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JANUARY 2006
1845 EST
BUD AND HARRIET’S HOME
RESTON, VA

 

Earlier that day, Harm had called Bud and Harriet, to see if he could stop by later to talk to Bud about official business. Harriet had, of course, insisted that he come for dinner, since he was making the long drive anyway. He and Bud could talk afterward.

Harriet had fed the twins just before the adults were going to sit down to eat, so they wouldn’t be fussy and distract the meal. However, the dinner table was still shared with little AJ and Jimmy, and those two made enough noise for four children. For a few seconds here and there, Harm found himself grateful to not have children of his own.

After dinner, and the customary “airplane” game with Uncle Harm, the boys went upstairs to play, while the adults retreated to the living room, where Harriet poured them all some coffee.

“So, how’s Commander Coulter?” Harriet asked, as they all relaxed with their drinks.

Harm smiled brightly. “She’s perfect, as usual. In fact, she and Mattie are spending the day together at Marley Station Mall. Something about neither of them having ‘a single thing to wear,’ although, if you ever looked in Mattie’s closet, you would swear she’s the Imelda Marcos of the tight-fitting jeans market.”

Harriet nearly choked on her coffee.

“Sorry,” Harm smiled. “Anyway, I’m hoping Terri can convince her to get a few more…wholesome things.”

Harriet smiled. “That’s nice that the women in your life get along so well.” Harm chuckled. “What?” Harriet asked.

“The women in my life,” Harm repeated. “I thought that was something I’d given up on a long time ago.”

Harriet nodded. “Well, think again, sir. While you weren’t looking, a nice life went and dropped itself into your lap.”

Harm raised an eyebrow. “I’d like to think I had something to do with it, Harriet.”

Harriet’s jaw dropped. “I’m sorry, sir. I only meant…I mean, it’s nice to finally see you happy.”

“It’s nice to be happy,” Harm admitted. “I think I’d given up on that, too.”

“Well,” Harriet said, “things seem to have a way of working themselves out. Even if it we don’t always see it at first.”

Harm nodded. Finally, Bud spoke up, knowing Harm’s visit had to do with more than general catching up. “Honey, dinner was wonderful. But, I think the Commander has something he needs to discuss with me.”

“I’d like to help if I can, Commander,” Harriet said. “Just because I’m not in uniform full-time anymore, doesn’t mean I’ve disavowed myself of my military duties.”

“Thank you, Harriet,” Harm said, “but it’s nothing we can’t handle. Really, it would be a waste of your time.”

“If you say so, sir. I’ll be upstairs if you change your mind.”

Harm and Bud both nodded. “She’s being naïve, isn’t she, sir?” Bud asked Harm when Harriet was gone from the room.

“Actually,” Harm replied, “I was just going to tell you how good it is that she’s so trusting.”

“Sir?”

“Bud, in not so many words, I just told your wife to butt out, and she smiled and walked away, no questions asked.”

“That’s because you outrank her, sir,” Bud said.

“No, Bud, it’s because she loves you.”

Bud smiled. “Yes, sir. Are you sure she can’t help out with this? She loves looking after the kids, sir, but I think she’s kind of starved for something a little more…intellectual.”

“No.” Harm said it stiffly, and Bud looked at him curiously. “Bud, I don’t want Harriet anywhere near this. Terri doesn’t know a thing, either, and I’m doing my damnedest to keep it that way.”

“You’re scaring me, sir.”

“Just wait, Bud. You don’t even know the half of it. Is there somewhere we can sit down and talk? Somewhere private?”

Bud nodded. “Down the hall, sir. We turned one of the rooms into an office.”

“Good. I hope you have some paper; you’re going to need to take notes.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

A few minutes later, Bud and Harm were settled at the desk, yellow legal pads in front of both of them. A thick stack of documents Harm had brought with him was also there.

“What’s this about, sir?” Bud asked.

“There’s no good place to start, Bud, so I’m just going to jump right in.” Harm took a deep breath. “A few months ago, I started noticing that one of my favorite students just wasn’t herself. Her grades had taken a nosedive, she’d lost a great deal of weight, and she…she just lost her spark.” Bud nodded, waiting patiently for Harm to get to the heart of the matter. “Well, I asked her about it a few times, and finally, she confided to me that she’d been raped.”

Bud recoiled in horror. “Sir…”

Harm put his hand up. “It gets worse.”

“What could be worse than a sexual assault at the Academy, sir?”

“How about multiple assaults?” Harm said. Bud’s eyes widened. Harm nodded. “My student’s not the only one. In fact, there’s reason to believe dozens of female mids have been raped over the past eight years. There might even be more, further back, but I only have the records for the past eight years.”

“What kind of records, sir?”

Harm pulled several thin books from his briefcase. “Phone calls to the City of Annapolis Rape Crisis Center. These are the log books, going back to 1997.”

“What are those, sir?” Bud asked, pointing to the colored page markers that stuck out of the books.

“Each page that’s flagged has a record of a phone call from the Academy. We don’t know whose numbers they were at the time; only that they came from the Academy.”

“But there are so many.” Bud stared in quiet horror, as he took in the number of flags.

“Exactly,” Harm said. “Now, that doesn’t mean that that many girls were actually victims. I’ve looked through the books a bit, and a lot of the calls came from the same few numbers. We can probably assume it was the same girls, calling multiple times, to ask questions, or just to talk to someone...”

“This is terrible, sir,” Bud said softly.

“You’re telling me,” Harm said. “This is my alma mater. This is the class ring I’ve worn for the past twenty-two years.”

Bud nodded. “Where do I fit in, sir? What do you need me to do?”

“This might surprise you, Bud, but, I’m not exactly sure. I need to get to the bottom of this, but I have no idea where the bottom is. What I do know, though, is that if this has been happening so often, for so long, I’d bet my Corvette somebody at the Academy knows about it, and I’d bet they’re going out of their way to cover it up.”

“Who would do that, sir?” Bud asked, disgusted.

“Someone who doesn’t deserve to be in the Navy, Bud. Somebody who ought to live the rest of his or her life in a cold, lonely cell, via an all-expenses paid, one-way trip to Fort Leavenworth.”

“Where should I start, sir?” Bud asked.

“With Peter Crowley, Tyler Gibson, and Grayson Deadmarsh, III,” Harm answered. “Those are the midshipmen who attacked my student.”

Bud’s eyes went wide. “Three of them?” Harm nodded. “God…” Bud said, shaking his head.

“Start with those boys,” Harm said. “Anything you can come up with – personal histories, black marks on their academic records, anything. And then, see if anything interesting comes up on these people.” Harm passed him a list of the Academy’s top leadership during the time period of the phone calls. “You should be able to find a few things through the Navy intranet. And, other things, well…I know you’re pretty good with computers, Bud.”

Bud raised an eyebrow. “What, exactly, are you suggesting, sir?”

“I’m suggesting you might…accidentally happen upon interesting information. Employment histories, service records, unwarranted promotions, phone records, financial records…”

“Sir,” Bud said, nervously, “I think some of that might be illegal.”

“Not as illegal as sweeping a decade of rapes under the rug, Bud.”

“Sir…”

“Bud, I need you on this. You’re the only one I can trust, and the only one with the skills I need. You’ve always been good at inadvertently finding needles in haystacks, and right now, I’ve got a barn piled to the rafters with hay, and the damn needle’s the color of freaking straw. It might not be too difficult; some of those guys have security clearances, so you might be able to track down their credit reports, and maybe some recent transactions.”

Bud nodded. He was still reluctant to follow Harm down the unethical path, but he knew Harm was right: whatever they were about to do was nothing compared to silencing rape victims at the Academy.

“I’m not sure what we’re looking for,” Harm told Bud, “but I trust your instincts. Take note of anything that might be meaningful. Anything that might indicate any of these people knew what was going on, and anything that might show they tried to cover it up.”

“Yes, sir. You caught me at a good time; my caseload’s pretty light for the next few weeks.”

Harm nodded. “Good. But Bud, don’t do this at the expense of your duty. No one can know about this, so if your job performance were to drop off…”

“Don’t worry, sir. I’m usually on the computer for a while every night anyway, so I can do this from home. Harriet will think I’m just reading Quantum Leap fan fiction.”

“Fan what?” Harm asked, his brow furrowed.

“Fan fiction, sir. It’s where people take the characters from a TV show, and they write their own stories, so they can have happen whatever they like.”

“You have four children, and you have time fort stuff like that?”

“It’s fun, sir!” Bud defended himself. “I’m writing one of my own, in fact.”

“Oh yeah?” Harm asked. “What’s it about?”

Bud smiled. “Sam leaps into a JAG lawyer who lost a leg in a land mine explosion.”

Harm rolled his eyes. “You have too much time on your hands, Bud.”

“Hey, it’s a cheaper hobby than vintage cars, and safer than drugs or alcohol.”

“Hey!” Harm said. “I only have one vintage car. You can hardly call that a hobby.”

“Sorry, sir,” Bud smiled. “Anyway, sir, back to business. Are you sure I can’t tell Harriet about this? She still has contacts at the IG’s office. She might be able to do some digging of her own.”

“No,” Harm said again. “Bud, I don’t know how high up this goes, so, the less of us involved, the better. For now, at least. If anyone’s career is going to take the fall for this, I want it to be mine.”

“And mine, sir,” Bud pointed out.

Harm sighed regretfully. “Bud, if this is as bad as I think it might be, then our careers as naval officers aren’t what we thought they were. And, if this is really happening in our Navy, then what better cause to risk them for?”

Bud nodded. “It won’t be easy, sir. I’m not really comfortable about keeping this from Harriet. We’re married, sir, and naturally, we just share things with each other. I’ve never liked lying.”

“It’s not lying, Bud. It’s just…not telling the whole truth.”

“In court, they’re the same thing, sir.”

“We’re not in court,” Harm said. “Look, just tell her it’s something I needed legal help with, off the record, and it’s nothing she should worry about. Believe me, Bud, if this really is as bad as I fear, Harriet will find out soon enough, along with the rest of the whole damn world.”

Bud nodded silently. He looked down at the three names he’d scribbled down. One of them, in particular, stood out to him. “Hmm,” he said.

“What?” Harm asked. “What is it?”

“Nothing, sir. I think there was a Gray Deadmarsh, Jr. in the House of Representatives a few years ago, but he’s long since retired.”

Harm quirked up an eyebrow. “I wonder if daddy’s still got connections in high places. I wonder what it would do to his reputation when word gets out his son’s no better than a back-alley rapist. In fact, I’ll bet daddy still has connections in quite low places. I just wonder if they’re low enough to sweep Junior’s dirty deeds under the rug. Take a look into that, Bud. I’m just thinking out loud here, but he might be greasing more wheels than the ground crew at Andrews.”

Bud nodded gravely. “Yes, sir.”

“Just find what you can, and report back to me, okay?”

“Yes, sir. I’ll do my best.”

“I know you will, Bud. That’s why I came to you.”

 

MONDAY
1600 EST
HARM’S OFFICE
UNITED STATES NAVAL ACADEMY
ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND

 

The following weekend, Harm wanted to – no, needed to talk to Laura again about pressing charges. Even if Bud managed to find something incriminating on her attackers, or on Academy personnel, there was little Harm would be able to do about it, unless there was an “official” investigation launched, and the only way that would happen would be for one of the victims to come forward.

Unfortunately, Laura was spending the weekend and her sponsor’s house. Harm had taken her to his apartment once already. Miraculously, they had avoided being seen by anyone, but it was a risk he would not take twice. It was wrong the first time, and would be just as wrong the second time. There were no sensible alternatives, however, so Harm resigned himself to waiting until Monday, when he could Laura to come to his office.

Laura appeared in the doorway, and Harm summoned her in. She shut the door behind her when she entered. Harm didn’t have to ask her to; it had become standard practice. There was just too much at risk if someone were to overhear any of their recent conversations. “How was your weekend?” he asked her.

“Respectfully, sir, I was hoping we could just get to whatever it is you wanted to talk to me about.”

Harm nodded. He couldn’t blame her; she was probably as uncomfortable being there as he was having her there. “Why don’t you have a seat,” he suggested.

Following the instruction, Laura sat in the chair in front of Harm’s desk. She stayed poised on the edge, as if she might jump up and run away at any moment.

The combination of fear and defensiveness in the girl’s stance tore at Harm’s heart. He leaned his elbows on his desk, and steepled his fingers. He took a deep breath; the sooner he said it, the sooner she would reject him, and the sooner he could start defending his position.

“I want you to press charges, Laura.”

Laura stood up immediately, folding her arms across her chest. “I already told you I won’t do that, sir.”

Having expected that reaction, Harm kept his voice calm. “Last time we talked about it, you promised me you would think about it.”

“Well, I have, sir, and I’m not doing it.”

“Why not?”

“Why are you asking, sir?”

“Well, I used to put scumbags like those midshipmen away for a living. I guess you could say justice has become a bit of a habit with me.”

“Well, you’ll have to excuse me, then, sir; being raped was pretty new to me.”

Harm bristled inwardly. That was one line he certainly hadn’t prepared himself for. Nevertheless, it afforded him the opportunity to get down to business. “It…uh…it’s not so new to the Academy, though.”

Laura stopped pacing. “Sir?”

“If you’d care to sit down again, I’ll explain.”

Laura eyed him warily, but she still made her way back to the chair and sat down again. Harm took his time while he told her everything he and Bud had uncovered so far, making sure she understood the implications of it all. He told her about the log book, and about his suspicion of a high-level cover-up. Without realizing the possible consequences, he also told her about his conversation with Commander Flaggler, in which the other man had mentioned that he knew of a few other girls who were acting the same way as Laura.

“You were talking about me?!” she demanded to know. “It wasn’t your place to tell him! It’s none of his business!”

“If it happened at the Academy, it’s everybody’s business.”

“It was me in that room, sir, not you! It was my body! Not yours, and not Commander Flaggler’s! So don’t sit there and preach to me about whose business it is! You had no right to tell him!”

Harm put his hands up defensively. “I didn’t tell him, Laura. He doesn’t know. This was weeks ago, before you even told me what happened. I was worried about you, so I asked him if he knew what was going on. He mentioned that he had a few other students who were acting the same way; we tried to figure out what might be happening to all of you. That’s all we did. I promise.”

Laura sighed heavily. “God, the whole world might as well know now.”

“Nobody knows, except you and me.”

“And them, sir.”

Harm nodded sadly. “And them. The question *now* is, what are you going to do about it?”

Laura shifted her weight in the chair. She buried her face in her hands, rubbing the exhaustion from her features. “If what you say is true, and it’s happened to so many other girls, then, why me? Why can’t you find someone else to speak up?”

“None of them are strong enough,” Harm told her. “I know you can do it.”

Laura sighed. “That makes one of us.”

“This is bigger than you, Midshipman. If it’s happening to other girls here, we have to put a stop to it.”

“You say ‘we,’ but you mean *me,*” Laura argued. “You need me to come forward, and I’m not going to do it.”

“Give me one good reason why not,” Harm pressed.

“Because it’s humiliating! And it’s nobody’s Goddamn business, that’s why not!” She stood up, and resumed her furious pacing. “All I want to do is get my grades back on track, so I can graduate next year. That’s all I’m worried about, sir. I don’t want to have to repeat a year, and I sure as heck don’t want to get kicked out because of all this!”

“*That’s* what you’re worried about? Your grades? I’ll tell you what to be worried about: worry about all the other girls who’ll become the next victims, unless you fight back.”

“Stop!” Laura yelled, her anger and confusion making her forget her military bearing. “Stop it! I can’t decide this right now, sir. I need to think about it. Do you realize what you’re asking me to do?”

“Yes, I do. Laura. This is probably the hardest thing you’ve – “

“No,” she cut him off. “You have no idea! I told you everything because you were so worried about me, and I felt bad for doing that to you, for putting you in that position. I didn’t want the whole world to know, so I told you, because I thought I could trust you not to let that happen! And now, you want me to advertise it to everyone?!”

Harm got up and approached her. He wanted to take her hand, or put his arm around her, but he knew better by now. “I know you’re scared, Laura, but ask yourself this: How many more girls would you have go through this? How many more girls need to be violated before you’ll feel strong enough to come forward?”

Laura shuddered. “Sir…”

“Give me a number. Two more? Three more? Five? Ten?!”

“Stop!” Laura shouted. “Why are you turning this into a battle? I don’t want to fight for anyone!”

“Not even for yourself?” Harm asked tenderly.

“I’m not worth it!” she screamed.

Harm froze. “What did you say?” he asked, his voice suddenly quiet. He had to ask, because he couldn’t possibly have heard her correctly.

“I’m not worth it, sir,” she repeated. This time, her voice was so soft, Harm barely heard her.

Dear God, Harm thought, she really believes that. They got to her *that* deeply. God damn it, I’m going to nail every single one of those boys, with or without her help.

Harm’s first instinct was to grab Laura by her arms and hold her firmly. Knowing that was out of the question, he settled for standing close to her – a stance that still made her shrink back. “You listen to me, Midshipman, and you listen good: I don’t ever want to hear you say that again. Laura, this happened to you, but you don’t have to let it define you. It’s not who you are. It’s not who you want to be.”

“Don’t you get it, sir? It is who I am. If it wasn’t, why would it have happened? They wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t deserve it.”

Harm felt his heart break, as he listened to her actually try to justify what had happened to her. “You’re wrong,” he said firmly. “You are fundamentally, one hundred percent wrong. Laura, they did what they did because they’re animals. They’re sick bastards who don’t belong in society at large, let alone the Academy.”

Harm paused for a second, trying to remember something he had read in one of the pamphlets from the Rape Crisis Center. “Laura,” he said, “did you say 'no?'”

“Yes, sir,” Laura said softly.

“Did they listen?”

“No, sir.”

“Did you try to leave the room?”

“Yes, sir.”

”Did they let you?”

“No, sir.”

Harm's tone was deadly serious when he spoke again. “If you can't say 'no', get up, and walk out the door, it's rape. Pure and simple. Rape, by its very definition, means it's not your fault. It is something that is done to you without your consent. You did what you were supposed to do: you survived.”

He let that sink in for a moment, and then continued. “Laura, those guys are deranged, and they’re evil, and I will not stand here and listen to you tell yourself that what they did is justifiable. I don’t care how many rules you broke to be in that room studying. They didn’t have the right to do that to you, and they don’t have the right to get away with it. But I need your help to make sure they don’t.”

Harm saw a tear roll down Laura’s cheek. Maybe he was finally making some headway with her. Laura let Harm lead her back to the chair. “Sir, if I come forward, they’ll tear me apart. This happened at the Air Force Academy a few years ago, remember? All those girls got in trouble for underage drinking, or for being in places they weren’t supposed to be. Everyone blamed them for what happened. They made it sound like they deserved it. Some of them had to leave the Academy altogether, because life was so hard for them afterward.”

“I know what happened there, Laura. And, I hate to admit this, but when that news came out, I was glad I was in the Navy. I told myself, ‘at least that kind of thing doesn’t go on at our Academy.’ But I can’t say that anymore. This was my home for four years. I’ve been wearing my class ring for twenty-two years, but if that kind of thing is going on here, I’d sooner resign my commission than be a part of this institution. This school, this ring, hell, pretty much the last 25 years of my life, would mean absolutely nothing. This has gone on long enough, Laura. I want to get to the bottom of this, and, damn it, I want to put an end to it, but I can’t do it without you. I’ll stay with you every step of the way. I’ll make sure you’re not punished for being in that room. It’s insignificant, compared to what those boys did to you, and I’ll make sure that’s made clear. Please, I need you with me on this. I need your help.”

Laura was silent for several long seconds. It seemed like an eternity to Harm, before the girl finally said something. “Can I have some time to think about it, sir?”

Harm sighed. That was what she had said last time, but then she had never brought it up again. “Only if you promise me you’ll actually do that this time. This isn’t a joke, Laura. What you decide to do about this could affect other girls at the Academy – past, present, and future. So, take your time, but, promise me you’ll really think about it.”

Laura nodded. “I will, sir. I promise.”

 

THREE WEEKS LATER
SATURDAY
1112 EST

 

That morning, Mattie had driven out from Blacksburg to spend the day with Terri. Harm shared a long, relaxed, hearty breakfast with “his girls,” before Terri and Mattie went off to catch an early movie together. They had invited Harm to go along, but since they were planning to see the latest “chick flick,” Harm had taken a rain check. Besides, he loved knowing that Terri and Mattie would get along just fine without him. Granted, Terri wasn’t his wife, and Mattie wasn’t his daughter, but it was no less important to him that the two main women in his life got along well. Not to mention the fact that Mattie could use all the positive female attention she could get. It would be only a matter of time before she would start having “issues” with boys – something Harm dreaded terribly. But he was sure that between Terri and Jen, Mattie would find all the sound, level-headed advice she needed.

Bud had called a few times since the day Harm had told him about the situation at the Academy. He didn’t have much to tell Harm at the beginning, only that he would keep at it as best he could. Little by little, however, Bud uncovered some very disturbing things. At first, they were just detached incidents, things out of the ordinary, that seemed worth noting, even if Bud wasn’t exactly sure why. It wasn’t until last night that he’d been able to connect some of the dots, and the picture they’d begun to paint was terrifying.

Bud knew how emotional Harm tended to get during investigations, particularly when he had a personal stake in them. Of course, this being the Naval Academy, Harm was as personally involved as ever. As much as Bud wanted to give his friend the information he’d found – knowing that if anyone could get to the bottom of it, it was him – he was less than enthusiastic about inciting Harm’s wrath. Things had been going so well for Harm, and Bud was happy for his friend. He finally had a good woman by his side. Even though Mattie had reconciled with her father, she was still a very big light in Harm’s life. And, until recently, he had no complaints about his billet at the Academy. Now, though, the information Bud had gathered was sure to turn the man’s life into a tailspin.

The phone ringing woke Harm from the pancake and muffin-induced nap he’d fallen into shortly after breakfast.

“Commander, it’s Bud.”

“Bud,” Harm said, sitting up, suddenly very awake. “Tell me this isn’t just another update call.”

“No, sir. I’ve finally got something for you. A lot of somethings, in fact.”

“Don’t keep me in suspense, Bud. Let’s have it.” Harm could hear Bud sigh over the line. “Bud, tell me.”

“It’s…uh…this is harder than I thought it would be, sir.”

“Just start at the beginning,” Harm prodded.

“Yes, sir. Sir, I didn’t really know where to start, so the first thing I did was to comb the log books from the Crisis Center. Going with what you said about multiple calls from the same number, and how they might have been from the same girl, calling to follow-up, or something, I made a list of every date a call was logged from a new phone number. After doing some historical and genealogical research, I also took the…uh…’liberty’…of tracking down some financial records of people at the Academy, as well as some relatives of the rape suspects, and, I found a pretty disturbing pattern.”

Harm waited on pins and needles for Bud to drop the bombs. “What pattern?”

“Well, sir, if my dates and figures are correct, after nearly every report of a rape to the Crisis Center, there are some rather ‘interesting’ transactions on some of these people’s credit cards and bank accounts.”

“Interesting transactions?” Harm echoed. “Like what?”

Bud flipped through the pages of his ledger. “Okay, here’s an example. Let’s start with 21 January, 2002. A call from the Academy was logged at 2249 that evening.”

“And?” Harm pressed.

“On 26 January, five days after that report, Mrs. Trudy Hicks, wife of Lieutenant Commander Warner Hicks, the Academy's officer in charge of disbursements, had an ‘unusual’ charge on her credit card.”

"How unusual?"

“It was a $500 insurance policy."

"What was she insuring?

"A $5000 fur coat. And that’s hardly the tip of the iceberg, sir."

"I'm not sure I follow you, Bud."

"Sir, after almost every time the crisis center logged a call from an Academy phone number, large sums of money were deposited into the accounts of certain Academy personnel. Some into their personal banking accounts, and some into…other places."

"Other places?" Harm asked, his brow furrowing on the other line.

"Yes, sir. There seem to be some…um…rather ‘creative’ accounts at the Academy itself. Accounts whose paper trails are virtually invisible."

"What the…" Harm wondered aloud.

"It gets worse, sir."

“It gets worse?” Harm demanded. “How much worse?”

“Are you sitting down, sir?”

“Should I be?!”

“It might be wise, sir. Some of this stuff knocked me for a big loop. Granted, your balance is better than mine these days, sir, but, still…” Harm ignored the joke. He was too intent on listening to what he’d hear next. “Four days after another call to the crisis center, there was a deposit of $12,000 dollars into the personal savings account of Captain George Prevard. And, here’s the real kicker, sir. Two weeks ago, Admiral Arthur Hadfield wrote a check for $80,000.”

Harm was almost afraid to ask. “What for?”

“A down payment on a winter cabin in Telluride.”

God Almighty. Harm’s head spun. He felt himself growing dizzy and nauseous. "Are you telling me someone's buying these guys' silence?"

“It sure looks that way, sir. I mean, I can’t say for certain how this is all connected, but that’s the most logical explanation.”

“And the most logical explanation is usually the correct one,” Harm mourned. They *are* being bought off, the bastards.

When Bud didn’t hear anything from Harm for several seconds, he cleared his throat and spoke again. “Uh, sir, there’s a lot more of this kind of thing. I’ve got files started on several people, and they just keep getting thicker. We should probably try to meet somewhere, when you have a chance.”

Harm sighed. “What are your plans for the day?”

“Nothing, sir. Harriet took the kids to AJ’s friend’s birthday party.”

“Look, Bud,” Harm said, “I know you were probably looking forward to having the house to yourself for the day, but I think we should sit down and take a look at all this.”

“I was hoping you’d say that, sir. I’ve got some pretty gruesome mental pictures of how this all comes together. I wouldn’t mind finally being able to share them with someone.”

“All right,” Harm said. “I’ll be there in an hour.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Harm arrived at Bud's house without really knowing how he got there. It was a dangerous way of traveling, but it seemed to be becoming the norm. Harm was so often lost in tortured thoughts of this situation, that he paid scarce attention to road signs and traffic lights. If this kept up much longer, he would be lucky to survive long enough to get to the bottom of whatever the hell this ‘thing’ was.

Bud ushered Harm into the kitchen, where he had arranged his findings in meticulous order. The piles of papers, file folders, and brightly-colored sticky notes poking out here and there overwhelmed Harm at first.

"Don't worry, sir," Bud assured him. "It's all in order."

Harm stared at the dizzying array before him. "Bud," he said, marveling at the time it must've taken the other man to put everything together, "I…I don't know what to say. I really appreciate this."

Bud nodded. "Just doing my job, sir."

"Not really," Harm corrected him. "Technically, this is still unofficial."

"Not for long, sir," Bud insisted gravely. "I don't think we're going to be able to keep this under wraps for much longer, if this all points to what I think it points to."

"Let's get started, then," Harm suggested.

Bud handed Harm a thick file. "That's your copy of my notes, sir, so it'll be easier for you to follow along." Harm nodded. "Like I said on the phone, sir, I started with the log books. The ones you gave me went back to 1995, so I started there. Some school years, there were a lot of calls from the Academy, but in other years, there were none at all. There were none in the 1995-'96 and '96-'97 school years. They started in 1997-'98, and stayed pretty consistent with three or four a year, through 2000-2001. Then, they dropped off again for the 2001-'02 term, and they started up again in 2002-'03."

Harm's brow furrowed. "That's weird."

"Yes, sir," Bud agreed. "I thought it was strange, so I looked at the rosters of midshipmen who enrolled in the fall of 1997, and in the fall of 2002 – the start of both four-year periods when the incidence of calls was highest. I found something interesting."

"What's that, Bud?"

Bud pointed out some names he had highlighted in his notes. "Well, sir, I started with the names you gave me – the ones who…did that…to your student. You can see that Joseph Deadmarsh started his plebe summer in '97, and graduated in the spring of 2001. Grayson Deadmarsh, III, his younger brother, started in 2002, and, as you know, he's a first-class this year. The one year they didn't overlap as midshipmen was 2001-2002."

"The year there were no rapes," Harm concluded.

"Exactly," Bud said.

"What else do you have?" Harm asked, eager to start fitting more pieces of the puzzle together.

"There was a midshipman in Joseph Deadmarsh's class, sir, an Eric Krowlezewski. He started and ended the Academy at the same time as the first Deadmarsh. Now, the interesting thing is, he's Peter Crowley's cousin."

Harm's eyebrows shot up upon hearing the connection. Peter Crowley was another of the boys who attacked Laura.

"Their grandfathers are brothers, sir. I guess Crowley must've had his name changed; you know how a lot of immigrants did that back in the day, so they'd blend in easier."

Harm nodded. "But what does all of this mean?"

"I'm getting to that, sir. When you first told me about this, when I heard the name 'Deadmarsh,' I thought I remembered the name from the House Armed Services Committee a while back. Well, I was right, sir, only it wasn’t Grayson, Junior; it was Grayson Deadmarsh – the grandfather. Grayson Deadmarsh is the grandfather of Joseph, and Grayson, III. He was on the Armed Services Committee during his first grandson's time at the Academy. Then, he retired from the House, and went to work in accounting at the Pentagon. He's still there now, and the interesting thing is, he works in the same area as Henry Crowley – Peter Crowley's grandfather, and Eric Krowlezewski's great uncle. They both have access to certain systems that channel funds to various places within the Department of Defense."

"What…how….how did you find all this, Bud?"

Bud met Harm's eyes with a stony gaze. "You don't want to know, sir." Harm nodded, understanding that Bud had put himself at great risk to go digging for this kind of information. “Anyway, sir,” Bud continued, distracting his friend before he could feel too guilty, “the third boy whose name you gave me, Tyler Gibson, there wasn't very much on him. The only thing I could find was that he's Grayson Deadmarsh's best friend from home. In fact, Deadmarsh's grandfather wrote Gibson's recommendation letter to get into Annapolis. I guess it looked pretty good, coming from someone on a House Committee."

"Not if that 'someone' was as crooked as a three-dollar bill," Harm grumbled.

"Right," Bud said. "Sir, if you'll flip through the next few pages of my notes, you'll see a list of financial transactions like the ones I told you about on the phone. In every case, they occurred just a few days after a call to the Rape Crisis Center."

"Jesus," Harm whispered. He could have sworn some invisible giant had just come along and punched him squarely in the gut. "What the hell's going on here?" He looked at Bud, trying to find some kind of understanding on the other man's face. Bud's expression was guarded; Harm knew right away Bud hadn't revealed all he knew. "You're holding something out on me, Bud. What is it?"

"I can't say anything definitively, sir. All I can tell you is what I found, and what those findings seem to indicate."

"And…" Harm prodded.

"And, everything points to three men at the Academy getting very rich, for keeping very quiet."

"Which three?"

"Sir…"

"Which three?!"

"Captain George Prevard, the Academy's Chief of Accounting; Lieutenant Commander Warner Hicks, in charge of disbursements; and Admiral Arthur Hadfield, -- "

"The Vice Commandant of Midshipmen," Harm finished. "That bastard!" He slammed his fist on the table, pushed his chair out, and jumped up in anger. "What the hell are they doing to that place?!"

"Sir," Bud said, trying to calm Harm down, "please, I need you to focus on this for now. I need you to look at everything with me, so we can make sure I'm not making connections where there are none. Now, I've been over this stuff a hundred times, but I need another pair of eyes to check it over. I need you to see what I see, and then we'll know for sure if this is really what's happening."

Harm bit the inside of his cheek. “Right. Sure. Sorry.” Summoning all his conviction to stay in Bud's kitchen, and not drive straight to whatever ritzy country club those guys were probably having lunch at, Harm took his seat at the table again.

“What I told you over the phone was just a small handful of the money that's changed hands between these people over the years.”

"What's the smallest amount?" Harm asked.

"Sir?"

“The smallest amount one of these guys accepted to sweep this under the rug – how much was it?”

Bud scanned the spreadsheet of figures and dates. “Four thousand dollars, sir.”

“For what?”

Flipping to the next page, Bud looked for the detailed summary of the transaction in question. “It came on December 2, 1999, sir, from Deadmarsh's office, to a bank account in George Prevard's name.”

“And what, pray tell, did that son of a bitch do with it?”

“Sent his wife on a two-week trip to Spain, and Morocco, sir.”

Harm exhaled slowly, feeling all the air drain out of his body. “So, that’s the going rate for a young woman’s dignity these days,” he said. His voice quivered with sadness.

Bud nodded gravely. He handed Harm another file. “Sir, when you have more time, you ought to take a look through these lists. It just never ends – the amount of jewelry, expensive travel, and other luxuries that were paid for in undeniable proximity to calls to the crisis center.” Bud ran his finger down the first page. “Diamond necklaces, first-class airline tickets to Vienna, dinners at the most expensive restaurants in Baltimore, and Washington.”

Harm shut his eyes, as if that simple action could block out the horror; as if, by pretending he hadn’t seen it, he could make it go away.

“Sir, there's something else I'd like you to take a look at,” Bud said. “It's on page six. In the course of tracing these money trails, I hit upon the Academy's budget office. It wasn't that hard, really; anyone with a computer can see the organizational breakdown on the accounting department's website. But, there was something I couldn't figure out. Most of the individual accounts are pretty specific, sir – technology upgrades for the classrooms, travel expenses for the sports teams, new book acquisition fund for the library, things like that. But, I found one that seemed pretty general compared to all the rest. It's called the ‘Academy Improvement Fund,’ and, what stopped me was, I couldn't account for any of the withdrawals from it. That is, a lot of money was going into it, but there was nothing to show that any of the money that went out of it had actually been used to ‘improve’ anything at the Academy.”

"Well, not at the Academy," Harm snorted, "but apparently, a bunch of people's vacations and wardrobes have been vastly improved over the years."

"Exactly, sir."

Harm nodded, still disbelieving. "Let me get this straight, then: This Deadmarsh guy, he's Joseph’s and Grayson, III’s grandfather. He works at the Pentagon, and he managed to get his slimy hands on some money, and, through some 'creative accounting practices,' he funneled said money to Hadfield, Hicks, and Prevard, to keep them quiet about what his even slimier grandsons had done to upwards of twelve female midshipmen apiece."

"That's about right, sir."

"And, this piece of human toxic waste was also on the House Armed Services Committee during the time his first grandson was a midshipman."

"Yes, sir. As a matter of fact, at the time Joseph was at the Academy, he was actually serving on the Academy’s Board of Visitors. Hand-picked by the Speaker of the House, no less.”

Harm’s face paled. The Board of Visitors existed to oversee operations in all sectors at the Academy: finance, physical infrastructure, academics, the curriculum, and morale, to name just a few. It was the government’s way of making sure its money was being used legally and efficiently, and to see that the Academy was living up to its mission of turning out the best naval officers in the world. If Deadmarsh had been a member of that panel, he would have had virtually unchecked access to the Academy’s financial accounts.

"So,” Harm said, “we have every reason to believe he started this little 'cleaning service' long ago, and did it right under the nose of the freaking House of Representatives."

"I would say so, sir."

Harm said nothing. At that moment, he was incapable of any action but sitting there, waiting for the universe to implode, because, surely, this was the end of the world. And, if not, it was certainly the end of his world; the end of everything he'd ever believed in. It took him several seconds to gather his wits. When he had, he said, "And this Henry Crowley guy, he works with Deadmarsh, at the Pentagon, now?"

"Yes, sir," Bud confirmed. "Crowley's been at the Pentagon forever, sir, practically since graduate school, from what I could tell. He was Deadmarsh's main point of contact for military appropriations when Deadmarsh was in Congress."

"So then, those two have been conspiring since day one of Deadmarsh's grandson's first 'transgression.'

"Most likely, sir."

Harm sighed. "What are we going to do? What the hell are we going to do?"

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

**From the Naval Academy’s website: “The duty of the academy's Board of Visitors is to inquire into the state of morale and discipline, the curriculum, instruction, physical equipment, fiscal affairs, academic methods, and other matters relating to the academy which the board decides to consider. The board consists of six members appointed by the President, three appointed by the Vice President, four appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, one designated by the Senate Armed Services Committee and one designated by the House Committee on National Security. The President of the United States receives an annual written report of the Board's findings and recommendations.”

 

1802 EST
HWY 66
NEAR FAIRFAX, VA

 

The better part of a month had gone by, and Laura had given Harm no indication that she was going to change her mind about pressing charges. Harm respected the girl’s right to privacy, but he had dedicated far too much of his life to the pursuit of justice, to accept that three rapists were going to go unpunished. Moreover, said rapists would continue getting an excellent education at the taxpayers’ expense, and would go on to have careers as naval officers, all because Laura was too ashamed, or too afraid, to come forward.

Harm was hoping that Laura would come around, but after five days with no sign that that was going to happen, his hope was running thin. Each day that passed was one more day that Deadmarsh, Crowley, and Gibson were free to attack another girl, and one more day that Hadfield, Prevard, and Hicks were getting rich as a result. That nagging thought had been keeping Harm awake at night, and during the day, he found himself surreptitiously scanning the faces of his female students, and female midshipmen he’d pass here and there on the campus, looking for signs that any of them had become the next victim.

Harm was halfway home when a light appeared in the darkness of his mind. After checking the digital clock on the console of his Lexus, he got off at the next highway exit, and drove to a Chinese takeout he knew in the area. He found a parking spot, and before entering the restaurant, he pulled out his cell phone and hit a speed dial button that had gone unused for far too long.

“Hello?”

Harm smiled when he heard Jen Coates pick up. They hadn’t talked in almost two months, but it seemed Jen still had the uncanny ability to cheer him up. “Jen, hey, it’s Harm.”

“Hi, sir! It’s nice to hear your voice.”

“You too, Jen, you too. So, tell me, what would I have to do to convince you to have dinner with an old man?

Jen chuckled. “Would this old man happen to be you, sir?”

“If it were, what would I have to do?”

“Telling me when and where ought to do it, sir.”

“How about your place, in twenty minutes?”

“Sir, I don’t have anything here – “

“Dinner’s on me, Jen. Is Chinese okay?”

“Yeah, that’d be great, sir.”

“Okay, what do you like?”

“Surprise me, sir. I’m sure whatever you bring will be fine.”

“All right, then,” Harm said. “I’ll be over in a little while.”

While he waited for his order, Harm couldn’t help but smile at Jen’s comment – to “surprise her.” From the very day he’d met her, almost four years earlier, just the opposite had happened. Since the moment she’d decided to stay in the Navy, on Christmas Eve, 2001, Jen had been surprising people left and right. First, she’d made an outstanding legalman to Bud, on the Seahawk. Then, when she was assigned to JAG headquarters, she’d gone above and beyond filling Tiner’s shoes as the admiral’s yeoman. She had truly made the job her own. Most recently, however, Jen had been accepted into a program in which exceptional enlisted Navy personnel are granted a leave of absence to complete a college degree, and then attend OCS. Harm, Bud, and the retired Admiral Chegwidden had very gladly written glowing letters of recommendation, and now, Jen was just three semesters shy of a Bachelor’s degree in psychology.

On a more personal level, she’d been a better friend and role model for Mattie than Harm had had any right to hope for. It wasn’t long after the admiral retired that Jen had announced she was applying for the college-to-commission program. Unlike when she’d made the decision to remain in the Navy, however, impressive accomplishments in Jen’s life no longer surprised Harm. In fact, he had come to expect great things from her, because she’d developed a habit of delivering them. And now, delivering them she was – in spades. She was one of the top students in her class, and she’d made the Dean’s List every semester. She’d always had a good head on her shoulders; Harm was hoping she’d be able to give him some insight into the situation with Laura.

 

 

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