THE NEXT DAY
UNITED STATES NAVAL ACADEMY
Harm was looking at a file he’d offered to help Bud with, when there was
a knock on his door. “Enter,” he said, his eyes still focused on the
contents of the file. Only when he saw a shadow fall on his desk did he
look up. He was surprised to see Midshipman Henry there. He hadn’t seen
her since she’d run out of the classroom the day before, and he hadn’t
expected to see her until tomorrow, when the class would meet next. He
had set aside some time this evening to think about what he would say to
her, but it now seemed she was going to talk first.
Harm closed the file and set it aside. “At ease,” he said. “What can I
do for you, Midshipman?”
“Sir, I came by to apologize for my behavior yesterday.”
Harm nodded. “Have a seat.”
“Thank you, sir.”
When the girl said nothing else, Harm said, “Go ahead; I’m listening.”
“Well, sir, I just wanted to say I’m sorry for running out of the room
like I did. It was childish and unprofessional, and in no way was it
intended to disrespect you, sir.”
This is it. Harm braced himself. “Why’d you do it?”
“The other mids, sir…I couldn’t stand to hear them laughing at that
“Me neither,” Harm agreed. “I didn’t think it was funny in the least.”
“You’ll be glad to know the entire class will be getting a lecture
tomorrow, on what it means to be an officer in the United States Navy.”
“Yes, sir, but that doesn’t change the fact that they acted that way.
That they thought it was okay to do that.”
“No, it doesn’t,” Harm agreed. “But, nothing can change it now; it’s in
“Yes, sir. Sir, if I may ask, what’s going to happen to me now?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I ran out of the room, without requesting permission, or even
addressing you at all. That’s got to be against some rule that I can’t
remember at the moment.”
Harm nodded slowly. “As a matter of fact, it is, Midshipman. But I’ll
tell you what: why don’t you tell me what really made you run out of
that room in tears, and I’ll see what I can do about ignoring your lapse
Laura squirmed in her seat. “I don’t know, sir…”
Seeing the hesitation in the girl’s eyes, Harm rose from his chair and
crossed the room to close the door, and shut the blinds that covered the
window facing the hallway. He returned to his desk, choosing to stand in
front of it, right near Laura, rather than sitting behind it.
“I think you *do* know,” he said, his voice soft, “but you’re afraid to
“I could get in a lot of trouble, sir.”
“I hate to break this to you, Laura, but you’re already in a lot of
trouble. They take grades very seriously at this place.”
“I know that, sir.”
“You do,” he echoed. “And yet, yours have been abysmal since October.”
Laura looked at her hands, in her lap. “I can’t help it, sir.”
Harm sincerely hoped today was the day she’d tell him everything.
Preparing himself for what he suspected was to come, he managed to speak
around the lump that was forming in his throat. “Why not? What’s been
going on in that head of yours?”
“I haven’t been able to concentrate, sir. Not on anything: my classes,
“Eating right and getting rest?”
“Those, too, sir,” Laura sighed.
“Laura, I told you once before, we can leave the Academy out of this, if
that would help. I told you that you could tell me anything, and I still
mean it. Whatever it is, it’s tearing you up – inside and out, and
honestly, all I want to do is help you.”
“I know, sir,” the girl whispered. “And, that’s why I’m here. I…I
thought I could handle this on my own. I thought if I could just stop
thinking about it, it would go away, and everything would be fine
“But that’s not happening, is it?” Harm prodded gently.
Harm grabbed the chair from behind his desk and set it down on the other
side, across from Laura. He sat down and reached for her hand. She
reluctantly offered it, and Harm held it tenderly. “Tell me what
Laura swallowed hard. “Well, sir, I’m taking physics this semester, and,
right from the start, I was having a really hard time with it. At the
beginning, I was actually managing an A, but that’s only because I was
studying for hours every night. I’m just lucky I was naturally pretty
good at most of my other subjects, because I needed to devote all the
time I could to physics.”
Harm listened patiently. He vowed inwardly that he would not rush her.
He would try his hardest not to interrupt her with questions; there
would be time for that later. Right now, this was her story to tell, and
he would let her tell it in whatever way she needed.
“I was struggling badly with the unit on relativity, sir. I was at study
hall one night, getting extra help. When the study session was over, a
first-class came up to me and said he’d overheard what I was asking the
professor. He’s a physics major, sir, and he offered to tutor me for a
test my class was taking the next week.”
Harm had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from asking the obvious
question – who the guy was. He understood that Laura might not be ready
to reveal his identity. Still, it didn’t stop him from wanting to know
who it was, so he could make a beeline for that sick individual’s dorm
room, and personally remove him from the Navy.
“I know it was stupid, sir, and god, I regret it like nothing else I’ve
ever done in my life, but I took him up on it. Only…he insisted we study
in his room. He gave me some sort of explanation, which, right now, I
can’t even remember, but I was so desperate for the help, that I guess I
believed everything he told me.
“Study hall ended just before curfew that night, so we agreed to do it
the next night. I snuck into the male dorm – you don’t want to know how,
sir – and I went to his room.” Laura paused her story to take a deep
breath, inhaling and exhaling as she mustered the strength to tell the
next part. Harm squeezed her hand for a gentle second.
“I knew it was against the rules for me to be there, but I wasn’t very
worried, sir. I was more worried about failing that test than getting
caught in the male dorm. Anyway, when I got there, I was surprised to
see two other first-classes there. I thought it was strange, at first,
but I knew two of them from classes last semester – Peter Crowley and
Tyler Gibson – and they said the third guy – Gray Deadmarsh – was a
physics whiz, too, so I was okay with it. I asked where Peter’s roommate
was, because I know him pretty well. We went to the same high school,
sir, and we did a lot of the same activities and were in the same clubs
– all the things that would look good on our applications to the
Harm continued to listen, even as Laura seemed to meander off on the
occasional tangent. It might be her unconscious way of letting the
painful facts out slowly; or, it might simply be her nerves. Either way,
Harm was fine with whatever pace she chose. Hell, at this point, he was
glad she was saying anything at all.
“It turns out one of Patrick’s – that’s Peter’s roommate, sir – one of
his classes was on an overnight field trip to Norfolk. I was
disappointed that I wouldn’t get to see him, and now, looking back, it’s
even more of a shame he wasn’t there, sir. He was a good guy. He
wouldn’t have let them…” She paused, shaking her head ruefully. “Well, I
just wish he would’ve been there.”
A shadow crept over her face at that thought, and, after a few seconds,
“Anyway, sir, we studied for a while, just like we were supposed to, and
the textbook was finally starting to make sense to me. We had a little
more to get through, but it was getting late, and I figured we could
finish another day. So I thanked them and said I had to get back to my
Harm watched as Laura visibly tensed as she reached this part of her
tale. She slipped her hand out of Harm’s, and folded her hands in her
lap, her eyes fixed on them as she wrung her fingers.
“I started putting my books back into my backpack, and Peter said,
‘Where do you think you’re going?’” Laura took in a shaky breath. “I
told them I had to be back in my room in time for lights out, and that
they knew that. Then, Peter said, ‘Do I? The only thing I know is this
help didn’t come free.’” Laura’s voice wavered. “He said, ‘You don’t
think we just gave up our entire night to teach you this crap for
nothing, do you?’ Then he started leering at me, and, the other guys…I
could see it on their faces. They were all smiling…these eerie smiles,
kind of glaring at me. I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck
prickle up. I knew something wasn’t right. I knew something bad was
going to happen.”
Harm felt his insides churn. For some time now, he’d had the terrible
suspicion that this was what he’d hear. He thought he’d prepared
himself, but now that he was actually listening to Laura recount it, he
was hit with just how absolutely unprepared he was. He had to mentally
nail himself to his chair; otherwise, he’d risk jumping up and running
across the campus to hunt down those boys. He swallowed a growing wave
of nausea. Crowley had been in his class two semesters earlier, and he
recognized Deadmarsh and Gibson’s names from the sports pages of the
Academy’s newspaper. All three of them were on the football team, and
each, by himself, probably had at least fifty pounds on Laura. She
wouldn’t have stood a chance against them.
“Gray took my backpack from me, and I knew it was probably the only
chance I’d get to escape. I bolted for the door. I knew I’d never make
it, but I tried anyway. I didn’t even care about my stupid books; I just
wanted to get out of there.”
Harm nodded as he followed the story. He tried to listen fully, but he
couldn’t help the part of his mind that could focus only on those three
boys, and with just what dull, rusty instrument he could inflict the
most pain when he castrated them.
“I didn’t even make it three steps before Peter grabbed me,” Laura
continued. “He shook me hard, and he said I wasn’t leaving until I ‘paid
them back.’ Then he pushed me toward his bed. I tried to get away, sir,
but he was so strong, and then Michael got in on it too, and there was
no way. So I just tried to scream, but Michael punched me and knocked
the wind right out of me. Then, before I could recover, he and Peter
were pushing me down onto the bed, and Michael had my arms pinned under
Picturing the scene in his mind, Harm suddenly remembered something
Laura had told him, just around the time he had started to notice
something was wrong. So, the bruise on her face hadn’t come from a
volleyball, he realized painfully. And she’d been limping for a few days
after that, too. Damn it. He had known something was off about that
story. Why hadn’t he questioned it? Damn it, why?
Tears were flowing freely down Laura’s cheeks now. It took all Harm’s
resolve to sit still and not go directly to the Commandant of
Midshipmen, and to the police, to have the three boys brought up on
“I was kicking and struggling as much as I could, but it wasn’t enough.
They were so much stronger than me, sir. I tried to get away, sir, I
swear! You have to believe me! They pulled my clothes off, and
they…they…don’t make me say it, Commander.”
He didn’t want to make this any more painful for her than it already
was, and yet, the lawyer in him knew he couldn’t put words in her mouth.
He had to hear her say it. “Tell me,” he prodded.
Laura shook her head. “I can’t,” she managed, in between ragged breaths.
“I can’t say it. Please, sir…”
Harm swallowed the bile he felt rising in his throat. Based on the
details she *had* managed to tell him, it was no secret where the story
would have ended. His own heartbreak forcing him to show her some mercy,
he asked softly, “Laura, did they rape you?”
Upon finally hearing the word, and all the ugly, violent connotations it
brought with it, Laura’s whole body bristled. She met his eyes for one
quick second, then bolted for the door.
Momentarily stunned, it took a few seconds before Harm jumped up to
follow her. He was quick, but she was quicker; by the time he got out
into the hallway, he caught only a shadow of her as she rushed out of
sight. Running quickly in that direction, he saw her make a sharp right
into the ladies’ bathroom. If she thought she could escape his questions
by hiding in that bathroom, then she didn’t know anything about Harmon
Rabb, and his obsession with finding the truth.
At whatever risk to his own career, Harm knew he had to get inside that
bathroom. He did have enough presence of mind, however, to refrain from
barging right in. Luckily, a female midshipman was passing the other
“Midshipman!” he called. The girl stopped in her tracks and performed an
about face. Harm was relieved to see it was Laura’s friend, Susan
Miller. “Susan, good,” he said quickly. “I need you to go into that
bathroom and tell me if there’s anyone in there besides Midshipman
“Sir?” Susan reacted.
“Now!” Harm commanded.
Ignoring the protocol of marching through the hallways and rounding the
corners properly, Susan ran the few feet to the bathroom and disappeared
behind the door. Harm waited for what seemed like hours, before Susan
came back out.
“No, sir,” she told him. “It’s just Laura.”
“Good,” Harm said. “I’m gonna go in there. Do me a favor – stand outside
the door and make sure no one comes in. Just tell them it’s out of
order, and that Commander Rabb told you to stay here until maintenance
comes.” It was a flimsy story, Harm knew, but it would have to suffice.
“Yes, sir,” she acknowledged. “Sir,” she added quickly, “she…um…she
“I know, Susan,” Harm said softly, “I know.” Checking quickly to make
sure the hallway was empty, he gave Susan a reassuring pat on the
shoulder. Stopping in front of the bathroom door, he knocked gently.
“Laura?” he said. “It’s Commander Rabb, honey. I’m coming in, okay?”
Without waiting for permission, which he knew would never come, anyway,
he opened the door slowly and stepped inside.
The sight before him nearly broke his heart: Laura was sitting on the
cold, tile floor, her back pressed up against the wall, and she hugged
her knees to her chest, wrapping her arms around herself, curled up as
small as she could make herself. Her agonized sobs echoed off the
porcelain in the otherwise empty room.
Harm had seldom felt more helpless in his life.
“Go away, sir,” Laura choked out, her eyes still shut tightly.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Harm replied.
“Just…leave me alone,” she wailed. Her shoulders shook visibly as she
At the incredible burden of pain in his student’s voice, Harm felt tears
sting his own eyes. “I’m afraid I can’t do that,” he said.
“Why not?” she begged.
Harm approached her slowly. When he reached her, he lowered his tall
frame to the floor, but left some space between her and himself.
“Because I care about you,” he said, willing all his worldly conviction
into his voice.
“Well, you shouldn’t,” Laura told him. “I’m not worth it, sir. I screwed
up, big time, and I got what I deserved.”
Harm’s stomach turned at hearing her justify what had happened.
“I shouldn’t have been in that room,” she said, shaking her head.
“That doesn’t matter right now,” Harm said softly. “You broke a rule,
but that didn’t give them the right to do what they did. Nothing ever
gives anyone that right – ever. Do you hear me?”
“Being here will only get you in trouble, sir. Just forget about me, and
get out of here,” Laura whispered.
Harm tipped his head toward her, even though she still would not look at
him. “Did you just give me an order, Midshipman?” He tried to sound as
light-hearted as possible – anything to ease the poor girl’s battered
Harm’s words caused Laura to freeze, and seconds later, she was sobbing
again, even harder than before. She was already crumbling under the
weight of the world, and then, albeit inadvertently, Harm had reminded
her of her enormous, egregious breach of protocol. Immediately realizing
that his attempt at good cheer had backfired supremely, Harm very slowly
inched closer to her. Keeping his movements very careful, and, he hoped,
non-threatening, he reached his arm around her. It was safe enough, he
decided; if she didn’t want him near her, she could push him away, or
even unleash her anger in a more violent way upon him. And he was
content to let her. In fact, he almost wished she would.
When the distraught girl made no move to wriggle out of his arms, Harm
tightened his embrace. He felt a small amount of relief when Laura
turned in his arms, letting her head fall against his chest. He felt her
wrap her arms around him, holding on tightly. A few unintelligible moans
found their way through her sobbing, and Harm held her even tighter,
wishing to know just what in the hell possessed some men to act the way
“I tried to fight,” Laura sobbed. “I swear, sir, I tried! I couldn’t get
away…They were all so big…” That was all she managed to say before she
dissolved back into wracking sobs.
“It’s okay,” Harm whispered over and over. “It’s going to be all right,
sweetheart, I promise.” He rubbed her back in smooth circles, while she
held tight to the lapel of his uniform jacket, her face buried in his
He could feel her turn her head. “No, it’s not,” Laura said. “It’ll
never be all right again. Never.”
With each agonized word, Harm lost more of his control over his own
emotions. He raised his head and slowly looked around the bathroom,
desperately seeking something – anything – to focus on, and stay strong
for the broken girl in his arms. Finding nothing to latch onto except
the girl herself, he buried his face in her hair, just as his own tears
began to fall. “Yes, it will,” he promised, in a trembling voice.
“You’re going to get through this just fine. We’ll do it together,
sweetheart. No matter what happens now, I promise, you’re not alone
anymore.” He continued to stroke her back and hold her close, and she
finally seemed to calm down a little.
They sat like that for a while; for how long, Harm wasn’t sure. Not that
it mattered to him; he would stay there with her for as long as she
needed him. He gave only one quick thought to hoping Susan was still
outside the door. He’d risked his career before, that much was certain,
but never in such a…compromising way. Laura had been right – if anyone
were to catch them in here, like this, he could kiss his career goodbye.
Of course, that thought only made Harm disgusted with himself. The young
woman in his arms had been terrorized, and he inwardly cursed himself
for granting even one second to think of his own situation. Instead, he
now focused his silent rage on Lieutenant Commander Clark, the
volleyball coach, who should have been more humane; on Midshipman Bloom,
who, despite her insistence to the contrary, had probably known all
along, and should have blown the whistle immediately; on himself, as he
could have pressed sooner for the truth; and, finally, on the three
midshipmen who had disgraced not only themselves, and not only the
Academy, but the entire United States Navy.
And he vowed that they would not get away with it.
After a while, Laura had calmed down a little, and Harm left her alone
to clean herself up in the bathroom. A thousand questions plagued him,
but he knew he would get no answers from her that day. She had already
revealed more than she had wanted to, and he was lucky to have gotten
even that much.
Out of those thousand questions, nine hundred ninety six were meant for
the three despicable excuses for human beings, who had forced themselves
on Laura. The last four, though, only Harm could answer: Why didn’t he
realize it sooner? Why didn’t he press her harder, to find out what was
really going on? How the hell did this happen at Annapolis? And, most
important, what was he going to do about it?
Harm tried to dismiss the first two questions; any answers he might come
up with wouldn’t make an ounce of difference, anyway. The last two,
though, plagued him immensely.
After a few minutes, Laura reappeared at Harm’s office door, and he
signaled for her to come in. Laura picked up her backpack. “I need to
Harm looked at her; her eyes were still red and puffy. “Will you be all
right tonight?” he asked. He knew it was a stupid question; after all,
she’d been dealing with everything on her own for almost three months.
And yet, something inside him still pressed him to ask it.
Laura shrugged half-heartedly. “Depends on what you mean by ‘all right,’
Harm nodded helplessly. He reached into the holder on his desk and
retrieved one of his business cards. He turned it over in his hand and
scribbled some numbers on the back. “This is my home phone number, and
that’s my cell,” he told her. “If you’re scared, or worried, or you want
to talk. Or, hell, if you just want to listen to someone else talk, you
call me anytime, okay? Day or night.”
Laura looked at the card, distrust in her eyes. She wanted to take it,
God, she wanted to so badly. But she knew if she did, she’d have nothing
to stop her from actually using it, and she had already told the
commander more than she’d swore she’d ever tell anybody. It couldn’t go
“Take it,” Harm prodded gently. “For my sake, okay? I’ll feel better
knowing you have it, even if you never use it.”
Laura nodded, and slipped the card into a zippered pocket on her
Harm had stayed in his office at the Academy later than usual. He knew
he’d have to go home eventually; Terri was cooking dinner for him.
Nevertheless, he was trying, in vain, to postpone the inevitable
onslaught of questions she would bombard him with when she saw him. He’d
always worn his emotions on his sleeve. Even if he would try to hide
them, he knew Terri would be able to read him easily. Some days, he was
grateful for her perceptiveness; he never had to hide anything from her.
But now, he regretted her uncanny ability to know just what he was
thinking. Harm knew the combination of his horror and sadness would show
on his face, and he wasn’t prepared to answer the questions he knew
Terri would ask.
He knew he had no right to keep her in the dark, but Laura deserved
privacy. She had risked quite a great deal merely telling him, let alone
having him go and tell someone else. Besides, there was no reason to
upset Terri; he was feeling badly enough for both of them. Harm had
longed for the kind of emotionally intimate relationship he’d finally
found with Terri, but now, he found himself rebelling against the idea
of having someone in his life who was entitled to know all of his
feelings. He was still entitled to some privacy, wasn’t he?
He couldn’t help but chuckle ruefully to himself. He’d been searching
for so long for this kind of intimacy, but, now that he had it, he
didn’t know if it was all it was cracked up to be. So far, Terri had
been very patient with him. She’d listened to him talk about this
anonymous student of his, and she’d listened while he pondered aloud
about what could be at the heart of the drastic changes he’d observed in
her. She’d offered the occasional suggestion, and she comforted him when
he became frustrated.
But, how long would that last? Terri was only human, Harm knew, and the
distance this was all placing between them was growing wider. More than
once already, Terri had indicated that she was losing patience with him,
and his preoccupation with this troubled girl. Sooner or later, she
would demand to know what he was hiding, and Harm feared that it would
be “sooner,” and, that it might, in fact, be as soon as tonight.
When he got home that night, the smells of salmon and asparagus greeted
him as he entered his apartment. Terri had promised she would make him
something healthy, if he promised that, the following weekend, he would
forget about his health food obsession, and let her cook him a proper
southern feast, complete with fried chicken, cornbread, sweet potatoes,
and collard greens, cooked the traditional way – with ham hocks. Harm
had bristled at that last part, but Terri assured him that indulging
just once would not land him in the cardiac unit of North Arundel
Harm was silent through dinner, but Terri didn’t push him to talk. She
had learned that there were times it was best not to push him. Harm was
a man who felt every emotion very deeply, and very personally; but, he
was not a man who often liked to reveal just what those feelings were.
He held tightly to the unrealistic notion that, as a grown man, he
should be perfectly capable of handling whatever problems life threw at
him, on his own. Never mind the fact that he was always the first person
to rush to the aid of his friends. Those were other people, and, for
some inexplicable reason, Harm had never granted himself the same
After dinner, Harm offered to do the dishes, since Terri had done the
cooking. He was hoping the task would offer his mind a distraction from
his anger and revulsion, but he had no such luck. He couldn’t force the
images out of his mind. All he could see was images, horrible images, of
what Laura had described to him. It took several seconds before he
noticed he had scrubbed one plate so hard, he had begun to scratch away
the enamel. He had to be careful; he was tempted to pick up one of the
dirty drinking glasses, and hurl it against the wall. With Terri around,
there wasn’t much he could do to release his anger. He might’ve gone for
a run, if it wasn’t so cold outside, and he might’ve turned to a tall
helping of bourbon, but he didn’t want to risk saying anything specific
about Laura, were he to drink too much to be able to stop himself.
Terri had been watching TV while Harm did the dishes, but she couldn’t
help noticing his posture while he’d completed the chore. The sound of
him banging plates into place in the drying rack, and the sound of the
scouring pad against the pots told her he was taking out his anger on
the dishes. But, anger over what, she didn’t know. And, worse, she was
beginning to think she never would.
Later that night, while they lay in bed together, Harm tossed and turned
for an hour and half before Terri said anything about it. All night,
she’d gotten the sense from him that he didn’t want to talk about
whatever was bothering him. It had been bothering him for quite some
time now, of course, but tonight, it seemed to have suddenly gotten
Until now, Terri had respected Harm’s privacy. But it was getting close
to two o’clock in the morning; they had to be up in just over four
hours. She didn’t want to upset him, but his secrecy had begun to affect
She turned over, and placed her hand on his arm. “The rest of us have to
sleep, too, y’know,” she teased.
“Sorry,” Harm muttered. He turned over, grabbed his pillow, and fluffed
“I wish I knew some bedtime stories,” Terri said playfully. Harm said
nothing. He merely turned onto his back, put his hands behind his head,
and continued to stare at the ceiling. It hurt Terri to see him
struggling so obviously with something, and it hurt her even more that
he wouldn’t give her the chance to help.
She knew there was one thing that had never failed to cause them to fall
asleep quickly and peacefully: exhausting themselves by making love.
Harm didn’t seem in the mood, of course, but, in the past, it had
usually taken very little convincing from her to get him there.
She ran her hand along Harm’s side, tickling him lightly. “I bet I can
make up a good story, though,” she purred. “Once upon a time, there were
two naval officers in bed together…”
That was all she said, before Harm reached down and pushed her hand
away. “Not tonight, Terri,” he sighed.
Undaunted by his rebuke, Terri tried again. This time, though, she
touched him lower on his body. Harm’s reaction was even less encouraging
than the first time. “Quit it, huh?” he said firmly. He took her hand
again, but this time, instead of just pushing it away lightly, he took
her other hand, as well, and pushed them together, on the far side of
Thinking that maybe the third time would be a charm, Terri ventured her
hand out to him again. It took only a second before Harm sat up in the
bed, scooting a few inches away. “Stop it!”
Terri sat up, herself, and turned on the bedside lamp. “I’m just trying
to make you feel better,” she said, her voice filled with remorse.
“Well, you’re not,” Harm said harshly.
Terri tried her best to mask her hurt. “Don’t you think it would help
you go to sleep?”
“No,” Harm growled, without a moment’s hesitation.
Taken aback by his demeanor, Terri could only stare at him. After a few
seconds she, asked, “Do you want me to leave?” She’d gotten so used to
sharing a bed with him; she didn’t want to go home, to the big, lonely
bed in her condo, but, neither did she want to stay someplace she wasn’t
Upon hearing her words, Harm’s features instantly softened. “No,” he
said softly. “I’m sorry; I’m just preoccupied.”
“No kidding,” Terri said. It came out more sarcastic than she’d
“Why don’t I just go out to the sofa,” Harm suggested. “That way, at
least one of us will get some sleep.”
“I don’t want to sleep, unless it’s next to you.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Terri,” Harm admonished. “If I go now, that’ll
give you a good four hours.”
“Harm, how much clearer can I be? I don’t want four hours, if you’re not
“Don’t be a hero, all right?”
“I could say the same thing about you,” Terri said. “I know you’re
thinking about that girl again. Why don’t you just tell me what’s going
on? Don’t you think it would take the weight off your shoulders, and
help you sleep?”
Harm snorted. “If I ever sleep well again, it’s not going to be for a
long, long time.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Terri prodded. Damn it, why wouldn’t he
just tell her?
Harm shook his head. “Never mind.” He stood up, and grabbed his pillow.
“Sweet dreams,” he said, walking to the door.
Now they weren’t even going to stay in the same bed? This had gone too
far, Terri decided. “I don’t know if I should be more insulted that
you’re completely uninterested in me, or that you’re thinking more about
her, than about me.”
Harm had his back to her, but Terri could see the instant when his
shoulders dropped. “This has nothing to do with you,” Harm said. He left
the room without tuning back.
When he was gone, Terri slid back down under the covers. It may have
been Harm’s intention to leave the room in order for her to get some
sleep, but Terri couldn’t help thinking that, regardless of what he had
said, the fact was, he had opted to spend what was left of the night on
the couch, by himself, rather than in bed, with her.
Contrary to what Harm had said, Terri believed it had everything to do
THE FOLLOWING DAY
UNITED STATES NAVAL ACADEMY
Harm watched as his students filed into the classroom. He was
disappointed to note that Midshipman Henry was nowhere in sight. He
wondered where she was; if there had been a medical emergency, he would
have been informed. He was about to ask Midshipman Miller if she’d seen
her, but then he thought better of it. After the episode during class
earlier in the week, the last thing this class needed was more attention
focused on Laura.
Once everyone was settled in their seats, with their books open, waiting
for their instructor to begin the class, Harm centered himself in front
of them. He passed his eyes over them, one by one, his icy gaze making
each of them shiver inwardly. Overall, they were a good bunch of people,
and not all of them deserved what he was about to do. And yet, he knew
he had to do it.
“Class, tench hut!” he commanded. The twenty-odd midshipmen immediately
jumped to their feet, and assumed the rigid position. Harm continued to
stare at them for several long seconds, forcing each of them to consider
what might be going on behind his mask of anger.
“Well,” he finally began, “it’s nice to know that you can follow at
least one simple command.” He shook his head in disgust. “While I have
your attention, let me make one thing very clear: what occurred in this
classroom on Tuesday will never occur again. Let me say that again, so
there’ll be no mistaking it: what occurred in this classroom on Tuesday
will NEVER occur again. Is that understood?!”
“Yes, sir!” the midshipmen loudly chorused.
“You ought to be ashamed of yourselves. I chose that video, because I
thought you’d be able to handle it. There were other, much more benign
materials available, but I though about you all, and I told myself, ‘No,
*my* students are adults. *My* students will behave themselves, and act
appropriately, because they are training to be officers in the United
States Navy.’ But, two days ago, you proved me wrong. Apparently, I was
mistaken in thinking you had the maturity and integrity to digest a
difficult subject with aplomb.”
He paused, and scanned his students’ faces again. “So, I’m going to give
you an out. If there is anyone in this room who does not wish to become
an officer in the United States Navy, please save your mom and dad’s tax
money, and step forward right now. I can escort you to the commandant’s
office, we’ll take care of the paperwork, and you’ll be on a plane home
by the end of the week.”
No one dared move.
“Really?” Harm snorted. “No one?” He shook his head in mock disbelief.
“I find that hard to believe, considering your behavior earlier this
week. I find that *impossible* to believe, in fact, considering that,
two days ago, a few of you were actually *laughing* during parts of the
video. Moreover, the rest of you not only did not discourage them from
their inexcusable actions, but you actually joined in!” Harm was nearly
shaking with rage. He’d made it a point to never speak to his mids that
way, but this time, he felt it was more than warranted.
“In fact, only one of you – only *one* -- raced to the aid of a fellow
student.” He shook his head. “Do you have any idea what the military is
all about, people? It’s about teamwork. When some of you do something
wrong, like laughing at an inappropriate time, it’s up to the rest of
you to pull those people back in line. You’re a team, don’t you
understand that? Furthermore, when one of you is in trouble, you should
all do what you can to come to that person’s aid. I’m taking this
opportunity to publicly thank Midshipman Miller for her actions. But,
the fact is, you *all* should have jumped up and asked to see if
Midshipman Henry was all right.
“Do you know where I’d be right now, if I’d been so unlucky as to be
stationed with people like you? I’ll tell you where: six feet
underground. That’s right; I’d be dead.” Harm shrugged. “I’m not
embarrassed to admit it: most of my more humbling mishaps have made The
Navy Times over the years; my history is no secret. The fact that I’m
standing in front of you today is due only to the teamwork of some good
doctors, nurses, captains, RIOs, and other JAG lawyers. I certainly
couldn’t have done it alone.
“And yet, you all seem to think that would be a piece of cake. You’re
not a team; you’re only out for yourselves: who’s got the highest grade,
who’s the fastest runner, who does the most push-ups. Well, you know
what? That’s impressive, but it won’t get you anywhere. Not here, not in
the operational Navy, and not anywhere else in life.”
After another dramatic pause, Harm said plainly, “I’m disappointed in
all of you.” The simple statement did more to shame the students than
any amount of yelling ever could. “I’m not going to teach military law
today, because that would be an abominable waste of my time. So, what
you’re going to do for the next two hours, is think about what you did,
what you should have done differently, and what you’ll do next time.
Working together is the most important thing you could possibly learn
here. If, in your four years at this academy, you take nothing else with
you, take that lesson.”
After putting the students at ease, and having them take their seats,
Harm proceeded to sit at his own desk, to look through some paperwork
for a case he was consulting on at JAG. His focus wasn’t quite there,
though; he couldn’t stop wondering about Laura’s absence.
PHYSICAL EDUCATION BUILDING
Harm had finished his workout and was on his way to the men’s locker
room, when he heard someone call Midshipman Henry’s name from one of the
gymnasiums. He followed the voice to the volleyball court. He got to the
doorway just in time to see Laura miss a spike she’d dived for.
“That’s the third time today, Midshipman!” the coach called. “Get your
head in the game, or get off the court!”
Harm heard Laura mumble a “Yes, sir,” before returning to her spot on
the court, looking dejected. At least she was there, and she hadn’t gone
UA, he told himself. Although, being “there” didn’t mean much. Clearly,
her head *wasn’t* in the game, and furthermore, there wasn’t very much
of her *to* be there: the other day, Harm could feel how thin she’d
gotten, but now, seeing her in her volleyball uniform, it was undeniable
that she was wasting away. God damn Coach Clark for being such a callous
bastard. He should have been the first one to raise a fuss.
Well, Harm told himself, if Laura felt well enough to be at volleyball
practice, then she damn well should have been in his class that morning.
He decided to call her on it. Wiping a final drop of sweat from his face
with a towel, he stepped into the gymnasium and approached Lt. Commander
“Coach,” he said, to get his attention.
The man turned. “Commander, what can I do for you, sir?”
“I’d like to talk to Midshipman Henry, if you can spare her for a few
“With the way she’s been playing lately?” he scoffed. “Keep her as long
as you want.”
Fucking asshole, Harm thought.
“Henry!” the coach called. “Front and center!” Laura hurried over and
came to attention. “Commander Rabb would like a word with you.”
Laura turned to Harm. “Sir, we’re in the middle of practice.”
“I’m aware of that, Midshipman,” Harm said. “Commander Clark has agreed
to make do without you for a few minutes.”
“Yes, sir,” Laura said.
“Walk with me, Midshipman,” Harm said, as he headed toward the door. He
stopped in the corridor just outside the gym. He was saddened to see
Laura staring at the ground.
“You feeling all right today?” he asked her.
Laura shrugged. “I guess.”
“We missed you in class this morning.”
“Any particular reason you didn’t go?”
When the girl said nothing in response, Harm tried to lighten the mood.
“Maybe you’ve just gotten sick of my teaching style – not that I blame
you.” He chuckled to himself briefly, but then, seeing that his humor
hadn’t affected her, he sighed, and changed tactics again.
“Would you look at me, please,” he requested gently.
Laura shook her head, her eyes still focused on the floor tiles. “I
can’t, sir,” she whispered.
“I just…I can’t. Not anymore. Not now that you know about…”
“What does that matter?”
“It means everything, sir. Everything’s different now.”
“No, it’s not,” he said softly.
“Yes, it is, sir. You know now, and I can’t…I can’t look at you. I can’t
have you looking at me, because you’ll never look at me the same, sir.
All you’ll ever see is…that.”
Harm felt his stomach turn. “Is that why you skipped class today?”
“I couldn’t face you, sir. It was the only way.”
“The only way for what? To avoid me?”
“Yes, sir,” she whispered timidly.
“You can’t do that forever, you know.”
“Just until the end of the semester, sir.”
“And what am I supposed to do, then? Mark you present every day, and
give you an A? Pretend like none of this happened?” He could hear her
breath become ragged, and he knew she was crying. “Laura, please look at
Slowly, she raised her head, her tired, teary eyes meeting Harm’s.
Harm offered a gentle smile. “There. That wasn’t so hard, was it?”
“God, what you must think of me,” Laura sniffled. She looked away.
Checking quickly to make sure no one was nearby, Harm placed his finger
under her chin, coaxing her to look at him again. “Why don’t you let me
decide what I think?”
“I already know, sir, and I can’t bear to see it in your eyes.”
“Oh yeah?” Harm said. “What do I think, then?”
“You think I’m some stupid girl, who broke the rules and went to a guy’s
room, and when things got out of hand, I couldn’t even defend myself.
And then, instead of picking myself up, dusting myself off, and carrying
on with my duties, I started letting my grades slip, because my mind’s
not strong enough to forget about it and move on. And because of all
that, you think…” she trailed off, wiping quickly-falling tears from her
face, “…you think I don’t deserve to become an officer.”
She couldn’t have hurt Harm more if she’d stabbed him through the heart
and twisted the knife slowly. “Laura, no,” he whispered. His mouth
opened and closed several times, but he couldn’t think of a damn thing
to say to make her understand how completely wrong she was. More than
anything, he wanted to take her into his arms and explain that to her,
but that was out of the question.
“God, Laura, that’s not true. I wish…I wish you could see what I see
when I look at you. I see someone standing in front of me, who suffered
something that would have knocked most people down for the count. But
not this person. This girl got up the next morning, put one foot in
front of the other, and hasn’t looked back. This girl showed up to
class, and went to PT, and volleyball practice. And this girl is so
strong, she actually thought she could handle it on her own, only…only
she didn’t count on one thing: people caring about her.”
“Sir,” she shook her head, “My classes…all my grades…I’ve ruined
everything. I don’t know what to do.”
“Neither do I, Laura, but I do know one thing: we’ll figure it out,
“You don’t have to, sir,” Laura said. Her emotion was only half-hearted,
though. If there was anyone in the world she’d want on her side, no
matter what she was facing, it was Commander Rabb.
“I know I don’t have to,” Harm told her. “I want to. And, do you know
why?” Laura shook her head, so Harm said, “It’s because, despite what
*you* think, *I* think you’re going to make an outstanding officer, and
I’m not going to let you use this as an excuse to give up.”
Laura nodded. “I can’t do anything for you, sir. I mean, I’ll never be
able to repay you.”
“You don’t have to; just promise me you’ll see this through to the end,
whatever we decide to do.”
“Yes, sir.” She wiped away a final tear. “I should get back to practice,
Harm nodded. “All right, but this conversation is far from over.”
“I know, sir.” Laura looked up and down the corridor, noting that no one
was coming by. “Um…if you want to talk somewhere…somewhere safe, I’ll be
at my sponsor’s house this weekend.”
Harm nodded. He didn’t know how he’d explain his presence there, but
he’d think of something. His own problems were most definitely not
foremost among his priorities. “Good thinking. You still have my number,
right?” At Laura’s nod, Harm said, “Okay, call me then, and we’ll set up
“Dismissed, Midshipman. Go show that assho—“ Harm caught himself,
“jerk…of a coach, what you’re made of.”
After a week of trying to wrap his head around what had happened to
Laura, a terrifying thought occurred to Harm. He remembered his brief
conversation in the gym with John Flaggler. The other man had confirmed
Harm’s observations about the girl, but he had said something else, too;
something that, in that moment, had been of minor interest to Harm. Now,
though, in light of what Laura had told him, the memory of Flaggler’s
casual comment jumped into his mind, bringing with it a host of flashing
lights and warning sirens.
“She’s not the only one who’s gone downhill like that,” Flaggler had
said. “There are three midshipmen in one of my other classes whose
grades have taken a nosedive. They also look a little too thin. It’s
like they’ve got some kind of pact, or something.”
Acting more out of instinct than any reasonable suspicion, Harm had
asked if they were all female. Flaggler had said yes. At the time, it
was merely something worth thinking about. Now, of course, it was a
clue, like a light in the darkness. Only this light wasn’t like a
lighthouse beam, that welcomed sailors and guided them to safety. This
light was like a tiny torch, whose flame would last only long enough to
lead Harm to someplace even darker. Someplace created by the Devil
Harm was halfway home when he decided to change course. He pulled off
the highway and found an empty side street, where he stopped his car to
rummaged through his briefcase for something. Shuffling papers aside, he
found what he was looking for: a pamphlet about rape prevention from the
City of Annapolis Rape Crisis Center. They’d been distributed all over
campus during Awareness Week, and Harm had kept one. He didn’t really
know why he’d held onto it, but he was grateful for the divine
intervention that must’ve led him to do so.
He found the Center’s address on the last page of the pamphlet, and he
eased back onto the highway, heading in that direction. It wasn’t far
away, but in the evening rush hour traffic, it took him about twenty
minutes to get there. For a second, he wondered if they would be open
this late, but he quickly realized his mental slip: of course they would
be open. Due to the very nature of its existence, the Rape Crisis Center
would, unfortunately, be open all night.
He parked his car in the small lot and made his way toward the center,
which was little more than a tiny, nondescript storefront. When he
entered, he saw a young woman sitting by a bay of phones. She was
flipping through a magazine, and looked bored. Good, Harm thought. If
the phones aren’t ringing, then nobody’s been raped recently. Then
again, maybe it’s just not being reported. God damn it.
He saw a girl sitting at a desk on the other side of the room. An older,
heavy-set woman was leaning over her shoulder, explaining how the
complicated phone system worked. Harm guessed she was in training. The
girl couldn’t have been out of high school, Harm observed, and she was
volunteering here, volunteering to spend her time helping people who
really needed it, instead of running off to the mall at every
opportunity. It’s a sick world, he thought, but it would be even worse
without people like her. He was glad there were people like her, but he
wished to God there didn’t have to be.
Not wanting to interrupt the older woman, Harm surreptitiously scanned
the Center while he waited. It was small, he noticed: just one main room
with all the phones, an old, tattered couch, and some mismatched chairs
near a low table piled with women’s magazines. The thin, well-worn
carpet looked like it had seen better days, too, and Harm inwardly
lamented the fact that this room had seen so much traffic. Too damn
There was a water cooler in one corner of the room, and an old model
coffeemaker not too far away. It was brewing a fresh pot. The poor thing
probably never gets shut off, in a place like this, Harm thought.
Looking beyond the bank of phones, Harm noticed there was more to the
place – a narrow hallway, with a bathroom on one side, and two or three
other doors, which he guessed could be offices or storage rooms.
Some of the walls were decorated with posters emphasizing “Girl Power,”
and local “Take Back the Night” events. Harm was suddenly, painfully
aware of his existence there – a tall, strong man, in uniform, standing
in the middle of the room, his face steely with purpose. He fit in here
about as well as a herd of elephants in a Waterford crystal shop.
“It’s not much, but it’s the best we can do.”
Harm jumped, startled by the suddenly nearby voice. Turning around, he
came face to face with the woman who’d been showing the younger girl how
to use the phone.
“Most of the furniture’s donated by the staff’s friends and families,”
the woman continued. “Women should have a nicer place to come to after
they’ve…” she shook her head, lamenting. “Anyway, as the saying goes,
beggars really can’t be choosers.”
Harm nodded solemnly.
“May I help you?” the woman asked.
“Ma’am,” he said, attempting to put his best smile on, “My name is
Harmon Rabb. I was hoping I could speak with a supervisor.”
“You’re speaking with her, Commander,” the woman said, returning his
smile. Harm decided she was probably in her mid-fifties, but looked
considerably younger when she smiled. “I’m Sheila Wagner, and I’m the
closest thing to a supervisor we’ve got here.”
“Miss Wagner,” Harm said, offering his hand. The woman shook it
politely. “Is there somewhere we can talk privately?” With his eyes,
Harm indicated the hallway beyond the phones.
“Whatever you have to say, Commander, you can say it out here. These
girls are on my staff, and I don’t hide anything from them.”
“Ma’am, please,” Harm said. “I’m not really comfortable with – “
Miss Wagner quirked up an eyebrow. “You’ve got a Silver Star, and two
Distinguished Flying Cross, and you’re scared of saying something in
front of a few ladies? Commander, please tell me the Navy isn’t handing
those medals out to cowards these days.” Her tone was mostly playful,
but Harm detected a hint of impatience as well.
His eyes narrowed. It wasn’t everyone who could identify specific
military awards, even in a town like Annapolis. “How did you – “
Miss Wagner smiled. “My son’s flying off the Kitty Hawk. I’ve done my
Harm nodded. “Hornets?”
Wagner nodded. “As he would say, ‘what else is there?’”
Harm chuckled ruefully. “There were Tomcats, once upon a time.”
“And once upon a time, I wore a size six,” Wagner joked. “Time passes,
Commander, whether we want it to or not.”
“That it does, ma’am,” Harm agreed. “Miss Wagner,” he ventured again,
now that he’d formed a tenuous bond with her, “I do need to speak with
you, but I’d really rather not do it out here.”
Something in Harm’s eyes made Miss Wagner comply. Something was stirring
behind the stunning blue-green color. This man hadn’t come to chat, she
could tell. He had come with a purpose, and she was going to find out
what it was. Nodding, she started leading him toward the hallway. She
stopped and addressed the two girls by the phones. “I’m going to take
the commander to my office. Just holler if you need anything.” The girls
both nodded. When Harm acknowledged them with a nod and a smile, the
younger one blushed considerably.
Miss Wagner’s office was the last door on the right. As they walked down
the hallway, Harm took casual glances at the other rooms they passed.
One was, in fact, a bathroom, but the other two took him by surprise.
Both rooms held two beds, perfectly made, and there was a closet in each
room as well. The closets had no doors, and Harm could see there was a
variety of clean clothing hanging up.
Harm turned away from the room, and found Miss Wagner several feet ahead
of him, waiting in the doorway to her office. “Sorry,” he said
sheepishly. He suddenly felt like an intruder, spying on a world he had
no business being in. But then, he realized, painfully, he did have a
place here. His affection for Laura Henry, and his abject disgust at
what had happened to her, had made that certain.
“Those rooms have come in all too handy,” Miss Wagner told him
“Are they for – “
“A safe place to stay,” she finished for him. “Sometimes we get girls
who can’t go back home, or simply have nowhere to go in the first place.
It’s not much, but at least we can offer them a clean bed, and a clean
change of clothes.” She spoke with the casual tone of someone who had
been doing this for years, and was hardened to the gruesome facts.
“We’ve got a shower in our bathroom, too, but they sometimes do that at
Harm nodded, swallowing hard. This was a peek into a world that would
make angels cry; a world he shuddered to even contemplate.
He followed Miss Wagner into her office, and took a seat in front of her
desk, which was covered in piles of paperwork, with colored sticky-notes
peeking out here and there.
“Organized chaos,” Miss Wagner assured him. “I know exactly where
everything is, but God help the other person who comes in here looking
Harm nodded. “I know the feeling.”
“So, what brings you here?” Miss Wagner asked.
Harm had rehearsed his speech in the car on the way here, but now that
the moment was upon him, all his words were failing him. How did one
express that they thought something was rotten in the state of Denmark?
“I…ah…I’m not really sure where to begin.”
Miss Wagner folded her hands on her desk. “The beginning would be a good
place, Commander,” she said lightly.
Harm smiled, although no amount of levity could possibly soften the blow
he was about to deliver. “I’m an instructor at the Academy, ma’am, and,
I recently found out that one of my students was the victim of a rape.”
Miss Wagner nodded. “Go on, Commander.”
Harm was surprised to note that Miss Wagner was expressionless. She
didn’t seem shocked at all. Maybe this has happened even more than I was
afraid of, he thought. “Well, a while back, I started noticing she
wasn’t herself. She was one of my best students – straight A’s – but
then, all of a sudden, her grades started dropping. She’d always been
upbeat, and a good participant in class, but suddenly, she was quiet.
She never raised her hand anymore, never seemed interested in things
that used to mean a lot to her. She was a star on the volleyball team,
but she’s been playing horribly lately.”
As Harm spoke, Miss Wagner just continued to nod, following the story,
as if it were familiar territory. After so many years in the field, very
few things surprised her.
“She was falling apart, Miss Wagner. Wasting away. She was thin as a
rail, and I could tell she wasn’t getting enough sleep. I encouraged her
to be honest, that I would help her, and she finally told me the truth.”
Miss Wagner hated to interrupt him; over the years, she’d become an
extremely patient listener, but she was a busy woman, and she wanted
Harm to get to the heart of the matter. “So, can I assume you want some
information about support groups, or counseling, for her?” She started
rummaging through a file cabinet behind her desk before Harm had even
“There’s more,” Harm stated simply.
Miss Wagner froze. Turning back from the files, she said, “Excuse me?”
Miss Wagner’s forehead furrowed. She closed the file cabinet slowly,
with a soft “click,” and placed her folded hands in her lap.
Harm continued when he was sure he had her full attention again. “Before
I knew the truth about what had happened to her, I spoke to a friend of
mine, who happens to have this girl in one of his own classes. I just
wanted to make sure I wasn’t imagining things – that things really were
as bad as I thought they were. Well, he confirmed that he’d noticed the
changes in her, too, only he said she wasn’t the only one.”
Miss Wagner was listening intently. She’d only just met the man seated
before her, but she could tell how greatly it pained him to recount this
story. He was a big man, with a commanding presence – a fighter pilot,
no less. And yet, he had been unable to prevent what had happened to the
girl he was describing. It wasn’t the first case she’d seen like this,
where a man – a boyfriend, a father, or, in this case, a teacher, had
come to the Center looking for something – anything – to help them make
sense of their rage, their utter helplessness, and their paralyzing
guilt over not being able to prevent what had happened.
Harm sighed heavily. “He indicated that there were three other
midshipmen, all female, who were exhibiting the same behavior.”
“What are you trying to say, Commander?” Miss Wagner asked. “Do you
think they were all raped?”
“That’s what I’m here to find out.”
Miss Wagner’s eyes widened. “Commander, you know all our records are
Harm had expected this roadblock. “Yes, ma’am, I’m aware of that, but I
was hoping – “
“Hoping what? That I’d tell you if any of them called here? You know I
can’t do that.”
“I know,” Harm said, trying to stay calm, even as Miss Wagner grew
incredulous. “You don’t have to give me any names. Ma’am, if you could
just tell me how many calls came from the Academy…”
“That’s a very nice smile, Commander,” Miss Wagner said, “and I’m sure,
most of the time, it gets you what you want. But I’m simply not in a
position to break any confidences.”
“I know,” Harm said again, understanding all too well the issue of
confidentiality, from his days at JAG. “But, there’s got to be something
you can tell me. Anything would help.”
“Commander, please,” the woman stressed, standing up. “I simply can’t do
it. If I tell you which calls came from the Academy, you can go right
back to the school directory and look them up. These girls come here
because they know we guarantee their privacy, no matter what. I can’t do
that to them.”
“Them?” Harm asked. “So then, there are more?”
Miss Wagner took a calming breath and sat down again. “Commander, look,
it takes a certain kind of person to get through the Naval Academy. Some
of these boys are just a little too arrogant, a little too sure of
themselves, if you know what I mean. They think they’re the coolest
thing since ice cubes, and they don’t like to take no for an answer. So,
when they’re with a girl who tells them exactly that, they like to
pretend she’s joking, or that she’s just playing hard to get. Those Navy
boys have been doing it since the beginning of time, so please don’t
tell me you’ve made it all the way to O-5 without knowing at least that
Harm was taken back by her forthrightness. This was a woman who got
right to the point, he realized. And apparently, this was a point she’d
gotten to many times over the years. It had gotten so bad, in fact, that
she’d seemingly come to accept it as natural.
“I know rapes happen in the Navy, ma’am,” Harm admitted, “but I’d have
liked to think the Academy was immune.”
“No place is immune, Commander.”
“I’m beginning to see that,” Harm said, slumping down in his seat. “So,
then, what am I supposed to do? I know female midshipmen are at risk,
and I’m just supposed to hope that, should the unthinkable happen,
they’re able to defend themselves?”
Miss Wagner sighed. “Yes. I know it stinks, but unless one of them comes
forward and presses formal charges, there’s nothing we can do, beyond
making sure they get medical attention as soon as possible, and
psychological counseling, if they need it.”
“Well, that just plain sucks,” Harm said, standing up to pace. He’d
never been good at sitting still when he was angry.
“Yes, it does, Commander, but you and I are not the first people to be
in this position, and, unfortunately, I’m certain we won’t be the last.”
“That’s not the way this is supposed to work. Not at all,” Harm swore.
“But it is,” Miss Wagner said. “They don’t want to come forward,
Commander, and we can’t do it for them.”
“There’s got to be something. I can’t just sit around, knowing this is
happening. Especially not at the Academy.”
“Why not, Commander? Why not at the Academy? I’ve already told you my
own son is a naval officer, but he got his commission through OCS. So,
please excuse me when I ask just what is so special about your precious
Academy? If what you suspect is true, that place is no safer for girls
than a street corner in northern DC. Why do you think it’s so much
better than anywhere else?”
“Because it’s supposed to be, damn it! It’s supposed to represent the
best this country has to offer! It’s supposed to be home to people with
honor, and discipline, courage, and integrity! This kind of thing isn’t
supposed to happen there!”
“Then, why does it?” Miss Wagner asked calmly. Her cool head was a deep
contrast to Harm’s unrestrained frustration.
Something about the woman’s words got through to Harm, and he froze in
place. His lawyer’s instincts had kicked in, and he was suddenly,
painfully aware of something: If this problem was as widespread, and as
longstanding, as it was emerging to be, there was a reason. Someone had
found out about it – someone who was doing his or her damnedest to make
sure no one else did.
“Commander?” Miss Wagner asked, pulling Harm from his meandering
thoughts. “I called your name three times,” she said.
“Sorry,” Harm said. “I was thinking about something.”
“Anything you want to share?”
Harm shook his head. “No. Miss Wagner,” he said, his tone softer, “look,
I really need your help. Anything you could tell me would be a start.”
“Commander, I’m sorry. We’ve been over this; I can’t give you any
“What if I told you it was official JAG business?”
“What if I told you I don’t see JAG insignias on your uniform? Like I
said, Commander, I’ve done my homework.”
“I used to be a JAG officer, Miss Wagner. If you have information about
a crime, ma’am, you’re legally obligated to – “
“Commander, this is a rape crisis center. Everything we do here concerns
Harm sighed, exasperated. “Miss Wagner, you know I’m only trying to
prevent this from happening to another midshipman. Isn’t there anything
you can tell me? I don’t need any names. I don’t even need phone
numbers. If you could just take a look and tell me how many calls came
from numbers in this area code, with the first three digits 293, and the
dates of those calls. There’s no way I could trace that back to any
Miss Wagner sighed. “If I give you this information, what would you hope
to accomplish with it?”
“I’m not sure,” he admitted. “But maybe there’s a pattern…or something.
I won’t really know until I have the dates. Miss Wagner, please.”
Miss Wagner knew he was right; without the actual phone numbers, he
wouldn’t be able to trace the calls back to anyone. And yet, she was
still hesitant to tell him anything. These girls had confided in her,
had trusted her with everything detail. In her heart, she knew she was
breaking their trust. On the other hand, if she gave up this nearly
harmless information, maybe the commander might actually get somewhere
with it, and she’d have less people coming to confide in her in the
future. That was her greatest wish – to be unemployed. If she was out of
a job, it would mean women were safe in the city of Annapolis.
Harm watched as Miss Wagner got up and walked to the door. He didn’t
know if she was going to help him, or tell him to leave. He got his
answer when she poked her head out into the hallway.
“Marissa,” Miss Wagner called to the young woman by the phones, “would
you please bring me the log books from the last six months?”
Thank you, God, Harm thought. He crossed the room, and took both of Miss
Wagner’s hands into his, squeezing tightly. “There’s a special place in
Heaven for people like you,” he told her.
“Then why do I feel like the world’s biggest snake right now?”
“Don’t,” he insisted firmly. “Miss Wagner, if we can spare even one girl
this horrible nightmare…”
“I know,” she whispered. “It’ll be worth it.”