THE FOLLOWING DAY
COMMANDER JOHN FLAGGLER’S HOME
Harm decided to stop by John Flaggler’s house that afternoon. Bud’s
research pointed to one conclusion, and, if it was as insidious as Harm
feared it was, he knew he wouldn’t be able to tackle the situation by
himself. Since their first meeting, aboard the submarine, Watertown,
which Flaggler had skippered, Harm had known him to be a proud,
dedicated naval officer, and, even more important for this, one who was
unforgiving in his desire for the truth. Harm knew he would need a
strong ally from here on out, and he knew he would find one in John
Too focused on his purpose to consider that it might be rude of him to
drop by unannounced on a Sunday, Harm found himself on the doorstep of
the Flaggler family’s stately home, just a few miles from the Academy.
Ever the efficient officer’s wife, Marie Flaggler greeted Harm
graciously, her clothing classic and conservative, and her hair expertly
coiffed. She led him into their immaculate sitting room, and served him
a cup of fresh coffee, making small talk with him, while they waited for
John to end a phone a call he’d been on.
Flaggler finally appeared, and his wife excused herself politely. Harm
shook his head. “What’s gotten into her?” he teased.
Flaggler chuckled. “It’s her Sunday gig,” he explained. “Starting
tomorrow, she’s back to day shifts in the ER.”
Harm nodded in understanding. Marie Flaggler was an RN at the nearby
North Arundel Hospital; Harm had never known her to play the role of
doting wife. She was supportive of her husband’s naval career, of
course, and proud of it, but she had insisted on keeping her own career,
as well. Of course, the fact that she’d gotten much of her training
through the Navy’s Nurse Corps didn’t sit too badly with the Academy’s
After the two men spent a few minutes catching up, Flaggler said, “So,
what really brings you here, Harm?”
Harm smiled. “Am I that obvious?”
“Not really,” Flaggler replied, “but I have to assume you have a good
reason for coming by, since the Redskins game is coming on in about ten
minutes, and you know I wouldn’t take kindly to missing any of it.”
“Football can wait,” Harm said sternly. “Believe me.”
Harm’s tone caused Flaggler to take notice. “Sounds serious. What’s
Harm sighed. “I’m going back a few months here, but, do you remember us
having a conversation about Laura Henry?”
“Sure,” Flaggler answered. “And, as I recall, I asked you keep me in the
loop if you figured out what was going on with her, but I haven’t heard
a word about it since then.”
“Well,” Harm explained, “that’s because I didn’t know very much about
it, until just a few days ago. But, consider yourself back in the loop,
“You found something,” Flaggler concluded aloud.
“I found a whole lot of something,” Harm said darkly. “A whole lot of
something that scares the hell out of me.”
“Tell me,” Flaggler encouraged.
“You’re sure you wanna hear this?” Harm stalled. “You might never want
to hear ‘Anchors Aweigh’ again.”
“Harm,” Flaggler insisted, “if you know what happened to that girl,
then, tell me. I was as worried about her as you were; if you didn’t
need someone in this with you, you wouldn’t have come here.”
Harm nodded. “Well, you saw the same things I did: she was going
downhill – fast. She wasn’t eating, wasn’t sleeping, her grades were
dropping, she was becoming a liability to the volleyball team. I care
about her John; she was one of my best students, and I couldn’t stand by
and watch her destroy herself like that. So, I poked around here and
there, asking questions from whomever I could think of. Well, no one was
giving me any answers – not the ones I needed, anyway – so eventually, I
started pressing Laura about it. I guess I eventually got through to
her, because she finally told me everything. Well, either that, or she
opened up because she thought it would satisfy me and I’d leave her
Feeling a tension in the pit of his stomach, Flaggler waited for the
bomb to drop, as he listened to his friend set the stage for some
undoubtedly disturbing news.
“She was raped, John.”
Flaggler’s face paled. He stood there, frozen, equal parts unwilling and
unable to process Harm’s words. When he finally spoke, his voice was
stony. “I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that.”
“Good luck,” Harm said. “I’ve been trying to do that for three months.”
Harm waited quietly, while Flaggler processed the terrible news. “Three
male mids were helping her study for a physics test, and, at the end of
the night, they informed her that she could repay them with…that.”
“Jesus,” Flaggler whispered.
“You don’t know the half of it,” Harm told him. “She told me everything
that happened that night. God, it was horrible to listen to; I can’t
come close to imagining what she felt."
“Damn it,” Flaggler cursed. “Why her?”
“Why anyone?” Harm countered.
Flaggler sighed. “So, what are we going to do about it?”
“That’s just it, John,” Harm said. “The ‘it,’ is much bigger than you
think it is.”
“Why do I have the feeling there’s more you haven’t told me yet?”
“She’s not the only one,” Harm said. “Didn’t you tell me you knew of a
few other mids who were showing the same signs as Laura?”
Flaggler nodded, recalling their conversation in the Academy’s gym from
months before. “You asked me if they were all female...” Flaggler closed
his eyes as the ugly realization dawned upon him. “Christ, not them,
too,” he growled.
“I can’t say for sure who else, but I know there are more than just
Laura, and it’s not just this year.”
“What do you mean?”
Harm spent the next forty minutes recounting his trip to the rape crisis
center, and the undeniable connections Bud had made between the
incidents and the disturbing financial activity of some of the Academy’s
top officers. By the time Harm was finished explaining, Flaggler was
“What the hell are we going to do about this?”
“’We,’” Harm echoed. “You have no idea how glad I am to hear you say
that,” Harm told him.
“Well, of course, Harm. You can’t do this alone, and hell, I’ll be
damned if I’d let you, anyway. The Academy’s my alma mater, too, and if
this is happening there, well…it won’t be happening when you and I are
through with it, that’s for sure.”
Harm was grateful for his friend’s loyalty, but he wanted to make sure
he knew what lay ahead. “John,” he said, “I don’t know where all this is
going to lead. Depending on how far up this goes, we could very well be
risking our careers.”
“Harm, if this is really going on here, and these midshipmen are…having
to deal with it alone, then what do our careers even mean? What’s worth
risking them for, if not this?”
Harm nodded. “I just want to make sure you understand what you’re
getting yourself into.”
“I’ve been here long enough to know what we’ll be up against, Harm, and
that won’t stop me. When you and your partner – that Marine – were on my
submarine, you found out who was behind all the strange incidents, and
you found out because you were very unorthodox. From what little I know
so far, it sounds like that might come in very handy this time. You have
a way of uncovering the facts in the most unlikely ways. If this really
is happening here, and someone’s trying to prevent you from finding out,
my money’s on you, Harm.”
“Don’t place your bet just yet,” Harm cautioned. “There’s only one way
we’re going to even get close to finding out who these guys are.”
“And what’s that?”
“Laura needs to press charges.”
Flaggler’s brow furrowed. “But I thought you just said there were a lot
of other victims. Why does it have to be her?”
“We don’t know who those victims were. All we have is a list of phone
numbers, and even if we traced those back to who was living in the dorm
rooms with those numbers at the time of the calls, we can’t be certain
of who was a victim. Someone could have used a friend’s phone. Plus,
some of the phone records go back a couple of years; those girls are
long gone from the Academy. Hell, some of them might not even be in the
Navy anymore. I’m not saying we couldn’t spread the word through the
Navy’s intranet, that we’re looking for people with information to come
forward, but, for now, I think it would be best if we keep it under
wraps as much as possible. Until we know how high up this goes, it’s the
only thing that makes sense. If it goes high enough, they could block us
at every turn.”
Flaggler sighed. He had a thousand other questions, but there was no
doubt in his mind that Harm had already gone over other possibilities.
If there was any other way to avoid making their student suffer, he was
convinced Harm would have found it. “All right, then, what’s the plan?”
“I’m going to try to convince her to come forward.”
Flaggler raised an eyebrow. “And how do you intend to do that?”
“I’m going to push her – hard. Hard enough that she’ll either do it, or
wind up hating me for the rest of her life.”
THE NEXT WEEK
UNITED STATES NAVAL ACADEMY
Armed with the information Bud had uncovered, Harm had summoned Laura to
his office. This was no longer about her; it was about the whole
Academy, and Harm was determined to make her understand that. Laura
listened patiently, while Harm explained everything in detail. At times,
Harm thought he could see shock, or anger, rising in her features, but
each time, the emotions were quickly replaced by a stony, stoic façade.
It was as if she’d lost the ability to care – about herself, and anyone
Harm finished the gruesome tale, and gave it a minute to sink in. “Now
do you see why this is so important?” he asked Laura. “Why we have to
put a stop to this?”
“Will they get expelled from the Academy, sir?” she asked, meaning the
boys who’d assaulted her.
Harm nodded. “Assuming they’re convicted, that’ll be the least of their
problems, I promise you. They’ll be looking at hard time in a military
prison; dishonorable discharges will simply be the cherry on top. And,
the men cleaning up their messes can look forward to long sentences in
Laura sighed. “What if they don’t get convicted, sir?”
“They will.” Harm’s tone was assurance set in stone.
“But what if they don’t?” Laura pressed.
“You have to have faith in the system.”
“The same system that allowed this to happen in the first place, sir?
The same system that twice had you facing murder charges? You’ll forgive
me if I’m not as trusting of it as you are.”
Harm sighed. He couldn’t argue with the girl’s logic, but he could try
to paint a more balanced view. “Look, I spent ten years as a JAG
officer. I don’t work for the JAG Corps anymore, so I can’t be part of
the prosecution during any phase of this. But, I can damn well make sure
that everything is done the way it should be, and if I find out it’s
not, I’ll be the first one to blow the whistle. The pigs who attacked
you aren’t the only ones with connections; the difference is, mine care
about the difference between right and wrong.”
Laura shook her head. “I don’t know, sir…If I do this, my life will
never be the same. This’ll be in my personnel file; everywhere I ever
get stationed, people will know. I’ll never be just “Ensign Henry,” sir.
I’ll be ‘that girl,’ from the Academy.”
“You’ll be the girl who stood up for herself,” Harm countered. “The girl
who stood up for women all over the Navy.”
“I’ll be a freaking poster child.”
Harm sighed loudly. He had known he would face this kind of roadblock.
Now, it was time to bring in the wrecking ball of an argument, the only
thing that might crash right through. He hated to do it, but nothing
else was working, and they were running out of time. It was only a
matter of time before the boys raped again, and, most likely, they
already had. Harm would have to play dirty; it seemed to him the only
way. For reasons only she knew, Laura idolized him, and he was going to
use that adoration to his advantage. To back her unwittingly into coming
He took a deep breath, and let it out slowly, steeling himself to the
chore ahead. “If you back away from this,” he began, “you’ll be letting
them get away with it. Forget about the Navy, Laura. I went through a
time when I wasn’t on speaking terms with the Navy, so I know it isn’t
always a picnic to wear the uniform. But I see enough good in the Navy –
and in you – that I’m willing to fight for both of those. Don’t do this
for the Navy; do it for you. Do it because you’re better than they are.
If you don’t, you’ll be saying what they did was okay, that it’s
“That’s just it, sir: it is acceptable. If it wasn’t, why would all
those important people keep letting it happen?”
“Because they’ve been able to,” Harm replied. “Because nobody’s had the
courage to face them. Don’t be another of those statistics, Laura.
You’re better than that.”
“I don’t know why you keep saying that. You think I’m some brave,
strong, person, and – “
“I don’t think you are, Laura; I know you are.” Time to bring out the
heavy artillery, Harm thought. “Don’t prove me wrong.”
“Give me one good reason why I should do this.”
“I’ll give you a very good reason why, Midshipman: your sister. I
remember meeting her during Family Week last year; she idolizes you. She
wants to go to Annapolis, just like you. Are you going to let her do
that, knowing what could happen? Are you going to let her follow in all
Laura shuddered at the implication.
“Would you have that happen to her?” Harm continued. “Could you live
with yourself if it did, knowing you could have prevented it? How can
you even live with yourself now? It’s been six months since it happened
to you. I wonder how many more girls have been attacked in that time.
How many girls have you to thank for it.”
Laura’s face was a mask of stoicism, but her body trembled – with rage,
fear, or sadness, Harm couldn’t tell, but he imagined it was a
combination of the three. Harm hated the sound of the words coming out
of his mouth, but he pressed on. He had no choice.
“This is happening to other people because you’re a coward. You have no
honor, no courage. No integrity. They did what they did to you because
they saw that about you, and, from where I’m standing, it looks like
they were right. I’ve never thought that way about you before, but I’ll
tell you one thing: if you let them get away this, then you’re not the
young woman I thought you were.”
Tears welling up in her eyes, Laura looked at him for a long moment, and
then ran out of the office.
Emotionally and physically drained from the act he’d just put on, Harm
collapsed in his chair. He ran a hand through his hair, offering a
silent prayer that his words would somehow get through to Laura. More
than that, he prayed it didn’t backfire, and cause her to end up hating
him, although she would have every right, after the horrible accusations
he’d hurled at her. But, they were designed to light a fire under her.
For whatever reason, his opinion of her seemed to mean the world to her,
and he could only hope that pretending she had fallen out of his good
graces would make a difference. Right then, it might have been the only
thing that could.
Even after sleeping late, snuggled in Terri’s arms, Harm still felt
drained from his encounter with Laura the day before. Every time he
closed his eyes, he saw the last image she’d left him with: that of her
looking at him, with nothing in her eyes but pure hatred.
He’d recounted the exchange to Terri, and they both agreed to give
themselves a day off from worrying. Their plan was to spend a lazy
Saturday watching old movies and eating comfort food. Of course, their
ideas of comfort food were about as different as night and day, but
Terri had managed to convince Harm to let her cook him some more
southern delicacies, topping them off with a red velvet cake for
She was doing some of the prep work, while Harm reclined on the couch,
reading The Greatest Generation, Tom Brokaw’s moving collection of
first-hand accounts of life on the home front, and the front lines,
during the Second World War. A knock on the door caused them both to
“I’ll get it,” Terri said. She wiped her hands on a dishtowel as she
crossed the apartment. She opened the door to see an unfamiliar girl on
the other side. “Can I help you?” she asked cheerfully.
“Um…is Commander Rabb here?”
Harm heard the timid voice, and immediately recognized it as Laura’s. He
got up and quickly walked to the door. “Laura,” he said, “come in.” He
ushered her inside, and introduced her to Terri. “Commander Teresa
Coulter, this is Midshipman Laura Henry; Midshipman, this is Commander
“Ma’am,” Laura said, extending her hand.
Terri smiled. “Very nice to meet you, Midshipman.”
“Likewise, ma’am.” Laura looked to Harm. “Um, is there somewhere we can
Harm shrugged. “How about right here?”
Terri nodded. “I’ll just go out for a while. I need to pick up some food
coloring for the cake, anyway.”
“That’s all right, ma’am,” Laura said. “You can stay.” She looked at
Harm again. “I mean, she…um…she knows, right, sir?”
Harm nodded slowly. “Yeah,” he whispered. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay, sir. I wouldn’t have expected you to keep it from her.”
“Still,” Terri said, “you two need some privacy. I’ll be in the kitchen,
if you need me.”
Harm nodded, and then mouthed the words I love you to her, as she walked
away. He led Laura to the couch. “I never expected to see you here
“I surprised myself, too, sir. But, I have something to tell you, and it
Harm’s curiosity piqued, he said, “What can I do for you?”
“You can tell me I’m doing the right thing, if I tell you I’m going to
Harm froze for a second, trying to process what he had just heard. He
wanted to wrap her in a tight hug, but fought hard to resist the urge.
It was clear Laura had come a long way, just in bringing herself to his
apartment. Instead, he simply looked into her eyes. “Thank you,” he said
firmly. Even though the battle was just beginning, and it was sure to be
a long, slow, uphill one, he felt as though they had already won. As
though she had won. “I knew you’d come around,” he said.
“How could you be so sure, sir?”
Harm smiled. “Because I know you, that’s how. I know everything I said
about you yesterday was a lie, and I knew it would make you want to show
me what you’re made of.”
Laura chuckled, even as a tear slipped out of her eye. “That was a dirty
“I know,” Harm said, “but it got you to change your mind.”
“I changed my mind because of you, sir. I didn’t want you to think those
things about me. I couldn’t stand it if you had that picture of me.”
Harm shook his head in disbelief. “Don’t do this for me, Laura. Do it
for you. What I think of you is irrelevant; it’s what you think of you
Laura shrugged slightly. “I haven’t thought much of myself, the past few
Harm nodded, then offered her a cockeyed smile. “Let’s work on changing
Laura nodded, offering a small smile. “Okay, sir.” They sat there in
silence for a few seconds, and then Laura asked, “Where do we start,
sir? I mean, what do I have to do?”
“Well, there’s some paperwork we can go through together, and I’ll bring
it to the proper authorities on Monday. Let me just go get it.”
“You have it here, sir? You really were sure I’d come around, weren’t
you?” she said in wonder.
“I expected the best from you,” Harm said simply, “and you came
Harm walked away, and Laura smiled again, relieved that his estimation
of her hadn’t suffered like she’d feared it had.
Seeing Harm walk away, Terri took the opportunity to approach Laura. She
offered her a piece of the freshly baked cornbread, still warm from the
“Thank you, ma’am,” Laura said. “It smells wonderful.”
“Eat up,” Terri told her, “don’t be shy.”
“You’re really lucky, ma’am,” Laura said, cocking her head in the
direction which Harm had gone.
Terri smiled. “I know.”
“Think there are any more like him in the world?”
Terri smiled brightly. “Well, he has a younger brother, y’know, but he’s
“You really messed him up, y’know,” Terri said, talking about Harm
again. “Chucked his whole belief system right out the window.”
Laura’s eyes widened. “I…I’m sorry, ma’am,” she stammered, although she
wasn’t entirely sure what Terri was referring to.
Terri smiled. “I meant that in a good way.”
“He’s learned that it’s okay to ask for help when he’s trying to save
the world. After all, even Superman had friends.”
“Superman also had x-ray vision,” Harm said, as he returned with the
papers. “A little trick that would prove infinitely useful during the
next few weeks, I’m sure.”
“Well,” Terri joked, “you already know how to fly. One out of two ain’t
bad.” Harm rolled his eyes. “I’ll leave you two to take care of
business,” Terri said. She looked at Laura earnestly. “You’re doing the
right thing,” she said firmly. “No matter what happens, always remember
Laura offered a half smile. “Thank you, ma’am.”
After Harm was finished taking Laura’s statement, Terri invited the girl
to join them for dinner, since, in Harm’s words, she had cooked enough
food for three armies. Laura refused twice before finally relenting to
Harm and Terri’s double-whammy of stubbornness. During the meal, Harm
was pleased to note that Laura ate heartily. He hoped it wasn’t just a
one-time thing; she would need all the strength she could get to face
what would come next.
When they were done with dinner, Harm volunteered to do the dishes,
since Terri had put the whole meal together by herself. While Harm was
occupied with the mountain of pots and pans in the sink, Terri created
the pretense of having to run to the corner store for milk, in order to
be able to talk to Laura alone.
They were bundled in their coats and gloves, making their way down the
street, when a sneaking suspicion hit Laura. “Ma’am,” she said, “there’s
no store around here, is there?”
“No,” Terri replied honestly. “But I wanted to talk to you, and I didn’t
want to do it with Commander Rabb hovering over us.” Laura nodded. They
passed a bench near a flowerbed, which, had it been spring, would have
been teeming with tulips and irises. They took a seat, and sat in a
surprisingly not-awkward silence for several seconds, before Terri
finally began the conversation she’d been wanting to have with Laura
since the time Harm had told her what happened to her.
“Midshipman,” she began, her warm breath visible in the cold, night air,
“have you told your parents what happened?”
Laura’s body tensed at the unexpected question. “No, ma’am.”
“You should,” Terri said firmly. “Before they read it in the newsletter
the Academy sends home to parents.”
“I can’t, ma’am.”
“You told Commander Rabb, and he’s only your professor. This is your
family. You don’t have to hide this from them.”
Laura shook her head. “They can never find out, ma’am. I could never go
home, if they did. I couldn’t face them.”
“Honey, you’ve done nothing to be ashamed of, or embarrassed about. Your
parents will understand. In fact, if you want, I’m sure Harm would be
willing to be there when you make the call, and he can explain to them
what’s going on.”
“What if they think I let it happen to me?” Laura asked. “What if
they’re disappointed in me?”
“What if they’re proud of you for coming forward? What if they’ll be
glad their daughter’s a strong-willed woman, who isn’t letting fancy
titles and big money scare her?”
“Wanna know the truth, ma’am? They do scare me. They scare the heck out
Terri nodded sadly. “I know, honey. I know they do, but the important
thing is, not to let them know that. And I’m not talking about your
family; I’m talking about the people you’re going to go up against.”
Laura considered that phrase: the people she was “going to go up
against.” They had three things she didn’t – three things that just
might stand in the way of anyone ever getting to the truth: money,
connections, and a legacy at the Academy. “This is hopeless, ma’am,” she
“You know Commander Rabb better than that,” Terri admonished. “If
there’s anyone in the world who can get to the bottom of this, it’s him.
He won’t let you down.”
Laura nodded. “He’s the best, ma’am, I know. I just wish I had a few
more people in my corner, that’s all.”
“Midshipman, you have a lot more support than you think. You’ve got me,
you’ve got Commander Flaggler, and you’ve got a bunch of Commander
Rabb’s old friends at JAG working overtime on this.” At Laura’s
surprised look, Terri said, “I bet you didn’t know that, huh? In fact,
the former JAG himself, a retired two-star admiral, no less, is a
political miracle worker, and he’s working for you as we speak.”
“I…I had no idea,” Laura marveled.
“This is big, Midshipman. It’s huge. That’s why it was so important for
you to be strong, and stand up for yourself. Commander Rabb wasn’t
trying to flatter you when he said he couldn’t do it without you.”
Laura blushed. “Well, I know I couldn’t do it without him, either,
ma’am.” She shook her head. “I’ll never be able to repay him.”
“You don’t have to,” Terri told her. “His reward will be watching you
stick with this, and then seeing you go on to have an amazing career in
the Navy. Believe me, that’s the best thing you could ever do for him.”
Laura smiled, starting to sniffle in the cold air. “I’ll try to remember
When Terri and Laura returned to the apartment, Harm was going over the
paperwork for the umpteenth time, so Terri offered to drive Laura home.
When she returned to the apartment, she had just slipped her key into
the lock, when the door suddenly opened, and she was pulled into Harm’s
“I love you,” Harm said quickly. He tightened his embrace, and said it
over and over again. He released her only long enough to help her take
off her coat, and then he placed his arm around her, and led her to the
couch. He held both of her hands in his, and looked deeply into her
ice-blue eyes. “Thank you,” he said.
Terri thought she detected a tremble in his voice. “What for?” she
asked, confused at this unexpected outpouring of emotion.
“For being you,” Harm said cryptically.
Terri offered a crooked smile. “I’ve always been me, y’know.”
“I know,” Harm said, “but I think, now, I’m seeing just what that
Terri’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean?”
Still holding one of Terri’s hands, Harm caressed it with his thumb,
before bringing to his lips for the gentlest of kisses. “Thank you for
what you did tonight. You could have been mean to Laura, or not even let
her through the door. But, instead, you were friendly to her; you helped
“Of course I did. Why wouldn’t I? Harm, the military has come a long
way, but it’s still a bit of a boy’s club. Women have to stick together,
because, at one point or another, we’re all going to face discrimination
in some form – a snide comment, an inappropriate gesture, a career glass
“You’d have every reason to resent her, sweetheart,” Harm said, “I mean,
she’s the reason I was so distant these past few weeks. She’s the reason
I was neglecting you. Neglecting us.”
“No, Harm,” Terri assured him. “It wasn’t her; it was what happened to
her. I don’t resent her, and I’m not jealous of her for having your
attention. If anything, I’m glad I got the chance to meet her. I spoke
to her for a while, y’know, and now, I see what you saw in her.”
“Oh yeah?” What did you talk about?”
“I asked her if she’s told her parents about what happened.”
“Oh, God,” Harm sighed. “I never even thought of that. So much else has
been happening.” He ran a hand over his tired face, rubbing his eyes.
“Has she told them?”
“Not yet,” Terri replied. “But I think she will. I told her it would be
better if they heard it from her, and not from the Academy newsletter.”
Harm nodded. “I can’t even imagine how they’ll feel. You send your
daughter to a place where honor, integrity, and discipline are supposed
to be the supreme commandments. How can you possibly explain that
something like this happened there?”
Terri merely shrugged. “I imagine you’ll find the answer to that,
eventually. I mean, sooner or later, the press is going to get wind of
this, and, when they do, that’ll be the number one question.”
Harm sighed. “The press. I’ve been trying to keep this as quiet as
possible; I don’t want them turning this into a circus.”
“Good luck, hon. I can already see Barnum & Bailey pitching their tents
outside the Academy gates.”
“At least they can’t get inside,” Harm muttered.
“Yeah,” Terri agreed. “If this were a civilian college, they’d be camped
out under that poor girl’s window.”
Harm nodded gravely. “As far as I know, no one knows about this besides
the few people I’ve told, and they certainly don’t include anyone with a
press pass.” Suddenly more frustrated, Harm stood up and started pacing.
“Although, I don’t really know why I’m trying so hard. I mean, this is
where ten years of silence and secrecy have gotten the Academy. If I was
smart, I’d get Stuart Dunston on the phone, and he’d be banging down the
Commandant’s door in ten minutes. Maybe the more people who know, the
better. Then, these bastards wouldn’t have anything left to hide
“Still, though,” Terri pointed out, “do you really want the whole world
to know that this is what goes on at Annapolis?”
“Why not?” Harm replied, dejected. “It’s not as though the place has any
reputation left to speak of.”
“You don’t mean that.” Terri said.
“Oh no?” Harm asked. “Baby, I took that ring off my finger a while ago,
and I’m not putting it back on until I can wear it with pride.”
THE FOLLOWING DAY
AJ CHEGWIDDEN'S HOME
Harm and Terri had spent most of the previous night talking about just
how serious the situation at the Academy was. After going over
everything again, Harm realized that although he still wanted to limit
insider knowledge to as few people as possible, he needed another strong
advocate in his corner. Bud Roberts and John Flaggler were formidable
men to have on his team, and Terri was giving him more emotional
strength than he had any right to hope for. But he needed someone else,
too. Someone with a strong knowledge of both the law and the Academy.
Someone whose passion for the Navy ran as deep as his own. Someone like
It was no surprise that his search had led him to his former CO.
Although the dynamic between the two men had been irreparably damaged by
the Paraguay fiasco, it seemed the old saying was true: time had done
quite a good job of healing those old wounds. After all, it had been the
admiral, who had recommended Harm for the job at Annapolis in the first
place, and, of course, although Harm's ways had been too unorthodox for
AJ's taste, there was no denying that he had saved countless American
lives, when he and Colonel Mackenzie had destroyed the cache of stinger
Harm called AJ one weekend morning, hoping that they could schedule a
meeting for later that afternoon. Harm had apologized profusely for the
short notice, but assured the other man that it would be well worth his
time. AJ knew Harm well enough to know that whatever this was, it was
serious. The steely tone of the younger man’s voice had immediately
conveyed the gravity of whatever was going on, and AJ killed the few
hours before their meeting by pacing tensely around his house, wishing
it was spring or summer, so that he’d be able to use gardenwork as an
excuse to keep his anxious mind occupied.
Finally, the appointed time came. AJ was surprised to see that Harm had
brought Bud along. Upon seeing the junior officer, AJ’s first thought
was that maybe they had come on personal, rather than professional,
business. The notion sent a shiver up his spine; what if something had
happened to Harriet, or to one of their children? But, then, he noticed
both men were carrying their briefcases, and both men also had thick
files tucked under their arms.
They exchanged pleasantries quickly, and, at AJ's request, Bud pulled
the most recent photos of his children out of his wallet, so AJ could
admire how much they had grown and changed. Soon after, though, Harm
explained that they had come to discuss something very serious, and they
proceeded to get down to business.
Bud and Harm began spreading their files across AJ's large dining room
table. Taking in all the papers before him, AJ couldn't help but
speculate as to what was going on. "I hope you didn't come here to have
me review cases, Mr. Roberts. If you tell me you've got another Carolyn
Imes situation on your hands at JAG, I'll remind you bluntly, I'm
"It's not that, sir," Harm said, answering for Bud. AJ may have, indeed,
been retired, but Harm could never break himself of the habit of calling
him 'sir.' To him, it wasn't just about the military; it was about
respect in general, and a great deal of respect for the admiral, in
particular. "Please, sir, have a seat, and we'll explain."
Harm and Bud spent the next two hours briefing the admiral on everything
they had discovered. AJ went through the same range of emotions as Harm
had. The difference was, Harm had had almost six months to process
everything; AJ had one hundred twenty minutes.
Now, two hours and six antacid tablets later, AJ was still trying to
understand it all. Even having been the Judge Advocate General for
nearly ten years, he wasn't acquainted with everyone in high places,
especially at the Academy. He did recognize one of the names, however.
Four years earlier, it was a name he had associated with hard work,
family values, and commitment to the Navy. Now, though, all that was
"George Prevard," AJ mumbled. "I was on that son of a bitch's promotion
board, for crissake. I gave that man his goddamned eagles." He curled
his hands into tight fists, his knuckles turning white.
"You had no way of knowing, Admiral," Harm assured him.
AJ looked at him. "Did you have any way of knowing about your student,
the one who started all this?"
In his heart, Harm wanted to say yes, that he did have a way of knowing,
that he should have known right away. But his head knew better. "No,
"Does that make you feel any less responsible?"
Harm sighed. "No, sir."
AJ picked up the copy of Bud's notes the men had made for him. He
scanned the documents for the fourth time, searching desperately for
something – anything – that might help him make sense of this incredible
travesty. He looked up when he noticed Bud quietly slipping his own
copies back into his briefcase.
"Are we done already, Mr. Roberts?" AJ asked him.
"Uh, no, sir," Bud said. "The commander can answer any other questions
you might have, but I have to leave now. There's a father-son play date
at the indoor playground in Alexandria," he explained. He looked torn
between excusing himself from the important discussion, and spending
some much-needed quality time with his sons.
"It's all right, Bud," Harm told him, for the third time that day.
"We'll handle it."
Bud nodded, but he was still reluctant to leave. "I'll have my cell
phone on, so call if you need anything."
"Go, Mr. Roberts," AJ said. Although he was retired, to Bud, the command
still held the unmistakable power of an order. "The commander and I will
"Yes, sir," Bud complied quickly. He snapped the locks shut on his
briefcase and saw himself to the door.
When Bud was gone, Harm sighed. "Harriet set that up for him a few days
ago. She's been on his case for not spending enough time with the boys.
I asked for his help on this a while back, and he really threw himself
into it – to the exclusion of all else, I'm afraid."
AJ nodded. He set down the papers he'd been looking at, and steepled his
fingers on the table. "Can I assume you came here to ask me to do the
same – throw myself into it?"
Harm met the older man's eyes for several seconds, his stomach filling
with dread. Even retired, sitting there in jeans and a sweatshirt, with
the logo from his favorite minor-league baseball team, the man was still
a formidable presence. Harm nodded gravely.
“Admiral,” Harm began, “we have to do this. These girls need people in
their corner; people who aren’t going to let big money and long service
records intimidate them. They have no voice; they can’t speak up for
themselves. They’ll be ridiculed, ostracized. They’ll be lucky if they
have the emotional toughness to survive the rest of their time at the
Academy. Look at what happened at the Air Force Academy. The honor code
is huge. Upholding the code is what Academy life is all about. But,
there’s one thing that, among the midshipmen, has always been even worse
than violating the code.”
“What’s that?” AJ asked.
“Ratting out someone else for doing it,” Harm pointed out. “Being a
snitch is about the worst reputation someone can develop at that place.”
“Worse than being a rapist?” AJ prodded.
“No, sir,” Harm answered firmly. “That’s exactly why we need you with
Although this entire situation seemed to AJ like a breech of ethics of
the worst order, it simply wasn't his job to solve these problems
anymore. He'd survived almost ten years as the Judge Advocate General.
He had seen his fill of scandals, involving everyone from the greenest
seamen recruits, all the way up to stunningly decorated admirals. When
he passed the torch on to General Cresswell, he'd had no intention of
ever picking it up again. "I put out more than my share of fires during
my JAG command, Harm, and now, it's up to someone else," AJ said, his
"Someone else won't be good enough," Harm insisted, causing AJ's eyebrow
to arch in surprise. Their previous personality clashes were water under
the bridge by now, but it still surprised AJ to hear the younger man
praise him like that. “Admiral, sir," Harm continued, "these aren’t some
faceless names in a list of witnesses. These are midshipmen at the
United States Naval Academy; they deserve to get an education in an
environment free of fear and harassment. If this kind of thing
continues, sir, then our diplomas won’t even be worth the paper they’re
printed on. Annapolis’s name will mean nothing.”
"These girls aren’t just students,” he continued, “and they’re not just
midshipmen, sir; they’re someone’s daughters, someone’s sisters. If not
as an officer, sir, then, I would think as a father, you’d be able to
relate. I mean, when I think of Mattie attending the Academy, it turns
my stomach to think that this could happen to her.”
AJ sighed loudly. "Harm," AJ said, regret already evident in his tone,
"look, I hear what you're telling me, but this isn't my job anymore. I
can’t count how many times in the past I’ve been dragged into things,
how many times I’ve been pushed – very much against my will – to get
involved in things that didn’t immediately involve me. Now, my memory
isn’t what it used to be, so you’ll excuse me if I get this wrong, but,
as I recall, in every one of those instances, I found more trouble than
I’d bargained for. Additionally, in more than one of those instances, I
found myself being dragged through the Secnav’s wringer, as well. So,
I’ll ask you, why on earth would I want to do it again, especially now
that I’m retired, and the wounds are finally starting to heal?”
Harm swallowed hard. “Point well taken, sir. And, while I realize that
in more cases than not, you found serious…complications, in each case,
you also found the truth. Please forgive me for speaking so freely, sir,
but knowing you as I do, I know you can’t just sit by while criminal
acts continue to happen. Not when it’s within your power to stop them. I
know that’s not something you handed over when you submitted your
AJ ran his hand firmly over his bald head. “Damn it, Harm,” he squirmed
uncomfortably. “You don’t miss much, do you? God, this must be what it
feels like to be cross-examined by you.”
If the circumstances had been less grave, Harm would have smiled. “Did
it work, sir?”
“Yes, God damn it,” AJ grumbled. “What do you need me to do?”
"I'm not exactly sure yet, Admiral. All I know is, these guys probably
aren't going to go the JAG route to defend themselves. They're going to
have lawyers who charge for an hour what I make in a week. Bud and I
just wanted to have you 'in the know,' for now, sir. In fact, we were
hoping you might be able to tell us what to do. He and I have almost
twenty-five years of legal experience between us, and we have no idea
what the hell to do with this."
AJ chuckled ruefully. "While I appreciate the faith you two seem to have
in me, I have to tell you, Harm, I don't have the slightest clue."
Suddenly, AJ's eyes changed, and he froze for a second. "What I do have,
however, is General Scott's phone number." AJ was a sudden blur of
motion. He walked briskly into his living room, and came back with an
address book he'd retrieved from a drawer. Harm was relieved to see that
the admiral still preferred good, old-fashioned paper and pen to more
modern electronic organizers. Especially now, it was nice to know that
some things never changed.
"General Scott, sir?" Harm asked.
"A retired Air Force JAG. He might be able to tell me how the zoomies
navigated their way out of their own minefield a few years back. In
fact, if I remember right, he retired just after all the fallout settled
from that. Poor sap aged a decade in about six months."
"Sir," Harm said, "at some point, we're going to have to confront these
people. Whether it's just the Naval officers, or the civilians who've
been bribing them, too, eventually we're going to have to sit down with
them and figure out just where this needs to go. Would you do me and Bud
the honor of being with us, when we do?"
AJ's head whipped around to look at Harm. "Harm, just what makes you
think you'd be authorized to be there at all? You're not a JAG officer
anymore. I can see Roberts being there, but I don't know how we could
explain your presence there, much less mine. I'm not even in the Navy
"You had two stars when you retired, sir; if that doesn't still carry
some weight, then I don't know what would."
AJ grumbled unintelligibly. "Let me make some calls this week, and see
what I can do. But you should probably keep in mind, we might not ever
come face to face with the civilians, Harm. The officers, we can
prosecute. The other guys, well, they're just plain out of our
"But you do want to meet with them, if we can, right, sir?"
"What I want to do, Harm, is kill them – slowly and painfully. But we
can't always do what we want."
SIX WEEKS LATER
Once Laura had formally pressed charges against her attackers, things
started moving quickly on all levels. Her bravery set an example for
other girls at the Academy, and more victims began coming forward. It
was a slow trickle at first, but once word started spreading through the
Navy community, several past graduates came forward as well. Nearly
every day, there was a call from someone new, wanting to tell her story.
Some were still in the Navy, and ranged from newly commissioned ensigns,
to lieutenants; others had withdrawn from the Academy before they’d even
had a chance to become officers.
Moreover, other female officers, ranking as high as captains, had called
in to report assaults that had taken place years before. They hadn’t
been victims of Laura’s attackers, or of their brothers and cousins that
had come before, but they *had* been victims of a system that was
apathetic and ill-equipped to handle allegations of sexual assault. The
financial whitewash hadn’t existed at the time they were midshipmen, but
the “old boy’s club” had been alive and well. The women had had no
recourse, no resources available to help them, and certainly, no way of
seeking justice without ending their future military careers. Pointing a
finger at a fellow midshipman was tantamount to exiling yourself.
Terri was desperate to help the women, to be a part of restoring the
Navy’s good name. She felt powerless compared to Harm, whose tenacity
and connections had caused things to come even this far. Not knowing
what else to do, she had set up the reporting hotline, so that victims
could call anytime, day or night, and add their stories to the others.
The hotline was staffed by volunteers, but Terri had become a personal
point of contact for many of the women.
Commander Flaggler felt trapped in the same way: he wanted to do
something useful, but with no legal experience, there was little he was
qualified to do. He was particularly frustrated because, having served
most of his career as a submariner, he hadn’t had much experience
working with female officers. He was disgusted to know that those who
*had* had the privilege, had done such a miserable job of respecting the
women, and understanding and appreciating the essential role they played
in all areas of the Navy. He struggled to find some way to be of use to
his sisters in uniform, and he eventually settled on doing the only
thing he could: he began re-writing the Academy’s regulations for
reporting assaults. In addition, he and Terri both worked closely with
Sheila Wagner, from the Rape Crisis Center, to create a follow-up
procedure specifically for midshipmen, so that they would be assured the
quickest possible medical and psychological attention.
It had taken several weeks, but now, the very first stages of the
investigation were underway. Given the amount of money Laura’s attackers
received from their grandfathers as regular “allowances,” it hadn’t been
difficult to subpoena the men’s financial records. And then, it hadn’t
been difficult to follow the trail they paved. Still, it would be a long
time before any sort of trial would get underway, and even longer before
the outcome would be known.
Tomorrow, however, thanks to Admiral Chegwidden’s vast array of contacts
throughout the Navy's legal community, Harm and the admiral would sit in
on the preliminary questioning session of the guilty officers, as well
as the civilians who had bribed them. Neither of the two men would be
involved in the prosecution, but out of respect for AJ's former
position, he was granted a seat at the table, and through some very
smooth talking, he had secured Harm a spot, as well. They were to be
there only as silent observers. It was less than Harm would have liked,
but more than was required of anyone to give him, and he was grateful
for what little leeway he was being given.
Tomorrow, they would face the vile, despicable creatures who had
perpetuated the situation they were now mired in. They would come face
to face with pure evil. Harm was terrified that all the fancy sword
tricks, by all the white knights in the world, might not be enough to
slay this mighty, multi-headed dragon.
Harm stood on a footbridge a short distance away from the Academy,
watching as the nearby lights shimmered on the gentle ripples of the
water. A dense fog had settled in earlier that evening, obscuring much
of the Academy's landscape. Looking in that direction, Harm could barely
see the buildings. He stared long and hard at the fuzzy images, trying
to find the American flag, where he knew it was flying atop the highest
building, keeping permanent vigil over the campus. Even with its own
bright spotlight, it was difficult to make out through the fog.
Memories came flooding back to him as he stood there; memories of his
own days as a midshipman, when he would come out to this very bridge,
and watch the majestic landscape that was the city of Annapolis: the
Severn River, the Academy, the warm, welcoming downtown shops and
restaurants, the historical sites of colonial Maryland. More than once,
especially as graduation day approached, he'd had to pinch himself, just
to make sure this was real, that he was really here, earning the magical
gold ensign's bar they would pin on him. He'd soon be off to flight
school, living the kind of dream so few people have the courage to even
There were days when there wasn't a single cloud to be seen. Days when
the blue was so clear, the sky and everything under it seemed endless,
filled with infinite possibilities. How he longed for that now: a day
when you can see forever.
The fog moved and shifted quickly tonight, occasionally allowing Harm a
clearer glimpse of the stately buildings, but even their presence, with
their auras of history and honor, couldn’t negate what he now knew. He
stared until tears rose in his eyes, blurring everything into a jumble.
Colors blended together, rendering everything unrecognizable to him,
like an abstract painting by an artist longing to express profound
sadness, loss, and incomprehension.
How had things become so terribly complicated? Things that, for so long,
had been so unshakably right, were now fundamentally wrong. The very
foundation upon which he’d built much of his life had crumbled, and
fallen away, leaving him suspended, with nothing to catch him, should he
In his entire life, he’d never felt more alone.
“You want some company, stranger?”
The voice surprised him, but when Terri wrapped her arms around him from
behind, Harm had to marvel at her timing. If he was going to fall, he
couldn’t think of a softer place to land. He took her hands and placed
feather-light kisses on both of them, before letting her once again
embrace him from behind. “How’d you know I was here?”
He heard her chuckle. “I don’t know, really," Terri said. "I just…had a
feeling.” Suddenly, she released her hold on him and took a step back.
“But, if you’d rather be alone…”
“No,” Harm said quickly. He turned around to face her. “Y’know, I
thought I did, but, now that you’re here, I think I want to…I just…”
Terri looked at him oddly. She’d never seen him quite so…nervous? It was
an emotion she’d never before associated with the accomplished,
over-confident man before her. And yet, that’s just how he seemed to her
in that moment. She couldn’t help a girlish smile. “What, Harm?”
“This,” he said. He stepped forward and wrapped her in a warm embrace,
burying his face in her silky hair. “I just want to do this.” When Terri
followed Harm’s lead, and hugged him back, Harm held onto her even
tighter, clinging to her – the one thing that was certain in his life.
When they finally parted, Terri informed Harm that she’d brought a
thermos of hot chocolate. She poured some into the lid, which doubled as
a cup, and they took turns sipping from it. The hot, sweet drink slowly
chased away the chill in their bones; winter was holding on for as much
of March as it could.
“This is it, I guess,” Harm said, by way of a conversation starter.
Terri didn’t need to ask what he was referring to. Now that she was in
the loop, Harm had shared as much information with her as he could.
Moreover, he’d vowed never to shut her out like that again. The effects
of keeping such a huge, painful secret inside him almost caused him to
lose her once. He would never do it again.
Terri knew that tomorrow would be the first day of rectifying everything
Harm had told her about. The futures of so many people would be
determined by events that were set to begin in less than twenty-four
hours. Tomorrow was only a meeting; merely the first of many, that would
likely take place before they would even begin to make arrangements for
some sort of trial. The men involved were extremely powerful; despite
the best efforts of the JAG office, they’d managed to convince the
authorities that they deserved a forum in which to explain themselves,
before anyone tried to pass judgment on them.
Recognizing that this was nothing more than a cheap delay tactic, Harm
was infuriated that they had been granted the unnecessary formality. AJ
Chegwidden felt the same way, for the most part, but he had been forced
to play political chess games since his first day as the Judge Advocate
General, and was much more accustomed to them than Harm was. He’d
assured the younger man that nothing that was said or done behind those
closed doors could possibly change the facts. They had done what they
had done, and no amount of smoke and magic could cover that up.
Still, Harm was terrified. He was terrified that he was going to let
Laura down. What if, somehow, these guys actually got away with it?
Hell, they’d managed to do so for almost ten years. If he hadn’t
pestered Laura to the point of her telling him everything, they never
would have been caught. He expressed as much to Terri.
“That’s not going to happen, Harm,” Terri assured him. “You and the
admiral won’t let it.”
“It’s not up to us,” he said. “I’m not a JAG officer anymore, and the
admiral’s not even in the Navy anymore. Hell, we’re lucky they’re
letting us sit in on this at all.” Harm sighed. “Look at all this,” he
said, sweeping his hand through the air, indicating all the historic,
stately sights of Annapolis. “Do you think this is the kind of thing the
founding fathers envisioned when they built this country? Damn it, this
is exactly the kind of thing they came here to get away from: rich
people, who think they’re above the law; people with powerful family
legacies, who think it’s natural to manipulate the powerless, to use the
rest of humanity as their whipping boys.” He hung his head.
Harm gripped a railing on the bridge, his knuckles white. “How did this
happen?” he asked. He seemed to address the question to the water that
flowed beneath them, not expecting an answer. “How did everything get so
Terri’s heart broke at the pain in Harm’s voice. She placed her hand
atop his, caressing his skin with her thumb. Harm closed his eyes,
reveling in the sensation for a moment. After a few seconds, he opened
his eyes again, and just looked at Terri. The only thing in his world
that wasn’t complicated was her. He loved her; she loved him. It was the
simplest thing in the world.