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Chapter 2
Missed Connections

2236 ZULU – Wednesday, April 7, 2004
Iranian Embassy
Paris, France

 


Mac felt something rip though her like a bullet – no a more like a musket ball – hot, heavy and crude. Her hand immediately went to the pain to check the wound – to stop the bleeding. There was no blood. No physical wound of any kind. Confusion set it. She hadn’t been shot, or punched or attacked in any way – at least not literally – but the pain was excruciating. Her breath caught in her throat. Mac had no idea what kept her on her feet; what kept her from crumpling to the floor in writhing pain; what kept her from crying out. Her only thought was to stay standing and hope that the smile on her face was not turning into a hideously painful grin. She quickly looked back at the face of the Australian Ambassador and made ever effort to focus on the words he was saying. She didn’t hear anything, not his words, not the replies her commanding officer was making, not the orchestra playing, not the voices of the hundreds of other guests. All she heard was her heart pounding in her ears.

“Colonel?” The Admiral said again this time touching her arm to get her attention.

She looked up at him and smiled, hoping that would be enough. It wasn’t.

“Colonel, are you all right?”

She looked back at the Australian Ambassador.

“Too much of this fine champagne.” The ambassador offered. He obviously hadn’t noticed that Mac had not taken a sip out of the glass she was holding.

“If you two will excuse me.” She said. “I need some air.”

“Allow me.” Admiral Chegwidden offered her his arm, made the appropriate excuses and directed her out on to the balcony. As soon as they were outside, “Colonel?” The Admiral asked clearly very worried.

“Yes, sir.” She said taking the seat he offered. “I’m fine, sir. Might I ask you for a glass of water?”

“Certainly.” He started to leave and turned back. He didn’t want to leave her alone.

She nodded. “I am fine sir. It was very hot in there.”

He left to find the water.

As soon as he was gone, Mac was on her feet. She came back to the open door and looked to the other side of the room – the same direction from which the shot had come. She again put her hand to the pain. It was low in her abdomen – deep in her gut – not in the heart where she might have expected it to be. She felt the pain get heavier as again their eyes met for another frozen moment in time. She was looking into the dead, lifeless, unaffected eyes of Clayton Webb.

Webb stood on the other side of the room with beautiful young woman on his arm. He was conversing with two men of Middle Eastern descent. He made a joke, the men laughed. Then he kissed his companion on the cheek and whispered something in her ear that made her giggle and the men uncomfortable with the lovers’ secret. There was absolutely no outward sign that Webb recognized Mac even when he was looking directly at her.

The pain Mac was feeling was not jealousy. It was not anger. It was something she could not fully identify but it shook her to the core. She saw the Admiral making his way back to her with the water. She wanted to leave, but it would be too hard to explain why. She would sound like a jealous girlfriend.

The Admiral handed her the water. “Webb is here.” He stated matter-of-factly.

“Yes, sir.” She said.

“Did you know he was going to be in Paris?”

“No, sir.” She was getting stronger at least she knew now that she didn’t imagine him.

“Do you know who he is with?” He didn’t look back at Webb.

“No, sir.”

“I believe the men he is speaking with are from the Ministry of Defense from Saudi Arabia.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Would you like to leave?” He asked finally.

“No sir.” She looked up at him and smiled. “I would like to dance.”

Mac had no idea where that request came from but it was the only thing she could think of. They couldn’t leave the reception so soon. The Admiral was supposed to have a conversation with the Iranian Ambassador about some American and Iraqi POWs that were being detained in Iran; it was their whole reason for coming to Paris. The Admiral said nothing but the pride and respect on his face as he led her to the dance floor was all that she needed to know that she had said and was doing the right thing.

For the next hour plus, Webb and this woman seemed to be moving closer to Mac’s position regardless of where she moved in the room. Soon she would not be able to avoid him. There was a part of Mac that thought he was doing that on purpose – some sick seductive game of his; as if Mac would be aroused at the sight of Clay making love to another woman all under the guise of this spy game. Mac could tell that he was not drunk, but he was making every effort to appear that way to his companion. His actions were too deliberate, too over-done. He was solicitous and affectionate in a way that Mac recognized. The woman – young, dumb and very sexy – was overly solicitous and affectionate with Clay. They were making a scene. Mac wondered if that was the plan at the outset and for what purpose. At one point they were close enough for Mac to overhear their conversation. His voice cooed and cloyed in a privately familiar way. Whoever this woman was, Clay knew her intimately. In moments they would be standing next to her, there would be no way to avoid ‘meeting.’ Mac moved to a safe distance and maintained it.

She tried to rationalize the scene. Webb was obviously working. But what assignment was he working on? Was this woman the cover or the target? Who were the men he was speaking with and how did they play into this game? As always the CIA’s assignments left more questions than answers.

A short while later, she saw Clay and the woman leave the party. She knew where they would be going, what they would be doing and what words Clay would whisper in her ear as he ‘maintained’ his cover. Clay was nothing if not a professional. Mac was embarrassed by his behavior and ashamed that it hadn’t occurred to her the lengths to which Webb would go ‘in the line of duty.’ Hell, even James Bond got the girl – a perk of the job.


~~~~~~~~~~


When she was finally able to get back to her quarters the pain in her stomach was still weighing heavily. The meeting with the Iranian Ambassador had gone well, there were a few things to tie up in the morning, but she and the Admiral would be on their way back home by afternoon. The chance of her running into Clay again was minimal. She hadn’t seen or heard from him since the morning he told her that their weekend was canceled – a week ago. She knew that as soon as she was home, the weight of the shot would lift. By time she saw him again, it would all but be forgotten. Mac would have analyzed it, rationalized it, accepted it and put it away.

She got up at 0500, packed her things, and went for a run – a very long run. She did not return until 0628. Webb was waiting for her.

“You shouldn’t be here.” She said coolly.

“Didn’t know you were going to be in Paris.” He replied. “When did you get here?”

“We are leaving in a couple of hours.” She stepped by him to get some water.

“That’s not what I asked.” He saw that she was upset and was secretly gratified that she was jealous. “You know that I was working last night and that I am compromising my mission by being here with you now.”

“Then you better go.” Her tone was flat, sincere and calm.

“Sarah.”

“Clay, you should go.”

“I didn’t sleep with her.” He said in defense but she knew he was lying. If he weren’t lying, he would have shown up at her quarters in the middle of the night.

“Clay, you do what you have to do.” She looked through him. “You always have.”

“I didn’t have to come here.” He defended.

She said nothing.

“I don’t have to love you.” His voice cooed in that same slippery tone she heard him use the night before. “But I do.”

“Clay – don’t.”

He stepped up to her and pulled her into an embrace. She didn’t resist. “I do love you, Sarah.”

He kissed her and again she did not resist.

“Sarah?”

“I love you too.” She did not look at him when she said it and she almost believed it herself.

“I’ll see you in a week – maybe ten days.”

She nodded. He pulled himself from her and stepped to the door. With a quick look outside and one glance back at her, he smiled and slipped out silently like the spook he was. The weight in her gut grew heavier.

 

1145 ZULU – Friday, April 9, 2004
Rabb Residence
North of Union Station

 

Harm was getting dressed for work when Mattie knocked and entered. She was not dressed for school.

“Hey.” She said making her way to the fridge.

“Hey.” He called back to her. “I’ve got an early meeting – don’t be late for school.”

She pulled out the bowl of grapes and started stuffing them into her mouth. “I won’t.”

“You need some protein there kid.”

“If you aren’t making it – I’m not eating it.”

“Mattie you are quite capable of making yourself a decent breakfast on the rare occasion that I can’t.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“Cereal at least – with milk.”

“Ya know Harm, you would make a great Jewish mother.” She put the grapes back and pulled out the milk and started digging for some cereal that was edible. “Speaking of – you interested in meeting Conrad’s mother?”

He came down to the kitchen, poured the rest of his coffee into the sink and rinsed the cup. “You know I am.”

“She is divorced. Around 38. She is thin enough for a banker and her favorite movie is Top Gun.”

“Are you setting me up on a date?” He asked pulling a box of Granola from the cupboard and placing it in front of her.

“Why not?” She put it back.

“I can find my own women, thank you very much.” He moved to the living room to start collecting the files he was working on last night.

“Doing a great job there, Rabby.”

“Rabby?” He smiled in mock offense.

She gave up looking for a cereal. “When was the last time you had a female companion for dinner?”

“No thank you, Mattie.” He warned.

“What if Connie and I go with you?” She added. “There is a great pizza place in Georgetown.”

“Chaperones?” He was over by the desk stuffing the files into his briefcase.

“Conrad likes you.”

“Good for Conrad.” He said with a sideways glance

“You still don’t like him.”

“I have a limited opinion of Conrad. The first time I met him he mocked vegetarians for being -.”

“He apologized for that.” She stopped him.

“The second time he failed to bring you home on time.”

“Third time is the charm.” She smiled.

“Yes, I would be delighted to join you and Conrad and Conrad’s mother for pizza.” He shook his head. “This is not a date.” He warned her again.

“Harm, you got to get back out there. Sitting at home pining away is not healthy.”

“I’m not pining.”

“Did you send Mac the flowers?” She accused.

“I told you, she has been out of town. She left the day after you got back.”

“And returned yesterday.” She waited until he looked at her. “Did you talk to her?”

“I was in court all day yesterday.” He defended. “And they are your flowers Mattie – you send them.”

“Fine, give me your credit card.”

“Are you kidding? I am still paying off the last excursion you had on my tab.”

“Harm.”

“I’ll order them today.” He said flatly.

“You still have the card I wrote.”

He nodded.

“No roses.”

“I know what she likes.” He gave her a warning look.

“Evidence to the contrary.”

“What do you THINK you know?” He asked.

“Nothing.” She said with a sly grin.

“So you still aren’t going to tell me what happened on your trip?”

“Nothing ‘happened.’” She smiled. “We had a nice time. We skied, we talked, we ate like there was no tomorrow. It was fun. Mac is a lot of fun.”

“She used to be.” He said under his breath.

“Mac is like a lot of people – like me – you can’t push her – you have to let her come to you.”

Harm wanted to take up that argument in six different ways sighting all the history he had to prove that statement wrong, but chose to keep his mouth shut.

“Besides – she and I agreed that whatever we talked about was strictly between us.”

“Terrific, she is teaching you to lie and keep secrets.”

“I am not doing either – but there are things that you don’t need to know.” She laughed. “And before you blow a gasket – we didn’t talk about you.”

“I find that very hard to believe.” He said shutting and locking his briefcase.

“Well, not all about you.” She grinned. “Would you believe that she didn’t say anything bad about you and I didn’t ask her why she wasn’t in love with you?”

“Mattie!” He was shocked.

“I said I DID NOT ask her that.” She shrugged. “We both think you are a terrific guy – for a work in progress.”

“I knew I should have kept you locked in your room until you were eighteen.”

“Dinner with Mrs. Levinson is Sunday night in Georgetown. Seven o’clock?”

“Fine. I have to go. Please eat something other than grapes and take a lunch.”

“Can’t you just give me money?”

“There is lasagna in the fridge.” Harm checked his watch and blew out of the apartment.

Mattie waited until she heard him pound down the stairs – in too much of a hurry to wait for the elevator – then she turned back to the refrigerator and pulled out the lasagna, made a face and pulled out the makings for a sandwich and a couple of eggs.

 

1715 ZULU – Friday, April 9, 2004
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, VA

 

Harm walked into the bullpen to retrieve the messages that came in while he was in court. He saw Mac in her office behind the closed door. The flowers sat on the credenza behind her – out of the way, out of sight. He had stopped that morning and picked them out one stem at a time and waited while they arrangement was done; it made him late for his meeting. He left them on her desk with Mattie’s card.

He knocked on her door.

“Enter.” She said not looking up.

“Afternoon.” He said in a friendly tone. “Free for lunch?”

“No.” She replied without a tone of remorse or regret in it.

“Ok.” He was going to step back out and leave the tiger at peace in her cage, but curiosity got the better of him. “Nice flowers.” He said with a cocky tone. “Someone must have been good.”

Mac shot him a look that should have sunk him to his knees. The questions were why she hated getting flowers at work. She hated having to answer them. People who were work acquaintances acting like they had an invitation to her personal life just because she got flowers.

“You like them so much – take them.” She sneered.

“They weren’t sent to me.”

“Look Harm, I am really busy – so if you don’t mind.” She nodded for him to leave and close the door on his way out.

He looked over at the wastebasket and saw that Mattie’s card had been ripped in half and thrown in the basket unopened.

“I think you should mind.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Do you want to talk about it?” He stepped in, rather than out.

“What do I need talk about?” She glared at him.

“Well, for one. Why you are so pissed off that someone sent you flowers.”

“That is none of your damn business.”

“Well – actually – in a way it sort of is.”

“Get out of my office, Harm.” She was trying to be playful but it didn’t come out that way.

“You might want to read the card, Colonel – I don’t think your instincts were 100% this time.” He gave her a cocky grin and closed the door.

Mac watched him go. She pulled the card from the wastebasket and put the two halves together. Her face went from angry, to embarrassed, to smiling. She sat for a moment, and turned and looked at the flowers. They were from her favorite florist and full of lilies, tulips, irises and all the flowers that she loved – not a rose in the mix. They had to have come from a man, girls – fifteen year old girls don’t pick out flowers like that. Harm. She moved the arrangement to her desk and fluffed them a little. She would have bet money they were from Clay. They should have been from Clay. She had not heard from him since the other morning in her quarters – thirty-eight hours, twenty-nine minutes ago – but who’s counting?

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Moments later she knocked and entered Harm’s office.

“Thank you.” She stated sheepishly.

“For what? I asked you to go to lunch and you turned me down.”

“Is the offer still good?”

“I have to be in court in thirty-five minutes. So now I am stuck eating peanut butter crackers from the vending machine.” He was playing with her. “Want one?”

She took the offered cracker. “I’ll make it up to you.”

“I’ll hold you to that.”

“Thank you for the flowers.”

“I am just the delivery man – it was Mattie’s idea.”

“You did more than deliver them – they are beautiful.”

“Beautiful flowers for a beautiful lady.” His compliment was sincere, although if he were asked, she did not look as beautiful today has she normally did. She looked tired and strained.

“Thank you.”

“Welcome.” He leaned back in his chair. “So.”

“So?”

“Mattie won’t tell me what happened on your trip.”

“And you think I will?” She laughed and took another cracker off his desk.

“Did you two form an alliance?”

“In a manner of speaking – we both think you are a terrific guy – for a work in progress.”

He rolled his eyes, remembering that Mattie had said that same thing just that morning. “Well at least you two have your stories straight.”

“A key factor in any collusion.”

“Guess I need to watch my back.”

“You’re safe.”

There was a moment of silence, Harm needed to say something or she would get up and go. “The Admiral says everything in Paris went fine.”

“Yes, it did.” She got a little stiff; her hand immediately went to the pain still weighing in her gut.

“I haven’t been to Paris in years.” He tried not to stare at her. “The city of lights. The city of lovers.”

“You should have gone in my stead.” She meant that sincerely. The trip had cost her something that she was not prepared to pay.

“Next time.”

“Yeah.” She got up to leave. His tactic didn’t work.

“So are you going to tell me?” He asked before she could get to the door.

“Tell you what?”

“Who you thought the flowers were from and why that would have been a bad thing.”

She studied him for a moment. “No.”

“Ok.” His disappointment did not show – and he covered with a joke and a smile. “But if you want to talk, I have two good ears - now.”

“And a shoulder for me to cry on?” She accused.

“Two of them – if you need them.”

“Harm.” She warned.

“I can be impartial.”

“Since when?”

He got very serious. “I will listen – if you want to talk.”

She nodded slowly. “Can I have a rain check?”

“No need, it is a standing offer.”

“You have to stop being nice to me.” She laughed at him. “It makes me nervous.”

She stepped out of his office and he watched the doorway for a long moment. Every time they talked to each other now it seemed that so much more was left unsaid. Now that he was being ‘nice’ he didn’t say what he wanted and didn’t get information about her that he used to. In the past he would have asked directly about Webb – well actually it would have been an accusation or a caustic remark that she would retaliate against - and in her retaliation she would give out more information than she intended. This being ‘nice’ was not netting him the same inflow of data. All he could assume was that there was trouble with Mac and Webb – but how much and what that really meant to her he had no idea. Did it give him hope?

“Hey, Rabb.” Mac called from the door.

He pulled out of his ‘lost in space’ stare just in time to catch the flying peanut butter crackers and snickers bar that she tossed at him.

“This is making up for it?” He laughed.

“For now.” She waved and walked away.

A very thin sliver of hope.

 

0618 ZULU – Saturday, April 10, 2004
McKenzie Residence
Georgetown

 

Mac crossed from the kitchen to the bathroom with a mop, a broom and a bucket full of cleaning supplies. Her hair was covered with a bandanna and she had on some very old sweats. Her bathroom had been cleared of everything that was not screwed in or plastered down. She donned some gloves and started scrubbing the walls of the shower with a hard bristle brush and Clorox.

Mac had barely slept since Paris. When she was cleaning out the bathroom she came across a bottle of Webb’s sleeping pills. He was beginning to leave more and more stuff there as his nighttime visits became more frequent – mostly clothes. The only thing she would not allow him to leave was alcohol and if she had known about the drugs, she would have told him to take those too. He didn’t understand why it was an issue. She flushed them down the toilet.

Hours passed. Mac was on the floor of her kitchen, every drawer had been removed and the contents of all the cupboards and cabinets had been emptied and left on the counter. Mac was carefully measuring out contact paper for the shelf under the sink.

Hours passed. It was close to dawn. Mac had showered and changed into clean sweats and running shoes. The house was back in perfect order. She was stretching against her doorframe. Her eyes were hard, but the bags underneath betrayed her sleeplessness. She took a few deep breaths and headed out for five miles – maybe ten.

An hour and a half later Mac came limping back into her apartment. She was scraped on both knees and had a large cut on her forearm and another one over her left eye. Nothing was bleeding now, but no first aid had been applied. She tended to her wounds and took the warmest shower she could stand. When she got out, she wrapped herself in clean pajamas and crawled into bed. With in moments she was out – not asleep – she had literally worn herself out and passed out – something a half o’ fifth of Vodka would have done for her in an eighth the time. But at least now her spring-cleaning was done.

 

0145 ZULU – April 11, 2004
Faccia Luna Pizzeria
Georgetown

 

Harm sat caddy corner from Anna Levinson, Conrad’s mother. She was a very lovely woman to look at but she and Harm had absolutely nothing in common. Through the salad course, he had tried to find a common subject to discuss. She hated flying; her favorite movie was THE WAY WE WERE and not TOP GUN. She had very definite opinions about the war in IRAQ and had nothing nice to say about the president. She felt that the military system in America was a glorified boys’ club and any woman who tried to make it through the ranks was either a masochist or stupid. Harm did not take up any of these debates. He just kept looking for something that would get them through the meal. He settled on the kids. She was not impressed with his guardianship of Mattie and stated that his “fifteen minutes” of parenthood was not enough to make him understand what it took to be there 24/7 for a child from birth to adulthood. That conversation led to the failings of Mattie’s father, then to Conrad’s father and basically to all men – present company not excused. It turned out Anna Levinson was in the middle of a very nasty divorce. The only good thing she had to say was that it was impressive that Harm never married – at least he knew his limitations. The comments were kept short and to the point (stabs at him, that he either took or ignored) and the kids were off playing video games. Harm smiled and bit his tongue through it all – an officer and a gentleman.

He turned his attention to Mattie and Conrad as Anna took a phone call, presumably from her lawyer. Mattie looked so different now. She was not that hard, defiant, me-against-the-world kid he met lo those many months ago. She looked like a normal teenager flirting (if you can call it flirting) with a boy. She was laughing and happy.

Mac walked in and Mattie saw her right away. Harm’s eyes followed his ‘ward’ as she greeted Mac with a warm hug and a bright smile. She introduced Conrad to Mac and they laughed over something he said. Mattie pointed to where Harm and Anna were sitting. When their eyes met, Mac’s face went from bright to dark as she saw Harm with this other woman. He was on his feet instantly, stepping away from Anna. Mattie dragged Mac over to the table.

“Harm, look who I found.” Mattie called from across the room.

“I see.” He smiled at Mac tentatively.

She looked angry and annoyed and like she didn’t have any interest in being a part of this gathering. The fact that she looked like she hadn’t slept in days didn’t escape him either. As she got closer he saw the cut over her eye.

“Mac, what happened? Are you OK?” His voice was full of concern.

“I’m fine.” She smiled nervously. “Running accident.”

Anna finally hung up the phone.

“Mrs. Levinson, this is Sarah MacKenzie.” Mattie said respectfully. “People call her Mac.”

Anna reached her hand out to Mac, “People call me Anna – adult people, that is.”

Mac felt the hostility from the woman and knew she was interrupting.

“It is nice to meet you. I have heard a lot of good things about Conrad.” Mac looked at the young man quickly.

Conrad was obviously nervous. “Well, Mattie can tell you all now how she beat me at Space Invaders.” He punched her playfully on the arm. “Even though she cheated.”

“I did not cheat.” Mattie defended. “I am just better than you.”

“Mattie, hasn’t anyone told you?” Anna Levinson said with a sarcastic tone. “Boys have to win – boys always have to win, and girls are supposed to let them.”

Harm was too shocked to speak.

“I am not going to let a boy beat me.” She stated confidently not really understanding Anna’s sarcasm.

“And well you shouldn’t.” Said Anna. Anna looked up at Mac. “You can tell her Mac, I am sure you have had to ‘lose’ to a man more than twice in your life?”

Mac looked down and smiled tentatively.

“You know the story – even if they don’t win, they have to lie to say they did or that you couldn’t have done it without a man’s help or that you cheated.”

“Mom.” Conrad said pulling on her sleeve.

“So what is it that you do, Mac?” Anna continued undaunted.

“I work with Harm. I am a lawyer.”

“Navy?” Anna asked with disgust in her voice.

“Marines.”

Anna shook her head. “Then you must have had more than two opportunities to let the boys win.”

Harm interrupted hoping to stop Anna’s mouth. “You here alone Mac?” Apparently he took the next rude comment upon himself. “I mean, why don’t you join us.” He tried to recover but it was too late.

She glared at him. “I am picking up dinner to go.” She spit at him. “If you will excuse me, I believe it is ready now.”

Harm looked ashamed and hurt.

“It was nice to meet you Anna, Conrad. Mattie, thank you again for the flowers.”

“Thank you for the skiing and-.” She looked at Harm quickly. “And everything else.”

“Harm, see you Monday.” Mac nodded and left.

Mattie and Conrad agreed to a rematch and ran back to the video games. Anna’s cell phone rang again. Harm remained standing watching Mac. She paid for her food and slunk out without a backward glance. Harm followed.

“Mac.” He caught up to her when she was half way down the street. “Mac. Wait.”

“What do you want, Harm?”

“I’m sorry about Anna.”

She shook her head, she didn’t want to hear an apology. “What are you sorry for?”

“I don’t – “

“Are you sorry that I interrupted you or that your new girl friend was so hostile?”

“She is not -.” He defended.

“Doesn’t matter. But in the future let me give you a piece of advice.” She looked around furtively. “If you are trying to avoid someone, don’t eat in their favorite restaurant. FYI.”

“Mac please?”

She turned on her heel and walked toward her apartment.

“Mac, would you wait?” He chased after her. “What is going on?”

“Dinner.” She threw over her shoulder. “Dinner. That’s what’s going on.”

“Are you OK?” He reached to catch her arm; she deflected it. It was a startlingly violent move and Harm stepped back. “Mac.”

“Don’t touch me.” She stated.

That is when he noticed the cut on her arm. “Mac, you’re bleeding.”

She looked down. “Not, your concern.” She waved him off and started walking again.

“Mac, you need to go to the hospital.”

“I’ll take care of it.”

She kept walking. He was going to chase after her, but it was clear that she didn’t want to talk to him.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Thirty minutes later, Harm knocked on Mac’s door. She looked through the peephole and thought about not letting him in. He knocked again.

She opened the door. “What are you doing here, Harm?”

“The restaurant asked me to bring you this, you forgot it.” He pushed a bag at her.

She looked confused and took the bag from him. She pulled out a piece of double chocolate cheesecake.

“I didn’t order this.” She stated.

“Their bad.” He smiled.

“I don’t want this Harm.”

“Yes you do.” He pushed by her. “And you want this.” He held up some bandages.

“Harm.”

“Go take off your shirt, Colonel.”

“Excuse me?”

“You have blood all over that one.” He pointed out. “Go put on a t-shirt and bring me the hydrogen peroxide.”

She stood immobile at the door.

“That is an order, Colonel.”

She slammed the door and did as she was ordered. She was back in moments and he motioned for her to sit on the coffee table so he could tend to the wound.

“You should have gotten stitches.” He scolded. “This is going to scar.”

“I’ll make up some fantastic war story.”

“What happened … really?”

“A tree root reached up and attacked me.” She tired to laugh. “Where is Mattie?”

“The movies.” He was quiet for a moment trying to phrase the next question as best he could. “When was the last time you actually slept for eight hours?”

“I’m fine.”

“You look like hell, Mac.”

“Always quick with the compliments aren’t you?” She turned away.

“I am telling you this as a friend.”

She looked back at him. “Are we friends, Harm?”

“Of course we are.”

“Funny, I always thought friends talked to each other, laughed, spent time together, actually enjoyed each others’ company.” Her tone was cold and hard and challenging.

Harm felt the fight coming, and didn’t know how to stop it. “So what do you think we are then?” He asked. “If not friends.”

“People who know too much about the other.” She looked at him. “Like prisoners who share the same cage.”

He was done with his first aid and started cleaning up. “That ought to do it.” He knew she was baiting him and forced himself not to retaliate.

“Not bad, Navy.” She said. “We could make a Marine out of you yet.”

He nodded, half smiled and went to the kitchen to throw the mess away. He took several deep breaths in the kitchen. When he came back he was ready. “So, Mac-.” He started.

She cut him off. “I’m sorry you had to end your date so quickly to come here and do this.”

“Date? With the president of the Man-Haters Association of America? That wasn’t a date. That was Mattie’s idea.”

“Actually it wasn’t.” She stated.

“You put that idea into her head?”

“Harm, there hasn’t been a woman in your life since Renee. I think it is time that you get back out there.” The coldness with which she said that shocked even her.

Harm didn’t have a clue how to respond. She was dismissing him; not just from her apartment, but from her life.

“You aren’t getting any younger,” she continued. “You don’t want to be alone forever.” She was digging in the knife and twisting – she couldn’t stop herself.

“What has happened to you?” He said not hiding his hurt and pain very well. “Have I been so horrible that you need to do this?”

“What do you think I am doing?” She stood up and moved away from him.

“Mac, you can shut people out of your life. You can destroy friendships – associations that have been earned and tested over years. You can build a hundred foot wall around yourself to keep anything bad from getting in, but you are also going to keep anything good from getting in too. All you’ll wind up doing – in the end – is being alone.”

“I have people in my life, Rabb”

“Yeah, the spy who loves you – where is Webb, Mac?”

“He is not your concern.”

“No, no he is not.” He stood up. “But you are. I care about you, Mac.”

“Care about me? You don’t even know me.” She threw at him. “You don’t know what I have done – what I am capable of.”

Harm hesitated.

“And if you did – you wouldn’t want anything to do with me.” She finished, daring him to debate her.

“What is it that I don’t know?” He was aggressively gentle.

“Need to know, Commander.” She glared at him. “And you don’t.”

“Mac.”

“No. It is time for you to go.”

“Mac, please. We’re friends.”

“I don’t want to be your friend Harm.” She said fighting the tears back. “It hurts too damn much.”

“What hurts?”

“You need to go.” She opened the door. “Please. JUST GO.”

“Why won’t you talk to me?”

“We have nothing left to say to each other.”

“I disagree.” He stated.

“Again, Commander, the story of us – we disagree – about everything.” She looked toward the hallway.

“You can’t get rid of me this easily, Mac. I won’t let you.”

“It is not up to you, Harm.”

“If I leave, I won’t be back.” He warned hoping it would change her mind. Sadly it just upped the ante beyond his floor limit.

“I know.” She called his bluff.

“Is that what you want?”

“Yes.”

“Fine.” He walked toward the door and paused in front of her.

She would not make eye contact with him.

“You shouldn’t be this … unhappy.”

She did not move.

“There is nothing that you did or think you did that means that you have to be this unhappy.”

She looked into his face.

“Nothing.” He said again.

She shook her head and looked down. He didn’t know what he was talking about.

“Talk to somebody, Mac.” He said gently. “If not me, talk to somebody.”

When he was sure she would not respond, he nodded sadly and stepped out of the apartment. The door was closed and locked as soon as it was safe. She stood there for a moment feeling her heart race. She exhaled the breath she was holding and pushed the tears out of her eyes. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught her reflection in the mirror. She did look like hell. She looked like …

Mac balled up her fist and punched the woman in the glass with everything she had. The glass shattered and her hand was freshly cut. She laughed at the fractured self she saw still staring back at her. “Great, seven more years of this?” She slumped to the floor and forced herself not to cry in spite of the tears rolling down her face.

After a long moment, went to her desk, found a business card stuck in the corner of her blotter, she reached for the phone and dialed. It was voice-mail. She waited for the beep taking deep breaths to steady her voice.

“Commander McCool, this is Sarah McKenzie. May I have an appointment tomorrow or at your earliest convenience?”
 

 

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