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

 

   


THE NEXT DAY
1648 EST
HARM’S OFFICE
UNITED STATES NAVAL ACADEMY
ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND

 

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 video.”

“Me neither,” Harm agreed. “I didn’t think it was funny in the least.”

“No, sir.”

“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 the past.”

“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 in protocol.”

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 tell me.”

“Maybe, sir.”

“Why?”

“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, volleyball…”

“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 again.”

“But that’s not happening, is it?” Harm prodded gently.

“No, sir.”

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 happened.”

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 Academy.”

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, she continued.

“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 room.”

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 me.”

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 charges.

“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 way.

“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 Henry.”

“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 looks awful.”

“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 cried.

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 heart.

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 they did.

“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 shirt.

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 go, sir.”

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,’ I guess.”

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 any further.

“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 backpack.

 

SAME DAY
HARM’S APARTMENT
2312 EST

 

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 Hospital.

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 latitude.

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 worse.

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 her, too.

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 it loudly.

“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 her body.

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 welcome.

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 intended.

“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 getting any.”

“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 with her.

 

THE FOLLOWING DAY
UNITED STATES NAVAL ACADEMY
ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND

 

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.

 

SAME DAY
1716 EST
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 Clark.

“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 minutes.”

“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.”

“Yes, sir.”

“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.

“Why not?”

“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 me.”

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, together.”

“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, sir.”

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 a time.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Dismissed, Midshipman. Go show that assho—“ Harm caught himself, “jerk…of a coach, what you’re made of.”

 

1742 EST
ANNAPOLIS, MD

 

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 himself.

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 much.

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 homework.”

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.

“Commander?”

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 regretfully.

“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 the hospital.”

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 for something.”

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 answered.

“There’s more,” Harm stated simply.

Miss Wagner froze. Turning back from the files, she said, “Excuse me?”

“There’s more.”

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 confidential.”

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 much.”

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 information.”

“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 a crime.”

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 individuals.”

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.”

 

 

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6
Part 7 Part 8 Part 9 Part 10 Part 11 Part 12
 
 
   

Copyright © 2005 Legacies Archive  - Site owner Pixie