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Chapter 2

Sarah Mackenzie’s Apartment
Georgetown
Saturday 1945 Local

 

There was a bottle of vodka in the freezer.

Mac was seated on the couch attempting to watch television, but all her attention was really in the kitchen. On that bottle. With every fiber of her being she was totally aware of that bottle.

She’d slept for a total of 4 hours, taken 2 showers, consumed countless cups of coffee, worked out at the gym, and gone through some case files she’d brought home from work. And, oh yes, she’d stopped and bought a bottle of vodka.

She’d actually stopped to fill up the car with gas, grateful for the pay at the pump feature. She didn’t have to step inside the convenience store. Even being this close to a similar situation had her hands shaking as she’d pumped the gas. It was during that vulnerable moment, when flashbacks were crowding in, that the sign had caught her eye. The liquor store was right next to the gas station. Without even thinking about it, she’d replaced the gas hose on the pump, collected her receipt, and stepped across to the beckoning neon sign.

Once inside, she’d stopped at the door, overwhelmed. There were hundreds…thousands of bottles of forgetfulness right in front of her. Rows of oblivion. An entire store of anesthetic. She couldn’t breathe.

“Can I help you?” The kindly looking woman behind the cash register had sounded so helpful, but Mac had shaken her head, unable to articulate anything. Her heart pounding, she had wandered up and down the aisles, pausing only to touch a label occasionally, skimming her hand over the bottles.

She had stopped at the vodka section. Delicately, reverently, she’d trailed a finger down a bottle of Stolichnaya, a very old friend. One she hadn’t talked to in a good many years. Oh, she remembered the smooth taste of that particular potion. Straight, chilled, with no ice, it was quite possibly the elixir of life. Or death, the sane part of her mind whispered to her, but she’d ignored it.

She’d broken out in a sweat, the sound of her pulse beating loudly in her ears as she picked it up. It was heavy, but the cool glass of the bottle felt so good against her fingers. It was all she could do not to open it right there in the store and take a big swig. She had tried to put it back. Really. But before she could figure out just what the hell she was doing, she was at the cash register and handing the woman her credit card.

As the woman ran her credit card, she’d looked Mac over. “Are you all right, honey?” Apparently, she’d looked bad. And unable to answer, she’d just given the woman a nod, signed the receipt, and practically run to her car, the Stolichnaya tucked tightly under her arm.

And now, here she was. Hiding from it.

She’d placed it in the freezer and run into the living room. But out of sight was definitely not out of mind. Like a siren, it called to her, luring her. She could hear it. ‘Mac, I’m here for you. Remember how I can make you feel?’

Desperately she reminded herself of the struggle she went through to dry out. The physical pain, the emotional torture. She recalled the look Harm had given her when she was drunk, and his words, “You’re not just a drunk, you’re a mean drunk.” She went over the 12 step program in her mind. She forced herself to remember the feeling of being hung over, of feeling like crap.

But most of all, she remembered the feeling of not caring about anybody or anything, least of all herself. The feeling of being free…to do anything she wanted, to ignore the world and everybody in it. And that was what she wanted more than anything right now. Not to care, not to feel, not to remember.

Shutting the television off, she rose slowly from the couch and headed for the kitchen. She could feel herself sweating, her pulse pounding again, just like it did in the store. In a surreal slow motion, she took the bottle out of the freezer and set it on the counter.

It was cold now, chilled, just how she liked it. The little drops of condensation on the outside of the bottle were dripping down the side to form a puddle around it on the counter. Without taking her eyes off it, she reached up and retrieved a glass from the cupboard and set it next to the bottle.

With a shaking hand she took the bottle of vodka in her hands and opened it, breaking the seal in one forceful twist. The sweet subtle scent of it hit her like a brick. Oh God, it had been so long since she’d really smelled that wonderful aroma. She inhaled, hoping against hope that that alone would satisfy her. But she knew, even then, that it wouldn’t.

The bottle neck clanked against the glass as she filled it. The glub glub of the flowing liquid hitting her ears like music. Somewhere, deep inside her, a voice was saying ‘STOP’, but she wasn’t listening.

She raised the glass to her lips, pausing to savor the scent.

There was a knock at the door.

She stopped, debating as to whether or not to ignore it and keep drinking, but the knock sounded again, louder this time, insistent. Knowing once she started drinking, she wasn’t going to stop, she set the glass down on the counter.

Determinedly she stalked towards the door, irritated at being interrupted and promising herself to get rid of whoever it was as soon as she could. Without checking the peephole she whipped open the door, fully prepared to give a quick speech to any well-meaning friend who was there and hurry them out.

The words died on her lips unspoken. It was Harm.

“Mac?” She looked awful to him. She’d lost weight, she was pale, and there were dark circles under her eyes that make-up couldn’t hide. And she hadn’t said a word, just stared at him, her mouth forming a perfect “O” of surprise. Something was definitely wrong, very wrong.

Abruptly she shook her head as if to wake up. “Uhhh…Harm. I wasn’t expecting you till tomorrow night.”

“Can I come in?” She cast a furtive glance over her shoulder and he thought for a moment she was going to refuse.

“Um…yeah…of course.” She gave him a ghastly smile and opened the door wide, gesturing for him to enter. Shock made her acquiesce before she thought about it.

Wary now, he made his way to the couch, trying to decide on the best course of action. Obviously she was not doing well, but if he didn’t handle this right he’d just make things worse. Even at the best of times Mac was tricky to deal with, and he needed to tread carefully.

“Would you like something to drink? Err…some tea, I mean?” Guilt made her fumble her offer of refreshment. She really needed to get control of herself; Harm didn’t know about the vodka and wouldn’t assume she was offering him alcohol. Scolding herself, she settled on the couch with him, making sure there was a large space between them.

“No thanks. I just stopped by to see how you’re doing.” He could see how she was doing. Badly. She was doing very badly. His first instinct was to grab her and hug her, then demand to know what was wrong. But he knew better than that. “I managed to get finished early.”

“Umm…I’m okay.” She managed another smile for him, but it was a poor effort.

At his disbelieving glance she flushed and looked down. Damn him.

Picking up the case file the admiral had given her earlier in the day, she tried changing the subject. “Here’s a new case. The admiral gave it to me yesterday, but we’re both working on it. We’re the defense. Flip you for first chair?” She handed him the file with another one of those awful fake smiles.

He took the file and set it down on the coffee table without opening it. “Mac…” He kept his tone gentle, but left her no doubt that he meant to get to the truth. He was not going to just go away.

She laughed nervously, stalling for time. She hadn’t thought up a story for him, she felt guilty over the vodka, and she didn’t want to tell him anything. Couldn’t he see she didn’t want to talk? It wasn’t fair of him to just show up and undermine all her defenses. Damn him.

Still as gently as he knew how, he continued. “I can see you’re not okay. I have eyes, and it didn’t take 30 seconds for me to see it. Talk to me, marine.”

There was a long silence as he waited, trying to be patient and give her time to think.

She drew in a shaky breath and pressed her hands to her face.

He still waited.

Her mind worked frantically, trying to come up with some plausible story to tell him. In her panic, she couldn’t think of a thing and the silence drew out until finally she crumbled into tears. Too much was happening and she couldn’t deal.

The tears astounded him; Mac just didn’t burst into tears like this. Moving quickly, he scooted over to comfort her and place his arm around her.

“NO!” Before he knew what was happening she was up off the couch and away from him.

He knew what had happened from Bud, that the bastard at the convenience store had tried to rape her, but he was still surprised at the strength of her reaction. Then he remembered when he’d tried to comfort her long ago, when a poacher had tried the same thing and she had had to kill him. She’d had the same reaction then, just on a lesser scale.

Carefully, he followed her, making sure he didn’t close in on her, giving her space. “Mac, it’s okay.”

A choked sob was his answer and he ached to hold her. She was standing by the fireplace, her arms wrapped tightly around her stomach. He stretched out a hand, intending only to touch her arm, but she flinched away. “Please don’t touch me.”

Holding up both hands, he said, “I won’t, not until you tell me to. Come sit down, Mac. It’s okay.”

Still not looking at him, she went back to the couch and sat down, pulling her knees up and clutching a pillow. There was no sobbing now, but the tears still flowed down her face. ‘God’, he thought, ‘What the hell is wrong?’

“Mac, I’m going to make us some tea, okay? I’ll be right back.” It was all he could think of to do. She nodded, and he turned to go to the kitchen.

It was then she remembered and found her voice. “No, wait! Harm!” But it was too late.

Before he even fully entered the kitchen, the bottle with the full glass beside it caught his attention. He just stared at it, horrified, his heart in his throat. ‘Oh God, not this Mac. Please God, not this.’

 

Sarah Mackenzie’s Apartment
Georgetown

 

He stood stock still, staring at the bottle on the counter.

She froze in mid-stride.

The silence was deafening.

He turned slowly and looked at her, a terrible fear in his eyes. “Mac?” The soft question asked so much.

She had no idea what to say to him. There was no excuse to justify it. Nothing she could say or do would make it okay. So she said nothing.

The anger rose in his eyes. “Mac?” This time there was heat in the question. “Mac…what the hell are you doing?”

Still she said nothing. Humiliation and shame engulfed her, silencing her.

Finally, she said the only thing she could. “I didn’t drink it.” Her innate honesty compelled her to finish that sentence. “Yet.”

The struggle to control his anger and fear was epic, but one look at Mac made him realize he had to win it. Her eyes were wide, the “deer in the headlights” look, but it was the deep anguish in those beautiful eyes that got to him. It had to be really bad if she was drinking again, worse than he had suspected.

He wanted to scream at her, to make her see that she was killing herself, but he didn’t. It would solve nothing; only make things worse. He took a deep breath to steady himself, willing all the anger away. This had to be handled with delicacy, or she would shut down on him. This time when he questioned her, the compassion was evident in his voice. “Mac, what are you doing to yourself?”

It was that question, the last one, spoken with such kindness, that broke her. A rage like she had never experienced before washed through her. She literally saw red. “What am I doing? WHAT AM I DOING?” Fury had her yelling.

She turned away from him, almost running across the room. A violent wave of her arm cleared the mantle, knocking the pictures and candlesticks everywhere. “I’m not doing anything! It’s everything that’s being done to me! God damn it, I’m just trying to cope with everything, that’s all! I’m just trying to figure out how to get from one day to the next without going crazy!”

Wild now, she turned back to him, not even able to make the effort to control herself. She kicked a basket across the room. “I can’t deal with it anymore! I’ve had enough in my life and I can’t deal with it ANYMORE!”

Shocked at her reaction and the depth of her wrath, Harm still tried to close in on her and calm her down. He did his best to speak soothingly. “Mac, it’s okay. We’ll get through…”

Completely out of control now, she cut him off with more yelling. “It’s not okay! Don’t give me that bullshit! It will never be okay again!” She moved away from him as he neared. “Just stay away, damn it. This is not something you can fix with a hug and a talk. It can’t be fixed at all!”

He stopped, not wanting to chase her, and hoping against hope he could figure out the right thing to say. To do. Pleadingly, he tried to convince her that he could help. “Mac, whatever is going on, you know I’ll be there for you. I can help. I promise you…”

Once again she cut him off. “Don’t make a promise you can’t keep. You don’t know anything, and you never will! Just get away from me and stay away!” She calmed suddenly, stopping to gaze at him sorrowfully. “It’s for your own good, Harm. Believe me. Stay as far away from me as you can.” She wrapped her arms around herself as if she was cold.

The anguish in her voice tore at his heart. Unable to stop himself, he took a step towards her, holding out his hand. “Mac…please…let me help you.” God, what was going on with her? In all the years he had known her, through all the troubles she had endured, he had never seen her like this.

Her anger was back in an instant. She knocked his hand away. “No! Don’t you get it? You can’t help…no one can. Just get out!” She pointed a finger towards the door. “Get out, damn it!”

Stubbornly he crossed his arms and planted his feet firmly. “No.” He may not be able to reason with her, to convince her, but he sure as hell wasn’t leaving her like this.

“I SAID GET OUT!” The second crack in her armor appeared as she picked up a small vase to throw at him, but she couldn’t do it, dropping her arm before completing the act. The vase dropped to the carpet with a quiet thud. There were tears in her eyes, but she dashed them away. “Please, Harm. Just get out.” The despair in her now soft voice broke his heart. “Please.”

Having learned his lesson he didn’t attempt to get near her, but he didn’t back down either. “No, Mac. I’m not leaving. I don’t know what’s going on with you, but I’m sure as hell not leaving you, and you can take that to the bank.” He did his best to appear firm, but not threatening or aggressive.

Once again, her anger waned, only to be replaced by pain. He was getting whiplash from the sudden changes in her mood. She dropped onto the couch and rested her head on her knees. Her voice was muffled when she replied. “You have to, Harm. I’m not giving you any choice.”

Hopeful the storm was over, he sat next to her carefully, as close as he dared. “I don’t care, Mac. I’m not leaving you.” Everything in him wanted to hold her, to somehow alleviate her pain.

Leaping up at the sound of his voice so near, she backed away from him. “I…I can’t do this, Harm. I can’t.” Once again the agony in her voice and demeanor pained him. “I’m going to bed. Please shut the lights off and lock the door when you leave.”

He sat there on the couch as she turned away, shutting the bedroom door behind her. A few moments ticked by, and the sound of the shower came through the door.

Shell-shocked, he surveyed the wreckage of the room. He just sat there, wondering what the hell was happening.

The shower shut off, and silence reigned. He barely heard it when the sobbing started, she was so quiet.

He stood outside her bedroom door, his hand splayed against it. It was torture to listen to her and not be able to touch her, to do something to help. The sound of her crying tormented him, but he didn’t go in. Somehow, he knew he had to give her some space. He couldn’t force her to accept his comfort, no matter how badly he wanted to.

He didn’t know how long he stood there, listening, but it seemed like hours. It wasn’t until the sound of her sobs died away that he realized he was crying with her. Wiping away his own tears, he prayed she was asleep and getting some kind of peace.

Turning, he took a step towards the kitchen. First, he was getting rid of the vodka, then he’d pick up the rest of the mess. He could only hope that whatever was hurting her was something he could fix.

 

Sunday
0330 Local

 

Mac opened the door of her bedroom and walked out. As usual, the nightmares had woken her in spite of her exhaustion.

Blinking against the unexpected light, she sighed gently as she saw Harm, stretched out asleep on the sofa. Tiptoeing by him, she headed for the kitchen, intending to throw away the vodka. Thank god he had interrupted her, but she needed to get rid of it. If she kept it, sooner or later she would drink it.

Of course it was gone. She should have known. Back in the living room, she saw that he had picked up the litter from her earlier rampage. She covered him with a blanket before quietly sinking into the chair across from him.

There were lines on his face that even sleep didn’t erase, and she realized they were there because of her. He was clearly exhausted. She knew how hard it was to make that trip home from a carrier, but he still came to her. He cared, about her.

A small part of her wanted to tell him everything, but she knew she couldn’t. No matter what, she needed to stay away from him. He needed somebody better, someone who wasn’t as damaged as she was. But still, it was a comfort to know he cared.

Curled up in the chair, she watched him until she fell asleep. And for the first time since the rape, she slept untroubled by nightmares.

 

Sarah Mackenzie’s Apartment
Georgetown
Sunday 0930 Local

 

It was the smell of coffee that woke him. Awareness was slow in coming, but he finally realized where he was. Pushing the blanket aside, he rose and stretched, grimacing as his back cracked. He sat back down on the couch rubbing his face and trying to wake himself up. He picked up the blanket, realizing Mac must have covered him with it after he fell asleep. He wondered if she got any sleep at all.

Quiet sounds from the kitchen caught his attention, but he folded the blanket before going there, trying to collect his thoughts. Finally he headed towards the kitchen, unsure of what Mac was going to say. She’d been so adamant about his leaving last night, and so angry. Angry about what, was the question. Somehow, in spite of everything, he didn’t think she was angry at him. He just happened to be in the path of destruction.

Her back was to him, but he could see she was pouring a cup of coffee. She was wearing sweats, but it was obvious she’d been up for a while. It was also obvious she’d lost some weight, weight she hadn’t needed to lose.

“Thanks for the blanket.” It was an inane thing to say, but he was so unsure of the ground underneath him. All he could think of was to keep things neutral until he got his bearings with her.

She didn’t answer him immediately. Turning, she handed him the coffee without meeting his eyes. “No problem.”

There was an awkward silence. They both leaned on the counter, side by side, sipping their coffee. More than anything, he wanted to talk, but he was afraid. Afraid to start her up again, afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. It was Mac that finally rescued him.

“I’m sorry, Harm.” She still didn’t look at him, staring intently into her coffee instead. “I shouldn’t have done that to you last night.” Her voice was so low he could barely hear her.

As gently as he knew how, he answered her. “It’s okay. I just want to know what’s wrong.”

He noted the tremor in her hands. She quickly stilled it by clutching the coffee mug tightly.

Okay, things were calmer this morning, but definitely not okay. Deciding to take charge and lighten things up, he nudged her teasingly with his elbow, careful to keep his distance. “Come on, Marine. Let’s sit down and drink our coffee. I need to sit down if I’m going to be yelled at some more.” The direct approach definitely hadn’t worked last night, so a different strategy was called for here.

Surprised at his bantering tone, she glanced up at him. The smile that met her was tender, melting some of the walls she’d been building. She couldn’t help but give a smile back, if only a fleeting one. “I’m not going to yell at you.”

“Good. Then let’s sit down and have a peaceful discussion about last night.” He gave her one of those looks, the one that said he wasn’t letting it go, then walked into the living room, clearly expecting her to follow.

She hesitated, then trailed after him. After her display last night, she owed him some kind of explanation. Whether or not he would believe it depended on her performance. She’d better be damn good because she sure as hell wasn’t telling him everything.

He was sitting on the couch, obviously waiting for her. With a sigh she sat down on the opposite end and curled her legs under her. Taking a sip of his coffee, he cocked an eyebrow at her. “Well?”

“Well what?” Nerves made her sound harsher than she intended, so she gave him an apologetic smile.

Carefully he set his coffee down on the table, then reached over and took her mug. Placing it on the table next to his, he leaned over to take her hand. “Mac, talk to me.”

She pulled her hand away and grabbed a pillow, clutching it to her. At his look of surprise, she tried to explain. “This will be easier if you just let me talk, don’t touch me.”

Though he was surprised and troubled by her insistence on not being touched, he settled back and gave her his full attention. He didn’t understand it, but he would respect it.

Nervously she fingered the pillow, not looking at him. “I guess it all just got to me. Everything. I mean…” She risked a quick glance at him. “You know what happened, right?”

“Yes, Bud told me.” He didn’t like the way this was starting out. This was not forthright and honest Mac. In the worst situations, she never backed away from looking him in the eye and talking. The one time she had lashed out before, when she was defending the wife-beating murderer, Holst, she’d managed to talk about it later. And she’d looked him right in the eye through the worst of it.

The niggling thought in the back of his head demanded that he ask the question. “Mac, did you tell Bud everything that happened that night?”

She froze. “What do you mean?”

“Did the guy…well…did he…um…go further than you told the police?” He didn’t want to believe it. Hell, he was sorry he even had to ask. He couldn’t make himself say the word.

Damn him for being so perceptive. “Of course not!” At his questioning look she realized she’d been too quick and defensive in her response. She was going to have to watch everything she said.

Summoning up every bit of strength she could, she softened her tone and continued. “It just reminded me of the poacher. And Chris. Dalton, Coster, and even Eddie.” She still didn’t meet his steady gaze. “It’s just…I don’t know how to explain it…” She took a deep breath, willing the tears away. “I’m tired of it. Death…men wanting something from me…it never ends…no matter how I try to live, no matter how I’ve tried to change.”

In spite of her obvious pain, the relief he felt with her denial was enormous. From the way she’d been acting, he’d been afraid that…he couldn’t even bring himself to think the word. No woman should ever have to go through that, but especially not Mac.

The anger was building; he could hear it in her voice. Her dark eyes flashed when she finally looked at him. “I’m tired of men demanding something from me I don’t want to give. Since I was 16, it’s been like that. Men making advances…wanting…” She fumbled for the words, and then finally let it out before she could stop herself. “No one has the right to force me-no one!” Frantically she turned her thoughts to another part of the episode that had been bothering her. She wasn’t telling him all of it, there was no way.

“Mac…” Desperately he tried to soothe her, but the effort was wasted.

She leapt up, agitated, and began to pace the room. “And when I try to defend myself, the only option open is to kill them! What the hell am I supposed to do?” She turned and gazed at him, then sat back down limply. Covering her face with her hands, she repeated the question in an agonized whisper. “What the hell am I supposed to do?”

Edging closer to her, he still didn’t touch her. “Just what you’re doing, Mac. Living life as best you can. Dealing with whatever it throws at you.”

She broke down with deep, gut-wrenching sobs that racked her body, shaking her shoulders. “Do I just go around killing people, Harm? Is that it? Is that what life holds for me?” There was such raw pain in her that he couldn’t doubt her. Death had always been a wound on her soul. From her tale of Eddie’s death, to the death of the poacher, Dalton, Coster, Ragle, her father, even the supposed death of Webb, they had all taken their toll on her.

“Do you realize how many men I’ve killed, not in the line of duty? Just because of personal circumstances?” She almost couldn’t talk because of the crying, but she answered her own question. “Five, Harm. These two made five that I, personally, have killed.” She wasn’t lying, even if she wasn’t being entirely honest. Though not at the crux of her problem, it certainly was a part of it.

She tensed, but didn’t pull away when he placed a gentle hand on her back. “Mac, I can’t tell you what life holds for you, but I can tell you that as much as you’ve had to suffer through, you’ve had good things happen too.” He stroked her back, grateful she’d let him get this close. “You’ve built a good life, one to be proud of. You have people that love you. And when things get too tough, you have to hang on to them.”

He hesitated, but decided to finish the thought. “Not a bottle, Mac. Hang on to your friends. We’ll get you through anything.” He stopped there. The sobs were abating, but she kept her face hidden.

Drawing a shaky breath, she answered him. “I know.” She withdrew her hands from her face, but stared at the floor. “It just seemed to happen so fast. One minute I was pumping gas, the next I was buying a bottle.” She finally looked at him, the humiliation evident in her expression. “I kept thinking I could ignore it…that I could handle it. If you hadn’t come when you did…” She let her voice trail away, unable to voice what would have happened.

“But I did. And I’m always just a phone call away. No matter when or where, Mac. You know that.” His voice deepened with emotion as he spoke. Surely she knew that by now.

The tears this time were softer, but no less heartfelt. For just a moment she leaned on him, her head touching his shoulder. “I know.”

Afraid to break the moment, he held perfectly still, fighting the impulse to hug her. In spite of his restraint, she pulled away, wiping her tears away. Heaving a sigh, he pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and handed it to her. “Here. You’re never prepared for tears, Marine.”

His heart lightened when she gave a choked laugh as she accepted it. It sounded real. “Come on, you look like you haven’t eaten in months. Breakfast on me at IHOP…the sky’s the limit.”

She smiled up at him shakily. “Rain check?”

“Maaac…” Maybe cajoling her would work.

“I’m exhausted, Harm, honestly. I just want to sleep. And I think I might just be able to now.” The gratitude in her eyes embarrassed him, but he couldn’t let it go. She needed to eat.

“Okay for now, but I’m coming back here with food around 1800. You still have to brief me on that case, and we can go over it while we eat.”

A shadow crossed her face, but she turned away before he could figure out why. Picking up the file that was still on the coffee table, she handed it to him. “It’s a rape case. We’re defending.”

He took the file from her with a concerned look. Before he could say a word, she answered him. “I can handle it, honestly. Don’t worry.” At his obvious doubt she hit him lightly on the arm. “Go on, Flyboy. Go home and get yourself organized. I know you haven’t been home long enough to unpack. I’ll be okay, really.”

He still hesitated. There was something going on with her still, but he didn’t know what it was. And he didn’t want to leave her alone.

She gave an exasperated sigh, sounding more like the Mac he knew. “I promise I’ll call if I need you. Now you need to go home and shave and clean up.” She stood up, and he reluctantly rose with her.

She walked him to the door, but he stopped when they reached it, turning to her one more time. “Sarah, I care about you. You know that, don’t you?”

Tears welled again in her eyes as she nodded, unable to reply. Something pulled at his heart. She’d cried so much…been through so much. Unable to stop himself, he reached out to draw her into a hug.

She stepped back, avoiding him. “Sorry Flyboy, but I’m already a soggy mess.”

He smiled and touched her cheek before she could withdraw further. “I’ll see you at 1800.”

She closed the door behind him, leaning her head against it. How was she ever going to get through this? She had to be stronger and deal with it. That’s all there was to it.

Sighing, she decided to take a shower and then really try to sleep. The few hours of sleep without dreams had given her hope. Maybe she could do it again.

 

Jag Headquarters
Wednesday
1440 Local

 

Harm sat in his office, surreptitiously watching Mac through the glass between their offices. Beautiful as always, there was an underlying tension that showed in the set of her shoulders even when she was working alone at her desk. For the thousandth time he went over the events of the last few days, trying to figure out what was going on in her mind.

Saturday night had been rough, but Sunday night she had been better. He’d shown up at the appointed hour, with food, and she had actually eaten. While no outright laughter escaped from her, she had appeared cheerful and had even smiled at some of his jokes. He’d been feeling pretty hopeful that the previous night’s eruption had been cathartic, and that she would be able to move on.

Then they had started on the case, and she shut down. Completely. She became the prototype cool professional Marine attorney, allowing none of her personal feelings to show. In effect, she became the Mac of years ago, when he had first met her. She hadn’t even argued about him assuming first chair.

In retrospect, he should have expected it, but it caught him off-guard. Given her explanation of what had been bothering her, her own experiences with attempted rape, he had expected a little more emotional reaction to the case. When they had first started out as partners, men that reminded her of her abusive father had brought out an open hostility. While tough to deal with, the reaction had allowed him to confront her and attempt to help her achieve perspective. But this time, she absolutely closed down. Discussing the case with a cold, professional detachment, she had given him no opening, no way to draw a parallel to her own feelings.

The case was relatively simple, a he said-she said situation that would be difficult if not downright impossible to solve. According to the young male Marine lieutenant, Lieutenant Gilroy, the girl, Gloria Masters, had had consensual sex with him after he’d met her in a bar. He’d walked her out to her car and one thing had led to another, etc. The girl’s story was he’d simply shown up at her car while she was unlocking it and raped her.

No witnesses. DNA evidence was inconclusive as the lieutenant did not deny having had sex with her, only the rape part. The girl had apparently related to a friend what had happened, and the friend had convinced her to report it, which she did one week after the encounter. While there was some physical evidence, a few bruises and a couple of “love bites”, that was basically it. Neither the Lieutenant nor the girl had ever been in trouble with the law prior to this incident.

He’d thought that Mac might crack when they interviewed Lieutenant Gilroy on Monday afternoon, but she’d maintained that cool, professional demeanor throughout the interview. Nothing had leaked through that façade. As first chair, Harm had directed the interview and asked the questions. Mac had been quiet for the most part, only interrupting occasionally to clarify a point. She had been enclosed in steel.

Now they had a meeting with the victim, never a pleasant experience. Even if he accepted his client’s story, he had to deal with the accuser. In this instance, when he couldn’t be sure who was telling the truth, he dreaded it. To prove their client’s innocence they were going to have take to this girl apart. And if his client was guilty, well, he’d best not think about that. He hated rape cases. He rose to get Mac.

The knock on the door made her look up. She was unsurprised to see Harm standing there. “It’s about time for our meeting. Are you ready?”

She gave a short nod, collected her files, and went to join him at the door. Inside, she felt as if she were about to throw up. The interview with Lieutenant Gilroy had been bad enough; she’d just managed to control herself by convincing herself he must be innocent. And she could let Harm handle most of the questioning, allowing her to safely hide in the shadows. This interview she would be doing the questioning. She dreaded this interview with everything in her.

A young girl of about 21 was seated in the conference room when they arrived, Sturgis seated by her side. She was a pretty girl, with a waif-like appearance that boded ill for their client. She was small and she looked scared to death.

“Commander, Colonel.” Sturgis was formal in his presentations. “This is Gloria Masters. Gloria, this is Commander Rabb and Colonel Mackenzie. They are Lieutenant Gilroy’s defense team.”

Gloria nodded to them, not saying anything. They both sat down across the table as they acknowledged the introductions. The haunted look in her eyes chilled Mac’s soul. This was not going to be easy.

“Miss Masters, may I call you Gloria?” Mac began the questioning, carefully keeping her voice soft and unthreatening. At the girl’s nod, she continued. “Gloria, why don’t you tell us what happened.”

Gloria took a deep breath, obviously fortifying herself as best she could. “I’ve already told the police and Commander Turner everything. Can’t you just read my statement?” Gloria had blue eyes that were red-rimmed and blood-shot, probably from crying. They begged Mac not to make her repeat the story.

Mac hardened her heart, although it killed her to do so. “I’m sorry, Gloria.” But she couldn’t do it. The anguish in the girl’s eyes got to her. Against her will, she softened. “How about if I lead you through it? Would that be easier?”

Harm shot her a surprised look; this was not how they had planned it. Mac was supposed to get the girl to tell her the story so they could look for inconsistencies with her police statement. It was standard operating procedure. He decided not to interrupt, hoping Mac had a plan.

“You met Lieutenant Gilroy at Beaches, is that right?” Mac’s tone was sympathetic, setting the scene for the girl to talk, coaxing her.

“Yes.” Gloria’s voice was shaky, but she seemed determined to get this over with.

“How did you meet him? Did a friend introduce him?” Both Harm and Mac knew from Gilroy there had been no introduction.

“No, he came up to me and asked me to dance. I was with a group of friends, so I said okay.” Gloria looked at Sturgis nervously, and he smiled reassuringly.

“And did you dance with him?”

Harm relaxed slightly, Mac was letting the girl tell the story a little at a time. She was good.

“Yes, we danced a couple of times. He seemed nice, and not too pushy or anything.”

“And what happened after you danced?”

Harm wanted Mac to inquire into what type of dances, slow or fast, but Mac pushed on. He decided she was waiting for the trial for that. They already had that information from Gilroy. It could easily be confirmed by Gloria’s friends anyway.

“Well, I was tired, I wanted to go home. We’d all driven our own cars, so I said good night and left.” Gloria stopped and took a drink of water. “He wanted to walk me to my car, but I said no. I…I…didn’t want to lead him on or anything.”

Mac paused in her questioning, aware they were coming to the difficult part. She wished she could have a drink too, just not water.

“And then?”

“I went to the bathroom and then walked out to my car.” Gloria’s hands started to shake, and Sturgis quickly put his hand over hers, calming her. She took another deep breath and continued as he removed his hand. “I had parked in the back because I had arrived late. I unlocked the car with the remote, and when I got there he…Gil…was there.”

Mac tasted bile in her mouth. She didn’t want to hear this. She didn’t want to ask the questions she had to ask. She wanted nothing more than to run out of this room, preferably screaming. But she didn’t. She stiffened her spine. “Go on.”

“He…he…well…he said he wanted to get to know me and asked for my phone number. I told him I didn’t think so, and to please get out of my way. I started to walk past him, but he grabbed my arm.”

“Did you scream?” Mac’s voice had taken on a flatness.

“Um…no…I thought he would leave me alone…and I didn’t want to make a scene.”

Desperately Harm wanted to interrupt, to clarify what was happening. How close were they to the car, why didn’t her friends walk her out, there were numerous questions to be asked. But Mac was oblivious to him.

“And then what happened?”

The girl started to cry. “He kissed me. He said…he…said he knew I wanted it. I tried to tell him no, but he wouldn’t listen.”

Mac was holding on to her emotions so hard she didn’t even realize she was crying with the girl. A tear rolled down her cheek. Both Harm and Sturgis looked at her, shocked.
“He forced me into the back seat…and then he…and then he…he…” Gloria broke down then, sobbing into her hands.

Mac stood up abruptly. “Excuse me.”

And before Harm could stop her, she was gone.

 

45 minutes later

 

Harm walked out of the conference room, leaving Sturgis to comfort his crying witness. Mac had never returned, so he’d taken over, asking the questions that needed to be asked. He hated it, but he had a job to do.

He caught sight of Bud as he walked towards his office. “Bud, have you seen Mac?”

“No sir, well, yes sir.” Usually Bud’s confusion made Harm smile, but not now. Now, he needed to talk to Mac.

“Which is it, Bud?” His uncharacteristic sharp tone seemed to take Bud aback, but he answered more coherently.

“I saw her leave, sir. She walked straight out of the conference room to her office, picked up her purse, and left.” Bud paused, looking concerned. “She looked like, well, like she’d been crying.”

Damn it. He should have insisted she take herself off this case. It was hitting too close for her. “Has she called in?”

“Not that I know of, sir.”

“Thanks, Bud.” Harm continued on to his office, unsure of what to do. Should he give her space, or should he follow her? Sitting down at his desk, he tried her at home and on her cell. She wasn’t answering, of course. Sighing, he sat back in his chair, debating his next course of action.

There was one niggling thought that had been in the back of his mind since Saturday night. He’d done his best to talk himself out of it, and then ignore it. But he couldn’t escape it. He’d even asked her the question, but she’d denied it. But this last episode forced him to reconsider it.

He had investigated enough rape cases to know Mac’s behavior was consistent with that of a rape victim. The anger, the not wanting to be touched, even the denial. But should he confront her? What if he was wrong? She’d be so angry he’d be lucky to escape alive, especially in her current frame of mind. And, he acknowledged, he could be wrong. Her behavior was also consistent with someone who had been forced to kill to defend herself, more than once. But, God help him, what if he was right?

There was only one thing he could do. He’d have to investigate. If she found out, his ass was grass.

 

JAG Headquarters
1720 Local

 

Waiting impatiently in his office, he drummed his fingers on the desk. Where the hell was she? He’d left messages on her home phone and her cell. Stifling his immediate feeling of panic, he’d try to convey concern without appearing unduly alarmed. What he’d actually said was “Mac, what happened? Where did you go? Call me, please, and let me know what’s going on.”

What he meant was ‘What the HELL is going on with you? Get your ass home to me NOW!’ He was fairly certain that that particular message would not be received favorably. So he’d opted for the more civil message.

Actually, he’d called several times, but had only left one message on each. If he left numerous messages she’d only become defensive. She was probably going to be defensive as it was. Fortunately the Admiral had not inquired as to her whereabouts, so he hadn’t had to come up with an excuse for her absence.

Sighing heavily, he rubbed his hands over his face, then picked up the video cassette on his desk. It was the security tape of the robbery. A phone call to Bigelow, the police detective handling the case, had secured him a copy as well as the case file. The tape had basically followed Mac’s story. He should know, he’d watched at least 3 times in spite of the fact that no clues were on it.

Once again he sighed. Bigelow had been so quick to wrap the case up he hadn’t investigated thoroughly. Well, he didn’t blame the detective; in spite of the fact the man was an ass. In this particular case, the bad guys were killed by one of the intended victims, an obvious case of self-defense.

The phone rang, making him jump. Praying it was Mac, he managed to sound professional, he hoped. “Commander Rabb.”

“Harm? It’s me, Mac.” As if he didn’t know.

Relief washed over him, and all thoughts of not appearing alarmed flew out the window. “Mac? Where the hell are you? Are you all right?” Her unexplained absence had conjured up all sorts of images, from her taking a drink to a horrible car accident. “I’ve been going crazy!”

She sounded so apologetic, so unlike her feisty marine self that he became even more worried. “I’m okay. I’m sorry; I shouldn’t have run out like that…”

He cut her off impatiently. “Just tell me where you are.” He fully intended to go get her and force her to talk to him. This-whatever this was-had gone on long enough.

“Well, umm…” Embarrassed, she stuttered a little. “A…actually, I’m in Hanging Rock, WV.”

“Where?” What in hell was she doing there? And where was it?

“Hanging Rock, WV.” Giving a short laugh, she continued. “I…um…well…I needed to clear my head, but I just didn’t realize how far I was driving. Or how long it had been.”

There was a short silence as he tried to process the information. “You mean you just drove around for 3 hours? To West Virginia?” Try as he might, he couldn’t help sounding incredulous.

“Yeah, I’m sorry about that.” Now that was better. Impatience had crept into her tone.

But even though she sounded more like herself, he still couldn’t let go of his worry. “Mac, what is going on?”

“Nothing is going on. I just needed to get out for a minute.” Now the defensive attitude he’d been fearing appeared.

Still, he couldn’t seem to stop the words from coming out. “Nothing? Come on Mac, you disappeared in the middle of an interview! An interview you were conducting, I might add. Now something is going on with you, and I want to know what it is.” His attempt to keep the frustration out of his voice failed miserably.

“It’s nothing I can’t handle, okay? It all just got to me, but I’m over it.” Her anger only seemed to fuel his. She could be so damn unreasonable!

“Over it? Over what? For God’s sake, Mac, talk to me!” Frustration made him harsher than he meant to appear.

“I just got upset! I’m sorry I ran out on you, but I’m fine. Now can we drop this please?”

Silently he counted to ten and returned to a more professional level. “We can drop it for now, but I need a better explanation than that, and you know it. Your problems are starting to affect our case.” Crap that was the wrong thing to say, even if it was the truth. Pissing her off more would solve nothing.

“My problems? Her voice rose in anger. “Because one time, when interviewing a witness I get upset? You can’t understand that?” Then her voice dropped dangerously low. “I think there has been a time or two that you have failed that test, Commander.”

He caved, despising himself for not being tougher, for not battling this out. “I know. I’m sorry, Mac, I just…well…I’m worried about you, okay?” He could hear her take a breath, and held his own, hoping he had averted the storm.

“I know. But I promise I’m okay now, and it won’t happen again. I’ll be back at work tomorrow morning on time.” Damn, she sounded drained now.

“Mac, why don’t you just come to my place tonight?” Maybe he could get her to talk to him, calm her down. “I’ll fix you something to eat.”

Tearful now, she answered him. “I can’t, Harm. I’m exhausted. I appreciate it, but I need to go home and just crawl into bed.”

“Are you okay to drive? Because I can come and get you…” Even as he offered this, he knew she would refuse. God damn all independent women everywhere. Why couldn’t she just accept help? Why couldn’t she just TALK to him?

“By the time you got here and drove me home it would be close to midnight. I’m just going to home and I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?” She was practically pleading with him to let it go.

“Okay, but call me when you get home so I know you made it safely.” He cut off her automatic protest, anticipating the ‘I’m a marine speech’. “Just humor me. I’ll sleep better knowing you’re home.”

“Ok.”

“Talk to you in a little while”.

“Bye, Harm.”

He hung up the phone; mentally counting the number of times she said she was sorry. She never said she was sorry. And the whole thing with the interview, leaving in the middle of it, the tears…He was more convinced and more afraid that his suspicion was right. Mac just hadn’t been herself since the night of the attempted robbery. There had to be more there.

He put the tape in his VCR, sat back down, and pushed play. He’d already viewed it more than once, but watched it again, trying to get a clue as to what happened out of sight of the camera.

The tape followed Mac’s statement exactly. Mac entered the store, Little AJ on her hip. She poured herself a cup of coffee and stood by the unattended counter, presumably waiting for the cashier. Two men entered, one pulling a gun on Mac, who immediately turned so that Little AJ was away from the weapon. She put up no fight.

The cashier came out of a door, and the second man accosted her with a gun, forcing her to the cash register. Neither woman argued or struggled. Mac stood passively holding Little AJ while the cashier fumbled around emptying the cash register. It was then the men’s behavior changed from threatening to sexually aggressive.

The two men exchanged leers, looking both Mac and the girl over with disgusting expressions of lust. The one man behind the counter with the cashier fondled her, finally drawing a reaction from Mac. A reaction that was quickly put down by the second man holding a gun on her. A few moments later the two men pushed Mac and the girl towards the back, disappearing out of the eye of the camera.

Harm pushed fast forward, knowing there was nothing more except Mac, Little AJ, and the girl coming back without the men, using the phone, and then waiting for the police.

It was then that it hit him. He rewound the tape to the point where the group went to the back and checked the time at the bottom of the tape. Then he fast-forwarded again to the point where Mac, Little AJ, and the girl came out into the store and checked the time at the bottom of the tape. One hour and forty-six minutes had elapsed. The sick knot in his stomach twisted more. Oh God. He shut off the tape.

Quickly he pulled out Mac’s statement to the police, scanning quickly. Estimating time in his head, he quickly calculated how much time they should have been back there. Fifteen minutes, tops, for Mac to convince them to leave Casey alone. Another fifteen minutes for the attempted rape and shootings. Ten more minutes to calm Little AJ and Casey down. Ten more minutes just to be on the safe side. That’s a total of fifty minutes.

He put the report down, his hands shaking. Fifty minutes, a very generous estimate. There was no way it took almost 2 hours. Not unless Mac had left part of the story out. Oh God, he wanted to vomit.

 

 

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