Approximately 4,000 words; 10 pages (8 ½” x 11”)
not a happy story. It’s my nightmare imagination at work again
conjuring up the tragedy that could occur if Mac doesn’t return
from South America.
Memorial Day 2028
She moves up the hill and through the trees with the grace of a jungle
cat, still lithe and strong even now. The only real sign of age is the
shockingly white hair twisted and wrapped on top of her head and the
lines in her face, telling of things no person should have to see or do
in their life. The pain of loss and sacrifice is all too evident.
“Is that her Grams?” my granddaughter asks.
“Yes pet, that’s her.”
“She’s breathtaking.” She whispers. “No wonder dad couldn’t forget her.”
“You should have seen her 25 years ago.” I answer softly.
She kneels at my son’s grave.
“He never believed you were dead.” She rises and turns in one motion
reaching instinctively under her coat. She relaxes slightly and I
continue, “Neither did I.”
“Trish?” It’s more a statement than a question. “Why? Why didn’t he
“He said he would have known, that’s all he would say.”
She nods understanding. “I knew” she turns slightly towards his resting
place, “but they wouldn’t let me be here. I could never return to him. I
wanted to, God how I wanted to but I couldn’t risk it.”
“Were you in that much danger?” I need to know this story. The reason
for my son’s years of torment.
“Not me so much, not after a while, not as long as they thought I was
dead, but if I had come to him they would have known and they would have
taken everyone. I had to stay away I couldn’t risk your lives too.
Yours, his, Matthew’s.”
She sees the young Lieutenant behind me now. “You’re his daughter. You
look just like him.”
“They both do. This one is Sarah.” I offer a cryptic explanation.
“Sarah? Both?” She looks stunned and puzzled. I indicate the headstone.
Harmon David Rabb Jr.
Matthew Mackenzie Rabb
Sarah Catherine and Catherine Patricia
Best friend of Sarah Catherine Mackenzie
Mother of Matthew Mackenzie
“Oh Trish. He wanted this?” I can see the tears welling in her eyes.
“He insisted. It was hard on the children but I think they understood
when I told them everything, at least as much as I knew. Now I need to
know the rest.”
“But their mother….?”
“She left when Frank was a year old.” I explain disdainfully.
“I’m sorry. Look I can’t stay long, I’m really not supposed to even be
here but it doesn’t seem to matter any more so I came.”
“What do you mean? Uh…what do I call you now?” I know she can no longer
be Sarah MacKenzie.
“Catherine…Catherine Davidson.” She replies.
We both know the reason behind that choice. I nod understanding.
“Why doesn’t it matter, Catherine?”
“Because everything I could have ever wanted to live for is already
gone. Sarah Mackenzie is buried here somewhere too. I was told it was a
beautiful funeral with full honors.”
“Yes it was Matt has the flag as well as his fathers.” I gesture with my
hand again. She doesn’t understand. “The next one over read it.”
She steps around his grave and looks at the next headstone.
“Sarah Catherine Mackenzie.”
“Oh my god next to him?”
“Go on,” I tell her.
Best friend of Harmon David Rabb Jr.
Mother to Mathew Mackenzie Rabb
“But how?” she’s crying now.
“The Admiral and another friend arranged it somehow. He wouldn’t hear of
anything else. Harm pulled a lot of strings for this.”
It’s more than she can take. “I have to go now.” She starts to move
“No,” Sarah says sharply from behind then remembers to add “Ma’am.
Please. Grams deserves to hear why, we all do, but especially Grams and
She hesitates. Harm said she had a real strong flight reflex and I hold
my breath until my chest aches. Slowly she turns and nods her head. “But
“My hotel?” I offer.
“Ok I’ll follow at a distance. I have to make sure its safe.” She looks
nervous and more than a little afraid.
“Don’t run on me S….uh Catherine.” I warn her.
“No I won’t,” she holds up her head. “But I won’t endanger you either. If
I don’t show it’s because you wouldn’t be safe.” She leans over me.
“Tell me once.” She puts her ear next to my lips and I whisper the name
and room. I don’t know why anyone would want to hurt me but there are
the children to consider so I agree. She turns quickly and walks to the
bottom of the hill. She waits in her car until we are in ours and drive
The door opens on an expansive suite overlooking the mall. I step into
the room at her gracious invitation but freeze when I see the stranger
standing in the corner.
“I’ve taken the liberty of ordering lunch. You’ll join us of course.”
The table is already set for three near the terrace. “Miguel you may
prepare the meal now. Please Catherine come sit by me.”
I remove my raincoat, which Sarah takes and hangs in the closet. I sit
cautiously beside Trish not knowing what I’m going to say to this woman,
who I have only met a few times. I really expected once that she would
eventually be my mother in law. I have to ask this question even though
I fear the answer.
“Trish did Harm find happiness? He had a family didn’t he? I know he was
a good father. He always wanted children.”
She reaches out and pats my hand. “He had his children and he was a
wonderful father. But first I want to hear about you. In a minute.” Then
she changes the subject to something more general until the meal is
The waiter leaves the room a few minutes later after preparing the fresh
chicken Caesar salads and pouring our lemonade. We eat a few minutes in
silence but we don’t quite finish before she asks.
“What happened Mac?” I’m startled but I realize the name can’t hurt me
I look into my plate toying with the remainder of my salad. “I’m not
sure where to start.”
“The beginning would be good. I’m aware there are details you can’t
share but I really need to know why you stayed away.” Her eyes are full
of torment that I can only imagine I have caused.
I take a deep breath. “This won’t be easy, and it isn’t pretty” I start.
“I’ve encountered my share of things that aren’t pretty my dear.”
I glance at Sarah and Trish gets my signal.
“Sarah are you sure you wouldn’t rather go shopping. I believe there are
things you may not want to hear. Things Mac may need to hear.”
“Grams I’m staying. Like I said I need to know and Matt will need to
know. And after all you’ve been through you need to know.” I have to
smile at Trish. Sarah is exhibiting undeniably, her father’s stubborn
“They’re both like that,” she acknowledges.
“OK” I let out a deep breath. “It started for the last time the night
before I left. I went to see Harm because I thought he was still hurting
from what happened with the trial and everything. You were out of town,
he didn’t think Grandma Sarah was up to dealing with it and I think he
felt sort of abandoned by his friends.”
“I told him about the mission. He said he didn’t want me to go. I got
angry and responded badly, telling him he only paid attention to me when
I was leaving. I got as far as my car and he caught up with me. He
apologized and admitted I was right. That he always needed prodding to
move beyond the status quo. He convinced me to come back and talk. I was
reluctant but I went back inside.”
“We talked for a while, then I don’t know if it was fear or desperation
or what but we moved beyond talking. I stayed until it was time to go
catch my plane. It was the most extraordinary experience of my life.
Everything we ever felt for each other, all the things we could never
say was there in our lovemaking. Perhaps it wouldn’t have been like that
if I wasn’t leaving I don’t know. He said he needed me to come back to
him. I’m sorry” I hesitate. “I don’t mean to embarrass you.”
“Mac I’ve had the good fortune to know two men in my life who have made
me feel that way. I’m just happy to know that you and Harm at least had
that night together. Besides, it gave us Matt, I wish you could meet
him, he’s a treasure.”
“No… No I can’t. I shouldn’t even be here with you. I’m so afraid Trish.
I can’t let anything happen to you, to all of you now or it will have
all been for nothing.” My eyes are tearing and I’m powerless to stop
“It’s alright Mac. Maybe someday, it will be safe. He deserves to know
I just nod.
“What happened next?”
“I….I can’t give you details but we were caught. Not just our cover but
our actual identities, that’s why I couldn’t come back. They knew who I
was. We barely escaped with our lives. If Gunny hadn’t been there, we
would have been dead. We killed most of them but the word was out and
they knew both Webb’s and my name.”
“He could just disappear into a new identity if necessary but I could
never go back to being Sarah Mackenzie. No one around me, especially
those I cared about, would have been safe and they would have just
killed me outright. We did a lot of damage to them but their
organization is huge. We ultimately worked for the last twenty-five
years to eradicate them but there are still small cells left. They never
forget. They carry a grudge forever.”
“Anyway, after we escaped we spent six weeks hiding in the hills and
using back roads. Gunny was good at foraging and occasionally we could
get a little help from one of Webb’s contacts but mostly we were on our
“Finally, we were able to cross the border and make contact with the
station chief in that country. By that time it was evident I was
“We’d been able to escape, I think, because they were looking for a
pregnant woman and one man. I really wasn’t pregnant, at least I didn’t
look pregnant, and I was with two men. By the time they found out I
wasn’t really pregnant, I was showing again so in a way both Matt and
Harm saved my life.”
“After a week of resting in a safe house, they got us into Florida. We
remained in another safe house there until I delivered, building our new
identities. When they told me I could never go back I collapsed in
hysterics. They had to sedate me for two days. I’ve always prayed that
it had no lasting effect on Matt.”
Trish shakes her head at that “No, he’s fine.”
“The thought of never seeing Harm again was more than I could take. But
I insisted that Gunny take the baby to Harm. I told Webb he would either
arrange it or I wouldn’t help him. I really had no place to go but I
could have insisted on a witness protection program at that point. I
knew even if Harm didn’t believe Matt was his, he would take care of him
“Darling he never questioned it for a second.” Trish tells me and I find
myself sobbing softly again.
“I hoped he would believe, but I have never been sure.”
Finally, I recover enough to go on. “They staged a plane crash to cover
the story of our deaths and account for the sealed caskets they
returned, and then they built new identities for Webb and me. We mostly
continued to work under this new cover until a year ago when Webb died.”
“They brought me in and allowed me to retire to this new name. But I am
not allowed to see anyone I ever knew. I shouldn’t even be talking to
you but for twenty-five years, I’ve had no one except Clay and now he’s
gone too. As you said, you deserved to know.”
“Its funny” I muse “we lived as man and wife for all that time with
nothing between us except for a brief time the night of Matthew’s second
birthday. I couldn’t handle the fact that my baby was growing up without
me and Clay comforted me. But it was soon over.
It lasted about six months and we went back to being just friends. I
always felt I betrayed Harm somehow but I was going crazy with the
isolation. Afterwards it didn’t matter any more.”
I notice Trish has a ghostly pale look on her face and I reach for her.
Sarah jumps up to see to her as well. “Grams what is it, are you
Trish waves her hand vaguely. “It all fits.” She says. “Now I understand
everything he said and did.”
“Tell me, please.” I implore.
“Mac I’m not certain you want to know.” I begin. Why should she suffer
any more pain? She’s had enough.
“Please Trish, I really have to know. He did find happiness didn’t he?”
“Not really,” I reply so softly it is almost unheard.
“But the children…?”
“The children yes. They were his whole existence.”
“He named the twins….they are twins right…?” She begins not sure how to
ask the question with Sarah present.
“He insisted.” I reply. “He would hear of no other names.”
“Is that …I mean did that cause her to leave?”
“No, it was over long before that.”
“He looked for you, you know?” I add.
“Yes, I heard later, they told me he resigned but the Admiral didn’t
accept it. We couldn’t let him find us though, we would have just all
been killed. Even then, I guess I knew I could never go back. At that
point, I didn’t know about Matt.”
“The Admiral took him back but sent him to a carrier in the Sea of Japan
for six months. He wasn’t happy with Harm but he eventually forgave
“The Admiral usually did,” she smiles at a forgotten memory.
“He returned just in time to receive your gift. Gunny was sitting in the
Admirals office when Harm walked in to report back.”
“How did he take it?”
“With mixed emotions. He was incredibly thrilled with Matt but everyone
saw his resolve to find you. The Admiral sat him down and gave him a
good tongue lashing about being there for his son. That finally got
through to Harm.”
I nod, knowing it’s the only thing that would have stopped him.
“Harm took family leave and brought the baby to me. While he was there,
you and Clay were declared dead in the crash. We all flew back to
Washington and he made all the arrangements. That’s when he made the
Admiral pull whatever strings were necessary to secure the two
gravesites. After the funeral, he requested transfer to San Diego. We
remodeled the south wing to give him and the baby private quarters. As
you can imagine I wasn’t letting that child out of my sight.”
She smiles her appreciation. I hesitate to go on. It gets much worse
from here and I’m just not sure about telling her everything. She’s
already had so much pain.
She realizes what I’m doing and puts her hand on mine. “Please Trish, I
really have to know this.”
“As I said before he never really believed you were dead. All he could
say was he could feel you. He would know if you were not there. The
morning after Matt’s second birthday”, she gasps and I nod, “he came
down to breakfast with a look of utter desolation. He said ‘She’s gone
Mom.’ I asked him did he mean dead. ‘I don’t know, just gone, I can’t
reach her. She won’t be back.’ He replied.”
A few months later he met and married the other children’s mother. I
don’t think he really gave it any more thought than shopping for a suit
or car. He was just going through the motions. Whatever initial
attraction was there was gone before the twins were born. About six
months after Matt’s birthday he told me he could feel you again. He was
devastated thinking he had abandoned you. He loved the twins but the
marriage was essentially over.”
“There was another boy?” She asks through her tears. Mac and I both
realize what had happened during those six months and I believe Sarah
“Six months after the twins were born, there was a barbecue. By this
time, Kimmie had figured out that Harm was never going to be the kind of
social asset she thought she had married. She also discovered that all
of Frank’s money would be tied up in trust for the children. Harm would
never see a penny. Frank and Harm arranged it that way. All Harm had to
look forward to was his Navy retirement.”
“I guess she figured she could get her hands on the money if she had
children to care for so she got Harm good and drunk, which was becoming
alarmingly easy at that point, and Frank was born. She stayed for
another year but by that time her need for a different life style won
out and she left. Harm filed for divorce and Frank offered her a
settlement. She happily consented to sign over sole custody and she
disappeared into the social whirl of Southern California. Several years
later we heard she was found dead of an overdose, after a particularly
rowdy party on a yacht in the harbor.”
“Harm devoted his life to the children. He retired after thirty years,
and went into private practice. But he started drinking more. Late at
night after the children were in bed, never when they needed him, only
late at night. I think one part of him always believed he would find
you, but another part knew he would never see you again; that was the
part that haunted him in the small hours.”
“Once Frank was in college he lost interest in everything. The children
were settled in their futures, he did a good job raising them but he
felt he was no longer needed. He drank more and more, finally he quit
working. Late one night his car went off a cliff as he drove home. They
said he had a heart attack. I never was sure if it was true but his
health was failing so it’s very possible. I’m so sorry Mac it could have
all been so different. I really didn’t want you to know all of it.”
She is sobbing softly now. I have given this poor woman even more pain.
I look up and Sarah is crying too. It breaks my heart. Then she does
something incredible, she moves and takes Mac in her arms. Mac looks up
at her questioningly.
“Dad always raised us with the sense of a missing mom, someone who
wanted to be with us, but I always knew it wasn’t my own mother. It was
you he was giving us. I only hope someday the others get to meet you.
She wipes her face with the napkin Sarah dips in her cold water. “Where
are the other children?” she asks through her tears. “What are they
I smile now with pride. I can give her a little happiness. “Matt is a
Marine.” Her eyes widen and she smiles. “He’s also a pilot” I continue.
“He flies Tigers. The fighter they developed after they gave up Tomcats
and discovered they couldn’t do without them.”
“It’s essentially the same aircraft but its faster and stealthier,
better engine, some other technical improvements.” Sarah adds.
“Sarah is an aerospace engineer. She and her sister just graduated from
the Academy. Catherine is a Jag attorney.” I smile again at her
“And Frank?” she finally asks. Sarah and I look at each other.
“Frank didn’t enlist, he’s been recruited by the CIA. He will join them
when he graduates next year.”
“Oh no” she says. “God no. Please don’t let him.”
“I don’t think we can stop him. Frank was always a loner. He reminds me
of your Clayton Webb. Harm used to tell me stories about him. I think
Frank was the only one who ever paid attention.”
She nods her head sadly.
“I have to go now. Thank you Trish. I don’t think I will see you again.”
She turns and walks out into the dying afternoon.
A month later I received a call from my grandson Frank. He’s joining the
Marines. He is still going to work in intelligence but he says at least
if he gets in trouble, he can count on someone coming after him.
I asked what made him change his mind even though I suspect the answer.
He told me he received a letter by special messenger that he had to burn
after he read it.
I hang up smiling. She found a way.