Operation: Road Not Taken
Part 5
Nancy Eddy

Disclaimers in Part 1

Mac looked up when Harm joined her at the table in the courtyard. "I was beginning to think you weren't going to have lunch with me after all," she told him.

"Why would you think that?" he wanted to know, opening the lid of the salad that she'd picked up for him when she'd gone to get her order from Beltway Burger.

"Oh, my having dinner with Clay, leaving you alone with Krennick this morning, what happened in court before lunch," she suggested, going through the possible reasons.

He gave her a confident grin. "You haven't won, yet, Mac." He speared some lettuce before continuing. "It wasn't fair of me to ask you to not leave me alone with her. I really think she might have changed."

"Are you okay with my going to dinner with Clay?" she asked.

"I'm not happy about it," he confessed. "But I know you have to talk to him. I can't tell you what to do or not to do anyway," he said.

"It'll just be dinner," she promised. "And as soon as he gets me home, I'll call," she said, picking up her burger. "Will you be at the house?"

"I think so. I'll make another trip over with boxes after work; see if I can't finish getting things put away. We're going to need to start looking into furniture soon. And I think I'll take the refrigerator, so I still need a truck."

"Hello, you two," Krennick said, having approached without either of them hearing or seeing her.

"Admiral," Harm said, starting to stand up.

She motioned for him to remain seated. "As you were." Indicating the third chair at the table, she asked, "May I?"

"Please," Mac said.

"I don't want to intrude -"

"Not at all," Mac assured her. "Did you get settled into your quarters?" she asked conversationally.

"I did. Such as they are. Even after twenty-five years in the Navy, I've never gotten used to Visiting Officers Quarters."

"I know the feeling," Harm nodded. "The beds are never big enough -" he paused, his fork midway to his mouth as he realized that Mac and Krennick were both looking at him. "Long enough," he amended. "I'm *tall*, remember?"

"That's not something that's easy *to* forget, Harm," Mac said with a smile in his direction.

"I had an idea earlier, why don't the three of us have dinner this evening?" Krennick suggested. "To discuss the case -" Harm and Mac exchanged a look. "Unless - the two of you have other plans," she added, seeing the look.

"I - already have plans," Mac said.

"What about you, Harm?" Krennick questioned. "Or do you have a date?"

"As a matter of fact, I do," Harm said. "With a moving van."

"You're moving?"

"I bought a house," he told her reluctantly.

"Really? I never pictured you as the white picket fence type, Harm," Krennick said.

"People change," he told her with a lift of his shoulders.

"You have to eat sometime, don't you?" she asked. "Couldn't the two of us have dinner and talk about the case?"

As Harm searched for some way out of being in Al Krennick's company for the evening, Mac spoke up. "I don't think that would be a good idea, Al," she said. "Considering the fact that Harm's a junior officer - it might look improper."

Krennick sighed deeply with regret. "I suppose you're right at that." She stood up. "I'll see you both inside."

Once they were alone again, Harm leaned forward. "Good save, Mac. Thank you."

"I figured that it was the least I could do after this morning," she explained, putting the paper from her burger into the paper bag as she noticed that he was almost finished with his salad. "You about ready to get back up there and see what Sturgis and Bud have to say?"

"I know what they're going to say," Harm told her.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~* ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

"Immediate retirement, loss of pension and benefits," Sturgis said as the three of them sat across the conference table from him and Bud.

Without glancing at Krennick, Harm shook his head. "Not good enough," he said.

Sturgis looked at the Admiral. "Admiral Krennick, if you allow this to go before the members, you'll be facing prison time as well."

"I'm willing to take my chances, Commander Turner. I have the utmost confidence in my defense team's ability to get to the truth."

"Very well. We'll see you in court," Sturgis announced, standing up and grabbing his briefcase. "Lieutenant."

After they were gone, Krennick looked from Harm to Mac. "What now?"

"Well, after Mac and I finish in court, we start digging into Lt. Cmdr. Barris' record. If he pulled this on you, he's probably pulled it on others."

"Would copies of the fit reps that I gave him during his time at Pearl be of assistance?' she asked.

"Can you get them?"

"I *have* them, Mac," she said. "They're in my quarters. I'll go get them while the two of you are in court. And I have a meeting with Admiral Chegwidden and the SecNav at 1400 hours."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~* ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Sturgis Turner watched Adm. Krennick leaving the offices and told Bud, "I want you to dig up anyone and everyone who might have any evidence that would point to a pattern, Bud," he said. "And I want to know the name of the officer your contacts claim that Krennick was harassing when she was last at JAG."

"Yes, sir," Bud nodded. He had never actually worked with the Admiral, but they had met during the investigation into Diane Schonke's murder. By the time Bud had been reassigned to JAG, Krennick had just received a promotion to Captain and had transferred out to Naples.

But there had still been quite a few personnel left at JAG who had worked with her, and Bud, while he wasn't included in the conversations, had overheard enough to know that the woman had been chasing one of her junior officers in a relentless fashion, and that the junior officer in question had never filed any kind of complaint - in fact, there had been one or two who wondered if the officer hadn't given in to the woman's harassment in the end.

What troubled Bud was the fact that while he'd heard those rumors eight years ago, he had so far been unable to find anyone who had worked with Adm. Krennick at Pearl who told a similar story. Most of them stated that she was a tough but fair CO, who spent her off duty time with officers of her own rank or higher. There was no indication whatsoever that she had a habit of sexually harassing those in her command, and he was beginning to wonder if the current charges might be bogus.

Sighing, he returned to his office and took out his notes, trying to find at least one person who was willing to name names.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~* ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

"Objection, your honor," Mac said as Harm questioned a witness. "He's badgering his own witness."

"Your honor," Harm said, glancing at Mac as he turned to Judge Helfman, "This witness was up for the same position as my client and did not want to testify in his defense for that reason. Lt. Barnett has information which is vital to the defense of my client."

Helfman studied Harm for a moment. "Very well, Commander. Overruled, Colonel. The witness will answer the question."

Mac sat down as Harm returned to where Lt. Barnett was sitting in the witness box. "What was the question?" Barnett asked.

"Lt. Barnett, where were you on the evening of Sept. 13?"

Barnett glared at Lt. Phillips and mumbled something under his breath.

"Out," Barnett answered. "I had a date."

Harm picked up a piece of paper from the defense table. "I have here a copy of the guest register," he said, handing it to the witness. "Would you please read the highlighted signature, please?"

"Mr. and Mrs. Brandon Phillips," Barnett read, handing the paper back to Harm.

"Objection," Mac said again. "Relevance, your honor? The court already knows that Lt. Phillips was at the Valley View Motel on the night he killed his wife."

"Do we?" Harm questioned, glancing toward the back of the room in time to see Adm. Krennick enter and take a seat. "Your Honor, if you'll grant me some leeway, I believe I can prove that it was not the defendant who signed that register at the Valley View Motel on that night."

"I'll give a *little* leeway, Commander. Don't abuse it. Overruled."

"Have you ever been to the Valley View Motel, Lieutenant?" Harm asked Barnett.

"Maybe," he said in a sullen tone.

"Maybe? Either you have or you haven't, Lt. Barnett. Which is it?"

"Okay, yes. I've been there. I sometimes take a date there when we can't go back to her place."

"Were you there on the night in question?"


"Where were you?"

"My date's roommate was also out, so we went back to her place."

"And where does your date from that evening live?"

"In Alexandria."

"And her name?"

"Janice. I don't know her last name. We met at a bar - You know how it is, Commander -"

"No, I don't, Lieutenant," Harm countered. "How well did you know Monica Phillips, Lt. Barnett?" he asked.

"Not well. We didn't travel in the same circles. Her husband kept her tied to the house like he was afraid she'd leave him if she had a chance," Barnett declared, looking at Phillips again.

"No further questions at this time, your honor, but I reserve the right to recall Lt. Barnett after my next witness."

"Very well," Helfman said.

Barnett glared at Phillips and Harm both as he passed the defense table on his way out of the room. Harm rose again. "The defense calls Mr. Jadiz Aswan to the stand."

A short, Middle Eastern man entered the courtroom and was sworn in. Turning to the witness, Harm asked, "Mr. Aswan, what do you do for a living?"

"I was the night clerk at the Valley View Motel."


"My last night there was Sept 13. I received a call early the next morning that my sister in Kuwait had been injured in an accident and left immediately to be with her."

"So you've been out of the country since the morning of Sept 14?" Harm clarified.

"That's correct."

"Mr. Aswan, were you aware before you left that a murder had taken place at the motel on the evening before your departure?"

"No. I did not know about it until I returned from Kuwait two days ago and a friend told me about it, and showed me a photograph of Lt. Phillips from the newspaper."

Harm showed him the copy of the register. "Do you recognize this, Mr. Aswan?"

"Yes. It is a copy of the motel register from the night of the murder."

"Do you remember the man who signed the name that's highlighted on that page?"


"Could you please describe that man for the court?"

"He was Caucasian, about five foot six inches tall, around thirty years old. He had short brown hair and brown eyes."

Aware that the witness had just described his client, Harm asked, "Do you see that man in this courtroom, Mr. Aswan?"

Mr. Aswan looked directly at Lt. Phillips before answering. "No, I do not."

Harm took a coroner's photograph of Monica Phillips from the evidence table and carried it over to the witness. "This is defense exhibit three, Mr. Aswan. Have you ever seen this woman?"

"Yes. She was with the man who signed the register using the name Brandon Phillips."

"Let the record show that Mr. Aswan identified the woman as Monica Phillips," Harm requested. "Did Mrs. Phillips come into the office with the other man, Mr. Aswan?"

"No. She remained outside, in the car."

"Then how did you see her?"

"Just after the man came into the office and signed the register, it was the time when I usually emptied the outside trash cans. So I left the office and saw them go into Room 16 together."

"What kind of car were they in?"

"It was - late model Ford. Dark. Four doors. The license number is written on the register as required."

"Had you ever seen either Monica Phillips or the man before that night?"

"No. Never."

"Have you seen the man who signed this register since that night, Mr. Aswan?"

"Yes. As I was entering the courtroom, I passed him on the way out."

"Thank you, Mr. Aswan," Harm said, sitting down beside his client.

Mac rose from her chair. "Mr. Aswan - it was rather - convenient that you received a call about your sister on the same night as a murder took place, don't you agree?"

"It was not convenient for my sister, Colonel," he told her. "She nearly died before I arrived. As it was, she died a week ago as a result of complications."

"I'm sorry to hear that, Mr. Aswan," Mac said. "And no one tried to contact you while you were in Kuwait about this matter?"

"To my knowledge, no. I was going to quit the motel job anyway, as I said. I have another job with a large hotel here in DC now."

"Mr. Aswan, are you absolutely certain that the man sitting at the defense table, Lt. Brandon Phillips is not the same man that you saw that night at the motel?"

"I am positive," he declared.

"No further questions," she said, returning to her seat.

"Does the defense have any other witnesses?" Helfman asked.

"The defense recalls Lt. Barnett back to the stand."

Barnett looked worried when he entered the courtroom and returned to the stand. "I'll remind you that you're still under oath, Lieutenant," Judge Helfman admonished him.

"Yes, your honor," Barnett said, not at all the same arrogant, self-assured man who had testified earlier.

"Lt. Barnett," Harm began, "You testified earlier that you had visited the Valley View Motel 'occasionally'. Is that correct?

"I - think it was only once," he said.

"And do you remember the date of that visit, Lieutenant?"

"I was there on Sept 13 with Monica," he said. "I'm the one who signed the register, as I'm sure your last witness told the court."

"Why were you and the wife of the defendant in that motel, Lt. Barnett?"

"You know why, Commander."

"Suppose you tell the court, Lieutenant," Harm suggested in a firm tone.

"Monica and I were having an affair," he said.

"Why you sonofa-" Phillips yelled, rising to his feet, only to find the hand of the Marine guard on his shoulder.

"Commander, please instruct your client to remain calm."

Harm gave Phillips a warning look that calmed the man somewhat before he turned back to Barnett. "How long had this affair been going on?"

"Six months. It started as a - a way to get back at Phillips. I got tired of his always besting me at everything - wanted to hurt him."

"Then this wasn't a serious relationship for you?" Harm questioned.


"Was that true for Mrs. Phillips as well?"

"I thought it was. Then she told me that she'd asked her husband for a divorce - that she wanted to marry me -"

"And so you killed her -"

"I didn't mean for it to happen," he sighed. "When she told me what she'd done, I was angry, and told her it was over, that I was leaving - she grabbed for me, and I - I pushed her away. She lost her balance and fell - and hit her head. When I went to check on her, she wasn't breathing."

Fifteen minutes later, Judge Helfman ruled that the evidence did not support the need for a court martial of Lt. Phillips, and then ordered Lt. Barnett taken into custody for the murder of Monica Phillips. Lt. Phillips shook Harm's hand, thanking him before leaving the courtroom.

"You're still the best, Harm," Krennick said as she approached him and Mac.

"He got lucky," Mac insisted. "If that desk clerk hadn't shown up when he did, Lt. Phillips would have been going to court-martial."

Harm grinned, holding up a paper. "I didn't use everything, Mac," he said, giving it to her.

"Handwriting expert?"

"Proved that it wasn't Phillips handwriting on the register - but Barnett's."

"Damn," Mac sighed, shaking her head as she returned it to him. "How long have you known about this?"

"Mr. Aswan called me yesterday afternoon."

"And you didn't say a word last night -" Mac stopped, suddenly remembering that they weren't alone. "Why don't we do this in my office?" she suggested. "It's a little larger than Harm's. I'll meet you both there." Before either Harm or Krennick could comment, Mac moved ahead of them.

Harm fully expected Krennick's next question. "Last night?"

He managed a smile. "Recent development," he explained. "I'm hoping that it will become more."

"And where does this - Mr. Webb fit in?"

"He and Mac were seeing each other - his work takes him out of the country a lot. He's been gone for several days, and she needs to break it off with him."

"You're still full of surprises, Commander," Krennick laughed as they turned toward Mac's office.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~* ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

"Hey, Sturgis, you doing anything tonight?" Harm asked as they were leaving the building.

The other officer, wearing his running clothes frowned. "Well, I'm supposed to meet Varise at nine for her first set and have a late dinner after that - Why? What have you got in mind?"

"I think I mentioned that I'm moving at lunch yesterday, and you *did* offer to help -"

"How long is this gonna take?"

"Just a couple of hours. I need to move my refrigerator and desk and a couple of other things over to the new house. I've reserved a rental van that I'm picking up after work -"

"You're on. Just remember, you're gonna owe me one."

"Next time you move, man," Harm agreed.

"I was thinking more along the lines of being my best man."

Harm turned to look at him, eyes wide. "You asked her?"

"Not yet. But I'm pretty sure she'd say yes if I did. So. What's the answer?"

"Yes, of course. I'll meet you at the loft with the moving van. I figure two hours, tops."

"Where are you picking it up?"

"Not far from here."

"As long as I'm not late meeting Varise."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~* ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

"Is that Clayton Webb?" Sturgis asked as the moving van turned the corner

Harm groaned. "What the hell is *he* doing here?" he muttered.

"I thought you said he was meeting Mac for dinner?"

"He *is*," Harm sighed, parking the truck in front of the entrance and tossing the keys for the apartment to Sturgis. "Go on upstairs while I see what he wants."

"Sure you don't want back up?"

Harm grimaced. "Don't think I can take him?"

"Don't want you to *have* to," Sturgis answered with a grin as he opened the door of the truck. "Mr. Webb," he said, nodding as he passed by and went into the building.

"Commander," Clay said, watching as Harm came around the front of the truck.

"I thought you were meeting Mac, Clay?"

"I am. I just thought you and I needed to have a talk first."

"I'm not sure we have anything to say to each other, Clay. Whatever you need to say, say it to Mac."

"I would, if I thought it would make any difference to what she's going to say to *me*," Clay sighed, putting his hands into the pockets of his tailored slacks. "I knew it was a lost cause from the beginning."

"Then why *start* it?" Harm asked, going to the back of the truck and opening the door to pull the loading ramps down. "Why put all of us through this?"

"Because I figured that if you hadn't made a move on her in eight years, you weren't going to and I might have a chance with her. But I never did. You were always there, between us. Guess now I understand what that damn Australian went through."

"Clay -"

"I'm going to tell her its okay, Harm. That I understand how things are. But I just wanted to let you know that if you ever hurt her, or do anything to make her unhappy, I'll -"

"You'll what?" Harm asked, standing toe to toe with the smaller man.

"I'll have Kershaw recall you back to the CIA and make sure they bury you so deep you'll never be heard from again. Sarah's a special lady, Harm. Neither of us is nearly good enough for her. But you're the one she wants, and I'll accept that. You take care of her. She's still not over what happened -"

"From what she tells me, neither are you."

"One of the hazards of the job," Clay responded with a grim smile before he looked at his watch. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have an appointment with a friend."

Harm stood on the sidewalk, watching as the CIA agent moved to his car and drove off, still trying to make some sense of the conversation. Turning, he retrieved the two-wheel dolly from the truck and entered the building.

Sturgis looked up from the bar where he was seated. "Everything okay?"

"Yeah. He said he was going to back off and leave the field clear."

"Smart man. I never understood why he got in the middle of it to begin with."

Opening the refrigerator, Harm surveyed the contents before taking out two bottles of water and tossing one to Sturgis. "Because he gave up on my ever making a move."

"He wasn't the only one ready to do that," Sturgis pointed out. "Hell, Mac told me -"

Harm stopped, his water bottle halfway to his lips. "What did Mac tell you?"

"I guess it doesn't matter now," Sturgis said. "Right my first Christmas at JAG - we were working on a case together. A weapons counter was missing, and Mac found her because of her dreams?"

Smiling, Harm nodded. "Yeah. You asked how I managed to work with her."

"That's the one. She - uh - she told me that she was in love with you."

"And you never said anything?"

"Harm, she threatened me with deadly force if I *ever* told you. I wasn't about to have that particular Marine on my bad side at that time."

"That was almost two years ago," Harm said.

"And if she finds out you know, I'm denying everything," Sturgis claimed, grinning. "We gonna get this show on the road or not?"

Harm picked up a box from nearby. "You start unloading the fridge into that."

"What are you going to be doing?" Sturgis asked.

"Stripping the bed and breaking it down," he answered, moving toward the raised bedroom. "I told Mac I wasn't going to take it, but that bed that I bought for the new house is too damn soft."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~* ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Clay was late, and Mac considered just leaving the restaurant instead of waiting, fully expecting her cell phone to ring with another one of his excuses. Just as she was about to rise from her chair, she saw him crossing the restaurant toward her.

There was something about the look on his face that set off alarms in her head as she tried to smile at him. "Hello, Sarah," he said as he sat down.

"Clay. I was almost ready to leave."

"Sorry I'm late. I had someone that I needed to talk to."

"Clay, I -"

He stopped her. "Sarah, let's have dinner first and then we'll talk."

She gave in, mostly because he looked so unhappy and tired. The waiter came to take their orders, and she was relieved when Clay didn't ask for an alcoholic drink. Instead, he asked for tonic water with lime. Maybe he had passed the crisis and was going to get over everything that had happened after all.

"I decided to go back to counseling," she told him as they ate.

"Good. I thought you'd given it up too quickly. I guess it was Harm that finally got through to you about it?"

"In a way," she nodded. "I'm going three times a week."

After that, conversation lagged until after they both finished their meals. "I'm sorry I wasn't there for you, Sarah," Clay said, and Mac realized that the conversation she'd been dreading was at hand.

"I knew going in Clay that you probably couldn't be. I shouldn't have expected more than you could give."

"No. You should have expected it. You had every right to expect the person you care about to be there for you," Clay insisted, reaching out to take her hand in his. "I think I always knew that you and I wouldn't last. From day one, Harm was there between us. It made me feel guilty that I had come between you - even though I convinced myself that there *was* nothing between you," he mused with a small smile. "I spent eight years, watching the two of you dance around each other, watching you become more and more frustrated at his inability to get off the dime and tell you how he felt - I guess I just figured that I could make you forget him."

"Clay - I never wanted to hurt you. I owe you -" she took a deep breath, trying to keep the tears that were slowly filling her eyes from falling.

"You don't owe me anything, Sarah. You more than repaid any debt for what happened in Paraguay by standing by me when I needed you - by what you did to Saddiq. And I'm also not kidding myself that I was the only reason you took that last shot." He looked down. "I - convinced Kershaw to let me listen to the entire tape of that conversation, Sarah," he told her.

Mac's eyes fell to the table as she remembered the damning words that Saddiq Faad had spoken that night. Words deliberately designed to slice away her self-worth and control like a sharp knife digging into her skin, stripping away the layers a little at a time.

"I wish you hadn't had to go through that," Clay said now.

"I think maybe that I *had* to, Clay," she told him, and seeing his look of confusion, continued. "Maybe that's what it took for me to start taking stock of my life and where it was going. To make me figure out what I wanted."

"None of it changes the fact that I love you, Sarah. And that I always will."

"And I love you, Clay," she replied. "And you'll always be important to me. But -"

"You're *in* love with Harm," Clay finished for her, sighing. "It's not as if I didn't know that. Like I said, after eight years, I knew the score when this started. I hope you'll be happy, Sarah. And that you still consider me to be a friend."

"I do, Clay." She smiled at him.

"You about ready to go?" he asked. "I've got a long day tomorrow, finishing up debriefing from my last mission."

Mac nodded and stood up, picking up her purse and coat from one of the other chairs. She waited at the front while he paid the check, and then he walked her out to car. Unlocking the red Corvette, Mac let him open the door for her and then got inside. Looking up at him, she asked, "Are you going to be okay?"

"I'll be fine," he assured her, giving her a smile. "Take care, Sarah."

"I will, Clay. I hope you find someone. You deserve to have a happy life."

Clay closed the door and waited for her to pull out of the parking space before going to his own car. Once inside, he sat there for a long moment, hands on the steering wheel, head bowed before he started the engine and turned the car toward Alexandria.


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