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Classification JAG Story, Crossover (X-files), Romance (H/M)
Length Approximately 30,000 words; 62 pages (8 ½” x 11”)
Spoilers Everything up to "Adrift II," flashbacks, time sequences of "Mutiny" have been drawn out. And yes, it’s a direct take from the X Files episode, "The Field where I Died," but you don’t have to have seen that episode for the story to make sense. Being lazy, I’m plagiarizing some excerpts from "Field" in context with this story.
 
Rating AO for disturbing concepts, child abuse, language, and sexual situations
Supplemental Disclaimer: The names and ranks of the other hanged men and most of the details of the Somers is historically accurate—plus writer’s license.
 
Summary Post "Mutiny" episode. I’d strongly recommend viewing this episode again before reading this story. The quartermaster, Seaman Elisha Small and Bosun’s Mate Samuel Cromwell were hung beside Phillip Spencer that fateful day, but actual Naval historical records show that Cromwell’s name was never entered on the list of conspirators. So, why was he hanged?

Years before we saw a black hood pulled over (Cromwell) Harmon Rabb’s face, a noose around his neck and Brumby the face of his executioner, we saw Fox Mulder hold a torn photograph in his hands in the field where he died. Souls, traveling together, the past, present and future here, now, again. This is not a crossover, but there are brief, cameo appearances. Non X-Files fans will not be confused.

“Ma’am, I…I only asked if you loved your husband. You are under oath.”
—Mutiny

 

Part 1 Part 2

 

 

 

1410hrs
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia

 


At times, I almost dream. I, too, have spent a life the sages’ way and tread once more familiar paths. Perchance I perished in an arrogant self-reliance an age ago, and in that act, a prayer for one more chance went up so earnest, so... instinct with better light let in by death that life was blotted out not so completely, but scattered wrecks enough of it to remain dim memories... as now, when seems once more the goal in sight again.

Commander Harmon Rabb didn’t know if he could do this again. Jordan had helped him deal with it after the first time. Now Jordan was another buried memory. Two years had passed, a former life recovered and conquered. There had been closure, yes, and another woman, Theresa Coulter, had helped him deal with both Annie Lewis and Jordan’s deaths. But that did not stop the images cascading.

How did people work such crimes on a daily basis? To call a child a throwaway. A callous dismissal of life, the corruption of innocence, trampled like a soiled rag. Crime? No, crime was an act against man-made laws. This was an act abhorrent to nature, an abomination. Evil.

“I can’t say I’m happy about this, Commander,” A.J. Chedwiggen said, glaring at Agent Holland. “But given the possible jurisdictional overlaps, and your success on the Annie Lewis case has afforded you a precedent.”

Harm nodded once, abruptly. He didn’t believe but… Perhaps it was divine punishment for his confession and inappropriate actions on the Admiral’s Porch over the weekend. “Have they…?”

“Not yet,” Agent Holland said. “We got the call twenty minutes ago. This one is gonna take hours to go over, but we should be able to access to the scene without stepping on anyone’s toes. Besides, I know the agent in charge. He’s not a bad guy.” Her voice trailed off. Harm would have though her inured to life’s horrors, but it seemed she didn’t mind handing this one to the Feds.

Chegwidden stood. “All right, Commander,” he said in a hardened voice. “I expect you to keep me fully appraised as this unfolds.”

“Yes, sir.” Harm stood, meeting his superior’s eyes. The diamond hard flatness in them shone of things that none would speak of, for there were no words for this crime, even from a SEAL who knew the horror of Vietnam.

 

1500hrs
West of Washington Naval Yards
Washington, D.C.

 

Colonel Sarah Mackenzie frowned at the sight of flashing blue and red lights, and the yellow tape. Although wharf near the Washington Naval Yards was not administered by the Navy, the recently restored Somers had been berthed there in preparation for the official opening ceremonies the coming weekend. Mac counted at least five agencies’ cars, including the FBI, parked haphazardly along the dock. A coroner’s vehicle sat amid them. Death featured in this crime scene. And death remained, for the van from the morgue was still there.

Instinctually, Mac drew away from the scene, but even from this distance, she noticed that there didn’t appear to be any activity on board the majestic sailing ship, just the wharf. Her gaze took in the activity on shore, then she peered more closely at the Somers. No one was on board. Whatever the crime had been, it appeared not to involve the magnificently restored sailing ship.

Mac had an appointment with Josh McCabe at Naval Archives the following morning. Perhaps she should also come back here tomorrow. But even now, she found herself drawn to the Somers. The newspaper reports that Harm had given her a few days before had breathed life into the tale. Now she needed to feel it, to walk the meticulously refurbished decks, to see and taste the last hour before the mutineers had been hung.

Very little, perhaps ten percent of the original ship’s timbers and fittings remained. This Somers was more reproduction than restoration, for the original had been all but destroyed during the Mexican war. Nevertheless, she hoped that walking along its corked wooden decks would provide inspiration to her lecture on what had so far proved to be a confusing and elusive case.

Before Mac realized it, she was standing at the yellow tape like a gawking ambulance chaser. Two unformed cops turned to face her. “Afternoon, Colonel,” one said courteously, his eyes appraising.

Mac looked at him in confusion. He wasn’t just giving her the once over. He acted like he was expecting her.

“You’re from the Judge Advocate General’s office?” the patrolman added.

This was a very fresh crime scene; she could tell by the tension and activity. Her frown deepened. “You were expecting me?”

“Yeah, Colonel, with an NCIS agent.” The patrolman looked over her shoulder expectantly.

“I’m sorry.” Mac reached into her pocket for her cell phone. “Can you explain what’s going on here?”

“Homicide, Colonel.” Sensitive to the congregation of nearby reports and television vans, his voice dropped as he added, “Another kid dumped. Maybe more that one, they’re still sorting body parts.”

Mac froze, then she stiffened into parade ground hardness. Who hadn’t heard about the spate of homicides amongst the homeless kids of DC—the ones that drugs and a harsh winter had not managed to kill? They’d been found dumped around the city in no apparent pattern. The FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit had been called in criminal profilers trying to give form and definition to those who perpetrated such acts.

The Admiral had given Mac the afternoon off to come down to the Somers. So why hadn’t he called her? She was about to lift her cell phone to dial the JAG office when she heard another car pull up. Mac wasn’t surprised to see Harm emerge from a tan colored Ford. She recognized the NCIS agent who stepped out from the driver’s side, and Mac chose to focus on her rather than her partner.

She and Harm had only briefly spoken since her engagement party at the Admiral’s on Saturday night. The night that Harm had finally bared his soul. When he had kissed her with desperation and unbridled longing and said goodbye. Again.

Their timing sucked. As usual. Mac almost laughed, but it would have been manic. Her timing had been impeccable until meeting Harmon Rabb.

Mic had wanted to call her on it; she could see it in his eyes when they drove home from the Admiral’s house that evening. But she had played an Oscar performance in bed, driving his doubts away—while hers ate at her conscious like a determined woodworm. Why had her lovemaking with Mic that night been so impassioned? Because one kiss from Harm had aroused her beyond reason? Or because she needed to convince herself that she loved Mic?

Do you love him?

That’s not a question you get to ask
.

“Mac.” Harm reached her in three long strides. “What are you doing here?” His expression was guardedly neutral. But he was not withdrawing from her, for she’d given him her assurances that they were okay. No, this was Harmon Rabb steeling himself, shutting down his emotions.

Children.

Lifting her hand to touch him, she hesitated, and thought better of it. Despite her reassurances, she and Harm had overstepped certain boundaries last Saturday evening. She was not about to burden him with any untoward affection. “The Somers,” she replied, motioning to the ship.

The cop lifted the crime scene tape for the NCIS agent, Holland. Harm also ducked beneath. “I thought the Somers was tied up near the USS Barry?” said Harm.

Mac followed, and fell into step beside him. “She’s due to be open to the public this Saturday. With restricted access to the Naval Yard these days—” When Harm nodded in understanding, she added, “So what’s going on?”

“Looks like the guy mutilating kids decided to use the wharf to dump another body.”

“I got that much,” she replied. “But not why you’re here.”

“Agent Holland asked me to come down.”

Something tugged at Mac’s gut. “Harm, getting involved with this is a bad idea. Last time—” The look on his face stilled her. The last time… The last time all of their emotions had been shredded. Harriet had become so distressed that she’d lashed out at Harm. Then before anyone could recover, everything had gone to hell. Clarke Palmer had come back into their lives, she had confronted her own childhood demons of brutality, and Harm had recovered his night vision without bothering to tell her. Then there’d been that horrendous confrontation with Annie’s murderer, and a promise, a five-year plan.

And then, just as abruptly, Harm had vanished from their lives as if none of it—including their partnership—had ever mattered. All within the space of a few, short, sharp weeks.

It suddenly struck Mac that Harm had talked about going halves in a baby just as he’d been leaving. At the time, she’d known that her resentment of his changed designator was mixed up with her raw emotions. She had faced down childhood demons, but had not emerged unscathed, and her best friend had abandoned her. She wasn’t sure what she had resented the most, her own needs—or Harm’s.

And why were such insights coming now, here? Because of Saturday night? She would never forget the aura of trapped helplessness she’d felt as the Admiral toasted her and Mic. Then, as now, Harm’s face was a mask, a brittle façade over emotions he was duty bound to confine. The feel of his hand against the back of hers, both unwilling to break that final, tenuous contact.

Only with you.

“Mac, you’re going to be away for the next few weeks,” Harm said. “Give it a rest, huh?”

Give what a rest? Their…relationship, this case, or her attempt to talk him out of becoming involved?

“…pretty much finished now,” Mac heard the coroner say. “You gonna take ‘em to Quantico?”

“Yeah.” The black over-coated man with her, nodded. He turned as Harm, Mac and Holland joined them. “Navy want a piece of this too?” he asked, but there was no rancor in his voice.

“Yeah, right,” Holland replied, then she introduced everyone. “Lieutenant Colonel Sarah Mackenzie and Commander Harmon Rabb from JAG, this is Special Supervisory Agent Michael Walthers, BSU.”

Mac nodded as Walthers took her hand, then Harm’s. The FBI Behavioral Science Unit was stationed in the old bomb shelter at Quantico. The FBI and Marines had learned to share without treading on each other’s toes. Mostly.

Motioning to the coroner, Walthers said, “Julia Hernandez.”

“Who’s outta here,” Julia said tiredly. “I’ve signed off on it and it’s all yours.” She shot Walthers a regretful look. “Lucky you, Mike.” Then patted him once on the arm and left.

“You wanna walk through it while I explain?” Walthers said to Harm and Mac.

Harm nodded stiffly. Mac was about to say that she wasn’t here for this, but Harm’s closed expression worried her. She handed her briefcase to a uniformed cop, who took her details for the crime scene log. She caught Harm watching her out of the corner of his eyes, half expecting him to object. She was surprised—and relieved—when she saw the gratitude in his eyes.

They gathered their coats around themselves; the temptation to touch anything consigned to deep pockets. “A month ago,” said Walthers, “dead kids, mostly throwaways, started turning up in different parts of the city. Victims’ bodies had been progressively mutilated. You know what it’s like in DC. A dozen law enforcement agencies are tripping over each other all the damned time. Anyway, most of ‘em put it down to drugs. If our guys had seen the bodies, we would have picked up on it straight away, but we didn’t. I’m not blaming the local cops, all kinds of weird crap happens when drugs are involved. But then the mutilations got worse. That’s when we were called in. Straightaway we found signs of cannibalism.”

Harm’s face twisted and Mac almost gasped. “What?”

They had reached the first of the white sheets, sheets that did not cover bodies, but parts. Harm’s nostrils flared. He’d investigated crash sights. Burned flesh; body parts sometimes as small as a dime. The scattering of metal and mortal remains could tell investigators much. Crime scenes were the same—especially to criminal profilers. But these were children. Mac swallowed and prepared herself.

Walthers glanced at her, and his eyes fell to her medals, evaluating. That pegged him as ex-military, probably ex-Marine. His gaze darted across to the commander’s medals, and zeroed in on the two distinguished flying crosses. “Listen,” he said, “you guys seen action, right? But this, well, it’s not as grizzly, but it’s a hell of a lot harder to stomach. Cannibalism is not uncommon in these sorts of cases. Not the Silence of the Lambs kind a vampiric crap where he’s takin’ chunks outta live victims, but a behavioral disorder that’s part of the psychosis. It can start out as just drinkin’ the blood of victims, so all you see is maybe a cup or a saucer or somethin’. Or it can be the whole nine yards, right down to saucepans and blenders. It’s almost always post mortem and, look, I’m not goin’ into details now, but this guy is definitely escalating. He’s tryin’ to live out a dangerous fantasy, tryin’ to make it more perfect each time, because he’s just not gettin’ it. Some fetishists and serial killers reach a plateau, then they’ve satisfied themselves and they stop. We figure a lot get caught for other crimes, because they have no concept of living within the rules society sets for them, so they end up in jail and the problem disappears. Hell, at any one time, we reckon there are about five hundred serial killers runnin’ around this country. And this guy, he ain’t gonna stop until we nail him.”

Dangerous fantasy. Where had Mac read that recently? “He?” she asked, swallowing. The coppery smell of blood, fecal matter and ruptured internal organs mixed with the oily, rancid smell of the wharf and salty air. The light drizzle that had plagued the crime scene techs had tapered off, but it would start again, soon.

“Serial killers are almost exclusively males, generally Caucasian and usually fall within a certain age group,” came a female voice from behind.

Mac spun around to see a diminutive redhead in a dark overcoat. “Special Agent Dana Scully,” she said, not offering her latex covered hand. Mac noticed her eyes. They were guarded, occasionally flicking to a dark-coated, dark haired man walking the scene. “In the rare instances,” continued Scully, “where a woman is involved, she’s usually accompanying the primary male perpetrator.”

“Agent Scully is a forensic pathologist,” said Walthers. He introduced Harm and Mac, then motioned to the other agent. “And that’s Special Agent Fox Mulder.”

Mac could smell the tension between Walthers and Scully. The pathologist did not want to be here…no. No it wasn’t that. She was concerned about—

“So, how’s Spooky going?” Another agent joined them, then looking Harm and Mac up and down, demanded, “What’re the Navy and Marines doin’ here?”

Walther’s cell phone rang, then Scully’s. Both moved away to speak, Scully’s eyes flashing a warning at the new arrival.

The man tossed off a smirk and held out his hand. “Special Agent Bob McClelland. Don’t worry about it.” He said, eyeing off Mac. “Dana’s just pissed because of Spooky.” But then his smirk vanished and his voice lowered. “Damned profilers. They’re all weird. Hell, they can tell you the make and color of the perp’s car and whether he wet his bed as a kid. But Mulder, shit, he normally doesn’t touch these sort of cases anymore, but when he does, his solve rate is just plain…spooky.” As McClelland talked, he crouched beside the first sheet. “Y’see,” he added, “Spooky gets inside the perps’ minds and rummages around. He like, feels the guy getting off on this and—” McClelland jerked back the sheet, his eyes taking in Mac, a smirk on his lips waiting for her reaction.

Mac had seen horribly mutilated bodies, even children, but those injuries had been inflicted by bombs and machine guns, not some guy in D.C. with a hatchet. She’d always had difficulty with child abuse cases. She’d managed to deal with it, in part, because Harm had helped her work through it, and in part, because she’d also become inured to it as a child. What she didn’t consciously realize was that this time, she was dealing with it because of her concern for Harm. He needed her to be strong for him.

They had often crossed paths with the Feds. Mostly, like Walther, they respected each other. But then there were the older agents. Beat pounders who’d never progressed through the ranks, residues of the Hoover years that dismissed women as politically necessary annoyances, and psychologists and profilers as little more than witch doctors. Assholes like McClelland, who seemed disappointed at Mac’s lack of visible reaction

“This wharf adjoins Navy property, and Naval personnel were probably present nearby—” Harm pointed to the Somers “—when the body was dumped.” His voice was flat and emotionless as he bent to look at the head and torso of the little girl. McClelland wouldn’t see it, but Mac knew Harm, knew by the way his jaw was clenched that he’d clamped a solid curtain of iron around his emotions.

“How’d she die?” Harm asked, looking up. Like his expression, only Mac noticed the catch in his voice.

“Like she lived,” Agent Scully replied, placing the cell phone back into her pocket as she joined them.

Half an hour spent going over the scene, Harm couldn’t shake the feeling that he needed to get aboard the Somers. Although it was a couple of hundred feet from the actual site of where the body parts had been dumped, with the entire wharf cordoned-off and all nonessential personnel ordered to stand down, the ship’s decks were empty.

“What is it?” Mac asked quietly when they were out of earshot of the others. “What’s happened?”

Harm shook his head, his face a mask. Don’t get personal with this, Holland had told him last time. It’ll eat you alive.

“C’mon, Harm,” Mac added, touching his sleeve. “Don’t go retreating into that ‘I’m just a lawyer I deal in facts routine’ again. What’s going on, besides…?”

Besides the obvious horror of the case? The coroner had identified two victims, but not all the body parts had been accounted for. His eyes slid to Mac’s, cautious.

“Harm, I thought we’d got past this…” She trailed off when he looked away. He had to look away because if he didn’t—“You asked me if we were okay,” she added. “I thought we were. Harm, don’t shut me out, especially not on something like this.”

She shouldn’t have to deal with this, especially with her wedding so close. He had to deal with this alone. And, alone, he would have to deal with losing her to Brumby. “You shouldn’t be here, Mac,” he replied in a low voice. “You’re supposed to be researching the Somers for your lecture.”

“That’s why I’m here,” she replied, gently chiding.

His eyes slid to meet hers again. He’d apologized for overstepping the boundaries of a well-wisher, and that he only wanted to see her happy. But when she’d asked, Even if being happy means being with Mic? He’d bitten his lip like a bumbling adolescent. The night on Chegwidden’s porch had exposed too much, too late. Clearing the air had revealed truths best kept hidden, from both of them. He almost couldn’t believe he’d pulled her to him like that, kissed her like that. And the emotions it had released in him… He’d stood looking at her, then turned away, angry with himself, wondering what the hell he was thinking. He wasn’t about to make her life more complicated, not now, on the home stretch. “Why don’t we see if we can get permission for you to board her?” he suggested, hoping to steer the conversation into less deadly waters. “She’s not part of the crime scene. Besides,” he added, looking up at the darkening sky. “They’re starting to pack up.”

The sheets on the wharf had been replaced by yellow body bags. Small bags, the ones used in crash investigations. The crime scene investigators were gathering the pieces for transport to Quantico, where the grotesque jigsaw puzzle would be assembled, then dismembered again by pathologist’s steel tools.

Walthers joined them. “So, what do you wanna do?”

This wasn’t anything like the Lewis twins. This was not a pair of discarded waifs, but the results of a serial killer on the loose. And this killer had far too many deeply ingrained pathological tendencies to remain free for long, for as Agent Mulder had pointed out, the murderer was himself most likely a battered and sexually abused victim turned perpetrator. However you looked at it, it was out of JAG’s domain. But Harm could not bring himself to move.

“Listen, Commander,” said Walthers, his eyes taking on a knowing look. “I’ve been at this game long enough to recognize the signs. Honorable men became entrapped by the need to hunt down and eradicate horrors like this, so lemme make this a little easier for you. Agent Mulder is an obsessive son of a bitch who probably won’t sleep now he’s got the stench of this asshole in his nostrils. He don’t have a life. He has some sort of holy fucking crusade. My advice? Don’t get caught up in it. We just let him off the leash and follow. I’ll keep you updated on things as they progress, howzat?”

“Suits me,” said Agent Holland, who had joined them. “What do you say, Commander?”

There were no images, no wraithlike figures calling to him. This was something both more and less substantial. An echo of things never seen or known. He tried to shake it off. The cumulative effects of too little sleep, too much thinking and far too much emotional baggage when it came to Mac—and now this. He normally thrived on stress, what fighter jock didn’t? But this case, and something about the Somers

“Fair enough,” he replied. “So far it’s out of our jurisdiction, anyway.” Mac was also looking at him, into him, the silent question on her lips. But he had to let her go.

Mac was still frowning as she collected her briefcase from the officer. She turned to speak, about to offer Harm a ride back to JAG headquarters, but he wasn’t behind her. Looking around, she saw Holland getting into her car. Harm wasn’t with the NCIS agent, so where had he vanished? Mac glanced back at the wharf, then her eyes zeroed in on a figure walking up the gangplank of the Somers. She’d seen the haunted expression on Harm’s face too often not to know that there was something more at work here, something he wasn’t telling her.

The rain started again. Colder this time, or perhaps it was just the bleakness of the encroaching dark. After dropping her bag in her car, she went back to the wharf and strode up the gangplank and on to the deck of the rebuilt brig. It always came as a shock to know that men had gone to sea, fought battles and storms and privateers—and each other—in such flimsy ships. The deck offered less free standing room than a basketball court. “Harm?” she called.

No reply, but she heard his footfalls below-decks, near the forecastle. Carefully watching her step down the narrow stairs, and, following the narrow companionway, called again, “Harm?”

It was dark inside and she reached into her pocket for a flashlight. She could see his shadowy form just up ahead. Abruptly turning, Harm grasped her by the arms, presumably to block her view. But he’d been too late; her flashlight had picked up the gory remains. Unprepared this time, her stomach clenched. “Oh, God!” After seeing the remains on the wharf, this shouldn’t have shocked her, but it was so unexpected, so out of place. Somehow, she didn’t think the Somers would be open to the public come this coming weekend.

But perhaps the more important question was, how had Harm known?

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

“Just what we need, another fucking Spooky,” McClelland muttered to a uniformed cop.

Mac sent him a piercing look as she passed him on the lower deck. “And now it is on Navy property, Agent.” She ignored his less than subtle leer and climbed the steps to the after deck, where Harm was standing.

Accepting the coffee she’d brought, he offered her a half smile and said with forced joviality, “Thanks, Mac. Hey, shouldn’t you be getting home? Just a few days to the big day. Lots to arrange.”

On the mid-deck of the now floodlit Somers, crime scene analysts, recalled and told to start again, continued to scour the ship. The rain, the mortal enemy to investigators, had also started again. Not that it mattered; all of the remains were below, in the freshly painted, mint-crisp forecastle. Collecting evidence would be easier than from the less than pristine dock. “Throwing chaff again, Hammer?”

He tossed her an odd look. “Now who’s throwin’ chaff?”

She sipped her coffee, regretting the reference to that night. Dammit! Was it always going to be that night in her mind? Why not, her engagement party, or Mic’s and her engagement party? Instead, it would always be that night. The night when she’d been confronted by the depth of Harm’s feelings—not just his need, but also his desire. The night she’d had some glimpse of what it would be like to be loved, and made love to, by Harmon Rabb.

But she was a big girl now, time to put aside a young woman’s fantasies, grow up and settle down with what she needed, not what she wanted. “Better drink your coffee before the rain douses it.”

He sipped, watching her over the brim.

Capitulating the Harm’s raised eyebrow, she said, “I called Mic. What did the Admiral say?”

“He asked me twice if it was me who found the bodies.” Harm smiled and gave her another sideways glance. “Then he said I’d been hangin’ around you too long.”

She shot him an impatient glare, but tempered it with a knowing grin.

“Okay, okay,” he added with a nod. “The Admiral has informed the relevant authorities, including the Naval College. He’s also asked me to be present when everyone who was on board this afternoon, including the midshipmen now back at the College, are rounded up and interviewed tomorrow. But I don’t think we’re gonna get anything there, Mac. This guy is no regular serial killer.”

Since when had a regular serial killer become a normal part of society? “Anyone with this level of psychosis cannot have gone unnoticed by his fellow crewman. I doubt he would have been let into military service in the first place, so I agree with you there. But someone must have seen something. These kids didn’t just appear here.”

“That’s what the FBI are hoping. So, what about you? You’ve still go a lecture to write.”

“I’ve got an appointment tomorrow morning with the Naval Historical Center. There are aspects about the mutiny that just don’t add up.”

“Like?”

“Harm, how did you know that the remains were on board?”

When he shook his head, she sent him a sour look, then he shrugged and said, “I can’t explain what I don’t know, Mac. Agent Scully suggested I probably smelled it. Makes as much sense as anything.”

“But not why you came on board in the first place.”

“After reading those newspaper articles from the New York Commercial Advertiser, I guess the story kinda intrigued me.” He looked around the deck of the small ship and added, “And you thought it was tight on a sub.”

Looking at the cramped, cluttered decks, how could anyone live like that, on top of each other, and not mutiny was beyond Mac. Still, she had tried to view the case in the context of the period, where respect for the chain of command was often at the point of a sword and the end of a whip, and where the scum of the earth were taken on board and ordered to fight or die. Life was cheap, hard and short, but still, what a hell of way to train teenage midshipmen! The navy of one hundred and sixty years ago was a very different place to now.

“So,” added Harm. “What’s bugging you about a century and a half old court-martial?”

If she hadn’t been distracted by her own thoughts on the matter, she might have heard the tension in Harm’s voice. Instead, she replied, “Commander Alexander Mackenzie’s record had been exemplary until then. But then, so had the infamous Captain Bligh. Contrary to Hollywood, Bligh was a fair minded man, one who treated his men with respect, who fought against the use of the whip and spoke up for his men’s rights. Yet his actions as a moderate probably gave his men a taste of freedom—and they leaped.”

“Perhaps that’s why Christian let him live,” Harm replied thoughtfully.

“Mic’s been regaling me with tales of how Captain Bligh later became the governor of Australia.”

“That might explain a few things about Aussies,” Harm quipped. At her reproachful look, he added, “Hey, Bligh performed an unparalleled feat of navigation across half the Pacific. He kept his men alive under extraordinary circumstances and made it home to tell the tale. Nice guy or not, that sort of tenacity and endurance can get a determined man anything he wants.”

Choosing to ignore subtext, she replied, “But something about Mackenzie just doesn’t sit right. It was just a training voyage. How could three men end up hanged? I think I will go home. I need to review my notes again. There’s something missing.” She didn’t add that she was also starving. It seemed wrong to be thinking about food as the pitiful remains of a dead child, the second of the two victims, was carried across the deck and onto the wharf.

“Wait a sec.” Harm said when they went down to the midships. He went back and said something to Walthers and Holland, who nodded together. When Harm joined her on the gangplank, he said, “You want to run over the case with me? I’ll cook you dinner.”

She nodded gratefully. But on the walk back to the car, she also noticed that Harm kept glancing back at the ship.

 

1950hrs EST
North of Union Station
Washington D.C.

 

After dropping off Harm at work, he’d given Mac a spare key to his apartment, saying that he’d stop on the way for groceries. She’d used the fifteen minutes alone to start a fire and freshen up. She couldn’t avoid looking around with eyes that differed to the ones before that night. As often as she had been in that apartment, as often as she’d found herself idly wondering what Harm would be like as a lover—hell, not much to wonder about, his eyes gave that away—Mac suddenly developed a schoolgirl’s curiosity into his more private life. You know; the voice in her head nagged back, the one with Renée.

Oh, for pity’s sake, she chided herself. And that’s when she noticed the absence. Only Harm’s things decorated the apartment. On the walls, photos of friends, family, classmates, aviators, ships and planes. One photo featured her, Bud, Harriet and baby AJ, but not one, anywhere, of Renée. Perhaps he had them in albums, but it was still a glaring absence in Mac’s mind.

She walked through his bedroom to the bathroom. Only his clothes hung in the wardrobe. Standing in front of his vanity, she leaned against the cupboard door to freshen her lipstick. The door flipped open and a man’s toiletries bag fell out. Automatically leaning down to put it back; she vaguely noticing that the bag was one of Harm’s that she had not seen in years. A discarded one, now home to a dozen, used toothbrushes, lipsticks, hairbrushes and women’s accoutrements, including underwear. Mac shook her head in wry amusement. Harmon Rabb’s collection of ex-girlfriends. But as she hurriedly scooped the contents back into the bag, her investigator’s eye automatically catalogued the items. Identical tooth and hairbrushes, identical style of underwear. Identical blonde hair. Renée blonde, not Jordan blonde. This was not a collection of ex-girlfriends. This stuff was entirely Renée’s.

Back in the kitchen, the significance hit her. Bits of Renée left behind had been collected after each visit and put aside. Harmon Rabb did not believe in his and her toothbrush racks. This was his apartment; it would never be Renée’s, even in passing. That thought both saddened and elated Mac. But before she could analyze what it meant, Harm arrived with an armful of groceries.

As if that night hadn’t happened, all through Harm’s preparing dinner and the meal itself, they fell into their familiar routine, discussing the Somers and the subsequent trial. Mac was glad they could do this, not only because it helped clarify the trial in her mind, but also because it gave Harm assurance that such nights would continue, even after she was married. If a part of her felt guilty for not using Mic as a sounding board to discuss her lecture, she discarded it. Mic had little knowledge of U.S. Naval history. And if she knew in her own heart that Mic would take strong exception to future such nights with Harm, she ignored it. Mic might be her fiancé, but he did not own her.

Still, when he called her mobile at 2340, Mic wasn’t thrilled to learn her whereabouts. And she wasn’t exactly honest with him.

“Where are you? I’ve been worried about you,” he said.

“I told you, Mic, I was on the Somers.”

“I saw you leave there hours ago.”

She stood and moved into Harm’s kitchen, taking her coffee with her, hoping Harm couldn’t hear.

“What do you mean, you saw me leave?”

“On the tellie, late news. You and Rabb working the case?”

“We’re going over the details now.” Sure you are, the details of an entirely different case, one hundred and sixty years earlier.

“At JAG?” he prodded.

“Not exactly.” Hell, couldn’t she have just come right out with it?

“Well, then exactly…you’re at Rabb’s, right?” he added, an edge to his voice.

“It was closer. Look, we’re just wrapping up now, I’ll be home soon.”

She could feel his anger, even in the way he said, “Love you.”

“Me too.” Pocketing the mobile phone, Mac looked guiltily at Harm. He was studiously concentrating on the newspaper clippings. Yeah, sure Harm. “I better go. Thanks for the input.”

He looked up and smiled. “It is getting kinda late. And I promise I’ll still buy you that toaster.”

 

0920hrs EST
Washington Naval Yards
Washington, D.C.

 

“Here it is,” Joshua McCabe said to Mac as he led her down to the basement of the Navy Museum in the Naval Historical Center. “Humidity and temperature controlled down here,” he added. “We’ve got so much stuff going back to the civil war, and prior to that, well, it gets even more precious.”

“And these were items found during the restoration of the Somers?” asked Mac.

“That’s right. I can let you look at them, but only through glass. We took copies of all the documents that were found, but the originals can’t be handled. Most everything was destroyed when she took a broadside during the Mexican War. But, unlike her contemporaries, her captain managed to run her aground before she sank. I’ve made you a set of copies, so I’m not sure why you need to see the originals.”

Mac smiled at the civilian curator, sensing in him a mix of pride and suspicion. “I’m giving a lecture at the Naval Academy next week, on the alleged mutiny. I just wanted to see the documents for myself.”

“Alleged mutiny? You sound like a lawyer.”

Chuckling, she said, “I am.”

McCabe’s eyes lit. “Ah, then you’ll find these letters most intriguing, I think. There is no indication who wrote them, although the recipient was most likely the hanged boson’s mate. Quite a mystery, for the stationary and handwriting speaks of an educated, well to do young lady.”

“Writing to a boatswain’s mate?” Mac replied, an alarm bell sounding in her brain.

“That’s what’s such a mystery.” McCabe’s eyes glittered with curiosity. “But these documents only came to light recently and scholars will take several years to examine them. You do know,” he added “that the Somers was virtually gutted, but rebuilding her has been an excellent training exercise for academy students studying marine architecture. And of course, our budding shipwrights.”

“Serving them better than the men she was supposed to have trained in 1842,” Mac replied.


McCabe glanced at her. “Boys, really. It was the navy’s attempt to lure teenage boys of well-to-do families into making the navy a career. A miserable apprenticeship and personally, I’m not surprised one such trip ended in tragedy. Still,” he mused, “if events had not occurred as they did on that voyage, the Naval Academy as we know it might never have come into existence. Anyway, as I was saying—” He motioned to a row of glass cases. “Little of the original timbers have been incorporated into the re-built Somers, with the exception of the lower yardarm. Very dense teak. Do you know it is the very same yardarm from where Mackenzie hanged those three men? There was a lot of discussion about replacing it, but given the historical significance…” He paused and glanced at Mac. “You say your name is Mackenzie. Any relation?”

“No,” she smiled. “Pure coincidence.” She watched him as he led her to one glass case where faded, sepia colored letters were displayed.

“I’ll leave you here, now, Colonel.” McCabe handed her a bound file. “Here are the copies of the letters.”

Mac smiled her thanks and he turned and left. Lifting her briefcase onto a nearby desk, she took her coat and cover off, then spent a few minutes just looking at the items recovered from hidden recesses in the ship’s timbers. A brass monkey for stacking cannonballs, wooden belaying pins and pulley blocks, and the original chronometer. And personal items. Tarnished brass buttons, buckles and insignia, faded leather bags with a few coins—oddments that had slipped into the bilges or behind bulkheads during the course of the Somers’ history. Until finally, her eyes rested on the beautifully scripted letters.

The handwriting was ornate, from a time when a letter was more than a hastily scribbled note, or roughly penned email, but an embossed and wax sealed document. Each word, each phrase given much thought before the quill was dabbed into ink and meticulously set out in exquisite prose. These were the letters of an educated person, whose subtle phrasing nonetheless bespoke of love and a yearning for what could never be. Letters neither to the captain, nor to the one he accused of mutiny, Phillip Spencer, but the third man hanged that fateful day, Boson’s Mate Samuel Cromwell.

Sarah Mackenzie was too good a lawyer to go jumping to conclusions. But the letters certainly begged questions about the character and true role of the third man in the conspiracy. At first, she was tempted to let it go. It was, after all, a century and a half passed. But Mac was also too good a lawyer to bury a truth, no matter how old. Collecting her things, she walked across the road to Building 67, the Naval Art Gallery, and located a painting of the Somers. Then she sat down on the nearby table to read the remainder of the letters.

Her suspicions were instantly aroused when she read the first one. The subsequent letter confirmed it. She needed to return to the ship.

The public opening would be delayed for days, if not weeks. If the body had been dumped there for no other reason that the killer’s MO kept changing, then very little would be found at the scene. The letters…Mac couldn’t shake off the feeling that something was not right. That somehow, the two events were connected.

“Back again, Colonel?” the patrolman asked as she walked along the dock. The scene differed from the day before only in that crime scene tape was everywhere, but only two cars were in evidence: the patrolman’s and Harm’s. Two armed petty MPs stood at the gangplank. She could see movement aboard. The crime scene analysts had finally called it quits, but the MPs wouldn’t let her pass until she showed them her ID.

“Harm?” she called as she stepped on board. “Where are you?”

“Down here,” he replied from below the aft deck.

She followed a path to his voice. In full daylight, the layout of the ship was clearer, but no less dingy. “Hey,” she said when she found him in the cramped, after cabin.

He turned and flashed her one of his smiles. “Captain’s cabin. How would you like six months deployment on this?”

“They didn’t take female crew back then.” She noticed his head was stooped.

“And they didn’t design ships for anyone over five feet ten,” he said ruefully.

“What are you doing back here?” Despite the smile, his disquiet seemed to have returned in full force.

The evening before had been good, helping restore the equilibrium in their relationship, their friendship. On the drive home, she had told herself that Harm would be okay about leaving the crime in the hands of the FBI. But now, seeing his car at the wharf, seeing him alone down here, she again wondered what had drawn him here. “What is it, Harm?” she asked softly.

“I dunno,” he replied, turning and brushing past her as he ducked and stepped outside into the companionway. He glanced at her once as he added, “To be honest with you, Mac, I just get this weird sense of something gone wrong. Something I’m missing. I don’t think that guy dumped these kids here for no reason.”

“What does the FBI think?”

“The profiler, Mulder, he agrees with me.”

“Where is he now?”

“Quantico. His partner’s doing the autopsies.”

“What about the interviews?”

“We did some this morning, at the naval base. I’m meeting Mulder back here this afternoon, then we’re going down to the Hoover building.”

They stepped outside into the light. The sense of oppression immediately vanished. Mac looked up and squinted into the sun. “Sun’s over the yardarm.” Harm shot here a momentarily worried look but she added, “I wonder…?”

Without thinking he replied flatly, “That’s the yardarm that Mackenzie hung them from.”

Mac’s head shot around and she stared at him. She knew, but, “How do you know that? Most of the ship is a replica.”

His face was frozen as he stared up at the yardarm. A light breeze and the motion of the water as a boat went past moved the rigging around. Ropes gently slapped at the mast and the rubber fenders squealed, pulling him out of his reverie. “What?” he asked, turning to her with a startled look.

“I said, how did you know?”

“Know what?”

“That Mackenzie hung them from that yardarm?”

“It said so in the newspaper transcripts.”

She looked at him oddly but shook it off. None of this was helping. Damn! She’d agreed to this lecture thinking it would be a straightforward piece, a way of getting through her wedding jitters that didn’t involve real people with real issues. It was taking on far too much importance in her mind. And mixed up with this serial killer… Time to go. “I need to eat,” she said. “You want to join me? I can give you a ride back here if you like; I still need to chase up something in the archives.”

“Yeah, okay,” he said absently, still looking up at the yardarm. He pulled his coat tighter around himself.

There was a cold wind coming in from the north, Mac conceded, but Harm’s coldness seemed to come from someplace within.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Sensitive to her partner’s mood, Mac said nothing as she turned the vehicle right along M Street. Their personal…friendship…whatever…had, as always, been consigned to a footnote as a larger story unfolded around them. “Harm, now that the FBI has taken over this case—”

“I know,” he replied lightly, undermining her objections.

“But you won’t,” she replied, glancing at his face. It was tearing into him.

“It’s not that, Mac. Well, it is,” he conceded. “But it’s more.”

She said nothing, hoping he would elaborate. There was a great salad and pasta bar nearby.

“Tell me what you found at the museum,” he asked.

Two events separated by a century and a half. Events that could not possibly be connected. But why were her instincts screaming at her? “Three men were hung that day, from a list of twenty. Why only those three?”

“You tell me, counselor. What was the evidence cited against them?”

“Spencer wrote in Greek a list the names of three people whom he thought he could trust. Himself, the master at arms—who reported the scheme to the Captain—and the quartermaster, Elisha Small.”

“Didn’t the hanged men give testimonial on their own behalf to the convening officers?”

“No. Only Spencer was called to explain his actions. That’s what got the press so riled, and it was the prosecution’s strongest argument, that these other men were never given the opportunity to defend themselves. They were silenced before they had that chance.”

Harm frowned. “Interviews?”

Mac shook her head. “Mackenzie only interviewed Spencer when he was in irons, on deck. During the court martial, it was further shown that Mackenzie had already made out a watch bill for the execution before the officers’ tribunal convened.”

“Pretty darned sure of himself.”

“Yes, he was. But during his court-martial, he argued that while he did not influence his officers’ deliberations, under the circumstances, he felt that was the only decision they would make. And after he returned to New York, he strongly recommended that every one of those officers receive a promotion.”

“So…what? You think he made them a deal?”

“Not directly. Maybe it was understood, or maybe he really did feel they should have been commended for acting on a difficult situation. But doesn’t it strike you as a little odd that the last man’s name was never mentioned anywhere? I can’t find one transcript, not even an afterward where he admitted complicity—or swore innocence. Even the newspapers didn’t mention his name. It was just a… footnote to history.” She frowned in frustration.

Harm sat thoughtful, then said, “Because it was the death of the Secretary’s son that brought the matter to attention. Months, sometimes years without communication with other vessels or the chain of command, the captain of his ship was a law unto himself back then, Mac.”

“That was argued by the prosecution. That they’d just fought and won a war against that sort of tyrannical behavior.”

“Still, society didn’t change overnight. The court-martial would never have occurred had Spencer been anyone but the son of the Secretary. Those newspaper reports I gave you; there are interviews with some of the other men on that ship. The sort of men who you’d expect would follow Spencer in a moment, who swore they never heard any rumor of a mutiny. Okay, so maybe it was in their best interests to say that, but most of them opined the same thing.”

“But such testimony from mere seamen would never have been admitted during the court martial of an officer, especially a captain who lashed them.” Mac’s eyes lit as a car ahead of her pulled out into the traffic. Her luck was holding; it was directly in front of the restaurant. “Not back then, anyway,” she finished as she parked the car and locked it. “The only people who testified were the officers and master at arms.”

“All backing each other up.”

Once inside the restaurant, Harm held out a chair from Mac, and said, “So what did you find?”

Lifting her briefcase onto the table, Mac withdrew a large envelope. Harm briefly caught sight of stationary from a florist. The wedding. It was always there, an unspoken thread through every conversation. Hell, why was he beating himself up over it? Mac was happy—even if she did kiss you back. Dammit Rabb! Case closed. He squashed those emotions when she shut the case and handed him the first document.

My dearest, he read. It comes as no surprise to me to hear of your promotion. Harm glanced at the date: October 16th, 1838. For, like your father, you have always excelled at all you have done. I am proud beyond words and wish with all my heart I could be there to see you, handsome in your uniform.

“There’s no signature,” he said, glancing at the bottom of the page.

“There’s an E or L on some of them, and they’re all addressed to S, or Samuel,” Mac replied. “I checked. Only one man aboard the Somers that cruise was named Samuel Cromwell—the boson’s mate. The third man hung that day.

“Mac,” he smiled, gently condescending. “The Somers was commissioned almost thirty years prior to this incident, and she sailed for another three before being wrecked in the Mexico— ”

“Look at the dates.” Mac picked up the menu. A waitress took their lunch order the Mac continued, “The letters go back years, probably to childhood. But the last note was dated three days before the Somers left on that training cruise.”

More than idly curious now, Harm sorted the letters by date, then he began reading them aloud. The picture than evolved was one of childhood friends, a daughter of a senator—that explained the handwriting and the quality of paper that it had lasted so long—and the son of the man who had run the senator’s vast country estate, sent to sea as a cabin boy in 1826. He’d been just eleven years old.

The lunch arrived, but Mac said in a soft, voice, “Read the rest of them.”

Harm read, and the tragic romance unfolded. The woman who penned the letters had had an older sister, Dianna, the same age as Samuel. The children had grown up together, on the senator’s Virginia farm. As they’d grown older, it had been deemed inappropriate for them to continue associating with one another, for their stations in life were vastly different.

The writer, E, made often made reference to her sister, Dianna, as having been like a sister to Samuel. Dianna’s death had come as a shocking blow to them all. Measles, then rheumatic fever had struck the household when Samuel had been at sea. His grief at losing his *big* sister all too clearly understood by E. What made matters worse, E said, was that despite their separation of four years, she and her sister appeared as one, causing much confusion and consternation to those who had heard of Dianne’s death, but had not yet met the senator’s younger daughter.

Then E’s mother was also struck down by the ghastly illness, and her father soon took solace in bourbon.

The years passed. The letters became less childish and more in keeping with a young lady—one who had used her father’s alcoholism to sneak away with Samuel during the times that he had returned home on leave. They were not lovers, for Samuel would never stoop to insult her good name. But that they were lovers of the soul was all too evident.

During her sixteenth year, E began to be wooed by suitors. Her father’s excursion into the bottle was well known, but the senator’s estate manager, Samuel’s father, had not allowed is master’s holding or wealth to deteriorate. Loyalty notwithstanding, E knew that she would never be allowed to wed the one she truly loved, Samuel. Each time he returned from sea duty, it became harder and harder, and rather than tempt each other any longer, E waited until she was twenty-two—almost matronly in that era—and chose to wed a man suited to her station. A naval commander, she said, to remind her of Samuel. And when she closed her eyes at night, they became one.

“Victorian constraints notwithstanding, the imagery was unmistakable,” Harm muttered, catching Mac’s eyes.

Mac held his gaze, but her cheeks were flushed. If he didn’t know any better, he would have sworn it she was harboring some secret. But the moment passed quickly, and Mac nonchalantly took another bite of her lunch.

Finally, Harm moved on to the second last letter. In time, she continued, I have come to love him, for he showers me with love and gifts, but most of all, kindness. What woman could not love a man such as that? So fortunate compared to most. I only wish that you could find such peace.

There was an incredible sense of sadness in the subsequent letters. Though each was short, each also added a few strokes to a rich painting. Of forbidden and unconsummated love, of gallantry and sacrifice, desire and finally, acceptance. The last letter was dated September 11, 1842, just days before the Somers set sail from Brooklyn Harbor. In it, E begged Samuel to forgive her, but that it was best for all if she corresponded no longer. With the death of both her and Samuel’s father to cholera, her father’s estate had been sold and she would live with her husband’s family in the city of New York.

Even Harm found himself affected by the tone of the letters. It was clear what had made Mac suspicious, and he asked, “Where in the ship were these letters found?”

“I don’t know, but it shouldn’t be difficult to find out, or who E is.” She laughed at herself. “It’s probably a wild goose chase, but…”

He looked across at her, at the shadow of sadness in her eyes. And he recalled the emotions he’d felt on the Somers the previous night. They had been echoed even in the cool, clear light of the morning.

At seven g’s the edges of your vision blurred, beginning to gray out. At eight, it was like a fog, stealing your ability to maintain control. Harm squeezed his fists and breathed deeply. His emotions had no place here. She had made her choice…

then, as now.

Abruptly closing his eyes, Harm shook his head. Why in hell did it feel like he was pulling eight gees?

Mac dropped him back to where his car was parked at the dock. He couldn’t explain why, but the letters had drawn him to the ship even more. He asked her if he could borrow the last letter, promising to return it when he came back to the office that afternoon.

“That’s okay, I don’t need it. Where are you going now?” she asked.

“I think I’ll just stay here a while, have a look around.”

“Did…they piece the bodies together?”

He met her eyes and nodded slowly. “What wasn’t cannibalized.”

Mac frowned. “Harm—”

Tossing her a careless smile, he said, “Hey, I’m okay with this. Really. Go on, go find out what Mackenzie was really up to.”

 

1640hrs EST
Washington Naval Yards
Washington D.C.

 

“Here it is,” McCabe said, looking at the old microfiche files. “Elizabeth Kate Mackenzie, nee Dowling. Wife of Alexander Mackenzie. Born in Virginia in the Year of our Lord, 1817 to parents Senator Richard and Sarah Mackenzie.” His head snapped around at Mac’s sharply inhaled breath.

“Are you sure?” she asked, standing over his shoulder and reading the film copy of the old document.

“See for yourself.”

Mac read, then asked, “Is there any way we could find out if she had a sister named Dianne, who died of Rheumatic Fever around—” She thought for a moment, then added, “1830, maybe a year or two later? The mother died at the same time, then her father died sometime in 1841 or ‘42.”

McCabe sat back and looked at her, his eyes wide. He’d read the letters, too, but obviously hadn’t made the connection until now. “My God. You could be right!”

“Well?”

“When are you giving that lecture?”

“Tomorrow afternoon.”

Bringing his hand to his forehead, McCabe stood from the old machine, and replied, “Even if I could find out from County Records, I couldn’t get the supporting documentation to you in time. This could take weeks, months even—but it could well change history!”

“It could at that,” Mac mumbled. But surely, even if Mackenzie had suspected Samuel Cromwell of an impropriety regarding his wife, the man would never risk his career by claiming a mutiny that never occurred. The attempted mutiny was real, all right, but was it was also a convenient excuse to rid himself of Cromwell? Had he acted without corrupt motive in hanging all three men?

Where had those letters been found?

 

1600hrs
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia.

 

“Ready to go, luv?” There was a cocky grin on Mic’s face. A grin that had, from day one, incited some arguably very ungentlemanly emotions in Harmon Rabb.

“Yeah…yes!” Mac replied, staring at Mic. She looked like she was a million miles away.

“You okay?” Harm asked her. But she simply smiled. Then Brumby held out his arm in a bad affectation. The smirk on the Australian’s face was…

What the hell, Brumby had what he wanted; he was entitled. Harm crossed his arms and leaned against the doorframe. He wondered how long Brumby would maintain that chivalrous façade after the wedding. No matter how much he tried, he just couldn’t picture Mac walking down the aisle with the course Australian. And deep in his gut, every instinct screamed at him that one day, Brumby was going to hurt her. The guy had no class.

Get a grip, Rabb, he thought, shaking his head and going back to his office. Mac was happy, that’s all that mattered. Really. Once he got past the wedding, he’d make it up to Renée. Mac was right; she was good for him and he had to move on.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

“So how’s the case going?” Mic asked as they left.

His words snatched her back to the present. For once, the thought of food was unappealing. Every instinct screamed at her that a vast miscarriage of justice had been done aboard the Somers. But she couldn’t pin it down, at least, in time for this lecture. Was she really willing to re-write Naval history on the basis of a few letters? “What case?” Mac replied absently.

“This mad bastard killing kids, of course. The one you and Harm have been working on. Jeez I hope he doesn’t turn out to be military and you have to defend him.”

“No!…No, the behavioralists think that he’s too psychotic, with too many pathological tendencies to have ever been admitted into the military. Too disorganized, he wouldn’t have been able to deal with the discipline of military life and authoritarian figures.”

Mic lifted an eyebrow. “You really been getting into this stuff, haven’t you?”

“Not really, just reading the FBI profiles.”

“So, apart from the fact that the last body was found on Navy property, it’s out of your hands now, right?”

“Right,” she replied, trying to lend finality to her voice. But she wasn’t sure whom she was trying to convince.

“No more late night sessions with Rabb, then?”

“Not until the next case, which most definitely will be after the honeymoon,” she replied lightly.

Mic’s grin disappeared and she could hear an edge to his voice as he added, “Sarah, once we’re married, I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to be spending all night sessions with Rabb. I’m not suggesting—”

Bridling, she demanded, “What do you mean, all night sessions? I was home just after midnight. And what is it exactly that you’re not suggesting?”

“I trust you, of course,” he replied quickly. “But appearances mean a great deal in this town, Sarah, especially when you’re just starting out. And it doesn’t look good, you spending nights with him.”

“Excuse me?” she said, incredulous now. “First off, I don’t, as you put it, spend nights with him. I hardly see him out of hours except for work. And secondly, the after hours duty we do put in together is part of the job; you know that. The question of impropriety has never come up, ever, even when we’ve been obliged to sleep together.” His eyes widened in shock, she added quickly, “I mean one bunk on top of another, in a submarine…or hotel rooms…or whatever.”

Or with his arms wrapped around me at the top of an Appalachian mountain, trying to keep me warm and safe. Or the number of times I’ve fallen asleep on his shoulder in some plane or other. Or… Hell, if Mic knew the half of it, he’d have a fit. “And the Navy would be the first object if it thought otherwise,” she added. “Women are in the military, Mic, and—”

“The Navy never objected when we first met and I started seeing you.” His voice had hardened.

“We weren’t sleeping together. Besides, you were equal rank and from a different military.”

“But under the same chain of command, no matter how temporary. And so are you and Rabb. Sarah, as your future husband, I’m just stating it as I see it. I really do not want you seeing Rabb alone at his place. I’m not saying don’t work with him, all I’m saying is that you should invite him over to our place instead.”

Our place, she thought. Well, it had been our place for some time now. And yet, she still hadn’t gotten accustomed to that. Once they were married, it would be different.

“And another thing, this business of traipsing off together, I don’t think Chegwidden would object if you requested Bud or Singer go along with Rabb instead of you.”

A sour feeling began to work its way through her stomach. “So you want me to just…stay at home?” she asked incredulously.

“Not all the time. But, listen Sarah, I gave up that kind of life to be with you. I guess I expected you’d sooner spend the time with me than—”

“Harm? Because that’s what’s this is about, isn’t it? Mic, you’ve never had the kind of life we’ve had. Sure, you spent time at JAG and ran some investigations, but you’ve never been in…the sort of situations that Harm and I have been in. We’re partners, that forms a trust and bond that’s got nothing to do with my relationship with you. I can’t just give that up, if for no other reason than it’s my duty as a Marine officer in the JAG Corps! If...if it were Gunny or Bud on assignment with me, it wouldn’t bother you.”

He rocked his head equivocally. “Maybe you’re right,” he conceded. “But only up to a point. You’re their superior officer.”

“Mic, I didn’t expect marriage to oblige me to change my lifestyle. Marriage is a commitment between two people, a declaration that they want to spend their lives together—”

“Exactly!” He nodded emphatically. “Together. Sarah, any marriage means making compromises, and that means giving up certain things. You’re no longer just a single person making decisions by yourself, for yourself, but ones that affect both of us. It means sacrificing a single person’s lifestyle in order to enjoy the benefits of being a committed couple. You spending so much time with Rabb gives a certain…impression. Maybe not to the Navy, but certainly in my line of work.”

“It’s my line of work, too,” she replied in a soft voice. But she understood what he was saying. And he was right. Marriage brought sacrifices, but you never thought of them as such, because in exchange you were getting a loving partner, stability, continuity. A good man, good career and good shoes. What more could she want? She’d argued this point with herself a dozen times. Given it, as she’d said to Harm, maybe too much thought. It was time to put away those prior freedoms and settle down to enjoy what she really wanted.

She did want that, or course. It’s what she’d always wanted.

“And then, when you get pregnant, well, it’ll make staying home that much easier,” Mic continued. “I don’t want you to leave the Marines or JAG, just…request a reduction in out of town assignments, and have Rabb, or anyone else for that matter, over to our place when you need to work after hours.”

They were not unreasonable requests, she thought.

“Look, I’m sorry love, I shouldn’t be bringing this up now. The last thing I wanted to do was bother you with it just before your big lecture, it just, well, came up, and— ”

“No, no you’re right Mic,” she replied, feeling chagrinned. And he was.

I don’t want to lose you.

I promise, no matter what happens, you’ll never lose me.

Your husband may have something to say about that.


She pursed her lips and looked out the window. If only Mic and Harm could get along better. But no matter how much she danced around it, she knew why the men loathed one another. Bud’s wired jaw was proof of that. She’d wanted marriage and kids, a good man and good career. Mic was giving her that, and the Admiral had already implied that as his chief of staff, she could choose to spend more time in the office and less in the field. It’s just not an offer that she’d even taken up. And since she was being honest, wasn’t it also true that knowing how Harm felt about her, spending time with him was just teasing him?

As he’d teased her a hundred times with those damned eyes of his. The man flirted on autopilot. He in no way had any intentions of settling down, with anyone. He’d tried for a ready-made family with Annie, who, despite her neurosis, understood that Harmon Rabb could never commit. Jordan, well, he’d walked out on her to go fly Tomcats, and then had the gall to expect that she’d welcome him back with open arms. As he’d expected her and he rest of JAG to welcome home the conquering hero. Renée really was good for him, the perfect match. The poster Top Gun and the glamorous producer, each a decoration on the other’s arm. Settling down was never going to factor into it. Hell, he’d almost tossed his career away—again—by wanting to run after Sergei. Harmon Rabb’s sense of duty and control over his life was a convenient escapism. He was terrified of committing to any woman and taking on the responsibility of making his own family.

She laughed to hide her annoyance. Mic was everything that Harm wasn’t. Mic was doing everything, saying all the right things about togetherness and giving up the single life, doing everything he could to alleviate her concerns leading up to the wedding. At the same time, he wasn’t pandering to her, but pointing out the facts. Mic was exactly what she wanted in a man. Perfect, in fact.

So perfect that she wanted to scream, but she replied, “Besides, why would I be nervous? It’s just a lecture.”

“What, you think Mackenzie was shafted? I tend to agree with you,” Mic replied, apparently glad to be changing the subject. Of course, that probably had something to do with the fact that she was agreeing with him. Except he’d managed to get the entire thing screwed around. Mackenzie had not been the one doing the shafting.

“I wished they’d found those letters sooner,” she muttered.

“What letters?”

She smiled noncommittally. “I’m doing some follow up research based on new evidence. A lot of things don’t add up.”

“Like?”

“Like…listen to my lecture. Not only did Mackenzie die young, and in disgrace, his wife left him soon after the court-martial.”

Mic’s eyebrows shot up again. “Poor bastard. I didn’t think women did that sort of thing in those days. Anyway, what’s that got to do with the hanging?”

“Goes to motive,” she replied quietly.

“What?” Mic screwed up his face. “Hers, or his.”

“Both.”

 

1436hrs EST
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia.

 

“So how did the lecture go?” Harm asked as he walked into Mac’s office.

“Fine. No problems,” she replied, her tone just short of curt.

Not so well, huh. “You don’t sound like it,” he replied gently.

“Gimme a break, Harm. Wedding’s in two days.”

“Oh, yeah, almost forgot.”

She tossed him a glare, but he was grinning at her. “Any news from the FBI?” she asked.

“They’ve built a pretty comprehensive profile on the perp.” He shook his head. “I still can’t shake the idea that—”

“That what?” Her eyes had narrowed.

Unwilling, or maybe unable to explain, he laughed nervously. “Nothin’.”

“Harm, what did you see out there?”

“Nothing!” he replied more emphatically. Mac’s phone rang and he absently waved to indicate that he was leaving, but she held up her finger for him to wait.

“You talked to him?” she said to the phone.

Harm stood patiently watching her. He crossed his arms and leaned against the doorframe. Mac was still holding up her finger, then her eyes darted to his. “He did!” she said, her eyes widening. “Why would Mackenzie have left them behind?”

Curious now, Harm stood up straight and took a step towards her desk.

“He did?”

Okay, now he was more than curious.

“Really? No, no I can’t I’m…well I’m getting married this weekend. But I’ll be back in two weeks. You will? Mr. McCabe, I really appreciate this.”

He could just hear snatches of the voice from the other end of the phone, which just added to Harm’s growing apprehension.

Moments later, she broke the connection. “That was Joshua McCabe,” she explained. “He’s the civilian historian and librarian working for the Naval Historical Center. He just confirmed that the midshipmen working on the wreck, the ones who found the letters, said that the documents had been hidden in a secret wooden compartment between the upper bulkhead of the captain’s cabin and the outer deck. They were wrapped in multiple layers of oilskin, enough to have preserved them all this time. The men who found them said that the compartment had been so cleverly designed, that nothing short of pulling the entire aft cabin apart would have uncovered them.”

“That was about the only intact section of the Somers that remained,” Harm said, sitting down in her guest chair. “Her back was broken in two when she beached, the aft end remained high and dry for years, before someone decided to salvage her. But if the letters were Mackenzie’s why didn’t he retrieve them?”

“After the court-martial, he resigned his commission. He never personally returned to the Somers; his things were collected and delivered to him.”

Harm sat thoughtful for a minute, then asked, “What about Elizabeth Mackenzie?”

Mac nodded and stood. “Born in Virginia, but not many details. Parents’ deceased, but no dates or mention of a sister. Josh McCabe is going to drive down to the old Mackenzie estate on the weekend, and see if he can track down her family history from the county records.”

“Still, none of it explains why Mackenzie hung Spencer. If he just wanted to rid himself of Cromwell, he didn’t have to go to that much trouble.”

What if there was something more? What if Spencer did something more, as Mackenzie implied, to bring disgrace upon his father?”

“Like what?” A gnawing sense of discomfort suddenly evolved into a feeling of alarm.

“I don’t know, I’m just guessing. It doesn’t matter.” Mac lifted her hand in dismissal. “But the other thing that McCabe mentioned was that just before the Somers set sail, a Daguerreotype was made of the crew.”

Harm frowned. “I didn’t think photo archives went back that far.”

“Photography was invented in 1839. Daguerreotypes became all the rage amongst the wealthier classes over the next few years. McCabe’s running everything he can down for me. Maybe I’ll get to see my great- great-granddad after all.”

“I didn’t think you were related,” he teased.

“We’re not,” she smiled. But it faded as she added, “I don’t know. I’d just like to put faces to their names.

“Mackenzie, Spencer or Cromwell?”

She met his eyes in understanding. “You’d like to see it too, wouldn’t you?”

He nodded slowly. “Yeah, yes I would.”

An hour later, Mac walked out of her office and Harm, standing near Harriet’s desk, looked up. “Hey, why don’t we do a quick run down to the Naval Archives? I’ve got an idea.”

“I can’t, now,” she smiled at his look and added, “No…too much to do.”

“Well, see you at the wedding then,” he replied lightly, moving to leave. He’d go down himself. For some reason, it seemed vitally important that he find what he was looking for before the wedding.

“Actually, no,” Mac replied as she walked away. “You’ll see me at the rehearsal dinner.”

Quickly turning to follow her, he called, “Mac, wha…? Whoa, whoa, whoa! We talked about this. I told you, I wasn’t comin’!”

She stopped in her tracks and turned on him. “No, we never talked about this and why can’t you come?”

“I’m doing my sixth month quals.”

“You’re going out on a carrier?” she replied in stunned disbelief.

“Yeah. Renée will be at the dinner,” he replied, upbeat, but she almost recoiled, almost as if he’d slapped her.

“You didn’t tell me about this, Harm.”

“Well…I cleared it with the Admiral,” he replied, trying to recall how he hadn’t told her. It was just something he took as a given.

She looked at him, incredulous, then turned away in disgust.

“I…I’ll be at the ceremony!” He followed her out to the elevator. “C’mon Mac, it’s not my schedule, it’s the Navy,” he added. Had the wedding turned her entire brain to mush? Of all people, Mac had to understand that.

“Well what if the Navy changes its schedule and you don’t make it to the ceremony?”

If a part of him might wish that so, it was buried beneath the need to see this through, like seeing a body after death, to confirm in his own mind that it really was over. But with a touch of his usual arrogance, he dismissed her argument. “You let me worry about that.”

“Well why does either one of us have to worry about it? Why does it even have to come up? Couldn’t you just do your quals some other time?”

He frowned. “Six months from now?”

She punched at the elevator button, determinedly, obviously wanting the conversation over. “You fly what…maximum two, three times a year and for that you risk missing my wedding?”

Before her words really processed, he shrugged dismissively and replied, “I didn’t consider it a risk.”

The elevator doors had opened. Her stride stiff with anger, Mac walked in. “No, the truth is, you didn’t consider it important.”

He felt like he’d been kicked. Oh, it was important all right. He was watching her marry Bugme, and what? He was supposed to abandon the only other thing in life that really mattered to him just so he could have the point driven home? What kind of twisted logic was that? What more did she want from him? In fact, why did she really want him there? To hold her hand—or rub it in? Harriet might have been right about weddings turning normally sane people into hormonal wrecks, but this was ridiculous, Mac was being totally unreasonable. “Hey, first off, this was arranged long before you even set a date. And second, frankly, if you need me at your wedding to make it work, maybe you should reconsider who you’re marrying!”

The moment the words left his mouth, he regretted them. Even if they were true, he had not meant to hurt her like that. “H…uh…um…”

“Have fun,” Mac said, looking at him flatly, refusing to confront the words he’d used.

As the doors began to close, he stared at her, desperately trying to recover those words. All he could think to say was, “Aren’t you going to wish me luck?”

She crossed her arms and stared at him wordlessly as the elevator doors closed.

 

 

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