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FOUR DAYS LATER
1003 EST
UNITED STATES NAVAL ACADEMY
ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND

 

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 inside.

“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 last.”

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 news.”

“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 wondered aloud.

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 finger.

“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
1158 EST
UNITED STATES NAVAL ACADEMY
ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND

 

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 even sooner.

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.

“Sir…”

“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 finished.”

“Most things worth doing usually do,” Harm said.

“I don’t know if I did the right thing,” Laura confessed, ignoring Harm’s point.

“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 it all.”

“Don’t,” Harm urged. “The law might not be perfect, but it’s never failed me.”

“How can you say that, sir?” Laura scoffed. “You were accused of murder – twice!”

“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 that guarantee.”

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*
GRADUATION DAY
MAY 2007
1112 EST
UNITED STATES NAVAL ACADEMY
ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND

 

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, right?”

“Yes, sir,” the girl replied.

Harm smiled. “’Sir?’ Does this mean we have another future officer in the family?”

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 her.”

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 driveway re-cemented…”

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.”

 

EPILOGUE:


APRIL 24, 2041
1030 EST
THE PENTAGON
WASHINGTON, DC

 

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 old friends.

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 time.

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 contributions.

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 and Terri.

“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 hadn’t dimmed.

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.”

Laura laughed.

“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.

Beautiful.

Limitless.

One of those days when you can see forever.


The End

 

 

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