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
“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.”
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
“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
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
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
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
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.
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.’
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
“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
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
“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
The officer lifted the name tag from the shirt. “This too?”
“That doesn’t prove anything.”
“Come with us.”
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
“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.
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
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
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?’
“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?”
“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.
“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.
Commander McCool’s office
National Naval Medical Center
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
“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?”
“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?”
“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
“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
“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?”
“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.
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.
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
“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
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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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.
Lieutenant Commander Faith Coleman’s office
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
“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
“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
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.
New Year’s Eve
The Blue Note
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
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
“You and my grandmother had a little too much fun at my expense that
“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
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.
Captain Morrison’s office
National Naval Medical Center
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.”
“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
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
“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
“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.
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.”
“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
“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
“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.”
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.
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.”
Home of former SECNAV Nelson
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
“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.”
“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
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
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
“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
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.”
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
“Hey.” Mac slipped into his arms, and he pulled her close and kissed
“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
“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
“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
“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
“Okay….why don’t you lie down after your shower and I’ll give you a nice
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
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
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
“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.
“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
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
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
“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
“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.
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
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
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
“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
“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.
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
“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
“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
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
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
“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
“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
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
McBurney stood “See you in court, Commander.” This case was his. He
already knew it.
Major McBurney’s office
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
“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
“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
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.
Captain Morrison’s office
National Naval Medical Center
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
“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
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
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.
“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.
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
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
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
“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
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.
Matkabah al Ansir bookshop
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
“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
“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.
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
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.
Fall Church, Virginia
Harm was walking toward the conference room doors immediately after
staff call when the general stopped him.
“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
“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
“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.”
“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.
“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.”
“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,
“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,
“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
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
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.
“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.
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
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,
Lieutenant Commander Faith Coleman looked at her sharply. “Carry on,
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
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
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
“Commander?” Gunny noticed then that Harm had his head back and eyes
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
“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
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
“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.
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
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
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
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?”
“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,
“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.”
“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?” 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
“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.”
“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
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
“Did I cause this?”
She looked at him, answering his question. She then walked into his
“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
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.
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
“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
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?”
“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.”
“Chief Thompson had not qualified on a ship like this one; is that not
“‘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?”
“Answer yes or no, Lieutenant.”
“No, ma’am, but he had qualified on a number of ships that were steam
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
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?”
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,
“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,
“Yes sir, it’s a personal qualification book for engineering officer of
Mc Burney pointed to a signature on what appeared to be a sign off
sheet. “Is that your signature?”
“How many other signatures are on this sign off sheet?’
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?”
“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.
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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
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?”
“Maybe I’ll pay him a visit. He may have something to contribute. What
“Yeah, I saw him yesterday.”
“Any idea about what his goals are, as far as his involvement in this
“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
“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
“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.”
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
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?”
“Who is usually responsible for making sure those measures are in
“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.”
The Green zone
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
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
“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
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
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
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
“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.
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
“….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
Major McBurney’s office
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
“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
“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
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
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
“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
“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.”