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Chapter 25


1830
Sunday
December 26th
Pine loch cabin #1


The snow had finally stopped early that morning and the resort had snowplows going all day long to clear the way to the main building. Harm and Mac decided they would take a night out for dinner and dancing. It gave Mac another chance to wear something in yet another shade of red. She had worn something red every day since their wedding day. This was a deeper shade than she wore on the first night they spent here. She wore a long sleeved dress with a v neckline in front and in back. It was draped beautifully over her body, coming to rest just above her knees. Her shoes were of the same shade.

“You really are trying to kill me, aren’t you, Mac?” Harm slid her coat onto her shoulders.

Mac gave him a mischievous smile. “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”

“Yes… you do.” He kissed her cheek.

Mac tugged the lapel of his gray wool overcoat. He was handsome in his suit of the same color, making his eyes a heart-stopping blue gray. “I just wanted to do something every day to make it special.” She kissed him lightly on the lips and started to draw herself away, but Harm followed her and pulled her into a more passionate kiss... He reached for her arms to pull her even closer to him, but Mac stepped back and broke the kiss. “Hey Sailor, I want to make it out of here before midnight.” Harm had her lipstick on his mouth; Mac laughed and started to wipe it away. “I don’t think it’s your color, Harm.”

Harm looked into the mirror near the door and dabbed away Mac’s lipstick. “All right, Marine, we’re going.” He gave her another long look and opened the door for her.

The small nightclub was framed with glass and stone. The large windows brought in the beautiful landscape covered with snow. The moon shone on the snow, making it glitter like tiny diamonds over the frozen ground. The room had a soft golden glow. After their dinner Harm led Mac to the dance floor. Mac turned into his arms and lifted her arms around his neck. Harm let his hands slide down her back and he pulled her close to him as they fell easily into the rhythm of the slow sweet jazz... Mac was looking around, taking in everything, and Harm was just taking in Mac.

“I never would have known this was here. Our cabin seemed so isolated – I wouldn’t have thought there was this much to the resort.” She looked up and saw that he was looking at her very intently but she didn’t think he was listening to her. She leaned a little closer to him and whispered, “Harmon Rabb, are you even listening to me?”

Harm looked at her lips and then into her eyes. “I am now.”


1935
Sunday
Interstate 64 south
North of Norfolk, Virginia



Bud drove toward Norfolk, growing more and more anxious with every mile. He had been trying to reach his father since Christmas Eve with no luck. Big Bud and Harriet’s parents still didn’t get along well, so Big Bud decided to stay in Norfolk for Christmas this year. He had told Bud that he was meeting an old friend who was staying in town over the holiday so he was too busy anyway. Bud had been unable to reach him at home or on his cell phone. Big Bud usually let his battery run down in his cell half of the time, but it had been too long and Bud just knew there was something wrong. Mike had been quiet most of the trip. Bud had been so deep in thought that he hadn’t noticed it until just now.

“Are you okay, Mike?”

‘Yeah…I just hope we haven’t made this trip for nothing. Dad’s probably with someone he picked up in a bar somewhere and he hasn’t come home yet.”

“I don’t think so this time. I know how he is, but I just have the feeling something is really wrong. I appreciate you coming down here with me.”

Mike looked at Bud and grinned. “Hey…where else would I be?” Mike hoped Bud was wrong. He hoped he was too. He wasn’t in the mood to go walking in on Dad and some sleazy woman he brought home. He hated going back there. It brought back too many memories. He remembered more than one Christmas when their mother had sent them outside or to a neighbor’s house just to get them away from their father when he was drunk. The hell of it was that going to their friend’s houses just reminded him of what they didn’t have. They were made welcome most of the time; but everyone knew how their dad was, which made it that much worse.

They pulled up in front of their dad’s place. There was a light on in the living room. Bud and Mike got out of the vehicle and walked toward the house. Big Bud’s car was in the driveway. Bud walked over to it and placed his hand on the hood of the car. It was cold, so he probably hadn’t been out for some time. ‘Why wasn’t he answering the phone?’

When they got to the door they could hear the television. Bud knocked but got no answer. Mike pounded and shouted ‘Dad!’ No one came to the door. Bud used his key, fearing the worst. He and Mike rushed into the front room to find Bud lying on the floor face down in what looked like papers wadded up and piled in the floor. The smell of stale beer in the room was strong. Mike stepped further into the room and saw that the papers were letters. Taking a closer look, he recognized his mother’s handwriting. Mike turned to look at Bud. Bud carefully stooped over on one foot and picked up a beer bottle from the floor, half full, and set it on the table. It was then that he saw what Mike had, his mother’s letters. Big Bud started to rouse himself awake.

“Dad?” Mike stayed out of arm’s reach, a lesson learned at a very young age.

Big Bud raised his head to reveal a cassette player that had been hidden under his folded arms that he had used for a pillow. “Wha… Who the hell?”

Mike stepped back, arms out, “Dad, it’s me.”

Bud stepped forward between Mike and his dad. An old habit, even if Mike could probably take him or his dad on and win easily.

Big Bud scrambled to his feet. “Boys?...Is that my boys?”

Bud reached forward to stop him from coming any closer. He saw that his father wasn’t in the mood to fight, but he wasn’t ready for whatever this was. His dad stepped back and fell back into a sitting position on the couch. He was still drunk. Big Bud looked at the floor and tried to focus on what was in front of him. Recognition dawned, and though drunk he fully realized what his sons saw. Their disgust was plain on their faces. He had been listening to letter tapes that his wife had made. The boys had sung Christmas carols and her voice had been so clear and real. Big Bud leaned forward, his head in his hands. He had ruined everything and they couldn’t go back. “Too late…” He stood and staggered toward Mike and Bud. His face contorted in pain. He turned and staggered toward his bedroom. “Too late,” he said more loudly, sobbing as he said it. “It’s too late, Angie.”

Bud felt his stomach lurch. He had to get out of there. He turned and made his way out the door. He wasn’t even aware of where Mike was. He stepped out into the yard and took in deep gulping breaths to try and stop the nausea that had come upon him so quickly. After about ten minutes he began to calm down and as he turned to go in the house, he saw Mike sitting on the porch. “Hallmark moment, huh?”

Bud was cynical “As close as we’ll ever get.”

“I rewound the tape….do you want to hear it?” Mike lifted the cassette player from the porch beside him.

Bud thought for a moment. He had just gotten his stomach under control. He drew a deep breath. It was his mother, after all. “Go ahead.”

Mike pushed the button.

“Now, come on, boys. Sing like we practiced. We wish you a Merry Christmas.” She sounded so young to him, and then he realized that she had been younger than Harriet when that tape was made. She hadn’t even been thirty years old at the time.

The boys sang off key along with their mother’s beautiful lilting voice. As the boys finished, she clapped her hands in approval. “Very good, boys.” She told their father that she would be back to finish the tape after she put them to bed. She came back on and filled him in on the details of her day, then in closing she said, “I miss you so much, Bud, can’t wait till you come home. I love you. 52 days and a wake up. …Bye.”

Bud felt tears stinging at the backs of his eyes. His mother. She had loved his father in spite of everything. Bud was old enough to remember that there had been some very bad times before he left for that cruise. ‘Why? Why was she gone and that selfish bastard still here?’ The anger rose up in Bud quickly and unexpectedly. “Turn it off!” He stalked away toward his car. He slammed his fist on the hood of his car.

Mike jumped up from the porch and walked quickly out to Bud. “Take it easy.”

Bud tried to calm himself. “I’m okay.” He managed to slow his breathing. “I’m all right.”
He wasn’t, but he wasn’t going to tell Mike that. “Let’s go back inside and clean up and get out of here.” They walked back toward the house.

It took them less than a half an hour to put things back in place and return his mother’s letters and tapes to the cigar box that his father kept. They left them in the middle of his kitchen table and locked the door on their way out. Bud opened his cell phone called his home. Jennifer Coates answered. “Hello, Jen, can I speak with Harriet?”

“She’s sleeping, sir.”

“Well, don’t wake her. Look, we’re on our way back. Dad’s okay, just sleeping it off.” Bud heard Jen chuckle a bit. “Jen, could you stay another night? It will be late by the time we get back and we both have to be back at JAG in the morning.”

Silence on the line.

“Look, I know we’ve been leaning on you pretty heavily, but….”

“Sir, it’s not a problem really, that’s what friends are for.” She would just get up early and get ready for work at her own apartment. She wasn’t looking forward to going back there without Mattie anyway.

“You’re a lot more than a friend to us, Jen. Thank you.”

Bud ended the call and he and Mike drove north, back to Washington. As they came out of the Hampton tunnel, Mike turned to Bud. “You know, sometimes it seems that no matter what I do, I can’t shake the way things were when we were kids. I know it’s in the past and I know Dad regrets all of it, but its still there. I can’t forget it. I’m not even sure I forgive him…you know?”

Bud nodded. He knew…too well.


2230
Sunday
Pine loch cabin # 1
Somewhere in Pennsylvania



Harm sat in the corner of the sofa near the fireplace. Mac sat near him with her feet tucked under her. He was looking at what lay under the Christmas tree; the picture she had framed for him. It was a rough but realistic painting of the flight deck of a carrier at sea. The colors were the blues and grays and black of the ship, sky and sea. A group of sailors and aviators in khaki and dungarees were getting reading for flight operations. Harm knew it was impossible but some of the faces looked almost familiar. He could almost smell the jet fuel.

It was titled ‘U.S.S. Hornet 1965.’

“Harm?”

He was startled out of his reverie. “Sorry, I was just admiring one of my Christmas presents.” He smiled and leaned forward and kissed her softly. “Thank you….How did you find it, anyway?”

“To tell the truth, I saw it while we were on Tilghman Island, in that book shop you insisted we stop into. It wasn’t even for sale, but when I saw the title I asked the clerk if I could speak with the proprietor, and we worked out a deal.” She knew about his father’s deployment on the Hornet in the sixties.

“How did you hide it? I would have seen it when we went home.”

“I had it sent to your grandmother’s house. “ Mac gave him a smug smile. “The only thing I had to hide before the wedding was this.” She pointed to the chain around his neck.

He pulled the chain from inside his shirt. The chain was white gold on which there was a St Christopher’s medal. On the back was circular indentation that held grains of sand.
“This was a unique idea.”

“I thought so.” She had taken a handful of sand from the shore of Tighlman Island and put it in a Ziploc bag. It might have seemed adolescent but back then she wasn’t sure what the future held for her and the weekend had meant so much to her. She wanted to bring a piece of it home with her. While Harm was in Iraq she had the medal made and had the sand embedded into the back of it.

“I always want to remember that time – it was wonderful.” The memory never failed to warm her heart.

“I’ll never forget it.” Harm pulled her closer into his embrace; she turned and lay across his lap, facing him. “You said you loved me there.” Harm looked down and then intently into her eyes.

“Yes, I did, and I think that was when I finally let myself believe that you loved me.” Mac leaned in and kissed him. She leaned back and looked at him. The fire glowed yellow against his skin, and his eyes, so full of love, spoke to her. He had made sacrifices he never told her about. She wished so much that he had. “Harm, why didn’t you tell me about being offered chief of staff at JAG in San Diego? You never said anything about it when you came back from the Seahawk.”

“Who told you about that?” That had come out of left field. He remembered then that only one who knew besides the command in CINPACFLT was…

“Jack.”

“Remind me to have a conversation with him when I see him again,” Harm answered, looking slightly irritated.

“He thought I knew; he didn’t mean to tell me anything I didn’t know.”

“I could have told you….. but things between us were not what I thought they would be when I got back.” Harm looked away. “By then I didn’t think it would make any difference.” He had a sad look in his eyes.

“I didn’t do a lot to make you think otherwise….did I?” Mac began to trace his jaw line with her finger. “I’m not trying to start anything, Harm; I just wanted to acknowledge a sacrifice you made. I’m so glad you came back to Headquarters.” She looked him directly in the eye. The look on his face tugging at her heart.

“Mac, we both have regrets about that time, but in the final analysis it was just the road that led us here. I wouldn’t be anywhere else.” He leaned closer to her and whispered, “Anything was worth this, Mac.” He kissed her lightly and then deepened the kiss, taking in the sweet taste of her.


0630
Monday
Jen and Mattie’s apartment
North of Union Station



Jen opened the elevator doors and stepped out into the hallway. She was startled to see several people standing around her apartment door.

“What’s going on here?”

“Jennifer Coates, you are under arrest for the murder of Vincent Dolan.”

“What? But I haven’t even been here. You can’t pin this on me!”

A uniformed policewoman held up her uniform – it had a bloodstain that she could see across the hallway. “Witnesses saw you leave here in uniform Christmas Day. We got a call reporting a fight and screaming. We investigated and found this in the floor of the elevator. Is this your uniform?”

“You could get that at any Army/Navy surplus store.” Jen knew it was, in fact, her uniform. It was Pia, she knew that now. ‘Where the hell was she?’

The officer lifted the name tag from the shirt. “This too?”

“That doesn’t prove anything.”

“Come with us.”


1645
Tuesday
Mattie and Jen’s Apartment
North of Union Station


The DNA evidence had freed her and Gunny could verify where she had spent the holiday. She had spent the night in a holding cell. That had been an experience. She didn’t think she had given anyone the impression that she was afraid. She hadn’t been in jail in DC before. She recognized the look in the eyes of the other women being held with her, but it was like stepping into another world – a cold harsh world, where there was no one that she could trust. She had seen that world before, but this place seemed to take it to a whole new level. Thank God Gunny had given her his phone number. What would she have done? She couldn’t have called Bud and Harriet and involve them in this mess. Harm and Mac were out of the question. Gunny had met her at the police station and brought her home.

“You aren’t going to try and stay here tonight, are you, Jen?” Gunny hoped she wouldn’t insist.

“Look, Gunny, I’ll be fine. I’m a big girl. If I can stay in that holding cell all night, this should be a piece of cake. Besides, the commander and the colonel will be back tonight, so I won’t be all alone in the building.” She sighed and opened the elevator doors.

Gunny followed her out of the elevator and they both noticed the door to her apartment slightly ajar. Jen walked more quickly to the door and peered in. The room was completely torn apart. A huge bloodstain was still on the floor where Vince had fallen. The white tape tracing the place where he lay was still in full view.

“They never tell you on all those cop shows that the victims or their families have to clean this mess up most of the time. At least let me help you.” He walked into the kitchen and took a bucket from under the sink.

Jen just stood and watched him, still unable to absorb it all. She had not shed a tear since this terrible ordeal began. Her friend had lied to her and betrayed her. She had tried to frame her for murder when all Jen had wanted to do was help her. Her chin began to tremble and she bit back the tears that stung her eyes. ‘Damn it… I’m not going to lose it now,’ she thought. She walked into the kitchen to help Gunny.

Victor looked over at Jen and saw her trying to get herself under control. He tried to help her by making a joke. “Yeah, leave it to the Marines…always having to clean up after the Navy.” He looked at her with a sly smile, and she tried to laugh, but it came out more like an awkward and too loud sob. She clamped her hand over her mouth trying to hold it all in. “Jen, it’s all right.” She shook her head no and started to back away from him.

She turned and walked toward the living room “It’s not all right…I feel like a fool. She was my friend, Victor…I was trying to help her. God…. I can’t believe she would have let me get sent up for murder and walk away.”

Victor walked toward her and, standing slightly behind her, touched the back of her arm. “You had no way of knowing how far she had fallen, you know?”

She turned toward him. “I would never have done that.” Her eyes filled with tears “Not even on my lowest day, I would never have betrayed her that way.”

Victor didn’t answer her but nodded his agreement. She was going from age 50 back to 18 again. No wonder she could con the best of them. Those big innocent eyes and the tears flowing down her cheeks were enough to break his heart.

She looked around her apartment at everything that had been thrown around, in some cases broken. She didn’t have many valuables but this was all she had. She felt violated, like what she had called her home had been taken away from her. She hastily wiped the tears from her face.

“Look, Jen, let me take you back to Bud and Harriet’s. They already offered to let you stay with them. Let your friends help you.”

“I can’t impose on them again.”

“You could stay at my place…I could take the couch.” Gunny knew he was treading on thin ice but he could not leave her here in this mess.

Jen thought for a moment. She knew she couldn’t stay here. She was definitely not going to Gunny’s. “I appreciate the offer, Gunny….but I think I will call Bud and Harriet and ask them if I can stay a few nights.” She looked around the apartment. “Even after I get this cleaned up, I don’t think I’ll be living here.”

“It’s probably not a good idea.” Jen was sounding a little more solid, more like herself. Gunny was relieved. He was also glad she had chosen to go back to Bud and Harriet’s. He knew he wouldn’t have left her alone but he wasn’t sure he wasn’t ready to have her stay at his apartment. He really did want to get to know her better, but he wasn’t quite ready to get too close just yet. He reached out from arm’s length and gave her arm a squeeze. “Let’s get this mess cleaned up, kid.”

“Hey….who are you calling a kid?” She pretended irritation.

“Get moving, Navy….or I’ll see that you’re put on report,” he threw over his shoulder as he walked back toward the kitchen.


1715
Tuesday
Harm’s Apartment building
North of Union Station


Harm pulled into his parking place in front of his building. He didn’t notice the other two cars parked on the opposite side. He slid from behind the wheel and hurried over to open the passenger side door. Mac turned to get out and Harm scooped her up into his arms before she had a chance to stand up.

“What are you doing?” Mac was laughing.

“Hey, don’t want to start this off the wrong way. I have to carry the bride over the threshold; we have to keep up with tradition.”

“Harm we aren’t even in the building yet.”

“I’ll be fine…although I will say you are getting a little heavier, Mrs. Rabb.” He grinned mischievously.

“Oh is that right? I think you just may still be a little worn out from all that snow tubing yesterday.”

“Don’t worry, Mac, I think I’m recovering just fine.” He gave her a ‘wait till I get you alone’ leer.

Mac whispered in his ear. “Was that look a threat…or a promise?”

He kissed her and carried her out of the elevator doors. They both saw Jen’s door ajar and he put Mac down and they both went to make sure everything was all right. What they saw stunned them both.

“What the hell happened here?”

Jen was standing in her kitchen and Gunny heard the commander’s voice so he walked out of the bedroom.

“Gunny?”

“Sir.” He acknowledged him with a nod.

Jen thought she better explain as quickly as she could. “Pia and Vince came back…but Vince didn’t leave.”

The white tape and blood stain was still on the floor near her pantry.

“Are you all right?” Harm’s mind was churning a mile a minute. ‘What if Mattie had been here?’ “Where is Pia?”

Gunny spoke up. “The police think she is long gone. They have evidence that she committed the murder.” He nodded toward Jen. “She tried to frame Jen before she left town. She almost pulled it off – if it hadn’t been for the DNA evidence she left behind on the uniform, Jen would still be in jail.”

Harm walked toward Jen. “Are you sure you’re all right? Where are you going to stay?”

Jen would never stay at Harm’s that was certain.

Gunny stepped up behind Jen and placed his hand on the back of her arm. He looked at Harm directly. “She’s going back to Bud and Harriet’s.” He knew that there was nothing inappropriate between Jen and the commander. He couldn’t have said why exactly, but it was important that Jen handle this without the commander. She would be fine. He would see to it. His look was not angry but it definitely told the commander that things were already under control.

Harm saw that the gunny and Jen had become closer, although how close remained to be seen. He was relieved and glad for Jen’s sake. “At least let us help you get this cleaned up.”

Gunny and Jen spoke at once. “No, sir.”

Then Jen alone spoke. “Thank you, but we have this under control.” She was so relieved Gunny was there. This situation was embarrassing enough without having the commander involved in it. She smiled at Gunny and started back into the kitchen.

Gunny and the commander looked at each other. “Gunny, you will let us know if you need anything, all right?”

“Of course, sir.”

Harm hadn’t been paying any attention to Mac at all. She stood near the bloodstain on the floor. The smell and the sight of the ransacked room had brought back her memory of her encounter with Sadiq Fahd. She thought that death had a scent; she remembered it from that time. For a moment it had all come flooding back Harm looked at Mac and she was pale as a ghost. She looked at him and he saw what she was remembering.

“Are you ready to go?”

Mac swallowed hard. “Yes.” She nodded as she said it.



0235
Tuesday
December 28th
Harm and Mac’s Apartment
North of Union Station


Mac woke suddenly to find she was alone in bed. She saw Harm standing in the living room. He had his back to her and she heard him talking to someone. ‘Who could be here at this hour?’ She got up and walked toward Harm, and he turned to look at her with a cold hard gaze.

She saw Sadiq standing with Harm, and heard him say. ‘She is a whore…. She is barren.’

Mac couldn’t believe what she had been seeing. It couldn’t be real. “No!” she yelled at the top of her voice, as if the word alone could make it all disappear.

She looked again at Harm and there was Alicia standing close to him. Mac watched as she slipped her arm around him and Harm looked at Alicia with that soft look that Mac believed was hers alone.

“Harm?...what are you doing?” They both turned toward her…Harm pulled Alicia into his arms and Mac felt as if a knife had been plunged into her heart. She drew in a breath sharply. “No!...Please…this can’t be happening.” she was shaking, violently…then she felt herself being held by her arms, unable to get away. She struggled against it.

Harm tried to wake her. She pushed him away, frantic in her dream. Mac came awake and immediately recoiled from Harm, quickly tucking her legs up under her and scooting to the corner of the bed. She stood and backed away from him. She looked at Harm as if she were almost afraid of him.

“Mac? What is it?”

Mac shook her head, trying to clear it. She looked around her. The apartment was dark except for the street light that shone through the closed blinds. Her chest was heaving; she could still hear Sadiq, and she could still see Harm holding another woman in his arms. She couldn’t speak. She stepped around the edge of the room and backed down the stairs and turned to walk into the kitchen. A glass of water, that was what she needed. Something to tell her she was not still in that nightmare. She turned the light on; there was no one else there. No Sadiq…..no Alicia.

Harm had gotten up, following her into the kitchen. He was talking to her, trying to find out what the hell was going on. She hadn’t been able to hear him until now. “Mac, for God’s sake. What is wrong?”

Mac turned to look at him, her eyes still full of fear and distrust. She walked into the living room “I had a nightmare.”

“I gathered that. Why are you looking at me like that, Mac?” She hadn’t looked at him that way in a long time. He knew it was just the result of a nightmare, but she didn’t seem to be able to shake it, whatever it was about.

Mac sat down on the couch and Harm followed her. “Talk to me, Mac.” He should have known she would react this way to the crime scene that had been left next door.

Mac looked at him and finally saw her husband. The love and concern was evident on his face. Relief flooded over her so quickly that she almost burst into tears.

“I’m sorry.” She looked down, almost ashamed that she had even dreamed he could be so cruel.

“It must have been some nightmare.” He tried to keep eye contact with her but she kept looking back down at her hands. ‘What was that look?’ he wondered.

“It was… I…”She wasn’t sure she could do this without crying. She just didn’t have a handle on any of her emotions tonight. The scene in Jen and Mattie’s apartment had brought back Sadiq’s words and her old fear of abandonment. This time it would be Harm leaving her because she was ‘defiled’ and ‘barren.’ Damn Sadiq Fahd and his twisted mind. His words tortured her still.

“Take your time.” He reached out to touch her arm.

Mac stiffened at first and then relaxed under his touch. This was her Harm, the man who loved her. She drew in a breath, calming herself.

“When I saw the mess in Jen’s apartment – the tape on the floor, the smell of blood – it just took me back to my confrontation with Sadiq.” Okay… she had done okay so far, she thought.

“Mac, a situation like the one we walked in to tonight is bound to trigger those memories. Just remember that I’m on your side.” He tipped her chin to try to catch her gaze again.
“That wasn’t all, was it?”

“No.”

“Tell me, I can’t help if I don’t know.”

There it was. That soft, indulgent and loving look that made her heart ache. She didn’t want to tell him. It was silly to even think about it. It had so little to do with the truth.
She looked away from him. She knew if she didn’t tell him he would know she was holding something back from him. That would hurt him, and she was not going there ever again if she could help it.

“It’s silly...”

“Maac.” If they had to sit up all night she was going to tell him.

“You were in my nightmare. Sadiq was saying to you what he said to me…that I was ‘defiled’ and ‘barren,’ and you believed him – or in my nightmare you did. You looked at me as though you never had loved me at all. Then suddenly I saw you with…” She drew a deep breath to get herself under control. “Alicia and you were leaving me. I saw that you cared about her….its stupid, I know, but I ‘felt’ you leaving me.”

Harm gathered her into his arms. “I’m never leaving you, Mac, ever. You know there was never anything between Alicia Montes and me, right? I agreed to help her on a case, but ended up having to recuse myself because of Commander Lindsey’s involvement.”

Sadiq had left his mark on Mac even in death. He had begun his mind game even before Mac left Paraguay and what he had said still haunted her. Harm understood more than she knew.

Mac knew what he said was true, but she couldn’t shake how the nightmare had made her feel. “I think I’ll call Commander McCool in the morning. I finished up with her earlier this month. I have a follow up appointment in March, but I think I still need to sort some things out.”

“Good idea.” Harm looked at the clock. It was a little after 0300. “We had better hit the rack or we’re both going to be walking in our sleep.”

They settled back into bed and Harm pulled her into his arms. Mac rested her head on his chest. She could hear his strong steady heartbeat and very soon she fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.


1000
Friday
December 31st
Commander McCool’s office
National Naval Medical Center
Bethesda, Maryland


Mac settled back in her seat on the couch. She was not in the least uneasy with Commander McCool. “Thank you for seeing me on such short notice.”

“You’re welcome, Colonel Rabb.” Commander McCool opened her file.
“Let’s just start at the beginning.”

“Harm and I came home from our honeymoon last Tuesday evening. The apartment next door to Harm’s…ours was a crime scene. A man was murdered. The tape was on the floor and I could smell the blood.”

Mac stared blankly at nothing as she spoke. She seemed to be transporting herself back to another crime scene.

“I know you cannot give me details, but apparently this has resurrected another experience when someone was killed. Someone you knew.”

Mac smiled sarcastically. “You could say that. I can only say he was a very bad person, who had a central role in torturing and killing a great many people. He never hurt me physically, but his words are still in my mind. He knew a great deal about my past, my heritage, and he used what he knew against me.”

Commander McCool listened intently. It had shown great progress that the colonel knew she needed to come in right away. She had made more progress than she realized.

“Anyway, after Harm and I left the apartment where the murder occurred and returned to our own, I thought I had shaken off whatever thoughts I had about this person. Then I had a nightmare, a very realistic one. Harm was in it too; in my dream Harm didn’t love me, he was leaving me and he was hearing some of the things this person said to me. I was so shaken by it that it took a while for me to even let Harm near me after I woke up. I felt awful for being that way toward him.”

Commander McCool was silent for a few moments. “Why do you think you had the nightmare, Colonel?”

Mac had been thinking about this since Wednesday morning. “I have some ideas. I had just come back from what was probably the best five days of my life. I walked into a situation that took me back to one of the worse moments of my life.” She shrugged her shoulders and looked down at her hands. “I know I still have trouble believing I deserve to be happy.”

“Have you had any more nightmares since the night you came back?”

“No.”

“Has your husband seemed distant or unsupportive in any way?”

Mac shook her head. “On the contrary, he is as supportive as ever.”

“Colonel, do you feel you have lost some of the progress that we made while you were here in counseling?”

“No.”

“Then why the immediate call? Don’t misunderstand me: I want you to call and make an appointment anytime you feel that you need to.” She waited for Mac to answer the question.

“I suppose I don’t want to make Harm go through any more than he already has with me. I want to be healthy and whole both physically and mentally. It bothered me that I couldn’t shake the nightmare immediately.”

“It speaks well that you recognized a potential problem and moved quickly to resolve it. It also shows great progress that you already understand what the reasons for your nightmare could have been. Does your husband know the details of your dream?”

“Yes – in fact he knows more about it than you do. He was indirectly involved in the first situation that made my CO insist I go to counseling. ”

“That may have been another reason he was in your dream.” Commander McCool rose from her desk and walked around to the front of it.

“Colonel, I don’t believe there is a need to resume counseling at this point. You have made more progress than you realize. However, I would like to hear from you if you experience any other nightmares of this severity on a consistent basis. Apparently the trauma you experienced, the one that triggered your need for counseling the first time, may surface from time to time. It is not uncommon for persons who are required to perform at the level you were.”

Mac smiled without humor. She had never heard it said quite that cleanly. ‘The level at which she was required to perform.’ That was one way to put it. She shook her head. Sadiq Fahd was dead. The world was well rid of him.

Commander McCool spoke again, pulling Mac from her thoughts. “I would like you to keep your follow-up appointment in March. When will you see Captain Morrison again?”

“Mid January.”

“Feeling well?”

“Great, really. I didn’t realize how badly I must have been feeling until I began to recover after my surgery. I always passed weakness off as fatigue. Pains in my back as a muscle pull. Now I’m feeling more like myself than ever.”

“That’s good to hear.” She walked back around her desk. “Are you still working on your 5 year and 10 year goals?”

“Yes, nothing has changed where that is concerned.” She lifted her hand, showing her wedding band. “I already met one goal.” She smiled sheepishly. Children – one way or the other – and private practice were quite a while away, or so she thought.

“Congratulations, Colonel.”

Mac stood as their session ended. She already knew what had happened and had done what she needed to do to sort things out. ‘Maybe I am doing better than I think,’ she mused.


1400
Friday
December 31st
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia



Harm closed his briefcase and turned to shake Sturgis’s hand. This had not been the most exciting case to argue. It was an Article 32 hearing regarding a minesweeper which had hit a Chesapeake Bay buoy, causing some damage. Harm couldn’t believe it came to an Article 32. It was an accident pure and simple. The ship was still seaworthy. There was no need for this.

“Tough case.” Harm rolled his eyes.

“We prosecute and defend to the best of our ability, Commander.” Sturgis assumed his temporary CO demeanor for a moment. He winked and they left the courtroom.

“You and Mac have any plans tonight?”

“No, not really.”

“Why don’t you two come to the Blue Note and celebrate the New Year with Varise and me?”

“Sounds good – I’ll run it by Mac. I think we’re both ready to leave this work week behind us, even if it was only three days long.”

“I know what you mean. I think I’m ready for some cases I can sink my teeth into. The case load over the holiday has been almost mind-numbing. Frankly, buddy, I don’t know if I would have been able to stand it if you had been here over the holiday too. There was almost nothing to do.”

Harm walked along listening to Sturgis. They both entered the bullpen.

“So what time?”

Sturgis shrugged “Oh... say about 2000.”

Harm was looking over his shoulder and was walking toward his office. General Creswell was directly in his pathway and saw the commander coming. Harm sensed something in his path and stopped abruptly as he turned to face the general. Harm came to attention. “Sir.” Sturgis was already on his way down the hallway to his office. The rest of the office had been ordered to stand at ease before Harm came in to the bullpen.

The general was carrying a cup of coffee and studied Harm as he raised it to his lips. “Quick reflexes, commander.” Harm still stood at attention.

“Yes sir. Thank you, sir.”

He studied Harm and walked around behind him. “Are you going to celebrate the New Year?”

“Yes, sir.” Harm was a little uncomfortable standing at attention in the middle of the bullpen. A lot of the staff had secured for the day but there were enough present for Harm to have an audience.

The general walked toward his office. “At ease.”

Harm started to walk into his office.

“Oh and Commander?” The general turned back toward Harm.

“Yes, sir?” Harm looked back at him questioningly.

“Happy New Year.” He turned again and walked into his office.

“Thank you, sir.”

Harm walked into his office and sat down. He looked out of his open door to see Gunny at his desk grinning from ear to ear. Harm watched him until he looked up and gave him a sharp look. Gunny immediately looked back down again, minus the smug grin. This new CO could make Harm feel like he was fresh out of the Academy. He still didn’t know how to take him. He wondered if he would ever get used to it. He turned his chair to face the window and couldn’t help but laugh at himself. It probably had made a good show. He turned back around and picked up his phone to dial Mac’s office.

“Colonel Rabb,” said the familiar voice.

“Hello, Colonel Rabb.” He loved the sound of that. “How would you like a date with the sharpest lawyer at JAG?”

“Sturgis, you know I’m a married woman.” Mac was laughing now.

“Very funny.” Harm narrowed his eyes.

“You asked for it,” she said smugly.

“Hey, seriously, what do you say we join Sturgis and Varise at the Blue Note tonight?”

“Sounds good. I have another couple of hours of paperwork to clear up and then I’ll be ready to go. How about you?”

“I have a bit to do, not much. I’ll be glad to see this week end. I don’t know when it’s ever been this….”

“You’re bored? I’ll have to let the admiral know, and maybe he and the general can think up something challenging for you to do.” She was chuckling.

“Knock it off, Marine. I know all of your weaknesses and I’m not afraid to use them against you ….should I choose.” Mac could hear the leer over the phone.

“That’s true, Sailor….but I know all of yours too.” She ended the call and looked at the phone for a moment. She grinned and shook her head. ‘Back to work…or I’ll never get out of here,’ she thought.


1645
Lieutenant Commander Faith Coleman’s office
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia


Major Mike McBurney knocked on the closed door.

“Enter.” Faith looked up from her desk. She was in the process of finishing up for the day and clearing her desk.

“I’d like to make you an offer on the Medina case.”

“I’m listening.” Petty Officer Medina had been caught fraudulently enlisting recruits by altering their test results. The evidence was irrefutable.

“Six months confinement and forfeiture of half a month’s pay for three months. Bust him down to E 4 but he stays in the Navy.” McBurney raised his eyebrows, trying to turn on the charm to no avail.

“12 months confinement, he forfeits half a months pay for six months. He will be demoted to the rank of E 2 and given a bad conduct discharge. “ He was still trying to use that ‘charm’ that she could spot a mile off. It took all of her control not to laugh at him.

“10 months for the confinement and pay cut, busted to E 2, letter of reprimand in his record and he stays in the Navy.” She was going to deal, he could tell. He would have settled for the 12 months but she didn’t have to know that.

She would win, she was sure; this guy would leave the Navy. He’d be so broke that he would have to get a civilian job to support his family. “Done. I’ll speak to Judge Helfman.”

“I can do it.” He was trying to offer an olive branch. She seemed more mechanical and distant than usual.

She arched an eyebrow. ‘What is this about?’ “Fine.”

“So, are you going to celebrate the New Year?” He had been working with her since October, but they could have just met for all that he knew about her.

“I never have. I usually like this time of year, though.”

“Oh…new beginnings and all?” Conversation was like pulling teeth with her. No rapid fire questions or summation, as in court. In fact now that he thought about it, it was the only time he had ever seen her smile. She smiled beautifully when she was kicking his butt, which she had done three times since they began their rotation at JAG.

“No, I liked it as a child because it meant I returned to school, the holidays were over.”

McBurney wasn’t sure what to say. He needn’t have worried. Faith Coleman had a great deal of perception. She knew how to make the major uncomfortable and how to get him to back off. She had been successful in keeping every one at arms length. She preferred things that way. It helped her maintain the status quo and that was the only thing that gave her any peace of mind. She looked down at her desk and at her briefcase. She would need to begin again. She took her pens out and placed them in a cup she kept on her desk. She removed her paper….

“OCD?” McBurney had seen her begin this ritual nearly every time he worked with her. She was not as obvious as she was right now though.

She looked up at him quickly. “Yes, Major, I have a mild form of the disorder.” Her voice took on an edge. “My symptoms are completely manageable. I am not unstable nor do I have a weak personality.”

“Look, Faith, I never said…” He hadn’t meant to offend her.

“In the future, Major McBurney, I would appreciate it if we spoke on a professional level only. I would also prefer that you not use my given name. I will strive to keep my…problem from interfering in any work that I do with you or with JAG as a whole. I have served without difficulty for 10 years and I expect to continue.”

‘What’s the point?’ he thought. He could not win with her. At least she had been willing to make a deal with this case. He didn’t know what was worse, opposing her or trying to work with her on the same team.

She took a calming breath. “Major McBurney, I do appreciate your efforts to build some type of rapport with me. However, I do not pursue relationships of any kind with anyone that I work with. I do not expect to change that in the future. Stressful situations seem to make the disorder more apparent to others, as I am sure you have already read in your research.”

Mike looked at her dumbfounded. Relationship? Hell, he was just trying to talk to her.

“I was referring to friendship, Major.” She looked at him smugly.

She could read him too well and he did not like it at all.

Faith sensed his discomfort and could not keep from smiling.

“Well, what do you know? Faith Coleman can smile outside the courtroom….Oh… sorry, Commander Coleman.” With that he turned and left her office before she had an answer for him.

She continued to smile as her eyes followed him out of her office and into the bullpen.


2345
New Year’s Eve
The Blue Note
Georgetown



Varise stood at the microphone dressed in shimmering silver. There were ribbons and confetti of almost every color already lightly resting in her hair. Couples were on the dance floor, located just in front of her. Sturgis stood just outside of the crowd taking her in, beaming with pride. She looked at him and gave him a wink. She brought her fingers to her lips and blew him a kiss. A diamond sparkled on her left ring finger and she began to sing. “I want a little sugar in my bowl…”

Harm and Mac were on the dance floor, enjoying the music and each other. Mac giggled when she heard the music begin.

“Harm, do you recognize that song?” She looked at him slyly and arched a brow.

He listened and then he remembered.. It was song that had come on the radio while they were in his grandmother’s kitchen last October. His grandmother had taken great pleasure in teasing him about that song, if he remembered correctly. He looked down at Mac and gave her a lopsided grin.

“You and my grandmother had a little too much fun at my expense that afternoon.”

“But you made it so easy.” She leaned back and touched his cheek. She ran the tips of her fingers through his hair. He was giving her a look that made her want to take him home right then.

“You know they say whatever you’re doing at midnight is what you’ll be doing all year.”

“What are we doing here, then?” He teased her with a dangerous look in his eye.

The crowd suddenly began to count down “5,4,3,2,1!!! Happy New Year!”

Harm pulled her body flush with his and kissed her with all the love and passion he felt in his heart.

It was a Happy New Year, the best that either of them had ever had.



Chapter 26


0935
Friday
14 January
Captain Morrison’s office
National Naval Medical Center
Bethesda, Maryland



Captain Dan Morrison entered the room and sat down behind his desk. Mac sat on a chair in front of it.

“Things are looking good, Colonel. Your incision is healing nicely. You have gained 10 pounds and returned to your previous activity level. We should have the results of your blood work by Monday.”

“Great.”

“Do you have any concerns?”

“I have a minor concern, sir, but I can discuss it with Commander Fletcher when I see her.”

“And that would be…” The captain frowned.

“Well…I haven’t, um, menstruated since long before my surgery. I know I was taking medications to stop my ovulation. I began birth control in November, but I haven’t had a regular cycle yet.” Mac looked at him directly. “I feel fine, so I’m sure it’s nothing.”

The captain picked up his phone and spoke into it. “Corpsman, I’d like to add another test to the Colonel Rabb’s blood work….” He added the test and ordered the corpsman to notify him immediately when the results were in. He hung up and sat back in his chair.
He did not like this turn of events. This could complicate a case that he had hoped would have a successful result.

“When do you see Commander Fletcher?” His expression was unreadable.

“Next week.” Mac was starting to worry.

“Colonel, we may have a problem here.” The captain steepled his fingers and looked at her directly.

“Captain, I’m sure I’m not pregnant. I feel great; I have no signs of morning sickness. I’m stronger than I’ve been in months. I’m running again. I work out at least three times a week.. I’m due for my PFT Monday and I’m sure I’ll do well.”

“Colonel, you will need to hold off on the PFT until we get a result on your blood work.”

“I didn’t think there would be a problem so I went ahead and scheduled it.” Mac had been looking forward to seeing how she had progressed and what her abilities were compared to her scores last year.

“There may not be. I don’t want to alarm you, but as I have said before, we have to be cautious.”

“I haven’t even thought of the possibility of being pregnant now.” She had known what he suspected without his having to say it. Mac could barely grasp it.

“It would be a risk, Colonel, a big one.” He had cautioned her that she should wait at least a year. A pregnancy this soon would leave her open to a reoccurrence of the tumor and a rapid spread. There was still a great deal of discussion with Johns Hopkins about the origin and type of tumor they were dealing with. The risk was great all the same. He discussed this with Mac.

Mac was trying to get her mind around the possibilities. Harm was due back this afternoon. He had been away for a week, on the Coral Sea. She was ported in Portsmouth Naval Shipyard for an extended yard period. Harm had called and told her they had wrapped up the investigation. They had both been extremely busy since the first of the year.

“My husband and I haven’t even really talked about this, not in any detail anyway.”
She knew Harm would be worried, to say the least. “I didn’t think I had to even think about it for another year.”

“It is of course your decision, Colonel. Medically there is justification to terminate…”

“There will be no termination, sir.” She could not fathom it. “I believe in a woman’s right to choose, Captain, but if I am pregnant this may be my only chance. I won’t give that up.”

“Let’s just discuss this when and if you are pregnant.”

Mac sat looking at her hands, at her wedding ring. She had already gotten into the habit of twisting it on her finger when she was deep in thought.

“Colonel?”

“Yes, sir….I’m sorry – I was lost in thought.” Her mind was still reeling with the possibilities.

“Johns Hopkins is still working with us on this case. I will contact Dr. Ahrens, he may want to see you as well.” He truly did hope that Ahrens was right. Dr Ahrens believed that this tumor was of a different characteristic and origin. This would give the colonel a greater chance of survival, should she be pregnant. He stood and Mac rose from her chair.

“Sir.”

“Colonel Rabb, if you have not heard from my office by 1200 Monday you should contact me.”

Mac left the office slightly dazed. What would she tell Harm? He had been so adamant that they not even consider having biological children around the time the Roberts twins were born. She understood his fears and dismissed them because she thought the possibilities were so small that she’d ever be able to conceive.

She walked out to her car and started back to the office. She knew she would have to talk to him about this. She also knew what his reaction would be. The more she thought about it the more she knew that she would just wait until she had the results of her blood work before she discussed this with Harm. There was no need to upset him with something that might not be true. She couldn’t believe it yet herself.


1430
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia


Harm exited the elevator and pushed the glass doors of the bullpen open. He was so glad to be back. This investigation had been hellacious. A mess from start to finish. As much as he hated to do it, he was going to have to recommend an Article 32 hearing for the engineering officer and some of the senior enlisted aboard the Coral Sea. There might be other charges as a result of the hearing.

A young sailor was dead. They were in port and due to poor follow-through, in his opinion, from the captain to senior enlisted, a family lost a son. If this went to court-martial it would be the second major incident aboard this vessel in the last year. Their CO had been relieved of command last year. This was definitely going to get worse before it got better.

Harm was to report to General Creswell immediately. “Is the general available, Petty Officer?” Jen looked up to see Harm standing just outside the doorway.

“He’s expecting you, sir.” Jen buzzed the general’s office. “I have Commander Rabb here for you, sir?”

“Send him in.”

Harm walked into the general’s office and came to attention.

“At ease, Commander. Have a seat.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“I’m just going over your preliminary report. This is going to be difficult, Commander, but I agree with your findings in this matter.”

“Yes, sir.”

“It’s a shame. This ship has a long, proud history, but it has been plagued by one catastrophe after another.”

“There are a number of problems and contributing factors, sir: the extended yard period, new engineering officers, and a leading chief that didn’t seem to know the basic safety procedures aboard that ship or any other. The specific extraction gear was not in place, the very equipment needed to reach the sailor after the casualty. The boilers had been tagged off but the engineering officer of the watch authorized their removal.”

“The new LCPO?”

“Yes, I think it is safe to say a lot of this is going to come down on his decision making and lack of leadership.”

“What about the engineering officers?”

“As I stated in my report, sir, they were either unaware or not involved enough to know.”

“A terrible way for anyone to die, Commander.”

“Yes, sir.” Petty Officer Thomas White had been inside boiler number three when it was inadvertently lit off by other engineering personnel in the fire room. The petty officer was burned to death inside that boiler because the repair tags had been ordered to be removed by the engineering officer of the watch.

General Creswell closed the file. “That will be all, Commander.”

Harm stood and came to attention. “Sir.” Then he turned and left the room, closing the door behind him

“Sir, you have a call on line three. It’s Mattie, sir.” She gave the commander a small smile. There was no personal conversation when they were standing that close to the general’s office. They had never discussed it, but it was understood between them.

“I’ll take it in my office, Petty Officer.” He gave her a quick wink and left her office.

Since the incident at the apartment Mattie had stayed with her Dad in Blacksburg. It was sooner than they had planned but it was for the best. Jen had decided that she was not coming back and there really wasn’t anywhere for her to stay in Harm’s apartment. Harm suspected that Mattie was secretly pleased about the arrangement. She got to be near her new ‘friend’ Kevin that much sooner. She was supposed to go with him and Mac to Belleville at the change of semester for a long weekend. He hoped nothing had happened to change that.

He picked up the receiver. “Hey, kiddo.”

“Hey yourself – did you just get back?” He had sent a couple of e mails during the week.

“Yeah, just, I was walking out of the general’s office when I got your call. I haven’t even seen Mac yet.” She was in court, just down the hall. He wished she could call ‘a short recess’ as he looked longingly in the direction of the hallway.

“I just wanted to call and say hi. You still want me to go to Belleville, right?”

“Of course. Nothing has changed on your end, has it?”

“No, I’m looking forward to it. I like your grandmother, Harm. I think she and I have a lot in common.”

“Yeah, you and she like to gang up on me and give me a hard time. I don’t know if I can handle you, Mac and my grandmother. Maybe I’ll invite Keeter so I won’t be outnumbered.”

“From what your grandmother tells me…I don’t think he would be much help.” She chuckled over the phone.

“All right, Ms Grace, I think that’s enough.” He laughed as he said it.

“Hey, I have to go. I just wanted to talk to you for a minute and make sure we were still on for next weekend.”

“We are. We’ll see you Friday afternoon.”

“Bye, Harm.”

Harm ended the call. He looked at his phone for a moment. He did miss her, but he was relieved that she hadn’t gone back to the apartment. After seeing the police tape and the mess in that apartment, he could not stand the idea of her being anywhere near the place. Pia was still at large, so no one knew when she might show up at the apartment.

Harm sat down at his desk and turned on his computer. He began what he knew was going to be a long afternoon. All he wanted was to get home to Mac. This was grim work this time. This was a sad story, and so unnecessary. This was the part of the job he hated. He enjoyed the investigation, the time in court, but the paperwork – especially on a case like this – ramped up the tension like nothing else. He shook his head and began his final report.


1645
JAG Headquarters
Harm’s Office
Falls Church, Virginia



Mac could see Harm sitting at his desk. He looked tired. He hadn’t been able to discuss anything with her. She could end up presiding if the case went to trial, so she couldn’t have access to any of the details. She knocked on the open door.

Harm didn’t look up. “Enter.”

“Nice greeting, Commander Rabb.” Mac knew he hadn’t realized it was her.

“Hello, Colonel, close the hatch.” He looked up and gave her a welcoming smile. “Have a seat.” His look softened and he leaned forward on his desk. “So, did you miss me?”

“Oh, maybe, just a little.” She wished she could just walk across the room and greet him like any other wife, but she was in uniform. She sighed audibly. “When do you think you’ll be ready to get out of here?”

Harm’s expression turned serious. “Not for a while. This is going to be a bear, Mac.” He wasn’t going to say more.

Mac understood, seeing the dark circles under his eyes. She was glad she had decided not to discuss Captain Morrison’s concerns with him. That was the last thing he needed tonight. “You look tired.”

“I am.” Then he thought of how she might interpret that statement. “Not too tired, though.” He gave her a sly smile.

“I didn’t think that for a minute.” She stood and walked back toward the door, then turned back toward him. She was suddenly serious, and just a little seductive. “I wish I could kiss you hello.”

Harm returned her look. “Maybe it’s a good thing you can’t.”

She raised an eyebrow, considering. “See you at home.”


1830
Friday evening
Home of former SECNAV Nelson
Alexandria, Virginia


A.J sat in an overstuffed leather chair in the office of his old boss, wondering why he had been asked to meet him this evening. He heard the door bell and then heard another familiar voice. Tom Boone was shown into the den as well, and A.J. stood to shake his hand. Nelson followed and closed the large wooden door behind him.

“I suppose you are wondering why I called you here today.”

Tom and AJ turned toward Nelson and waited.

“There aren’t many secrets in Washington, gentlemen, as you know. It has come to my attention that you are both looking into an incident that happened late last year in London.”

Tom and AJ looked at each other. “What about it?” Tom spoke first.

“I know that with the shake ups at Langley and other difficulties at State, information has been difficult to get on this matter.”

AJ folded his arms across his chest. “With all due respect, sir, how would you have any access to any intel, given that you were persona non grata on the Hill after the dirty nuke situation in the Persian Gulf?”

“Well, AJ, as you may be aware, Watts is no longer DCI. Kershaw is also no longer with the Company.”

Tom listened to his friend and to his most recent boss before his second retirement. He knew that there was still a lot of animosity between and AJ and Nelson.

“Make your point, Nelson.” He wouldn’t get any ‘sirs’ from him. He would never have agreed to be a ‘dog robber’ for this man if 9-11 had not happened.

“I’m getting there, Tom.” He turned back to AJ and asked, “Do you think that Webb was the only source I had when I allowed your JAG officers to pursue that missing uranium?”

“Go on.” AJ was intrigued.

“I have a number of contacts overseas, some in London.”

“MI-5?” Tom asked.

“I’m not at liberty to say.”

AJ couldn’t believe that Nelson would do this out of the goodness of his heart. “What’s your interest in this, Nelson?”

“Let’s just say I would like to ‘right a wrong,’ and to be perfectly honest, I want to prove a point.”

“To whom?”

“I’ll keep that to myself.”

Tom and AJ looked at him suspiciously.

“If you’re not interested, we won’t discuss this further. We’ll have a brandy and I’ll tell you how…..great it is to be in the private sector again.” Nelson turned to walk toward his bar to pour his guests a drink.

Tom had heard enough. One of his oldest friends had been killed by a terrorist’s bomb. He wanted answers, and he had been unable to uncover any new information in weeks. The trail was cold and he thought that he would find nothing. He wanted to resolve this for Harm. And he didn’t want to see him risk everything to pursue this. He wanted answers…..now.

“Let’s have it. I’m in no mood to play games. You know I am not patient man.”

Nelson returned with a drink for both of his guests. He then walked up to his desk and turned his computer screen on. He clicked the mouse and a picture came to the screen.

“This may help shed some light on what happened the day of the incident at Trafalgar Square.”

It was a security video and appeared to be of a man walking into an automated teller machine cubicle. The time stamp in the corner of the screen read November 24 at 359 pm. A minute before the car bomb exploded in Trafalgar Square. He wore a cap pulled down over his eyes. As he leaned forward, the bill caught on the frame of the machine, revealing his face. Nelson paused the video.

“Take good look, gentlemen, before I continue and keep in mind, this ATM cubicle is located less than 50 yards from the site of the explosion.”

He clicked the mouse again and the man pulled the cap back down over his eyes. He began his transaction and appeared to punch in a code. Just then the windows of the cubicle blew out. The man leaned into the cubicle until the dust had settled. He stepped back from the machine, taking no money. He turned to look out and around the broken frame of the cubicle. They had a view of the side of his face

Nelson paused the picture again. “Take another look” He gave them a moment and then clicked the mouse to continue. The man walked away from the cubicle and the screen went blank.

Nelson clicked the mouse again and an English passport picture came into view. “Gentlemen, meet Kevin Donlon.” The young man appeared to be in his early twenties. Dark hair and eyes, with features that appeared to be Middle Eastern; the same man they had seen a few minutes ago on the computer screen.

Tom smiled without humor. “What do you want to bet that dear old dad wasn’t a wild Irishman?”

Nelson clicked the mouse again and another picture of the same man appeared. This time the passport was Pakistani. “Aziz Nasiri, and his father is Iranian. He also has relatives in our military prison and in Britain as well.”

AJ knew he had heard that name before. “Why does that name sound familiar?”

“It should – that name was associated with a media mess we had three years ago, with Stuart Dunston. Remember our embedded reporter with the assistant that was not so helpful?”

“The Holy Land Liberation Crusade.” AJ remembered now, Ginny Baker had been convicted of espionage as a result of what Harm and Mac had uncovered. Stuart Dunston’s arrogance had made him oblivious to what she was until it was almost too late. Nasiri was her cousin and her contact in Islamabad. “What was he doing in London?”

“We don’t have all the information yet. They have someone in the banking system. The code from the automated teller set that bomb off. The bank has the code attached to the name Kevin Donlon. We assume it was to shift the blame to the IRA, though compared to 10 years ago things are a lot calmer for them now.”

Tom spoke up. “Anything that slows the investigation buys them time.”

Nelson turned back toward his computer and keyed in a code and clicked onto another video. The man in the ball cap was passing a woman on the street and bumped into her, causing her to drop her purse, spilling its contents onto the sidewalk. The man in the ball cap helped her pick everything up.

Nelson stopped the video and pointed to him reaching for what looked like a credit card on the ground. “Watch what he does with this.” The man picked up the card and placed it in his own pocket. Nelson enlarged the picture. The card was a bank card. “This was taken from cameras they use to monitor traffic – it has a time stamp.” It was dated November 24 at 1441 pm; a little more than an hour prior to the explosion. Mr. Nasiri was not working alone. The woman in question did not appear to be of Middle Eastern decent. She was not in anyone’s computer base with a picture. This terrorist group had a way to blend in more seamlessly than anyone had expected.

‘How did you get access to this information, Nelson?” AJ had no idea he had any contact in intelligence that he had not been made aware of.

“I still have friends in high places, AJ.”

“And in low places.” A voice spoke from behind them. Jack Keeter had walked quietly into the room.

“The Company got this information to you?” AJ couldn’t believe it.

“I didn’t say that.” Nelson would not give any information about the source. That had been the deal.

“Webb has no involvement in this, does he?” AJ was sure he couldn’t stomach another visit from him.

“He has nothing to do with this.” Jack did not particularly like Webb either, but to him he seemed a pathetic figure. He had burned himself and all his bridges out in one fell swoop.

Nelson seemed to pick up on Jack’s thoughts about Webb. “It really is a shame. Clayton Webb comes from a long line of people who served this country with honor and distinction. His parents left the company with class; Webb had to be dragged out kicking and screaming.”

AJ raised his eyebrows. “It’s a cutthroat business.”

“It always has been,” Tom added.

“How was this information accessed?” AJ thought that this would be impossible to find.

Jack shrugged his shoulders. “The way a lot of things are figured out sometimes…. purely by accident. Scotland Yard was investigating a bank card theft ring based in London; this was on one of the tapes being reviewed. Our contact got it to us. The picture is nowhere near complete, but I think it’s safe to say we know who we are dealing with.”


1935
Friday
Harm and Mac’s Apartment
North of Union Station


Mac heard Harm’s keys in the door and walked toward it to greet him. He looked even more tired than he had earlier today. Harm didn’t say anything; he just looked at her and hung his cover on the peg by the door.

“Hey.” Mac slipped into his arms, and he pulled her close and kissed her.

“Hello.” She felt so good in his arms. He kissed her cheek.

She leaned back and looked at him. “I made dinner – are you hungry?”

Harm smiled at her apologetically. “I got something at work while I finished up my report.”

“Coward,” she teased and slipped out of his arms toward the kitchen.

Harm began to get out of his overcoat and uniform jacket. He walked into the kitchen, loosening his tie. “I could still eat if you’re going to sit down to dinner.” He did appreciate the effort.

“Oh, don’t be silly, I was just teasing. This will keep, and I nibbled all the way through making it anyway. Why don’t you get a shower and I’ll get all of this put away.”

“That sounds good.” He walked toward their bedroom and turned back to look at her. She really wasn’t angry. He could swear she looked better every day.

“Hey, what did the doctor say today, anyway?”

“Oh, he seems pretty happy with my progress, although you know how he is; he won’t say anything until he gets my blood work back.”

What she had just said was completely true; she had just left out one of the major concerns. She knew she should tell him about Captain Morrison’s concern that she might be pregnant, but she just couldn’t do it now. He was so tired and she didn’t want to be the cause of another minute of worry for him. She wanted to make him as happy as he had made her. If she were being honest, she wanted to be happy too. She didn’t want to think about the possibility of anything going wrong, not tonight.

“He’s just being cautious, Mac.” Harm appreciated his thoroughness. It gave him less cause to worry. He turned to walk further into their bedroom. His breath caught and he grimaced in pain.

“What is it?”

“It’s nothing; I’m just a bit sore from trying to move around that fire room. It wasn’t made for sailors over six feet tall.”

He grinned sheepishly. If he played his cards right, he might get a nice long backrub out of this. He slowly turned back and walked toward the shower, rubbing his lower back and stepping carefully.

Mac’s brow knitted with concern and she followed him into the room. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

Harm pulled his shirt out of the waist of his pants carefully and sucked in his breath, exaggerating a bit, just for effect. ‘Oh boy, this could get me a *nice* long backrub.’ He could barely keep the smile from his face.

“I’ll be fine.”

“So you need me to help you get undressed?”

“No, Mac, I think I can handle this.” He kept trying to mentally telegraph…‘backrub… backrub.’

“Okay….why don’t you lie down after your shower and I’ll give you a nice long backrub?”

Harm had his back to Mac and he was grinning from ear to ear. He was a bit sore, but it really wasn’t that bad – not that it would stop him from taking her up on her offer.

“Sure…I’ll be out in a sec…” He answered her, keeping the smile out of his voice.

Mac turned and walked out of their bedroom. Harm thought he was so smart, but he forgot about the position of mirror. He really must be tired. She had seen the big wide grin on his face. She would play along; she didn’t mind, anyway. She chuckled and thought, ‘Poor man...he has to feel like he’s winning some of the time.’

About a half an hour later Harm was settled into bed, lying on his stomach. Mac was turning out lights and locking the door. Harm was so tired and stretching out in his own bed felt so good. They didn’t have beds his size at his quarters at Norfolk. Mac came in and turned out the bedroom light. Harm smiled when he felt the weight of her body on the mattress.

She pulled back the blanket and sat low on his six so that she could access both sides of his back and use her body weight to work out the knots that she knew were there.

“Is this okay?”

“Mmm Hmm…” He couldn’t wait to feel her slowly undo the tension of an entire week.

“This lotion is a bit cold; I’ll try and warm it with my hands before I put it on your back.”

Mac squirted a generous amount of lotion on her palm and rubbed her hands together and then onto Harm’s back with long strokes. She heard him groan in approval as she deepened the strokes, searching for any unusual tightness at his lower back. She found it.

“Uh… Mac…” The sound came from deep in his chest. She’d found the place that hurt most, but her hands felt so good there was no way he wanted her to stop.

“Just relax.” She gently but firmly placed her thumb on the knot and slowly pressed down. “Breathe in, Harm.” As he did she began to press more firmly. “Now, let it out slowly.”

Harm did as he was told and he felt it slowly release.

“Better?”

“Yeah…you’re not stopping, are you?” Surely she wasn’t done yet.

“No, Harmon, I’m not finished….. Not by a long shot.” She smiled mischievously.

Harm thought that sounded an awful lot like a threat, but that was just fine with him.

“Knock yourself out, Mackenzie.” He thought, ‘I can take anything you’ve got.’

Mac began to push down deep with her hands on each side of his back, she used her body weight to deepen and lengthen the stroke. She could feel the muscles in his back tighten then relax under her hands. She pushed up between his shoulder blades and used her thumbs to explore the smaller and tighter muscles there. She found another place that didn’t loosen immediately so she instructed Harm as she had before to release the tension in the muscle.

“Ungh…Aw...that’s nice.” Harm was beginning to feel boneless. He had begun to relax to the point of being suspended between asleep and awake. His body felt heavy, as if he were sinking into the mattress. If he had known that his day would end this way, he would never have finished that report.

“Glad you like it.” Ah yes... the man was putty in her hands. She giggled out loud; she couldn’t help it.

Harm opened one eye. “Are you having a good time?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact, I am.”

She placed a hand on each of his shoulders and began to knead the hardened muscle at the top of his arm. She worked her way to the long muscle that connected his shoulder to his neck.

“Uh…yeah…me too.” His voice was deep and slurred, she was undoing him and this felt so good.

She found another knot on the right side and gently but firmly began to isolate it and used the technique she had before to release it. Harm’s breath was deepening and he had stopped talking. He started making low and almost incoherent groans of approval from deep in his chest.

“Turn over, Sailor.”

Harm lifted his head and looked at her through half-closed eyes. “Okay.”

She got up so he could turn and sat closely to his side and began to rub his temples on both sides, working her way down to the strong column of his neck.

“Oh, Mac….this feels so good.” His eyes were half closed when he looked at her. “I needed this so much.”

Mac leaned over and kissed his lips lightly. “I know.”

His arms went around her and he deepened the kiss.

Mac felt herself being drawn into the kiss, her body was already responding to just touching him. She had to put a stop to this or she wouldn’t be able to finish what she had started. She wanted this night to be all about him.

“All right, Sailor, I’m not finished yet.” She kissed his forehead, her face directly over his.

He arched an eyebrow. “You’re the boss.”

“Yes, I am.” She started at his right hand and massaged his palm with both of her hands, separating the bones, and working her way up his arm, kneading the thick muscles with both hands. She repeated this on the left hand and arm.

She returned to his shoulders and he drew in a breath and let it out slowly. She worked her way down to his chest, the muscles at his side tightening and relaxing under her touch. Harm raised his arms allowing them to come to rest above his head and sighed audibly. He closed his eyes and arched his back feeling his body continue to unwind.

Harm felt Mac’s hands begin to work down his sides to his hip bones and back up to the hollow of his well-defined torso. She was teasing the hell out of him and he knew it. He would not beg and plead…although he was dying for her to bring her massage down just a little bit lower…. Mac continued to use her thumbs to smooth and knead. She scooted to the bottom of the bed, pulling the blankets back so that she could sit between his legs. She began to massage his right foot, working her way up to his ankle and calf. She used both hands to knead and caress the muscles of his upper thigh. She heard him breathe in sharply when she got to the very top. She repeated the same action on the left side. ‘Oh… he is definitely glad to see me,’ she smiled to herself. She used her hands to massage her way up both of his legs from his knee to the place that he was straining for her to touch.

Harm was aching with need but he loved the feeling of her hands on him so much that she could do this all night if she was so inclined. He lay there taking it all in, thinking to himself, ‘It would be so nice if she…’ Then he felt it, wet warm and just what he had been waiting for…. Harm’s eyes snapped open and a grin spread slowly across his face.

Then she began to wind him up and take him to the edge and back….a number of times.


1600
January 17
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia


Harm walked down the hallway toward Mac’s office on the third floor. He could see her standing in front of her desk talking on the phone. He hoped she was ready to finish up for the day. He had been able to secure early. Mac walked around her desk, listening intently to whomever she was speaking with. Harm hoped that whoever it was wouldn’t make her day longer today.

Mac turned to face her doorway and saw Harm coming toward her. She had a stunned expression on her face.

Harm felt his heart squeeze in his chest. ‘Oh God, don’t let it be bad news. She can’t be getting sicker,’ he thought.

Mac plopped down into her chair as though her legs had given way. She leaned forward over her desk and put her hand over her eyes, shielding them from Harm.

His steps quickened, and he walked into her office and closed the door behind him. He stood behind the chair, leaning forward and bracing his hands on the back of it. She was still listening to the caller.

“Yes….I’ll be there Wednesday …can we make it late in the day? Yes…I’ll bring my husband.” She looked at Harm and he nodded, agreeing to the approximate time of day. Mac ended her call.

“Tell me,” he said, bracing himself for the worst.

She drew a deep breath. “I’m pregnant, Harm.”

Harm blinked and stared at her as if he didn’t understand. “Pregnant?”

“Yes.” Mac was still stunned. She couldn’t believe it.

“Are they sure?” His response was automatic. He wasn’t even sure what he was saying.

“They’re sure.”

Harm kept his hold on the chair. Captain Morrison’s words of warning came to him as clearly as if he were in the room with them. ‘A pregnancy could be attempted in as little as a year, but you should know this puts you at risk for reoccurrence.’

Mac knew what he was remembering. She remembered too, but she wanted this. It might have happened sooner than they planned, but she was going to take her chance. As stunned as she was by it all, she was certain of that.

“Thank God I waited until late today to call.” This news was so stunning that she knew she wouldn’t have been able to concentrate in court today.

“What about your other blood work?” The thought had just occurred to him.

“Its fine,” Mac answered quickly. “Harm…. let’s wait until we get home to talk about this.”

She had managed to get through this illness without losing it at work. Feeling as though she wanted to laugh, she wanted to cry – and trying to anticipate Harm’s reaction, all at once. Mac had also already begun to steel herself. No one would talk her out of having this child now.

Her tone had been sharp and Harm didn’t understand until he saw the pleading look in her eyes. He understood that she was afraid she would get emotional here at work. Her professional bearing had always been so important to her. He understood how much that meant to her. He was grateful then, because it would help him keep it together too.

“Are you finished for the day, then?”

“Yeah, I was just getting ready to call you.” She smiled weakly.

“I’ll, uh…go close up my office and then I’ll meet you downstairs…okay?” He tried to give her a reassuring look.

He stepped closer to Mac and brushed a soft kiss on her cheek.

“It’s going to be okay, Mac.” He began to back away toward the door. He needed to get her out of here…and quick.

Mac nodded, not trusting herself to speak.


2035
Monday evening
Harm and Mac’s Apartment
North of Union Station


Harm and Mac sat on the sofa together. They had been quiet most of the evening, both lost in thought about what lay before them. Harm was seated in a corner of the sofa and sat with his legs on both sides of her. She was turned slightly, as he held her in his arms, almost protectively.

“Do they have any idea about how far along you are?”

“Not really. I suppose I’ll need a sonogram to know for certain.” She was suddenly so aware of her stomach. She placed her hand over it.

Harm’s eyes followed her hand and his heart ached. He still felt the same as he had for some time. She looked at him, her eyes seeming to ask a question and he didn’t know what to say. He wanted this child but he didn’t want to lose Mac. Nothing was worth that to him. The thought of having to abort a child that came from their love pained him. They had both wanted this for so long. The other side of this argument was the sheer terror he felt when he thought of losing Mac. He remembered all too well when the possibility had been very real indeed. Since her recovery from her surgery they had been so happy, everything seemed possible.

“What are you thinking, Harm?”

Harm kissed her temple and the top of her head.

“I’m worrying, mostly, about what this means as far as your health is concerned.” Harm traced her jaw line with his finger and turned her head to face him. “I can’t lose you, Mac.”

Mac saw the warring emotions playing across his face. She knew Harm wanted their children too, but she also knew he didn’t want to risk anything where she was concerned.
“I’m not going anywhere.” She hugged him close, tucking her head under his chin. “Do you think you’ll be able to make it Wednesday? I have the appointment set up for 1630.”

“Yeah, it should be fine. I don’t have court that day. I’ll talk to the general.”
They were quiet for a time, and then Harm spoke up. “Mac, we’re going to have to talk about this.”

Mac raised her head to look at him. “I know, but I don’t want to right now. I can’t even think. I’m still so stunned. I would like to know what Captain Morrison says before we really get into this. He is going to coordinate with Dr Ahrens; hopefully he will be there too.” She wanted to hide in the warm cocoon of his arms knowing his child was growing inside her. A feeling she thought she would never have, this was going to happen, she and Harm were going to have a baby.

Harm kept what he was feeling to himself, for now. Deep down he believed she was running from the issue as she had nearly always done this in the past in any personal matter. He would give her time – hell, he needed it himself – but this was definitely not going away.

They went to bed and they slipped into their now comfortable spooning position. Harm held her carefully, as he had done just before and just after her surgery.

“I’m not going to break, you know.” He was being so sweet.

“I know” He had been careful not to touch her stomach.

“I’m the same woman you made love to nearly all of last weekend, Harm…..and you weren’t too careful then…..were you?” she teased him.

She wanted to lighten the mood; she was so sick of fear and grief. It might have seemed out of place, but she just didn’t want to lose the part of them that could still laugh in the face of anything. She turned in his arms and lay on her stomach. Harm was giving her a sad smile.

“Do you remember when you told me that we could handle anything, if we did it together?”

Harm nodded and swallowed hard. She had hope in her eyes, and love. He was going to have to bury his fears for now. She needed him and he would wait. The time to discuss this would come after they had their appointment Wednesday.


1000
Wednesday
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia


Commander Faith Coleman and Major Mike McBurney sat across from each other at the conference room table. It was pretty clear that this was going to go to trial. The commander’s client had refused any type of deal.

“Your client is late.” McBurney glanced up at her from the file he held in front of him.

Faith pushed her chair back and stood. “I’m aware of that, Major.” She stepped away from her chair to walk toward the opposite end of the conference room table. She could usually defend a client with detached efficiency, but this one was already becoming difficult. Something about this man grated on her nerves like no client ever had. He was guilty and she knew it. She had defended clients who were guilty before, but the callousness and carelessness with which Chief Thompson conducted himself almost made her wish to lose. A feeling she had never had in her entire career.

“I had an interview this morning with Petty Officer White’s father.”

“You usually don’t go for the emotional appeal, Major.” She thought it might work, though; that was why her client would not be put on the stand. If he was able to put her off immediately she didn’t even want to think about what he would do to the members.

“He asked to see me.” It still pained him to think of the meeting.

“I see.” She turned and looked at him, waiting for him to continue. He did not. The major was looking at his file but she did not think he was reading it. He looked up at her and looked away. “Major?”

“I never thought of myself as the type to go for the emotional appeal either. There are plenty of facts to convict your client, Commander. However, you should know that I will have the victim’s father on the witness list. He deserves to be heard.”

The interview had been one of the toughest he had ever had. Retired Master Chief White was a bear of a man. His son had followed his example and planned a career in the Navy. He had wanted to serve in his father’s rate, but boiler technicians were being phased out. Though the master chief did not say it, he seemed to be bearing a great deal of guilt. He had not been emotional when he spoke but the pain in the room had been palpable. He’d told Major McBurney about the fact that he had served aboard the Coral Sea and that his son had been on a tiger cruise aboard her as a boy. His son had opted for the machinist mate rate, because it was the closest thing to his old rate.

Gunny knocked and then opened the conference room door, pulling the major from his thoughts.

“Sir, ma’am, Chief Thompson is here for your meeting.” The chief stepped in behind him, and both men came to attention.

“At ease.” Commander Coleman turned toward them.

“Sorry I’m late, ma’am. I couldn’t find a parking place.” The chief’s excuse seemed half-hearted.

“You’re dismissed, Gunny. Sit down, Chief.” McBurney already disliked this man. He hadn’t been in the same room with him for five minutes and he had already seen him lie, he was sure of it. After he sat down, McBurney looked at him. “It is my understanding that you want to take this to trial. It is my duty to inform you that the charges will be dereliction of duty and involuntary manslaughter.”

“Involuntary manslaughter?” The master chief spoke loudly, disbelieving.

“Chief.” The commander spoke up to quiet her client.

“What is this? You’re my attorney. How can they charge me with that?”

“If you will be quiet, the charges will be explained to you.” The commander calmly looked at him. No one looking at her would have known how much she disliked this man.

The major explained the charges and the commander asked the chief if he wished to go to trial.

“You better believe I do. I’m not going down alone. This whole system sucks and I’m not taking all the blame.”

McBurney looked at the man. He hadn’t once mentioned the young man who died. He showed no remorse and appeared to feel no responsibility for the incident at all.

“This damn drawdown, combining rates – how can I be qualified to stand a watch like that when there are only a couple ships in the whole damn Navy that are even powered with boilers?”

“That is enough, Chief. We will give our arguments in court.” Coleman spoke firmly.

The chief looked at her, almost sneering. He was looking as though he were trying to decide whether he should continue or not. McBurney waited. Oh yeah, he was going to enjoy nailing this guy.

“We will continue this conversation in my office.” Coleman looked at him sharply.

McBurney stood “See you in court, Commander.” This case was his. He already knew it.


1545
Major McBurney’s office
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia

 

Lieutenant Commander Coleman knocked on the frame of the open door.

“Enter.” Major McBurney looked up and willed himself not to smile at her. Ever since their conversation right before the New Year, he had this uncontrollable urge to make her as uncomfortable as she had made him.

“Well, if it isn’t Commander *Faith* Coleman, as I live and breathe.”

She decided to ignore him and get down to business. If she engaged in any sort of a response this could go on all afternoon.

“I want to discuss Lieutenant Vukovic, Major. I understand that he will be assisting you with the case.” A new JAG attorney, Lieutenant Greg Vukovic, had joined their team right after the New Year.

Major McBurney leaned forward across his desk. “That is correct, Commander.” He couldn’t help it; he had to smile at her. He knew he was making it difficult for her to say what ever she had come to tell him.

“I understand that he is a very aggressive investigator and litigator. I am also under the impression that he doesn’t like to lose.” She folded her arms and leaned on the door frame, her expression unreadable.

‘What the hell was that supposed to mean?’ His humor left him immediately.

“And you’re telling me this because?....”

“Scuttlebutt is that…”

McBurney was incredulous. “Where would *you * hear scuttlebutt?”

He was still smarting from what he thought was her insinuation that he wasn’t winning his cases. He sat back in his chair and glared at her.

Faith waited for him to finish .His reaction surprised her, but she quickly composed herself. She considered turning around and leaving; she had meant well, she had only meant to warn him. She looked down and then out the window of his office. She looked at him directly as she spoke.

“I merely came to warn you that the…word…is that he has a tendency to cut corners, to win at any cost. I know you have high standards as an attorney. I didn’t think you would appreciate anyone who would compromise that.” She turned and walked away.

Mike was on his feet and around his desk in a flash. He leaned out of his door. “Commander Coleman?”

She stopped and turned to look at him, her face blank and devoid of any emotion. “Yes?”

“Thank you”

Damn, he had really put his foot in his mouth with that one. If he hadn’t been working with her these past months he wouldn’t have seen that his cutting remark had hurt her. This was the first time she had made a remotely friendly gesture. He didn’t think she had given him a second thought, much less considered what he believed as an attorney. She had never been anything but distant, engaged only on a professional level, with nothing personal in between. He felt like a jerk.

She nodded, her expression unchanging, and walked back to her office.

Mike walked back into his office. ‘Nice one, McBurney,’ he thought and closed his door behind him….a little too loudly.


1700
Wednesday
Captain Morrison’s office
National Naval Medical Center
Bethesda, Maryland



Captain Morrison sat behind his desk. Harm and Mac sat in chairs in front of it. Dr. Ahrens stood leaning on a counter on the far side of the room.

“So what does this all mean?” Harm wanted to cut to the chase. They had been talking for about a half an hour. Dr. Ahrens appeared to show no concern about this turn of events. He seemed to feel that there was every possibility that Mac would have a normal pregnancy. Captain Morrison was, as he had always been, cautious and completely unreadable. It was infuriating sometimes. Neither man wanted to say anything with any certainty.

The captain spoke again. “This means that if your wife decides to continue with this pregnancy, in my opinion, she is at greater risk. She will be monitored more closely by this office. To put it plainly, we will hope for the best and prepare for the worst.”

Harm turned toward Dr. Ahrens. “I believe that with the removal of the tumor and in light of her most recent blood work your wife should have a normal pregnancy….”

The doctors had been addressing Mac most of the time. Harm thought that if he tried to get them to clarify that the picture would be clearer to him, but it was not. It was as though they were being given a choice as to whom to believe. It would be great if the stakes weren’t so high. He could just lose his wife….his life….that was all. He looked at Mac, trying to keep the fear out of his eyes. She reached for his hand – she had seen it.

“You two have some decisions to make.” The captain started to rise, signaling the end of the appointment.

Mac looked at him. “The decision has been made, Captain.”

The captain looked back her and at Harm, who obviously had not been expecting her to answer so quickly.

“Colonel?”

“When we discussed the possibility of my being pregnant on Friday, I said that there would be no termination.” Mac was firm.

Harm went completely silent.

The air was suddenly thick with tension. The captain and Dr. Ahrens gave each other a knowing look.

“Very well, Colonel. I will follow up with Commander Fletcher after you have seen her. I will keep Dr. Ahrens apprised of any changes.”

“I would like to continue to do our own testing with regard to your blood work, as we did when you were hospitalized.” Dr. Ahrens looked from the captain to Mac.

The captain looked to Mac. “That’s fine with me, sir.”

She watched as Harm shook hands with the captain and noticed for the first time the look on his face. He was pleasant and professional, but a look she had not seen in months was evident to her, though he was concealing it well. He was angry….really angry.

They walked out of the building and into the parking lot in silence. Harm unlocked the door for them both and they got into the vehicle. He started the vehicle but the silence continued.

“Harm?”

He turned to look at her. “You knew about this Friday, and you didn’t tell me?” He couldn’t believe that she would keep something this important from him.

“Captain Morrison ordered the test as an afterthought. We were talking about how well I was doing and he asked if I had any concerns. I mentioned that I hadn’t resumed my normal menstrual cycle. I didn’t think there was a possibility that I was pregnant. I thought of the test as a precaution.”

“Why didn’t t you tell me, Mac?” His voice was beginning to get an edge to it.

His tone of voice was beginning to make her angry. She didn’t like being called on the carpet for something she didn’t do. He acted as though she were trying to deceive him when her goal had been not to worry him unnecessarily. She crossed her arms and looked at him pointedly. “I didn’t want to worry you about something that might not even be true….”

“I’m your husband, Mac; I think I should be able to decide something like that myself.”

“Harm I know this is a shock to you, it is to me too….”

Harm snorted. “Yeah, just a bit, and embarrassing as hell that I didn’t even know what you had discussed with Captain Morrison. He could tell that I didn’t know. I saw it on his face.”

“I can’t believe you’re reacting this way. I didn’t plan this, Harm. We did all the right things. We were careful. We used birth control and I got pregnant anyway. I’m having this baby – no one is going to talk me out of it, not you…not Captain Morrison…no one. This may be my only chance.”

Harm’s eyes blazed with anger. “It could also kill you, Mac.” His voice was rising and bouncing off of the windows of the car.

“I love my life, Harm. I want to live a long time. I know this sounds like a contradiction, but I want to risk this. I have only known about this for two days, but it is almost as though I already know this baby. I want to see its face….”

Mac couldn’t continue. This seemed so unreal. They had barely argued since they had gotten together last October.

Harm shook his head. “Who is running on emotion now? I can’t believe you’re risking something like this and you didn’t even give me a chance to discuss this with you. You gave the captain your decision without a thought about my feelings on the matter.”

“Do you want me to terminate this pregnancy, Harm?” She couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

“I didn’t say that.” He didn’t know what he wanted.

He felt as though she had left him completely out of the decision. He noticed that she was trembling as she tucked a stray hair back from her face. He needed to get this “discussion” back under control. She was a lot more upset than he had realized. This was not over, but he couldn’t stand to see the effect it was having on her now.

“Don’t misunderstand me. I just wanted to be let in on this. You’re my wife.” He reached for her hand and she stiffened in her seat, closing her hand into a fist.

“Let’s finish this at home.” He put the vehicle into gear and drove out of the parking lot.

As they drove back toward the apartment, Mac tried to get her thoughts and feelings under control. She had not seen Harm this angry in a long time, not at her. She understood in a way; she had known for sometime how he felt about her having a baby. She knew he didn’t want her to risk it, even next year. She’d thought that he would have a year to see how well she was doing. By that time she thought he would be as convinced as she was that she was going to be fine. After a few moments, she looked at him. He returned her look, and something in his eyes tugged at her heart. She knew that he loved her and this was all about his fear of losing her. He returned his attention to the road a few seconds later.

“I shouldn’t have lost my temper like that.” He reached for her hand, and she took his and placed her other atop them both.

“I should have told you sooner. I should have discussed this with you before answering Captain Morrison.”

Tears ran down her face unheeded and she felt a relief she could not explain...then all of a sudden she began to cry hard, in deep wracking sobs.

“Mac…honey, I’m sorry.” Harm felt so bad for making her feel this way.

She shook her head. Their argument was not what was making her cry, although his tenderness and his willingness to meet her halfway seemed to be the first brick out of the dam. When she spoke her admission of wrong in the argument, the unfairness of the situation struck her. The joy of being pregnant with the child of the man she loved and the fear of losing her life in the process. This made the dam burst and she couldn’t hold back any more. She had been holding everything in since she found out Monday. She could no more stop this than stop breathing.

“It’s not all your fault, Harm. I think I’m still overwhelmed by it all.” She turned her head to look out the window of the vehicle. “Give me a few minutes to get myself under control.”

Harm took her hand and raised it to his lips. “Take all the time you need.”

He still felt so strongly that he didn’t want her to risk her life. He knew it seemed selfish, but he loved her so much. He had waited so long to have a life with her.

The frustrating thing was that it was already out of his hands.


1120
Thursday
January 18
Matkabah al Ansir bookshop
Birmingham, England



Aziz Nasiri walked into the small bookshop and appeared to be browsing a row of shelves. They held CDs that were purported to have been the last will and testaments of the men who had struck a blow at the heart of the great Satan. How he wished he had been able to carry out his plan. November 24 had been the day he would fulfill his destiny, but it was not to be.

MI-5 had not been able to specifically expose his plan, but they had been sure that a tour group of American college students would not be in Trafalgar Square that day, as had been planned. There were tourists in the area at the time, but there had been only one person killed, an American woman. Still, his mentor Asa al Hundu had reassured him there would be other opportunities.

He walked further down the aisle in the bookshop. He loved being surrounded by the holy writings and interpretations of the Koran, books filled with truth and instruction in the war against those who corrupted the world with their belief in their false god and the son of Mary.

A man dressed in business attire sat at a table nearby. He was sipping espresso and reading a pamphlet written by the late Sheik Abdullah Azzan. He had been observing Nasiri since he walked into the bookshop, all the while appearing to be totally absorbed in the reading material before him. The man blended seamlessly into his surroundings. He stood and walked to the shelf holding the pamphlets, giving him a view of the aisle which Nasiri occupied. At the end of the hall a door opened. Nasiri looked toward the door and was greeted. He immediately walked to the door and it closed behind him.

The cautious observer lingered in the aisle for quite a time. He read other writings with what appeared to be great interest, and then walked casually from the bookshop. He walked toward the bus stop and took his cell phone from his pocket. He spoke in his native Farsi about the cousin he was able to see today and he also spoke of seeing another person. He thought this person was out of the country but he had contacted him and met with his cousin as well.

Blaisdell sat in his office in front of his computer screen. His caller’s voice was audible from the speaker attached to his computer. His message was being translated as he spoke and printed onto his computer screen. Jack stood behind Blaisdell, reading the message, not yet understanding what he was reading.

“Cousin?” Jack wondered aloud.

“It is a way of speaking. When my caller speaks of his cousin, he is in fact telling me about Ginny Baker’s cousin Aziz Nasiri. I’m still trying to figure out who this other person is.” An artist who did some great preliminary sketches about three and a half years ago…. for his family portrait. Blaisdell considered the possibilities. The sketches had to be photographs, the word ‘preliminary’ seemed to stick in his mind. Realization dawned on him….wow. They *knew* he was still in Britain. MI-5 swore he wasn’t. A man believed to be deeply involved in the preparation of the 9/11 attacks was right there under their noses.

“Look, I need to finish this up in private.” Asa al Hundu was still in Britain.

“Come on, Blaisdell, I thought you wanted to help us with this.”

Jack hated being out of the loop, but he also knew it was better than being involved up to your neck with these people. It could cost you your life.

“Look, Jack, I agreed to help because I don’t want to see our mutual friend get involved in Company business. I have a duty not to involve you in other matters that don’t concern you. You know the drill. I’m sticking my neck out as it is.”

Jack did understand. They had been able to find out that Nasiri had been involved in the bombing but not who had sent him. He also knew that Blaisdell wanted to follow Nasiri to his source in hopes of catching a much bigger target. He believed he saw Harm as a friend but he also knew that he wasn’t doing this out of the goodness of his heart. No Company man did that. Jack turned and walked toward the door.

“I’ll be in touch Jack. Give me 48 hours.” He looked at him over his glasses as he was reaching for his phone.


2230
Wednesday
Harm and Mac’s Apartment
North of Union Station



Mac lay on her stomach, watching her husband sleep. He had not been asleep for very long. He seemed to be dreaming. The peaceful look he usually wore was not there tonight. His brow was slightly furrowed. Mac felt a pang of guilt. He was worrying about her, even in his sleep. When they had come home, they hadn’t eaten any dinner. As soon as she’d closed the apartment door behind them, Harm had pulled her into his arms. She reached for the light switch on the wall but he had stopped her.

She started to speak but he had silenced her with his deep and soul-stirring kisses. He said only that he needed her. She loved him and he had loved her for hours until he had fallen asleep. As close as she felt to him now, she felt him holding himself back. Whether it was from her or from the baby, she could not tell. She had been unable to sleep, her mind still reeling with the events of the day. She still felt as strongly as she had before about the baby. She was sure he had not changed his feelings either.

‘Oh God, don’t let this come between us, and please give us this one chance to have our family,’ she prayed. The prayer was simple but heartfelt. Mrs. Rabb had told her once that God wasn’t interested in eloquence but in truth. Her prayer had been her truest and dearest wish.


Chapter 27


0900
Thursday
January 20th
JAG headquarters
Fall Church, Virginia


Harm was walking toward the conference room doors immediately after staff call when the general stopped him.

“Commander Rabb.”

“Yes, sir?” He turned to face him.

“Wait a moment. The Gunny will be joining us in a few minutes. We have a case to discuss.”

Gunny Galindez walked into the conference room and came to attention.

“At ease.” The general sat down at the head of the conference table. “Sit down, gentlemen.”

Gunny and Harm sat on each side of their commanding officer.

“I have an assignment for both of you. Gunny, do you have your sea bag packed?”

“Yes sir” Gunny did not smile but he began to get a gleam in his eye.

“I suppose you will need time to go home and pack won’t you, Rabb?”

“No sir, I keep a sea bag packed and in my vehicle,” Harm answered quickly.

“That’s right, you *are* married to a Marine, aren’t you?” The general looked at him pointedly, waiting for his reaction. His expression was, once again, hard to read.

Harm looked at him and drew a breath, not sure whether he should smile or not. “Yes sir, but I...”

“I was joking, Commander,” The general shook his head slightly. The commander definitely needed to lighten up.

Gunny watched with hidden amusement. It was always fun to watch General Creswell dangle the commander out on that limb.

“You and the Gunny will be leaving Andrews this afternoon at 1400. You will be TAD to the 42nd MEU 5th Marines. They need our assistance helping the Iraqi military set up their own UCMJ. Some of the Iraqis who turned during the battle for Fallujah are being held and the JAGs in country need our help in educating the Iraqis in proper military jurisprudence. As you are aware, Commander, we and the new Iraqi military are under a great deal of scrutiny by every press in the world. We have to help assure the world that the military we help to train treats its personnel justly, even its deserters.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Any questions?” The general looked from Harm to Gunny.

“Any indication about how long we will be needed, General?” Harm had already begun to think about how he and Mac would handle this.

“I would expect to be away at least a month, perhaps two. It will depend on how the elections go next week. The JAGs on the ground are perfectly capable of running this once we get the initial framework set up. I wanted someone from this office as a close advisor/observer so that I am more able to assess what is working and what is not.”

Harm thought this could not have come at a worse time. He and Mac hadn’t really had a chance to talk since yesterday. He was looking forward to their visit to Belleville next week. He thought it would be a good time for them to step back from all this and talk. The farm had become a place where they could do that. He gave no outward indication of this, however. General Creswell always seemed to Harm to be waiting for him to act or react the wrong way.

“Yes, sir.”

“Gunny, I want you to assist the commander in his observation and training of the Iraqis.
Besides, the commander will need a good Marine to watch his back.” The general smiled wryly.

Gunny lit up like a Christmas tree. He hadn’t thought he would be back in the thick of it this soon.

“Are you ready for that, Marine?”

“Yes sir.” Gunny had been sure that his knee injury and surgery was not apparent to anyone. No one looking at him would ever have known he had his knee replaced last year.

‘If there are no other questions, you will pick up your travel itinerary form Petty Officer Coates. Commander, I will expect a preliminary report within 48 hours of your arrival.”

“Yes, sir.”

“You are dismissed.”

Gunny and Harm walked out of the conference room and toward Jennifer’s desk. Harm’s mind was reeling. He was trying to figure out how he was going to get a chance to see Mac before he had to leave. He looked slightly dazed when he heard Jen speaking to him.

“Sir?” Jen smiled at him knowingly. “I have taken the liberty of getting a note to Colonel Rabb regarding your scheduled departure. She will meet you at 1130 in your office. Your schedule is clear after 1100, sir.”

Harm gave her a grateful look. “Still saving my life, aren’t you, Coates?”

“Hey, it’s what I do.” She shrugged. She gave Gunny his itinerary as Harm turned to walk toward his desk. “Nothing to arrange for you, Gunny?”

“Nope, I’m a free man, so… how about lunch before I get out of here?” He looked at her with a sly grin.

Coates was surprised, but pleasantly so, and accepted his invitation. Harm looked quickly over his shoulder when he heard Gunny’s invitation. He kept walking and looked again toward his office, raising his brows in surprise.


1115
Thursday
Harm’s Office
Falls Church, Virginia


Mac stepped up to the open door and knocked on its frame. “Hey, Sailor.”

Harm looked up from his computer screen. “Hey, come in and close the hatch.”

He stood and walked toward her, reaching behind her to close the blinds. He looked deeply into her eyes, just inches from her face. He was going to miss her so much.

“You’re early,” he breathed gently into her ear and kissed her cheek.

She looked up at him. She wanted to throw her arms around his neck and kiss him senseless. She knew this deployment would not be over in a couple of weeks.

“I wanted to get every minute.” They stood facing each other just inches apart. “So where do you want to go?”

He reached to tuck a strand of hair back from her face. “Home.” He looked almost wistful as he said it.

“I know.”

“This couldn’t have come at a worse time. We really didn’t talk about yesterday at all.” His expression changed to one of worry.

“I know but I think I do understand how you feel and why.” She slipped her hand into his and squeezed it.

“General Creswell says it may be as long as two months.” He reached up and touched her cheek. “Promise me something, Mac, please.” He gazed intensely into her eyes. “If there are any changes in your condition or if you become compromised medically in any way, please talk to me – don’t leave me out of any decision about this…pregnancy. Please don’t choose the life of the baby over your own.”

He looked down, afraid she would not understand. He knew it sounded callous and cold, but he had to make her understand how important this was to him. He looked again into her eyes and was relieved to see the understanding and compassion there.

“Harm, I’m going to be smart about this. I’ll do everything the doctors tell me to do. I promise I’ll never make another decision with out discussing it with you first. I am so sorry about yesterday; I honestly didn’t think it through. I was still in shock about being pregnant in the first place.”

She held his hand to her face and then turned her head and kissed his palm. “Forgive me?”

Harm nodded the affirmative. He couldn’t have spoken just then, the lump in his throat made it impossible. Even though he knew he shouldn’t, he gathered her into his arms. Protocol forbade them to embrace when they were both in uniform but the moment was too special to pass. He buried his face in her neck and drank in her scent.

“Mac…”

She did not resist him. The door was closed and so were the blinds. She would risk this for him. There were times when she loved the part of him that had no words. In the past it would infuriate her; she wanted to shake him at times. Today his touch and the look in his eyes spoke everything she needed to know. She ran her fingers through his hair at the nape of his neck. He drew back and kissed her deeply. His kisses never failed to weaken her knees and spin her off into oblivion. After a long moment she did pull herself back from him.

“Hey, flyboy, we better go to lunch, or kissing you while I’m in uniform will be the least of my worries.”

They both laughed, breaking the tension and lightening both of their moods considerably.

They both took a moment to compose themselves. Harm stepped around his desk to turn off his computer. He got his cover and Mac followed him out of his office. They seemed to be floating along in a bubble. They were the only two people in the world at that moment. Their love seemed to be a tangible thing, something anyone in the room could feel when they were in it together. They were lucky that General Creswell was out of the building but their state of happiness was not lost on one particular observer in the bullpen.

“If someone had told me last January that those two would be married, I’d have told them they were crazy…” Petty Officer Coates stood leaning against a desk in the bullpen, speaking to anyone who was listening. She looked at the person to whom she was speaking. “Ma’am, excuse me, Ma’am.”

Lieutenant Commander Faith Coleman looked at her sharply. “Carry on, Petty Officer.”
She and Jennifer had both felt that small pang of envy and longing when they saw what their superior officers apparently felt for each other. Jennifer quickly made her way back to her office, and as she reached her desk, Gunny appeared in her doorway.

“Are you ready, Jen?” he said in a hushed voice.

Jen was still a little rattled from speaking out of turn to Commander Coleman. She startled at the sound of his voice.

Gunny waited; there had to be a story here. Jen wasn’t rattled this easily. “What did you do, Coates?” He walked a bit further into her office, watching her with an amused grin on his face.

“Nothing.” She grabbed her cover and coat and he followed her out to the elevators.

Commander Coleman had returned to her office, but she could see Petty Officer Coates and the Gunny leaving. ‘What’s this?’ she thought. She turned her chair toward her window. Every one seemed to be pairing off today. This was ridiculous; she had never given this any thought before at all. Lately it had begun to irritate her for some unknown reason. She was lonely but she knew she didn’t want anyone close and she didn’t even think she knew how to socialize anymore. She wondered when this had begun to bother her.

She turned toward her computer and clicked the mouse on the file containing her notes for court on Monday. Her eyes came to rest on the name of the prosecutor in the case: Major Michael McBurney. She remembered then when it was. It was when the major and his sister had brought her the Christmas cookies on Christmas day. It had been kind of him, even though she knew she had made him uncomfortable. His sister Kim clearly adored him The sound of laughter from the car waiting downstairs, packed with his mother and sisters… Though she had never spoken with them, she knew from the way they laughingly teased him that Michael was much loved by his family.

She shook her head slightly to clear it. She needed to get her mind on the case at hand.


2235 Eastern time
Thursday evening
Somewhere over the North Atlantic


Harm was leaning back in his seat, resting his eyes for a moment. He had been doing some case review that the general had sent along with him. Military justice in an ‘eye for an eye’ land. Culturally the task seemed insurmountable. He missed Mac’s strength in this area of the world, her language skills and her sense of what the mores of the society were. He missed her already in other ways too.

They had hashed everything out over lunch today. He didn’t like the idea of her being alone in the apartment. Mac stood her ground on that one. She would be fine, he was told not to worry….. Fat chance. She would still be going to Belleville next weekend with Mattie, weather permitting. He was glad she was going; she seemed to gain strength from her time there and her friendship with his grandmother. Mattie was a shot in the arm for anyone. She seemed to have the same talent his grandmother had in drawing people out and making them laugh at themselves.

“Commander?” Gunny noticed then that Harm had his head back and eyes closed. “Oh…Sorry.”

Harm raised his head and looked across the aisle at Gunny. “It’s okay – I wasn’t sleeping, Gunny. It may not be a bad idea, though.”

“Nah, I don’t think I can right now.”

“Are you really that glad to be going back?” There was no mistaking Gunny’s feelings on the matter.

“It’s not about being glad to be in country or at war. It is more like being were I belong.”

Harm nodded his understanding.

“I’m a Marine, sir; I have been most of my adult life. I know how to do this, as unpleasant as it is. I think because I’m an American Marine I can do it better than anyone else.”

Harm raised his brows, smiling just a bit. “Confidence is important, Gunny, but I wouldn’t share that sentiment with anyone once we land.”

“Understood, sir.” Gunny turned his head and looked out of the window of the plane.

“So…uh...how is Coates settling in at her new place?” He had been wondering about those two for some time, but the opportunity learn anything about it hadn’t presented itself.

Gunny looked at him quickly, apparently surprised at the question. “Oh...uh, she’s doing okay with it. She is sharing an apartment with an old shipmate from the Gainesville.”

“The Gainesville? I didn’t know she maintained any friendships with anyone from that duty station. I didn’t think that was a very good experience for her.” Harm was slightly worried, his brow knitted slightly.

It still made Gunny a bit uncomfortable that the commander knew Jen so well. He and Jen were still only friends, but he wanted to be the one who knew her best. “She made a few ‘good’ friends, sir, some of which were hoping she would turn her life around.” Gunny smiled tightly.

“And she has.” Harm was proud of Jen. She wasn’t quite a daughter to him, but he felt a familial connection to her. It wasn’t sisterly either...he didn’t quite know what to call it.

Gunny narrowed his eyes slightly. “Yes sir, she has,” he said, his smile still in place.

Harm had begun to get the feeling that Gunny didn’t like the familiarity between the two of them. He hadn’t realized he was so territorial about her.

“So...are you seeing Jennifer now, Gunny?” Harm wasn’t going to back off. He and Coates may have been friends but they were not inappropriately so. He still felt a responsibility for her.

“We’re good friends, sir.” He wasn’t going to say more. There wasn’t much to tell. It was more than friendship, but he wouldn’t tell people they were dating either. Why was the commander asking, anyway?

“Look Gunny, I’m not trying to pry. I don’t want details. I was just wondering. Jen is a great person. She has been a good friend to me. I care about what happens to her.”

“I do, too.” He looked at Harm directly.

Harm got the answer he wanted and he had the feeling that this was where the conversation should stop.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us; this is going to be no easy task. Get some sleep if you can.”

He was beginning to get that sense of walking an international political tightrope again. Harm smiled without humor and thought, ‘Nothing like doing a highly sensitive job under a magnifying glass.’ Harm returned his attention to his case file. They would be landing in Germany soon.



1430
Monday
January 24
JAG headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia



Major Mike McBurney stood in front of the bench and walked toward the members as he spoke.

“The government will prove that on the night of January 9th, aboard the USS Coral Sea, Chief Kevin Thompson was derelict in his duty, resulting in the death of Petty Officer Third Class Thomas White….”

Mac watched Major McBurney finish up his opening statement. He definitely gave the impression that he thought he had this case won already. From where Mac sat she could assess the attorney’s skills much better than when she was trying a case against them. ‘Don’t get too confident, Major,’ she thought.

Mac observed Commander Coleman as she sat expressionless as the opposing attorney spoke. She never had shown any emotion in the courtroom at all, at least none that Mac had been able to see. It was a point that rattled the major at times, which she had also seen. They were both good attorneys, though the ways they approached their cases were completely opposite.

Faith Coleman sat listening to the major’s opening statement. She was beginning to read him well. He really thought he had this case won. Had she been that apparent in her feelings about him? She truly disliked her client, but she thought she had been able to hide it well. The chief sat in the chair next to her, uncomfortably shifting in his seat. She turned and looked at him sharply, and the chief stilled himself almost immediately. She held his gaze for a moment. The arrogant sneer was nowhere in sight today. She returned her attention toward the major and saw that the members had noticed this exchange. ‘Wonderful,’ she thought sarcastically.

Mac had continued to listen and quietly observed the new attorney sitting second chair for the major. Lieutenant Greg Vulkovic sat listening to the opening statements. Mac had heard the scuttlebutt about this new addition to JAG. She did not want to prejudge the man. It could be a matter of professional jealousy. She had seen enough of that in her career not to want to be a part of it.

Major McBurney walked back to his chair, passing Commander Coleman as she waited to begin her opening statements. He looked at her with a smug smile he was trying very hard to conceal. She read him immediately. ‘Not so fast, Michael,’ she thought to herself. She had begun calling him by his given name when she thought of him. She wasn’t sure why. She knew he wanted to be her friend, she also knew she wasn’t going to be able to do that just now…if ever. She began.

“The death of this young sailor was a terrible tragedy…the result of a series of events and miscommunications culminating into the accident which took his life…..”

When the commander finished her opening statements they were adjourned for the day to resume at 0900 in the morning. Mac placed the gavel down on the bench and looked out into the courtroom as she turned to step down. Lieutenant Vulkovic watched as she descended the steps. Mac looked at him and he smiled and – what was that? He winked!

Mac continued to look at him, sure she had been wrong. He returned her look and a smile spread slowly across his face.

“Lieutenant Vulkovic, Major McBurney, May I see you in my chambers for a moment?”

They followed her into her chambers and came to attention. “Ma'am.”

“At ease.” She did not sit down but walked around the two officers. “Lieutenant, do you wear contacts?”

“No, ma’am.” The lieutenant was trying to keep his expression neutral. He had gone too far, he knew now.

She stopped and stood in front of him. “Are you having any problems with your eyes at all?”

“No, ma’am.”

“That’s good to hear. I would suggest, however, should you have any more trouble with that ‘twitch’ in your eye, that you see a doctor. It may be misinterpreted by your fellow staff members. Am I being understood, Lieutenant?”

“Yes ma’am.” The lieutenant swallowed hard.

“Major McBurney,” Mac turned her attention toward him. “Since you are lead counsel, you may want to discuss this sudden problem the lieutenant seems to be having with his eyes. I wouldn’t like to see it affect his performance in court.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“You are dismissed.”

Both officers came to attention. “Ma’am.”

They left the room swiftly, closing the door behind them. Major McBurney continued and the lieutenant followed him into the bullpen. “My office, Lieutenant, now.” McBurney blew past Commander Coleman, who was carrying a cup of coffee which she spilled on her uniform. Heedless, McBurney continued toward his office

McBurney shut the door behind him. “Snap to, Lieutenant.”

The lieutenant did as he was told.

“What the hell were you doing out there?”

“Nothing, sir.”

“Nothing?” McBurney was incredulous. “We get called into chambers by Colonel Rabb, who very diplomatically tells you that she understood that you *winked* at her after court adjourned today. Are you really that stupid?”

“No, sir.”

“Look.” He stood face to face with him. “I have argued quite a few cases before Colonel Rabb. There is no way she would have called us into her chambers if she had not believed your behavior was inappropriate.”

“Sir, I…”

“Save it, Lieutenant. We have a case to argue, but understand this. If I see any similar behaviors from you in court or at JAG; I’ll have you up on conduct unbecoming charges so fast it will make your head spin. You’re lucky that she didn’t have you hauled into General Creswell’s office.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Dismissed.”

The lieutenant left his office and the bullpen and headed down the hall to his office as quickly as he could.

The major started to close the door and noticed Commander Coleman brushing off her uniform.

“What happened to you?”

She looked at him blankly and then gave him a tight smile. She walked toward him. “I was unfortunate enough to be in the path of a Marine on a mission.”

“Did I cause this?”

She looked at him, answering his question. She then walked into his office.

“I’m sorry.” He gave her an apologetic look. “Let me at least get it dry cleaned for you.” He leaned against the front of his desk.

“That won’t be necessary, Major – it was an accident. Accidents happen.” She stood just inside the doorway.

“Really, Commander, I’d feel better if you’d let me…Hey, you’re not trying to argue your case again are you?”

She smiled genuinely. “I would never do that, Major.”

“I know what I can do. Let me buy you dinner after we wrap up this case.”

Faith was quiet and unreadable, but he found he was getting used to it.

“Just a friendly dinner, Commander….tell you what. Loser pays.”

Faith was still considering but McBurney knew that she would. He was knocking down the wall she had built around herself brick by brick. It seemed to him she wanted at least friendship from him, and for reasons he would never be able to explain he wanted that too. She seemed to be a good person; she was a hell of an attorney…why not?

“Alright, it’s a deal.” She turned and walked out of his office.

He followed her, unable to resist a parting shot. McBurney was grinning at her from ear to ear. He had made her smile again…outside the courtroom no less. “It’s been a while since a woman bought me dinner.”

Faith turned quickly, arching a brow, and he retreated to his office before she changed her mind.



1000
Tuesday
January 25
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia



Commander Coleman sat with her client as Major McBurney continued to argue his case against him.

Major McBurney walked toward the witness stand. “Lieutenant Perry, you have been engineering officer aboard the Coral Sea for two years?”

The lieutenant sat forward a bit in his seat and answered, “Yes, sir.”

“Was Chief Thompson qualified to stand engineering officer of the watch?”

“Yes sir.”

“Do you know if this was his first EOW qualification?”

“No, sir, it wasn’t.”

Major McBurney returned to his seat beside his second chair, Lieutenant Vukovic.
He thought he had reasonably knocked plenty of holes in her theory that the chief was not qualified properly to stand his watch.

Commander Coleman stood and approached the witness. “Lieutenant Perry, the chief qualified pretty quickly, didn’t he?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Is that unusual?”

“Not really, ma’am. He has qualified on a number of ships. He has had a long career in the Navy.”

“Just answer the question, Lieutenant.”

“No, ma’am.”

“Chief Thompson had not qualified on a ship like this one; is that not true?”

“‘Objection, Your Honor – counsel is leading the witness.” Mc Burney couldn’t believe she was doing this. She was sharper than that.

“Sustained.” Mac looked at Coleman directly and she returned her look.

“Very well, I’ll rephrase. Had Chief Thompson ever qualified on this type of ship?”

“Not exactly.”

“Answer yes or no, Lieutenant.”

“No, ma’am, but he had qualified on a number of ships that were steam driven.”

Coleman looked at Mac. “Your Honor, please instruct the witness to confine his answers to the questions asked.”

McBurney looked at the commander. She had her arms behind her with her hands clasped. He noticed she tapped her thumb with her forefinger quickly. The move was not obvious. If she had not been standing directly in front of him he wouldn’t have seen it.
It was difficult to keep the smug smile from his face. She was losing and she knew it. If he hadn’t disliked the chief so much he might have felt bad about it. As it was, though…

Mac directed the lieutenant as Coleman had requested.

“Lieutenant Perry, how many fossil fueled, steam driven ships are in the fleet now?”

“Two, ma’am.”

She looked at Mac. “No further questions, Your Honor.”

“Re-direct your honor?’

Mac nodded the affirmative; her hands folded in front of her.

“Lieutenant Perry, you stated earlier that the chief has had a long career in the Navy. How long would that be?”

“16 years, sir.”

“Are you aware of how many ships he served aboard?”

“Four sir, including the Coral Sea.”

“How many of those ships were steam driven?”

“Two.”

Major McBurney walked back toward his desk. Lieutenant Vukovic handed him what looked like a thick record book. He walked toward the bench. “I would like to enter this as the prosecution’s exhibit A, Your Honor.”

Mac looked at Commander Coleman. “Approach.” She waited until both officers were within earshot to continue. “Were you aware of this, Commander?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I’ll allow it.” Mac motioned for the attorneys to step back. Major McBurney took the book with him to the witness stand. He opened it and laid it so that the witness could read it. “Do you recognize this book, Lieutenant?”

“Yes sir, it’s a personal qualification book for engineering officer of the watch.”

Mc Burney pointed to a signature on what appeared to be a sign off sheet. “Is that your signature?”

“Yes, sir.”

“How many other signatures are on this sign off sheet?’

“Three.”

McBurney walked toward the members. ‘The captain, the main propulsion assistant, the Engine room supervisor and your own signature.”

“Your Honor, is counsel asking a question?” Commander Coleman knew where he was going.

“Wrap it up, Major,” Mac instructed.

McBurney turned back toward the witness and the bench. “Yes, Your Honor. Lieutenant, was Chief Thompson qualified to stand EOW on the night of January 9th 2005?”

“Yes, sir.”

“No more questions for this witness.” McBurney couldn’t resist the smile he gave Coleman as he passed her to sit down. The chief had begun to sweat and only more so when he heard Petty Officer Tim Jackson being called to the stand. He was the petty officer he had ordered to remove the repair tags from boiler three. This day was just getting worse and worse for the chief.


1230
Tuesday
January 25
Chegwidden residence
Meredith Point Creek, Maryland



Marcella Chegwidden greeted her husband’s guest as he entered the foyer. “Hello…Jack, is it not?” Marcella Chegwidden offered her hand. She had such an elegant air that Jack felt as though he should bow and kiss her hand.

“Yes, ma’am. Your husband is expecting me.”

“He is in his study. Come with me.” She was dressed in black from head to toe. Her clothing was loose and flowing. Her beautiful black hair was pulled back in a chignon, only adding to her elegance and accentuating her beautiful and dark features.

She opened the door and AJ looked up at her. “Hello.” He had only seen her so far. “I thought you were getting ready to meet your friends for lunch.” His look was warm and welcoming.

“I brought your guest.” She stepped aside and his expression changed from one of affection to his usual tough exterior.

Jack stepped into the room after witnessing the exchange unobserved. He thought, ‘Ain’t love grand?’ He would have to try it sometime, when he got around to it.

Marcella smiled warmly at her husband and he returned it without a word. She closed the door behind Jack.

AJ stood and walked toward Jack. “So, what do you know?”

“Well, I’m fine, AJ, and how are you?” Jack loved to mess with AJ. He liked and respected him but he was not intimidated by him at all.

“Spill it, Jack.” AJ’s brows were knitted together.

“Alright, I spoke with Blaisdell. He basically confirmed what I thought he would. They have the man they believe is responsible for the bombing at Trafalgar, but they aren’t picking him up yet. There was something else going on. Something he still won’t discuss – and to tell you the truth, I’m not sure I want to know. They want to use him to get a much more important target. From what I could gather from listening to the exchange between him and his contact in London, this guy has some connections to someone wanted by the US and Britain.”

“Have you discussed any of this with Rabb?” AJ hadn’t heard anything and was hoping no news was good news. So far Rabb had left this to the professionals. Between the wedding, honeymoon and new boss, Rabb appeared to have his hands full.

“No, I haven’t had the chance. He did call me before he left the country.”

“Please tell me that it’s JAG business.” Harm had a way of getting in the middle of a mess before you even knew what was happening. AJ knew from experience.

“Yeah, he and the Gunny are in Baghdad. Something about helping the Iraqis set up their own UCMJ.”

“An advisor/ observer role. The general must have confidence in him if he’s sending him on that mission. I hope the general knows that Rabb is capable of getting sidetracked during a mission.”

“I don’t think he and the general are close.” Jack chuckled to himself. “The general seems to be keeping him off balance most of the time. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Harm sound so unsure of a superior officer before.”

“That’s good. Maybe Rabb can keep his nose clean.”

“I think he will. He’s got too much to lose now.”

“You’re probably right. I don’t think Mac will put up with ‘the Adventures of Harmon Rabb’anymore.”

“It’s not only that.” Jack said with a knowing smile.

“What, then – he’s not already in trouble with his CO, is he?”

“No, this is kind of personal. I guess since you gave Mac away, I can tell you.”

“What is it?” AJ was thinking the worst.

“Mac is pregnant.”

AJ knew about how sick Mac had been and about their need to wait a year. He and Harm had discussed it. “How is she?”

“Great, but you know Harm. His ‘protect Mac’ mode is in overdrive. To tell the truth, he didn’t seem very happy about it at all. He sounded like he couldn’t believe it. They had just found out when he was ordered to Baghdad.”

AJ nodded. It was time that he paid Mac a visit. “Any idea about how long he’ll be away?”

“He said about a month, maybe two. He called me because he wanted me to look in on her. She wants to stay where she is. It’s a tough neighborhood, as you know.”

“She’ll be fine, Jack, she’s a tough Marine.” He smiled remembering what he knew of Mac..

Jack looked at AJ. “You’re going to check on her too, aren’t you?”

AJ looked back and promptly changed the subject. “Drink, Jack?’

“Sure.” Jack gave him a wry smile, accepting the offer.

“Have you spoken to Tom Boone about this?”

“Not yet.”

“Maybe I’ll pay him a visit. He may have something to contribute. What about Nelson?”

“Yeah, I saw him yesterday.”

“Any idea about what his goals are, as far as his involvement in this matter?”

“Not really. I know he is still feeling pretty bitter about the way he lost his job to Sheffield. I have the feeling he thinks Sheffield was knee deep in the reasons the hearing took place.”

AJ raised his brows as he poured Jack’s drink. “He certainly had a lot to gain.”

“It’s something else too, though. Something so deep in the Company that I don’t think either of us will ever know. And once again, I don’t want to know. I just want to help Harm get closure on this and leave it behind me.”

“Leave it behind you? You’re not flying for the Company, Jack?”

“I never said I was.” Jack turned away from AJ.

“You said you had friends in low places…Blaisdell has taken you into his confidence….I just assumed.” AJ handed him his drink.

Jack turned back to look at him. “I have lots of friends, AJ. So do you.” He knocked back his drink in one swallow.

“Keeter, you’re gonna kill yourself with that stuff someday.”


1245
JAG Headquarters
Commander Coleman’s office
Falls Church, Virginia



Faith Coleman sat at her desk. She had finished lunch and was preparing to return to court. It was time for her defense of her client. She had a good witness list. She felt confident that she could beat the involuntary manslaughter charge, though she wasn’t sure about the dereliction charge. She would give it her best, but the major had made a great case.

The testimony of the victim’s father had been the last nail in the coffin. Her client had sat next to her, showing no remorse or emotion. She understood keeping emotions in check, but the victim’s father had nearly moved her to tears. She was riveted by the pain he was in and the obvious love he had for his son. It was a situation in which you wanted to turn away because it was so painful but could not because it was so profound. It reminded her of her task to take a WWII veteran who had confessed to a murder into custody recently. He had broken down while being questioned. He had broken her heart. Thank God the matter was resolved, with the help of Special Agent Gibbs. He was a good man, even if he acted like a bastard sometimes.

When McBurney turned away from his witness to return to his seat, Coleman knew he had seen the tears in her eyes. She had willed them not to fall and they obeyed due to years of discipline.

Commander Thomas Wright, XO of the Coral Sea, sat in the witness chair as Commander Coleman approached. “Commander Wright, could you explain to the court the requirements for setting IDLH conditions?”

“Yes, ma’am. This requires posting two attendants at the entrance of a workspace and also a mutual response team in close proximity.”

“Where these conditions met on the night of January 9th?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Who is usually responsible for making sure those measures are in place?”

“The damage control assistant, ma’am.”

Commander Coleman returned to her table. “No more questions.”

Mac looked at McBurney. “No questions at this time, Your Honor.”


1330 (eastern)
2230(Baghdad time)
The Green zone
January 25th


Harm was stretched out on his bed in his quarters. It had been a long couple of days. He had miles to go before he was finished. He had only had time for a quick e mail to Mac yesterday. They had been married one month ago yesterday. He would have liked to have heard her voice. It was not as easy as it had been before. His access to a phone had been difficult the past few days. Hell, having the time to call when it wasn’t the middle of the night for her had been impossible.

Harm was startled out of his thoughts by a knock at his door. “Sir, I think you need to see this.” Gunny stood in his doorway.

“Give me a minute, Gunny.” Harm dressed quickly and followed Gunny down the hall.

They had set up a makeshift office with a room for interviews across the hall. Gunny opened the door to the interview room. Harm was startled to find a man in an Iraqi military uniform that appeared to have been beaten severely.

“What the hell?” Harm looked at Gunny, questioning.

“I thought you should see this, sir. This is Private Salem. He was disrespectful to his superior.”

“His superiors did this?” Harm was incredulous.

“Well sir, not exactly. It appears the officer in question has his own security guards, who carried this out for him.” Gunny smirked and folded his arms across his chest.

“Did he tell you who ordered this?”

“Not yet.” Gunny turned to the soldier and asked him in his broken Farsi.

The soldier appeared to be afraid and only shook his head.

Gunny tried to again to get him to answer the question and the soldier began to get agitated.

“Just let him go, Gunny. We have his name. We can follow up on this later.”

Gunny did as he was instructed and the soldier left the room.

Harm leaned against the table and shook his head. “I knew this was going to be difficult culturally, but I was thinking more in terms of case law, since there is none to speak of. We are building from the ground up.”

Gunny spoke up. “Respectfully, sir, I think the problem is that culturally, punishment is physical. The challenge will be getting soldiers to respect commanders who don’t have the power to harm them physically or hurt their families.”

“Yeah, it was true for so long under Hussein that it will probably take a while to change the way they think about it.”

“Yes, sir.” Gunny nodded.

“Well, I’ve got another item to put on our agenda in our joint meeting with the Marine JAG liaison and the Iraqi representative.” Harm started across the hall toward their office.

“Are you going to work on that now, sir?” Gunny followed him out of the interview room.

“Yeah, while I still have things fresh in my mind.”

Gunny started down the hallway. In the distance they heard a rumbling sound. Each man looked at the other. That was no storm. The insurgency was alive and well, if outnumbered. The election was five days away. This was going to get worse before it got better.


1535
January 25
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia


Mac sat listening to Commander Coleman finish her closing statement. This case had been difficult for both attorneys. She had also had a difficult time hearing this. This death had been so unnecessary. So preventable.

“….this case does not rise to the charge of manslaughter. Testimony has proven that a number of factors contributed to the death of Petty Officer White. With regard to the charge of dereliction, my client was again a link in a very long chain of events that let to this tragic result. I ask that the members return a verdict of not guilty on both counts.”


1700
Major McBurney’s office
JAG Headquarters



Commander Coleman knocked on McBurney’s office door.

“Enter.” McBurney did not look away from his computer screen.

“The general wants to see us, ASAP.” She was the one trying to read his expression this time. The members had found her client guilty of the dereliction charge but not on the involuntary manslaughter charge. She thought the verdict was fair, but it was clear that McBurney did not.

He looked at her, still revealing nothing. He buzzed Lieutenant Vukovic’s office and instructed him to meet him in front of the general’s office. He turned his computer screen off and stood to follow her out of his office.

Petty Officer Coates buzzed the general to let him know they were waiting and they were sent in immediately. They were surprised to see Colonel Rabb sitting in one of the chairs in front of the general’s desk. They came to attention. “Sir.”

“At ease and be seated.”

They all looked to toward the colonel, trying to keep the questioning look from their faces. ‘What is she doing here?’ Lieutenant Vukovic was sweating a little more than the other two officers.

The general answered for them. “I have been discussing the Thompson case with Colonel Rabb. I received a call from the IG’s office today, and they have been instructed to look into this incident and others that have occurred over the last few years on the Coral Sea. I would like you to cooperate in any way that is requested with the IG’s staff. After sentencing tomorrow you should receive notification of their intentions in writing. Any questions?”

“No, sir.” They all answered in unison.

“You are dismissed.”

They all left quickly with the lieutenant leaving more quickly than the other two. He was grateful that he had escaped largely without notice from the general or the colonel. At least he hoped he had. He decided to stay off of everyone’s radar screen for the time being. He had gotten off to a rough start.

Coleman followed behind McBurney a bit slowly. By the time she reached his office door he was already seated at his desk. She stood in his doorway.

“So, where do you want to go to dinner?” She wasn’t smiling; it was more of a questioning look. She seemed to be asking if they were still friends. She wasn’t sure that was what they were yet, but she was sure she didn’t want to take a step backward either.

“Since I’m buying.”

He looked up at her. “I didn’t win.” He sat back in his chair, tipping it slightly.

“I won one and you won the other.”

He folded his arms, considering. “Tell you what – I’ll buy yours and you can buy mine.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Sounds fair.”

“It’s not going to be fair if Thompson walks away with nothing, Commander.” McBurney was suddenly serious.

“We’ve got sentencing tomorrow and the IG’s investigation isn’t going to leave anyone unscathed, Michael.” She had not realized she used his first name.

A slow smile spread across his face. “That’s true…Faith…..How do you feel about Prime Rib?”

“You would think of the most expensive thing….” She realized then what she had done. She blushed slightly. “We’ll work out the particulars later. Is Friday okay? I know it’s a date night for a lot of people.” God, was she ever going to stop putting her foot in her mouth today? She thought she sounded like a school girl. McBurney would never let her live this down.

“I don’t have a date, Faith.” His look softened a bit and it made her extremely uncomfortable. Mike was having a good time with this. He had the upper hand here, anyway.

“I didn’t mean to imply that this was a date…” Faith was backpedaling as quickly as she could.

“I know.” He stood and started to walk toward her.

Faith turned and started to walk away. He was enjoying this way too much. She should just cancel, but that would make her look like a coward and she could not tolerate that.
She would just have to do it. She looked over her shoulder when she got to her office.
Michael was standing there watching her. She thought that the way he looked at her told her it -was- a date. She stepped in quickly and closed the blinds.


0300 Baghdad time
Green zone
Harm’s office
Baghdad, Iraq


Harm rubbed his eyes and clicked his mouse to save his report. He was tired and he knew he could have done this in the morning. The report was completed then because he knew he wouldn’t sleep anyway. He heard his computer chime in, notifying him of an e mail. Opening it quickly he saw that it was from Mac. It had to be after 1730 there. On impulse he picked up the phone without reading her message and called her office using his phone card. It was worth a try and he needed to hear her voice.

“Colonel Rabb,” she answered.

“Hello, Colonel Rabb.”

“Harm?” She was hoping she would hear from him. His e mail had been entirely too short.

“I was up late and saw your e mail and thought I’d try and catch you before you left the office.”

“You sound tired, honey; it has to be after 0300 there.” God, it was great to hear his voice. “What are you up to, Harmon Rabb?”

“Don’t worry, I’m behaving myself. I just decided to get a little more done tonight. I couldn’t sleep anyway. I miss you….you know.”

“I miss you too.” She had missed him terribly. The apartment seemed huge and empty without him. She hadn’t had trouble sleeping, though. As soon as her head hit the pillow she was out. She told him this and added,

“Maybe it’s because I’m pregnant, I don’t know.”

“Could be.” He didn’t want to talk about that now or he would never sleep. “How are you, anyway? Are you feeling alright?” He worried about her all the time.

“Harm, I’m fine. I feel better than I have in months, over a year really. Don’t worry about me, sailor, I’m keeping my promise.”

“So how does it feel to be an old married lady, Colonel Rabb?” She could hear the smile in his sleepy voice.

“I think I’m adjusting well, Commander. To tell you the truth, Colonel Mackenzie almost sounds foreign to me now. Although I don’t think being married for one month makes me an ‘old married lady.’”

“It should…you’re all mine now, Mac…” It had really only been five days, but he ached to hold her. He had already become an ‘old married man.’ He loved opening the apartment door to find her there, or to hear her keys in the door when he got home first. He loved the idea of Mac coming home to him.

“Yes I am. Don’t you forget it.”

“Not likely, Marine.” Harm yawned.

“Hey sailor, you better hit the rack. You’ll be useless tomorrow.”

“Yeah, I better go, but I’ll be wide awake tomorrow. Things move pretty fast around here, Mac. And it is anything but quiet.”

“I’m sure. I wish I were there so I could watch your six.” She was glad Gunny was there, but no one could look out for Harm better than she could. No one loved him more or knew him better.

“I wish you were here too……so I could watch yours.” He laughed into the phone. He almost sounded punchy.

“Okay, sailor, that’s it. Go to bed.”

“I love you, Mac.”

“I love you.”

 

 

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