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From Part 1:
Harm helped Mac settle back in the seat, draped a blanket over her, and sat back himself, his gaze straying to the darkness beyond the window. Josh was two years younger than he'd been the summer he'd run off to Viet Nam with Stryker. Harm had saved every cent of his generous allowance and paper route money, until he had enough to join up with the mercenary who had promised to help him locate his father. At the time, he hadn't considered that his wealthy stepfather might have helped his search. He still saw Frank Bennett as an interloper, someone who had wormed his way into their lives by playing on his mother's grief and loneliness. But Frank had convinced his mother to let Harm take flying lessons, and had pulled all the right strings to get him into Annapolis.
The plane dropped suddenly, and Harm felt Mac's increased tension. Putting an arm around her, he drew her head onto his shoulder. "It's okay," he whispered. "Just a little turbulence," he assured her. For once, he didn't say a word about a Marine who was afraid of a little air pocket. He was too caught up in the turbulence of his own thoughts.
He had a hunch he knew what Josh was up to, but he wanted to confirm it before mentioning it to Annie. If he was right, she wasn't going to be happy about it.
To Be Continued---
18 August 2003
6 AM local time
Elk Grove, California
Harm parked the rental sedan in front of the small house in a residential neighborhood, noting the dark green Jag parked in the driveway behind Annie's SUV. "Looks like Annie's friend is doing pretty well," he mentioned to Mac as they got out of the car.
Mac nodded. "I still prefer Corvettes," she told him with a smile as they walked up to the front door. Before Harm could knock, the door came open and Annie Pendry burst out, throwing her arms around Harm.
"Oh, Harm! Thank God you're here!"
Harm patted the woman on the back. "Has there been any news?" he asked, glancing at the blonde haired man with a mustache and glasses who hovered uncertainly behind Annie.
"No. Not a word. The police say that there's no sign of him anywhere." She noticed Mac standing behind him. "Mac. I didn't expect-"
Harm untangled himself from Annie and placed a hand on Mac's shoulder. "I thought I might be able to help," she explained, as Harm glanced pointedly at the other man.
"Oh, James," Annie said, stepping back, closer to James. "James Morgan, Commander Harmon Rabb, Jr. and Colonel Sarah Mackenzie. They're JAG lawyers," she explained to James as he shook Harm and Mac's hands. "Harm and Luke were room mates in flight school."
"I was also best man at your wedding," Harm pointed out.
"James is a president at the bank where I work," Annie said.
"Vice president," James corrected, giving Annie an indulgent smile. "I hope you can help find the boy, Cmdr. Rabb," he said. "Annie's been beside herself with worry." He squeezed Annie's arm gently. "Why don't you go make some coffee?" he suggested. "I'll fill them in."
"All right," Annie said, and Harm was surprised when Mac spoke up.
"I think I'll help, Annie." She gave Harm a smile as she followed Annie into the kitchen, leaving the two men alone in the entryway.
James cleared his throat, as if trying to find something to say, before leading Harm toward the living room. "Why don't we go in here?" he suggested.
"Have you known Annie and Josh long, Mr. Morgan?" Harm asked, studying the room's décor, noting that there weren't very many photos of Luke in the room- in fact, the only ones he saw were of Josh and Luke, and the one taken of Luke, Annie, and himself just before his friend's wedding.
"Oh, almost four years now. Ever since Annie came to work at the bank. We've been seeing each other socially for about a month, I guess. I don't know Josh that well," he admitted. "I think he resents me."
"Probably," Harm agreed baldly, looking at the banker, recalling his own feelings toward Frank Bennett all those years ago. Seeing his discomfiture, Harm managed a smile. "Josh hasn't had an easy time of it, Mr. Morgan. Losing a father a young age can be difficult. Especially when his mother leans toward being overprotective as a result of that loss."
"I world never admit this to Annie, Commander, but I think she's past leaning. And call me James, please?"
"And I'm Harm. Annie said that she and Josh had an argument?"
"Partially about me," James admitted. "Although Annie won't confirm that. Josh came in around midnight- three hours past his curfew. It wasn't the first time- he's been doing it a lot lately, and refuses to tell Annie where he's going or what he's doing."
Harm studied James for a long moment, trying to make up his mind about how much he could say, how far he could trust the man's discretion. "Has Josh mentioned anything about flying to you or his mother?"
"Only once since I've known them. I made the mistake of getting him a plastic model of a military jet - and Josh was delighted- until Annie insisted that I take it back and get something else. Until then, she hadn't told me *how* her husband died, only that he was dead." James swallowed heavily. "I'm sorry- Harm. He was your friend."
"My best friend," Harm nodded.
"You don't think Josh has been trying to learn to fly?" James asked. "He's only fourteen."
"It's possible," Harm said. "He can take lessons, can't solo until he's sixteen, though. And he'd probably need Annie's signature for the medical."
James glanced toward the door. "I can tell you this: If that's what's going on, Annie's going to hit the ceiling."
"Can I trust you not to mention anything about this to her? I need to do some investigating-"
"Believe me, Harm, after seeing Annie's reaction the last time, I won't say a word."
In the kitchen, Annie gave Mac an uncertain look. "So, how long have you and Harm been-"
Mac laughed once, suddenly nervous. "Who says we are?" she asked.
"I know the signs," Annie reminded Mac. "You two have been on a collision course since you first met," she said, turning the coffee maker on and watching it.
"It hasn't been long," Mac confessed. "A few weeks, really. We're still - getting used to it."
"I want to thank you for coming out here. I know you don't think very much of me, Mac-" Mac opened her mouth to deny it, but Annie shook her head. "I'm a hysterical, over-protective mother," Annie stated. "I admit it. But is it so wrong of me to want to make sure my son is safe and that the doesn't -"
"Follow in his father's footsteps?" Mac suggested. "Harm did," she pointed out. "And it didn't seem to hurt him."
"Harm's father wasn't killed in an airplane crash," Annie insisted. "If he had been, his mother would have done the same things I've done."
"Including cutting a person out of her son's life who means a lot to him? He lost his father, Annie. Refusing to let him see Harm didn't help that loss."
"You don't understand," Annie sighed, nodding toward a cupboard behind Mac. "Could you please get some cups out of there?"
"Will these do?" Mac asked, showing her the delft blue cups. When Annie nodded, she put them onto the tray Annie had placed on the table between them.
"Flying's dangerous," Annie declared. "Look at Harm. He could have died in that ramp strike just as easily as his RIO did."
Mac's smile was crooked. "That's not the last time he almost died because of flying," she said. "He went down a couple of years ago- was lost at sea for some time. Luckily they found him before it was too late. So you don't have to tell me about the dangers of flying," she confided. "I've flown with Harm four times. The first time in a jet, I got airsick," she recalled, ticking the memories off on her fingers. "The second time, we were flying in his Stearman, and there was a problem with the fuel line that forced us to land and confront a group of poachers who had just murdered a game warden. The third flight was in a MIG 22. It was shot out of the sky, and we had to punch out."
Annie's eyes had widened in horror. "You said four. You got into an airplane with him *again* after all that?"
"In Paraguay a couple of months ago," she nodded. "We were on a mission- the airplane was shot at by terrorists that we were looking for. Only this time, we couldn't punch out. We crashed." Annie gasped. "And more and less walked away," Mac finished. "It wasn't our time." Annie shook her head in denial. "Annie, Harm loves flying. None of those incidents were his fault, and it will be a *long* time before I get into another small plane with him, but I could never deny him the joy of doing something that he loves to do."
Annie stood facing away from Mac, still. "And if something happens to him? What then?" She turned around and looked at Mac, tears in her eyes. "What if, in ten years, he dies and your son wants to 'follow in his father's footsteps'?" she asked.
Beyond the abstract 'baby in five years', Mac hadn't really thought it through. - The idea of having children, Harm's children, and raising them alone, knocked her for a loop. But she pushed all of that to the back of her mind for the time being. "I don't honestly know how I'd react, Annie. But I would hope I'd be able to let my child make his- or her- own decisions."
"I guess I'm just not as strong as you are, Mac," Annie said, picking up the tray with the coffee and cups and moving toward the door.
Mac moved as well, to stand in front of Annie, blocking her path out of the kitchen. "I did have another reason for coming here with Harm, Annie," she said in a firm, clear voice, her dark eyes fixed on the other woman's face. "I want you to know that if Harm finds Josh, there's no way I'm going to let you cut him out of that boy's life the way you did before."
Annie frowned. "I really haven't thought that far ahead, Mac," she said. "Right now, all I want to do is find my son."
"That's fine," Mac said with a nod. "Just so that you know where things stand." She took the tray from Annie and turned toward the door. "Shall we join Harm and James?" She left the kitchen without another word, leaving Annie no choice but to follow.
Harm and James were talking quietly when they entered the living room. Harm sensed the tension between the two women and gave Mac a questioning look as she put the tray down on the coffee table and then sat down on the smaller sofa beside him.
Annie poured four cups and handed them out. "Do you have any ideas where we should start looking for Josh, Harm?" she asked, sitting down beside James on the sofa.
Harm glanced at James with a silent plea to back him up on what he was about to say. "Mac and I will take care of the search," he told her. "It would be better if you stay here."
"But he's my son," she insisted.
"Annie, Harm's right," James said in a quiet yet forceful voice. "You need to be here in case Josh calls."
Annie took a deep breath, clearly on the edge. "Okay. What can I do to help?"
Harm sat forward. "I need a list of Josh's friends-" when she started to speak, he lifted a hand. "I know you told me that they haven't seen him, but they might be more willing to talk to someone who's not his mother."
"Kids have a tendency not to rat on their friends to parents," Mac interjected, and Harm felt that tension again. "Did Josh have any money of his own?" Mac asked.
"He's been saving forever," Annie told them. "He got a paper route right after we moved here," she said, and Harm smiled as he recalled having told Josh about his own paper route when he was younger. "It's only a small, community paper, but they needed someone to throw it once a week, and Josh got the job. Between that and the money his grandparents sent him for birthdays and Christmas, he had a little saved."
"Have you called his grandparents?" Harm asked. "Maybe he-"
"I called- but I didn't want to worry them by telling them that he was missing. They haven't heard from him. Luke's parents and mine both asked to speak to him while we were on the phone. I told them he was out playing with his friends-" she broke off in a sob, and James quickly placed her coffee cup on the table before gathering her into his arms.
"We'll find him, Annie," Mac promised, and saw Harm's smile of gratitude. "He's probably sulking somewhere, waiting until he thinks you're properly chastised before coming home."
"He's changed," Annie managed to say as the sobs subsided. "He's disrespectful and disobedient and - I feel that I don't even know him anymore. And he's all I have left. I don't want to lose him."
"You won't," James assured her. "Why don't we give Harm and Mac the information they need and let them get to work?" he suggested gently. "The sooner they do, they sooner they might find Josh."
Annie nodded, drawing a shuddering breath. "There's some paper in the desk over there," she told Harm. "And a pen."
18 August 2003
08:00 local time
Elk Grove, California
Harm started the rental car as Mac fastened her seat belt. "So, what did you and Annie talk about in the kitchen?" he asked, trying to sound uninterested.
Mac grinned at him. "What's the matter?" she teased. "Worried we were comparing notes?"
He squirmed slightly in his seat as he turned a corner, and then gave her one of his patented smiles. "Not at all. I did notice the tension between the two of you when you came out. You could have cut it with a knife."
Now it was Mac's turn to be uncomfortable. "She did ask about - us," she confessed. "And then we talked about Josh. She's still determined that he won't follow in his father's footsteps," she told Harm.
"I figured as much," Harm nodded, his expression somber. "I was hoping she would have eased up on that a little by now."
Mac sighed. "She doesn't understand how I don't object to your flying after - everything that's happened. I tried to explain, but-"
"Just because I won't get into a small plane with you doesn't mean I don't want you to fly. You enjoy it too much for me to stop you."
He reached across the seat and took her hand in his. "Is that what caused the big chill?"
"No," Mac admitted. "She wanted to know how I'd feel if something happened to you while you were flying." Mac wanted to look out of the car, at her hands, anywhere but Harm's face. But she needed to see his reaction to the words. "Whether or not I'd let our son or daughter join the Navy and fly."
Harm glanced at her. "And?" he asked, giving every appearance that he hadn't been knocked for a loop by what she'd just said.
But Mac knew him too well for it to work. "I said I hoped I would be able to let him- or her, make up their own mind."
"We haven't talked about that, have we?" he questioned. "Kids, I mean."
"No," she agreed. "Not really." She glanced at the paper in her hand. "I think that's the house where Josh's friend Mitch lives," she said, pointing to a house directly in front of the car at the end of a cul-de-sac.
Harm gave her a smile, fully aware that she was changing the subject. "We haven't finished this conversation, Marine," he promised, parking the car in the driveway. "But I think it can wait until later."
A petite red-haired woman opened the door when they rang the bell. "Yes?" she asked. "Can I help you?"
"I'm Sarah McKenzie," Mac told the woman, "and this is Harmon Rabb. We're friends of Josh Pendry."
The woman looked uncertain. "He spoke with the police and earlier," she told them. "He told them everything he knows."
At that moment, a boy with his mother's red hair came running down the stairs two at a time, a skateboard balanced over his shoulder. He stopped, looking at Harm, his mouth hanging open. Mitch Conklin blinked once, twice, and then said, "Wow! You're him!"
Mrs. Conklin turned to look at him, confused, as Harm and Mac shared that emotion.
"Josh said he knew you," Mitch continued, coming to the bottom step. "We didn't believe him. Thought he was blowing smoke, you know? Trying to make us think he was important. Wow," he said again, with that tone of awe that young boys usually reserved for sports figures and other heroes. Then, a hint of uncertainty showed through. "You are, aren't you?"
Harm laughed softly as he responded. "Well, it might help if I knew who you think I am."
"That pilot. The one whose picture was in all the papers a couple of years back. Josh showed us the article and your picture, said he knew you. That you're his godfather."
"He wasn't lying," Harm nodded, and held out his hand to the boy. "Commander Harmon Rabb, Jr."
"Wow!" Mitch said once more, shaking Harm's hand as he caught sight of Mac. "Are you in the Navy, too?" he wanted to know.
"No," Mac said, ignoring Harm's smirk. "I'm a Marine. Colonel Sarah McKenzie," she said, shaking Mitch's hand as well. "Could we- talk to you about Josh, Mitch?"
Mitch looked at his mother as she said, "I told them that you've already talked to the police, Mitch."
Mitch's green eyes flicked to Harm as if he were trying to make up his mind. "Sure. I'll talk to you. Not sure what else I can tell you, though."
"Sometimes people don't remember everything the first time," Mac said, and noticed that Mrs. Conklin was right behind them. "Is there someplace we could talk to Mitch alone, Mrs. Conklin?" she asked, giving the woman a sincere smile.
"The backyard," Mitch suggested, looking at his mother. "That way you can keep an eye on us from the kitchen window."
"All right," Mrs. Conklin said, holding up the cordless telephone in her hand. "But one wrong move, and I have 9-1-1 on speed-dial," she warned.
"Mom," Mitch sighed, rolling his eyes as he led Harm and Mac toward the sliding glass doors that opened onto the patio.
Harm gave Mac a similar look as they followed the boy through the door.
Mitch led them out to a well-manicured area that contained a redwood swing set/fort before he turned to look at them. "I didn't tell the cops everything," he admitted. "I was afraid they'd tell his mom, and well- "
Mac saw that Mrs. Conklin was standing on the other side of the patio door, cordless telephone in hand, as Harm asked, "What didn't you tell them, Mitch?"
"Finney?" Mac questioned, looking at Mitch.
"Hank Finney. But we call him Finney. He's kind of a dork."
Mac glanced at the list that Annie had given them of Josh's friends. "He's not on the list," she told him.
"He wouldn't be," Mitch told them. "His father was in the Navy," he explained. "His old man's dead, but his grandfather was an airplane mechanic in the Navy in the dark ages."
Harm gave Mac a look over Mitch's red hair. "Doesn't sound like someone Annie would approve of as a friend."
"You kidding?" Mitch said. "We invited Josh to an air show a few years ago, and his mom went totally nuts when she found out. If she even got wind that Josh was friends with Finney, she'd have a fit."
"Do you have an address for Hank Finney?" Harm asked.
"Yeah," Mitch said. "He lives south of here. 2214 Resido Drive. Him and his mom. And his grandfather when the old guy's not at the airfield."
Harm's eyes widened at the words. "Airfield?"
"Oh, didn't I mention that Finney's grandfather's a private pilot who teaches people how to fly?" Mitch asked.