, sir.” Even on the other side of the world, Harm
found himself standing at attention for the dressing down.
“Just how much persuasion did you use?” He should have realized this had
something to do with MacKenzie. Impassioned officers. Cresswell shook
his head remembering Coates’ understated comment.
“Sufficient to make my point, sir.” The scrawny twerp was lucky Harm
hadn’t seen fit to snap him in two.
“I would prefer, Commander, if in the future you refrained from using
your ‘persuasive’ skills outside of the courtroom. Is that clear?”
Cresswell was counting on the word of the Marine colonel in charge of
the prison that Rabb’s reaction wouldn’t reach the public eye.
“Crystal, sir.” Just thinking about the arrogant little troublemaker
still had the hairs on the back of Harm’s neck bristling.
By the time his conversation with the General was over, it was already
after 2200 hours. Harm knew visiting hours were long since over, but was
acutely aware he'd have little spare time to spend with Mac tomorrow.
Disregarding the time, he grabbed his cover and made his way back to the
Field Hospital Iraq
Marine Captain Marjorie Griffin pretended to not notice the handsome
lawyer on his way to Mac’s bedside. She’d heard from other nurses about
his devotion and concern. As far as she was concerned, having loved ones
around was the best medicine.
Harm held on to Mac’s hand all night, he told her about the idiot at the
prison camp, he told her how much he liked Gunny Billings, and even
admitted, “When you’re right, you’re right. These guys all look like
such babies. When did we get so old, Mac?”
He told her about Traci coming out to fill Mac’s billet. Not remembering
if he’d told Mac much about the case in Naples, he went into detail
about that, even leaving in the part about finding Traci in a towel in
his room. “I suppose it’s a good thing you’re not awake right now. I
suspect this is one story you might not take so lightly if you were,”
Harm chuckled. He’d rather face an awake, angry marine, then watch her
lying there so helplessly.
He had no idea what time he laid his head down on the bed beside her, or
when someone had slipped a pillow underneath it, but he did see it was
0500 when he felt a slight tap on his shoulder.
“Isn’t someone going to be missing you soon?” Margie asked sweetly.
“Not yet.” Harm opened one eye a little more fully, the other still
struggling with sleep.
“I need to change her dressings before shift change.” Margie sounded
almost apologetic about needing to move Harm out of the way. “I’m afraid
you’ll have to leave her with me for a few minutes.”
Sighing loudly, Harm’s eyes locked on Mac’s sleeping visage. “Is she any
better at all?”
“Her white count isn’t going up any more. That’s a good sign. I’m hoping
this morning’s blood work up will show it’s come down.” Margie glanced
at her watch, she could give him a few minutes.
“If I promise to stay out of the way and not ogle, could I just move to
the other side of the bed? I only have another hour before I have to
leave. I’d like to stay with her as long as I can.” Harm waited till he
was almost finished with his plea before turning to look at the nurse.
“Well,” How could anyone say no to such sad eyes? “I suppose if you
promise, it will be alright.”
Harm gave her his best smile, even if it didn’t reach his eyes.
“How did you wind up stationed so close to your wife?” Margie moved the
blanket off to one side and piled the miscellaneous gauze and creams she
would need next to her.
“She’s not my wife. We’re partners.” Harm was standing on the other side
of the bed, his fingers carefully entwined with the fingers of Mac’s IV
clad hand. “She doesn’t feel as warm this morning.”
“No, her fever isn’t as high as yesterday.” Margie had stopped what she
was doing, and was staring intently at Harm, wondering if perhaps she
should reconsider letting him stay. Marine colonels weren’t known for
being very happy about having their privacy invaded. Though this
relationship seemed much more emotionally involved than that of just
colleagues, if he wasn’t family, exposing the Colonel, regardless of the
circumstances, may not be the brightest career move Margie had ever
Noticing a lack of movement on the nurse’s part from the corner of his
eye, Harm turned to give her his full attention.
“Is something wrong?” His eyes were filled with both fear and panic.
“No, no…” Well, she could do this and still be discreet. After all, how
intimate is a six-inch gash down your leg, anyway? Margie decided to let
him stay, though she would definitely have to ask him to leave when she
checked the sutures on Colonel MacKenzie’s abdomen and shoulder. Pulling
Mac’s gown back slightly above the bandage, Margie moved the blanket
back closer to add extra coverage while she worked.
Not completely convinced by the nurse’s denial, Harm opted to watch her
more carefully than he had originally intended. He couldn’t help the
slow hiss of air he sucked in when the bandages were removed and the
wound on Mac’s leg was completely exposed. Her entire thigh was several
shades of red, black, purple and blue. There were blisters all along her
thigh from the second-degree burns, and the gash on her leg looked as
though it went from her hip to her knee.
Margie couldn’t help but hear Harm’s reaction to Mac’s injuries. Too
busy to really look up, she could imagine his expression. “It’s not as
bad as it looks.” She reassured him. “The discoloration will fade in a
few days. Most of this is bruising from the surgery. The burns will heal
too. This gash looks pretty awful, but nowadays they can do all sorts of
things with scars. I wouldn’t worry about it.” Margie glanced up for a
moment, flashing a quick smile to set his mind at ease.
Scarring, however, was the last thing Harm was worried about.