Home
Browse by Author
Browse by Title
Adult Stories by Author
Adult Stories by Title
Submission Guidelines
Missing Authors
Common Questions
Site Wide Disclaimer

 

 

 

Part Three

December 1, 2200 Pacific Standard Time
Jakarta, Indonesia

 

A decrepit taxi lumbered over the broken pavement like an old blind dog nosing through piles of refuse. Flaking walls on either side nearly scraped the doors, and the glare from the honky tonk district in the next street barely penetrated the shadows.

Marine sergeant Bill Sybalski was vaguely aware that his face was bumping against the greasy floor of the cab with every lurch. He tried to lift his head, but it felt huge and heavy. Jesus, where were they? He didn't remember getting this drunk.

"Ramirez?" he mumbled, struggling to look around. "Dammit Steve, where" --

A kick slammed his face back into the floor and a tense voice shouted something unintelligible. His nostrils clogged with dirt and the thick reek of garlic and fish and stale sweat, but he kept still, listening and hoping his head would stop spinning. As his vision cleared a little, he realized there were three men crammed into the back seat, their feet scuffing the floor beside him. He could hear two more talking in front. The heavy body lying next to him had to be Ramirez.

Sybalski moved a little more and discovered his hands were free. If he could just get a purchase with his knee and reach the door handle --

Another kick landed squarely in the small of his back and he crumpled, gasping for breath. With a harsh string of words, bitten off, the driver jerked the cab to a halt, and rough hands grabbed him under the shoulders, dragging him out and dumping him onto the pavement. He landed face down in a slimy puddle and felt Ramirez thump beside him.

With a string of hissed curses and a last kick to his ribs, their faceless assailants melted away. It took enormous concentration for Sybalski to roll onto his side and grope for his wallet. Funny, it was still there. What the hell?

He looked up blearily. They seemed to be lying in an alley behind some sort of bar or club. Loud music thumped and throbbed into the night and smears of red and orange neon gleamed in oily puddles here and there. He could hear voices shouting above the music, smell the sharp tang of cigarettes wafting through the back door.

"Ramirez?" he mumbled through stiff lips. "C'mon man, we gotta get outta here." He poked at the corporal's shoulder and was rewarded with a faint groan. "C'mon, man. Can you get up?" Sybalski struggled to his knees, then his feet, and began to manhandle Ramirez to a sitting position. The corporal groaned again and tried to stand.

The two men had just staggered to their feet when a dazzling flash and a deafening blast flung them forward on a wave of searing heat, and they never heard the screams or the roar of the flames shooting thirty feet high from the building behind them.

 

December 2, 1300 PST
Prefecture of Police, Jakarta, Indonesia

 

"As you were." Mac slowly set down her brief case on the scarred wooden table and stared at the two Marines. "You two look like you went through a meat grinder."

Sybalski stared over her left shoulder with the eye that wasn't swollen shut. "Don't know what you mean, ma'am."

"Can it, sergeant. Who roughed you up?"

"The locals got a little excited, ma'am."

Mac sighed. She sat down and gestured. "Sit."

The two men lowered themselves gingerly into chairs across the table and watched as Mac uncapped her pen. "Okay," she began crisply, "we are going to proceed under the assumption that anything and everything we say here, or that you say to each other in your cell, is being recorded. Therefore, when necessary I will ask you to respond in writing, understood?" Both men nodded. "Good. Don't forget it, you're already in enough trouble. I assume you both realize that you have created an international incident simply by being found near the site of the bombing? Not to mention, it was in a part of town you had no authorization to visit on your liberty pass?"

"Excuse me, ma'am. But we didn't go there. We were *taken* there. Corporal Ramirez and me, we were hanging out with some buddies in the red light district, and we hooked up with a couple of bar girls who wanted us to go with them. Next thing I know, we're in a taxi with five guys and they dump us in that alley. We didn't even have time to walk two steps before the explosion."

"Did the women give you anything to drink or eat? Where did you go, a hotel, an apartment, what?"

Ramirez spoke up. "Ma'am, I don't even remember getting there. I think somebody pushed us into a cab while we were walking down the street, but I was already pretty out of it."

"Were you drunk?"

"I only had two beers, Colonel."

"What about you, Sergeant?"

"Same here, ma'am. But like Steve said, they must have put something in them. I began feeling dizzy right after we left the bar."

Since both Marines were over 200 pounds of solid muscle, Mac tended to agree. "These men in the taxi -- what can you tell me about them? Did they hit you over the head or beat you up to get you into the cab?"

Both young men looked affronted. "They were skinny, smelly little guys," Sybalski scoffed. "Locals, definitely. Didn't speak English that I could hear. No way they could have taken us if we hadn't been passed out."

"Would you recognize any of them again?" Each Marines shook his head no.

"So what happened to the two girls?"

"I dunno, ma'am. They just sorta disappeared."

"Tell me what happened when you got to the bar. Is it a place Marines usually go?"

"Yes, ma'am. There's only about three places we're allowed to hang out, anyway. They're not too friendly to Americans here, and they only give us passes to that part of town."

"Did you go to more than one place?"

"No, just the Blue Lagoon. We usually go to there. We were with our buddies, see, and they all wanted to go for the live music."

"Did you ask for these girls specifically?"

Sybalski looked at her in polite disbelief. "No, ma'am. They always just come right up to you. Most of them speak a little American."

"Would you recognize them again?"

Ramirez looked up alertly. Mac held up her hand for silence, and pushed the legal pad across the table. Laboriously, Ramirez wrote, "Check Mancuso's camera."

 

Next day, 1600 PST
Office of the Ambassador, United States Embassy, Jakarta

 

"So that's why I need to request the assistance of one of your Marines, sir," Mac said.

Edward Beresford steepled his fingers and touched them to the bridge of his nose. "Not a chance."

"May I ask why, sir?" Mac glared at him, and Beresford held up a well groomed hand.

"Easy, Colonel. It's not that I don't want to help. But every single member of my Marine detail is known down there. You walk into those joints with any of them and start asking questions, and those women will disappear."

"What about a member of your staff?"

"Are you kidding? Can you imagine a member of my diplomatic staff in one of those dives, looking for a pair of hookers? Washington is breathing down my neck already."

"I'm sure you are aware, Mr. Beresford, that the only way to salvage this disaster is to establish that our people were not responsible?"

"For a secret plot that killed 32 tourists and injured another 100 people, many of them Indonesian citizens? Gee, Colonel, I can't imagine why we'd want to distance ourselves from that," he snapped sarcastically. "The fact is, your Marines were in the wrong place at the wrong time."

"They were kidnapped and used as scapegoats, they have been badly beaten in the local jail, and if we can't find a way to remove them from Indonesian jurisdiction, they will be executed. I am not going to allow that to happen, Mr. Ambassador." Mac's voice was rising along with her temper.

"And just how do you propose to do that?" Beresford put his head on one side.

"I'll go alone if I have to."

"Hold it, Colonel. Just hold on." Beresford regarded her with frosty grey eyes. "I understand Semper Fi and all that, but I can't have you creating another diplomatic nightmare, not with the situation the way it is these days." He tapped his fingertip on the desk blotter for a moment and looked up. "Wait. I have an idea." He pressed a button and said, "Rose, would you please ask Mr. Roberts to join us?"

"Roberts?" Mac asked. She was still simmering.

"CIA. He's here for something I'm not at liberty to discuss. But he might be just the ticket" --

The door opened. "You wanted to see me, sir?"

Mac whipped around.

"Mr. Roberts. This is Lieutenant Colonel Mackenzie. Colonel, this is David Roberts. Please, join us." Beresford gestured graciously.

Without a flicker of recognition, Roberts glanced at Mac and seated himself in a leather chair in front of the desk, then turned his attention politely to the ambassador. Mac watched him while Beresford explained the situation. "So, Roberts. Would you be able and/or willing to accompany Colonel Mackenzie this evening? I believe your other duties don't begin until tomorrow?"

Roberts sat quietly, staring at Beresford, deliberating. "If the Indonesians get a hint that the CIA was involved, even if it's only for the investigation, we'll lose all credibility."

Beresford turned over an empty hand. "We don't have much now."

"Just so you understand. I can't be called to testify later, no matter what happens," Roberts said. "As long as that's clear, I guess I can do it."

Gracious of you, Mac thought irritably.

"Splendid. Well, I'll let the two of you go along, I'm sure you have things you need to discuss." Beresford stood and ushered them to the door with smooth, practiced ease. "By the way, I trust you'll join us this evening? We're having a reception for the delegations who have arrived to discuss the bombing situation. I don't imagine you'll leave before 10 tonight? Ah, excellent. Until this evening, then." The heavy door closed behind them.

"Um, the terrace might be a good place to talk," she said, gesturing at the tall glass doors.

"I thought you were all through talking, Mac," Harm said coolly, and held the door open for her.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

"I take it I'm not supposed to know you." Her voice came out all right, she thought.

"Nope."

"I thought you turned down the offer to be a field agent."

"Webb tell you that?"

She nodded and caught a flicker of something in his eyes, quickly veiled. They walked slowly through the big walled garden, watching the shadows of palms play across the warm paving stones. She felt as if she were walking with a stranger. Harm looked fit and tanned, dressed in khakis and a blue chambray work shirt with the sleeves rolled up. His collar was open, and his hair was longer. But the hardness around his mouth was new, as were the faint lines at the corners of his eyes.

After an uncomfortable pause, he said, "They sent me here to fly a chopper to pick up an American biologist, but this bombing means no U.S. aircraft will be allowed over Indonesian air space. So I have to walk in. They're driving me up into the mountains tomorrow."

"Am I supposed to know about this?"

He shrugged. "You have clearance. Just don't spread it around. The guy's been working in the jungle for six months, studying endangered monkeys or some damn thing, and he's a big deal with the National Geographic Society. They were worried that anti-American sentiment in the island would make him a kidnapping target, so they leaned on various people in Washington, and here I am. The bombing incident made it urgent. I'm posing as a botanist who's joining his expedition."

"Since when do you fly helicopters?"

"A lot can happen in six months, Mac."

"I wouldn't know. You haven't answered any of my messages."

"I've been out of town a lot."

"Does that mean you don't have any time for old friends?"

He didn't answer right away, and she had the distinct impression he was holding onto his temper. When he finally spoke, his voice was deadly quiet. "I moved on, Mac. You made it clear that's what you wanted."

"I didn't think it meant we'd never talk again."

Harm's eyes flashed. "Jesus, Mac. What the hell do you want from me? Every time I have ever tried to talk to you, you've bitten my head off and walked away!"

He expected her to flare up, but instead she crossed her arms and nodded. She said carefully, "You're right." His heart twisted as he saw her summon her courage before she went on, "You deserve better, especially from me. Whatever you have to say, Harm, I'm willing to listen."

For a long moment they stood silent, staring at each other. "Well, once again, Mac, you've managed to surprise me," he said at last, angry and off balance. He glanced around, trying to imagine where to start. Exasperation and longing tumbled through him in a kaleidoscope of emotions too confusing and terrifying to confront. He looked away in disgust, with her, with himself. "You know what, Mac? Sometimes it's just too damn late."

Stung, Mac said in a rush, "Dammit, Harm, don't use that as an excuse! You always keep everything to yourself. Even stuff that concerns me, too." She drew a shaky breath, adding in a softer tone, "And it's impossible to trust someone who won't trust you back."

He went very still. "There was a time when I thought we trusted each other with our lives."

"I would still trust you with my life. You'd do anything to rescue someone, but nothing gets through those walls of yours!"

The emotions had spiraled up so quickly between them, Mac could not trust herself to continue, and Harm's face was like stone. Furiously she swallowed back the treacherous tears that burned behind her eyes.

After a long moment, he looked away. "You've been thinking that out for a while."

"Yeah." She swallowed.

By unspoken accord, they turned together and walked for a few minutes in silence. At last, Harm said, "Look. You should know, I've been seeing Catherine Gale since June." She could almost hear the click in the lock.

Moments passed in silence, broken only by the chattering of a bird high in the bougainvillea on the wall. At last, she cleared her throat and said, "I see." Her voice sounded rusty.

"So how do you want to handle this job tonight, Colonel?" His voice was cool, devoid of emotion, professional.

"You still want to do it?"

"Hey, don't deprive me of the chance to rescue somebody, all right?"

"I don't want you to get into trouble again."

A private smile flitted across his face and was gone. "Let's look at the big picture, Mac. If the Marines get tagged for the bombing, the U.S. will never get any more cooperation on terrorism in this country. That concerns the CIA just as much as the Navy." He added impatiently, "So how do you want to proceed? It's your operation."

Mac took a steadying breath and said, in a voice that sounded far away to her ears, "I thought we could pose as a tourist couple looking for a little three-way action. That way, we have a reason to ask for two particular girls."

"And how do you propose to recognize them? Did the Marines give you a really detailed description?"

She slipped something out of her pocket and held it up. Sybalski and Ramirez grinned out of the snapshot with their arms around two giggling young women. "One of their buddies likes to take pictures."

 


That evening, 2000 Hours PST
American Embassy, Jakarta

 

The swooping spikes of brilliant orange didn't really look like flowers, Harm thought. More like a flock of exotic tropical birds alighting on the table in the foyer. Birds of paradise, he remembered. That's what they're called. Mom used to order them for the gallery.

He stood in the shadow of a tall pillar apart from the ebb and flow of guests. His lightweight summer suit was a little casual for the diplomatic gathering, but it was perfect for blending into the background. If anyone wondered who he was, he could pass for an embassy staffer.

Candles flickered as a warm breeze moved through the gallery. He turned to look, and a jolt of adrenaline hit him. Mac was standing in the doorway. All the light in the room seemed to coalesce around her as the noisy hubbub faded away.

Slender and tall, she stood poised lightly on slim high heeled sandals, surveying the crowd with serene grace. A simple black dress skimmed her body from breasts to knees, highlighting her flawless shoulders, clinging to every curve.

The blood pounded in his veins, and he swallowed once before stepping from the shadows, moving toward her without conscious volition. "Mac." God damn it, would there ever come a day when she didn't get to him?

She lifted her lovely eyes to his, and he was startled by the sadness he glimpsed in their depths. Anger, even hurt, he would have expected, but not this wistful sorrow.

"David," she nodded coolly. He kicked himself. Focus, Rabb.

"Ah -- yeah. You look very nice, Colonel." The candlelight picked up the exquisite freshness and polish of her skin, catching the sheen of light along her collarbone and across the swell of her breasts. Her perfume was a delicate trace of Chanel, the same as he had given her last Christmas.

"Thank you," she said lightly, with an attempt at a smile. "This is the perfect all-in-one emergency travel dress. Just a change of shoes and it's casual enough for a pub crawl."

"Does that mean you're wearing that invitation to riot when we go out tonight?"

"We are not 'going out.' I'm pursuing an investigation."

"And I'm your bodyguard, is that it?"

That got through. A flash betrayed her cool reserve and she shot back, "Does that suit come equipped with a cyanide pill?"

"They issue them to us along with the shoe phone and the decoder ring."

"Which reminds me. Did you think using 'Bud' would be too obvious?"

"I keep looking behind me when someone calls me by another name. And 'Harmon' is a little too distinctive."

"That's one word for it."

He decided to change the subject. "Considering the bombing was less than 48 hours ago, you got here in one hell of a hurry. How come they sent you, anyway? There must have been someone at PACFLEET with enough seniority."

"I was already in Japan," she replied tartly. "The admiral sent me to Yokosuka two weeks ago to handle a court martial, so he told me to get down here on the double."

"Congratulations, Mac. You're his top gun."

"Only because you're not around."

"No," he said, and she looked up. "Because you're one hell of a lawyer. You should be proud, Mac."

"I am," she said with quiet gravity.

Harm watched her for a moment, his gaze intent. "A few years ago, you would have ducked the compliment or tried to knock my block off."

She started to retort and stopped. "You're right," she said with an air of faint surprise. "I didn't want anyone to realize I was in over my head."

"Is that why you had a chip on your shoulder the size of a telephone pole?"

"You noticed."

"You got over it."

"I had help," she said, almost to herself. He glanced at her, surprised, and they lapsed into silence.

"How are the politicians handling your involvement?" he asked finally, eyeing the crowd.

"It's a tightrope. The government wants to show the Muslim population that they aren't American puppets. At the same time, they want to keep the radicals under control, and they want to keep our financial support. A lot of Indonesians apparently believe we orchestrated the bombing to put pressure on the government for dragging their heels on identifying terrorists. The conservatives want to get rid of the president and reestablish a dictatorship. And of course, I'm expected to prove that our Marines weren't involved."

"Oh, is that all? Just the usual, huh?"

"Well, at least we have backup tonight. They made the police available to bring the witnesses in for questioning, if we find them."

Harm started to reply when the ambassador's wife joined them, arm in arm with a big man in a seersucker jacket and a Western string tie. Mrs. Beresford was short and skeletally thin, with a helmet of carefully frosted blonde hair, and she performed the introductions with imperial authority. "Colonel Mackenzie, may I present Jackson Bierman? Mr. Bierman owns one of the oil platforms drilling in the Sunda Strait. He was so eager to meet you."

"Miz Beresford here tells me you're a Marine," the man proclaimed in a booming voice. "God damn, Colonel, I served in 'Nam '68 to '70, and they sure as hell didn't supply Marines in your model." Bierman grabbed Mac's outstretched hand and pumped it. His wide, florid face split into a friendly grin. "Nice to meet another American out here."

"It's a pleasure, Mr. Bierman," Mac said faintly. Her reserved air told Harm she was feeling shy, but he doubted anyone else could tell. Mac gestured. "This is Com -- Mr. Roberts," she said, correcting quickly. Harm returned the man's crushing grip.

"Roberts," Bierman nodded, summing him up with a sharp stare that reminded Harm of AJ Chegwidden. He turned back to Mac. "They tell me you're the JAG investigating the bombing," Bierman said, lowering his voice. His bright blue eyes were shrewd. "You gonna get our boys out of the local lockup?"

"I certainly intend to," Mac said.

Bierman shook his head. "They were framed, no question about it. They want to hang it on us, but I wouldn't be surprised if half of the government wasn’t in on it. Hell, they'd grab my oil rig if I wasn't in international waters. As it is, I have to keep my own private security force out there. Couldn't have gotten here tonight otherwise -- they know my chopper, don't worry if it shows up on their radar screens." He grinned. "Pulled me in to represent 'American commercial interests' in the talks. What a load of crap."

"What do you mean, Mr. Bierman?" Mac asked, curious.

He cocked an eye at her. "Make it Jake, ma'am, and we've got a deal."

"Jake," Mac smiled.

Bierman caught Harm's frown and grinned. "Look, I've found oil in every part of the world, from Venezuela to Alaska to Russia. Every place it's the same damn thing. We find the stuff, invest in the infrastructure, bring in revenue they never dreamed of, and they want to take it over."

"I don't believe Al Qaeda is about money, Jake" --

"Honey, it's *always* about money. Money equals power. You mark my words, somebody's out to make something out of this. Hell, Al Qaeda would be crazy to do these bombings, this island was a safe haven for them."

Mrs. Beresford intervened firmly. "Mr. Bierman -- this discussion really needs to wait for another time. Now," she said brightly, "won't you all join me in the library? The dalang is about to start."

Jake Bierman nodded politely and offered Mac a burly arm. "Colonel, will you do me the honor?" Harm realized he had been effectively cut out.

"I'd be delighted," Mac smiled graciously, and rested her hand on the proffered elbow. Harm followed and scowled when he saw Bierman lean over and whisper in her ear. God damn it, did the son of a bitch have to breathe all over her like that?

Harm stood close behind them as people jostled into the library. Bierman was practically slobbering on Mac's shoulder, for God's sake, and she was actually smiling at him. Just as he had decided to say something, the hell with it, he saw an embassy assistant whisper to Bierman. The big man frowned, muttered an apology to Mac as he pressed something into her hand, and sidled away through the throng of people.

Harm stepped to Mac's side. "Did John Wayne have to head back to the ranch?"

"He was very sweet," Mac said. A dimple appeared in her cheek.

"Clay won't be happy to hear you were flirting with an oil baron," Harm sneered in an undertone.

"I hate to disappoint you, but it's really not up to Clay," Mac hissed in reply. She frowned and didn't look away from the white curtain that obscured one end of the enormous room.

"What?"

"You heard me," she said in a low tone.

Harm was about to retort when Mrs. Beresford whispered at his elbow, "Have you ever seen the wayang kulit, Mr. Roberts? No? The shadow puppets are one of the oldest storytelling traditions in the world. It's central to Javanese culture, so we're having it tonight to make them feel welcome."

The lights dimmed, leaving the audience in darkness as kindled lanterns behind the screen illuminated its surface. Mac leaned across Harm to whisper, "What's going on, Mrs. Beresford?" Harm could think of nothing but the curve of her breast as it brushed his arm.

"I guess you could call it a puppet show," Mrs. Beresford said. "But it's really more of a play. One man, the dalang, does all the voices, and he sits behind the screen with the musicians. He also works the puppets, and all we see are shadows on the curtain. In the villages, they have performances for every important occasion, and I hear it can go on all night."

"What's it about?" Mac asked. At that moment, a musical chord sounded from behind the glowing curtain. Drums, tambourines, and a wailing flute took up the discordant chant as two huge shadows loomed and sharpened upon the lighted screen.

"The stories are based on Hindu legends that came from India nearly two thousand years ago," Mrs. Beresford whispered. "This one is about the noble Rama, who marries his lover Simtra. They are banished by evil lords to the forest, and have to overcome many dangers to escape."

Two silhouettes in elaborate headresses lurched and danced across the curtain with stylized movements, accompanied by keening and exclamations from the dalang. The effect was magical. "Artists carve the puppets from leather," Mrs. Beresford went on. "They're quite beautiful. They have different expressions on the faces, depending on the story -- sometimes they use a happy one, sometimes angry, or sad."

Harm was intrigued in spite of himself. The jerky shadows had a mysterious, compelling beauty. "They seem so lifelike," Mac breathed, entranced. "Does the story have a happy ending?"

"That's hard to say," the ambassador's wife said quietly. "The prince and his princess represent nobility and honor to the Javanese. The saga shows their courage in the face of adversity, and their devotion to their duty and to one another. There are more than 200 stories in the Rama cycle. I have never seen the lovers together in the end."

Harm looked down at Mac. She stood beside him, watching with a rapt expression as the light from the screen flickered across her face. After a moment she sensed him staring and lifted her eyes to his.

 

December 4, 0130 Hours PST
Blue Lagoon Bar, Jakarta

 

Bright smears of neon reflected on the wet pavement as police spotlights swept the boisterous crowd. Two stoic cops carried a struggling, garishly dressed woman out of the bar, ignoring her screaming invective, and bundled her into the back of a car. One of her shoes flew off as she kicked wildly at the door.

"Glad I don't have to ride with them," Harm observed from the doorway. "Man, she can't weigh more than ninety pounds soaking wet, and it took two of them."

"At least nobody seems to realize this is anything more than a routine bust," Mac said. "With that crowd, it could get ugly." A bottle soared overhead and smashed against the broken pavement, and she flinched. Instinctively, he moved in front of her.

"We actually found them." He shook his head.

"You didn't think we would."

"No, I didn't. You called it, Mac."

"You sold them on the idea of a foursome," she grinned.

"We made a good team," he said lightly, with a quick, veiled glance.

"Do you ever miss it?"

"Sure." His face gave nothing away.

An awkward little silence fell between them. "What time do you have to leave?" she finally asked.

"Oh-four hundred. God, I can't believe I have to spend two days bushwhacking through the jungle."

"Sounds like a job for the Marines."

"You're right. Want to come?"

The tropical night was sultry, but suddenly she shivered, as if someone had stroked a cold finger between her shoulder blades. "Want to stay?" she whispered.

Harm was utterly still. Then, "I wish I could," he said quietly, and shrugged out of his jacket. She looked up wistfully as he slipped it around her shoulders, knowing they both were thinking of another night, another time. Harm cleared his throat. "At least we found them, Mac. With any luck, you should be able to clear your guys."

She nodded.

"Is this how it was that time in Aceh?" he looked away, changing the subject.

"Well, we aren't running for our lives. But yes, there's the same feeling of -- I don't know, hidden currents, rage -- all beneath the surface. Like a powder keg ready to blow."

They stood silent. "Well," Harm sighed, "I'd better go pack for my camping trip."

She handed his jacket back to him, and for just a moment they held it between them, his hands over hers. "Thanks for helping, Harm. Take care."

"You too, Marine." He lifted his hand, as if to touch her, and stopped. "See you."

She watched until he climbed into his taxi before going to the waiting police car.

 

Part Four

1130 Hours PST
Ambassador's office

 

"You actually *found* these women?" Beresford stared at Mac, astonished.

"Yes, sir. They were working the crowd in the bar at the same place where they picked up the Marines. The police and I have been questioning them all night, and the women confessed to drugging Sybalski and Ramirez and leading them to a taxicab. They gave us descriptions of the men who hired them, and I have it all on tape. Sir, it's more than enough to get those two men released to our custody."

"Will you charge the Marines?"

"No, sir."

"The government will want someone held responsible. We've already squandered a lot of our credibility in Indonesia because our policies are focused on protecting American business interests rather than promoting efforts at democracy. A lot of people would like to see your Marines found guilty."

"Sir, the women gave us enough for the police to find out who abducted the Marines. They've already pulled in two people, and there's more."

The ambassador waited, listening. Mac went on, "Thirty minutes ago, one of the suspects identified the man who hired him. Sir, he said the man was wearing the uniform of an Indonesian army officer."

"My God. Those witnesses need to be in protective custody, right now." Beresford grabbed the phone. "Janie, get me the prefect of police." He sat back and stared at Mac. "This needs to be handled very carefully, Colonel. It could blow the lid off things down here. There's a reactionary faction in the military that must have orchestrated the bombing to discredit both the government and us. Every time there's another terrorist incident, popular sentiment grows for the military to take over. If they succeed in ousting the president, the country goes back to a dictatorship and we lose any hope of controlling terrorist cells based in Indonesia. You've done a hell of a job, Colonel."

"Thank you, sir. But have you considered what their next move might be?"

"Not yet, but I have a feeling you have."

"They might try to preempt us." She leaned forward. "Sir, Mr. Roberts left at dawn to join the National Geographic expedition. A military escort drove him to the insertion point. Suppose they decide to create another incident and involve the CIA? Professor Marburg is a prominent scientist, it would attract international attention and discredit anything the U.S. might say."

"What kind of incident?"

"I don't know -- something where they could claim Marburg's expedition was spying for the CIA."

"Do you have any evidence of such a plan, Colonel?"

"No, sir. But can we afford to discount the possibility?"

Beresford's gaze sharpened. "Even if I agreed with your theory, Colonel, what do you propose to do? I can't send a group of Marines inland, it would be considered an act of war. Do you have some way to reach Roberts?"

"No, sir. But I believe Marburg has a satellite uplink."

"And what do you propose to say?"

"Not to rendezvous with their military escort, for starters. We could arrange for helo extraction" --

"Colonel. There is no way we're going to get clearance for an American aircraft to fly over Java right now. And if we send a satellite transmission, the Indonesian military will be the first ones to pick it up."

"So you're going to just ignore this?"

"I'm going to play the percentages and hope you're wrong. If they try something, they know we have proof they were behind the bombings."

"And if you're wrong, no one will even care what we say about the bombings -- provided the witnesses even survive that long. CIA covert operations will be much bigger news."

"What do you suggest? That I call Washington and float this -- this theory of yours? Face it, Colonel, there is nothing more I can do right now."

Mac continued to scowl at him, but her gaze turned inward. The iron rails of discipline that had always comforted and guided her seemed to be disappearing into shifting sands. She found herself reaching for a sense of inner balance, and discovered it was an oddly exhilarating sensation. Duty and honor, fear and desire. Choose now. With a feeling that reminded her of her first parachute jump, she heard herself say, "Maybe I can."

"Colonel, if you act independently in this matter you could be subject to court martial," Beresford warned.

"Mr. Ambassador, that's why it's better if you don't know anything. And besides, you said it yourself -- my job is finished here. Technically, I'm on leave."

"What do you propose, sky writing?"

"Not exactly," she said.

 

Same day, 1800 Hours PST
Central Java, 3000 meters above sea level

 

Harm swatted irritably at a whining mosquito and paused to consult his GPS. He ought to be picking up some signs of the expedition by now -- according to the satellite coordinates, he was right on top of them. He took a final pull at his water bottle and hoped Marburg had camped by a stream. It was amazing how thirsty you could get when the humidity was so high your clothes stuck to you.

He was hot, sweaty, and tired, and he couldn't believe it had taken him all day to cover 15 miles from the muddy mountain road. The terrain was incredibly rugged, with rocky fissures and cliffs running from the central spine of the mountains toward the sea, and brief tropical downpours swept over the slopes throughout the day. His route traversed one flank of the peak toward the high forests, and he often had to scramble over seams of broken volcanic rock that poked through the thin soil. The heavy foliage of the lower elevations was finally giving way to fewer trees and open, grassy areas, thank God.

Harm eased his pack a little on his shoulders and squinted against the bars of sunlight slanting through the trees, then set off toward an outcropping of rock about half a mile ahead. He'd make it by dark, and if he still hadn't found them, he could spend the night there. Hell, maybe they were off chasing monkeys or something.

As his boots resumed their mechanical stride, he let his mind roam free as it had all day. The only trouble was, it kept returning to Mac.

How many times, he mused. How many times has this woman given me an ultimatum and then immediately walked away? I swore this would be the last. When she said 'never,' I think it was the worst I've ever felt in my adult life. Worse than the ramp strike, worse than watching her get ready to marry that loser Brumby, worse than listening to the Admiral tell me the last dozen years of my life were meaningless. I don't have it in me to go through this again.

And then she looks up at me with those big eyes, and I know I'll never be over her. Missing her these past six months just made it hurt more. And she actually wondered why I didn't return her phone calls, for Chrissake.

I can't believe yesterday. That was a first. Mac, admitting she might have been wrong about something. Offering to listen. And I blew it.

"What the hell do you want?" He was so wrapped up in his thoughts, the loud voice made him jump as he whirled to face it.

A man stepped out from behind a stand of thin tree trunks about ten feet away and stood staring at him with hostility. The stranger was tall and very thin, dressed in shorts and a remarkably filthy t-shirt. His hair was tied back with a bandanna, and his long beard framed a beaky nose and two piercing eyes. The rank body odor wafting from him was stupefying.

"David Roberts," Harm said and stepped toward him, wishing he could hold his breath. "National Geographic sent me. Are you Dr. Marburg?"

"I am." Marburg ignored Harm's outstretched hand. "What the hell are you doing here?"

"Looking for you, of course." Harm dropped his hand and squinted at him.

"What's so sensitive they couldn't e-mail me?" the biologist demanded.

"You know, I've been hiking up this mountain all day, and I'm whipped. Do you have a camp or something around here? Some place where we can sit down, have a drink?"

"This isn't the Hilton," Marburg snapped. Abruptly he turned and disappeared back into the forest, and it took Harm a minute to realize he was supposed to follow. Living in the jungle doesn't seem to develop the social graces, he reflected with some amusement, and hurried to catch up.

Five minutes later they emerged at the base of the rock outcropping he had spotted from below. Two small nylon tents had been pitched in a small clearing where an Indonesian man squatted beside a wood fire. Another man, apparently European, was sorting plant cuttings on a makeshift table of saplings lashed between two trees. He looked up at their approach, and Marburg veered off toward the tents without a word.

"Hello," the man said in a pleasant Scottish accent, coming forward with his hand extended. "Are you lost or visiting? I'm Stuart McPhee." He had a neatly trimmed beard and a light dusting of freckles across his cheeks.

"David Roberts." Harm shook his hand. "National Geographic sent me."

McPhee cocked his head with curiosity, ready to ask a question, just as Marburg interrupted with a gallon plastic jug. "Here," he thrust it at Harm, who gulped gratefully. Although warm, the water tasted fresh. As soon as he lowered the bottle, Marburg demanded, "Okay. What are you doing here?"

"Nice to meet you, too," Harm said. "Do I get to meet the rest of the staff, or do you summon them by clapping your hands?"

"Don't mind Marburg, he doesn't get out much," McPhee grinned and gestured. "That's Kwan." The man by the fire looked up and nodded before going back to whatever he was cooking. "I'm the post doc, which means I'm the rest of the staff. Here, have a seat." He offered Harm a rickety folding chair and sat down on a tree stump nearby.

"Thanks." Harm eased into the chair, stretching out his legs gratefully, and watched Marburg squat on a log facing him.

"Well?" Marburg said impatiently. "Obviously this was too sensitive for email or SAT communications?"

"Yes, it is. I assume you're aware there was another terrorist bombing in Jakarta?"

"Of course. So what?"

"So I'm under orders to escort you and your party to the American embassy immediately. You're considered a kidnapping threat."

"Forget it." Marburg gestured with finality. "That's ridiculous. We haven't seen anyone in six weeks, and there are no settlements up this high. No one knows we're here."

"Excuse me, professor, but do you really think your daily satellite feed is watched only by the guys back at Harvard? Al Qaeda has laptops too, you know."

"So what? Why should they bother us? We're biologists, for God's sake."

"And every American in the island has a bullseye on his back. Whether you like it or not, you're internationally known, and that makes you a big target."

"Bullshit. I'll get in touch with people at NSF and the WWF, and they'll back me up. I spent three years lining up the funding and the permits for this trip, and I'm not throwing it away because somebody at a desk got a bug up his ass. The Lauraceae trees up here only bloom once every two years, and the bats we're studying are their only pollinators. No one has ever been able to study this before, don't you get it? You don't just walk away from a chance like this, I don't care who sent you. Who was it, anyway? State Department? CIA?"

You arrogant prick, Harm thought tiredly. The flush of anger he felt reminded him how tired he was, and he forced himself to keep his voice reasonable. "Okay, here's how it's going to be. No one in Washington is going to pull any strings for you, because if you get kidnapped or killed, it will be a gigantic diplomatic headache, and they already have all they can handle. So you're coming with me, and I don't give a rat's ass whether you like it or not."

"No." Marburg got angrily to his feet and started to turn away. "What do you propose to do, shoot me?"

An instant later, his chest exploded in blood.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Mac heard the crack of AK-47 fire above the roar of the helicopter's rotors and looked down as they skimmed the treetops. From her vantage point, the forest resembled an endless bowl of broccoli, and she scanned it anxiously. Oh God, don't let us be too late, she prayed.

"There!" She pointed, shouting into her headset over the din. Jake Bierman banked sharply around toward the flashes of light. "Take us around behind them!" she yelled, gesturing, and the green horizon tilted alarmingly as he swung his corporate jet copter above the trees.

Mac wasted no time admiring Bierman's expertise, which apparently had not diminished since he flew missions over the Ho Chi Minh Trail. She hooked onto the steel cable and adjusted her goggles before grabbing a grenade. "I have to take out as many as possible before I go down," she yelled, and Jake just nodded before leveling out thirty feet above the cluster of muzzle flashes, which showed up clearly in the fading daylight. Mac leaned out, pulled the pin, and counted to three before dropping the grenade, quickly following it with two more.

Bierman immediately wheeled away from the orange fireball that rose from the trees and buffeted them with its shock wave. "Yeah!" he shouted over her earphones. "Right down the pipe!"

Without asking, he banked sharply to circle back, this time heading directly for two lines of tracer fire now aimed wildly upward, trying to reach out for them in the growing dark. Mac sighted carefully and tossed two more grenades as they swept over the position.

"Okay, that's got 'em," she called. "Hold her steady over that grassy area." She shrugged into her pack and fastened her rifle across her chest before looking up to find Bierman grinning at her. It occurred to Mac that Jake was having the time of his life. She reached out a gloved hand and clasped his shoulder, then gave him the thumbs up.

"Good luck, honey!" he yelled. Mac tossed the coil of cable out the open door, took hold, and leaned back into the roaring wind. Then she was dropping fast toward the darkness below. A rush of humid air, followed by a heavy bump as she hit. She rolled quickly to her feet and waved at Bierman, catching a glimpse of his thumbs up before he headed away, moving fast, trailing the cable.

Mac quickly unslung her weapon and brought it to the ready before running hard for the trees. There had been six muzzle flashes, and she hoped she had hit five. They had been firing in a ragged line encircling a rock outcropping about a hundred yards ahead, and Mac was pretty sure she had seen the flash of a pistol firing back.

The only chance was to get away from the spot where they had seen her come down, and fast. Following the terrain, trying to move silently and quickly through the heavy vegetation, she prayed she wouldn't stumble upon any remaining bad guys until she had cover at her back.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Harm peered over the log, sweat stinging in his eyes. As a shield, the log was pretty much crap, but it was the only thing within diving distance when the shooting began. At least the darkness soon would make it possible to crawl to the rocks behind him and find a better spot. He inserted a fresh clip in his Glock and swallowed down the brassy taste of adrenaline in his throat, concentrating on slowing his breathing. Who the *hell* had been flying that chopper, he wondered furiously. It seemed bizarre, almost surreal. They'd certainly saved his ass.

McPhee hadn't been so lucky. Harm had tried to shove the guy over the log ahead of him, but McPhee had lunged toward Marburg in some misguided impulse to help and now lay dead beside him, staring up at the sky with sightless eyes. What a goddamn waste.

Harm blinked it away and focused on the trees ringing the little clearing. He'd better move soon, before any other unexpected visitors showed up. He stiffened abruptly, trying to differentiate shadows, not sure whether he had seen movement or not, when a sudden 'pop pop' and the flare of a handgun told him he was right. There was no whine or impact from a round anywhere near him. What was going on out there, were they shooting at each other?

And then, through the blue haze of smoke swirling across the grass, he saw a lone figure emerge from the trees, arms raised. One hand held a scrap of white. Very slowly, Harm rose to his knees, his automatic held straight out in both hands as he scanned rapidly for other movement, expecting a decoy. Whoever it was took a hesitant step or two toward him and paused.

"Mac?" he muttered in disbelief. She lowered her hands. "Harm?" she called quietly.

He scrambled to his feet, and suddenly she was there before him, engulfed in full camouflage battle gear. He reached out and grabbed her by the shoulders, shaking her slightly, demanding, "What the *hell* are you doing here?"

Her eyes were enormous, shadowed and staring from a small pale face smudged with smoke and dirt. Her slight frame was taut with tension. "Not now," she brushed him off. "Where's Marburg?"

"Dead. His assistant, too."

"Come on." She grabbed his sleeve and tugged him back toward the trees. Harm jerked his arm away and clamped down on the million questions sizzling in his brain as he bent low and ran after her. Once inside the concealing foliage, they threw themselves behind a huge buttressed tree and peered back out at the clearing, panting.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

"I don't think anybody else is moving out there." She lifted her head from the night scope mounted on her rifle and lowered the weapon before sliding down to sit against the tree, rubbing her eyes. After a minute she shrugged out of her pack and pulled off her helmet, shaking out her hair, and Harm took the canteen from her pack. He nudged her arm with it, and she drank gratefully.

"Okay," he said. "Start at the beginning."

Mac sighed, her eyes closed. "The military were behind the bombings. They set this up to make it look like Marburg was working for the CIA and got hit by a group of Al Qaeda hiding out up here. They're trying to oust the government by making it appear too weak to keep order."

"And you know this how?"

She kept her eyes closed for a moment before getting to her feet. Without a word, she pulled aside a thick clump of ferns to reveal a man in camouflage sprawled on the ground. Despite the dim light, Harm could see the uniform. Mac fumbled at the open neck of the man's shirt. With a quick jerk, she held up a silvery chain and identification tag. "They didn't even bother to pretend to be terrorists," she said disgustedly. "The women led us to the guys who hired them, and they implicated a faction within the military."

Harm blew a breath out in a low whistle. "It figures. And I led them right here. Christ, what a mess." His voice was bitter with self-condemnation. Finally he looked up. "The only thing they didn't count on was you. So *now* are you going to tell me how you got here?"

"Jake Bierman."

"John Wayne?"

"Yep. He gave me his card last night, so I called him. He flew choppers in Viet Nam, and he still flies his own jet copter. He always lands on the lawn behind the embassy when he comes to Jakarta, and he said nobody would think twice if he took a little swing inland before heading back out to his oil rig."

"And he agreed to drop you into a live fire zone by yourself, just like that?"

"Well, we didn't know they'd be shooting at you by the time we got here."

"Your Marine buddies loan you the equipment?"

"I called in a couple of favors."

"For God's sake, Mac." She had never heard him so furious, at least not when it was directed at her. He got to his feet and stood with his back to her, silhouetted against the clearing. He remained silent for a long time, and she simply waited, feeling wrung out.

His voice, when it came, was low and rough. "You threw away your career. You realize that, at least? What in God's name were you thinking?"

"We don't leave people behind."

"In case you hadn't noticed, I'm not in the Navy anymore. You can be charged for this!"

"Well, I know a good civilian lawyer." She gave him a faint smile.

"Jesus, Mac, you could have been killed! How was I supposed to live with that?"

"Stop shouting at me!" Mac snapped at his tall shadow, black against the starlight. Finally she said, "Let me ask you this, Harm. Did you think I would do any less?"

There was an odd little silence while they glared at each other, the tension thrumming the air between them. "No," Harm said at last. "No, I never thought that."

"I just killed six men," Mac said fiercely, trying to control the tremble in her voice. "I shot this guy point blank. Two Americans are lying dead over there. And all I know is, I'd do it again."

Neither would drop their angry gaze. Finally Harm threw up a hand in a gesture of futility. "Well, the question is, now what." He glanced at her. "What were you planning to do?"

"Jake was going to pick us up at first light."

He snorted in disgust. "Oh he was, was he? Well, no chance of that now, is there? The one thing we can count on is that somebody is waiting for these guys to call in. When they don't, you can bet they'll have a chopper standing by with night scopes."

"We'd better move out of the area. If we get far enough away, I can call Jake on his cell phone and we can arrange another rendezvous."

"Not if he wants to stay out of jail. You can bet they'll be monitoring any transmissions from this part of the island." He scrubbed a hand over his face and started back toward the scientists' camp, and Mac climbed wearily to her feet to follow. "Let's get Marburg’s identification and laptops," Harm gestured, pointing at the tent. "Dogtags from the soldiers, too. I want to be able to prove our story when we get out of here."

Mac swallowed and reluctantly started toward the column of black smoke that still smoldered, dreading what she would see. Angrily she swallowed down the absurd ache in her throat, willing herself not to cry. After only a few steps, she felt Harm's hand on her arm and halted, looking back.

"Why don't you gather up some supplies, Mac. Whatever you think we can carry without slowing us down. I'll do this." He jerked his head toward the blast site.

"I can do it, Harm," she bristled.

"I know. But let me." He was asking, not ordering, and the simple compassion in his voice suddenly snapped the fierce tension within her. It was all she could do to keep her voice steady.

"Thanks." She watched him move off and turned in relief to the camp.

When Harm came back ten minutes later, he found her sitting in the dark near the bodies of the two scientists, holding an entrenching tool. The moon had risen, and its faint light was enough to reveal her silhouette. He could see the droop of her shoulders as he sat down beside her with a sigh.

"Mac." He put his hand over hers, stilling their aimless turning and twisting on the handle of the shovel. "We could dig all night and not get deep enough to bury them."

She nodded in agreement, but her voice sounded thick. "I tried to find some rocks to pile over them, but there aren't enough small ones. I just" -- he waited -- "it just doesn't seem right to leave them."

"I know," he said softly. They sat in silence for a few minutes, sharing the water bottle back and forth. Finally Harm stood up and held out his hand to pull her up. "We'd better get out of here, Mac."

"Okay." They hoisted packs to their shoulders, and without discussion she followed him around the southern shoulder of the rocks, heading west. The darkness of the forest enfolded them.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Two hours later they halted at a small stream, hearing more than seeing it where the water gurgled over rocks. Slivers of moonlight penetrated the dense overhanging foliage and twinkled on the little cascade. Mac dropped her pack and threw herself flat, plunging her face into the blessed coolness and drinking deeply. Harm knelt beside her and did the same.

"Ah, God," he groaned, rolling onto his back on the mossy bank. "I'm never moving again."

"That makes two of us," Mac agreed, sitting back on her heels.

"You didn't spend all day hiking up this goddamn mountain."

"You weren't up all night interrogating the hookers from hell."

In spite of himself, Harm started to chuckle, and Mac finally joined in, feeling some of the unbearable tension begin to drain away.

"Do you think we can sleep here until it gets light?" she asked hopefully. "There's no way they could follow us."

"Yeah. Hell, *I* don't know exactly where we are, and I have the GPS."

With a sigh, Mac dug around in her pack until she found a small folded package that held her waterproof tarp. She spread it over the dense carpet of ferns near the stream and sat, then uncapped a plastic bottle of insect repellent and began smoothing it over her arms and face.

"What is that smell?" Harm grumbled, rustling around with his own pack.

"Here. It's Deet or citronella or something. I brought some stuff too, but I found this in their tent. The mosquitoes are using me for a hot lunch."

"Speaking of lunch, I have a couple MREs. Want to share?"

"Thanks, I brought some of my own. I'm too tired to eat, though." She flopped back and stared up into the inky, rustling darkness overhead. There was no breath of breeze to stir the oppressive humidity. She lay quietly, feeling every muscle in her body ache as she listened to Harm crackling the wrapper of his meal pack. "I can't believe we're spending another night out in the middle of nowhere," she said.

"We do seem to keep ending up this way. At least it isn't freezing," he replied. She wondered if he was relieved about that. He lay down a foot away and thumped around, trying to get comfortable. After awhile, his voice spoke from the darkness. "Mac. About tonight. Thank you."

A wave of hot shame rolled over her. Furiously she brushed at her cheeks, willing herself not to start snuffling, and finally she managed to whisper, "You're welcome." She swallowed. "I never thanked *you.* I'm sorry, Harm."

"I didn't come to Paraguay so you'd be grateful, Mac."

"I know."

He hesitated. "None of it was your fault."

"I'm not so sure about that."

After a minute she heard him roll toward her, and when he spoke, his voice was very quiet. "Mac. When you showed up tonight, all I could see was that you'd nearly gotten yourself killed and probably ruined your career, all on my account. I wasn't grateful, I was pissed."

She remained silent, glad to know he understood.

He sighed. "I should have seen it coming. I should have paid attention to you about the political situation."

She looked over, but his profile was turned away. They lay quietly beneath the looming darkness, side by side. After a long time, she said, "You know what's funny?"

"What?" He sounded wary.

"For the first time since I joined the Marines, I'm not following a course someone else laid out."

"How does it feel?" Now she could hear a smile in his voice.

"You ought to know, you wrote the book. I guess it feels -- scary, but exhilarating. Like working without a net." A memory of her last tour in Indonesia glimmered at the back of her mind. Had love finally made her crazy? If so, it felt right.

"Does it feel right?" Harm echoed, and she turned her head sharply toward him. Had she spoken aloud?

"Yes," she whispered.

"Then trust yourself, Mac. You've never let anyone down yet."

She stared up at the shifting leaves high overhead, swallowing the lump in her throat, feeling strangely comforted. After awhile she closed her eyes. "G'night, Harm."

" 'Night, Mac. Sleep well."

 

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4
 
 
   

Copyright © 2005 Legacies Archive  - Site owner Pixie