0156 Hours Local
La Jolla, CA
"I need to get home, guys," Nick Holder told his friends. "My sis is going to throw a real fit when I come in this late."
"Come on, Nick," Carl Logan insisted, throwing an arm around the smaller boy's shoulders and bending it over his neck in a playful wrestling hold. "The night's still young, man! Your sister'll get over it. Besides," he added. "What can she do? Ground you?" He snorted. "Like that's gonna stick."
"Things are different now, man," Nick insisted.
"Hey! What're you guys doing out here?" a new voice asked, causing the two boys to turn toward an alleyway which they were passing.
In the entrance stood several other boys, their faces clearly not pleased to see Nick and Carl.
"We don't want any trouble, Stick," Nick told the oldest boy. "We're just passing through on our way home."
"Home's -" Stick pointed in the other direction, "*that* way. So you ain't just 'passin through'. You're on our turf."
"We're not looking for trouble, man," Carl insisted.
"Then you shouldn't be on our turf, *man*," one of Stick's gang informed Carl, moving up to push the boy with his finger against his chest.
Nick grabbed Carl's arm as his friend would have taken a swing at the boy. "It's not worth it, Carl."
"What's the matter, Nick?" Stick sneered. "You turnin' chicken?" he asked, and several of his gang began to cluck and snicker.
"Naw, he's not chicken, Stick," the boy who had pushed Carl said, standing over Nick's much smaller form said with a snarl. "He's just been hanging out with that goodie-two shoes ex Navy guy at the gym. Ain't that right, Nick?"
"I've been spending time at the gym, yeah," Nick said. "What of it? It beats hanging out with a bunch of losers."
Stick straightened up from his characteristic slouch. "You callin' us losers, man?"
"Losers," Carl repeated for Nick. "Yeah. That's what you guys are."
"Carl," Nick said, trying to grab his friend's arm again as the gang began to surround them. "Let's go."
"Oooh, he's gonna run away," Stick's right hand man declared in a challenging tone.
"I don't think so," Stick said, lifting a length of pipe that he'd been holding and slapping it into his other palm.
Nick used his smaller size to his advantage as he quickly bent and pulled a knife from his boot, holding it out toward Stick and his friends. "Back off, Stick," he warned. "I don't want to hurt you, but I will."
"You'll have to go through my boys to get to me, Nick," Stick declared, nodding at the one who had pushed Carl.
Suddenly Nick and Carl found themselves set upon by five other boys, and Nick lost his knife in the melee. The gang forced them down the alley and away from the street. Nick ducked behind a dumpster, hiding in the darkness, thinking that Carl was right behind him. His plan was to wait for Stick's boys to get tired of the game and go looking for someone else to hassle.
But when he looked around, Carl wasn't there. Nick waited a moment, listening as he heard the sound of a police car's siren rending the night air. Stick's gang scattered, escaping from the alley in an attempt to keep from being found there by the local cops.
Nick decided to try and make a break for it - not wanting to have to face his sister if the cops had to take him home again. And he didn't even want to consider what Harm's reaction would be to that.
He stumbled through the darkness, keeping close to the wall, grateful that his small size made him harder to see. Suddenly he tripped over something soft and warm and yet curiously unyielding.
Nick put out his hand to lift himself up and away from whatever he'd bumped into - only to feel sticky warmth on his right hand - and the hardness of what felt like a knife handle nearby.
He went to his knees and lifted his hand to look at it just as the police car stopped and turned on the spotlight - revealing him kneeling over Stick's body - Nick's knife sticking out of the other boy's chest.
1330 Hours Local
La Jolla, CA
"Hello, Mattie," the mail carrier said as she approached the front porch where Mattie was sitting. "About ready for school?"
"Almost, Kate," Mattie said. "Anything for us today?"
"Of course," Kate said, handing her the envelopes. "How is the therapy going?" she asked.
Mattie grinned and moved her feet. "Getting there."
"Think you'll win the bet?"
"I have another week. All I have to do is stand on my own, and that ten dollars is mine."
"I somehow don't think your dad will mind paying off *that* particular bet," Kate said. "Well, I have to finish my rounds. Good luck."
"Thanks," Mattie said, turning her attention to the envelopes in her hand as Kate left the porch. One looked very official, and was from the California Bar Association. "Harm!" she called, setting the chair into motion toward the front screen door. "Harm! It's here!"
He appeared in the hallway behind the screen. "What's here, Mattie?" he asked.
She held up the envelope. "It's the Bar! Maybe it's your results!" Harm came out of the house and took the envelope from her, staring at it. "Aren't you going to open it?" she wanted to know.
"Yeah." He didn't bother with the pocket knife in his pocket as he tore the end off the envelope and slipped the contents out. Slowly, he opened it up and read the neatly typed page.
"Well?!" Mattie asked, tugging on his sleeve.
"I passed," he said, laughing and bending to give her a big hug.
"I *knew* it! I knew you would."
"So did I," he said. "What do you say to celebrating? After Mac gets home, we'll all go out to eat."
"Sounds great!" she agreed. "You gonna call her?"
"I think I'd better. Make sure she can clear her schedule for the evening."
"I'm going to go call Grandma Trish and give her the news," Mattie declared as Harm took out his cell phone. He opened the screen door for her, and then hit the speed dial for the JAG office.
"Joint Legal Services Command, Lt. Col. Mackenzie's office."
"Jen, is Mac busy?"
"I'm afraid so," Jen said apologetically. "She's in a meeting."
"Could you have her call me as soon as she's free?" Harm asked. "I have some good news for her."
"You passed the bar," Jen guessed, and Harm could almost see her smile through the phone and laughed.
"Congratulations," she said to him. "I won't spoil the surprise for Col. Mackenzie," she assured him. "I'll tell her you called and that you want her to call you back."
"Thanks." Harm wasn't sure why, but he heard himself say, "Are you coming over to see Mattie this afternoon?"
"I was planning on it. Why?"
"I'm going to take Mac and Mattie out to celebrate. I thought maybe you'd like to join us."
"I'm sorry, but - I already have other plans."
Harm ignored the feeling of disappointment at her words. "Oh."
"Jack asked me to dinner again," she explained.
"You and he could join us," Harm suggested, wondering why he was doing so.
"I'll suggest it to him when I talk to him later," Jen promised. "I have to go -"
"Sure. Don't forget to give Mac my message."
"I won't," she assured him.
As he hung up, Jen appeared in the doorway. "Yeah. He's right here," she said into her cell phone. Holding it out, she said, "Grandma Trish wants to talk to you."
The doorbell rang just as Harm took the phone, and Mattie turned her chair around. "I'll get it," she offered, still beaming with pride for her guardian's success.
"Hi, Mom," Harm said, putting the phone to his ear.
"Congratulations Harm," she replied. "Have you decided yet what you're going to do?"
"Not entirely. Once Mattie starts school, I might knock on a few law firm doors, or I might just hang a shingle and work from here for awhile until I get established."
Harm frowned when he heard Mattie talking to their guest and saw Mrs. T enter the room.
"Well, I'm sure whatever you decide to do, you'll be a success," Trish was saying. "Mattie said that you're taking her and Mac out to dinner this evening."
"Yeah. That's the plan, anyway."
"Have a good time. And again, I'm very proud of you, dear. I know I haven't said that enough -"
"You didn't have to, Mom," he assured her. "I knew. We have some company. I'll talk to you later."
"All right. Good bye."
"Bye," Harm said almost absentmindedly as he closed the phone and held it out to Mattie. Mrs. T looked agitated and worried. "Mrs. T. This is a surprise. It's not your day, is it?"
"No," she confirmed, sitting down in one of the arm chairs in the living room. "Something's happened, and I hope you can help. Mattie told me that you got word that you passed the California bar -"
"That's right. I just got confirmation today."
"That was a stroke of good fortune, anyway. Nick's in trouble," she told him.
"Nick?" Harm repeated, an image of Nick Holder, one of the boys from the gym coming to his mind. "What's happened?"
1400 Hours Local
La Jolla Juvenile Center
Harm watched as Nick was led into the room and the door closed behind him. "Hello, Nick," he said.
Nick looked surprised - and a little relieved, Harm thought - as he looked around. "Where's Cassie?"
"She's waiting outside," Harm said of Nick's older sister. "She agreed that right now I'm the one who needs to talk to you."
"I'm sorry, Harm," Nick said. "I guess I let you down."
"Not necessarily, Nick," Harm said, indicating one of the chairs at the table. "Why don't we sit down while you tell me what happened last night?"
"You don't want to know if I killed him?" Nick asked.
Harm looked at the boy. "Did you?"
"No!" Nick insisted. "I didn't. I was trying to get us out of there."
"They found your fingerprints on the knife, Nick."
"That's because it's my knife," Nick confirmed, and Harm lifted an eyebrow. "I know. I told you that I wouldn't carry it anymore. But I grabbed it when I left the house out of habit, I guess. And I only took it out to make Stick and his guys leave us alone."
"Us?" Harm questioned.
"Carl was with me. He took off when the others did, I guess."
"Okay. Start at the beginning," Harm said. "And tell me what happened. We can start with what you and Carl were doing in that part of town in the middle of the night."
"Carl wanted to hang out," Nick said. "His mom had to work and he didn't want to stick around the house by himself. So he called me and we went to Gino's." Harm nodded. Gino's Pizza was a local hangout for high school kids.
"Gino's closes at midnight," Harm said. "The police picked you up two hours later."
Nick sighed. "Carl wasn't ready to go home yet. So we went to the park down on Miller and played some ball on the court there."
"That court is locked at night," Harm pointed out.
"Carl picked the lock," Nick told him, giving an apologetic look.
"We were heading back toward Carl's - he wanted me to stick around til his mom got home. But on the way, we ran into Stick and his friends."
"Stick was a local gang leader, right?"
Nick snorted. "They weren't a gang. They're just a bunch of losers who want attention and figure they can get it by pretending to be from the hood."
"What happened then?" Harm asked, taking notes as Nick told him what had happened. "You lost your knife?"
"Yeah. One of Stick's guys - calls himself Knife, but his real name is Leo - knocked it out of my hand."
"And you didn't see it again until you found it in Stick."
"No. Someone else must have picked it up and killed him with it while I was behind that dumpster." Nick looked down at the table before lifting his gaze to Harm. "I'm in real trouble, aren't I?"
"You could be," Harm admitted, not wanting to lie to the boy. "But I'm going to do everything I can to help. If you want me as your attorney, anyway."
"You'd do that?"
"Yeah. I'd do that."
Nick looked relieved at the news. "Then I got nothing to worry about, right? Mrs. T's always saying how you were a really great Navy lawyer."
"We'll see about that. If I can get you released into your sister's care, Nick -"
"Believe me, I won't be doing anything stupid," Nick assured him. "Although I doubt she'll want me around after this."
"She might surprise you." Harm went to the door and signaled the guard that he was ready to leave. "You'll have to go back to the holding area until I get things worked out," he told Nick, "but it shouldn't be long."
"I can't afford to pay you, Mr. Rabb," Cassie Holder told Harm as they waited for the judge to enter his chambers.
"We can discuss it later," he assured her. "Right now, I just want to get Nick out of Juvenile Hall and home so we can clear this up."
The district attorney, whose name was Paul Davis, entered with Judge Norris. "I don't think we've met, Mr. Rabb," Norris said as he shook Harm's hand.
"I've only recently returned to the area, your honor," Harm said. "I retired from the Navy's Judge Advocate General's office a couple of months ago."
Harm thought that Norris looked impressed by the news, but Davis' upper lip curled slightly. "I assume you've passed the California bar, Mr. Rabb."
"I just got word today that I passed," Harm informed him smoothly as he indicated Cassie. "This is Ms. Cassie Holder, Your Honor. She's the sister of the young man that I wanted to talk to you about."
"Miss Holder," Judge Norris said, looking at the file folder on his desk. "What do you have to say about this, Mr. Davis?" he asked the ADA.
"That I can't believe Mr. Rabb would even attempt to ask that Nicholas Holder be released into his sister's custody, sir. She's obviously unable to keep an eye on him, as you can see from his previous record. What guarantee do we have that she would do a better job now than she has before?"
"That's a very good question, Miss Holder," Judge Norris agreed, looking at her over his glasses. "What guarantee can you give of that?"
1652 Hours Local
La Jolla, CA
Mattie heard Harm's car turn into the drive. "He's home," she told Mrs. T, listening to the garage door open. She sent her chair toward the kitchen to be there so she could find out how things had gone at juvenile hall.
Mrs. T followed closely behind, also curious. When the door from the garage opened to admit Harm and Nick, both women were surprised. "Nick!" Mrs. T declared, moving to give him a hug.
Mattie noticed that the boy accepted the embrace with a touch of embarrassment, but she could also tell that the boy was enjoying the affection. Mattie's eyes widened in surprise as she looked from Nick to Harm. "Harm, what's going on?" she asked her guardian.
"Nick's going to be staying here until things get sorted out," Harm explained.
"What about your sister?" Mrs. T asked Nick as he disentangled himself from her arms.
"The judge wasn't sure that Cassie could keep a close enough eye on him," Harm continued. "Nick, I think you remember Mattie."
"Yeah," Nick said. He and the other kids had been introduced to Mattie when Trish had dropped her at the gym one afternoon, where she watched the basketball game. And they had also spent a couple of minutes together when he and some of the other boys had gone out to Ramona to take a ride in Sarah. Mattie's being willing to go up had caused several of the other boys to decide to fly as well. "How're you doing?"
"Better," Mattie told him, smiling. She knew that Harm considered Nick to be his "personal project" and wanted to help. "Why don't I show you to your room?" she suggested, earning a look of approval and pride from Harm.
Nick glanced at Harm, who nodded his head toward the door. "Go on. I would imagine you could use a little shut-eye after last night and today."
"Yeah. But I doubt I'll be able to sleep." He started to follow Mattie from the room, but stopped in the doorway. "Harm - thanks."
"Save it until after we clear this up and you can go home," Harm said. "And we *will* clear it up."
Nick nodded in silent acceptance of Harm's statement before disappearing into the hallway.
"How bad is it?" Mrs. T asked Harm once they were alone in the kitchen.
Harm went to the refrigerator and took out a bottle of water before answering, a close eye on the doorway. "Why don't we go out back and talk?" he suggested, not wanting Nick or Mattie to overhear them by accident.
Once outside, Harm told Mrs. T, "It's not good. He was found kneeling over the body, his knife in the other boy's chest."
"Oh my. Did he tell you what happened?"
"Nice room," Nick said, dropping his backpack onto the bed and looking around. Mattie remained in the doorway, watching him.
"Yeah." He moved to the window that overlooked the back yard. "Does Harm do this often?" he asked.
"Do what?" Mattie questioned in reply.
Nick lifted his shoulders as he searched for the right words. "Oh - rescue people. Go to the mat for someone he barely knows."
Mattie grinned. "Yeah. For as long as I've known him anyway. That's how I ended up with Harm. He was there for me when my own dad wasn't." Nick nodded as she spoke. "Harm likes to help people. He's just that kind of a guy. And if he says things will work out, I'd bet the farm on it."
"He's that good?"
"He had a rep in the Navy as being a 'miracle worker'. That's nothing to sneeze at."
"I don't know if even a miracle will help me," Nick said with a deep sigh. "I'm in a *lot* of trouble."
"Do you trust Harm?"
Nick looked thoughtful as he glanced out of the window again. Then he nodded. "Yeah. I do."
"Then that's the first step. The rest will follow." She smiled again. "And remember that you're not alone. You have Harm and Mrs. T in your corner. And me. And Mac," she added.
"Harm's fiancée," Mattie explained. "She's a Marine Lt. Colonel."
"Oh. Yeah. You sure she's gonna be okay with my being here?"
"Mac'll be fine with it," Mattie said. "I'm gonna go and let you settle in."
"Okay. Thanks, Mattie."
"You're welcome," she said before leaving the room and heading back toward the kitchen.
Mattie saw Mrs. T to the door, and then returned to the kitchen, where Harm was standing at the back door. "What did Mac say when you told her that Nick was going to be staying here?" she asked, and Harm winced. "You didn't tell her?"
He pulled out his cell, shaking his head. "I turned off the cell phone when I went into the judge's chambers. With everything going on, I guess I forgot to turn it back on -" he winced again as the sound of an alert sounded when he pressed the button. "Great. Mac tried to call *twice*. Did she call here?"
"Yeah. She said she hadn't been able to reach you. I told her where you'd gone and that you'd probably call her once you got finished."
Harm pressed the speed dial for Mac's cell, shaking his head when it went to voice mail. "Mac, I'm sorry I missed your calls. I'll explain when I see you. Love you." He hung up, and then dialed the number for the JLSC. "Jen, it's Harm."
"She's in another meeting," Jen said.
"Figures. I just tried to reach her cell and got her voicemail. Let her know I called when she gets finished, okay?"
"I will. She told me that she'd tried to reach you a couple of times -"
"Yeah. I just got the messages."
"Uh - Harm - is that offer to dinner still open?" she asked.
"Dinner," Harm repeated. "I'd forgotten all about - I'm not sure we're still going out, Jen. Things have happened -"
"Oh." He thought she sounded a little disappointed. "I talked to Jack and he said he wouldn't mind going out to eat on your dime," she told him, causing Harm to smile.
"That figures," he said.
Mattie spoke up. "We can still go out, Harm," she said. "I'm sure Nick will be okay with it. He wouldn't appreciate it if we change things around just because he's here."
"Nick?" Jen questioned, hearing Mattie's words through the line.
"One of the kids from the gym," Harm explained. "He's in some trouble, and the court decided he would be better off here until it gets sorted out." An idea formed in Harm's mind. "Mattie's right. We'll go to dinner - and you and Keeter are invited. I have something to ask him."
"Great. I'll let him know. What time?"
"Oh - that depends on when Mac can get away. What's her schedule look like for the rest of the day?"
He heard her flipping through the calendar. "Oh, nothing major going on. There are a couple of phone calls she has to return, but unless something comes up, she should get out of here on time."
"Good. Make sure she calls me, okay?"
"Will do. Oh. What time?"
"1900. We'll meet here."
"Sounds good to me. Bye."
"See you later." Harm hung up the phone as Nick appeared in the kitchen doorway. "Hey, Nick."
"I put my stuff away," he told them, moving farther into the room. "Not sure what else I should do."
"Well, you could start by making a list of all the boys who were in that alley this morning and their addresses if you know them."
"I can do that," Nick agreed.
"And I'll help," Mattie offered, rolling over to a kitchen drawer, out of which she pulled some paper and a pen. "Let's go outside."
Nick turned his dark eyes toward Harm. "Is that okay?"
"It's fine," Harm assured him. "You're not a prisoner here, Nick. Just make sure one of us knows where you are at all times - and don't go anywhere without us."
Nick grimaced. "Sounds like jail to me."
"Could be worse," Harm suggested with a half smile. "I think your sister mentioned something about putting a padlock on your bedroom door -?"
Nick laughed, shaking his head. "She wouldn't have done it. Cassie talks big, but she would have caved. How long do you think this is going to take to clear up?"
"No way of telling. Not long, I hope. Why?"
"School starts next week."
"We'll discuss it over the weekend," Harm said.
"Sounds like you're anxious to get back to the books, Nick," Mattie noted, rolling her chair over to the back door.
"I worked too hard with Mrs. T over the summer to bring my grades up," Nick said as he followed her outside. "I'd hate to think that all went for nothing."
1730 Hours Local
"What's going on?" Mac asked when she finally called back.
"Lots of things," Harm replied. "Look, I'm sorry I wasn't available earlier - I turned the phone off while I was in chambers -"
"Chambers?" Mac questioned. "As in 'judge's chambers'?"
"Yeah. Mrs. T came by right after I left the first message for you to call me," he said. "You remember my telling you about Nick Holder?"
"One of the boys at the gym, right?" Mac replied, and he could hear that she was distracted by something as she spoke.
"Yeah. Orphaned, being raised by his older sister along with two other sisters. He got into some trouble last night, and Mrs. T asked me to go down and see if I could help."
"You're not certified -"
"As a matter of fact, that's why I called you to begin with," Harm interrupted with a grin. "I got word in today's mail that I passed the bar exam."
"You did? That's great! I know you've been at loose ends, wondering what you were going to do once Mattie started back to school - so I guess you've decided to take his case."
"Nick's? Yes. The only problem is - well, the judge refused to release Nick back into his sister's care and the only way to get him out was for me to agree to be responsible for him."
There was a moment of silence on the other end of the line. The only way that Harm knew Mac was still there was the sound of her breathing. "You brought him home?"
"I didn't really have any choice, Mac. It was either that or let him sit there in juvenile detention until this gets sorted out."
"But not to at least discuss it with me - or Mattie before doing it -"
"Mattie's fine with it, Mac," Harm said. "Nick's a good kid. He just needs a firmer hand than he's been getting from his sister. Some guidance and attention."
"We'll discuss it when I get home," she told him.
"How much longer are you going to be?" he asked. "I thought we might go out to celebrate my good news."
"I don't know. I have some paperwork to finish up before I can leave. It could be another hour."
"Why don't you meet us at the restaurant, then?" Harm suggested. "I thought we'd go to that seafood place on Oceanview. Say, about 1900?"
"Oscar's," Mac recalled. "Okay. I think I can get away by then."
"I love you, Mac," he said.
"I love you," she replied. "It's just - It's been one of those days."
"I understand." He lowered his voice, even though he knew Mattie and Nick were still on the patio, creating the list that Harm had asked for. "I'll make it better when we get home tonight."
"Sounds promising," Mac said. "I'm looking forward to it. I'll see you later."
"Bye," Harm said, hanging up the phone with a smile. He looked up the number for Oscar's and made a reservation for six - then changed it to eight at the last minute. Once that was done, he dialed his mom's number, inviting her and Frank to join them as well after telling her about Nick and his situation.
1910 Hours Local
La Jolla, CA
"You were lucky to get reservations for such a large group, Harm," Trish pointed out as she and Frank were seated.
"Just lucky," Harm replied. "I think you know just about everyone -" he said, then nodded toward Nick. "Except for Nick here. Nick Holder, my mom and step-dad. Trish and Frank Burnett."
"Pleased to meet you, ma'am, sir," Nick said, looking as though he felt more than a little out of place.
"Will you be going to the same school as Mattie, Nick?" Trish asked.
"If I get to start school next week, yes, ma'am," Nick replied, and Harm saw the quick glance in his direction, as if Nick wanted to make sure Harm was noticing how polite he was being. "I was telling Mattie earlier all about which teachers she needed to watch out for and which ones are okay."
"Okay?" Frank questioned.
Keeter, sitting on the other side of Jen, who was sitting beside Harm, leaned over to speak while Nick was explaining to Frank what he considered to be an 'okay' teacher to be. "What are the chances he'll be able to start school?"
"That depends on whether or not I can talk you into helping me on the case, Keeter," was Harm's reply.
"I'm not a lawyer, Harm."
"No," Jen agreed, leaning closer as well, and keeping her voice down. "But I think Harm needs someone to do some legwork, right?" she asked, her eyes sparkling with amusement. "A little investigation?"
Harm returned her smile. "You're right, Jen. How about it, Keeter? I can't promise any cash for the job, but it'll keep you busy, anyway."
"You *have* been complaining that you're bored, Jack," Jen pointed out. "That you could use a little excitement?"
"I don't know any of those boys," Keeter told Harm. "They'd be more likely to trust you before they'd trust me."
"It's not the boys from the gym that I need you to talk to, Keeter."
Harm watched as his old friend realized what he meant. "Okay. I'll give it a shot."
"Call me tomorrow morning and we'll get something set up. Nick made a list earlier of the boys that were in the alley this morning. I'll talk to his friend Carl. You'll have to take the other boys."
"The gang, you mean."
Jen laughed softly and leaned even closer to Keeter. "I'll be glad to go with you if you think you need some back up, Jack," she told him in a teasing tone. "I've got a little experience with gangs, remember."
"I'm not sure that's a good idea, Jen," Harm said. "One of those boys is a murderer -"
"I've dealt with murderers before, Harm," she insisted. "Remember Pia?"
"Pia?" Keeter questioned. "Who's that?"
Harm and Jen exchanged a knowing look before Jen answered. "An old friend. Remind me to tell you about her later."
"When's Mac supposed to be here, Harm?" Mattie asked and nodded toward the waiter, who was bringing their drink orders on a tray.
He glanced at his watch. "Any time."
"Would you like to wait a little longer before ordering?" the waiter asked once he had finished handing out the coffee, tea and adult beverages to the party. "I notice that you're still missing one of your party." His gaze moved to the empty chair beside Harm.
Harm looked at the others. "I think we'll wait another few minutes, if that's okay with everyone else?"
The other agreed, and the waiter left them alone again.
"If she's not here in ten more minutes, I'm going to go outside and call her," Harm told the others.
"She probably got tied up on the phone or with some paperwork," Jen suggested.
"It's not like she'd lose track of the time," Mattie agreed.
"She does have a good sense of time," Trish nodded. "Has she ever explained how she manages to tell time so accurately without looking at watch?" she asked Harm.
"She does that?" Nick asked, surprised by the news.
"Ever since I first met her," Harm nodded. "And no, she's never explained. I've gotten every answer from 'It's a Marine thing' to 'I've just got good timing' to something in Iranian that would 'lose something in the translation'." They all laughed at the joke. "I'm not sure she even knows how she does it. She's just got an internal chronometer that's unerringly accurate no matter what time zone she's in."
"Now that's cool," Nick said, his eyes widening as he looked behind Harm. "Is that her?" he asked.
Harm turned to see Mac, still in uniform, talking to the hostess before turning to look in their direction. Harm lifted his hand to wave, until he saw Mac's quickly hidden look of surprise. "Excuse me," his told his friends and family before rising to cross the room toward her, meeting her halfway. "Hi there," he said, leaning in to give her a kiss that landed on her cheek when she turned her head. "You're upset."
"I wasn't aware that you had decided to throw a dinner party at a restaurant," she said. "I thought the celebratory dinner was just you, me and Mattie."
"I explained about Nick -"
"Yes," she agreed. "But Jen and Keeter? And your mom and Frank?"
"I wanted to spread the happiness around," Harm said, aware that they were starting to attract attention as they stood talking softly in the middle of the restaurant's dining area. "Look, does it really matter how many people are here? We're all family and friends."
"You're right," Mac said, visibly relaxing her shoulders. "I just wasn't expecting. We'd better get over there."
She led the way back to the table, greeting Mattie, Trish, and Frank with a quick embrace before saying hello to Jen and Keeter. Then she turned her attention to Nick. "And you must be Nick."
"You really *are* a Marine," he said. "Mattie and Harm said you were, but - Wow."
Mac laughed at his astonished expression. "I'll take that as a compliment." The waiter arrived, taking Mac's order for tonic water with a twist of lime, and then picked up her menu while the others gave him their dinner orders.
"I'm sorry I'm late," Mac said. "I got a telephone call from Admiral Drake just as I was about to leave, and that entailed my finding some information that he had to have twenty minutes before he called." She gave Harm an apologetic look. "And it also means that I have another ton of paperwork to get through tonight before I can get any sleep."
Harm reached over to give her hand a squeeze. "It's okay."
"Surely you could find someone else to do all this paperwork, Mac," Trish said. "You're not the only one who works at that office, are you?"
"No, I'm not. But I *am* in command. And I'm the only one right now who knows the information that I need to complete the paperwork." She took a deep breath. "Now, we're here to celebrate Harm's good news, aren't we?"
Harm had wisely stayed out of the conversation between his mother and his fiancée, knowing that the two women needed to sort things out without his interference. Now, he smiled as Keeter lifted his glass of beer. "To Harm."
2130 Hours Local
La Jolla, CA
"He seems like a nice young man, Harm," Trish commented as she watched Nick go toward the Lexus with Mattie.
"He is, under all the bravado he presents to the world at large," Harm noted. "He was on his best behavior tonight. He wanted to impress Mac, and didn't want to embarrass me in front of everyone."
"You're a good influence on him, obviously, Harm," Frank said.
"Harm's very good with kids," Mac said, sharing a sad smile with him and accepting a small hug before asking Trish, "Did he do this as a child? Drag in every stray he could find to try and help them?"
"Ma-ac," Harm sighed, but Trish simply smiled.
"As a matter of fact, yes, he did. Dogs, cats, the odd stray soul who he felt needed help. But that's part of who he is. And I wouldn't change it for the world." She took Harm's hand, holding it for a long moment.
"That's not what you said when I brought that homeless guy in when I was ten years old and asked if he could spend the night," Harm reminded her.
"I let him stay, didn't I?" she replied archly, a smile still hovering around her lips.
"Yeah," he recalled. "You did. You even found him some old clothes and let him take a shower."
"Well, I might have been willing to help the poor man, but I drew the line at letting him sleep on *my* sheets when he hadn't bathed in over a month," Trish said, causing everyone to laugh. She gave Harm a quick hug. "We'd better go. I'll talk to you tomorrow."
"Okay." He shook Frank's hand. "Thanks for paying for dinner, Frank. I didn't intend -"
"Hey, it's not everyday that my stepson passes the bar. Figured it was the least I could do." He gave Mac a hug. "Don't work too hard or too late."
"I'll try not to," she answered, returning Trish's embrace as well before turning to Harm. "I'll see you back at the house. The sooner I get started on that paperwork, the sooner I'll have it finished."
"Okay. Be careful."
"Night, Jen. Keeter."
"Night, Mac," Keeter said.
"Ma'am," Jen replied, watching Mac move toward her car. Turning to Harm, she said, "I wish she would stop working so hard. It's like she's trying to prove to everyone that she can do the job when everyone already knows she can."
"Mac's always felt that she had to prove herself," Harm noted. "Comes from the hard times she had as a child. You should understand that."
"I do, I guess. Tell Mattie I'll talk to her tomorrow."
"Will do. I'll see you tomorrow, Keeter."
"Bright and early, pal," Keeter confirmed. "Thanks for the invite." He put an arm around Jen's shoulders. "Come on. It's time good little girls were in bed."
"And who says I'm a 'good little girl'?" Jen asked.
"I do," Keeter informed her, touching a finger to the tip of her nose. "Any girl who can resist my considerable charms has to be good."
"Either that or just smart," Harm suggested in a wry tone.
Keeter chuckled. "Bye, Harm."
"Night," Jen said, and Harm noticed that her dark eyes were sparkling in the light from the street lamps.
"Night, Jen. If this guy gives you any trouble at the door, let me know."
Harm turned and went to the Lexus, where Nick had helped Mattie into the back seat. "Thanks for the help, Nick."
"No problem, man. I liked your family. Your mom's kinda cool."
"I think so," Harm agreed, starting the engine.
"And if I was engaged to a looker like Mac, I don't think I'd be putting off the wedding. She's -"
"Yes, she is," Harm finished for him.
"If all lady Marines look like her, I might be tempted to join up."
Harm laughed. "Believe me, Nick. Mac's one of a kind." He glanced at the young man. "Besides, I thought you were thinking about the Navy, not the Marines."
"Hey, a guy can change his mind, can't he?"
"That's a woman's prerogative," Mattie pointed out.
Harm looked at her in the rear view mirror. "Really?"
"Not that I've changed *my* mind," she said. "I'm still planning on the Navy. Gotta keep the tradition going."
"Tradition?" Nick asked.
"Mattie's planning on going to the Naval Academy," Harm explained. "As soon as she's physically capable, we'll submit her application."
"And if we can get my name changed to Rabb before I start, I'll be the fourth generation of Rabbs to go into the Navy," Mattie finished. She grinned at Harm when he looked in the mirror at here again. "I guess I hadn't mentioned that part, had I?"
"No. I didn't think you would want to change your name -"
"I know I'm almost grown and all and I planned on discussing it with you and Mac first, but - I'd kinda like it if you were to officially adopt me. If you want to, that is," she finished, sounding a little uncertain about his reaction to her words.
"If I *want* to? What about your dad?"
"Harm, he was willing to give me up - I shouldn't have gone back to him to begin with anyway. You know that. So does he. It's the reason he didn't lift a finger to stop you bringing me out here. The last time I wrote him, I mentioned it, and he said he thought it would be good for me. It's not like I'll be cutting him totally out of my life. I'll still keep in touch, but I'd have two dads."
"Let me discuss it with Mac," Harm said.
2230 Hours Local
Rabb Mackenzie Home
La Jolla, CA
Mac glanced up and smiled as Harm came into the office carrying a fresh cup of coffee. "I don't know how you can sleep after drinking coffee," he told her, lifting the cup of herbal tea that he'd made for himself.
"It's a Marine thing," she noted, her smile widening. "Herbal tea is for wimps."
"Are you saying I'm a wimp, Colonel?" he asked, his tone light.
"If the shoe fits . . ." she responded, letting her voice trail off.
"Mattie told me that she wants us to adopt her and change her name to Rabb," he said as she picked up her coffee and took a drink.
Mac's eyes widened, and she gulped the hot liquid down the wrong way, causing her to cough and hastily return the coffee to the desk, waving Harm's attempt to help away. "She - she what?"
"Wants us to officially adopt her and become a Rabb." Seeing Mac's reaction, Harm grinned. "I had close to the same reaction."
"She's never mentioned it before?"
"What about her father? Has she discussed it with Tom?"
"Apparently." He sat forward, his hands wrapped around the warm mug. "She says he's okay with the idea. Thinks it would be good for her. I'd have to call him, talk to him personally, but I tend to agree."
"Can we adopt her before we get married?" Mac wondered. "I'm not totally up on my adoption law these days."
"Not much call for it running a JLSC, I guess," Harm agreed. "We could wait until after the wedding and do it - but I think Mattie would prefer that we get it done ASAP."
"Then let's do it." Her smile was tinged with a hint of sadness. "I guess that's one way to have a child together."
Harm put down his cup and moved to kneel beside her chair. "Mac, it'll happen."
She shook her head. "I wish I could be so sure. We've been together for almost two months now, and still nothing."
"Maybe we're trying too hard," Harm suggested. "Or maybe it's time to consider - other options," he continued slowly, watching her reaction. When she didn't say no, he continued. "There's in vitro, surrogacy - I still have that information I got off the internet -"
She smiled. "You've kept it all this time?"
"I hoped I'd need it one day."
"Maybe we can discuss it once we're married," Mac said. "I'll be able to take a little time off then. We can make plans -"
Harm rested his head against hers. "I love you so much, Mac. I just want you to be happy."
"I am," she said. "A good man, a couple of kids - even if they aren't mine," she said in an aside, "and -"
"Lots and lots of comfortable shoes," Harm finished, recalling an earlier conversation between them.
"Yeah. You *have* seen inside my closet, right?"
"I try not to look in there," he teased. "It's scary." He gave her a kiss, and then moved slowly away. "I'll go and let you get your work done. I just wanted you to know what Mattie was talking about."
"Why don't you start the proceedings?" she suggested. "We'd have a head start, at least."
"Okay." Another kiss, and he rose to his feet, lifting the cooling mug from the desk and carrying it with him to the door. "Don't be long."
"I'll try not to be."
0800 Hours Local
"Hey, Keeter! You weren't kidding about getting an early start, were you?"
"The way you talked last night, I wasn't sure we had a lot of time," Keeter said, accepting the cup of coffee that Harm handed him. "Thanks." He looked around the kitchen. "Where's Nick?"
Harm chuckled, shaking his head. "He's taking a shower. We're going to drop Mattie off at the therapist and then go to the gym to talk to Carl." He held out a piece of paper. "Here's the list of boys that he says were in the alley that night."
Keeter scanned the list of names. "Knife? Ghost?"
"'Gang' names," Harm explained. "Nick says they're mostly middle class kids who don't get enough attention at home and think it's cool to pretend to be in a gang."
"Sounds like the pretense got a little rough."
"You think that one of these boys killed this - 'Stick', don't you?"
"It would make the most sense. I'd start with his lieutenant. 'Knife'. Leo -"
"Leo Collins," Keeter finished. "Makes sense. If the leader goes down, then his lieutenant gets the power. I'll find him."
"Put the fear of God into him Keeter," Harm said. "Like you used to do with Plebes back when we were in our first class year."
"I'll do my best. But it's been a long time since I tried to intimidate anyone."
"I have confidence in you Keeter," Harm said, lifting his coffee mug in silent salute.
1030 Hours Local
La Jolla, CA
When they discovered that Carl wasn't at the gym, Harm and Nick decided to go see if the other boy was at home. There was no answer when they first knocked on the door and they were about to give up when they heard a voice on the other side.
"Just a minute! I'm coming!" A moment later, the door opened to reveal a sleepy-eyed woman wearing a bathrobe who peered out at them, recognizing Nick. "Nick! This is a surprise."
"Hell, Mrs. Logan," Nick said. "Is Carl home?"
"No," she said, frowning. "He told me that last night he was going to stay at your place for a couple of nights." She glanced up at Harm. "Who are you?"
"Harmon Rabb, Mrs. Logan. I've been working with Carl and Nick down at the gym -"
"Yeah. He's mentioned you," Mrs. Logan recalled. "Sorry I haven't gotten down to the gym to meet you before now," she began, and Harm shook his head.
"It's okay. Nick's told me that you work a lot of hours."
"Yeah. That's why it took me so long to get to the door. I'm a nurse and I work the night shift. I only got home about an hour ago."
"I'm sorry we woke you," Harm said. "But we really need to talk to Carl."
Mrs. Logan frowned. "Then Carl *isn't* staying at Nick's?" she asked.
"Could we come inside, Mrs. Logan?" Harm asked.
"Sure," she said, moving aside and opening the door into the apartment. After closing it, she tightened the belt of her robe. "What's going on?" she asked, looking at Nick. "Did you two get into some kind of trouble and Carl's afraid to face me?"
"It's not Carl who's in trouble, Mrs. Logan," Harm said, and Nick lowered his head.
"More graffiti?" Mrs. Logan suggested in what seemed to be a hopeful tone. "Your poor sister must be beside herself."
"It's a little more serious than graffiti this time, Mrs. Logan," Nick told her. "Night before last, while you were at work, Carl and I went to a movie and then hung out for awhile. We were heading back here to wait for you to come home when some guys decided to get in our faces."
"Oh. When Carl called me yesterday, he said that he was at your place."
"I haven't seen Carl since night before last, Mrs. Logan," Nick said.
"What - what happened?" she wanted to know.
Harm remained silent, letting Nick tell his story. But when he told Mrs. Logan about Stick, Harm couldn't help but notice her surprise. "Mrs. Logan, did you know Stick?"
"Not personally. But I do know that Carl blames Stick and a couple of the boys that Stick hangs out with for his sister's death."
"Sister?" Harm questioned, looking at Nick, who shrugged and shook his head.
"Carl doesn't talk about her much," Mrs. Logan explained, going to a desk and pulling a framed photo out of a drawer. "I can't keep pictures of her out here since her death affected him so deeply."
She held out the photo, revealing an attractive young woman a little younger than Mattie, Harm thought. "She and Carl were twins. Very close. She visited a friend one night and decided to walk home since I was at work. On the way, she was attacked, beaten and raped by a gang of boys. Carla -" she took the photo back, looking at it. "Carla seemed to bounce back easily - even though she said she couldn't remember what the boys who hurt her looked like. I guess it was *too* easy and we missed the signs. Carl came home one night and found her -" Mrs. Logan's eyes were shadowed. "She had taken a bottle of sleeping pills. There was nothing anyone could do to save her."
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Logan," Harm said in a quiet voice. "I'm sure it was devastating."
"It was. I went to some counseling, but Carl said he was fine and refused to go. He said that he wanted to find out who hurt Carla. Find whoever was responsible for driving her to her death."
"And he suspected Stick?" Harm asked.
She nodded, sighing deeply as she returned the photo to the desk. "He said that Stick and one of his friends had said something to him once about Carla - something that made him suspicious. But he didn't have any proof, and knew that the police would never listen to him."
"They might have listened to you," Harm suggested.
"No," she said. "Right after it happened, I haunted the police station, demanding some kind of justice - until Carla begged me to stop, that she was fine and that she wanted to just forget about what happened. Get on with her life. I still can't believe that I missed it -"
Harm moved to place a hand on the distraught mother's arm. "Mrs. Logan, do you have any idea where Carl might have gone if he wanted to hide for awhile?"
"Other than Nick's - no." She shook her head. "I'm ashamed to admit it, Mr. Rabb, but I guess I've buried myself in my work since Carla's death. Nick's been pretty much on his own. That's why I was so glad when he got involved in that group at the gym. It kept him out of trouble and off the streets. And he talked so highly of you - What happened, Nick?" she asked, sitting down again.
Nick continued his narrative, finishing up with the arrival of the police to find him kneeling over Stick's dead body. "I was hoping that Carl might have seen something. Seen who really killed him, you know?"
"Does he have any other family, Mrs. Logan?" Harm asked. "I know his father's dead -"
She nodded again, indicating the photograph of a Chief Petty Officer on the desk. "Yes. Five years ago in an accident on the Stennis. He went overboard while trying to save another sailor."
"He was a hero," Harm noted.
"We think so. There's no other family. None close, anyway. Roy's family is all back East. Carl barely remembers them." She looked at Nick. "This is serious, isn't it?"
"Yes, ma'am," Nick said.
"And you're involved - how, Mr. Rabb?" she wanted to know. "I'm an attorney," he explained. "I took Nick's case because I don't believe that he's guilty. But we need Carl to verify what Nick says about Stick and his gang."
"They're not much of a gang," Mrs. Logan said. "Not like the ones you'd think of when you use the term. They're more into spray painting cars and walls, and hassling people when they pass through the gang's so-called 'turf'."
"And possibly attacking defense young girls," Harm reminded her. "If you hear from Carl, would you give me a call?" Harm asked, handing her a card with his name and number.
Mrs. Logan took the card. "I will. I hope he can help."
Once back in the SUV, Nick spoke. "You think Carl killed Stick, don't you?" he asked in a quiet voice.
"He had motive, and opportunity," Harm pointed out. "You don't think he did it."
"No. I just can't see Carl doing something like that. And then running out and leaving me hanging -"
"Maybe he didn't know he'd done that," Harm suggested. "He might have thought you were already out of the alley, found the knife, and finished off the guy he blamed for his sister's death."
"So why hasn't he shown back up to clear me?" Nick wondered aloud. "He has to have heard about my being arrested and charged -"
"Maybe he's afraid," Harm said. "Or just confused and not sure what his next move should be."
Nick turned to look out of the window. "You know, I never really thought about why Carl seemed to dislike Stick so much. Carl never wanted to talk about it."
"How long have you known Carl?" Harm asked, turning the vehicle into traffic and back toward the clinic.
"Two years. My folks died and we moved down here to stay with Cassie. Must've been right after his sister died."
"And he never mentioned her to you?"
"No. But he was always really nice to my sisters. Didn't stop him from trying to convince me to disobey Cassie on occasion," he recalled, "stay out past my curfew and stuff like that, but he was always telling me that I should be glad to have sisters. I never thought to ask why."
"We'll see what Keeter has to say when he checks in," Harm said, turning into the clinic parking lot that sat under the building. "Let's go get Mattie."
"I'm so excited," Mattie was saying to Lisa as they entered the therapy room. "Hi, Harm! Nick." Her eyes scanned their faces, seeing past Harm's careful mask. "Something happen?" she asked.
"We'll talk about it later," Harm told her. "You about ready to go?" he asked.
"Yeah." She squeezed Lisa's hand. "Thank you."
"Don't thank me. We have more work to do."
"I know. But it's a start, right?"
Lisa grinned. "A very *good* start," she agreed, and Mattie couldn't help but see the inquisitive expression on her guardian's face as he listened to the conversation.
"We're going to be late for lunch with Grandma if we don't get a move on," Mattie told Harm and Nick, rolling her chair out of the room with Nick close behind.
Hanging back, Harm gave Lisa a long, considering look. "Something I should know about, Lisa?"
"Mattie will tell you when she's ready," Lisa said. "But I'd get that money ready if I were you."
Harm smiled, putting the problems with Nick and Carl aside for the moment. "Thank you."
"Hey, Mattie's done the hard work. I was just here to guide her. See you next appointment."
1400 Hours Local
Rabb Mackenzie Home
La Jolla, CA
Keeter's car was sitting in the driveway when they arrived after lunch with Trish, and he came from the porch to meet them, helping get Mattie out of the car and into her chair.
"How did it go, Uncle Jack?" Mattie asked him as they entered the house.
"Mattie," Harm began, not sure about her becoming so involved in Nick's case - and concerned that Nick himself might not be comfortable with the idea.
But Nick disabused him of that idea quickly. "Hey, it's cool. Say what you gotta say. I got no secrets from anyone here right now."
Harm met Keeter's questioning look with a steady one of his own. "You heard the client, Keeter. What did you find out?"
"Not much," Jack said. "I talked to Leo Collins."
"Knife," Nick said, grinning. "Bet he didn't like it when you called him 'Leo'."
"No," Jack confirmed, grinning as well. "If his mom hadn't been there, I think he would have tried to stop me from doing it. He's sure that Nick killed his friend. Said that the last time he saw the knife, Nick was holding it, threatening to use it on Stick."
"That's a bunch of -" Nick began, only to pause as Harm lifted his eyebrow. Nick glanced self-consciously at Mattie before continuing. "He's the one who knocked it out of my hand."
"He claims that they were minding their own business when you and your friend - Carl - blocked the sidewalk and then you pulled a knife on them. That they were just defending themselves, and as soon as you were out of sight, he heard the police sirens and took off."
"What about the other boys?" Harm asked.
Keeter shook his head. "All of them tell just about the same *exact* story. Last time they say Stick, he was still alive in the alley. They didn't know he was dead til the police talked to them last night."
Harm frowned. "Last night. Nick, what time does Carl's mother go into work?"
"Around five, I think. Gets home around three or four. Why?"
"Just a hunch. Keeter, could you stay here with Nick and Mattie while I go take care of something?"
"Sure. Jen's meeting me here anyway," he said, causing Harm to pause on his way toward the front door. Keeter grinned again. "Yeah. We're going out again tonight. You have a problem?"
"No," Harm said quickly. "I mean, why should I? I won't be too long."
1500 Hours Local
Heading toward North La Jolla
"Detective Morris, please," Harm said into his cell phone, and waited for the policeman investigating Derek Morgan's death came onto the line. "Detective Morris, it's Harmon Rabb . . . I was wondering, did you try to question Carl Logan? . . . Yes, that's right the boy that my client was with just before the incident - . . . What time?" He listened as Morris answered the question. "Thank you. Could you get a car over there again? . . . Just an idea. And what do you know about the death of Carla Logan? . . ."
When Harm knocked on the door to the Logan apartment this time, he wasn't surprised that Mrs. Logan answered much more quickly than she had before. "Mr. Rabb," she said, and this time Harm picked up on the nervousness in her voice. He'd mistaken it earlier for having just been awakened from sleep. She looked past him. "Is Nick with you?"
"Not this time, Mrs. Logan. I need to talk to Carl."
"I told you. I don't know where he is."
"He's sixteen years old, Mrs. Logan. If he was missing, you'd have called the police by now."
"How do you know that I haven't?"
"Because *I* just talked to the police. They said that you told them yesterday afternoon that Carl was staying with his cousins in Torrance - and that he hadn't been home at all the night before. Why did you lie?"
"Because I'm not going to lose my son. I lost my daughter, Mr. Rabb. I can't lose him as well."
"He killed Derek Morgan, didn't he?"
"He killed a monster who was responsible for my daughter's death," Mrs. Logan declared with a belligerent air.
"Where is he, Mrs. Logan?" Harm asked in a quiet voice. She had the appearance of a woman on the thin edge, and the last thing he wanted to do was to push her over it.
"I don't know."
"You don't know?"
"I gave him some money and told him to leave the area for awhile. That he could reach me at the hospital, but that I didn't want to know where he was until this had blown over."
"Until Nick was convicted of murder?" Harm suggested. "Could you really have stood by and watched as an innocent young man's life was ruined?"
"Innocent?" she repeated with a loud snort of disgust. "My Carl never got into *any* trouble until he met that boy. After that, I was constantly getting calls from the police, telling me that they had picked the two of them up for doing graffiti or shoplifting."
"You can't blame Nick for that," Harm insisted. "Carl had suffered a staggering loss. A loss that he wasn't able to share with you. That kind of thing would be reason enough for a young man to act out, to look for some answers in the wrong places."
"I'm not going to turn my only child in for killing someone who deserved to die, Mr. Rabb," Mrs. Logan insisted. "If it hadn't been for Derek Morgan, both of my children would still be here. We'd be happy." She had been standing behind the desk, and now reached down to open a drawer, pulling out a black revolver.
"Mrs. Logan," Harm said, going totally still.
"Carl bought this from some guy a few months ago. Said that he was going to use it on Stick. But I took it away from him. Said that he couldn't take the law into his own hands. Maybe I should have let him do it. He said he had it planned out, that no one would know he'd killed Stick. That the police would think it was just another gang shooting and close the books."
Harm silently wondered where the police were as he slowly moved away from the door, looking for some kind of cover. "You did the right thing, not letting him go through with it, Mrs. Logan," he assured her. "You know, the police should be here any minute. They know about Carl - about how he wanted Stick dead."
"You told them?" she asked.
"I had no choice. Nick's innocent of the murder. I couldn't let him go to jail for it. Surely you can see that. And I'm willing to try and keep Carl out of jail - if he'll come in and talk to me. Clear Nick's name."
Suddenly the door burst open, and Harm, expecting to see police, ducked and rolled toward Mrs. Logan when she turned toward the door, calling out, "She's got a gun!"
Mrs. Logan fired one shot, barely missing Jen as she followed Keeter into the room. Jen moved faster than either man, knocking the gun out of the now sobbing woman's hand and pulling her arm behind her. "Don't move," Jen warned, looking at Harm. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah," Harm said. "A little surprised to see you two here -"
"Mattie wanted you to have some back up," Keeter explained, extending his hand to help him up, just as the police appeared, led by Det. Morris.
"It's about time you got here, Detective," Harm pointed out.
1730 Hours Local
Rabb Mackenzie Home
La Jolla, CA
"So that means I'm clear?" Nick said. "I can go home?"
"Not so fast," Harm said. "We still have to find Carl, but I think once he finds out that his mother's been arrested, he'll come back. Until then, the judge thinks you'd be better off here instead of at your sister's."
"Hey," Harm said. "It's not that bad, is it?"
"No, I guess not," Nick agreed. "Better than juvie, anyway."
"Is that Mac's car I hear?" Mattie wondered, and Harm noticed that she had perked up again. Her blue eyes were wide with suppressed excitement.
"I think it is," Harm said. "She's home early."
"That's why I came over early," Jen told him. "We actually had a light afternoon. The Colonel said that she would be right behind me."
"I'm grateful that you two showed up when you did," Harm told Jen and Keeter.
"I was just pulling up when Jack came out and told me where he was going. I figured I'd tag along, since he assured me that Mattie and Nick would be okay here on their own."
Mac came into the house and moved to the living room doorway. "Are we having a party?" she asked, accepting Harm's kiss.
"In a way," Harm said. "Nick's been cleared of the murder charges."
"But he'll be staying here for another few days at least," Harm continued.
"And we have another reason to celebrate, too," Mattie announced, drawing five pairs of eyes to her. Without another word, she moved her feet from the foot rest to the floor, and then placed her hands onto the arms of the chair to slowly lever herself into a standing position. "See?" she asked, grinning from ear to ear at her accomplishment.
Everyone started speaking at once, congratulating her, saying how delighted they were. When Harm would have moved forward to give her a hug, Mattie lifted her hand, only barely struggling to retain her balance. "No. Let me come to you."
Those five pairs of eyes watched again as she took first one step, then another, and then practically fell into Harm's arms to be enfolded tightly against him. Harm met Jen's eyes first - knowing that the connection between them and Mattie was still the strongest. There were tears on her cheeks. Mac's face was wet as well.
"You ready to pay up?" Mattie asked Harm, lifting her glowing face to look at him.
"Best bet I ever lost," he answered.
The End Episode 4