McMurphy’s Bar and Grill
Mike McBurney and Faith Coleman sat across from each other at a table in
the soft light of the bar. McMurphy’s was trying to give the larger
chains some competition so they’d tried to give the place more of a
sports bar atmosphere. They had the best steaks in town, as far as Mike
was concerned. Faith had let him choose, so he decided to be honest and
go where he really wanted to go. He didn’t think the place suited
Faith’s personality, but maybe it was time she loosened up anyway. He
was determined to make her laugh out loud tonight. Looking at her now,
he wondered if he had taken on more than he should have. Mike was
ordering his steak.
“How would you like that, sir?” the waiter asked.
“Medium rare.” Mike waited for Faith to disapprove.
“And for you, ma’am?” The waiter turned to Faith.
“I would like the same, but no dressing on the salad.”
Mike was surprised. He never figured her to be a meat eater, let alone
someone that would eat a rare steak. He had been ready for the lecture.
The waiter left them...
“Is there a problem?” Faith frowned at him.
“No, I’m just surprised, that’s all.”
She surprised him from the moment she had walked into the bar. She
looked so different out of uniform. She wore her dark chestnut hair down
around her shoulders. She had worn jeans that fit her beautifully. She
had chosen a soft sweater that looked like cashmere; caramel in color,
which made all of her sharp edges smoother and turned her into someone
else entirely, in his eyes.
“I can’t remember when I didn’t like my steaks rare.” Faith was lost in
Mike was still thinking about how beautiful she looked. He decided not
to tell her. She was so full of surprises tonight that she might decide
she was uncomfortable and leave. Or worse yet, she might move closer to
him, and he wasn’t sure he was ready for that either. "Yeah, my Dad
always liked his steaks that way. I guess that’s why I do.”
“My Dad always hated it that I ate my steaks that way. I never saw very
much of him, though. I think I decided to like it because he hated it.”
She smiled without humor. “Sorry, I sound like a very unpleasant child,
“Not really, but it sounds like there is a lot more to the story.” He
wanted to know her better. He wanted to know why someone like her would
isolate herself from everyone as she had.
“It’s a long boring story. I’ll tell you about it sometime. Let’s talk
about you.” She didn’t really want to go there tonight. She hadn’t been
out like this in years. Suddenly she wanted desperately to have a good
time. She wasn’t looking for anything that would change her life. Just
something different from work and that apartment. She liked Michael; she
knew that he liked her. She could also sense that he didn’t want more
than that. She had to begin somewhere. The part of her that wanted to
retreat from the world had nagged at her the whole time she was getting
ready. The part of her that couldn’t stand another minute of isolation
had won the battle, though. Michael had slowly brought her out of
herself over the past couple of months. She was going to let him be her
friend. She wasn’t sure why he bothered. She didn’t feel like a very
interesting person, but she wasn’t going to analyze that now. It didn’t
matter. What mattered was that she was not alone.
“Tell me about your family,” she asked.
“I’m sure you heard most of them at Christmas when we came by.” He knew
she must have heard them laughing. Everyone could identify his mom and
sisters by their laughter.
“I have five sisters, and my mom, of course. My dad passed away about
six years ago.”
“I’m sorry.” If he had any sadness in his life, it had never been
“It’s okay. He was a good guy. I never had much a chance to know him as
well as I would like. He was a Marine too. I know he was proud that I
got my scholarship to the Academy.” His mother had told him she was
proud of him but his father had not. He had already begun to show
symptoms of his illness by then. An illness that was taking him away
from them, they just didn’t know it.
“The sister that I met: was her name… Kim?”” She thought she might steer
him from that particular part of the story. He’d gotten serious all of a
McBurney smiled immediately. “Yes, that was Kim.”
“She makes you a bit uncomfortable, doesn’t she?” Faith seemed to like
He leaned forward and looked at his folded hands on the table. “Yes...
she does. You kind of remind me of her in that regard. I think you both
like to watch me squirm.” He chuckled, remembering. ”I never know what
she is going to say.”
Faith arched a brow. “I don’t know what you mean,” she commented, a
small smile forming on her lips.
The waiter arrived with their dinner and the subject changed for the
Mac, Mattie and Mrs. Rabb sat at her kitchen table. Mac and Mrs. Rabb
had their decaf while Mattie finished her hot chocolate. The drive had
been surprisingly good, weather-wise. Mac and Mattie had had a chance to
catch up. Grace Aviation was in the early stages of getting back on its
feet, thanks in great part to Harm. Mac wondered if Harm would ever know
the difference he had made in so many lives. She touched her abdomen
where their baby now grew. There was one life in particular that she was
thinking of right now. She smiled softly to herself.
“What are you thinking about, Mac?” Mattie asked, ever curious.
Mac thought this was as good a time as any to tell them. “Harm and I are
going to have a baby. We found out last week.”
Mattie squealed and threw her arms around Mac, nearly knocking her off
of the chair.
“I’m going to be an aunt?” She was thrilled at the prospect.
“Yes, I suppose you are….Aunt Mattie.” Mac laughed in spite of herself.
Circumstance had made it hard to celebrate like any other couple.
Mattie’s enthusiasm was contagious, though; she had forgotten how much
she had lit up their world. Tom Johnson was a lucky man.
“Mac, are you feeling alright?” Mrs. Rabb’s brow was creased with
concern, but she was still smiling broadly.
“I feel great, really. I haven’t even had morning sickness.” Mac
silently hoped she wouldn’t bring up any more details until Mattie went
to bed. She hadn’t realized how much she just wanted to be happy about
this. She didn’t want to think of the negative possibilities; she just
wanted to look forward to seeing their baby, hers and Harm’s.
0600 (Baghdad time)
Gunny sat on his rack tying his workout shoes. He and the commander were
going to work out this morning and then go ahead with their regular work
day. Saturdays were workdays for them, but they had a more flexible
schedule. Maybe a hard workout would help them sleep tonight. Then, when
he thought about it, he realized that tonight of all nights would be a
long one for every coalition soldier on the ground.
He was ready for coffee. He didn’t care what it tasted like. He hadn’t
slept worth a damn last night. It had been a ‘noisy’ night on ‘IED
Boulevard’. The area had been given this name because of the gas cans
that had been left on the side of the road by Iraqi independent
‘businessmen.’ There weren’t many gas stations in Baghdad, to speak of.
So a man with a gas can would stand on the side of the road. When a car
pulled over; he got his tank filled, paid the man and drove off again.
When the gas cans were empty they were left behind on the side of the
road. The cans were later used by insurgents to make roadside bombs.
Some were wired where they lay to blow when they were picked up by an
unsuspecting soldier or civilian.
He went into the makeshift office he and the commander had set up. He
started the coffee and began to remember his last day at home. He and
Jen had gone to lunch. They’d decided to pick up some coffee at
Starbucks on their way back to the office. Gunny had driven his vehicle
so they went through the drive-through.
“I don’t see what the deal is, coffee is coffee….Why can’t I just say
Coates looked at him as if he were from another planet. “I’ll order.”
When they had pulled up in front of the speaker and menu, Gunny rolled
his window down and Jen leaned across the console and across his chest.
She had leaned slightly into him so that her cheek was just a couple of
inches from his lips. She was totally unaware of how close she was to
him. She smelled of soap and shampoo and another scent sharp and clean
that he could not name. It was if he was breathing her in, seeing her up
close for the first time.
“Hey, Gunny, you ready?” Harm stood in the doorway of their office.
Gunny was startled and sloshed his coffee on his t shirt. “Damn….oh,
“A million miles away, Gunny?”
“Not quite a million, sir. Give me a minute to change this stupid shirt,
excuse me, sir.”
Gunny stepped around Harm and headed for his quarters down the hall.
Harm’s gaze followed him curiously down the hallway.
When Harm and Gunny walked into the gym, the music was already on and
deafening as far as Harm was concerned. Where was Stevie Ray when you
needed him? “What is that, anyway” he asked Gunny.
“Beats me, sir.” Gunny shrugged.
A young man passing them tossed over his shoulder, “Seether.”
Harm and Gunny looked back at him and then at each other. “Seether?”
“We’re getting old, Gunny.”
Gunny was spotting and Harm was on the bench. He was surprised that
after a while the music did make him push harder into his workout. He
sat up on the bench while Gunny went to get additional weights. The
music changed …he heard the words:
I wanted you to know, I love the way you laugh
I want to hold you high and steal your pain, away
I keep your photograph, and I know it serves me well
I want to hold you high and steal your pain.
The song continued and it seemed to cast a pall over the whole gym. It
was full; everyone kept working out the same as before. But it was as
though everyone felt the song, the words taking different people
different places. Harm placed his hand on his chest over the St.
Christopher medal under his shirt for a moment: his Christmas gift from
Mc.Murphy’s Bar and Grill
The music was having the same effect in another place and time zone.
Faith and Mike had been talking mostly about Mike’s family for the past
hour or so. Time had gotten away from them. They had decided to have
coffee at his apartment. She hadn’t liked the idea of having anyone at
her apartment. No one had been inside her apartment but her since she
moved there. She wanted things to be different, but she wasn’t ready to
go that far.
Cause I’m broken when I’m open
And I don’t feel like I am strong enough
Cause I’m broken when I’m lonesome
And I don’t feel right when you’re gone away
Mike McBurney had stood and was putting his coat on when the song began.
Faith was reaching for her coat when the words seemed to reverberate in
the room. Faith felt as though it were screaming out loud the feelings
she had in her heart. She had never let anyone close but the words
seemed to amplify her loneliness. She was so tired of it and she wanted
a whole life. Damn it, why did she feel so out of control and exposed
all of a sudden?
“I’ll be back in a moment.” She excused herself.
Mike had felt her mood shift. He hoped she would not retreat back into
herself again. He didn’t know why it was so important to him that she
not do that. Any other time he would have cared less. She needed a
friend, and he wanted to be that to her.
She returned a few moments later, composed but not distant.
“Are you ready?” he asked.
“Yes, are you?” She had put her coat on and she followed him to the
Faith followed Mike to his apartment. He lived just a short distance
from the bar, in a nice brownstone building. She was surprised when she
saw how nice Michael’s apartment was. It was neat and clean. It was
masculine, of course. There was a lot of gray and black, but everything
was in its place. She was relieved.
“This is nice, Michael.”
Mike turned to look at her quickly. She liked calling him ‘Michael,’ he
thought. He usually didn’t like that. Mike was what he preferred his
friends call him. Maybe it was a way to keep him at a distance, a little
more formal, for Faith’s comfort level. He didn’t mind. He was just glad
they were becoming better friends.
“Yeah, I like it.”
“I have to say I’m surprised about how neat this is. I don’t know what I
“I think I do: gym socks, empty beer cans….pizza boxes?” He chuckled.
She blushed slightly. “Yes, I suppose I did.”
“I am a Marine, Faith.” He frowned slightly; he was as squared away as
Faith deadpanned him and said, “Yes…I know.”
“Oh are we trying to be funny here, Faith?”
She smiled, saying nothing.
He was looking at her, walking toward his kitchen. He didn’t see that he
was walking into a chair that had been pulled out slightly from his
dining room table. He hit the leg of the chair with his foot and
proceeded to fall flat on his face.
“Michael?! Are you alright?” Faith started toward him.
Mike was up almost as fast as he had fallen, totally mortified. He
straightened his clothes and looked back at Faith. She had covered her
mouth with her hand in shock and now she was hiding a smile.
“Don’t fight it, Faith…You know you think it’s funny.”
“I wasn’t laughing.” She was trying unsuccessfully to keep the mirth
from her voice.
Mike was talking and backing away at the same time. He backed into the
door frame to his kitchen. The sound of his head hitting the frame made
a loud crack.
“Ow!” He frowned.
Faith really did laugh then, out loud until she was wiping tears from
her eyes. Mike had gotten his wish. He had made her laugh, just not the
way he had intended.
Gunny and Harm had finished their workout. They were taking a quick
break before hitting the showers and starting their work day. The
elections would be underway in 24 hours. A distant rumbling could be
heard from outside. Harm remembered his first visit to Iraq. If someone
had told him back then that this day would come, he probably wouldn’t
have believed them.
“Sir?” Gunny questioned.
“Sorry, Gunny, just remembering something, or someone I should say.”
“Oh…” Gunny wasn’t sure he should ask.
“The first time I came here, it was to defend a Marine. Corporal David
I was to make contact with a person with the code name ‘Scimitar’. Being
the open-minded person that I am, I assumed that ‘Scimitar’ was a man.
It turned out that Lieutenant Dumai, a woman, was my contact.”
“Wondering if she is still alive, sir?”
“Yeah….I hope she made it. She wanted so much for her country. She was a
brave woman.” Harm shook his head slightly. “It seems to be a
requirement in this part of the world.”
“Yes, sir.” Gunny knew that was true. Fareeza Tarik was someone he would
Harm looked at him and remembered Afghanistan. “Sorry, Gunny.”
“It’s alright, sir. I was privileged to have known her. To tell you the
truth, I couldn’t believe she even gave me a second thought, even as a
friend. She was beautiful and brilliant and was willing to give
everything she had to move her country forward. I’m just sorry she
didn’t live to see it.”
It had been so unfair, and far too common in those days.
“So many Afghanis willingly laid their lives down for the beginnings of
freedom, with no guarantee that it could actually be accomplished. The
hope of freedom was all they had and they gave their lives anyway. How
many people would do that?”
They both heard the distant sound of gunfire outside.
“There are plenty of people here who are willing to do the same. For the
hope of freedom, Gunny. I just hope they have their chance.”
Mac and Mattie were in the living room in front of the fire. Mac had a
book in her lap and sat in the wing chair by the fireplace. Mrs. Rabb
walked into the room and saw Mattie stretched out on the couch sleeping,
her mouth open and her arms above her head. Mrs. Rabb’s box of pictures
was sitting open on the coffee table. Mattie had decided she wanted to
have a look into their history tonight. It was a good night for it. Mrs.
Rabb walked to her front room window. There was a light snow falling,
and it was about 20 degrees outdoors. There was a full moon which came
from behind the clouds from time to time to illuminate the yard and the
rest of the farm beyond. She loved having them here. She was sorry she
didn’t get to see Harm, but she had his Mac and his Mattie.
She walked into the kitchen to start a fresh pot of coffee – decaf, of
course. While it brewed she looked out of the window. A feeling of true
contentment settled over her. She was worried about Harm being away in
Iraq, but for some unexplainable reason she knew he would be alright.
She knew that he would come home safe.
She thought of her David. ‘We will have a great-grandchild my darling.’
She spoke to him in her heart. A part of her husband would live on
through the child that was on its way. It was hard to believe that all
this had come from their brief time together. She had loved him a long
time before he knew about it or even before she would admit it. Harmon
and his son were here because she loved him and they believed in their
future, Though it was cut short, their lives had made a difference in
the world; she believed that with all her heart. She may not have all
the answers, but this was something she knew. Harmon and Mac would begin
their lives and keep what they had begun over 60 years ago alive too.
“Sarah?” Mac stood in the doorway of the dark kitchen.
“Oh, you scared me.” Mrs. Rabb held her hand over her heart.
“I’m sorry. What are you doing in here in the dark?” She walked toward
Mrs. Rabb rested her arm around her shoulder and hugged her a bit. “Just
looking out at the moonlight and watching it snow. If I turn on the
light all I will get is a reflection of an old lady looking out the
window.” She chuckled and Mac laughed with her. “I’m so happy about the
“Thank you. It is good to see how happy you are about it.” Mac hadn’t
meant to put it quite that way.
“What do you mean, Mac?”
“Nothing, really – it’s just that the doctors wanted us to wait a year.
We really had not planned to even try for a year. I got pregnant in
spite of birth control and my illness.”
Mac shrugged her shoulders.
‘Then it must have been meant to be, Mac.”
She smiled at her and gave her shoulder another squeeze. It seemed the
most natural thing in the world to be standing side by side with Mac,
hugging her close, like her own child. There was something else, though,
something she wasn’t saying. She hoped that she would be alright and the
baby would be too. No one deserved happiness more than Harmon and Mac,
and as far as she was concerned they were long overdue.
Harm lay on his rack in his quarters. This had been a long day. He ached
all over, he needed to sleep, and he needed Mac. He turned over onto his
stomach and felt the frame of the rack poking through the mattress into
his stomach. His legs were too long for the bed so he hung one foot off
of the side. He thought of his comfortable bed at home and he remembered
the great massage Mac had given him; the feeling of sinking down into a
mattress in a bed that fit his body. He thought of Mac sitting on his
six and working all the kinks out of his back….among other things. He
had been gone nearly ten days. It was way too soon to start counting
days, but he couldn’t help it. One day down was another day closer to
home, to her.
Belleville Community Church
Mac and Mattie sat on the pew with Mrs. Rabb. Mattie sat between her and
Mac. Mrs. Rabb glanced at Mattie as the pastor spoke. She was such a
lovely girl. She was so glad to be here with them both. The pastor’s
words brought her out of her thoughts.
“Let us remember to pray for safety and success of our service men and
women who are serving overseas. Today of all days in Iraq.” He gestured
toward Mrs. Rabb. “Let’s remember Mrs. Rabb’s grandson Harmon, that God
will grant him a safe return to his family.” The congregation spoke a
Mac felt a lump forming in her throat. She had heard those words spoken
before in various types of church services, but this time it touched her
heart so deeply. It was her husband they were speaking of and she sat in
a place where he was remembered and loved. She felt so close to him at
that moment that she nearly dissolved into tears. She missed him so
much. Mac remembered the first time she had come here, Harm’s reassuring
smile and his hand clasped in hers. Mattie turned to look at her and
reached for her hand. They gave each other a watery smile before the
pastor led the congregation in prayer.
After services Mac and Mattie had lunch with Mrs. Rabb. Mac wanted to
start back early enough to get Mattie back to Blacksburg and then have
plenty of time to get back to Washington. Mattie was gathering her
things to go and Mrs. Rabb and Mac sat at the kitchen table finishing
“I never thanked you for our Christmas gift, Sarah.” Mac had loved the
small scrapbook she had made. She had made copies of the pictures of
Harm’s great grandparents and of her and David. There were some of Harm
senior and Harm as a baby. She had even included some of Harm’s school
pictures. There was one in particular she liked to tease Harm about. He
couldn’t have been more than eight years old. He was beaming at the
camera with the beginnings of his beautiful smile. His two front teeth
were larger because he still had a lot of his baby teeth. This gave him
a slightly ‘rabbity’ look. Mac had teased him and called him ‘Bugs’,
short for Bugs Bunny. He was adorable, though, even at eight years old.
She hoped their baby would have his smile.
“You got such a kick out of those pictures when you were staying with me
that I thought it might be time to pass some of them on. I made copies,
though; I’m not ready to part with the originals yet.” Mrs. Rabb looked
“That’s quite all right. It was perfect the way you did it. Besides, I
think Mattie enjoyed going over the originals this weekend too.”
Mrs. Rabb wanted to ask Mac all weekend if she was all right. She did
not want to pry into their lives, but Mac had been more emotional than
she had been for sometime. She felt she was holding something back, but
barely. She decided to just ask and get it over with.
“Mac, you can tell me I’m a nosy old lady if you want to, but I have to
ask you something.”
Mac looked at her, questioning. “What? I don’t have a problem with you
asking me anything, Sarah. You’re my friend.”
Mrs. Rabb heaved a sigh of relief. “You have something on your mind,
Mac, something that’s troubling you. I’d like to help if I can.”
Mac’s eyes welled up immediately. “Oh for heaven’s sake, I cry at the
drop of a hat lately. I know that a lot of this is hormones, and to be
honest I don’t know where to begin. Harm and I had just found out about
my being pregnant before he left and I didn’t handle things well. I
didn’t discuss anything with him – I made decisions without asking his
opinion of anything. We fought but we were able to resolve things before
Mac continued to wipe tears from her face with her bare hand. She didn’t
want to give too much detail. “I don’t know.... it’s not something I can
explain. Harm hasn’t done anything wrong at all. I know this is stupid.”
Mrs. Rabb got up and got a paper towel and handed it to Mac. “You’re
just not a Kleenex person are you, Mac?” She grinned and patted her
Mac laughed through her tears. “No, I guess not.”
“And this is not stupid. Sometimes when we speak our fears out loud, it
takes the teeth out of them. They can’t hurt us anymore.” She winked at
Mac nodded. “I’m just afraid this will come between us – we’ve been so
happy. I don’t know, I just feel Harm holding back, when we talk and I
mention anything about being pregnant, he asks me if I’m feeling all
right. He doesn’t want to talk about it. I can tell.”
She placed her hand on Mrs. Rabb’s forearm. “I don’t want you to
misunderstand. Harm has been wonderful. I know he loves me. I just don’t
want this to change what we have.”
Mrs. Rabb placed her hand over hers. “Oh, honey…do you really think that
is possible?” She gave her an indulgent smile.
Mrs. Rabb had once again done what she had when she first met her. She
drew her out and made her laugh at herself without making her feel
foolish. That was a gift, Mac decided. She chuckled, still wiping tears.
“I guess not.”
“Give him time, Mac. He has lost a lot in his lifetime. It would be only
natural for him to feel some apprehension about you now. This year has
been a doozy for both of you. He’ll come around – give him time, honey.”
She gave her forearm a squeeze.
They both stood. Mrs. Rabb gathered Mac into her arms and hugged her.
She knew there was a part of Mac, however small, that needed to lean on
someone. A small part of her that still needed a mother. She leaned back
and looked at Mac.
“On your twentieth anniversary, you two should write a book.” Mac nodded
and they both laughed and turned to walk toward the front door.
Mattie bounced into the room and came to abrupt halt. “Mac, are you all
Mac waved her off. “Oh I’m fine…just hormonal.”
Mattie saw an opportunity. “Do you want me to drive, Mac?” Her eyebrows
slightly rose with hope, her eyes twinkling with mischief.
“I’m not that hormonal, Ms. Grace.” She linked her arm around her neck
and they walked the rest of the way to the door.
Harm sat in his office. He thought if he called now he would catch Mac
after church services, but before she left to take Mattie back to
Blacksburg. He hoped so, because he wanted to talk to them all. Harm
hadn’t seen Mattie in a long time. He wished so much to be there with
them. It had been a long day. Iraq voted. It had not been a perfect
process but it had not been deterred by the insurgents. No matter what
was said or done, from now on they were moving forward. Harm shook
himself out of his thoughts and dialed his grandmother’s number.
Mrs. Rabb answered the phone. “Hello?”
“Harmon? Is that you, son?”
“Hello…How is the love of my life?”
She had heard the smile in voice when he spoke. “Don’t you try to charm
me, Harmon Rabb. I know all your tricks.”
“Where is my wife?” He still got butterflies sometimes when he thought
about talking to her. It had been nearly two weeks. He needed to
reconnect with his lifeline.
“Oh, honey, you missed them. They left about a half an hour ago. Mac was
worried about snow being forecast out near Blacksburg this evening. She
wanted to be sure she missed it.”
Harms heart sank. He had been looking forward to this all day. “Oh,
well, that was probably a good idea.” The disappointment was apparent in
“I know she’ll be sorry she missed you.” Given Mac’s frame of mind it
may have helped, or maybe not. ‘Those two,’ she thought.
“Did she seem all right to you?”
“She was fine, Harm. In fact, I have never seen her look better. She
doesn’t look as though she’s been sick a day in her life.”
Harm could see her in his mind’s eye: standing in the kitchen, cleaning
up and talking to him about his day. She did look more healthy; strong
and very feminine at the same time – one of the things that had
attracted him to her in the first place. He had never met anyone like
her. “She is beautiful, isn’t she, Grandma?”
“She’s lovely, Harmon, and I understand congratulations are in order.”
“Oh…yeah, we found out just before I left.”
“It’s wonderful news.”
Silence on the line
“Yes, I’m here.”
“I have a question for you, son. Are *you* all right?”
“Yes, I’m fine. I am a bit worried about Mac. I’d be lying if I said
otherwise.” Sometimes it was terrible to have someone know you so well.
“I don’t want to lose her, Grandma. We came so close last fall.”
“I know, son, and I know what you fear. I don’t think anyone knows
better than Mac what she has to lose, but you need to see the joy in
this for Mac’s sake.”
“I know….it doesn’t even seem real to me yet. It’s just that the risk is
“It’s in your nature to want to protect her, Harmon, but she has a
perspective on this that you don’t and I pray you never will. I’ve never
known you to afraid of anything, Harm. Don’t be afraid to trust
this…enjoy this time, celebrate it. You both deserve it.”
He knew she was right. He was trying to let the fear go, and if he were
honest, the anger too. He thought that over time it would go. He loved
Mac; nothing would change that. Maybe he was afraid of losing her so
much that he didn’t want to think about the reality of the baby. He
“I really am lecturing you, aren’t I, Harmon?”
“That’s okay, Grandma. I don’t mind, really. I haven’t really been able
to tell anyone how worried I am about this. It’s nice to be able to talk
to someone about it.”
They continued to talk but about other things. They talked about Mattie
and her adjustment to living with Tom. They talked about how things were
going there in Belleville. He told her he was doing fine, no problems
there. He expected to be home in a few weeks. When they ended the call,
Harm did feel better, but he didn’t feel that things in his own heart
were resolved. He knew that what his grandmother had said made sense; he
just wasn’t there yet. There was no way around it.
San Diego, California
Mike McBurney entered the bar and scanned the room, looking for Faith.
They had agreed to meet here after they wrapped up their investigation
of an incident involving a destroyer that had run aground near North
Island. They wouldn’t be getting back to Washington until tomorrow and
one more day of warm weather and no humidity were fine with him. As he
looked around the room he overheard two young ladies at a table talking,
“Hey, who’s this?” They weren’t shy, if the way they were looking at him
was any indication.
One of the girls, who appeared to be much more intoxicated than the
other, said, “Oh…hey…maybe he’s here to see the ‘iceberg’ at the bar.”
She looked over her shoulder.
“Hmmmm?” Her companion looked at Faith, who was sitting at the bar.
“Coleman??? Not hardly…I can’t believe she’s even out of uniform…that’s
enough excitement for her for the night.” They both broke up laughing.
“I really think she’s an android…Ha ha ha.”
Mike looked toward the bar and saw Faith’s posture stiffen; she had
heard them. She turned on the barstool and was going to slip down to her
feet and walk out of the bar. Michael came into her line of vision, and
when their eyes locked, she knew he had heard them too. He stood a bit
straighter and gave her a conspiratorial wink. The pain was evident in
her eyes, but as he walked toward her she began to smile at him. She
watched him pass the girls at the table, and as he passed them he said,
“Excuse me, ladies,” and flashed a flirty smile.
They both answered at once. “Oh, that’s okay.” Both girls sounded just a
little too eager to engage him in conversation.
Mike strode quickly by, not acknowledging the girls at all after he
passed them. He walked toward her and gave her another one of those
charming smiles. As he neared her, she realized he wasn’t slowing down;
instead he was getting closer and closer. He walked up close to her side
and slipped his arms around her, locking them low on her waist as though
it were a natural action that he did every day.
“Let’s give those ‘cats’ at the table a show,” he whispered in her ear.
He leaned back slightly, waggling his eyebrows. The hurt was still
evident in her eyes. “Come on, Faith…..the hell with them.” His face was
close to hers and kissed her cheek lightly. He could feel her heart
pounding in her back.
She looked back at him, considering the possibilities and fighting the
urge to run from the room. However uncomfortable she was, Michael was
drawing her in and she loved the idea of showing them they were wrong
about her, so she took him up on his invitation.
He kissed her lips gently and pulled back a bit and looked into her
eyes. “Come on…..” He kissed her again, more deeply this time, and to
his pleasant surprise she kissed him back.
Faith allowed one arm to slip around his waist and the other came to
rest on his chest. As Michael deepened the kiss further, she clutched
his shirt in her fist. How long had it been since she had been held by
anyone? It had literally been years since she allowed anyone to kiss
her. This felt so good. She was losing herself in this. She had to come
back to earth before she made a fool of herself.
Mike broke the kiss and lightly kissed her cheek again before
whispering, “Smile, Faith … pretend you enjoyed it.” He certainly had.
He could tell it had been a long time for her. She was a little
awkward...for a half a second. When she gave herself over to the kiss he
had to remind himself that this was an act. This was payback for a
couple of assholes who were making her uncomfortable.
Faith found her voice though it cracked slightly. “I do…I did….okay.”
She looked at him, and they both began to laugh. Faith laughed at
herself and Mike at the situation. She leaned closer to him. “It’s not
He pulled her in even closer. “Yes it is.” He glanced over his shoulder.
“We still have an audience…Lets dance.” He took her hand and she
followed him out to the dance floor. He pulled her into his embrace and
they began to dance. Faith held onto his shoulder with one hand, holding
herself slightly back from him while resting her hand on his chest.
“I’m not going to bite you, Faith,” Mike whispered into her ear.
“I know.” She leaned back slightly, looked at him and said sincerely,
“Thank you for this, Michael. You’re a good friend.” She allowed him to
pull her further into his embrace.
He returned her look. “You’re welcome and yes…. I am your friend. How do
those two ‘ladies,’ and I use the term loosely, know you?”
“I worked with them when I was stationed here at JAG San Diego. In all
fairness, I’m not a friendly person.” She looked him in the eye, smiling
slightly. “You know how I am. I don’t make a very good first
“Still…I don’t think what they did was….necessary.” He looked over and
saw that they were still watching, whispering behind their hands.
‘Women,’ he thought. They could be crueler to each other than any man
could ever be. He was raised with five of them and he thought that made
him an expert of sorts.
“Oh…I’m not going to let them get to me. I’m an android…remember?” She
quirked an eyebrow at him, mocking the label her 'friends' had placed
Mike leaned in closer and whispered in her ear, for the benefit of their
audience. “Oh...I don’t know, Faith. You sure don’t kiss like an
android.” Her response to his kiss, once the shock had worn off, had
been anything but mechanical.
Faith blushed deeply, all the way down her neck. She could not help but
laugh out loud. She may have even giggled. She was having so much fun
and knowing the two ‘ladies’ who were watching. It would be all over JAG
San Diego that she wasn’t such an ‘iceberg’ after all.
Harm was using the interview room as a place to meet with Major Hanson.
The major would be spearheading the implementation of the program once
they got more of the details hammered out. They were finishing up for
the day when they heard a knock at the door.
“Enter.” Harm looked up from his case file.
“Excuse me sir, Major Hanson has an emergency phone call.”
“Put it through, Gunny.” Harm looked at the major and turned his phone
toward him, so he could answer it more easily.
“Major Hanson….Sandy? Are you all right?”
Harm stood and walked toward the door. He heard the major say, “A
girl…that’s great. Is she all right? Oh, honey, I love you too.”
Harm closed the door and walked down the hallway where Gunny waited.
“It looks as though someone just had a new baby.” Harm raised his
“It happens.” Gunny shrugged. “I understand this is their third, sir.”
“Third? He can’t be much older than 30. Three kids?” Harm couldn’t
imagine. He hadn’t gotten his mind around one yet.
“Some guys are just family men. Look at Commander Roberts, sir; it suits
him too, if I may say so.”
“I don’t think Bud would mind, Gunny, and I have to agree.” Harm smiled
at the memory of Bud holding his daughter while he spoke to him during
their visit last month.
Gunny knew about Mac being pregnant. Jen had told him. He wasn’t sure
how she’d found out. Not a lot got by Jennifer Coates in that office. It
was kind of curious to him that the commander hadn’t mentioned it. He
figured some people were private about things like that. He also knew
the colonel had been pretty ill. He didn’t really think it was
appropriate to ask. He smirked to himself, thinking, ‘That’s not a
problem Jen ever had.’
Harm glanced at the clock on the wall of their office. “Gunny, get
General Creswell for me, will you?” The General was expecting an update
today. It would be the first one he had given by phone.
“I’m going to step down the hall to my quarters for a moment. I’ll be
right back.” He stood and walked out of the room.
Gunny punched the necessary numbers to place the call. Jennifer Coates
answered. “General Creswell’s office, this is Petty Officer Coates, can
I help you?”
“Well, I don’t know, Jennifer -- can you?” Gunny chuckled.
“You! What are you doing?” It was great to hear from him.
“I’m placing a call for the commander to General Creswell.”
“Oh, and I thought you were just calling to see how I was doing,”
“I could ask how you and Commander Coleman are getting along. Had any
long conversations lately?” She had told him about speaking out of turn
the day he left for Iraq. They were both laughing when Harm walked
through the office door.
“Hey, Gunny, have you put that call through yet?” Harm frowned; a little
curious as to whom Gunny was speaking. It couldn’t have been the
Gunny was serious immediately. “Uh, Commander Rabb for General
“Right away, Gunny.” She put the call on hold and buzzed the general.
“Commander Rabb for you, sir.”
“Very well, Petty Officer. Are you alone out there?”
“Yes sir. I’m putting the call through now, sir.” He must have heard her
laughing, Jen thought. She was thinking if she picked up the pace
neither she nor Gunny would have to make any excuses for joking around
on government time.
General Creswell picked up the phone and punched the button. “Commander
“I have him for you, sir.” Gunny handed the phone to Harm.
“Commander, put this on speaker. I want to hear what both of you have to
Harm looked at Gunny, who was starting to walk out of the office, and
stopped him with a raised hand. Harm pushed the button for the speaker
“Commander Rabb, what have you and Major Hanson been able to come up
with to deal with the problem list you sent me last week?”
“Sir we are working on a program that will help build their
non-commissioned officer corps. It has been virtually nonexistent and we
think may have contributed to some of the officers’ ability to retaliate
to any infraction inappropriately with impunity. “
“Very well, go on.”
“We will be helping implement the framework that will allow punishment
with extra duty, cuts in pay, things of that nature. More severe
infractions to be will be punishable by isolation versus physical
punishment. We also believe building the ranks of non-commissioned
officers will give the regular soldiers more incentive to do well.”
“What’s your assessment, Gunny?”
“I think it’s a good plan, sir – I just don’t think it’s realistic to
think it will happen overnight. Culturally these people have no problem
getting in anyone’s face if they see them doing something they think is
wrong. Especially an older man when dealing with a younger person; it
has been acceptable for a long time.”
“What about the building up of the noncom ranks?”
“I agree, sir, completely.”
“Very good. Has training begun, Commander Rabb?”
“Yes, sir – we will be traveling with Major Hanson next week to begin
implementation in several locations, sir.”
“Sounds like a good start, Commander. Let’s finish this. It’s your
ticket home. Carry on.”
The general ended the call. Gunny and Harm looked at each other.
“I wasn’t disagreeing with you, sir.” Gunny wasn’t sure how the
commander would take his assessment of their program.
“Don’t worry about it, Gunny. I know this is a hell of a task. The
general asked your honest assessment and you gave it. I wouldn’t expect
any less. We have to begin somewhere. I know there will be bumps in the
road; we will learn as we go. I just know that if we back off using
cultural differences as an excuse, then we could end up with a military
every bit as ruthless as Saddam’s.” They heard a knock on the door.
“Enter.” Harm turned toward the door.
“Would you like to see by beautiful daughter, sir?” Major Hanson was
grinning from ear to ear.
He placed his briefcase on Harm’s desk and opened it. He pulled out a
file labeled ‘Cassandra.’ He opened it and handed a computer generated
copy of a picture of a young woman holding a tiny baby.
“The nursing staff at the hospital sent this.” He left the file open
showing what looked like ultrasound pictures.
“Congratulations, Major.” One of the pictures, labeled ‘Cassandra 3
months,’ caught Harm’s eye. He thought that Mac might be nearly three
months along. ‘God this is really happening’ he thought. They were going
to have a baby.
“Thank you, sir.” He took two cigars out of the pocket of his briefcase
and handed them to Gunny and Harm. “I know you can’t smoke these here. I
just figured that if I can’t be with my girls tonight, I can at least be
the proud papa and pass out the cigars.” He took back the picture and
looked lovingly at the print. “If you’ll excuse me, sir, I have some
showing off to do.”
“By all means, Major. Carry on.”
The major nodded to Gunny and he and Harm were smiling, watching him
leave the room. When they looked at each other they both looked quickly
down, feeling a little embarrassed at their unguarded moment.
“Uh, I’ll be in my quarters if you need anything, sir.” Gunny quickly
left the room.
Harm sat back down at his desk. He looked at his phone. ‘What time is it
in Washington?’ he wondered. It couldn’t be too much later than 0900. He
dialed the numbers, praying she would answer her phone. No such luck. He
could e mail, but what he needed was to hear her voice. You didn’t get
that from e mail.
Bud sat on the sofa in the den. He kept going over the conversation he’d
had with his father the day before. He lost control of his temper so
quickly lately. He hated that he had lost it in front of Little AJ.
“Bud?” Harriet stood in the doorway. “What are you doing still up?”
“I’m sorry, honey; I’m just trying to clear my head.” Bud looked at her
“It’s your father, isn’t it?” Harriet knew, Bud hadn’t been this quiet
in a long time.
“It is, but mostly it’s me.” Bud patted the couch beside him, inviting
her to sit down.
Harriet sat beside him and took his hand waiting for him to speak.
“I can’t believe how quickly I lost my temper yesterday. I scared Little
AJ so badly he wouldn’t even hug me this morning before I went to work.”
He looked at Harriet. “I never wanted to ever see that fear on his
“Bud, I think you’re being too hard on yourself.” She knew how much
being a good father meant to Bud.
“I don’t know, Harriet. I have been over it a thousand times in my mind
… and do you know what the worst thing is? I sounded exactly like him.
Even my voice was just like his was. He would back me or Mom into a
corner, yelling, belittling us, throwing every curse he could think of
at us. He didn’t always hit us…the words could hurt as much as if he
“Bud, that isn’t what you did yesterday.” Harriet could not see the
comparison at all.
“I think I need to talk to someone, Harriet.” He wasn’t sure how she
would feel about it, but he was not going to let this get out of
control. He had too much to lose.
“Do you want me to go with you?” She knew now that Bud was really
troubled. He would never have considered counseling a couple of years
“I don’t think so. I think this is about me. I’ve always worried that my
childhood would affect my family. I don’t want to let it.”
“Bud, what are you talking about? You’re a wonderful husband and
Bud remembered talking to Harm just before he and Harriet were married.
He’d told him about his fear of becoming what his father was. Harm had
tried to reassure him but Bud had carried that fear throughout their
“Thank you, Harriet.” Bud kissed her cheek. “I just don’t ever want to
let you down, and I think it’s time I did something about this anger
before it gets out of control.”
Bud kissed her cheek. “I love you.”
Harriet smiled at him. “I love you too.”
The Ship’s Wheel
Retired Master Chief Bud Roberts sat at a barstool nursing his first but
not last beer of the evening. It had been a hell of a week. He was able
to avoid being called up by the Navy to serve. ‘ Christ!...
unbelievable,’ he thought. He wouldn’t be caught dead in fatigues or
Cammies as they now called them. The medical review board Bud had been
able to get to review his personnel file ruled that he was not fit for
duty – a ruling that didn’t bother him in the least. What he had been
totally unprepared for was being thrown out of his son’s house and
forbidden to ever come near them again. He shook his head, wondering
what the hell Bud’s problem was anyway.
“Roberts?” Someone was calling from across the bar.
“Master Chief Roberts?” Big Bud lifted his head to look for the person
calling him. He looked across the bar and then recognition dawned.
“Maguire? Well, I’ll be damned. How are you doin'?” To Big Bud Roberts
his old shipmates were family. He felt more at ease with them than he
had ever felt with his sons or Angie. Well, maybe not in the beginning,
but the longer he served, the more he felt the Navy was his family. He
didn’t allow himself to be close to anyone else; it hadn’t been
necessary, especially after Angie died.
Senior Chief Matt Maguire approached him and shook his hand. “I’m doing
great. Just down here seeing a few old friends.”
“How long has it been? Twenty years?” It had been a very long time.
Angie was still… well, he wouldn’t go there now. He hoped he wouldn’t
ask about her.
“What have you been doing since I saw you last? Keeping busy?”
His friend arched an eyebrow. He had known Big Bud well. To say he ‘got
around’ was an understatement. Matt sure as hell couldn’t keep up. His
wife Katie would have killed him.
“You know me. I’m doing anything I can get by with.” Big Bud laughed
before taking a long pull on his beer.
The door to the bar opened letting in the traffic noise from the street.
A woman stepped in the door and looked toward Big Bud and his friend.
“Bud? My God… is that you?”
“Katie…well, I will be damned. When are you going to get old, woman?”
A well preserved woman of nearly 50 years laughed and walked quickly to
the bar where Big Bud and her husband Matt were talking. Big Bud swept
her into a bear hug.
“I always said Matt had the best looking babe in the whole 101.”
Matt and Big Bud had become friends in boot camp. Their company number
was 101. Katie hadn’t been able to get to their graduation so they’d
called her that evening. They’d squeezed into a phone booth, drunk out
of their skulls, both telling her in the most colorful language that she
was ‘the best looking babe in the whole 101’ – though Big Bud had never
seen her in his life at that point.
“Stop lying, you old silver-tongued devil!” She laughed. “I can’t
believe we ran into you like this.”
Matt began to talk about what they were doing in town, but Big Bud was
lost in thought, wondering what Angie would look like now. Seeing Katie
and remembering their friendship took him back. It had been their first
hitch and they were both stationed out of Norfolk. Bud was on the
carrier USS America and Matt was on the destroyer USS John King. The
girls had become good friends. Hell, he and Angie had driven Katie to
the hospital when she went into labor with their oldest son. Matt’s ship
had been out and Bud had only been home a week.
“Bud?” Katie asked. “Are you all right?”
“Oh, hey, sorry…need another beer…not enough alcohol in my system.” He
laughed a bit too loud. “What can I get you, Katie? It’s on me.” He
looked at her husband. “Matt?”
Matt looked at what he was drinking. “I’ll have whatever you’ve got
“Nothing for me, thanks.” Katie and Matt had heard about Angie. They‘d
been stationed in California at the time and had been unable to get
back. They had sent flowers but somehow she doubted that Bud knew
anything about that.
“How are the boys, Bud?”
“Fine, fine. They’re both in the Navy. If you can believe that.”
“Nothing wrong with following in the old man’s footsteps.” Matt had a
son who was serving too.
“They’re not really what you could call following –my- footsteps. Bud Jr
is a JAG attorney, a lieutenant commander. Mikey is in his second year
“Really?… Bud… that’s great. You must be so proud.”
Katie was stunned. She knew what kind of childhood those kids had. It
hadn’t started out badly, but by the time Bud got orders to Jacksonville
and they had decided to get out for a couple of years, things had gotten
“Yeah…who would have thought it, huh?” Big Bud chuckled to himself. “It
didn’t have anything to do with me, Katie.”
Katie looked down, not really sure what she should say. Her husband
spoke up. “You gave them a tradition of service. That’s something to be
“Nah, I think whatever they have, as far as the good things, Angie gave
them. I just paid the bills.” He gave Matt a sideways glance. “You know
Matt did know him; he also knew he wasn’t always as he liked to describe
himself now. He took out his wallet and opened it to show a picture of
Bud Jr. and his family and also Mikey’s Academy picture. He handed the
wallet to Katie and Matt looked over her shoulder.
“Bud, they look great. I can’t believe it. Little Bud has four children?
His wife is beautiful.”
Katie remembered how close Angie had been to Bud Jr. and how protective
he’d been of her, even though he was just a little boy.
Bud nodded, unable to think of an appropriate response, especially in
light of the fight he had with Bud earlier this week.
“Mikey is so handsome. He was so young, just a baby the last time we saw
him. He’s a grown man now.” She shook her head. “He looks so much like
Angie. She would have been so proud.”
Big Bud was relieved that they already knew. He didn’t want to explain.
He was still raw from his argument with Bud. He could still hear him say
“I will never understand why a selfish bastard like you is alive when a
good person like my mother is dead.” The words were still ringing in his
Matt could see that Bud was getting more depressed by the minute and he
also remembered this would usually precede a bar fight with anyone
within reach. It was time to change the subject.
“Hey Bud, remember the time we decided to drag race down Hampton
Boulevard? We both had those old ‘53 pick-ups. Damn, I still can’t
believe we didn’t get arrested.”
Bud laughed out loud. “Hah, we were drunk on our asses. I still can’t
figure out how I got those damn trash cans in the back of that pick-up.”
“We could have been busted down to E1 if we had been caught. Man,
someone up there was looking out for us that night.”
Katie remembered that night too. “Yeah, right. I remember someone
calling me to be sure his uniform was ready for captain’s inspection the
next morning. Bud was on leave, but you weren’t. I still don’t know how
you got through that day. You were green to the gills.”
Bud continued to laugh. He remembered seeing Angie and Katie standing in
the yard, arms folded across their chests. They hadn’t been nearly as
mad as they seemed to be.
In that moment he wished to be young again; to have Angie with him
again. Seeing Katie made him remember her more clearly. Tonight she
hadn’t faded into the haze of his dreams. The picture in his mind was
clear suddenly and sharp as knife.
Matt decided it was time to go. They had promised to meet another couple
out in Virginia Beach later. “Bud, we have to get going. We’re meeting
the Greggs at Darryl’s. Do you want to join us? I don’t know if you
remember Lou – I think that was after I came back in.”
Matt and Katie had gotten out for a few years, but civilian life just
wasn’t working for either of them so he’d reenlisted.
“No thanks, Matt. It was good to see you.” Big Bud stood and shook his
Katie kissed his cheek and hugged him.
“Take care of yourself, Bud. I’m so glad we ran into you like this. We
need to stay in touch. We share too many memories.” She gave him a sad
smile and took her husband’s hand as they walk toward the door.
Big Bud watched them walk out. He was grateful they were leaving. He
didn’t think he could take much more of memory lane tonight.
He returned to his bar stool and ordered another beer. His mind returned
to the argument he and Bud had. The one he never saw coming, but had
been due for a long time….
Bud had handed him a large manila envelope. “The medical review board
has approved your exemption from being recalled.” Bud looked at his
father, appearing to be waiting for something.
Big Bud took the envelope. “Dirty bastards, thought they could screw
me.” He turned to go to the door. He had been waiting for an hour for
Bud to come home from work. He had called him and asked him to meet him
at his house.
Bud was incredulous. “So that’s it?”
Big Bud turned back to face him. “What?”
“I bust my ass to get you out of something that you probably could have
done if you gave a damn about anyone but yourself. And your answer
is….What?” Bud walked toward him, anger rising up in him so quickly he
didn’t even have time to rein it in this time.
Big Bud huffed. “What the hell is your problem? You’re a lawyer; that’s
your job. Nobody forced you.”
“Nobody forced me? You come into JAG and insult and irritate half of the
people I work with. Embarrass me and pressure me minutes before I have
to go into court. Nobody forced me? The hell you didn’t.”
Harriet was upstairs with the girls when she overheard Bud and his
father talking. She was afraid this was coming. Bud had been more than a
little on edge lately. It didn’t help that every little thing that could
go wrong did: running out of gas, locking his keys in the car, you name
it. It also didn’t help that he was still adjusting to the new CO.
Harriet thought that he had been handling everything well up until the
last week or so. She stepped out of the nursery and looked down into the
“What do you want from me anyway?” Big Bud was in no mood for this
nonsense. “Blood?” He turned and walked to the door, then turned toward
Bud intending to leave with a sharp retort. He didn’t get the chance.
“I don’t want a damn thing from you, you asshole. I will never
understand why a selfish bastard like you is alive when a good person
like my mother is dead. You never gave a damn about her or us. What did
you get out of it all? You got two sons who have loved you and wanted
your respect. What did she get?…..She’s dead!”
Big Bud’s arrogance seemed to seep out of him and into the floor. “It’s
not my fault she died, Bud.” He looked as though someone had hit him.
Bud felt no guilt; he only wished he had. “No it’s not your fault, Dad.
You just made her life a living hell while she was alive. That was your
fault.” He continued to walk toward Big Bud. “Leave….and don’t ever ask
for anything from me again.” He was trembling with anger.
Harriet was so stunned by what she was seeing and hearing that she did
not see little AJ at first. He was standing in the doorway to the den,
looking from his father to his grandfather. He didn’t make a sound, but
the confusion and fear on his face was plain to anyone who looked at
him. Little AJ heard his mother gasp and looked up at her, and then he
began to cry.
Big Bud opened the door and started out. Bud took the doorknob out of
his hand and shut the door on him almost before he was completely
Big Bud awakened from his daydream to find himself sitting on the same
barstool, ordering one drink after another. He wasn’t far from home. He
would be all right, he figured. He had been unable to shake the vision
of the hatred in his son’s eyes. He had always come around after they
had a major blow out, but somehow he didn’t think that would happen this
time. That argument had come out of nowhere. He’d wondered if this day
would come. They had been on borrowed time for a long time. His past
mistakes had remained buried in the details of all their lives.
‘Mistakes’ seemed a small word for what he had done. Angie was gone; she
was the glue that held their family together. Mikey wouldn’t be able to
patch this one. The older Mike became, the more distant he was from him.
The last time he had seen him it had seemed to him that Mikey could
barely stand to be in the same room with him.
“Hey fella, you buying the drinks tonight?”
Bud turned toward the woman speaking to him. She had probably been a
pretty woman once. She had a hard look about her. She wore a bit too
much make up and reeked of cigarette smoke and Chanel number five. His
kind of gal.
“Sure….what’ll ya have, honey?” Big Bud didn’t care who she was. He was
sure he wouldn’t even remember her name tomorrow, it didn’t matter. He
6 Blocks south of Green zone
Harm and Gunny were returning to the Green zone following one of their
training sessions held at Camp Anaconda. Major Hanson had been talking
nonstop about his family since they had left camp.
“We’re naming the baby Cassandra. It’s for her mother and for my sister
Major Hanson was still beaming with pride. Harm thought that he had been
like this since he learned of the baby’s birth. The major looked at
“You married, Gunny?”
“Confirmed bachelor, huh?”
“Not really, sir, the right woman just never came along. I thought she
might’ve a few times, but it always turned out that she was more in love
with the idea of being married to a Marine than the realities.” Gunny
“How about you, sir?” Major Hanson looked at Harm.
“Yeah, just last Christmas.” Harm smiled at the memory.
“Planning on any kids, sir? If I may ask?” He was curious. It seemed the
commander became quiet when he spoke about his family.
“You may, and as a matter of fact we just found out we’re expecting.”
Harm gave them a slightly embarrassed grin.
Gunny and Major Hanson congratulated him.
They were nearing the main gate to the green zone when they heard an all
too familiar sound. An RPG was rocketing through the air and crashed
into the side of their Humvee, striking near the gas tank. Gunny could
see exactly where it had lodged in his rearview mirror. For whatever
reason the explosion was delayed.
“It’s at the gas tank. Its gonna blow. Get out!”
Gunny got out from behind the wheel. Harm and Major Hanson quickly
exited on the opposite side of the vehicle. They quickly tried to run
for cover when a rain of gunfire exploded into the air. Marines inside
the green zone were already responding to the attack. The Humvee
exploded, knocking them all to the ground. They were on their feet
quickly. Harm, Gunny and the major had begun making their way to the
main gate, using the Marines’ return fire for cover. They were within a
few steps when the major was struck by two bullets. He was hit just
above and just below his body armor. Harm was nearest to him and was
sprayed with blood and bone from his wound. He was stunned for a moment,
and then called to Major Hanson.
“Get in the gate, Commander – they’ll come and get me.” Harm could
barely hear him over the gunfire...
“I’m not leaving you, Major.” Harm could hear Gunny yelling in a distant
part of his brain, but he could not tear his eyes away from the major.
Major Hanson could feel the life flowing out of him. He knew suddenly
that he wasn’t going home. “Go on, Commander.”
Harm understood what he was thinking and refused to leave him. Things
seemed to be going into slow motion.
“I’m going, I know it. You go home, you have to…..” The major’s eyes
began to roll back in his head and his body began to convulse. “Sandy…”
The major’s last breath left him, and Harm attempted to drag him back to
the camp. He felt a fist in the middle of his chest and someone grabbing
him by his jacket.
“Commander!” Gunny had grabbed Harm by his DCU jacket and used his body
weight and momentum to pull him away from the major. Harm’s back hit the
wall of the building they were partially hidden behind. The hard hit
seemed to knock him into survival mode, and he hit the ground running
with Gunny covering him as he went. They made it inside the gate. Harm
and Gunny looked back to where Major Hanson lay dead, both trying to
absorb what had just happened.
It had been quieter since the elections. There were still ‘pockets’ of
resistance, but they had become smaller within the last two weeks.
Suddenly the call for ceasefire was given. After the dust cleared, there
were two men who had begun this firefight. Their guns were spent of
bullets and the empty RPG launcher lay at their sides. These people
meant to die. They had to know there was no way they would get away if
they attacked this closely to the green zone. They just wanted to take
as many Americans with them as possible. They had taken one American
life. Major Thomas Hanson. Cassandra’s father. Sandra’s husband. He had
said that he had two sons. They would never see him again. Harm suddenly
felt so weary, as though he could barely walk. He said nothing but
turned to walk toward his quarters. A corpsman ran toward him and
stopped him with a hand to his chest.
“Commander!” He had already begun trying to assess Harm’s injuries.
“Commander, are you all right?”
Harm looked at him as though he couldn’t quite comprehend what the
corpsman was saying. Harm could see the corpsman looking at his uniform.
It was then that he became aware of the blood on his clothing and his
face. The smell of it hit him full force suddenly, and he felt the bile
rising in his throat. Harm turned quickly away from the corpsman and
lost whatever lunch he had been able to eat that day. When Harm was able
calm his stomach down, he began to tear at his DCU jacket. He pulled so
hard that the buttons flew into the air, nearly striking the corpsman.
He threw it onto the ground and turned away from it.
“Come on, Commander, let me get you to the infirmary and get the docs to
check you out.”
“I’m not injured, Petty Officer.” Harm thought of Major Hanson and
looked back over his shoulder. “I’m fine”
“With all due respect, sir. Let us have a look to be sure.” The corpsman
Gunny stepped up behind Harm.
“We’d like to have a look at you too, Gunnery Sergeant.”
Gunny nodded and they all walked toward the infirmary.
Eastern Standard Time
Harm and Mac’s apartment
North of Union Station.
Mac lay on her back in their bed in a deep sleep, the comforter tucked
under her chin. She had been dreaming of snow. She and Harm were back at
Pine Loch. It was a quiet and still night. The only sound she heard in
her dream was the sound of the large snowflakes lightly touching the
ground. She and Harm were walking along the path that led to their
cabin. She had her hand in the crook of his arm. He looked down at her
and placed his hand over hers. He leaned down to kiss her…
Mac woke suddenly to what she could have sworn was a loud explosion. Her
ears were ringing. She sat straight up in bed and immediately broke out
in a cold sweat. Something was wrong. She knew it deep in her soul,
something was very wrong and it involved Harm.
Mac got up and started making her coffee. She didn’t have to be up for
over an hour but there wouldn’t be any more sleeping this morning. She
showered and dressed. While she made her breakfast she turned the
television on to listen to the local news and the traffic report. She
had court this morning at 0900 so she decided to get there a little
early today. She hoped the details of her day would help her shake the
feeling of unease she still had.
She hoped against hope that she would hear from Harm today. He couldn’t
get back soon enough for her.
Harm stood in the shower, letting the hot water pour directly over his
head. This was the third shower he had taken today. Outside of a nasty
bruise on his back and some skinned knees, he had come out of the
firefight unscathed. He could not get the smell of Major Hanson’s blood
off of him, or so it seemed to him. He knew that this was all in his
head, that it was the effects of what he had been through that day.
Still, he figured a shower couldn’t hurt, whether he was imagining the
smell or not.
As the shower water pelted down on his back and shoulders, he thought of
Mac and their baby. He suddenly felt an overwhelming need to see his own
child. He hadn’t allowed himself to think about the baby as a real
possibility before this because of the risk to Mac. Now, as he stood
there, he couldn’t wait to see it. He closed his eyes and summoned the
memory of Mac placing her hand almost protectively on her stomach right
after they had learned she was pregnant. He had never allowed himself to
even touch her there. He needed to go home and tell her he understood
now. He believed the baby was meant to be and he wanted to see the
baby’s face too.
He remembered what Chaplain Turner had said at their wedding. ‘You have
begun a journey today. One that will bring you great joy and also may
bring you pain…..If you bear all things together, you will endure.’ As
he turned off the shower, he knew that he had been holding back when it
came to the baby. He also knew that Mac knew it. He wanted to go home
and do what Major Hanson would never do again; hold his wife in his
Harm got out of the shower and wrapped himself in a towel. He dressed in
sweat clothes and went back to his office before going to bed. There
wouldn’t be any sleep tonight.
He sat at his desk and thought again of what his grandmother had said.
‘You need to trust this…for Mac’s sake.’ He knew now that he needed to
do this for his sake too. He hadn’t been able to reach Mac all week. He
would try and catch her again at work. He dialed the number, praying all
the while that she didn’t have court that afternoon.
“Colonel Rabb.” Mac was slightly out of breath.
“Mac?” Thank God she was there.
“Harm? I was just going to step out. I’m so glad you caught me.”
“I’ve been trying to catch up with you for over a week.” God, it was
good to hear her voice.
“Any idea about when they may let you come home?” Mac was hopeful.
“I thought it might be the middle of next week, but I don’t know for
sure.” Harm didn’t intend to get into it. “Do you have a few minutes to
“Yeah, I don’t have court this afternoon and I worked through lunch. I
was just going to step out and grab a bite downstairs.”
“I don’t want you skipping meals, Mac.” Harm wanted to talk about
something normal, like what she was having for lunch. He didn’t want to
talk about life and death; he just wanted to hear her voice.
“I’m not skipping meals, Harm. I had a huge breakfast. I think that’s
pretty good, considering the nightmare that woke me up this morning.”
She still shuddered to think of it. That was one of the many reasons
this call was so welcome. “Besides, I have a bottle of water and a
protein bar here in the office. So stop worrying, Harmon.”
“What nightmare?” Harm wondered.
“I was having the most wonderful dream. We were back at Pine Loch,
walking in a softly falling snow – then out of nowhere there was an
explosion so loud it made my ears ring. I woke up in a cold sweat.”
“There could be a reason for that. I had a near miss this afternoon.”
“What?” Mac knew that something was wrong.
“I’m sorry, Mac – I’ll tell you about it when I get home. I just need to
hear your voice and talk to you. I need to tell you something. I know
I’ve held back where the baby is concerned. I want you to know I’m
sorry.” A lump suddenly formed in his throat. “I…..uh, want to see the
baby too.” He hoped Mac would say something because he knew he wouldn’t
be able to.
“Harm….it’s okay. I know this whole ordeal with me has been so hard for
you. You never have complained…except when I left you out of the loop,
and I won’t do that again.”
“Okay,” he whispered.
“Harm, are you really all right?” After all he had said about the events
of his day, she realized that they really were connected, still.
“Yeah, it’s just been a rough day. I miss you.” His voice was still a
“I wish I were there with you.” Mac knew he needed her and she wanted so
much to be there for him.
“Me too.” The sound of her voice was beginning to loosen the knot he had
felt in his chest since that afternoon.
Mac heard a knock on her door. “Just a minute, Harm.” She looked toward
the door and called, “Enter.”
Harriet stepped into her office with one of the girls in her arms.
“Sorry to intrude, ma’am.”
“Harriet, not at all.” Mac thought this was just what she and Harm
“I brought someone to see you.” As though on cue, baby Jennifer let out
a loud wail.
Harm could hear the baby on the line. “Which one is that, Mac?”
“It’s baby Jen. She’s making herself known, like her namesake.”
Harm could hear Harriet and Mac laughing and the baby in the background.
He needed to hear about something normal. His friends, his wife, even
the insistent cry of an impatient baby was a welcome respite from what
he had been feeling for the last 12 hours.
Bud came to her office door and knocked on the frame.
“Bud.” Harm heard Mac talking to him, and also in the background, an
additional cranky baby.
“Excuse me, ma’am.” He looked at Harriet. “Honey, you’re going to have
to take Justice. General Creswell is back in the building.” He looked
down the hallway as if he expected him to walk in at any moment. He
placed Justice in the double stroller and kissed her forehead. As he
turned to walk back down the hallway, he came face to face with General
Mac spoke into the phone in a low voice. “Harm, its General Creswell. I
think I’m going to have to go.”
“Okay, I’ll try and catch you later.” Harm’s heart sank; he wasn’t ready
to let her go yet.
General Creswell looked into Mac’s office and said, “Colonel Rabb, are
you speaking with Commander Rabb?”
Mac looked as if she had been caught with her hand in the cookie jar.
“Keep him on the line. I want to talk with him.” His stern commanding
expression was firmly in place.
“Harm, did you hear that?” Mac’s tone was almost apologetic.
“Yes, I’ll stay on the line.” He was suddenly glad he wasn’t in Mac’s
office at this moment.
“Commander Roberts.” General Creswell turned toward Bud. “Do you not
have enough work to occupy your time?”
The Roberts girls suddenly quieted and watched the general with rapt
“Yes sir” Bud stood at attention.
“Then I suggest you get to it. You are dismissed.”
“Yes sir.” Bud quickly left them without a backward look.
“Sir, this is really my fault. I brought the girls as a surprise for
Bud.” Harriet tried to explain.
General Creswell did not smile but looked directly at Harriet. She
almost visibly wilted under his gaze. He looked down at the girls, and
one of them gave him her most beautiful open mouthed smile and a belly
A smile played at the corners of his mouth. “Which one is this?” The
general nodded toward one half of his adoring audience.
“That’s Jennifer, sir,” Harriet answered, smiling in spite of herself.
The general nodded thinking to himself. ‘It figures.’
Harm was still holding on and had heard the exchange. He supposed he was
just waiting his turn for the general to ream him one too.
Mac handed the phone to the general, and he looked at her steadily until
she understood that she should leave him.
“Oh, excuse me, sir. I’ll just step out for a late lunch.”
Mac and Harriet went swiftly out the door. As Mac closed the door behind
her, they heard the general say “Commander Rabb…”
Baby Jen heard him too, at which she laughed her belly laugh again, well
within earshot of the general.
Mac and Harriet hurried down the hall toward the elevators.
Falls Church, Virginia
General Creswell closed the door to Mac’s office as he spoke to Harm. “I
was notified of Major Hanson’s death this morning, Commander.”
“Good man. I was acquainted with the major during his first tour in
Iraq.” The general would be paying Sandra Hanson a visit later that
“Yes sir.” Harm thought he should say more but didn’t feel he had the
words to adequately express what he felt at that moment – the words to
say that would do a good man justice.
“I trust you and the Gunny came through the skirmish all right,
Commander?” The general had been given a report when he was notified of
the incident. He wanted to get a feel for how the commander was handling
this for himself.
“Yes sir. I would like to say, sir, that Gunny Galindez literally saved
my life today. He should be commended for the way he handled this
situation. The knee he had replaced didn’t keep him from performing his
“I am sure you both performed your duties well, Commander. I will
however look into your recommendation.” He was pleased that the
commander was living up to the good things he had heard about him.
“Yes sir.” Harm honestly didn’t feel he had. Gunny had risked his life
to get him back into the compound. He had been momentarily stunned by
the attack and the severity of Major Hanson’s injuries.
“We need to discuss how we’re going to proceed. How close was Major
Hanson to completing the training for the Iraqi UCMJ?”
“He was just finishing up, sir; many of the new Iraqi units have already
begun implementation of the new protocols.”
“Major Hanson was getting ready to rotate out. His replacement was to
begin March first.” It was an old story, and no matter how many times he
heard it, the irony never failed to strike him. A Marine being killed
just days before he was to return to the States.
“So I’ll be staying, sir?”
“No, Commander, the major’s replacement will be deploying early.
Lieutenant Colonel Bradley Murphy should be on board by the 14th. Major
Hanson’s staff will assist in familiarizing him with what has been done
so far. I will however expect you to lend any assistance that is
“I will expect a full report on the transition upon your return. Barring
any unforeseen delays, I will expect you and the Gunny to report to JAG
headquarters by Monday the 21st.”
“Yes sir.” He was relieved to have a clear date to look forward to, but
the major’s words were still going through his head. ‘You go home….you
have to…`’ He was so sorry that the major wouldn’t be going as well.
“Do they have any idea who the shooters were?”
“They have identified both of them. I recognized one of the men; I
remember seeing him on the way to the compound just minutes before the
attack... The authorities here have identified him as former Iraqi
military. The other is believed to be Syrian. He had a Syrian passport.”
“Very well. Carry on, Commander.” With that the general ended the call.
He placed the handset on the phone and left Mac’s office.
Falls Church, Virginia
Lieutenant Commander Faith Coleman walked into her office shortly after
leaving the courtroom. She noticed that there was a coffee mug sitting
on the calendar. She walked around her desk and saw that the mug had a
small red ribbon tied around the handle. The letters USMC were written
boldly on the side of the mug in red, so large that it could have been
seen from across the office. She also noticed that the mug was placed on
today’s date. February 14th. No card was given. She smiled and picked up
the mug. She was looking at it when General Creswell passed her office.
He could not help noticing her gift.
“Commander.” General Creswell stood in the doorway.
Faith put the mug down on her desk and came to attention. “Sir.”
“Stand easy. Nice coffee mug….gift?” He raised his brows in question.
Faith felt awkward. “Ah…yes…sir…I think so.”
“You don’t know if this is a gift?” The general was puzzled.
“I….I don’t know who it’s from, sir.” She felt like an idiot.
The general tapped the doorframe and turned to leave. “Well, it looks as
though your secret admirer has good taste. Carry on”
“Yes sir.” She could feel heat rising up her neck to the top of her
head. ‘Secret Admirer?’
Harm and Mac’s Apartment
North of Union Station
Mac was coming in the door when she heard Harm’s voice on the answering
machine. She ran to the phone and picked it up. “Hello? Harm?”
“Mac, I’m so glad I caught you.” Harm thought he had missed her yet
“Hello, you – it’s got to be after 0100 there now. What are you doing up
so late?” He sounded tired.
“I wanted to get as much done as quickly as I can so I can get back to
you. Besides, I think I’ll be out of here sometime tomorrow or early
“Oh, thank God. I think this had been the longest four weeks in my
“Yeah, me too. I think I may be back by Friday. At least I hope to be.
By the way, happy Valentines Day.”
“That’s right, it’s Valentines Day and you’re too far away to properly
celebrate.” A smile crept into her voice.
“Yes I am, but I didn’t forget. I hope you won’t mind, but since Jen
still has a key, she delivered your Valentine gifts.”
She turned to look around the room for the first time since she answered
the phone. There were four dozen roses placed around the apartment: in
the kitchen on the island, on the coffee table, at their bedside and on
the dining room table. She hadn’t even noticed their scent until now.
They were same deep shade of red as the ones she had carried at her
“Oh Harm, they’re beautiful.” She felt tears spring to her eyes. She was
quiet for a moment, wiping away tears.
“Hey, are you still there?” Harm thought they might have lost their
“I’m here. Damn it… I cry at the drop of a hat lately. I even cry over
Harm chuckled into the phone. “Sounds like I’ll be coming home to a
whole new Mac.”
He knew that she was getting frustrated with herself, but he found it
very endearing at the moment.
“It’s not funny,” she protested, only half serious. “What if I were to
lose it in court?”
“Oh, Mac, I don’t think you’ll do that. This probably won’t last long
anyway.” He knew she wouldn’t do as she feared; no matter what was going
on, Mac was too professional for that and he told her so.
She had needed to hear that. His confidence in her meant so much to her.
“Harm, the roses are so beautiful. I can’t believe you did this. Why so
Mac had walked from the living room to the bedroom and back, looking at
them all. She touched the delicate petals with the tips of her fingers.
“A dozen for every week I’ve been gone.” Harm blushed, suddenly feeling
a bit embarrassed.
“Oh…” Mac teared up again. “You know, you’re going to have to stop being
so nice. You’re making me cry.” Her voice was cracking with emotion.
“Well, I never thought I’d hear you say that.” Harm laughed in earnest.
He couldn’t help it. “Honey, you have to stop that crying. I promise
I’ll never send you roses again.”
“Okay…at least not until I get myself under control again.” Mac was
laughing and wiping tears from her eyes.
“I kind of like Mac…out of control.” Harm couldn’t resist teasing her.
“Very funny, Sailor.”
“I love you, Mac.” Harm was a bit more serious.
“I love you too.” Mac heard a beep come over the line.
“Honey, I have to go. We have to keep the calls to a minimum. I just
wanted to let you know I’m nearly on my way and wish you Happy
“Happy Valentines Day to you, Harm.”
“Bye.” And with that the phone cut off.
She took the phone away from her ear and said to no one, “Bye.”
Still weepy, she walked back into their bedroom and decided to shower
and get comfortable before she ate dinner. She thought a shower might
help her settle down and get a grip. Harm was coming home; what in the
world was she crying about? She had picked up some Chinese on her way
home. It made her feel lonelier to make dinner only for herself. She had
done it for years before she and Harm finally found each other, but now
she could barely stand it.
After dinner Mac settled on the couch with a book: James Patterson’s 3rd
Degree. A murder mystery was probably not what she needed to be reading
just now, but she wanted something to occupy her mind. Anything to help
her think about something besides how far away Harm was and how much she
missed him. She had been falling asleep on the couch lately and getting
up in the middle of the night to get into bed. She hated getting into
bed alone since her nightmare. It seemed to her that his side of the bed
By 2130 she began to nod off, so she thought she better go to bed. She
locked up and turned the lights out except for her bedside lamp. She
sighed and pulled the covers back – and sat down on something that felt
like cardboard. Mac jumped up quickly and pulled the covers back.
She saw a huge poster-size Valentine card. On the front of the card was
a picture of a very sad-looking bull dog with a red ribbon around its
neck. Mac laughed out loud and lifted the card out of the bed. It read:
“Wish I could be with you on Valentines Day. I miss you. Love, Harm” How
could he have done this? It had his signature. She knew it as well as
her own. It was perfect, though, and it was just what she needed.
He could read her like a book, even from halfway around the world. She
would have to remember to thank Jen for helping make this possible. She
stood the card against the wall so that she could see it from where she
lay in bed. She slipped into her bed and turned out the light. She hoped
he would like the gift she had for him.
North park Muslim Women’s Shelter
Oldham, United Kingdom
A man in a public works uniform shuffled down the sidewalk in front of
the shelter. He walked to the glass storefront door and opened it. He
walked toward the desk to ask for the proprietor. A man approached him
immediately and asked him what he wanted. He answered him in a thick
“I need to speak to the owner ‘ere. Been working on the gas lines two
doors down, want to make sure there ain’t no damage down your way.”
The man stepped more squarely between the public works man and the young
woman at the desk.
“I am Arzu Muehe. May I help you?” The man spoke in impeccable English
with no hint of an accent.
“I’m just here from the public works to check out your pipes…I been
working down the road there and I’m to be sure you have no problems
‘ere...” The man smiled, revealing several missing teeth.
“You may proceed. Please let us know if we can be of any assistance.”
He turned to the woman at the desk and spoke to her in Farsi, thinking
the old man could not understand.
As the man walked to the back of the building he heard him instruct the
young woman at the desk to say nothing to him. He told her that if the
man were to have any questions she was to direct them to him and that if
she did not she would be punished severely...
The public works man made his way to the utility room, but not before
noticing several women sitting on mats on the floor: wearing traditional
Muslim dress, eyes down and hands folded on their laps. The teacher’s
lesson was apparently on the role of Muslim women. ‘Women are for the
The shelter was purported to be a place where Muslim women who had
recently immigrated west could learn new work and language skills. The
woman at the front desk was dressed as any other western woman except
for the hijab she wore on her head. As he walked toward the back of the
building, another picture emerged.
As the public works man opened the door to the utility closet, he spoke
under his breath. “You in place, D2?”
There was what appeared to be an old vagrant man walking up the alley
behind the store front. “On my way, D1.” Each building had a small
bricked enclosure with trash receptacles just out side the gate. There
were approximately two dozen men sitting on mats inside the small
bricked garden behind the North Park Women’s Shelter.
“I will quote my brave brother from the Speakers Corner. ‘Yes, my
friend, I am an extremist and I hope my children are extremists.’ We
must proclaim that there is but one god and his name is Allah. We must
rid the world of the Crusaders.” Asa al Hundu seldom allowed himself to
be seen in public. This however was a special occasion. Many brothers
were in place to begin their new mission. This was only the beginning.
They were regrouping from their losses in Afghanistan. It was time to
remind the world who they were. The shootings of British nationals in
Riyadh and the murder in of another in Iraq last fall had apparently
already fallen from the British national conscience. They must strike
harder and send two nations into mourning once again.
D2 shuffled closer to the enclosed area to allow him to hear and see who
was speaking. “My friends, our brother Aziz Nasiri will be allowed to
complete our holy task. The great Satan will send its woman of state to
meet with its lap dog. We will use this opportunity to show the world
their weakness. They will die in the streets at Number 10 Downing. The
world will see and they will know.”
D2 listened as he turned to walk away from the makeshift prayer room,
lifting lids from garbage cans as he went. The speaker noticed his
movement in his peripheral vision.
“Who is this?” he said aloud. “A worthless dog that picks from the
scraps of others.
Stop him!” He could not allow a man to act in such a way without
correction. The men stood from their prayer rugs and began to chase him.
“D3, are you in place?” he said just before the men caught up with him.
He prayed the authorities would catch up with him before his wire was
“We are, D2.” D3 contacted the local police.
Their plan B had been simple: if either man incurred the wrath of the
residents or patrons of the establishment, they were to incite as much
of a disturbance as they could. Local authorities could be called in to
quell the disturbance and arrest D1 or D2; thereby rescuing them from
what could be certain death.
D1 had heard the disturbance and the conversation of D2 and D3. He
carefully secured the listening device inside the room above the door
frame. He closed the utility room door and walked casually toward the
door. He tipped his cap toward the young woman at the desk.
“It’s all right as rain, Miss.” The young woman looked at him; she
seemed to be imploring him not to say more, and then she looked down,
busying herself with some papers on the desk. D1 slipped unnoticed out
D1 would make a phone call later that day. He would call an old comrade
from his days in Vietnam. He had flown the unfriendly skies with
Lieutenant Tom Boone. Although his government still denied that the
S.A.S ever fought in Vietnam, he knew at least one person who knew for a
fact that he had.
Falls Church, Virginia
Faith had come in early this morning. She wanted to have time to leave
her gift for Michael before he had the chance to catch her. She had
planned it perfectly. She’d found a coffee mug similar to hers but with
very large blue letters that read GO NAVY on the outside. She’d even
found a blue ribbon to tie around the handle. She couldn’t keep the
smile off of her face. This was fun.
She was touched that he’d thought of her yesterday, but he had also been
kind enough not to make it too personal. He had known it would make her
uncomfortable. She thought again about what a good guy he turned out to
She slipped into his darkened office and placed the coffee mug on his
desk on today’s date, February 15th. She knew it was late and that it
didn’t make sense to give a Valentine’s gift on the 15th, but somehow it
fit. She returned to her office and closed the door.
General Creswell walked across the bullpen from the break room. He was
carrying his second cup of coffee of the day. A bright blue ribbon
caught his eye as he passed Major McBurney’s office. He stopped and
looked through the open blinds in his office window, spotting the coffee
mug very similar in appearance to Commander Coleman’s. He drew his brows
down in thought and continued to walk toward his office.
Meredith Point, Maryland
AJ answered the phone in his office. “Tom! I was wondering if I was
going to hear from you.”
“I think it’s time we had another conversation about Trafalgar Square.”
Tom had some information that might help. He also had heard from Jack.
“Do you want me to contact Nelson?” AJ didn’t relish the thought. He’d
had one too many battles with the old SecNav.
“No, I’ve already spoken with him. We’re going to meet him at his home,
if that’s all right with you.”
“I’d prefer it. When?”
“Tomorrow, about 1300, if you can make it.”
“Sounds good. See you then.”
Tom Boone hung up and turned his attention to a news report on
television. The lovely ZNN anchor woman was describing the DIA’s special
clandestine teams that were being used by the Pentagon to gather
Tom smiled without humor and shook his head. “Well, honey, they’re not
too ‘clandestine’ now.”
Falls Church, Virginia
The staff was assembled at the conference room table. The doors to the
conference room opened and Petty Officer Coates called
“Attention on deck!”
With that, all present came to attention. The general walked into the
room, carrying his coffee mug. It looked exactly like the one Mike had
placed on Faith’s desk yesterday. Their eyes locked for a split second,
and then both officers resumed eyes forward at attention.
The general pulled his chair out. “Be seated.”
Faith and Mike sat directly across from each other, beside Sturgis and
Bud who sat nearer to the general.
General Creswell leaned slightly forward, looking at Mike. “Are you a
coffee drinker, Major?”
Mike was trying to figure out what was happening here. It couldn’t be a
coincidence. He had never seen a mug like that one in the office before
he bought Faith’s yesterday. If this was bait, he wasn’t taking it.
He looked at Faith. “You, Commander?” He was giving her his unreadable
and assessing look.
Faith could do this. She was an expert at unreadable. Although she had
to hand it to General Creswell; she hadn’t seen this coming. He must
have seen her this morning, or maybe he had seen Mike yesterday.
Bud and Sturgis were looking at each other, trying to figure out why
this morning’s staff call was about coffee so far. Lieutenant Vukovic
and Petty Officer Coates, who were also present, were just glad not to
be the focus of his attention.
The general opened the file he had placed in front of him. “We have ET1
Miles Thomas, undergoing training at FCDSSA Dam Neck, charged with
attempted murder. Commander Turner, you will prosecute. Commander
Roberts, you will defend.”
Bud opened the file. He was to defend a man accused of attempting to
kill his wife. ‘Okay, is this a test?’ His thoughts must have been
apparent on his face.
“No, sir.” Bud put his game face back on.
Sturgis gave him a questioning look for a moment. He knew something was
up with Bud.
“Major McBurney, Commander Lucy Maron is charged with dereliction of
duty. Her patient, PFC Jeff Kilpatrick, was released to return to Iraq
after she deemed him fit for duty; apparently the PFC had difficulties
after his return to Iraq... You will prosecute, Major, and Commander
Coleman, you will defend.”
The general chose this time to take another drink of his coffee. Mike
and Faith were following his movements and then both looked away almost
at the same time.
The rest of staff call was uneventful. Lieutenant Vukovic was to sit
second chair with Sturgis. The general dismissed the staff and they
filed out of the conference room.
Faith made eye contact with no one but walked swiftly toward her office.
Mike followed not far behind. Faith sat down at her desk as Mike stood
in her doorway. He knocked on the frame of the door.
“Major?” She looked up at him, her face had ‘what do you want’ written
all over it.
“Commander, may I come in?” His eyes were sparkling with amusement. He
decided that the general was having a bit of fun with them. If they had
been in any real trouble they would be in General Creswell’s office
“Do you think that’s wise, Major?” She arched an eyebrow. Her expression
returned to unreadable.
He took one step in and lowered his voice. “Come on, Faith, relax.”
She gave him a look of exasperation and then nodded toward the chair in
front of her desk. She was afraid that if she argued with him it would
“What’s wrong with you?”
“What do you think? You know very well that the general brought that mug
into staff call on purpose.” Faith whispered loudly, which made the
situation even more amusing in Mike’s eyes.
“He was just having a little bit of fun, Faith. If he thought we were
doing anything wrong, we would surely know by now. Just relax, we’re
just friends. You’re acting guilty…. do you know that?”
He knew that would set her off, but he was having such a good time
teasing her that he chuckled in spite of himself. “By the way, thank you
for my coffee mug. Even if you actually stole my idea…” He counted to
himself, three, two, one…
Faith’s face flushed red, and she drew her brows into a frown.
“What? Stole your idea? Who is acting guilty….what do you mean…”
She saw what he had been up to and it had worked; he’d made her step
back and stop being so serious. He was going to make her laugh at
“You’re welcome.” Faith remembered her manners, blushing all the while
Michael was laughing at her now; behind his hand to be sure he wasn’t
She looked down unable to keep the smile from her lips. She looked at
him and laughed. “Get out of my office…..”
Mike stood and composed himself as best he could and did as he was told.
Former Secretary of the Navy Nelson sat in his den with Tom and AJ. “I
am expecting Jack any moment. Shall I pour you a drink, gentlemen?”
“No thanks, too early for me.”
AJ folded his arms across his chest and settled back on the sofa. He
hoped they were closer to a resolution on this. He would have liked to
be able to tell Harm the next time he saw him that this was resolved.
Harm had no idea what they had learned so far; he preferred that he not
know anything until it had already been taken care of. He may have been
overstepping in that regard, but at least he wasn’t alone in his desire
to do it this way. AJ smirked, thinking about Rabb’s usual reaction to
being left out of the loop.
“Something amusing, AJ?” Nelson sat down in a wing backed chair near his
“I was just thinking about how glad I am that Rabb doesn’t know anything
about this yet. I think we should keep it this way until the matter is
“I agree wholeheartedly.” Nelson emphasized the last word. “Things seem
to get out of control when he is involved, especially when the situation
involves a family member or a friend, directly or indirectly.”
Tom Boone listened and nodded in agreement. He wanted to do something to
help Harm and seek justice for Trish, for Hammer’s sake. He would never
forget his old friend. Harm had become a friend to him as well, although
he gave him a hard time about it. ‘You have friends?’ he had said. He
did consider Harm just that.
Nelson heard his wife leading Jack back to his den. He stood and met him
in the doorway.
“We did say 1300, didn’t we, Jack?”
“Oh…am I late?”
Jack feigned concern, much to the amusement of the other two men in the
room. Jack didn’t feel the need to answer to Nelson, although he
definitely wanted to be on his team. He still wasn’t sure of Nelson’s
motives, but as long as the end result was the same, he didn’t care.
Nasiri was going down one way or the other. Jack walked to the open bar
and poured himself a large bourbon. He turned back toward the other
AJ just watched him with amused curiosity. How did he drink like that
and stay as healthy as he appeared to be? He agreed with Sturgis – there
was something unjust about that.
Nelson huffed. “Help yourself, Jack.”
“Don’t mind if I do” He downed his drink and poured another before
sitting down on the large sofa at the center of the room.
“What do you have, Tom?” Jack knew Tom had something in mind or he
wouldn’t have called this meeting.
“My contacts believe something big is in the works. Our friend Nasiri
has apparently been chosen for a ‘holy task’ sometime in the near
future. We do not have the whole story, but we do believe it will take
place in Britain. Apparently they believed that the college students,
who were the original target at Trafalgar Square that day, were diverted
because they were not important enough in the eyes of Allah. They want a
prominent political figure. My contact believes it is our new secretary
Jack sat forward on his seat. He started to speak but then stopped.
They all looked at him.
“Our new secretary of state will visit Number 10 Downing Street in
March.” Jack sat his drink down. “It has to be March 20.”
Nelson stood and walked to his bar. “The question is, how do they know
about the trip? Her itinerary is not public knowledge.”
AJ looked at Jack. “How do you know this, Jack – Blaisdell?”
Jack was silent. He did not work with the Company. He would not disclose
even to his closest friends who he worked for, not for anyone.
“Gentlemen, I have never said I worked for the Company, and Blaisdell
did not give me this information.”
Tom raised his eyebrows. “The Company is not aware of this?”
Nelson piped in, “You’d be surprised what the Company doesn’t know.”
“Look, Blaisdell is not necessarily a bad guy in this; he did help us
locate Nasiri. I know they are using him to get to someone, a very high
value target. I don’t want to get in anyone’s way, but I am not going to
sit on my hands while Nasiri builds another bomb and kills more innocent
Nelson was silent for a moment. He knew why Nasiri was being allowed to
move about freely. He had known for some time. He also knew who Jack
worked for and admired his discretion. He knew that the so called ‘high
value target’ was...Asa al Hundu, long suspected to have direct
involvement in the preparation for the 9/11 hijackings. His superiors
had to be notified. If they were not careful he could slip through their
fingers and they would lose both Nasiri and al Hundu.
AJ spoke. “This is getting more complicated by the minute. I am in this
to help in any way I can to see justice done for a friend and colleague.
I think it would be wise to step carefully. We warned Harm to let the
authorities take care of this.”
AJ looked at Jack. “I think the same should apply to us. It’s one thing
to identify the bomber, and follow the progress of the authorities in
his capture; it is another to involve ourselves personally.”
Nelson stood and walked toward the window behind his desk and looked
out. “I can assure you, AJ, no one here is working outside government
channels.” He looked at Jack. “I know that for a fact.”
Jack needed to make a phone call. He didn’t have time to socialize
anymore. Suddenly things were deadly serious. He wasn’t sure what his
superiors knew and there was only one way to find out.
Baghdad International Airport
The plane carrying Harm and Gunny had just lifted off of the runway. As
the plane ascended, Harm looked out of the window. He watched as Baghdad
became smaller and smaller until it became what looked like a patch in
the desert. He thought for a moment of the contrast, the brown desert
with the patch of city with the blue of the Chesapeake Bay and the green
of Virginia and Maryland. He closed his eyes and put his head back;
letting out a breath he didn’t know he was holding. Home. He was going
home, to his life, to Mac.
Gunny sat across the aisle from him. He saw the commander lean back.
“Ready to go home, sir?”
“Yes, I am.” He opened his eyes and looked at Gunny. This trip had been
pretty tough on him too, though he knew Gunny would die before he ever
admitted it. “You know, Gunny, I want you to know I appreciate what you
did back there.” Harm paused for a moment and looked down. “The day
Major Hanson was killed.”
Gunny was serious. “Not at all, sir. I was just doing my job.”
“I know I shouldn’t have hesitated. I could have gotten us both killed.”
Harm was still going over the incident in his mind.
“Sir, if I may, that’s not how I saw it at all. You wanted to give Major
Hanson a chance to come home to his family. I just think he knew
something that you didn’t; he knew he wasn’t going to make it.” Gunny
had seen the look before – more than once – of a mortally wounded man
who knew he was going to die.
Harm nodded, and extended his hand to Gunny, who shook it. “Thanks,
“You’re welcome, sir.”
Harm leaned back in his seat, closed his eyes and heard the words the
major had said. “I’m going…I know it…” Harm’s eyes snapped open and he
opened his briefcase. He needed to think about something else. He would
catch up on his sleep later.
Gunny was lost in thought as well, remembering the conversation just
before the RPG hit. The major was still beaming with pride about his
family and asking Gunny about his life. ‘Confirmed bachelor, huh?’ He
hoped he would not always be a bachelor. Just now it occurred to him
that being alone was not something he wanted to do any more. He had been
thinking about this for some time and it was past time to do something
about it. How hard could it be to ask someone out? He was a Marine, for
Harm and Mac’s apartment
North of Union Station
Harm quietly slipped his key back out of the door after he opened it,
and flipped on the small lamp beside the door. Taking off his overcoat,
he hung it on the peg near the door and pulled his tie loose from his
neck. He didn’t want to wake Mac; he hoped she would stay asleep at
least until he slipped into bed beside her. Dreams of doing just that
had been with him for the last day and a half. He slipped his shoes off
and removed his tie as he walked quietly toward their bedroom. Harm
looked up to find Mac watching him.
He stopped short, startled for a moment. “Hi.”
Mac saw love and what she could have sworn was a little bit of wonder in
his expression. She stood at the top of the steps, her hair beautifully
disheveled, her body full and lush looking under her silk pajamas.
She spoke, “Hello, Sailor.”
Her sleepy sexy voice wrapped around his head, shooting sparks all the
way down his spine. Harm walked swiftly to her, wrapping his arms around
her waist. He had pulled her shirt up and her waistband down as he
pulled her toward him so that he could lay his cheek against her
stomach. He kissed her smooth skin there, and then stepped up the steps,
lifting her as he went. Mac’s body slid down his and he kissed her as
she wrapped her legs around his waist. Harm nearly forced her mouth open
with his own; he was so hungry to taste the flavor that was distinctly
Mac. Her body was warm and firm under his hands and if it was possible
Harm would have sworn her skin was softer than he remembered.
He broke the kiss. “Mac…”
His need for her was immediate and so intense that he nearly fell to his
knees. He nipped at her bottom lip before plunging down to her neck and
tasting it with hot open mouthed kisses that nearly took her breath
Mac continued to cling to him tightly. She ran her fingers through the
hair at the nape of his neck and whispered his name into his ear before
she took the lobe between her teeth.
Harm inhaled sharply. “Baby…God, let me…”
He kissed her deeply again as he laid her carefully down on the bed. He
needed to lay her down while he could still stand. She slid her hands
down his chest, smoothly unbuttoning his shirt.
He broke the kiss. “Baby ...you’re killing me.”
Harm ground himself against her. His body was calling out to hers on a
primal level – he needed her like the air he breathed.
She brought both hands up on each side of his face and nipped his top
and bottom lip. It was as though she had read his mind. She looked him
directly in the eye.
“Love me, Harm.” She kissed him hungrily. “Now.”
What was left of Harm’s clothing and Mac’s pajamas was quickly dispensed
with. Mac pulled Harm down between her legs and he framed her face
between his forearms.
“I wanted to take my time. You’re so beautiful, Mac.” He tasted her lips
and looked at her through eyes half closed and dark with desire.
Mac arched her body beneath him, straining to get closer. She opened her
mouth to deepen her kiss, drawing him in further.
He couldn’t believe how ready she was for him. They came together
slowly; Harm was trying to control himself, and he did not want to hurt
her. Her body was so wet and tight and warm, it felt like the sweetest
torture to take it so slowly. He trailed kisses along her jaw line to
her temple and back down.
Mac was still clinging to him tightly – she could feel him holding back.
He was nearly holding his breath and his body was trembling with need.
“You’re not going to hurt me ….please don’t hold back.” She took his
bottom lip and nipped him slightly with her teeth. “Please…..”
With that all of his control snapped and a low growl rumbled from deep
in his chest. He plunged his hands into her hair and tasted the sweet
skin where her shoulder met her neck. Every breath he heard her take,
every sound she made caused every nerve ending in his body to hum with
Mac felt her release coiling low in her body; she wanted him to let go
and go over the edge with her. No matter how many times they made love,
it never ceased to thrill her that he found that much pleasure in her.
He had seemed so elusive for so long, but now he was hers on a level she
never thought possible.
Harm felt his control slipping. He plunged both hands down, cupping her
bottom, tilting her body just so, kicking up the pleasure a notch for
both of them, if that was possible.
He closed his lips around her ear lobe and growled “…let it go, baby.”
As he spoke, Mac felt her body tighten around him as she flushed warm
with release as they let go together.
Sometime later she lay still tucked under him, his arms and body framing
her securely underneath. He raised his head and gave her a lopsided
Mac chuckled softly. “Well, hello to you, too.”
He kissed her cheek. “Hello.” He looked at her through half closed eyes.
“You taste so good.” He tasted her neck again, reawakening every nerve
ending in her body.
“So do you.” She rested her hands low on his back.
He raised his head, suddenly concerned. “Am I too heavy?”
“No, my stomach just feels a little tighter down there. I love the
feeling of our baby between us.” She smiled up at him.
“I love you.” He kissed her temple.
She touched his arm and looked into his eyes. “I love you too.”
Gunny Galindez’s apartment
Gunny lay stretched out across his bed. He was vaguely aware of sunlight
in the room through his closed eyelids. What time was it, anyway? He
opened one eye and saw the digital clock at his bedside table. Twelve
noon? He groaned audibly and got up from his bed.
He had stripped out of his uniform and fallen into bed as soon as he
walked in the door last night. He walked to the mirror, squinting at
himself. He flinched; God… he looked rough today. Splashing cold water
on his face, and carrying his towel with him, he padded into his
sparsely decorated living room and kitchen. Gunny was definitely a no
frills man. He filled the carafe with water and got out the coffee more
from memory than sight. A benefit of no frills lifestyle: you knew
exactly were everything was.
After the coffee had brewed Gunny stood looking out his window onto the
street. He lived on the second floor of his apartment building. He was
jet lagged pretty badly this time and, if he would have admitted it,
damn sore…all over. As he poured his second cup, he heard a car door
slam, and he looked up just in time to see Jen get out of her car. He
saw her glance at his truck in its parking place. As he slowly put down
his coffee cup, it dawned on him that he was standing there in nothing
but his underwear. He made a dash for his bedroom and pulled on a pair
The door bell sounded. “Just a minute.” ‘Great,’ Gunny thought. ‘I
haven’t even shaved.’ He grabbed a shirt out of his closet and pulled it
on over his head. It was a black long sleeved t-shirt. He opened the
Jen stood in the doorway. “Hey, Gunny.” She couldn’t believe how glad
she was to see him.
“Hello, Jen….” He just stood there, taking her in. She was wearing her
‘I’m only 18’ expression today. She looked all wide eyed and innocent;
her hair was down around her shoulders.
Jen frowned slightly. “I guess I could have waited ‘till Monday to say
hello, but I just drove by to see if you’d gotten in yet.”
“Look…I’m sorry…I’ll just see you Monday.” She looked as though he had
Gunny came to himself. “No...No, Jen, come in…I’m jet lagged…I just got
Jen was surprised. “You slept ‘till noon?”
“Yeah, I just made coffee…do you want some? It’s not Starbucks, but I
make a good cup of coffee.” He was beginning to be able to make
conversation. ‘Wake up, Galindez!’ he thought.
“I think I’ll pass. I’ve sampled your coffee at the office.” Jen folded
her arms across her chest. She hadn’t seen Victor like this before. He
was always sharp; she was usually the one trying to keep up.
He didn’t answer her, but instead just walked back into his kitchen to
get his coffee.
Jen watched him, and as she did, she realized how much she had missed
him. She blushed at the thought.
“So…when did you get in last night?”
Gunny came back into the room and took a drink of his coffee. “Around
Jen noticed that he hadn’t shaved. She stepped closer, looking at his
face more intently.
Gunny stroked his beard self-consciously. “I know.... I need a shave.”
“I thought you might want to go grab something to eat. I bet you don’t
have anything in the apartment. It’ll be my treat.”
“That would be great…just let me shave and we’ll get going.” Gunny took
his kit from his sea bag and took it into the bathroom. He pulled his
shirt off and started filling the sink with hot water.
Jen walked around the living room and kitchen. The apartment was small,
but just right for one person. There were no pictures on the walls. The
furniture was large, made of soft brown leather. A couch and a chair,
tables made of oak, stained dark to accent the other furniture. He had a
large flat-screen television, and two crates with DVDs and CDs sat on
each side of it. He had lamps on each end table but nothing else. No
pictures, no decorations of any kind. He didn’t even have a brag wall,
with all his awards, something Jen had been sure he would have.
“Haven’t you finished moving in yet, Gunny?” Jen asked absently. She
walked toward the open bathroom door.
“Nah, not yet. I just have the necessities; most of it is still in
storage. I haven’t been home much, and when I am, I’m not the kind of
person who likes to hang around my apartment.”
Gunny had shaving cream on his face; he was tilting his head back and
had begun shaving his neck.
Jen walked to the doorway of the bathroom. “I know what you mean. I...”
Gunny was standing in front of the sink in his jeans and bare feet. In
his rush to dress he hadn’t buttoned the top button of his jeans. Jen
knew she should say something…anything.
“I hate hanging around the apartment all weekend, too. I ‘d rather be
She was determined to look at Gunny in the eye and not be distracted by
how strong his body looked. He was in a lot better shape than she had
given him credit for, his six pack firmly in place just above those open
jeans. She decided she’d better walk back into the living room and talk
from there. She was afraid her eyes would give her away. As she turned,
she noticed a deep scratch with a bit of bruising starting on his lower
back and snaking around his side.
“What happened here, Gunny?” Jen lightly touched the scratch, and Gunny
flinched. “Oh…I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. It doesn’t really hurt – I just wasn’t expecting you to….”
Gunny turned around to look at her. He still had bits of shaving cream
on his face. “Touch me.”
Out of nowhere the air was electric. Their eyes locked, attraction
pulled at both of them suddenly.
“What happened?” Jen’s voice was soft, almost a whisper.
“It was when we got hit with that RPG. I’m sure you heard about it.
There was a firefight; I got a bit of a scratch below my body armor on
the way back to the compound.”
Gunny’s eyes hardened for a moment. It was an old reflex. When he
thought about things like that, he had learned to put it away somewhere
in his mind and close the door on it. It wasn’t an easy task, but it was
doable. It helped him do his job; he believed it made him a good Marine.
Jen had heard about the firefight. She also knew that Gunny was being
considered for a commendation for his conduct in that situation.
“Not a lot gets by you, does it, Jen?”
He grinned and tapped her nose with a bit of shaving cream. He needed to
lighten the mood. Talking about this was still difficult; besides that,
her closeness and the pull between them made him feel vulnerable, and he
wasn’t ready for that.
“Hey!” She grabbed a towel from the rack and wiped it away. “Just for
that, Victor, you’re buying.”
She turned on her heel and walked back into the living room. ‘Whew,’ she
thought, then for reasons she couldn’t explain, she remembered something
she saw when she first looked at Victor standing at the sink. ‘Hanes…the
waistband of his underwear said…Hanes.’ Well, he definitely wasn’t a
boxer man. The question was…were they just briefs…or were they boxer
“You ready?” Gunny had finished dressing and reentered the room,
standing just a couple of feet behind her.
Jennifer was startled and turned quickly around, her face flushing red
at what she had been thinking.
“...yeah, let’s go.”
With that Jen walked around him and toward the door. Shaking his head,
Gunny grabbed his coat, and they walked out of his apartment door,
locking it behind him.
Harm and Mac’s Apartment
North of Union Station
Harm sat in the corner of the couch, waiting for Mac to bring him his
promised, though belated, Valentines gift. Mac carried a small bag that
was deep green in color with gold paper inside. Harm recognized the bag;
it was from the jewelry store they had bought their wedding rings from.
“What’s this?” He sat up and she handed him the bag. Inside the bag was
a small envelope which Harm opened. The front of the card was a picture
of a smiling woman roughly sketched with hearts floating all around her.
Harm opened the card and it read: ‘When I count my blessings I always
count you twice. Happy Valentines Day. Love, Mac.’
He smiled and leaned forward and kissed her lightly. “Thank you.”
He opened the box. It held a tie clasp. It had a thin bar centered upon
it, with an opal at each end of the bar. In the center was a ruby. There
was space on each side of the ruby. Harm looked at her, slightly
“Your birthstone and mine, with room for our children on each side.”
Mac blushed a bit...she was afraid she sounded corny all of a sudden.
“There are two opals….because I counted you twice.” She looked away,
feeling self conscious.
Harm put his gift on the coffee table and gathered her into his arms.
She turned into them immediately.
“Thank you – it’s perfect.” He kissed her hair.
“But… children? Just how many do you want to have, Mrs. Rabb?” He leaned
back teasing her with his smile.
“I know we may just be able to have one naturally. I just want to get
through this with one healthy baby and my own health intact. Even if we
can only have one this way, I want to adopt other children.”
She looked into his eyes and skimmed the tips of her fingers through his
hair. “I know you’re going to be a good father, Harm. I’m looking
forward to raising -children- with you.” She kissed him. “I have
something else for you.”
She reached for a manila envelope on the coffee table and handed it to
Harm. “You really outdid yourself this time, Mac.” He smiled and opened
the envelope, reaching in to pull out what he recognized immediately as
a ultrasound picture, very similar to the one he had seen in Major
Hanson’s file. He looked up at her with such a look of wonder and
something else….a sweetness that she could not name. “Is this – ?”
Mac finished his sentence for him. “Our baby….I had it done yesterday
morning, just before you came home.”
“I’m fine, everything is fine.” Mac reassured him.
Harm had turned back to look at the picture. There wasn’t a lot to see
that really looked like a baby. A circle had been drawn around the area
where the baby was, but Harm was totally fascinated just the same. He
turned to look back at her and then leaned forward to place the picture
back on the coffee table.
In almost one fluid motion he scooped her up in his arms and carried her
to their bedroom. He laid her on her back and lay down beside her. He
splayed his hand flat against her lower stomach and after a long moment
slipped his hand beneath the waist of her lounging pajamas so that he
could feel her skin and the tight little ball just underneath.
He looked up at her, giving her that soft, almost sleepy look that she
loved. He returned his attention to the place where there baby was
growing, brushing his cheek against it. Harm curled his body around her
with his head resting on her.
Mac raked her fingers softly through his hair, and Harm drew a deep
breath and let it out slowly. He hadn’t said a word since he looked at
the picture; he didn’t have to. Mac felt a peace that she’d never
thought she would experience. This wasn’t a moment to die for…it was a
moment to live for. A moment she’d thought might never come.
Falls Church, Virginia
Lieutenant Commander Faith Coleman sat at her desk. She had finished her
closing arguments and they were awaiting the verdict. It had been a long
week for her. In the beginning she had not been convinced of Commander
Lucy Maron’s innocence, but as she researched her case and interviewed
PFC Kilpatrick’s friends and fellow Marines, she felt she had a more
accurate picture of what had happened. The platoon leader’s testimony
had been particularly damning, but she was able to rebut his testimony
with witnesses of her own. She was sure the members would rule in her
She was pulled from her thoughts by a knock on her open door. “The
members are back.”
Faith nodded stood and followed Mike out of the bullpen. They were
usually all business when they were opposing one another in a case, but
she seemed quieter than usual. Something was up; he just didn’t know
what it was.
They took their seats with Mac at the bench. “Commander Lucy Maron, will
you and your counsel please rise?” Mac turned to the senior member of
the panel. “Captain, you may publish your findings.”
“Commander Lucy Maron, United States Navy, on the charges and
specifications of dereliction of duty, this court martial finds you not
“This court is adjourned.” Mac rapped the gavel, closing the case.
Commander Maron turned to Faith and shook her hand. “Thank you so much,
Faith looked at her directly. “You’re welcome, Commander Maron.”
Faith turned toward the aisle as Commander Maron turned back to the
seats where her husband and family waited.
“Well, it looks like I’m buying this time.” Mike looked at her, grinning
“That won’t be necessary, Major.” She walked swiftly down the aisle and
out of the courtroom.
Mike frowned and followed her out of the courtroom. He was going to find
out what was up with her if it was the last thing he did.
Faith opened the doors on the bullpen and walked swiftly toward her
office with Mike right behind her. She turned to close the door, but
Mike followed too closely to allow her to do so.
“May I talk with you a moment, Commander?” He closed the door behind
him. “What do you mean, it won’t be necessary?”
“I just don’t want you to feel obligated.” She was still not making eye
contact with him.
“Faith, I know you haven’t known me for a very long time, but when have
you known me to do something I don’t want to do, outside of a direct
She looked at him. He was smiling at her again, his eyes sparkling with
“So…where do you want to go?”
Faith knew she had been beaten…besides, she also knew he was just trying
to be nice. “McMurphy’s is fine.” She thought to herself, ‘What could go
“Great. I’ll follow you to your apartment and we can get ready there. I
brought my sea bag.” Mike was gone before she had a chance to answer
Falls Church, Virginia
Mac sat back in her chair. She had just turned off her computer. She was
sleepy all of a sudden. She laid her head down on her desk atop her
folded arms. A knock at her door startled her.
“Hey….you okay?” Harm stood in her doorway, his brow furrowed with
“I’m fine…just a bit sleepy.” She yawned, covering her mouth. “I just
need food and my bed.”
“Oh… I think I can help you out with both of those things. And that’s
-our- bed, Mrs. Rabb.” Harm walked further into her office and closed
“Are you finished for the day?” She rocked back in her chair, crossing
“Yeah, I just left Judge Helfman’s office. Bud needs a continuance on a
case I’m helping him with. My case load has been pretty light this
week.” Harm leaned against a book case near her door and he watched as a
slow sly smile spread across Mac’s face. What was she up to?
Mac arched her back and locked her fingers behind her head. She waited
just three seconds before seeing the reaction she wanted.
He was somewhere else for a moment. He was at home, with her long
beautiful legs in another position entirely.
Mac smiled slyly. “Harmon…are you ready?”
Harm’s eyes locked with hers. “…Yeah.”
Mac uncrossed her legs slowly and stood up. She crossed the room to
where Harm was standing and looked him directly in the eye.
“I guess we’re ready to go, then.” She placed her hand on the inside of
his arm and gently guided him into turning toward the door.
“Yeah…I…have to get my cover.” He was already on his way home as far as
he was concerned.
Mac picked up her coat and Harm took it from her. She slipped into it as
he held it for her, his hands resting for just a second at the closure
in the front of her coat. Mac walked out and he followed her for a quick
trip to his office.
‘Please God; I don’t want to run into Creswell on our way out.’ He did
They were finished there for the day and they began what was a very
interesting trip home.
Heathrow International Airport
Aziz Nasiri was waiting in line to go through customs. He had completed
a successful mission that had taken him from Britain to Germany, through
Ireland and back again to London. He was able to secure three of the
five components needed to construct the explosive device he was to use
on his ‘holy task.’
He was confident that he would get through customs inspections without a
problem. The components were sewn into the frame of his suitcase. They
would not be detected even if they searched his bag thoroughly. He had
used both of his valid passports, the one in which he was Kevin Donlon
and also the one which carried his own name. He had finished his trip
with a leisurely vacation in Ireland. He had met no one there; he didn’t
see the necessity of waiting, but his mentor al Hundu had been correct.
They must arouse no suspicion.
He was surprised when he met with his contact in Berlin; their
organization was much larger than even he suspected. American arrogance
had given them many allies. It was just a matter of time now. He was
anxious to get back to Oldham to speak with his mentor. He had much to
tell him and was sure he would be happy to hear about what he had
learned in Germany.
Eastern Standard Time
Blaisdell replaced the handset on his phone. He had just spoken to his
contact with MI-6 in London. Aziz Nasiri had used both of his passports
in the last ten days.
Something was coming up, something big…he could smell it. He sat back in
his chair and turned it around to face his window. He suddenly thought
of Jack Keeter and remembered that he had not heard from him in over a
month. This could mean one of two things. Either he had his own source
of information, or he or perhaps Rabb was already working on this on
their own. Blaisdell didn’t care for either prospect. He dialed his
“Blaisdell? What can I do for you?”
“I think I may have some information that you may find useful.”
Blaisdell suspected that if he gave Jack some of what he had, Jack might
be an additional source of information.
“Fine, 1300 okay?”
“Great – see you then.” With that, Blaisdell ended the call.
Jack closed his cell phone. “He wants to see me. Says he has some
information for me.” He raised his eyebrows at his guest.
AJ sat on a barstool in Jack’s kitchen. “He just wants to find out what
“I know, but I can handle him and he may have something I can use.” Jack
walked into his kitchen and took a glass from inside his cabinet.
“Have you heard anything from Rabb yet?”
“No... not yet. I did get an invitation to an engagement party from Mac.
Poor Sturgis is going to take the plunge.” Jack snorted.
“Yeah, we got our invitation yesterday.” AJ watched as Jack reached for
a bottle of bourbon that was on his kitchen counter.
“What are you doing, Jack? It’s not even 1000 and you’re pouring
yourself a bourbon?”
AJ stood and walked around the counter.
“Are you trying to kill yourself?” He was incredulous. “Put it down…and
that’s an order.”
Jack smirked. “Why, AJ…I didn’t know you cared.”
AJ laughed in spite of himself. “Shut the hell up. You and I are going
to get something for breakfast…besides bourbon.”
Jack screwed the cap back on the bottle without pouring any in his
glass. “I don’t know, AJ...Wild Turkey…the breakfast of champions.” He
put it down and followed AJ to the door.
AJ threw him a sidelong glance. “Let’s go.”
Mike McBurney’s apartment
Mike lay on his couch, staring at the telephone on the end table. He had
been thinking about calling Faith all day. Things had been strained
between them since Thursday night, to say the least. She had spoken to
him Friday, but never more than common courtesy and not more than one or
two words at a time. She was acting the way she had before they had
become friends. He was almost back to not being able to read her at all.
He picked up the phone and dialed her number. She answered on the second
“Faith?...Hi…I was wondering…do you want to go get a cup of coffee?”
Disgustedly, he thought, “Smooth, McBurney, just blurt it out.’
Faith was silent for a moment. She felt better than she had on Friday,
and she did owe him an explanation. She had worked in her apartment all
weekend, reorganizing every room. She felt more in control of herself.
Mike was just trying to be her friend. He was one of the few she had
ever had in her life.
“Faith, are you there?” Mike thought she might have already hung up.
“I’m still here, Michael.”
Mike let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding. They were still
friends; she was still calling him Michael. He didn’t know why that was
so important to him, but it was.
“So how about I pick you up in an hour? We’ll go to Starbucks – I’ll
“Why don’t I just meet you there?” She wasn’t ready to have him here
again, not even at her door.
Mike understood immediately. “Okay, see you in an hour.” She still
As Mike drove to meet her, he went over the events of last Thursday,
trying to figure out what he had done to cause her to clam up like she
did. He had followed her to her apartment. He had gone into the bathroom
to change into his civvies, and when he came out Faith was dressed and
waiting. She’d had her back to him, looking out the window. He’d walked
up behind her and said her name. She’d turned around quickly; he’d
thought he had just startled her at first, and then he’d seen the look
of sheer terror on her face.
She had quickly walked around him and picked up her coat, saying she was
ready to go. He had followed her out of the apartment, and as they rode
down the elevator he noticed a light sheen of sweat across her forehead.
For the rest of the night, conversation was stilted at best.
He pulled up in front of the coffee shop and parked next to Faith’s car.
When he got out, he saw her sitting in the window. She saw him and
nodded a greeting. He noticed she had ordered for him. He walked up to
the table. “Mocha?”
“Yes, I thought I might as well order for you.” She smiled at him shyly.
Mike sat down and took her olive branch in the form of a cup of coffee.
“I love this stuff.”
“I know…I do too. When I drink it, it’s like a hug.” Faith realized she
had thought out loud and blushed furiously.
“I never thought of it like that.”
Faith continued to blush. “I don’t suppose you would…you’re a Marine.
I’m surprised it’s not ‘coffee black.’”
“No, that would be Gunny…he’s just not into the Starbucks, latte,
espresso thing.” Mike smiled, remembering their conversation.
“I know I owe you an explanation, Michael.” She was still staring at her
“You don’t –owe- me anything, Faith. I’m just concerned – I’m your
friend and I can tell that something is going on. I just want to help.”
Faith nodded her head. “I know…I know. First of all, I want you to know
you didn’t do anything wrong at my apartment the other night. It’s just
that I….well…” This was harder for her than she’d thought it would be.
“Look, you don’t have to talk about this if it makes you uncomfortable.”
Mike was beginning to suspect something terrible and he didn’t know if
he could handle it well. He suddenly felt very protective of her. Her
armor was down; he wasn’t used to seeing her this way.
“I want to do this…okay? You’re my friend; I don’t want to be this way,
not with you.”
She continued, “I haven’t had anyone in my apartment in a very long
time. Actually no one but me has been in it since I moved in.”
Mike looked at her questioningly.
“This sounds like I’m some kind of basket case. I’m not.” Faith was
getting exasperated, and she hadn’t even begun to explain.
“Is it about the OCD?” He spoke carefully, not wanting to offend her.
Faith sighed. “In a way. I’ve had some counseling about this; that is
why I know as much as I do about it. Order is the way I control my
environment. It started with little things as a child. It was the way I
handled stress, the way I still handle stress.”
Mike waited quietly.
Faith forged ahead, trying to make her story as generic as she could.
“Sometime ago, years really, I had a bad experience with someone in my
apartment. It made my need for order more extreme. Being alone in my
apartment makes me feel safe. I didn’t even think about it until you
were changing clothes, and then I thought I could just hang on until you
were ready and we would leave…but when you walked up behind me…it all
came back. The case last week didn’t help – dealing with Commanders
Maron’s practice as a psychiatrist. It’s really complicated, Michael…I
don’t think I could explain it all, not in one day, anyway.”
Mike frowned, thinking of what to say next. He wanted to ask her, ‘What
bad experience?’ Had she been raped? What? He looked at her, waiting for
her to continue.
“That’s all, really…I just wanted you to know...that the way things have
been over the last week have not been your fault. It’s just me.” She
studied his face, trying to gauge his reaction.
It was still light outside. He didn’t want to go home yet; he still felt
the need to know more than he did. “Do you feel like taking a walk?”
Faith looked out the window. It was turning into a beautiful evening;
warmer, though it was the end of February. “All right.”
They walked together down the sidewalk. He took her hand and put it into
the crook of his arm. “Is this okay?”
Faith was touched; he was trying so hard not to do the wrong thing.
They had walked around the city block and were heading back to their
cars. “Faith…out in California. You know, when we were at TJ’s. I didn’t
even think…” He stopped in front of her car.
“Michael, it’s okay.” She was searching his face, trying to figure out
where this remorse was coming from.
Mike sighed…he had to ask. “Faith…the bad experience you had...it wasn’t
Faith understood. “No, no…it wasn’t. I just…can’t really talk about it.”
It had not been rape...it had just been another experience that made her
close her self off more than she ever had before.
Mike was so relieved. When he remembered kissing her while they were in
California, he wanted it to remain a good memory. It had been fun – they
had laughed together, and he had never seen her more relaxed. It was
important for some reason that he not lose that.
On an impulse Faith leaned over and kissed his cheek. “Thank you,
Mike stepped back from her and smiled his most charming smile. “You’re
He turned to walk back to his car and tripped over a piece of uneven
pavement. Mike heard Faith trying to cover her laughter.
“Hey…what can I say? Comic relief.”
Mike and Faith returned to their respective apartments with their
Falls Church, Virginia
Bud sat at his desk facing his computer. He was putting the finishing
touches on the paperwork closing his case. It was over before it got
started, much to his relief. Gunny knocked on the frame of his door.
“Enter.” He looked up.
“Sir.” Gunny stood at attention.
“At ease, Gunny.”
“Petty Officer Coates said you wanted to see me.”
“Yes, Gunny – have a seat.”
Gunny sat down in the chair in front of his desk.
“I want to thank you for your help with the Thomas case. What you were
able to uncover helped exonerate my client.”
“You’re welcome, sir.” Gunny had simply made a few well placed phone
He had gotten access to some medical records which indicated that Mrs.
Miles had been hospitalized a number of times while her husband was out
to sea. The ER personnel suspected abuse but Mrs. Miles would never
When Bud had questioned her about it, she broke down. It seemed that
Mrs. Miles had acquired a boyfriend while Petty Officer Miles was
stationed aboard the Lincoln, a boyfriend who had abused her in the
past. He had beaten her severely the last time in retaliation for not
cooperating in a plot to kill her husband. The plot would have required
her to act when he transferred to Dam Neck. It backfired when Mrs. Miles
refused to follow through. The state’s attorney was filing conspiracy to
commit murder charges against her boyfriend, and ET1 Miles Thomas was
free and was filing for divorce.
“There is another matter I would like to discuss with you…” Bud got up
and closed the door.
Gunny came out of Bud’s office about 20 minutes later with a perplexed
look on his face. Jen noticed and got up from her desk and followed him
“What’s going on, Gunny?”
Gunny just shook his head. “I’ll tell you sometime.”
Jen smirked. “How about now?”
Gunny looked up at her. “How about dinner?” His eyebrows were drawn down
but he still had a smile on his face.
Jen hadn’t been expecting that one. She was quiet for a moment. She had
been hoping he would ask her out. This was a date, wasn’t it?
Gunny looked almost panicked. She was too quiet.
“You mean like a date?”
He looked up at her and narrowed his eyes. “Yeah, I think so – what do
Jen turned toward her desk and said over her shoulder. “I say….okay.”
McMurphy’s Bar and Grill
Harm and Mac sat a table with Harriet and Bud. Harriet was enjoying her
first night out in quite a while. Her parents were in town and they had
graciously offered to stay with the children, allowing a short outing
for Harriet. She had not been very happy about leaving the kids with her
mother, but she knew her father could handle the children and her mother
for a couple of hours.
“I can’t remember the last time I was here.” Harriet was looking around
the room. There had been a few changes…it looked less like the smoky bar
they used to come to when she first came to JAG. Now it was non-smoking
with a sports bar feel to it.
Harriet had agreed to help Mac plan Sturgis and Varise’s engagement
“I appreciate your coming and helping me with the last minute details. I
want this party to go off without a hitch.”
They were planning to have just close friends attend. They had all been
so busy that they hadn’t had a chance to celebrate Sturgis and Varise’s
“You and Bud will be able to make it, won’t you?”
“I wouldn’t miss it.”
Harriet didn’t know how to act. The party was on the 11th; that would
make two Fridays in a row that she would be out with grown-ups. She
couldn’t help smiling at the thought.
Harm stood up and nodded toward Bud. “If you ladies will excuse us, it’s
time for me to beat the commander here at a game of pool. You up for it,
“Sure.” He stood and followed Harm to the pool table.
Mac and Harriet resumed their conversation, and Bud and Harm played a
couple of games of pool. True to his word, Harm won both times. He
looked across the bar and was surprised to see Major McBurney sitting in
a booth with a very attractive lady.
Bud looked in the direction Harm had been. Bud recognized Mike’s
companion right away.
“Wow, who knew?”
Harm frowned. “What?”
“Commander Coleman certainly looks different out of uniform.”
Harm took a few steps ahead of Bud to look more closely. He looked back
at Bud with a mischievous grin on his face.
“I wonder how long this has been going on.”
Bud, ever the voice of reason, said, “They may just be discussing a
Harm looked at him. “Bud, you go over a case at home with files all over
the floor eating pizza. You don’t go out…looking like that.” Faith
Coleman really was an attractive woman.
“Looking like what?” Mac and Harriet had decided to join them at the
Harm got his deer in the headlights look.
“What are you two up to?” She knew that look. She looked across the bar
and saw what they had.
“I didn’t know they were seeing each other. That’s kind of nice.”
Harm looked at her with raised eyebrows. “I don’t know, Mac. They work
They all looked at Harm, who got the irony of what he had said
immediately. He smiled sheepishly. “I suppose I’m not the one who should
be giving that argument am I?”
Mac tucked herself beneath his arm and hugged him close. “No, I don’t
“We’re going to have to get going. I don’t want to tempt fate and leave
my parents alone too long with their grandchildren.” Harriet didn’t know
who she was more worried about at this point, her children or her
“Yeah, we have to go too. I’m sleepy and it’s only 2100.” Mac yawned.
“Get all the sleep you can, ma’am. You’re going to need it.” They all
laughed at that and made their way to the door.
Harm couldn’t resist the chance to needle McBurney a bit. They passed
their table on their way out. “Hello, Major, evening out?”
Mike looked up, startled. “Commander Rabb, you know Commander Coleman.”
He said it almost too quickly.
Faith didn’t have time to hide her reaction. Shock and panic would have
been a pretty accurate description.
“Commander,” she said automatically, hoping against hope to move them
along toward the door. The trick was to make no small talk and make as
little eye contact as possible. She looked across the table at Michael,
thinking that he might help her out here.
She needn’t have worried; Harm kept the conversation going. “You know
Commander Roberts; I don’t believe you’ve met his wife.”
Harm went on with the introductions. Faith could see Michael in her
peripheral vision. He was starting to see the humor in this situation
and he began to smile more broadly as he spoke with the commander. If he
embarrassed her she was going to kill him.
Harm looked from Mike to Faith, waiting for more of the story, but he
was being nudged along by his wife. Faith knew there was a reason that
she liked Colonel Rabb. They exchanged pleasantries as they left with
Bud and Harriet following closely behind them.
Mac pinched Harm lightly on the back.
“Stop giving them a hard time, Rabb. Have a little mercy – we were there
She looked back over her shoulder; remembering and thanking God those
days were over.
Gunny lay on his back in the center of his bed in a tangle of sheets and
blankets. He was tired but his mind would not stop going over the events
of the day. He and Jen had had a great time. Dinner was good; thank God
Jen shared his penchant for the perfect steak. They danced, which was
For a long time he had not allowed himself to get too close in their
friendship. Tonight things had shifted and he didn’t know how he felt
about it. If he were honest he would say he felt a little foolish. Jen
was younger than him, beautiful, and as far as he was concerned could
have any man she wanted. What was she doing with an old broken down
Marine like him?
Holding her while they danced was amazing; she fit into his arms as
though she were made for him. At one point he rested his cheek against
hers losing himself in the feel of her body so close to his. He pulled
back slightly and looked down into her eyes… he had almost kissed her
when he came to himself and looked away.
He didn’t want to presume anything. It wasn’t like being with anyone
else. He worked with her; they saw each other every day. If he screwed
this up, it would ruin everything, and being back at JAG meant too much
to him to screw that up now.
His conversation with Commander Roberts had been enlightening, to say
the least. What was this with the officers at JAG? Did they all feel
this responsibility toward Jen? He thought for a moment that the
commander was going to ask him what his intentions were.
The phone rang, pulling him out of his thoughts.
“Galindez.” A call this late had to be work related.
“Victor?” Jen had given up the battle she had been fighting with herself
since she had come home from their date and called him.
“Jen? What’s up?”
“I just wanted to talk to you for a moment. I didn’t wake you, did I?”
“No, I was having trouble falling asleep anyway.”
“I just need to ask you something.”
“So ask.” Gunny hoped he didn’t sound short with her. There was no
taking the Marine out of the man most of the time.
“Did you have a good time tonight?” Jen thought she sounded like a kid;
she didn’t know how to begin this conversation. They had been having a
great time, but after they danced and he had nearly kissed her he had
gotten quieter and seemed to back off from her.
“Yeah, great, why?”
“I just got the feeling something went wrong about halfway through the
evening. I wanted to be sure I hadn’t done anything to make you
“No, Jen, you didn’t.”
She blew out a breath she had nervously been holding. “That’s good to
hear. I also wanted to ask you, what were you and Commander Roberts
talking about this afternoon?”
He should have known she wouldn’t let that slide. “I’ll tell you, but I
don’t want you to take any offense with the commander…..agreed?”
“Okay.” What was this about? she wondered.
“The commander was just making sure I knew that you had a lot of people
at JAG who were concerned with your future. He didn’t say anything
negative, Jen; I think he was just curious about our relationship.” He
laughed a bit. “I think he wanted to be sure I had honorable
intentions.” He continued to smile, thinking of his conversation a
couple of months ago with Commander Rabb. Gunny wondered if Jen
understood the ‘family’ she had at JAG.
“Oh.” Jen wasn’t angry; she was touched. Bud and Harriet were family to
her as far as she was concerned. “Does that mean that you aren’t going
to ask me out anymore?”
Gunny was quiet for a moment.
“Victor?” Jen didn’t like the silence.
“Yeah…I’m here.” Gunny figured it was time he just laid it on the line.
“Look, Jen, to be honest, I feel a little foolish. Here I am, this
crusty old Marine, and then there’s you – you’re young, you’re
beautiful, so what in the world would you want with me?”
It was Jen’s turn to be quiet.
“Jen?” Gunny felt a knot forming in his chest.
“Victor…I think you should let me worry about that…okay?” Jen had been
as afraid to go forward as he had been, until tonight.
Gunny was surprised at how relieved he was. “Okay.”
“So…where are you taking me to dinner tomorrow night?”
Gunny smiled, remembering that once Jennifer set her mind on something
she didn’t beat around the bush. They made plans for the following
night, and finally, after ending the phone call, they both got some
Falls Church, Virginia
Harm and Sturgis were in the break room immediately after staff call.
Major McBurney breezed in a few minutes later. He stopped short when he
saw the two commanders, and then continued into the room.
“Major.” Harm leaned back on the counter and took a drink of his coffee.
“Sir.” The major then nodded toward Sturgis. “Commander Turner.”
“So you and Commander Coleman will be going to Oklahoma today?” Harm
knew the answer to the question; he just couldn’t resist needling
“Yes, sir.” McBurney poured himself a cup of coffee.
Harm just looked at him, waiting; the silence was beginning to make
McBurney uncomfortable. Sturgis just looked on. Harm had told him about
seeing him out with Commander Coleman Friday night.
After waiting another moment, Harm started toward the bullpen. “Good
“Yes, sir.” McBurney visibly relaxed as Harm left the room. He turned
“Will you be leaving this afternoon as well, sir?”
“Yes, I’m just on my way to pick up my travel itinerary.” Sturgis would
be going to Iraq to investigate an explosion that killed two Marine
Reservists. Coleman and McBurney had the sad task of dealing with the
fallout in their hometowns.
“I understand congratulations are in order, sir.” Mike had heard about
Sturgis’s engagement from Commander Roberts.
“Thank you, Major – the Rabbs are giving us an engagement party this
coming Friday. If we are able to settle this case in a timely manner,
that is. Why don’t you come by?” Sturgis started walking out of the
break room, then turned and said,
“Bring a date…if you like.” Sturgis smiled to himself as he walked the
rest of the way out. He couldn’t let Rabb have all the fun.
Falls Church, Virginia
Major McBurney had just left Commander Turner’s office, making
arrangements to coordinate his investigation with his and Faith’s. He
glanced toward Commander Rabb’s office. He just couldn’t leave the
commander thinking that he and Faith were getting…he didn’t know …
serious. They were just friends; he didn’t want anyone, especially the
commander, to get the wrong idea. Faith wasn’t the kind of person to…and
he wasn’t either. As he walked toward Commander Rabb’s office, a little
voice in his head told him to leave it alone, but he couldn’t seem to
stop himself. He knocked on the frame of the commander’s door.
Harm looked up. “Enter.”
“Sir, may I speak with you for a moment?” What the hell was he doing?
”Of course, Major, have a seat.” Harm thought that McBurney had the look
of someone that was about to stick his foot in his mouth. He knew that
state of mind very well.
McBurney sat down. “Sir, I think I need to clear something up.”
Harm frowned, appearing not to know what he meant. “Major?”
“The other night…you know, at McMurphy’s…Faith and I…I mean, Commander
Coleman and I are just friends…we’re not dating….or anything.”
“Major, I wasn’t aware that anyone here thought otherwise.” Harm was
having a good time with this. He stayed quiet then, allowing just enough
time for the major to decide to get himself in a little bit deeper.
“I just wanted to be sure. Commander Coleman and I are good friends and
I don’t want any wrong impressions to reflect badly on either of us. We
are very good friends and I don’t want…”
Harm thought it was time to stop him before he embarrassed himself
further. He was ‘having some mercy,’ as Mac had put it.
“No one is under the wrong impression, Major. Anyway, I’ve made some
lifelong friendships here at JAG. I know how valuable they are.” He
smiled, thinking of one ‘friendship’ in particular.
At that moment, Mac sailed through his open office door, not realizing
that Major McBurney was sitting in front of Harm.
“Hey Sailor…buy your wife some lunch.” She looked to her right and saw
the major, who stood upon her entrance to the room. “Oh…excuse me.”
So much for military decorum. She nodded toward McBurney, greeted
“Major,” and stepped further into the office, sensing the awkwardness
Mike looked out of the door and saw Faith walking toward his office.
They were just getting ready to leave. Thank God he had an out.
“If you’ll excuse me, sir, ma’am.” He came to attention, then turned on
his heel and left Harm’s office. Harm stood and walked around his desk
to follow him out.
Faith met Mike in the middle of the bullpen and Harm leaned on his
doorframe. He knew McBurney could feel him watching him. Coleman was
speaking to him in a low voice. Harm turned back into his office, and as
he did he heard Commander Coleman say ‘Michael.’ Harm raised his brows
and grinned at his wife. He reached up to loosen the door stop and
closed his office door.
“Michael? Uh oh, this is more serious than I thought. Faith and
“Stop it, Harm.” Mac teased.
He looked at Mac, pretending not to understand. “What?”
American Airlines flight 714
Somewhere over the Midwest
Faith sat back in her seat, trying to prepare herself mentally for what
she knew was going to be an emotionally charged case. These families
were deep in grief. They felt betrayed by everyone. They didn’t think
that security at Camp Anaconda was adequate and they also felt betrayed
by the Iraqis. News reports had indicated that an Iraqi suicide bomber
Mike sat next to her, thinking about his conversation with Commander
Rabb. He turned to look at Faith. She had her head back and her eyes
closed. ‘I have made some lifelong friendships here at JAG.’ He knew
that he and Faith were getting closer all the time. He also knew that
Commander Rabb and the colonel had been friends a long time before they
ever began a serious relationship
It depended on who you spoke with, though. Some never saw a thing until
recently, but scuttlebutt was that they had been in it from the first
time they worked together. They had handled things professionally,
though…what was he doing? This had nothing to do with his and Faith’s
relationship. He huffed out loud and shook his head.
Faith raised her head and looked at him. “Did you say something?”
“No, no – I was just thinking…”
“About the case?” Faith frowned.
“Yeah…yeah. I hope Commander Turner can give us a clearer picture of
what happened the day of the explosion. These people need answers, and
all the speculation flying around is not helping.” He deftly steered the
conversation away from what he had been thinking about.
Faith nodded in agreement. She dreaded the grief she knew she would see.
She’d wondered at times if her family would grieve her. She had lost
touch with all of them. She had not spoken with any member of her family
in years. Her parents had divorced after her younger sister graduated
from college. Like staying together had done any of them any good. Her
thoughts were showing on her face.
Mike leaned forward so that he could get a better look at her. “Hey,
“Oh…I’m just thinking about dealing with the grief that I know the
families must feel.” She turned back to look out the window.
“And?’ He knew there was more to it than that.
Faith turned back and looked at him directly. “I was thinking about my
family. I was wondering if they would grieve me if something were to
happen to me.”
“Of course they would, Faith.” Mike frowned; where did that come from?
She had still been pretty closed-mouthed about her personal life. No
“You don’t understand, Michael; we were not a close family. I mean, I
wasn’t abused or anything. We just…it’s hard to explain.” Faith folded
her arms across her chest and looked out the window.
“Try me.” Mike was hoping she would try to open up a little more on this
trip. She was like a mystery that he felt he had to solve.
“Well, as I have said before, my parents were professionals; very busy
people. We were all in boarding school as soon as we were old enough to
go. When we were home we stayed out of their way. Some kids become close
as a result of that, but because we were in three different boarding
schools most of the time, we weren’t.”
“What about summers?” Mike had a lot of good memories of summer. He had
a very large immediate and extended family. There was always a gathering
of some type: a cousin to visit, summer jobs when he got older. He was
kept busy. His mother believed the old adage: ‘Idle hands are the
“My parents usually had a camp of some type to send us to. We did have
longer visits in summer, but like Christmas time, I couldn’t wait until
it was over and I went back to school.”
Faith suddenly remembered one summer in particular. She had been about
10 years old, and had happened to come up on her parents as they argued
viciously. She began to tell Mike about that day.
“I had been walking through the house and stumbled upon them in the
living room. I slipped behind a full length curtain, hoping they would
not notice me and pull me into their argument. They had a terrible habit
of using their children to hurt each other. What they never got was that
they had hurt their children most of all. They screamed insults and
threats of divorce; they threatened each other with taking the children
away. It frightened me more than I could say, although I didn’t know
why. As I got older I began to realize that my life would be no
Faith stopped speaking, realizing that this was getting too deep. She
hadn’t meant to go on like she had. She looked down and saw that Michael
had taken her hand while she was speaking.
Mike was leaning back, resting his head on the seat, watching Faith as
she spoke. She looked down at her hand clasped in his and he realized
what he had done. He started to remove it but Faith tightened her grasp
just slightly. He gave her a soft smile, hoping to reassure her. He
wasn’t trying to do anything but be her friend and he knew she might let
go. They were both in uniform, though her overcoat across her lap
covered their hands.
Faith returned his smile, resting her head back on the seat, and in a
very short time fell into a deep sleep.
American Airlines Flight 732
Somewhere over the Midwest
It had been a grueling four days. Both Mike and Faith were so tired they
didn’t even try to make conversation. Mike thought it was another sign
of true friendship. They had the ability to be quiet together and still
be comfortable. Faith had held up well, he thought. She had a lot more
strength than she realized. Faith kept her military bearing but had been
intently focused on what the families of the fallen Marines had to say.
She’d given them the time they needed to speak their minds and rail
against the situation if they wanted to. She hadn’t been emotional at
all. It was a time when her rein on her emotions benefited her well.
Commander Turner and the JAG investigators on the ground in Iraq had
been able to find the origin of the blast. It was an IED that had been
exploded by remote control. It had been attached to a new coffee urn
that was to be installed that morning by a civilian contractor. It had
been placed near the old one and a mess cook was just minutes from
installing it. The device had been placed inside the urn prior to its
having been brought onto the camp. SOP was that any type of Iraqi
civilian contractor, once inside the camp, was to be guarded by at least
two Marines. Any type of working party consisting of Iraqi civilians was
also heavily guarded and closely watched. Sturgis did feel that security
was lax as far as the civilian contractors outside the camp were
concerned. More could have been done to prevent this; protocols had
already been changed, just too late for the Marines who were killed.
He’d made his recommendations and was returning to JAG.
Knowing the truth did very little to heal the immediate wounds of the
families, though. He hoped time would help. Both Marines had taken out
additional life insurance, so their families were compensated well
monetarily. One of the young men had a wife and child; his widow was
only 20 years old, his son only 18 months old. He couldn’t fathom being
married at that age, much less being widowed.
Mike was shaken from his thoughts by a touch on his arm.
“Michael?” Faith looked at him, questioning.
“Yeah?” Mike sat forward in his seat and stretched slightly, trying to
shake the cobwebs from his mind.
“Are you all right?” He had been quiet for the last hour.
“I was just going over the past few days in my head.” He leaned back
into his seat.
Faith looked at him. “It might be better not to dwell on it. We did
everything we could, but there was no way to assuage the pain they were
“You did a really good job back there, Faith. It was really awkward at
times, but you never showed a moment of discomfort. I have to say I
admired that.” As he finished his sentence, he looked at her.
She turned her head to look out the window, seeing nothing but the dark
night. “Thank you, but it was not easy for me. I’m just used to…hiding
my feelings. It was very difficult.”
“What they needed was someone who focused on them and let them have
their say without getting emotional. Sometimes that is the best way; let
me pay you a compliment, Faith.” He nudged her with his elbow. “You did
She looked at him and smiled. “Thank you.”
“Man, I’m ready to get back, even if it means getting up at 0600
He just wanted to sleep in his own bed tonight. He suddenly remembered
Commander Turner’s invitation for his engagement party tomorrow night.
“What are you doing tomorrow night?”
Faith answered automatically, thinking more in terms of conversation
that of a date. “Nothing in particular. I’m feeling pretty worn out from
this …ordeal. I’ll probably try to lose myself in a good book.”
The commander had said he could bring someone. “Commander Turner invited
me to his engagement party tomorrow night. The Rabbs are giving it. Why
don’t you come with me?”
He didn’t relish the thought of being there without her; Commander Rabb
enjoyed ribbing him too well.
“I don’t know, Michael – I don’t really know Commander Turner very
Faith really didn’t want to go. He seemed nice enough; he was a very
squared away officer as far as she was concerned. She just wasn’t sure
she knew him well enough to come to a celebration that personal.
“Come on, Faith. I don’t know them any better than you do, but he did
ask me personally, and he also said I could bring a date.”
He wanted to take the last part of that sentence back, but it was too
late. He saw Faith’s walls go up immediately.
“I don’t know.” How would she get out of this? She couldn’t have people
thinking they were dating.
“Look, Faith, it’s just me.” He decided to go for the emotional plea. “I
have to go now since the commander asked me – please come with me.
They’ve all been friends for years; I want to bring a friend of my own.”
He gave her his most disarming smile.
‘Oh, there it is. He’s turning on the charm,’ she thought. She was
becoming less and less immune to it all the time. She sighed audibly.
He had won, he knew it. “We’ll only stay an hour and I’ll think of some
reason we have to get out of there, I promise.”
Faith was still quiet. She was going to go; she was just trying to be
sure that nothing could be read into her acceptance of his invitation.
“All right, I’ll buy you another steak.” He was getting desperate.
She laughed. He had resorted to bribery. She was going to go anyway, but
he didn’t need to know that.
North Park Muslim Women’s Shelter
MI-5 agents with police backup were in place at four locations around
the women’s shelter, waiting. They planned to move in as soon as Nasiri
entered the shelter. Aziz Nasiri walked briskly up the sidewalk toward
the building. He carried a backpack with the last component of the bomb
he and his mentor al Hundu were building. It would be nine days until he
would be allowed to fulfill his destiny and send the British and
American dignitaries to hell, where he believed they belonged. He saw
some of the women and children getting into a bus in front of the
Just before he stepped down the curb to cross the street, he heard what
sounded like a car backfiring, coming from the street below. He walked
to the rail on the small overpass and looked down into the alley. He saw
The bus was backing out of its parking place in front of the shelter.
The driver’s foot slipped from the brake onto the gas, sending the bus
backward very quickly. Nasiri was turning around when the bus jumped the
curb and hit him, knocking him over the rail of the overpass. Nasiri had
no time to react or call out. The driver did not realize he had hit him.
He thought the bump he felt was from the bus going up over the high
curb. The women who sat in the bus had not looked up or around. They sat
with eyes down and hands clasped in their laps. They were being watched
closely by Mr. Muehe, who was accompanying them, and from where Mr.
Muehe sat he had not seen him either.
A little girl, who sat with her mother, did see him fall. She was
terrified and confused. She remembered this man from yesterday. He had
struck her mother hard across her face. She had made the mistake of
looking directly at him. He had hit her more than once, but the blow to
her face had caused her to pass out. The little girl had thought for a
moment that her mother was dead. What should she do? Should she tell the
man who was accompanying them? What if he became angry and beat her?
What if they beat her mother again? She would say nothing. They were on
their way to see a doctor. They would help her mother. She would never
tell anyone what she saw. The bus started down the street and turned the
corner. Two blocks down they were stopped by policemen and government
agents. The little girl and her mother were rescued almost before they
understood what was happening.
Aziz Nasiri had fallen hard on the pavement. He had broken his cervical
vertebra high in his neck. His third cervical vertebra had in fact been
shattered. This interfered with the innervations of his diaphragm. He
felt nothing from his neck down and his breathing was becoming difficult
to impossible. He knew he was dead, his holy task left undone. His last
thought was of the little girl he saw as he fell over the rail. He had
looked into her eyes and saw the fear and loathing in them.
Mr. Nasiri was dead.
Harm and Mac’s apartment
Sturgis and Varise’s party was beginning to break up. The happy couple
had left fifteen minutes before. A good time was had by all. AJ had come
but Marcella was in New York with Francesca. Harm and Mac were at the
door saying goodbye to Bud and Harriet.
“Thanks again for helping me with this, Harriet.” Mac hugged her as she
started through the door.
“Oh, I didn’t really do anything. It was just great to get out and be
with my friends again.” She took Bud’s arm and they walked toward the
“Good night, sir, ma’am,” Bud still couldn’t do the Harm and Mac thing
At the same time Harm and Mac said, “Bud,” slightly exasperated.
“I’m sorry.” Bud and Harriet laughed as they closed the gate to the
Mike and Faith were now leaving and hoping to make a quick exit. They
had mingled with the other guests tonight but talked mostly to each
“Mike, thank you for coming.” He smiled broadly and shook his hand.
“Thank you for having us…Harm.” Mike was having a hard time with the
first names too.
Harm gave Mike a wink when Faith was saying goodbye to Mac. He turned
“Faith, it was nice to have you here tonight.”
She looked at him and couldn’t help returning his charming, though
mischievous, smile. “Thank you, s...Harm.” She blushed furiously and
followed Mike closely out the door.
Harm started to say something to them but Mac slipped into his arms,
distracting him just enough to allow their escape. Mac reached up and
whispered, “Stop it, Harmon.”
“What? I was being a gracious host.” He gave her a sly look.
“You know what you’re doing.”
Harm hugged her to him and happened to notice Jen in the kitchen,
starting to clear things away. He stepped out of Mac’s embrace.
“What are you doing, Jennifer?” Harm went swiftly into the kitchen,
shooing her out. “We have this under control. You’re a guest.”
“You need some help clearing this away. I don’t mind, really.” Jen
wanted to help. She had missed being around both Harm and Mac. This
apartment felt like home to her even in light of all that had happened
in the apartment next door.
Mac stepped into the kitchen. “The night is still young – you should get
out and enjoy it. It’s not even nine o’clock”
Just then they heard a knock at their door. Harm looked around, thinking
that maybe one of the guests had forgotten something. He opened the door
to see Tom and Jack standing in the doorway. “Kind of late, aren’t you?”
“Sorry, has everyone gone home?” Jack spoke in a low voice, leaning in
and looking around the apartment. He saw AJ and Gunny talking in the
living room. “We probably ought to wait until more of your guests have
Harm looked slightly confused, and then he realized that this must be
about Trafalgar Square. “We were just finishing up. Come in.” He nodded
toward Tom Boone. “Tom.”
“Rabb, it has been a while, hasn’t it?”
He shook Harm’s hand. He couldn’t explain it, but he felt such a sense
of relief about the news he was going to share with him tonight. He had
made a promise to himself that Trish’s killer would not get by with what
he had done. He would see him dead, no matter what it took. Now it was
true, and without firing a shot; Trish would have liked that.
AJ looked across the room at Harm and his new guests. He caught Tom’s
eye and he knew something was up. He looked back at Gunny.
“Excuse me, Gunny, I think I’ll go say hello to the late arrivals.”
Gunny took that as his cue to get Jennifer going. Something was up, and
he had the feeling that whatever it was couldn’t be discussed while he
and Jen were there.
He walked to where she was standing with Mac.
“Are you about ready to go?” He smiled at Jennifer.
She returned his smile warmly. “Yes, let me get my coat.”
He touched her shoulder. “I’ll get it.”
Mac looked at Jen with raised eyebrows. “You and the Gunny?”
Jen folded her arms across her chest and looked away. “Yeah, I think
so.” She turned to look at him and saw that he was waiting near the
“I hope it works out for you, Jen.” Mac said it sincerely
“Thank you, Mac.” Jen walked to Gunny and he slipped her coat onto her
She and Harm bade them goodnight, and they left with Gunny holding her
elbow, gently guiding her out. Mac turned around to see AJ, Tom and Harm
standing in the living room talking. They kept their voices low;
something was definitely up, and this time Mac wasn’t going to be left
out of the conversation.
“Please sit down, gentlemen. Can I get any of you something to drink?”
Mac figured that was one way to place her into the conversation. They
all politely declined.
Harm held his hand out to her. “Come on, this concerns you too.”
Mac breathed a silent sigh of relief. He wasn’t going to shut her out.
She still worried about that. This had to be about his mother. The loss
and the injustice of it had always been with him. She saw it at times
when he thought she wasn’t looking. He would linger over an old photo,
or his mother would come up in every day conversation. He would hesitate
and move on; not wanting to dwell on what was still so painful to him.
She walked over to him and took his hand, and they all sat down.
Tom and AJ looked at Jack, silently giving him the go ahead to tell the
story they had kept to themselves for months. He began.
“As you know, Harm, we told you we would find out all we could about who
was responsible for your mother’s….the incident at Trafalgar Square.”
Jack could not bring himself to say the word ‘death’; saying it this way
seemed to anesthetize the pain of the situation. It did for him, anyway.
“We all had our sources and now that the pieces are nearly all together
we can tell you what we know. The person responsible for the bombing was
Aziz Nasiri.” He looked directly at Harm.
Mac knew immediately who he was. “The Holy Land Liberation Crusade? The
one involved in the ZNN fiasco?”
“Yes.” Jack waited for Harm to speak; he had been quiet. He was still
trying to figure out why.
Harm remembered Ginny Baker, and the hatred she had expressed from the
witness stand once her cover had been blown. She had used Stuart Dunston
and nearly got him thrown in Leavenworth. She had played her part well.
Mac’s language skills had solved that case.
“Why?” Harm asked the simple question.
“The goal had been to detonate the explosives near a group of college
students who were visiting from the States. MI-5 got word that something
may be up in the area, so the school was notified and the tour was
“But why allow the public there at all if that was the case?”
He still couldn’t accept this; in his heart he felt something could have
been done. He still felt responsible, although he knew that it was
unreasonable to do so.
“The threat had been vague and the intel was not 100% reliable. They
didn’t even know the students were the target until after the explosion.
The locals thought they needed more to shut down the area entirely.”
Jack hoped the fact that Nasiri was dead would be some consolation to
Harm. He knew that his old friend was still struggling with this.
“Do they have him in custody?” He wanted a chance to see him pay.
Whatever the sentence was, he wanted to be there to see it handed down.
AJ and Harm were incredulous and spoke at the same time. ”No?”
“He’s dead,” Tom said quickly.
“How?” Harm had to know. AJ leaned forward in his seat.
Jack continued. “The British authorities were getting ready to close in
on Nasiri and another suspected terrorist. They were using a Muslim
women’s shelter as a front for their organization. MI-5 had a team
waiting for him to return this morning and was going to take them both
into custody. The thing was... how do I say this?” He looked at Tom.
“He got hit by a bus.” Tom was deadly serious, but the irony of it was
making it difficult to stay that way.
“What?” Harm couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
“He was knocked off of an overpass and fell into an alley below. The
fall broke his neck. He broke his third cervical vertebra and it
paralyzed his diaphragm – he smothered to death.” Jack looked from Harm
Tom spoke up. “Kind of fitting, I think.”
Harm stood and walked across his living room. He wasn’t sure what he
should feel. He thought he would be relieved, but he wasn’t. He was glad
to hear that there was one less terrorist in the world, but he knew
there were more out there. His eyes welled with tears when he realized
what he really wanted was for his mother to be alive. She was never one
for revenge, but to his mind, justice had been served.
Jack finished what he knew of the story.
“Nasiri had been bringing components for putting another bomb together;
the target this time is believed to have been the prime minister and our
Secretary of State.” Jack waited a moment. He knew Harm was having a
hard time absorbing all of this.
AJ had been watching him closely. “Harm, I know this is a lot to take in
at once, but we all know you too well.”
He looked at Mac. “You wouldn’t have been able to stay out of it. You
and Mac had just begun your life together. I know that the small amount
of information I gave you in December had you struggling to stay out of
this. I think if you hadn’t been so caught up getting Mac through her
illness you would have been right in the middle of all of this.”
AJ stood and walked over to Harm and folded his arms across his chest.
“We just didn’t want to see any more lives destroyed because of this
senseless terrorist’s act.”
Harm looked at AJ and then back at his friends and his wife. He nodded,
not wanting to speak just yet. He almost had it under control; he had
nearly swallowed the lump in his throat when Tom decided it was time for
a bit of levity.
“Well… we can take comfort in the fact that…there will be no 72 virgins
for our friend Aziz.” Tom gave him a sarcastic smile and raised his
eyebrows, hoping this attempt at dark humor would fly.
Harm looked at Tom and the irony struck him immediately. The bastard got
hit by a bus. No martyrdom for him, no glorious killing of perceived
infidels. He got his by way of a bus. He looked at Mac and she rose to
walk over toward him. He couldn’t help but chuckle, and as he did huge
tears began to fall from his eyes. Then he began to laugh. Mac began to
laugh with him, wiping tears from her face too.
Jack stood and walked into their kitchen. “I don’t suppose you have
anything stronger to drink than fruit juices in here, do you?” He opened
Mac joined him. “Yes, we do, but all we have left is white wine and
AJ looked at Jack and smirked. “At least it’s not bourbon.” He didn’t
care if he did sound like a scold.
Jack shivered. “It’ll have to do.”
He and Mac set out glasses and poured wine into all but one. Mac gave
herself sparkling water. Tom, Harm and AJ joined them standing around
the kitchen island. Jack lifted his glass.
“Gentlemen and Lady, a toast… to public transportation.”
Gunny and Jen were sitting at a table finishing their coffee. Jen had
once again ordered for both of them.
“I still don’t see the big deal. Coffee is coffee.” Gunny smirked at
“You know you like it. It was your idea to come here tonight anyway.”
She smiled smugly. He liked his Venti Vanilla Breve Latte with whipped
cream. He just wouldn’t admit it.
“I had a good time tonight. Sturgis and Varise make a nice couple.” He
changed the subject.
Jen raised her brows. “They seem so different, though.”
“Opposites attract sometimes, Jen.” He winked at her.
She looked down, blushing slightly. “You know, the colonel asked me
about us tonight.”
He looked at her directly. “What did you say?”
“She asked if we were together and I said that I thought so.” Jen looked
at him, hoping she hadn’t said too much.
He smiled at her and gave her forearm a squeeze. “Let’s go.”
Jen looked at him and stood. He took her coat from the back of her chair
and held it for her to slip her arms in. No one she had ever dated had
done that for her. The commander had, but that was different somehow.
She followed him out to the car and they rode to her apartment in
silence. He would look over at her from time to time but he didn’t say
anything. He didn’t seem angry; she couldn’t tell what he was thinking
at all. They had gone out twice last weekend and had a great time. He
showed a bit more affection Saturday night, but was still pretty
reserved compared to other men she had been out with. He acted as though
he was trying so hard to be careful, not to make any mistakes in their
They arrived at her apartment. “Do you want to come up?”
“It’s pretty late – your roommate might not appreciate it.” The old
awkwardness was starting to creep into their conversation.
“She’s TAD to Norfolk this week and next week. Come on, Victor.” She
looked at him with that expression that could always do him in. “You
know you don’t want to go home yet. I know for a fact there is -nothing-
in that apartment. You said yourself that you don’t spend a lot of time
“If you’re sure…” Gunny cut the engine and took keys out of the
“I’m sure. Maybe we can find a movie we both agree on.” Jen got out of
the truck and started toward her apartment building.
“No chick flicks,” he teased, suddenly very glad that he had taken her
up on her invitation.
Harm and Mac’s apartment
Harm and Mac had just settled into bed. Their guests were gone and their
apartment was cleared of the remnants of their party. Harm was
exhausted. What a day it had been. He scooted closer to Mac and turning
her onto her side pulled her snugly into his embrace. They lay in
silence for a few moments, in their favorite spooning position.
Mac rested a hand on his forearm. “Harm, are you all right?”
“Yeah…I think so.” He was still reeling from the news, trying to absorb
it all and reconcile it with what he had come to feel about his mother’s
Mac knew he still had some things to work out. She had been thinking,
almost since they had been told the news, that they needed to get away.
She turned on to her stomach and faced him. “How would you feel about
taking a long weekend over the Easter holiday and going to visit your
Harm was silent for a moment. He did like the idea. “I haven’t seen her
since we got married.” Harm suddenly thought of Mattie. “Do you mind if
I ask Mattie too?”
“I’d love it. I’ve gotten pretty attached to her too.”
Harm leaned in and kissed her, giving her that soft look that she loved.
She saw pain there too, fresh and sharp – the kind she knew he couldn’t
put into words. She reached up to trace his cheekbone with the tip of
her forefinger, to caress and comfort him as much as she could, without
bringing all the pain to the surface.
“Mac,” he said in a whisper. He leaned in and kissed her tenderly. He
knew what she was doing. She finally knew him well enough to know just
what he needed and he loved her for it.