FOUR DAYS LATER
UNITED STATES NAVAL ACADEMY
It was nearing the end of the spring semester. Harm decided to give his
students a break, and let them use his class period to study for their
finals, which were coming up next week. He was seated at his desk, at
the head of the class, reading a military law publication, when he heard
a knock on the door. Looking up, he saw Admiral Chegwidden’s face
through the small glass window on the door.
Harm’s instincts instantly went into overdrive. The admiral wouldn’t be
visiting him here, at the Academy, unless something was very wrong. With
his heart in his throat, he walked to the door and invited the admiral
“Officer on deck!” Harm shouted. The twenty-something midshipmen jumped
to their feet. “Stand at ease,” he told them. “You are in the presence
of greatness,” he said, with pride. “For those of you who don’t
recognize this man from the many pictures of him that have appeared in
The Navy Times over the years, this is Rear Admiral A.J. Chegwidden,
retired. If that name doesn’t mean anything to you, you should be
ashamed of yourself. You are looking at the Navy’s Judge Advocate
General, from 1996 through 2004.”
“As you were,” AJ told the class, indicating for them to take their
seats. “Autographs will be signed outside the mess hall at 1100,” he
joked. He scanned the faces of the students, getting a good look at some
future JAG officers. “I came here today to speak with Commander Rabb
about something, but, as long as I’m here, I’m going to let you in on a
little secret.” The young midshipmen riveted their gazes on the
distinguished visitor. “You are some of the luckiest law students in the
world. Why, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you: when it comes to practicing
law, Commander Rabb is nothing short of the best. Pick his brain as much
as you can while you’re his students; you might never get another chance
to be this close to true genius.”
Harm was stunned. Such high praise coming from AJ Chegwidden’s lips was
almost unheard of, not to mention the fact that it had come unbidden,
and openly, in front of a roomful of future officers.
AJ turned to Harm. “Commander, a minute of your time please.”
Harm followed quickly on the admiral’s heels. AJ may not have been in a
position to give orders anymore, but Harm’s respect for the man would
never let him interpret his words as anything less.
The two men exited the classroom, with Harm shutting the door behind
them. AJ scanned up and down the hallway, making sure they were alone.
Harm couldn’t help noticing the nervous, hesitant look on the admiral’s
face. They were emotions he had rarely, if ever, seen from the older
man. “Sir?” Harm prodded.
AJ spoke very quietly. “I…um…God, I don’t know how to put this, Harm, so
I’m just going to come out and say it: Admiral Hadfield is dead.” Harm’s
eyes went wide. Before he could even form a reply, the admiral ventured
to answer the question he knew was forthcoming. “Suicide. Night before
Harm’s mouth opened, but not a single, coherent word came out. His face
went through a range of emotions, finally settling on confusion.
“His wife found him yesterday morning. He wasn’t in bed, so she went
looking for him, and found him in their study.”
“How did…I mean, how…”
“I have to hand it to him, Harm; the man had class. He did it A Few Good
Men style. This man put on his full dress blues, went down into his
study, took a seat in the leather chair, behind his oak desk, put an
antique revolver in his mouth, and pulled the trigger.”
Harm felt his insides go cold. “Fucking coward.”
“I know you’ve got a class right now,” the admiral said, “but, is there
any way you can get away?”
It took Harm a few seconds to bring himself out of the daze he was now
in, and to recognize that the admiral had asked him a question.
“Uh…yeah, yes, sir, just give me a minute.” Harm went back into the
classroom, and instructed the most physically intimidating midshipman to
march his classmates across the quad, to the library, where they were to
study quietly until the end of the class period. When he returned to the
admiral, he suggested that they talk in his office.
They proceeded quickly up the few flights of stairs to the top floor,
where Harm’s office was located. As soon as the door was locked, Harm
asked, “What does this mean for us, sir?”
“Well, there’s good news, and bad news. The good news, if you can even
call it that, is that what Hadfield did was tantamount to a confession.
He had a hell of a lot to run away from, and, I guess he thought running
all the way to the grave was preferable to facing up to what he’d done.
If we thought the trial was a formality before, it’s even more so now.”
Harm nodded. “And the bad news, sir?”
AJ sighed. “This is going to be plastered all over the six o’clock
“Tonight, sir?” Harm asked, stunned.
“Maybe,” AJ answered. “But, if not tonight, then, certainly very soon
after that. Despite the evil specimen we know him to be, he’s been a
very visible, very respected presence in this town for years. The death
of an admiral, in a city like Annapolis, is not something we’ll be able
to keep quiet.”
Harm balled his hands into fists. “Where the hell will this end?” he
When AJ offered no answer, Harm walked to the window. The top floor
location offered a sweeping view of the grounds. The campus’s main
entrance was visible not too far away. Several vans with small satellite
dishes and antennas were forming quite a backup at the guard post. Harm
swore under his breath. “The barbarians are already at the gate,” he
informed the admiral.
AJ rose and went to the window, to follow Harm’s gaze. “Damn near
breaking it down, too, from what I can see.” He sighed. “God damn it.”
Harm continued to stare out the window for several long seconds, until a
sudden idea snapped him into action. He took two quick steps toward his
desk, pulled open the bottom drawer, and retrieved an old, seldom-used
rolodex. It was filled with contacts he hadn’t used in years, but he’d
deliberately held onto it, even after he’d transplanted the most
important contacts to an electronic organizer. From the first day of his
naval career, Harm had learned that burning bridges was never a good
idea. It was a small Navy; you never knew who you’d run into from one
duty station to the next.
Harm flipped hurriedly to the name he’d been seeking. He pulled the card
out, and proceeded to pound the correct buttons on the phone with his
“What are you doing?” the admiral asked.
“Calling Stuart Dunston,” Harm replied. “If he’s going to get a story
out of this, let’s make sure he gets the right one.” Harm and the ZNN
reporter had had their rocky moments in the past, but they had managed
to form a tenuous friendship over the years. Dunston had proven himself
trustworthy in exposing the truth, despite a penchant for the dramatic,
which sometimes bordered on tabloidism. The man had gained Harm’s
respect when he admitted his unwitting role in the death of U.S. service
members in Afghanistan. He had stood before the court, and before the
public eye, and had accepted responsibility for being duped by his
Middle Eastern assistant, who had been leaking information about troop
positions, to insurgents. Stuart Dunston certainly wasn’t Harm’s
favorite person in the world, but he had quite a bit more integrity than
some other reporters Harm had come to know.
AJ nodded. “Good thinking. In fact, I’ve got a phone call to make,
myself.” Harm shot him a curious look. “I’ve got a good friend, who just
happens to be an ex-officio member of the Academy’s Board of Visitors.
Not to mention, I imagine he’ll play a large role in navigating
Congress’s way through this minefield. I have it on good authority that
this is eventually going to become a very high-level hearing, and, when
it does, we’ll have no stronger advocate than John McCain.”
“You…know him, sir?” Harm asked. Somehow, in nine years under the man’s
command, that had never come up.
“Sure,” the admiral replied casually. “John and I were the Harmon Rabb
and Jack Keeter of the Academy’s days in the 60’s.”
Harm was about to say something witty back to him, when someone finally
answered the phone at ZNN.
“Yes, this is Harmon Rabb, calling for Stuart Dunston, please…”
THE FOLLOWING DAY
UNITED STATES NAVAL ACADEMY
When Harm approached his office, he saw Laura waiting for him in the
hallway. The girl’s face was stoic, but her eyes spoke volumes for the
turmoil brewing inside her. News of the vice commandant’s suicide had
spread like wildfire; Harm was surprised Laura hadn’t sought him out
Part of Harm’s mind screamed at him to run away, to turn around, and go
as fast as he could in the opposite direction. The other part, the part
that won out – that would always win out – told him he had to stay and
face her. She deserved answers, and, right then, he might be the only
person who could come close to giving them.
“Midshipman,” Harm said, acknowledging the girl. He unlocked his office;
Laura followed him inside. She was not in any of his classes this
semester, but she knew he usually ate lunch in his office, choosing to
bring something healthy from home, rather than trying to navigate his
way to something resembling nutrition at the officer’s mess.
Harm set his briefcase on his desk.
“Sir…” Laura said, uncertain of what she would say after the first word.
She could only stand there, lost in the tumult of different emotions she
was feeling. She didn’t know which was stronger anymore: the fear, the
anger, or the guilt. Fear that someone would seek retaliation against
her, for what had happened; anger, because Admiral Hadfield would never
have to face up to his actions; and guilt, because she had set into
motion a series of events that had now left a man dead.
“Don’t, Laura,” Harm said, saving her from having to search on something
coherent to say. “Don’t you dare blame yourself for this.”
“How can I not, sir?” Laura replied. “If I hadn’t said anything, none of
this would be happening. You and Admiral Chegwidden wouldn’t be wrapped
up in this, and Admiral Hadfield would still be alive.”
“And how many more girls would have been raped?” Harm countered.
“No,” Harm said firmly. “I won’t stand here and listen to you defend the
man who let that happen to you. Laura, he was a coward. He did something
unforgivable, and, rather than be a man, and face the consequences, he
took the easy way out. He deserves neither your mourning, nor your
guilt. Don’t lose any sleep – or any tears – over him. He certainly
never lost any over you.”
“I know he was guilty, sir, and I know he’s largely responsible for what
happened to me, but, that doesn’t change the fact that someone’s husband
is dead. Someone’s father.”
Laura’s last words struck Harm hard. Hadfield had two sons, and a
daughter. The youngest was already in college, but, just because they
were grown didn’t mean it would be any easier on them. Three people
would live the rest of their lives without a father. Harm felt a twinge
of empathy for them, but, then, it left him as quickly as it had
appeared. He would not lament that man’s death, nor would he compare the
sadness he would leave in his wake, to that left by the disappearance
and subsequent death of his own father. Hadfield wouldn’t have been fit
to shine Harm, Senior’s shoes.
“Well, he should have thought of that before he swallowed his revolver,”
Harm spat. “What he did has nothing to do with you, Laura. He did it
because he couldn’t face up to what he did. He left his wife and
children because he was a despicable human being, plain and simple.”
Laura shifted in her chair. She shook her head. “I don’t know, sir.
Sometimes I just…”
“What?” Harm prodded.
Laura sighed. “Sometimes I wonder if all this is worth it, sir. I mean,
this is national news now. It’s going to take forever before this is
“Most things worth doing usually do,” Harm said.
“I don’t know if I did the right thing,” Laura confessed, ignoring
“You did,” Harm assured her. “Exposing this situation was the right
thing to do, and, not because I said so, but because what those men were
doing is wrong. It’s wrong, and no amount of money or privilege could
ever be enough to make it right.” He looked at Laura, attempting to
gauge whether anything he was saying was getting through to her. “Are
you seriously doubting what you’ve done?”
“No,” Laura answered. “I’m just doubting the system’s ability to resolve
“Don’t,” Harm urged. “The law might not be perfect, but it’s never
“How can you say that, sir?” Laura scoffed. “You were accused of murder
“Yes, I was,” Harm conceded. “But, due process ran its course, and the
truth came out – just like it’s going to now.”
Laura met Harm’s eyes for a long second, then she looked away. She was
silent for a while, then she got up and walked to the window. Outside,
the campus was in full bloom: the grass was a bright, emerald green;
flowers of every imaginable color and variety dotted the landscape. When
she had first revealed everything to Harm, the approaching winter had
stripped the trees of all their leaves, and the perennials had long
since gone into hibernation.
“What happens now, sir?” she asked softly. “How much longer do you think
this will all last?”
Harm’s heart tightened at the sadness in the girl’s tone. “I don’t
know,” he admitted. “I’d like to tell you everything will be over by the
time you come back for the fall semester, but I can’t. I can’t give you
Laura’s nod was barely perceptible. She was beginning to wonder if she’d
have lieutenant’s bars before gaining anything resembling closure. Then
again, maybe she’d never have that.
“What I can tell you, is Admiral Chegwidden is talking to his friends on
Capitol Hill, as we speak. He’s doing his best to make sure this is top
priority over there. Former Congressman Deadmarsh has a lot of
explaining to do, and, the way things keep turning out, he’s probably
not the only one. C-SPAN’s going to be busy for a good, long while on
this.” Harm stood up and waited for Laura to look at him. “Laura, the
important thing is, no one’s going to get away with this. It’s going to
take a while for everything to come out, but it will come out.” He
paused for a moment. “Y’know, it’s crazy: those men said they did what
they did for their families, to make up for a life of being away on
deployment, or of simply being too busy to be a good husband and father.
But now, they’re going to spend a good portion of the rest of their
lives behind bars, separated from the very people they were trying to
get closer to.”
Laura nodded, but she said nothing. That was fine with Harm; he had one
more point to make, anyway. “These guys are all going to go away for a
long, long time. This is never going to happen to anyone else at the
Academy, and we all have you to thank for that. So, any time you start
regretting what we’ve set into motion, think of that.”
Laura skirted her eyes away from his. “I never meant to be a hero, sir.”
Harm offered her a cockeyed smile. “The truest ones never do.”
*ONE YEAR LATER*
UNITED STATES NAVAL ACADEMY
As Harm watched the thousand-or-so graduating midshipmen gathering into
formations, and preparing to march onto the field at Annapolis’s
football stadium, he marveled at how normal it seemed. It was hard to
believe how life went on during the last year. Even while the
high-profile congressional investigation dragged on and on, life at the
Academy went on much as it always had.
Laura had indeed become a reluctant hero. Many of the past victims of
sexual assault at the Academy had come to Washington to testify during
the past few months. While they were in town, several of them had
insisted on driving up to Annapolis, to thank Laura in person, for
having the courage they’d been too afraid to display.
During the course of the investigation, more and more names came up,
names of both high-level and low-level Pentagon employees, who had
assisted Deadmarsh and Crowley in securing and channeling the funds to
Academy personnel. In addition, the ever-expanding list of accomplices
had grown to include some of the people who had served on Deadmarsh’s
staff, when he was a congressman. Moreover, the Commandant of
Midshipmen, and the Academy’s Inspector General, had both been relieved
of their positions. Even though neither of them were directly involved
in any of the crimes, the mere fact that the unthinkable events had
happened “on their watch,” was enough to render them nearly derelict in
their duties. In addition, as more and more women had come forward,
going further and further back to when the Academy first began admitting
women, several former IGs and commandants had come under suspicion,
along with a host of other Academy personnel.
There was one trial, however, that had already come to a close. All
three of Laura’s attackers were expelled from the Academy, with
dishonorable discharges. Thanks to the other victims who had come
forward, each boy was now serving time in a military prison for multiple
counts of rape and attempted rape. They were in no danger of being
lonely; victims of Deadmarsh’s older brother, and of Crowley’s cousin,
had come forward, and those young men had also been found guilty. They
were serving time in the same facility.
Crowley and Gibson, two of the men who had supplied the Academy officers
with tens of thousands of dollars over the years, were also now serving
time in federal prison. Crowley and Gibson had been easy enough to
convict, but the list of charges against Deadmarsh was much longer, and
much more complex. Not only had he bribed high-level government
employees, but he had done so while serving as a member of Congress.
Now, he was facing the current Congress, which was still populated by
some of his former colleagues. Fortunately, Admiral Chegwidden had
fostered some very important contacts on Capitol Hill, during his tenure
as the JAG, and they threw themselves fervently into the task of
gathering the most balanced, objective members they could find, to be on
the special hearing panel: both men and women; senators and
representatives from every region of the country; and at least one
veteran from each branch of the armed services. If some of them happened
to be known for pushing for ever tougher laws against sex offenders in
their states, well, it would be difficult to prove it was anything more
than a coincidence.
Now, as the hearing continued over on Capitol Hill, signaling the
Academy’s darkest hour, the Academy itself was basking in its finest
hour. Including his own, this was the fourth graduation ceremony Harm
had attended at the Academy. The ceremony itself, and even most of the
speeches, never differed much from year to year. It was a military
academy, after all, and tradition was tradition. There was one thing,
however, that had never failed to stir Harm’s pride, to cause that
little catch in his heart. It was the sight of the graduating classes’
covers, sailing high into the air, the white fabric and black rims
juxtaposed against the strikingly clear, blue sky. Harm beamed as the
new Commandant of Midshipmen officially proclaimed them ensigns, and the
caps were launched up in victory. He could almost hear the collective
sigh of a thousand-or-so young men and women: We made it.
After the ceremony, families and friends of the graduates headed down en
masse, from their seats in the stadium, and swarmed the field, looking
for their loved ones. After weaving his way through the crowd, scanning
in all directions, Harm found the person he’d been looking for. He
approached her with a wide smile. Laura promptly went to attention, and
offered a crisp salute. Harm returned the motion, then dropped his
salute, waiting for Laura to do the same.
“Those bars look good on you, Ensign Henry,” he said.
“Thank you, sir!” she beamed. “You remember my parents,” she said,
indicating the couple standing next to her.
Harm had met the Henry family during the Academy’s Parents’ Weekend one
year. They had also been in contact on the phone, and through email,
once Laura had told them everything. But this was the first time he was
seeing them in person in at least two years.
“Mr. Henry, Mrs. Henry,” Harm said, shaking their hands. “And…wait…I
didn’t forget…” He wracked his brain for Laura’s sister’s name. “Karen,
“Yes, sir,” the girl replied.
Harm smiled. “’Sir?’ Does this mean we have another future officer in
The girl smiled. “Class of 2013, if all goes well, sir.”
When a few other newly-commissioned ensigns ran up to say hello to Laura
and her sister, Laura’s parents took the opportunity to take Harm aside
for a moment.
“Commander,” Mr. Henry opened, “we can’t even begin to thank you for
everything you’ve done for Laura. My wife and I…we don’t know what we
would have done if she hadn’t had someone like you, looking out for
Mrs. Henry nodded. She reached for Harm’s hand. She held it tightly;
Harm could feel her hand trembling. “We couldn’t be here, when she
needed us. We’re so grateful that she had you.”
“Just doing my job,” Harm said, dismissing the praise.
“No,” Mrs. Henry insisted, “it was more than that. So much more.”
“I wish there was something we could do to repay you,” Laura’s father
said, “but, I’m just a simple contractor.”
“Seeing your daughter graduate today is all the thanks I’m interested
in,” Harm said sincerely.
Mr. Henry nodded. “Well, still, if you ever need a deck built, or a
Harm offered a smile. “Actually, my wife and I did just buy a house that
needs a little work.”
“I didn’t realize you were married,” Mrs. Henry cut in, smiling. “Laura
never told us!”
Beaming, Harm held up his left hand, where a simple gold band now
resided. “Two months, and counting,” he informed them. “In fact, she’s
here…somewhere.” Harm’s head turned left, then right, as he looked for
Terri in the crowd. “Terri!” he called, when he spotted her several
yards away. Terri looked up, and made her way over to them. “Terri,” he
said, “This is Ellen and Michael Henry – Laura’s parents. Mr. and Mrs.
Henry, my wife, Commander Teresa Coulter.” Harm would have loved to
introduce her as “Mrs. Teresa Rabb,” but Terri had decided to keep her
name for official Navy business. In their private life, however, she was
Mrs. Rabb, and ecstatic about it.
“Commander,” Mrs. Henry said, extending her hand to Terri.
“Very nice to meet you,” Terri said, shaking first Ellen’s hand, then
Michael’s. “Please, call me Terri.”
Mrs. Henry smiled. “Well, Terri, that’s a hell of a husband you’ve got.
I’d say you’ve won the lottery.”
“I could say the same about your daughter,” Terri told them. “She’s
going to be a wonderful officer.”
“She learned from the best,” Harm said, entirely kidding.
“Yes, she did,” Mrs. Henry agreed, entirely serious.
Just then, Laura and her sister came back over to their parents. Laura
saluted Terri; Terri offered her sincerest congratulations.
“So, what’s on tap for the summer?” Harm asked Laura.
“Well, sir, I have just a few days off, to spend with my family, and
then, I’ll be on to DC, for the law school summer primer. Three years
from now, I’ll be…well…wherever the Navy decides to send me, I guess.”
Harm smiled. “You’ll love Georgetown,” he assured her. “Just don’t
follow in all my footsteps, all right? I might have had a
little…reputation, over there.”
Laura arched up an eyebrow. “A ‘reputation,’ sir?’” she smiled.
Harm rolled his eyes. “Just keep your head in the books,” he admonished.
“There’s an office waiting for you in Falls Church.”
Laura blushed. “Don’t get your hopes up, sir.”
“I dare you to disappoint me,” Harm teased.
“Is that a threat, sir?” Laura smiled.
Harm cocked his head at her, considering the question. “Consider it a
challenge, Ensign.” He extended his hand to her.
“In that case, sir,” Laura said, shaking his hand firmly, “I accept.”
APRIL 24, 2041
Retired Admiral Harmon Rabb, Junior, had been waiting sixty days for
this day to arrive. It was two months ago that a marine, in full dress
uniform, had appeared at the door of his and Terri’s home, to
hand-deliver an invitation requesting their presence at a special Navy
ceremony. The invitation had merely confirmed what Harm had read in
recent issues of The Navy Times – Rear Admiral Laura Henry was going to
be appointed the Navy’s first female Judge Advocate General.
After graduating from the Academy, Ensign Henry had kept in touch with
Harm regularly, but, as too often happens, over time, their contact
became more sporadic. Occasionally, Harm would receive a postcard from
someplace halfway around the world, where Laura’s ship had made a port
visit. Other times, he would find an email from her, originating from a
different base from the last one she’d sent. Harm hadn’t been much
better about keeping in touch; he was promoted to captain not long after
Laura’s graduation, and the step to rear admiral followed, in time. With
each rise in rank had come a corresponding amount of responsibility –
and paperwork – and it had left him precious little time for contacting
Still, Harm had been able to follow most of Laura’s career progress
through the Times. She’d never failed to amaze him. As a JAG officer,
she’d volunteered for numerous shipboard billets, and for a few hardship
duty stations. As a commander, she’d revamped the Navy’s entire equal
opportunity system, to ensure that issues of gender discrimination,
harassment, and assault, were investigated more expeditiously, and
prosecuted more harshly, than ever before. It had all contributed to an
outstanding service record; she’d made most of her promotions in record
On the personal side, Laura was married, with three children, one of
whom had followed his parents’ path into the military. She’d met her
husband, a retired Air Force major, while investigating a high-profile
EO case in a joint service operation. The major had resigned his
commission to stay with her; he liked the Air Force, but Laura loved the
Navy. He’d gone on to become an associate at the DC branch office of a
law firm known nationwide for its pro-bono work, and charitable
Harm was practically bursting with pride. He wouldn’t have been more
happy if it had been one of his own children becoming the JAG. In his
dreams, he still held out hope for that, but the fact was, neither of
his two children had followed his footsteps into the law: Lieutenant
Commander Stephanie Rabb was the XO of the USS Benfold; Lieutenant David
Wyatt Rabb was a surgical specialist in the medical corps.
There had been an accident on the highway that morning, and Harm feared
he and Terri would be tied up in traffic, while his former student was
appointed to the highest position in naval law. Sitting in the middle of
an endless line of unmoving cars, Harm had half a mind to get out and
walk the rest of the way to the Pentagon, but, at 77, his legs weren’t
in the same shape as they’d been decades before, when he’d thought
nothing of going for ten-mile runs through Rock Creek Park.
He occupied himself by looking at his wife of 34 years. Though the years
had grayed her hair, and the lines of age and wisdom now graced her
face, she still took his breath away. She was as beautiful to him now,
as she was on the day they were married, on the beach, behind Trish and
Frank’s house, in LaJolla.
The trip took an hour longer than it should have, but Harm and Terri
finally arrived at the Pentagon. After showing their special guest
passes to the guard at the gate, they were escorted to their seats.
Harm’s eyes went immediately to the dais; a group of distinguished
guests were gathered to attend the ceremony. The vice president was
there, as was the CNO, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and the JAGs
of the Army, and Air Force. Everyone looked happy to be there for the
historic occasion, but none more so than Admiral Henry, herself.
Several people made speeches from the podium. Harm listened intently,
but he never took his eyes off Laura. The only things that made him
happier than seeing the gold stars on her shoulders, was seeing the
woman’s bright smile. If he had ever doubted the amount of good he’d
done as an instructor at the Academy, that all disappeared now. Laura
had overcome great obstacles, and had gone straight to the top.
After what seemed an eternity, Laura finally noticed Harm in the crowd.
She’d been scanning the faces, genuinely surprised by the number of
people who had turned out to witness her appointment. She knew Admiral
Rabb and his wife were coming, but she’d been worried that they might
have gotten stuck in the accident traffic. They had made it, though. She
would know the man’s blue-green eyes anywhere; they hadn’t changed at
all in the thirty-four years since she’d graduated from the Academy. His
gaze pierced right through the crowd, and, even seated, he still towered
over most of the people there.
In her heart, Laura knew he would be there. Still, she was still
surprised that he had gone through the trouble of getting there. As she
had gotten dressed that morning, and had conducted a final inspection of
herself, making sure every button gleamed, every crease was sharp, and
her ribbons were perfectly aligned, her thoughts had drifted to the man
without whom she wouldn’t be there. The man who, more than three decades
earlier, had restored her pride in wearing the uniform of the United
States Navy. It was he who had restored her faith in what it stood for.
And today, he had come to watch her carry on that tradition.
When the ceremony was finished, Harm and Terri joined the seemingly
endless line of people in the receiving line. When it was finally their
turn to congratulate the admiral, the reunion was tearful and happy.
Laura hugged Harm for only a few seconds; any longer, and it would have
been against regulations. Still, they chatted for several minutes, all
parties beaming with joy. Laura re-introduced Harm and Terri to her
husband, whom they had met at the wedding, twenty-three years earlier,
and a few times during the years after that.
Harm and Terri knew several people were waiting behind them, so they
tried to make their excuses and step away politely. However, Laura
insisted that they join her and her husband as their special guests at
the formal lunch reception.
It took twenty more minutes, but when Laura was finally finished
greeting everyone else, she and her husband made their way over to Harm
“I heard about the accident on the morning news, sir” she told Harm. “I
was worried you wouldn’t make it here in time.”
“I’m retired, y’know,” Harm chuckled. “You don’t have to call me ‘sir.’”
He flashed her his patented smile, which even the passing of decades
Laura shook her head. “In my heart, you’ll always be a ‘sir’ to me.” She
returned the smile. “Anyway, I’m glad you made it.”
“I wouldn’t have missed this for the world,” Harm told her. “I would’ve
commandeered an aircraft if I’d had to.”
“Don’t laugh,” Terri told her. “He’s not kidding.”
“You're a very popular lady,” Harm said, smiling brightly. “Traffic was
backed up for miles, with people trying to get here for this,” he
explained. “We had a real hell of a time getting here.”
Admiral Henry thought about her career, the ups and downs, the turns it
had taken, and had not taken. It passed through her mind in a
resplendent, colorful blur. “So did I, sir,” she said, beaming, with a
knowing smile. “So did I.”
Harm took Terri's hand in his. As they made their way to the admiral's
waiting limousine, he looked up for a moment. The sky was clear that
morning, the bright blue punctuated only by a few puffy, cheerful, white
clouds. It was perfect, Harm thought. Just as it should be.
One of those days when you can see forever.