Remote area of Afghanistan
The camp was Al Queda. Remote, not easily located. The entire compound was filled with barely leashed anticipation as plans were being finalized for the next attack on the Great Satan.
Inside a small hovel, three men huddled together, speaking in quiet voices so not to be overheard by the others outside. All of them were dressed as locals and looked the part, but at the moment, they spoke in English.
"We have to get this information out," one of them, the larger of the three, insisted.
"They're not going to let us out of the camp to do that," another said. "I knew we should have risked bringing that sat link here instead of hiding it in the caves."
"It was too risky," the third man reminded them. "If it had been found, our cover would have been blown."
The first man looked thoughtful. "One of us might have a chance to get out if the other two distract the guards on the east side of the camp."
"And if they find out that one of us is gone, the other two will be dead," the third man said.
"I think it's worth the risk," the first man said. "If we don't, then hundreds will die in this attack." As leader of the cell, he made a decision. "I'll stay behind. One of you can go to the sat link and send the message."
The other two men looked at each other before the third one declared, "You go Kalil. I'll stay here with Ramon and keep them busy."
Kalil nodded, understanding. "Remember the code," Ramon said. "Arrange for a pick up. We'll try to meet you at the rendezvous point, but if we're not there, get the intel to the Director."
"I will," Kalil promised.
"We'll wait until it's totally dark, then Don and I will go out and distract the Eastern guards. Once we've done that, you sneak past and get to where we hid the sat link."
Half an hour later, Kalil ducked past the guards who were discussing the planned attack, laughing about the blood they would shed and wondering which among them would be chosen to die for Allah.
Kalil found the sat link that had been carefully hidden away just inside of a cave two clicks from the camp just as he heard the sound of gunfire in the direction from which he'd just come.
Setting up the link, Kalil realized that his hands were shaking. "This is Rumplestilskin," he told the contact on the other end. "We need an immediate extraction. Humpty Dumpty is about to fall."
He heard the sound of a bolt being pulled and looked up to find one of Rashid al Kamal's men just a few feet away. Kalil rolled to the side as the man fired . . .
1000 Hours Local
Falls Church, VA
Harm glanced up from his desk and smiled at Bud when he knocked. "Excuse me, sir?"
"What is it, Bud?"
"I wanted to tell you that Miss LeMoyne, the guardian ad litem, came by to talk to us last night."
"How did it go?" Harm asked.
"I think it went okay. She seemed to be impressed by you, sir."
"Really? I wasn't sure I'd made the right impression when she met with Mac and me the other day."
"You care about Mattie. She understands that."
"I hope so."
"When is the home visit?" Bud asked.
"Wednesday afternoon," Harm replied with a tight smile.
"I'm sure they'll find everything in order. It's a big house."
"Needs some work."
"But it's livable," Bud pointed out. "And the work's mostly just cosmetic. Walls, floors."
"I hope they see it that way."
"Excuse me, Lieutenant," Jen Coates said as she appeared in the doorway, "There's a call for you."
"Thanks, Coates," Bud said. "I'll be right there." He turned back to Harm. "I just thought you'd want to know."
"Thanks," Harm nodded, sitting back as Bud left him to take his call. Returning to JAG hadn't been as difficult as he'd been afraid it would be. Sturgis had offered to vacate the office - declaring that it would be easier for Harm to get to the office in the bullpen while on crutches than to the converted file room office.
The cast had come off of his leg a week ago - earlier than expected-, and he'd been cleared by the flight surgeon just that morning for a return to flying - for either the Navy or his 'other job'. Technically, Harm was now attached to Naval Intelligence, but was TAD to JAG. That had removed the problem of Harm and Mac serving in the same command.
When his cell phone rang, Harm glanced at the caller ID, frowning when he saw 'Blocked" on the screen. "Rabb."
"Get down here ASAP, Rabb," Blaisdell barked. "We have a situation."
"I have to square it with the Admiral -" Harm began, but Blaisdell interrupted.
"Already taken care of. Pack for a few days."
Harm stared at the phone until he realized that there was someone standing in the doorway. Seeing the Admiral, Harm stood up out of habit. "Admiral."
"I'm going to guess that was Blaisdell on the phone just now?"
"Yes, sir. I'm sorry, Admiral -"
AJ shook his head. "Roberts is your second chair. He can take over as lead on the case. You go say goodbye to Mac and then get going so you can get back."
"Yes, sir," Harm agreed, moving toward his coat and cover.
"Harm -" AJ said, causing him to turn in the doorway. "Be careful."
"I'm sure it's just a simple milk run. I doubt Blaisdell would send me on anything major considering I've just come off medical leave."
"Just be careful," AJ said again.
Harm went to Mac's office and tapped on the doorframe. She smiled until she saw that he had his cover and coat in hand. "What's up?" she asked, standing up from the chair behind her desk as he entered the office.
"I just got a call. I have to go." He easily saw the concern on her face and reached out a hand toward her. "I'll call as soon as I can," he promised. "And I'll be back before you know it."
"What about the home visit?" Mac questioned.
"I don't think I'll be back for that. We were going to do it together - I'm sure the inspector will talk to you without me there. But I'll be here for the hearing on Christmas Eve," he assured her.
"That's only a week away. Don't make any promises you can't keep."
"I haven't yet," he replied, grinning.
"What should I tell Mattie?"
"That I love her and not to worry. Same thing I'm telling you," he said with a smile at the look of surprise in her eyes. "And that I'll call as often as I can when I can."
"I know the drill, Harm," Mac reminded him. "I went through it with Clay, remember?"
"His situation was different, Mac," Harm told her. "I'm just a pilot. Fly in and out. Most time I'm back in three days."
"You weren't the last time."
"That was an unusual circumstance." Touching her cheek, he glanced behind him to the bullpen. "Think it would raise too many eyebrows if I were to give you a goodbye kiss?"
"Who cares?" Mac said, leaning forward into his arms, sliding her hand behind his neck to pull him down into a kiss. "Come back soon, Flyboy," she whispered at last, and Harm could hear the tears held in check by sheer willpower.
"You'd better," she said with a half-laugh, "Or I'll kick your six."
Harm grinned again. "Might be worth it," he said, sighing as his cell phone rang again. Without even looking at the screen, he answered, "On my way, boss."
Mac watched him go with a worried look on her face. She'd been dreading Harm's return to work for the Company. While she hadn't been as involved with Clayton Webb as she might have been, a large part of the problems between them had stemmed from Clay's insistence upon returning to field duty as soon as possibly after their experience in Paraguay. She knew that Harm was right: his job was different. But he was flying, and that, combined with all of the things she knew could possibly go wrong working for the CIA, tended to give her nightmares and sleepless nights.
But so far, she'd managed to keep her fears to herself, not letting Harm know how much she had secretly been hoping that returning to the Navy would be enough for him - that he would decide that he didn't need to fly covert missions for Blaisdell. But one look into his eyes when he'd entered her office had shown her how wrong she was. He needed both - the Navy and the chance to fly, to make a difference again. To do what he'd trained to do for most of his life.
1030 Hours Local
Harm wasn't surprised to find Keeter and Beth's cars in the parking area, but he was surprised when he realized that the Gulfstream wasn't in the hangar. Just as he started across the large open expanse of floor toward Blaisdell's office, he heard the door from the 'ready room' open and Victor Galindez appeared.
"Hey, Gunny," he said with a wry grin. "Where are the others?"
"Keeter, Beth and Andy are on another assignment," Victor informed him. "You're looking good, Commander."
"It's still Harm, Victor," Harm insisted. "You know what's up?"
"A little," Victor began, nodding toward the closed door of Blaisdell's office. "He's not happy with it, though."
Knowing that their boss wasn't happy with something about the assignment set off warning bells in Harm's head. Beyond the door, he could hear voices, which meant Blaisdell wasn't alone. "Who's in there with him?"
"I am," Clayton Webb announced, opening the door. "Took you long enough to get here, Rabb."
Alan Blaisdell's round face revealed his dislike of the field agent as he nodded in Harm's direction. "You sure you're up to a mission, Harm?" he asked, his tone not as gruff as it usually was, almost as if he hoped that Harm would reply negatively.
"He was cleared by the Navy flight surgeon," Webb pointed out. "If he's healed enough to fly Tomcats, he can do this."
"What exactly *is* this, Webb?" Harm asked, leaning back against a desk, his arms crossed over his chest.
"It's a standard rendezvous and recovery op," Webb told him.
"How come I don't quite believe you?" Harm wondered aloud. Mac had told him about her 'talk' with the agent, about how he had used the feelings that he and Mac had during that mission to Paraguay to make sure he had back up without arranging for it. Harrison Kershaw had personally debriefed Harm after his last mission - even though it had been Webb's intel that he'd gone down there on to begin with. "Every time you're involved in a mission, it makes me nervous."
"I'll explain on the way," Webb told them. "You, me and Victor -" he moved toward the doors, but Harm didn't budge.
"I'm not going anywhere blind. Either you tell me what's going on, or I go back to JAG right now."
Clayton Webb stopped and took a deep breath before turning to look at them. "We're going to try and extract some operatives who have been in deep cover inside an Al Queda cell in Afghanistan. One of them contacted me last night and told me that he was in trouble and needed an immediate extraction so that he can be debriefed. He used a code that told us something big's in the works. Something that we won't know about unless we find him and bring him in."
"Who is the operative, Webb?" Victor wanted to know.
"Kalil Durrani," Webb answered, and Harm saw Victor frown.
"You know him?" Harm asked Victor, who nodded in confirmation.
"Yeah. We worked together for awhile before I left Afghanistan and was assigned to TAD to Webb. He's a good guy. And if he says something's in the air, then you can bank on it."
"What's your plan, Webb?" Harm asked.
"We'll fly into Afghanistan on a military transport under assumed names, and then take a Huey that I have waiting there on to the rendezvous point."
"A Huey?" Harm repeated in disbelief.
"There aren't a lot of places in the pick up zone to land a plane," Webb explained. "Blaisdell told me that you're both rated in a Huey."
"Yeah," Harm confirmed. "I haven't had much of a chance to fly one in awhile, though."
"You'll get your chance. Now, can we go?" He held out two passports for them to take. "You'll need to study these and answer to the names on them."
"What's the cover story?" Harm asked, glancing at the fake passport with the name "David Harmon" under his photograph.
"I'm George Clayton with Global News Service. Victor is Robert Victor, my photographer and camera man." He indicated a professional video camera sitting nearby, along with a 35mm camera with telescopic lens. When Victor moved to pick them up, Webb said, "Careful. They're a little more than *just* cameras."
Harm joined Victor to inspect the equipment. Looking through the lens of the 35mm, Harm saw a GPS display. "It's a GPS," he said.
"Yes. It's set to locate Kalil once we get close enough."
"I thought he would be waiting at the rendezvous point?" Harm said.
"We don't know that he'll be there. But it's imperative that we locate him and get him out of there with the intel he has about whatever they're planning. His message said that he didn't think we had much time, either. So are we going to keep standing here, arguing or are we going to find a way to stop whatever Al Queda is planning to do before they do it?"
"What's my role in this?"
"Pilot, of course. David Harmon. "
Harm looked at Victor. "You're sure about Kalil's reliability?" he asked.
"As sure as I know my own name," was the answer.
"Okay. I'm in," Harm said, but he still couldn't shake the feeling that there was something that Webb *hadn't* told them. "Let's go."
"It's about time," Clay said. "We're going to miss our flight into Kabul if we're not careful. And every minute we waste is one more that the terrorists have to set whatever their plan is into motion."
1600 Hours Local
Falls Church, VA
Jennifer Coates appeared in Mac's doorway, looking worried. "Excuse me, Colonel -"
"Yes, Jen?" she asked, looking up from the case file she'd been studying and making notes on.
"Mattie's on the phone for Commander Rabb, ma'am, and I wasn't sure what to tell her."
Checking her internal clock, Mac realized that Mattie would have just gotten home from school and was calling Harm to 'check in', as she always did upon arriving at home. "I'll take it in here, Jen," she told the petty officer. "And would you get me in to see the Admiral in about ten minutes?"
"Yes, ma'am. I'll go transfer the call."
Mac took a deep breath before picking up the telephone when it rang. "Col. Mackenzie."
"Mac? I was calling Harm," Mattie said in a surprised tone. "Don't tell me he's in court this late in the day?"
"No, he's not in court," Mac said. "How was school?" she asked, hoping to put this off, but the girl was too bright to let her get away with it.
"Nothing too different from yesterday," Mattie replied. "Where is Harm, Mac?"
"He - got a - call," Mac said slowly, listening closely to the connection for any sign of Mattie's reaction. "He had to go out of town for a few days."
"Out of - Oh," she said as she realized what Mac meant. "The home visit is in two days, Mac -"
"We'll handle it," Mac assured the girl. "He promised that he'd be back for the hearing in a week."
"I hope so." Mac could hear the worry in Mattie's voice.
"He'll be fine. This - special case is important if they called him to take care of it."
"I'm sure it is," Mattie agreed.
"Do you have homework?"
"Then get started on it, and I'll be home as soon as I can. How about pizza for supper? I can stop by on my way in and pick it up."
"Meat lover's?" Mattie wanted to know, and Mac grinned.
"I knew there was a reason we get along so well," she said. "I'll see you later. Remember -"
"I know. No phone calls unless it's you or Harm, and I'm not to answer the door."
"And no TV until your homework is done."
"Slave driver," Mattie grumbled as always.
"That's Col. Slave driver," Mac teased. "Talk to you soon."
Mac hung up the phone and then closed the file on her desk before putting it into her briefcase along with a few others that she needed to work on. Then she went toward the Admiral's office, where Jen told her that the Admiral had told her to send Mac on in.
He looked at her over his reading glasses as she came to attention before his desk. "You needed to see me, Colonel?" he asked.
"Yes, sir. I'd like permission to secure from my duties early today."
"For what reason?"
"I just spoke with Mattie and she's upset about Harm being gone. I just feel that she could use someone to be with her right now instead of her being alone."
"Is this going to be an every day occurrence, Colonel?" AJ asked.
"N-no, Admiral. I'm sure that once she gets used to the idea of Harm being gone occasionally, she'll adjust."
AJ looked thoughtful. "Her school isn't far from here, is it?"
"No, sir. Just a few blocks away, in fact."
"While he's gone this time, why don't you have the young lady come here after school instead of going home to an empty house?"
Mac was surprised by the suggestion, and it took a moment for her to recover after hearing it. "You wouldn't mind, Admiral?"
"I have a daughter of my own, remember," he pointed out. "I regret a lot of things in my life, Mac, but one of the biggest regrets is that I wasn't able to be a part of Francesca's life when she was Mattie's age. As long as she doesn't create any problems, I think we can handle her being here. She knows you and the Roberts. And being here in the office might give her an idea of what we do. Who knows, she might even decide to join the JAG corps when she finishes at the Academy."
"I think she has her heart set on flying, sir," Mac informed him with a smile. "That love of flying is one of the things that she and Harm have in common."
"Still won't hurt her to see how things are done. You're free to secure early - as long as you have that report on the Douglas Article 32 on my desk first thing tomorrow morning."
"No problem, Admiral," Mac assured him, going to attention again. "Thank you, sir."
Mac turned toward the door, but stopped when the Admiral spoke again. "Mac, he'll be okay."
"I just hope I can make Mattie understand that," Mac said, before turning and leaving the office.
1700 Hours Local
Falls Church, VA
Mac heard Mattie's voice the moment she entered the house through the garage door into the kitchen. She put the box containing the usual pizza onto the bar and moved toward the hallway and further to the room that Harm had picked as a study. Mattie was sitting in the chair behind the desk, the phone to her ear. Mattie had come home earlier with Harriet dropping her off, since she had to work on a report for school and preferred using the computer at the house to do it.
"I understand, Harm," she was saying. "It's your job. I'll be fine." She looked up and saw Mac standing there. "Mac just got home. You want to talk to her?" She smiled. "Yeah. Just come home soon, okay? I might understand, but I still worry . . . Yeah, me too. Here's Mac." She held out the phone. "They stopped for refueling and he borrowed a Sat phone," she told Mac.
"Pizza's in the kitchen," Mac said to the girl. "Why don't you go get some plates and I'll be right there?"
Mac waited for her to leave the room before speaking into the phone. "Hi there," she said.
"Hi. I was hoping you'd be home," he noted.
"I just walked in. I had some reports to finish at work, so Harriet brought Mattie home," Mac said. "I don't guess you can give me a hint as to where you're going?"
"Sorry. Need to know." She could hear in his voice that there was something he didn't want to tell her.
"I knew you'd say that. Can you tell me who's with you?"
"Okay." She wasn't happy with the response, but she let it go. "I guess Mattie told you that the Admiral suggested that while you're gone Mattie can come to JAG after school so she doesn't have to come here and worry."
US Naval Base
"We're about ready to take off again, sir," the young Lieutenant informed Webb, who nodded and rejoined his traveling companions. He found Victor standing near the C-130, and looked around. "Where's Harm?" he asked.
"He had a call to make," Victor explained.
"He wanted to call and make sure that Mattie was okay. This is the first time he's gone on an assignment since -"
"I'm aware of that, Victor," Webb snarled. "Where is he?"
Victor nodded toward the nearest hangar. "In there. Borrowed a Sat phone to make the call."
"You'd better let him know we're about to leave," Webb said, frowning.
Harm was smiling as he held the bulky telephone to his ear. "Yes, she told me. I can't believe that the Admiral said that," he was saying as Victor approached him. "You're right. At least I won't have to worry about Mattie going to an empty house after school . . . How is that working out?" he asked, and grinned as Mac relayed a quick story about Mattie's first day at the office. "Mac, I have to go," he said, realizing that Victor was nearby. "I think we're about to leave again. Give Mattie a hug for me and tell her that I'll be home before either of you know it." His smile softened slightly. "Same here. Bye, Mac."
"You were right," Victor confirmed. "Webb sent me to get you."
Harm returned the Sat phone to its owner and followed Victor out of the hangar into the bright sunlight, slipping on his sunglasses as he did so. "I figured as much."
Webb was already on the aircraft, buckled into one of the seats against the outer wall of the fuselage. "I hope you're not going to make a habit of this, Harmon," he said as Harm sat down beside him.
"I'll call my family if I want to, Clayton. You're not my boss."
"I am for however long we're on this assignment," Webb reminded him. "And if I say no outgoing phone calls, then you'll follow that order." He sat back, and seemed to ask almost against his will, "How are Sarah and Mattie doing?"
"*Mac* and Mattie are doing just fine," Harm said, easily correcting Webb's use of Mac's first name. "The Admiral's agreed for Mattie to spend the time at the office after school to try and make things easier."
"AJ's getting soft," Webb snorted.
"I don't think so, sir," Victor responded over the sound of the engines as they fired. "I think he just knows what it's like to be away from family."
Webb snorted again and sat back, closing his eyes. "You two had better get some sleep. Once we're on the ground, we might not get much of a chance to rest."
0300 Hours Local
It was still dark as they approached the UH-1 helicopter that was parked in an out of the way hangar not far from the Marine base. It was painted the standard dark green, but the markings on the side revealed it to be a privately owned craft for hire through an agency in country.
Harm got into the pilot's seat and looked over the controls. "Trying to remember how to fly it, Harmon?" Webb asked.
"Little late to worry about that now, isn't it, *Clayton*?" Harm replied, giving Victor a grin and a sideways wink as Victor slid into the other seat. They flipped the necessary switches to start the engine, and Harm turned to Webb. "You'd better go back and belt up, Clayton."
"Where's the camera?" Webb asked Victor, and took the bag as it was held out. Pulling out the camera, he handed it back to Victor. "Keep an eye on the locator for a signal from Kalil. His last reported location was thirty clicks due north of here." He pointed, only to have Harm reach out to turn his hand ninety degrees.
"*That's* due north, Clayton," Harm corrected. "Now sit down and put on your seat belt. I'd hate for you to fall out of this thing."
"Sure you would," Webb muttered just loud enough to carry over the sound of the blades cutting through the air, but he moved to the compartment behind them and sat down.
It had been a long time since Harm had flown a helo - especially a Huey, but it came back to him quickly. He skimmed the treetops, listening through the headsets for any sign from Victor that he'd picked up Kalil Durrani's signal.
"Anything, Victor?" Webb asked.
"Nothing," Victor replied, still watching through the camera lens. To anyone able to see him, it would have appeared that he was simply taking photos of the area. "Not even a tiny blip."
"We're at the specified location," Harm called back to Webb through the headsets. "What now?"
"Give it a couple of minutes," Webb replied. "He might not be able to turn on the locator full time. Once he hears or sees the helo -"
Webb's voice broke off as a bullet entered the helicopter, ricocheting around the interior for a moment before finding a panel in the cockpit and sending up a spray of sparks.
"Damn!" Victor muttered, jerking his headset off and attending to the damaged panel.
"What got hit?" Webb wanted to know as Harm turned the aircraft away from the LZ and higher, hopefully out of range of whomever had shot at them.
"The radio's dead," Victor announced.
"Great," Harm said with a deep sigh.
"Where are you going?" Webb yelled from the back of the passenger bay as Harm set the helo back onto a southward course.
"Back to base to get the radio repaired, Webb," Harm explained.
"No you're not," Webb insisted, releasing his seatbelt and vaulting forward. "You don't need the radio to fly this thing!"
Harm shot Victor a sideways glance. "No, I don't. But it makes it a lot safer if I have it!"
"Don't you understand? This is a matter of national security, Rabb!"
Another sideways glance and Harm lowered the helo into a clearing, setting it down softly on the rocky ground, ignoring Clayton Webb's anger at his actions. "You fool! They'll find us here. They can't be that far away -"
"What is it you're *not* telling us, Webb?" Harm asked, unfastening his seatbelt and turning to stand up, coming face to face with the spook.
Webb had the grace to look a little uncertain when confronted by Harm's larger frame - that was clearly coiled like a snake waiting to strike. "Need to know -" Webb began, but Harm grabbed the smaller man's shirt and pushed him back into one of the seats. "Oomph!" Webb grunted as the wind was knocked out of his lungs by the impact.
Victor moved to stand between the two men, as though to hold off any further physical interaction. "Harm -"
"I'm tired of him using people, Gunny," Harm said. "Like they're playthings for his amusement. Something he can use and just - throw away without regard to how his actions have messed up their lives. He's lucky that I haven't punched him in the nose like the Admiral did - or dropped him out of this helo at five hundred feet." He thought he saw Webb's skin pale a little at that thought. "If I'm going to finish this mission, then I want to know *everything* and I want to know it *now*. To hell with this 'need to know' BS. Give us the truth, Webb, or we'll return to base and head back to DC."
Both Victor and Harm looked at Webb with an expectant air. "Okay," Webb said, smoothing his shirt as he spoke. "Kalil used the code 'Humpty Dumpty' and said that he was 'about to fall'. 'Humpty Dumpty' is code for a nuclear or bio attack of some kind on an American target."
"Dear God," Harm breathed, feeling the blood drain from his face.
"So now do you see why it's so important for me to find Kalil now so that he can tell me when and where this is supposed to happen preferably *before* it happens?"
"We're going to have to search the LZ area on foot," Harm told them. "He could possibly be unconscious or in hiding, unable to contact us."
"You're not serious," Webb said. "Harm, there are al Queda out there -"
Harm pulled his weapon from its holster and checked it before stuffing it into the back of his jeans. "You have a better idea? I thought you were the one who said we didn't have time to wait."
"And you're still a damn cowboy," Webb muttered.
"That cowboy saved your ass, Webb," Victor reminded him, and Webb glanced quickly at Harm before looking away.
"Okay. We'll go. But one of us has to stay with the helo."
"I can disable it so that no one else can take it, Webb," Harm said. "You and Victor get things ready and I'll be right back."
"Why can't you stay here as back up?" Victor suggested, following Harm out of the helo while Webb gathered their backpacks.
Harm turned to look at him after opening an access panel. "You really think you'd be safe out there with him? His track record -"
"I know his track record, Harm, but he's right about needing someone to stay behind. I don't care what you do to the helo, it's our only way out of here - and if someone comes up to try and steal it and can't, there's no telling what they might do to it."
Harm took a deep breath, and then exhaled slowly, closing the door as he did so. "Okay. I'll stay. But you keep in contact on the hand held, Gunny."
"Yes, sir," Victor said.
"And at the first sign of trouble, shout, give me your coordinates, and I'll be there."
"Will do," Victor agreed, but he still hesitated.
"Go on. Get going," Harm said. He heard Webb's voice when Victor appeared, but remained where he was.
"He's decided to stay with the helo," Victor informed him.
"Finally had a flash of sense, I guess," Harm heard Webb say, and his fingers curled into a fist as they itched to wipe the smirk from the other man's face that he knew was there. But he remained where he was, out of sight.
"Let's go," Victor said.
Harm watched them go with a feeling of concern.
1400 Hours Local
Falls Church, VA
Mac couldn't read Morgan Watley, the home investigator for the family court. He hadn't seemed pleased to discover that Harm wasn't going to be attending the meeting, and had spent most of his time examining the house, asking questions about how often Harm had to be away on cases.
"He *is* a lawyer, isn't he?" Watley asked.
"Yes. He's also an aviator and gets called out because of that," Mac explained, using the cover story that the three of them had agreed on.
"Do you live here, Colonel?" he asked.
"No. Not - full time, anyway."
"Then you and Commander Rabb are just - friends?"
"We're more than that," Mac said, uncertain about how to describe the relationship to an outsider. "Harm and I are - seeing each other. We've known each other for several years and are finally trying to make a personal relationship work around our professional one."
"Then you're not engaged or planning to be married?"
"We've discussed it, but there's not definite yet. Excuse me, Mr. Watley, but I don't see what this has to do with Harm's suitability to become Mattie's guardian."
"As Commander Rabb's - 'significant other', you'll be a part of the girl's life. Spending time with her, having an impact on her."
"I hope so," Mac confirmed.
"So it's in the court's best interest to get the relationship clarified."
"I love Harm, Mr. Watley," Mac confessed. "And I hope that one day we'll make it official. But until then, I can assure you that our relationship will be open and above board and won't subject Mattie to anything that Harm feels that she shouldn't be exposed to."
Mac saw a glimmer of approval in the man's dark eyes. "Fair enough, Colonel," he said, turning his attention back to the house. "Does the Commander keep a weapon on the premises?"
"Yes. It's under lock and key in his study."
"Has he ever had reason to use it?"
"In the line of duty."
In the kitchen, Watley surveyed the contents of the refrigerator and the shiny pots and pans hanging over the stove. "Does the Commander cook?"
"He's a very good cook."
"I hope so. Having a teenager in the house, he'll have to make sure she gets nutritious meals three times a day."
"He's aware of that. And Harm's a big believer in nutritious meals," she said.
"Well, I think I've finished here. I would like to be able to meet with Cmdr. Rabb before the hearing -"
"I'll let him know. If he gets back in time, -"
"Hmm. I need to go. I have another appointment. What time is it?" he asked, glancing around for a clock, only to stare at Mac as she answered.
"You didn't look at your watch," he noted.
Mac smiled. "It's a gift."
Once Mr. Watley left, Mac grabbed her keys and headed toward Mattie's school to pick her up before they both returned to JAG for the rest of the day. Getting into the car, Mattie asked, "Any news from Harm?"
"Nothing," Mac said.
"What about the home visit? Did you meet with him?"
"I did. He was disappointed that Harm wasn't there, but I think I made him understand that Harm would have been there if he could."
"I wish he'd call."
"You know he can't, Mattie."
"I know. But after last time - Has he always been this way?" Mattie asked.
"So- determined about things. Getting custody of me, his job with the 'company'," she said, making air quotes with her fingers and lower her voice as if she was afraid someone might be listening in on their conversation.
"Harm's the type who believes in throwing himself completely into something if he thinks that it's important." She gave Mattie a smile. "And he thinks you're very important."
"Like flying is important to him."
"Sometimes," Mac acknowledged as she pulled into the parking lot and nodded to the familiar Sergeant on duty at the guard post before parking her Vette in the assigned parking spot.
Mac saw that Mattie was settled at her desk before disappearing for a conference about a client with Sturgis. Mattie smiled as she saw the photograph of Mac and Harm -- a photo that looked exactly like one that Harm had once told her was taken in Afghanistan a few years ago. Even dirty and a bit disheveled, they were both smiling in the camera and just looked happy to be alive and together.
"How's it going?" Harriet asked, and Mattie glanced away from the photo to see her new friend.
"Okay, I guess, Lt. Sims," Mattie said. "I have a ton of homework to do - I guess I should do that rather than daydream, hmm?"
"Probably," Harriet agreed. "I wasn't in the bullpen when you and the Colonel got here. I just wanted to let you know that if you need anything, just let me know."
"I will. Thanks."
"I don't guess there's been any word from the Commander?"
"Not since yesterday afternoon. I think they were still heading toward wherever they were going."
"Must be difficult, never knowing where he is or what he's doing," Harriet pointed out.
"It's his job," Mattie said easily, grimacing as she opened up one of her books.
"What are you working on?" Harriet wanted to know.
"English lit. Shakespeare," she clarified with a frown.
"Romeo and Juliet?"
"No. 'The Merchant of Venice'. Boor-ring," she sighed.
"Did you know that the Admiral's fiancé *teaches* Shakespeare?"
"I think Harm mentioned it," Mattie nodded. "Too bad I couldn't ask him to help me." She smiled. "How are the boys doing?"
Harriet's mind was instantly off of Shakespeare and suggesting to the Admiral that he might be able to help Mattie with one of his favorite subjects. "They're great. Little AJ keeps asking when you're going to be coming back for a visit."
"Maybe this weekend?" Mattie suggested. She liked the Roberts' elder son. And she had a feeling that he liked having her around since he felt ignored since Jimmy's birth.
"You don't have to -"
"I know. But I want to. I like AJ."
"I'll talk to the Colonel about it," Harriet decided. "I'd better get back to work. Remember, if you need anything -"
"I'll find you," Mattie finished. Once she was alone, she tried to pay attention to the pages in front of her, but her eyes kept being drawn back to the photo of a smiling Harm - and she reached out to touch the image through the glass --- saying a silent prayer that he was okay.
0545 Hours Local
Harm watched the blood-red sky lighten, remembering the old sailor's homily: "Red skies at morning, Sailor take warning." Maybe he needed to heed those words. It had been nearly two hours since Victor's last check in - and that had only been to say that they had found the sat link that Kalil and his unit had been using - and signs that someone had been shot. There had been blood nearby.
That had explained why they hadn't been able to find the operative via the GPS signal. Without the link, he was practically invisible. The hand-held radio crackled to life, and Harm reached for it while keeping an eye on the surrounding countryside. The hair on the back of his neck was standing up, as if he were being watched.
"Baby Huey to Mother Hen," came the staticy voice of Victor Gonzales, revealing by his choice of names what code he was going to be using. It was something that he and Keeter had come up with early in the unit's formation: a different set of codes for each set of code names.
"Mother Hen here, Baby Huey. I was beginning to think you'd gotten lost."
"Negative," Victor replied. "We're watching the sandbox at the moment. Someone left a trail of bread crumbs back to the playground."
"Any sign of your playmate's friend?"
"Not yet. But signs point to his being in the sandbox."
That meant Kalil had been taken back to the camp and was probably either dead - or being tortured at that very moment. They couldn't call in a predator strike on the camp. It was too risky to have Kalil killed before they knew what information he had for Webb.
"So far, things have been quiet here. But I'm getting lonely."
"We should be home soon with a new playmate."
"I'll be waiting. Mother Hen out."
He heard the mike click twice before the frequency cleared. Still no news - Harm froze as he saw movement out of the corner of his eye near the brush. Someone was trying to sneak up to the helo.