1500 Hours ZULU
Harm frowned as he noticed the unfamiliar vehicle parked outside of the hangar. Heading toward the building, he entered through a side door, pausing as he heard a man's voice.
"Are you going to be able to pay this, Miss Grace?"
"Not right now," Mattie said, and Harm heard the carefully hidden fear in her voice. "Things have been a little slow. Not many crops to dust."
"I've waited longer than I should have. The loan's come due. I can't keep ignoring it. If I could talk to your father -"
"I've already told you, he's out of town for a few days," Mattie began as Harm appeared in the office doorway.
"Is something wrong here?" he asked, and saw Mattie's mixed look of relief and concern as she attempted to hide a piece of paper that was in her hands.
"Who are you?" the man asked.
"Harmon Rabb. I'm a friend of Mattie's and I'm going to be her guardian. And you are?"
"Ron Davisson," he said, handing Harm a business card that revealed he worked for a bank. "Grace Aviation took out a loan last year and the payments haven't been made. I was just telling Miss Grace that I can't wait any longer to get this cleared up. Beginning next week, everything in this hangar belonging to the company will go under auction to pay the loan. I'll be in touch, Miss Grace. Have your father call me when you talk to him." Davission nodded at Harm and moved past him, leaving the office and the hangar.
Harm held out his hand. "Let me see that." Mattie sighed deeply as she handed the paper over. "Why didn't you tell me about this before?" he asked after reading over the standard legal boilerplate.
"I didn't want to involve you in my problems," Mattie explained. "I thought I could get some of my clients to pay what they owed and clear the loan, but no one wanted to pay me without talking to my dad, and -"
Harm gently turned her to face him. "Mattie, don't keep things from me. If we're going to be a family, we need to be able to be honest with each other about things like this. And open. We'll handle this. I can't promise to save Grace Aviation, but we'll try."
He wasn't surprised when she put her arms around him and gave him a hug. "Thank you. I'm sorry I didn't tell you what was going on -"
"I understand. But in the future, no secrets, hmm?"
"Okay," she agreed, looking up at him as she moved away. "I wasn't expecting to see you today. You said when you called the other day that you'd be out of town for awhile this time."
"Things went a bit more smoothly than I thought they would," he told her. "When I got home, *this* was waiting for me." He took an envelope out of his pocket and held it out.
"What's this?" she asked, taking it from him.
"We have a court date. Christmas Eve."
"That's a month."
"I know. We also have to go through all of the visitations and inspections before then. And I got word that my offer was accepted on the house, as well."
Mattie's eyes widened. "Cool!"
The house wasn't far from the Roberts, so Mattie wouldn't have a problem with school whenever he was gone. Of course, that all depended on whether the court agreed that he would be a good guardian for Mattie. "The Guardian Ad Litem wants to set up a meeting next week. And they want a home visit to inspect the house shortly thereafter."
"Sounds like we have a lot of work to do."
"Have you talked to Mac yet?" she asked.
"No. I haven't had a chance." He was being honest. The day after Webb's visit, he had been called out of town on a mission - and had been gone more than he'd been home for the week since. But he could tell that Mattie didn't believe him. "Really. I said I'd call her and ask her give me a reference, and I will. It'll be easier now that I have a date. I need to call Bud and Harriet as well and let them know."
"Harriet called me yesterday to see how I was doing," she said.
"She did? Why don't we go find something for dinner and you can tell me what she said."
Falls Church, VA
Harm took a deep breath as he felt the elevator stop and waited for the doors to open. It was strange coming here again - out of uniform, wearing a visitor's badge instead of his ID.
He didn't recognize anyone at first - until Bud came out of his office and saw him. "Commander!"
"Harm, Bud," he said, shaking Bud's hand as several other people in the bullpen noticed him. "You have a few minutes? I need to discuss something with you." He noticed that Jen Coates had come out of her office and was smiling at him. He returned the smile as he turned toward Bud's office. He quickly filled Bud in on the date of the hearing and that the house was his. "I think the court will probably want to talk to you and Harriet as well, since you've agreed to keep an eye on Mattie whenever I'm gone."
"I really wish you'd consider coming back to JAG, Harm," Bud sighed. "It would be so much easier if you did."
"I'd still be traveling, Bud. And there would be the possibility that the Admiral would transfer me to Greenland or such on a whim."
"I don't think he'd do that," Bud told him.
"He came to see me a while back," Harm confirmed. "Told me that he could arrange for me to return if that's what I wanted."
"But it's not."
"Not right now." He stood up and glanced through the blinds into the bullpen, seeing Mac and Sturgis come from the direction of the courtrooms en route to their offices. Mac looked tired, he thought, and wondered momentarily if she was sleeping well. He knew that she'd once told him that she didn't sleep much. Ironically, that had been when they had believed Webb had been killed by Palmer.
"Are you going to ask the Colonel to give you a reference?"
"I told Mattie that I would. But I'm not sure that the office is the place to do it. I'll call her later." The telephone rang, and Bud winced. "I'll see you later, Bud. I have some things to do before we can start moving my things into the new house. Tell Harriet that I'm grateful that she's been calling Mattie whenever I've been away."
"She likes Mattie. We both do. Talk to you later," he said, picking up the phone at last.
Harm nodded and left the office, knowing that he needed to talk to Jen, but also aware that in order to get to her office, he'd have to pass by Mac's - and risk the Admiral coming out as well. Jen looked up from her desk and saw him, and Harm decided to take the risk. Jen was, to him, an older version of Mattie. But then, so was Mac in some ways.
Jen met him at the door of her office and gave him a quick hug. "I'm so glad to see you. Lt. Roberts told me that you'd been over to see them and that you're going to try to get guardianship of a teenage girl."
"Yeah. Mattie. But how are you doing?"
"Okay, I guess. Having roommate problems, but I'll manage. I always do. You look rested and happy. I guess that means you're not here to tell the Admiral that you're coming back to the Navy."
"No. I had to talk to Bud about something."
"Oh. Everyone here misses having you around. It's not the same."
"Change is part of military life, Jen," he pointed out as the door into the Admiral's office opened and AJ Chegwidden appeared, a file in his hand.
"Coates, this is the wrong file -" he stopped upon seeing Harm standing beside the Petty Officer's desk. "Rabb. This is a surprise."
"Just dropped in to talk to Bud and thought I'd say hello to Jen," Harm explained, wondering why he felt the need to do so. It was a free country, and he didn't owe AJ any explanations for his actions.
"You had a chance to think about what we discussed?" AJ asked.
"I've been a little busy. If you need an answer right now, it would be no."
AJ's jaw tightened, but he nodded. "Well, the offer's still on the table for awhile." To Jen, he said, "I need the Nichols file, Coates. Not the Mitchell file."
"Oh. I'm sorry, Admiral. I'll bring it right in."
"It was good seeing you, Harm. When you decide that you're still a lawyer, you know where to find me."
Harm didn't answer as the door closed again. To Jen, he said, "I'll let you go get that file. I'll be having a housewarming soon. Keep your schedule open. I'd like you to meet Mattie. I think you and she might have a few things in common."
"I'll look forward to it," she told him, walking out of the office with him - and coming face to face with Mac and Sturgis.
"Hello, buddy," Sturgis said, extending his hand. "Long time."
"Yeah," Harm agreed, trying not to look at Mac. What was it about this woman that made his brain turn into mush and make it impossible for him to string words together coherently? "Mac," he said, finally giving up.
At that moment, Harm's cell phone rang, and he grimaced in their direction as he opened it. "Excuse me." Into the phone, he said, "Rabb."
"Hey, Harm, you busy?" Beth asked. "I have a favor to ask."
"A favor for one of my favorite ladies?" he asked, laughing softly. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Mac turn back toward her office. "You know I never refuse."
"You might this time. Could you come over this evening? Lucy's sister is in town, and she's determined to play match maker -"
"Beth, I don't think -"
"She just wants to even the numbers for dinner. And introduce the two of you. Just a couple of hours and then you can leave and forget all about her."
"What if I already had plans with Mattie for the evening?" he asked, watching Mac through the blinds of her office.
"No, but I did have some tentative plans for dinner with someone else, but I haven't had the chance to ask yet. Can I get back to you?"
"Where are you?" she wanted to know, and Harm knew that he was busted.
"JAG. I needed to talk to Bud Roberts about Mattie's hearing."
"Is that who you're going to ask out?"
"Beth, remember ages ago when you said that I'd know if it was over?"
"I'm still not sure, and I need to find out. Tell you what, why don't you call Keeter? I'm sure he'd love to meet Lucy's sister."
"That was Plan B," Beth admitted. "Good luck."
"Thanks. I think I might need it." He hung up the phone and took a deep breath when he turned toward Sturgis. "Sorry about that."
"No problem. We need to meet and talk, Harm. Catch up."
"We will, Sturgis. But things are a little hectic right now. I'll call you."
"Sure." He glanced toward Mac's office. "If it matters, I overheard her talking to Webb on the phone this morning. He was leaving."
"Thanks. Guess I'll go try to break the ice."
"Hope you have your parka handy. That ice has been pretty thick lately."
Harm chuckled as he crossed to Mac's closed office door and knocked twice on the frame, waiting for her to look up and acknowledge him. When she finally did, he opened the door and stuck his head in. "I don't have a cover to toss in first - is it safe?"
"Sure. Come in," she said. "You're looking well," she told him when he was in the office.
"Thanks. I'm getting more rest now than I was when I first started with the Company. Took awhile to get used to the routine."
"I guess being able to sleep anywhere is a help, isn't it?"
"Yeah," he confirmed, sitting down in one of the chairs in front of her desk. "Uh, Mac, I was - wondering if - well, if you don't have plans for dinner this evening, maybe, you'd be willing to risk some of my veggie lasagna? Maybe finally have that talk?"
"Okay. But I'll take care of dinner," she said. "My place."
"I *do* cook, you know. I just don't do it very often."
"I guess you and Webb go out a lot," Harm said, and bit his tongue. "Sorry. I shouldn't have -"
"No, you're right. We do. He left this morning on an assignment. How about nineteen hundred?" she suggested.
"I'll be there," he told her.
1330 Hours ZULU
Mac opened the door, obviously surprised to see him. "You're early. Is this the Company's influence?" she wanted to know, stepping back to let him into the apartment.
"You might not want to let me in when I tell you that I'm here early because I got a call a little while ago. I have to cancel dinner," he explained apologetically, and immediately saw her expression change, moving from disappointment to frustration and back to disappointment.
"Oh. I don't suppose you can tell me where you're going?"
"I won't know til I get there and hear the briefing," he said. "Maybe we can reschedule? I really did want to talk to you about something."
"Sure. When you get back into town, call me. Just be careful."
Harm stood there, knowing that he should leave. Blaisdell was going to be screaming as it was since he'd detoured by here on his way to the field. "Always," he said. "You're not angry?"
"Disappointed," she told him. "But I'm used to it. Clay's forever canceling dates because of work."
"Believe me, Mac, if I didn't have to go -"
"I know. I just - let myself hope for a moment. I guess I was being silly."
He reached out to touch her face for a moment. "No. You weren't. My future plans depend on what I want to talk to you about."
"They do?" she questioned.
"Yeah. I'm planning on -" he was interrupted by his cell phone. "Hello?" He winced at Blaisdell's angry voice. "I'm on my way. Just had a quick stop to make . . . Give me twenty minutes . . . Yes, sir." He hung up, but the moment was broken. "I have to go. Do me a favor - talk to Harriet. She can explain everything." He had called both Mattie and the Roberts on his way here, asking his friends to keep an eye on Mattie for him.
"Harriet?" Mac questioned, looking confused. "She knows -"
"She's an important part of it." He would have leaned forward again, but this time it was Mac's phone that interrupted, and he watched her answer it.
"Hello? . . . Clay. This is a surprise . . . Of course it's a pleasant one . . . I just -"
Harm turned to leave, tearing his gaze away from Mac's, but she grabbed his arm to stop him.
"Can you hold on for a moment, Clay?" she asked, and then covered the mouthpiece as she said, "I mean it, Harm. Please be careful. I worry about you flying. I mean, I know you're good, but I can't help it."
"I know. Give Webb my regards." He turned and left the apartment, closing the door behind him.
It was going to be a long mission.
Longer than he realized. The drug plane that he was dropped into Columbia to retrieve developed an engine problem on the return flight - mostly due to the bullets that were flying when he took off. Flying over a definitely inhospitable landscape, Harm looked at the warning lights with growing dread.
"I'm not going to be able to get this thing to the field," he announced over the radio to Blaisdell. "I'll hold onto her as long as I can, keep her away from population centers."
"There's an abandoned airport about five minutes due north of your current location," Blaisdell told Harm. "Not sure what shape the runway is in -"
"Doesn't matter," Harm said, gritting his teeth as he struggled to keep the aircraft in the air. "The hydraulics are out - no way to lower the gear in this thing."
"How long can you keep her up?" Blaisdell asked.
"Not much longer. She's dropping like a rock."
"Give us your current location and then jump, Rabb," Blaisdell said. "Forget the plane."
"I'm not going to risk endangering civilians on the ground, Boss," Harm insisted. I'll make sure I have the hand held transceiver with me when I do jump. Keep an eye on the emergency frequencies for a signal. We'll arrange a pick up point."
He heard the resignation in Blaisdell's voice when the other man came back to him. "Godspeed, Harm. Good luck."
Harm closed the microphone and began looking for the field that Blaisdell had talked about. But he couldn't find it in the thick jungle growth beneath him. A lake was the largest open area, and Harm reluctantly made his decision.
Aiming the aircraft toward the lake, he checked his parachute, grabbed the survival kit and transceiver before opening the emergency exit in the fuselage. He waited as long as he dared, hoping that anyone watching wouldn't see the chute - and therefore wouldn't come after him.
When he finally jumped, he tried to aim for a smaller clearing, but the wind caused him to drift away from it and into the dense growth around it.
As he gently dropped into the treetops, Harm hoped that he'd gotten lucky and things had gone right. But then his unprotected head impacted with a tree branch, and everything went dark . . .
When he finally opened his eyes it was to find himself hanging from his rigging that had caught in a tree - with several rough looking, angry men pointing rifles at him. He had a moment of déjà vu, his mind going back to Russia after he and Mac had punched out of that MiG. His head felt like it was about to split open, and he thought that his left leg might be injured. He couldn't move it. "Hola," he said to the men, somehow aware that they weren't friendlies.
One of them grabbed his legs as Harm felt movement above him through the risers. Trying to look up, Harm groaned as the movement sent a wave of nausea through his body. Whoever was above him freed the silk and Harm fell to the ground, supported with some roughness by the men who had found him. They were speaking the local dialect, and Harm, who could usually understand enough Spanish to get by, managed to glean that they were working for a local drug lord - probably the same one who's plane he'd stolen.
When one of them jerked him roughly to his feet, Harm realized that his left leg wouldn't support his weight and he went back down with a muffled groan of pain. It was broken. And his ribs felt like at least one or two might be broken as well, which made the fact that one of the men tossed him over his shoulder like a sack of flour extremely painful, and caused Harm to lose consciousness again . . .
Harm opened his eyes and lifted his head, only to wince and close his eyes again as another wave of nausea rolled. Concussions were hell. His father had always said he had a hard head, but there came a point when that wasn't enough anymore.
He heard movement in the room and cautiously looked up again to see a rough featured man with pockmarked skin sneering at him from across the room, a rifle in his hands. Memory of his capture returned and Harm realized that he was sitting in a wooden chair, his hands tied to each side. His ribs still hurt like hell, and his left leg was throbbing inside of the makeshift splint that he vaguely recalled someone placing on it earlier.
A moment later, a door opened and a more familiar face appeared. Alejandro Ortega del Mar was a small man, not very imposing upon first meeting. But his lack of physical stature was dwarfed by his self-assured air - and the three armed-guards who accompanied him everywhere. Harm remembered Gunny joking that reports claimed that they even slept in the same room - probably in the same bed.
He came to a stop before the chair in which Harm was sitting. "So. You are awake at last, senor."
"Either that or I'm having a nightmare," Harm replied.
"Oh, believe me, Senor, you will think this worse than any nightmare you have ever had if you do not answer my questions honestly. We will begin with your name. You had no identification with you when my men found you hanging from the trees by your parachute."
"John Smith," Harm replied evenly, meeting Ortega del Mar's dark, soulless eyes.
The man's mouth curled into a sneer and he nodded toward one of his guards who had moved around behind Harm. Something pressed against the back of his neck and Harm felt a burning jolt of electricity course through his body, causing him to jerk uncontrollably for a moment. The stun gun - if that's what it was - was withdrawn immediately, but Harm knew it was close by.
Once Harm had somewhat recovered from the effects of the charge, his captor spoke again. "Now. Why don't we start with something else? Hmm?" Ortega del Mar suggested in a soft voice. "You are an American, is that correct?"
"I was born there, yes," Harm confirmed.
"Why are you here in Columbia?"
"What kind of business?" he asked. "For the CIA, perhaps?"
Harm managed a mirthless snort. "Not likely. I'm not a spy. If I were, I wouldn't here right now. I'd have taken that little pill they give their agents and spared myself this. Or gone down with that plane."
"Ah, yes. The plane. Why did you steal my aircraft, Senor - Smith?"
Harm shrugged. "You missed a payment. I was repossessing it." He was ready for the shock this time, but it still caused every muscle in his body to contract painfully, and this time the effect lasted longer. When he finally recovered enough to be able to breath, Harm gasped for air.
"Wrong answer, Senor Smith," Ortega del Mar declared. "Shall we try again?" the guard pulled Harm's head up as his employer spoke again. "Why did you steal my airplane with a half a million American dollars worth of my product on it?"
"Listen, if you're going to kill me, you might as well do it now. Because I'm not going to answer your questions."
Ortega del Mar leaned so close that Harm could feel the man's hot, cigar-scented breath against his face. "Oh, I *do* plan to kill you, Senor. But not quickly. You see, I take it very seriously when someone steals from me. You cost me a great deal of money when you stole that aircraft. I intend to take every dollar that I lost out of your skin, so to speak. Before I am done with you, you will *beg* me to kill you."
Out of the corner of his eye, Harm saw the man extend his hand in a silent request, and then felt the electric shock again. Only this time, it didn't stop quickly - and Harm gave in to the darkness that closed around him . . .
1600 Hours ZULU
Falls Church, VA
Mac glanced through the blinds of her office to see three people crossing the bullpen toward Bud's office. All of them were people she knew - and the expressions on her face sent a chill down her spine. She'd had some nightmares during the previous night - but she had put them down to echoes of her time in Paraguay, listening to Clay as he was tortured by Saddiq Faad. Only in her dreams, it hadn't been Clay who was screaming.
It had been Harm.
Now, she left her office and moved toward Bud's doorway as she heard him ask the trio, "There's been no contact since?"
"None," Gunny answered.
"And it's been twelve hours since his last call," Keeter added.
"We thought you should be the one to talk to Mattie," Andy Watson said.
"Something's happened to Harm, hasn't it?" Mac asked, causing them to turn and look at her. She saw the dislike on Beth O'Neil's face as the woman answered.
"Do you care, Colonel?" she asked.
"That's not fair, Beth," Keeter said before looking at Mac. "Yes. He was in South America and something went wrong."
"What are you doing about it?" Mac wanted to know.
"We're trying to convince our boss and the Deputy Director to let us make a rescue attempt, but so far, it's been a no-go, ma'am," Victor told her.
"I need to call Harriet," Bud decided. "And then we have to get out to Blacksburg to talk to Mattie. I don't know what we're going to tell her."
"That he's missing," Mac declared. "And that we'll find him."
"We?" Beth questioned archly.
"I have some connections within the CIA," Mac reminded her. "I'll contact them and then get back to you. I'll need a number."
"I have one, ma'am," Bud informed her. As Mac turned to leave, Bud asked, "Where are you going, ma'am?"
"To see the Admiral."
"I'll come with you," Bud offered.
"We all will," Keeter decided, and Mac glanced at him, aware that he was testing her somehow.
"Then let's go," she told them, leading them through the bullpen and into Coates' office.
The Petty Officer looked uncertainly at the five people who entered. "Can I help you, ma'am?" she asked.
"We need to see the Admiral, Coates," Mac said in a firm tone. "Now."
Apparently Coates sensed the urgency in her tone, because she picked up the phone and pressed the intercom button. "Col. Mackenzie and Lt. Roberts would like to see you, sir."
Mac heard him ask, "Can it wait, Coates?"
"I don't think it can, Admiral," she replied, catching sight of Bud's worried expression.
"Send them in."
"He said to go right in, ma'am," Coates informed her. "Ma'am -" she began as Mac started to open the door into the office, and Mac paused. "Something's happened to the Commander, hasn't it?"
"I'll explain later, Jen," Mac promised and then continued into the office, coming to attention before the Admiral's desk along with Bud.
She could tell that he was surprised to see the three people with her. "Gunny."
"Hello, Admiral," Victor said, nodding sharply.
"As you were," he told Mac and Bud, who went to at ease. His hawk-like gaze turned toward the other three. "And you are?"
"This is Beth O'Neil, Andy Watson and Jack Keeter, sir," Mac answered. "They all work with Harm."
"What's the meaning of this, Colonel?" he asked.
"Harm's missing, sir," she told him bluntly, watching for his reaction. She *thought* she saw him pale slightly.
"He was on a mission in South America, Admiral," Keeter informed him. "The plane he was flying out was shot down and there's been no word from him for twelve hours."
"And you came here because -?"
"To let me know, Admiral," Bud explained. "Harriet and I have agreed to help Harm take care of Mattie whenever he's out of town. They thought she should hear the news from us."
"I see. And you're here in this office - why?"
"I have some leave time accumulated. I'd like to request -"
"Request denied," he answered before she could finish.
"Admiral -" Mac began, but he rose from his chair and came around the desk.
"Request denied," he said again, still speaking in a soft tone that she knew well. "We're short handed around here as it is. I can't spare you."
"Then I quit," she heard herself say, and saw a flash of something cross AJ Chegwidden's face, as if he might be reliving another, similar moment.
"You're not serious," he said in a quiet tone that signaled how angry he was.
"Colonel!" Bud said, obviously surprised by this turn of events.
"Admiral, the only reason that Harm is down there is because he gave up his career to save me when you wouldn't let him go any other way. I'm not going to stand by and not try to find out what happened to him. Are you really willing to let him go without a fight?"
AJ's nostrils flared as he took a deep breath. Finally he turned away and moved to the windows. "I'd like to speak with Col. Mackenzie alone for a moment," he announced without looking back at them.
Mac nodded at Bud, who went back to attention before leading the others out of the office. Once the door closed behind them, Mac stood waiting for the Admiral to speak. After ninety seconds had gone by, he finally spoke.
"You've never asked my why I refused to let him go down there, Mac."
"You don't owe me an explanation, sir."
"Then I owe one to myself," he said. "There was a time not too many years ago when I'd have gone down there with Harm to find the two of you. To uphold the SEAL code of not leaving a man behind."
"So why didn't you?"
"I don't know. After everything that had happened - Lindsey's hatchet job on this office - Harm's being arrested for Singer's murder - I didn't think that this office could risk losing two of its top attorneys. I couldn't see myself convincing the SecNav that it was necessary."
"Politics," Mac nodded.
"I've never played the game - I guess I wasn't very good at it."
"Good enough to cut Harm loose and leave him no real option but to go to the CIA for work," Mac pointed out.
"That was Harm's decision. He could have refused the offer, gone into the private sector as a lawyer - or even as a pilot."
"He wanted to continue to serve his country. Something that he's done all of his adult life."
"Are you sure you know what you're doing, Mac?" he asked. "If you're doing this out of guilt -"
"It's not guilt, sir," she told him. "And it's not gratitude for what he did last spring. I have to do this, Admiral. I can't leave him there anymore than he could leave me. Not when I know what he might be going through."
Those dark eyes fixed on her again, boring into her. "What do you mean?"
"I had some - nightmares," she confided. "Last night. I thought it was something to do with what happened in Paraguay, but it wasn't Clay's screams that I was hearing. It was Harm's."
"What about Webb? Where does he fit into this?"
"I'm not sure he does anymore, Admiral," Mac answered truthfully.
AJ took another deep breath. "You have a week. Do what you have to do."
Realizing that she'd won him over - appealed to his own guilt, perhaps - Mac went to attention. "Thank you, sir." She turned to leave, but stopped as he spoke again.
"Yes sir?" she asked, looking at him as he turned to look at her.
"Bring him home. And this time, get it right."
"I'll do my best, Admiral."
Mac could tell that Clay was surprised when she entered his office unannounced. He had returned home early this morning, but by the time he'd gotten a chance to call her, she had already left for work, and they had made plans to meet for dinner that evening.
"Sarah," he said, standing up and coming around the desk to greet her with a kiss that landed on her cheek as she turned her head. "This is a surprise," he continued as if nothing was wrong. "You're a little early for dinner, but I don't mind - Were you in the neighborhood?"
"Not exactly, Clay," she told him, holding herself back until he released her. "When were you going to tell me that Harm is missing?" Seeing his quickly hidden reaction to her words, she got confirmation that he was aware of what had happened.
"Sarah, there's nothing you can do."
"Like hell there is. He's down there because of me, Clay. Because he came after us in Paraguay and saved our lives. He gave up the Navy and got absolutely nothing in return for that sacrifice."
Clay placed his hands on her shoulders. "It wasn't your fault, Sarah. Harm knew the score going in. That if he were lost or captured, he'd have to pay the price."
"Well, the price is too high," she insisted. "I'm not going to stand around and let him die if I can help it. The Admiral's given me a week's leave to go with Keeter, Beth and Gunny to try and find him and bring him home."
"Kershaw won't approve it -"
"He will if you go to him and ask him to," she pointed out.
"Sarah, I can't do that."
"I don't need his permission to go. And I'll go alone if I have to. Clay, he saved your *life*," she reminded him.
"Don't you think I know that? Dammit, Sarah, I think about that a lot." He took a deep breath and ran a shaking hand through his hair - a sign that he was very upset. "You're not responsible for Harm being down there, Sarah."
"We've been over this, Clay -"
He lifted his hand to forestall any further words. "Because it's my fault."
"Your - fault?" Mac repeated in a confused tone. "How?"
"You asked why I wanted you with me on that mission in Paraguay. What I told you was part of the truth. But I also knew that if things went sour, I'd need some kind of back up. I knew that Harm would never leave you down there if he suspected something was wrong. And I was right. I just never expected the Admiral to refuse to let him go to do it."
Mac stood there, staring at him. "You son of a bitch. You used me."
"Sarah, no," Clay said, reaching out toward her, but she shrugged him off. "Maybe at first, but later - after we'd spent time together -"
Mac's palm itched, wanting to connect with his cheek. But she had a feeling that she might do a lot of damage if she gave in to that impulse. So she curled her fingers into her palm instead, tightening them almost painfully. "You used both of us. Played on what we feel for each other to complete your mission. Was it ever more than just the mission, Clay?" she wanted to know.
"Yes. But the mission had to come first. It's my job, Sarah. It's what I do. And it's what Harm does now."
"Not for long if I find him. Because I'm going to convince him to give it up and go back to JAG."
"Sarah, he's missing. Finding him would almost impossible."
"As impossible as it was for him to find us?" she countered.
"He had Gunny to help him. That's why I told Gunny that if things went wrong, he was to return to Ciudad del Este and wait for help. I knew that once Harm got down there, they'd hook up and Gunny would get him to where he'd last seen us."
"And I have four people who have worked closely with Harm for the last few months, experienced CIA operatives, all. People who actually *care* what happens to him."
"Sarah, I don't want you to go down there."
Mac stood there, her mouth hanging open upon hearing his words and the tone in which he had delivered them. "That sounded like an order, Clay," she told him at last.
"It wasn't an order. I just don't want you going down there and ending up being hurt again."
"The only thing that will hurt me is *not* going. Never knowing what happened to him if - if the worst *has* happened. But I don't think it has. Harm's got too much going for him to give up on life so easily."
"If he's alive, Sarah, he'll find a way to contact us. A way out of danger -"
"And if he's been captured? And tortured? What then? Beth O'Neil told me about the drug lord whose plane Harm went down there to steal. He has a reputation for playing hardball. Especially with CIA agents."
"He's already killed three of them," Clay confirmed quietly. "I have one question, Sarah. Why are you really so anxious to find him? If you can answer me honestly, I'll do whatever I can to help."
"Because I can't live without him," Mac said in a surprisingly shaky voice.
Clay stood there for a moment, looking at her, his eyes searching her face. Evidently he saw what he was looking for, because he moved to pick up the phone. "Laurie June, get me the Deputy Director's office, please."
1730 Hours ZULU
CIA: AirWing HQ
Beth, Keeter, Andy and Victor all looked up from the map board when they heard footsteps entering the hangar. Seeing Mac approaching, Victor asked, "Well ma'am?"
"We're in," she told them. "Full cooperation by Deputy Director Kershaw. He should be talking to *your* boss right now." As the others glanced toward an office toward the rear of the hangar, Mac studied the map. "Is this where Harm went down?" she asked.
"His last known position was right here," Keeter said, pointing to a red "X" on the map. Blaisdell suggested that he use this old airfield, but satellite photos -" he indicated a board nearby with various satellite photos graphs pinned to it, "don't show any sign of the aircraft he was flying on the ground. We *think* -" he showed her another photo. "That the plane went down into this lake instead."
"And Harm?" Mac questioned, trying to remain calm.
"There might be a chute about here in this one," Andy Watson said, pointing out the small blur. "We need it to be blown up and enhanced, but without Agency cooperation -"
"Which we now have," Alan Blaisdell said, joining them with a nod in Mac's direction. "Col. Mackenzie, I take it?"
"Alan Blaisdell," he said shortly. "You have some connections with the Company, ma'am. I'm impressed."
"I don't want to impress you, Mr. Blaisdell. I just want to find Harm. When do we leave?"
"I'm not sure that I can sanction your accompanying the others, Colonel," Blaisdell informed her. "You're not trained -"
"I've done work for the CIA before, Blaisdell. The last time less than a year ago. I'm going."
"Okay," he relented, glancing around at the others. "Take the C-130 and whatever else you need. I want you off the ground and headed south in ten. I'll be flying cap and communications in a Hawkeye. Good luck. And bring him back."
1800 Hours ZULU
CIA: AirWing HQ
"Beth doesn't like me much, does she?" Mac asked Victor as they and Andy Watson sat on the floor of the C-130. Beth and Keeter were in the cockpit.
"She considers Harm to be a friend, ma'am," Victor answered after glancing quickly at Andy. They were paired up when he first came to the Company a few months ago and I think he told her a little about what went on down in Paraguay."
Mac couldn't quite meet Victor's knowing eyes. He'd been there as a witness to so much of what happened between herself and Harm - even to seeing how she acted with Clay. "He used us, Gunny," she said. "Clayton Webb knew that Harm would come down there to rescue us if things went badly."
"Harm was his back up plan?"
"Apparently so. He knew that the Company wouldn't provide one - so he created his own. I can't believe that I thought it was anything more than that."
"I guess that means you and Mr. Webb are no longer dating, ma'am?" Victor asked. "Sorry. That's none of my business."
"I'd like to hear the answer," Andy said. "Honestly, I never really understood how you could choose Webb over Harm in the first place."
"It's complicated," Mac told him. "A long history of misunderstandings and bad timing."
"Speaking of timing, ma'am," Victor said. "We'd better get some sack time before landing. I'm not sure how much sleep we'll get once we're there."
Mac nodded and leaned back against the bulkhead, letting the vibration of the engines lull her into a state somewhere between sleeping and waking, hoping that the nightmares wouldn't return.
"How is she?" Bud asked Harriet when she entered the living room after getting Mattie settled upstairs.
"Putting on a brave front," his wife said softly. "She's confident that he's still alive and that he'll be home before Christmas and the hearing."
Bud put his arms around her, seeing the tears in her eyes. "Then we'll just have to believe with her."
"Can you do that, Bud?" Harriet asked, looking at him. "Do you really believe that he's alive?"
"If it were anyone else, I'd say no. But I've never seen anyone as lucky as Harm."
"But everyone's luck runs out sometime," Harriet pointed out in a decidedly unusual moment of depression. "What if this is that time for him?"
"The Colonel was sure that he's okay. Or that he was last night anyway."
"I hope she's right. But if she's not, Bud, how would you feel if we were to petition the court for guardianship instead?"
"Become Mattie's legal guardians?"
"Why not? She needs a family, Bud. And she's a good kid. Just needs to be shown that there are people who care about her and who won't abandon her."
"We'll discuss it once we know something more definite." He held her for a moment. "I have to get back to the office. The Admiral gave me a couple of hours to tell Mattie and get things taken care of. With Col. Mackenzie gone, he can't spare me for the rest of the day."
"You'll call if you hear anything?"
"First thing," he promised. "Don't worry, Harriet. Harm'll be back. I know he will."
1000 Hours ZULU
Ortega del Mar Hacienda
Harm heard the door open, but kept his eyes closed. Maybe if they thought he was still unconscious after that last round, they would leave him alone awhile longer. His leg was throbbing, his chest was aching, and every muscle in his body felt as if it had been contracted for far too long. He'd be lucky to be able to move, much less answer any questions.
"Get up," the man said in thickly accented English, but Harm didn't move, concentrating on keeping his breathing at the same rhythm. When the man's booted foot connected with Harm's injured chest, he was unable to suppress a groan of pain. He was sure that he had a punctured lung from the ribs, and that hadn't helped any. "Get up!" the man ordered again, and this time Harm had no choice but to try and obey.
His movements were jerky, as if his muscles were refusing to cooperate. The lack of coordination caused him to fall against the man who had come to get him - and Harm made an abortive grab for the man's weapon - only to find himself flat on his back, the man standing over him about to bash him in the head with the butt of the rifle.
"Alto!" Ortega del Mar ordered, and the man stood back, glaring at Harm. Looking down at Harm, Ortega del Mar sighed deeply. "You are a stubborn man, Senor Smith." He turned to the guards that had entered with him, telling them to assist Harm to his feet. "Are you hungry?" he asked Harm. "You have been here for over a day without food or water. I am sure you must be famished."
"Not really," Harm lied. "I'd rather see a doctor. And talk to someone with the American Consulate."
"I will more than glad to agree to both requests - if you tell me your real name, and why you are here."
"My name is John Smith. I came down here to take a job that wasn't really here, and ran out of money. I found out about your plane and thought I could 'borrow' it to get back to civilization. Didn't count on it being full of coke and your men shooting it down." He managed a lopsided grin. "Seems to me that shooting it down cost you more than my attempted theft did."
"Ah, but if you had not stolen it, then there would have been no need for my men to shoot it down, would there?"
"You have a point," Harm agreed.
"Where was this job you speak of?" Ortega del Mar asked.
"Wasn't exactly - above board," Harm said. "Most people that hire me don't advertise. Got down here and found out that the gentleman that I was supposed to - take care of died the night before of a heart attack."
"You are trying to tell me that you are a - hired killer?"
"Not telling you anything, really. Just explaining why I was here and why I needed to get out of the country."
"Then why would you be willing to speak to someone from the American Consulate?"
"To get out of here, I'd be willing to talk to just about anyone. Even the prospect of spending the rest of my life in prison is better than this. At least I'd get medical attention."
Ortega del Mar looked thoughtful. "If you are telling me the truth, senor, there might be a way in which you could repay your debt to me."
Seeing a chance to possibly get some help and allow for an escape, Harm copied Clark Palmer's best sociopathic smirk as he asked. "What did you have in mind?"
To Be Continued----