Crossing the Same River
A/N: I'd just like to remind my readers that I have no medical experience at all. I have done some research and asked various medical professionals about the various HIV tests and what happens with them. To those professionals I am grateful and hasten to add that any errors of fact belong to me. (I don't need anyone else stealing the credit for them!)
Harm flashed what he hoped was a reassuring smile at Jen and standing then followed the Corpsman unto the small office, where the Corpsman closed the door and said, "Take a seat, please, sir… And I'll tell you what's about to happen. I understand that you've asked for a blood test to be screened for HIV?"
Ham nodded, "That's right."
"Well, sir, I'm going to take two blood samples. One is no more than a pin prick – that is what we call a POC test – a Point of Care Test, that will give us an immediate indication, in other words it will tell us on the spot, right here and now whether you have developed any anti-bodies to HIV. The second test is a little slower in producing results, but we will have a better answer in forty eight hours."
"Why the two tests?" Harm asked.
"Well, sir… although the POC test does produce quick results, it is not one hundred per cent accurate… but that aspect of the test is being worked on. The second test is more of a confirmatory measure, designed to reinforce the POC test. Now sir, if you'd just hike up a shirt sleeve..."
The shirt sleeve pulled up out of the way, the Corpsman applied a tourniquet to Harm'supper arm and after no more than a couple of seconds nodded in satisfaction as he found a vein in the crook of Harm's elbow. "A slight scratch coming up, sir," he said as he slid the needle smoothly and painlessly into Harm's vein. Harm watched the two vials rapidly fill with the dark venous blood and then almost before he was aware of it, a cotton bud was being pressed against the puncture wound.
"Just hold that there for a few seconds, please, sir…" the Corpsman asked and then taped the cotton bud in place. "Now for the POC test, sir," he opened a sterile package producing a strip of plastic and a small, spring-loaded lancet. Pressing the head of the lancet against Ham's second finger he pressed the trigger. Once again Harm hardly felt the sting of the extremely sharp needle, but he watched with fascination as the lancet was discarded into the 'Contaminated Sharps' container on the Corpsman's desk and the end of the plastic strip was dipped into the bead of blood that had formed on Harm's finger.
The Corpsman then inserted the plastic strip into a device that looked like a card reader and after a few seconds have a grunt of satisfaction. "Everything looks good, sir. No sign of anti-bodies," and then as Harm started to smile with relief the Corpsman added a warning "Yet!"
"You mean there's still a chance?" Harm asked in dismay.
"I'm afraid so, sir. You'll have to come back for repeat tests. The first one a month after the date of possible infection, and then a second on three months later…"
Harm winced, "So… We're going to have this threat hanging over our heads for the next four months?"
"I'm afraid so sir… Now, if you'll take a set in the waiting room… the Doctor needs to see you before you return to duty…"
"The Doctor?" Harm asked in surprise.
"Yes, sir. Anyone who comes in for HIV testing is seen by a doctor… it' SOP, sir. And this is one of those cases where action against medical advice doesn't wash, sir."
"So, I have no choice?"
"Not really, sir, no…"
"A case where the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, huh?" Harm asked as he shrugged back into his jacket.
"Yes, sir, I guess," the by now somewhat mystified Corpsman replied.
Harm returned to the waiting areas, where after only a few minutes he was rejoined by Jen, who sat next to him and immediately reached for his hand. "Well?" Harm asked.
"Oh… it was simple and painless enough," Jen replied with a shadow of her usual grin, "But, Harm, I'm still terrified."
"Me too, sweetheart, me too!" Harm said in a heartfelt manner.
Once again, and in Harm's view surprisingly so, they were not left to wait very long before they were approached by an individual in a lab coat worn over peanut butters with the silver oak leaves of a Commander on one collar point and the Navy Medical Corps Oak Leaf and Acorn on the other collar point. He smiled at them affably, "Captain Rabb?"
"That's right," Harm agreed.
"Good morning, sir. I'm Commander Browning. I understand that you came in for HIV testing?"
"There are certain aspects to HIV testing that need to be thoroughly understood and certain adjustments that need to be made to the way you live until we are certain as to your HIV status. So, if you'd like to follow me, please?"
Harm and Jen got to their feet, to Browning's obvious surprise, "Oh… I meant just Captain Rabb…"
"Agent Coates is also here for HIV tests, and she is my partner. Anything that you say to me about HIV almost certainly applies to her too!" Harm said, a dangerous note making itself heard at the edge of his voice.
"Ah… I see… Or perhaps I don't, but anyway…" Browning stood to one side and indicated his surgery door.
Once Harm and Jen were seated in the only two chairs, Commander Browning perched on the corner of his desk and turned to his computer, tapping a few keys, while murmuring "Rabb… and Coates… h'mm…" He turned his attention back to Harm and Jen regarded them with serious eyes. "Alright, I'm pretty sure that I don't have to emphasise the potential seriousness of your situation. I've just checked the results of both your POC tests, and they both came back negative. Now that is a hopeful start, but it is not a final diagnosis. The full blood test will give us a better idea of your situation in about forty eight hours, but you need to understand that HIV can be a slow incubating condition, so you will both need to come back for further testing in one month and then three months thereafter. If at that time you show no antibodies then we can consider that you are free of the HIV infection. But we like to help Mother Nature along as and when we can, so to that end I'm prescribing for you both a month long programme of PEP, which is Post Exposure Prophylaxis, a treatment that has been found to be extremely beneficial in stopping HIV before it has a chance to take hold. In the meantime... and I do have to ask this… Captain Rabb, you claimed Agent Coates here as your partner… Can I take that to mean that she is your partner in the professional sense, or is your relationship more personal, even sexual?"
Harm bristled and was about to ream the doctor out, telling him no uncertain terms that his and Jen's relationship as none of his damned business, when good sense, aided by the weight of Jen's hand on his forearm intervened and told him that unusually, in this case, their relationship was very much the doctor's business. "Agent Coates and myself are in a complete relationship, with our wedding scheduled for the twelfth of next month."
"I see… well… Until you receive final confirmation of your status, I strongly recommend that when you have sexual intercourse that you use prophylactics…"
Jen's face fell, "Oh… I've just stopped contraception… you see, we want to start a family as soon as possible. Neither of us is getting any younger."
Browning smiled sympathetically, "Of course I understand that desire… but believe me the last thing you want to do is infect your partner if one of you should turn out to be HIV positive, and the other negative. Similarly I cannot envisage any circumstances where you would be happy passing HIV on to a baby in your womb?"
"Oh... no… no, of course not!" Jen stuttered while Harm nodded in grim agreement.
"Now, if you are in an exclusive relationship?" Browning asked.
Harm and Jen both nodded.
"That makes me ask how and why you believe that you have become exposed to HIV."
"We… we went out to dinner at a neighbourhood restaurant," Harm began, "But then on our way home we were attacked by a mugger. Jen… Agent Coates… is NCIS and was carrying her service weapon. Shots were fired and the mugger went down with two bullets in him. We didn't stop to think!" Harm added viciously, "We just piled in and tried to stop the bleeding…"
"So you came in contact with contaminated blood," Browning nodded, "But what made you think that he was HIV positive?"
"My bullets didn't kill him, but we learned this morning that he died in hospital last night due to complications brought on by AIDS," Jen said grimly.
Commander Browning nodded, his face showing sympathy for their predicament, both on the night of the shooting and today, "I see, that's tough luck, trying to help someone and ending up here, and no doubt scared for the future. That's pretty well understandable, but just to remind you, we should be able to provide all the help and support you need. If you have any questions, any questions at all, either about the condition or about the treatment we provide then please feel completely free to call at any time. If you wish it," Browning added quietly, "I can arrange for you to see a counsellor specialising in dealing with HIV and its psychological fallout. Now…" Browning turned back to his computer and once again tapped a few keys, this time causing the printer in the corner of the office to start chattering as it spewed out two sheets of paper. "These are the prescriptions for your PEP medications. You need to take them along to the pharmacy on A Deck
Harm recognised the implicit dismissal and stood, offering a hand to Jen to help her to rise as he did. "Thank you, Commander."
"I wish I could say it was my pleasure, sir," Browning replied quietly as his two newest patients left his office.
Harm hesitated next to Jen's car, "Well… what now… I have no option. I have to disclose this… How about you?"
Jen looked troubled, "I don't know if I have to disclose medical information… but there is always a chance I could get injured, and if I'm bleeding then it's certain that someone on the team will help…" She looked helplessly at Harm, "I really don't want all the curiosity and pointing fingers, but in fairness to the others… They have a right to know that they have a potential time bomb in amongst them… and the sort of risk I might pose to them…"
Harm tried for an encouraging smile, "Hey, it may not come to anything at all… That POC test was negative for both of us right? So we've only got to be concerned…"
"For the next four months," Jen interrupted him.
"I know, sweetheart, I know, but let's try to keep a positive outlook on this, hey?"
Jen bit her lip and nodded, "You're right, of course… but Harm, what if one of us does turn out to be positive… there goes any chance of children…"
"Jen, we are not going to play the 'what if' game. If we do, we'll just drive ourselves crazy!"
Jen sighed, "You're right of course, but, still, I can't help worrying…"
"And that's no surprise, but we have each other, Jen, and no matter how this turns out, we'll always have that…"
Jen nodded and then with suspiciously moist eyes and in a husky whisper replied, "Yeah… we'll always have that… but right now, I don't know about you, but I need to get back to the Navy Yard before Gibbs has a conniption fit!"
"I'll be right on your tail!" Harm assured her, and then waited until Jen slid behind the wheel of her Toyota before turning away to find his own vehicle in the crowded parking lot, shaking his head as he did so, worrying that Jen was shutting down… he vividly remembered her buttoning up her emotions and telling him not to dare pitying her on the evening of the day he had first met her and had tried but failed to get her father to act with some sort of human kindness to his only child.
"Good morning, sir!" Diane Letterwood jumped to her feet as Harm walked ion through the door from the hallway.
"I hope it's going to be," Harm said cynically, "but yeah, Good morning Yeoman Two! Anything happen while I've been away?"
"Sir? Chief Pickett has been asking for you" Dian replied, "on the JAG's behalf," she pointed out, as if that wasn't obvious from her words. No Chief Petty Officer, no matter how exalted his appointment went looking for a Captain, unless it was on behalf of someone who outranked the said Captain, as in this case the JAG did so, and by a very large margin.
Harm however, was not ruffled, "That's good, because I need to speak with the JAG, anyway. Call Chief Pickett back and have him arrange for me to see the JAG, at her convenience of course!"
Dian Letterwood resumed her seat, one hand already reaching for 'phone, "Aye, aye, sir! Then coffee and the first sight file?"
Harm paused with his hand on the handle to his own office door, "Better make that the other way around, Yeoman Two... after all, business before pleasure, huh?"
"Of course, sir!" Letterwood agreed, but as the door closed behind her chief, a frown drew ridges and furrows on her forehead, there had been something… something… something almost wistful, she decided in Captain Rabb's voice. With a mental shrug, she tried to push that thought away, but it lingered on at the back of her mind even as she heard the voice at the other end of the line.
"JAG's Office, Master Chief Yeoman Pickett, sir."
"Master Chief, this is Yeoman Two Letterwood… you wanted to be informed when Captain Rabb arrived..."
"I take that he has, Yeoman Two?"
"He has, Master Chief! And I've told him that the JAG wished to speak with him."
"Good… I'll get back to you with a time, then Yeoman Two!"
"Aye, aye, Master Chief!" Letterwood replaced the phone with a feeling of relief, reading the Master Chief's tone she didn't think that her principal was in any great deal of trouble, but even so, taken with the average rating's attitude to higher authority she couldn't help feeling that a summons by a three-star admiral was not an inherently good thing.
Standing, she gathered the first sight file from her out-tray and crossing to Harm's office door, she knocked and waited.
Letterwood crossed the carpet and halted in front of Harm's desk, "The first sight, file, sir.." she said as she placed it in his in-tray.
Harm looked up and with a faint smile replied, "Thank you, Yeoman Two…"
Normally Letterwood would have acknowledged Harm's words and then retreated to her desk, leaving her principal to read and digest the contents of the file, but she couldn't lose the little demon of worry that was now crouching on her shoulder and whispering in her ear. Mentally bracing herself for a storm, she gulped and asked somewhat diffidently, "Sir… is there anything wrong, sir? If so, and if I can help, then you know you only have to ask, sir."
Harm looked up, startled. Sure, he expected his Yeoman to be proactive, but only in the realm of duty. And he was both surprised and touched, and maybe just a little resentful at her intrusion into what was, when all was said and done, a personal matter. But, he took the intrusion as well meant, and he supposed that in some way, the same as Jen felt a responsibility to tell her team, he owed it to Letterwood to let her know that he was in a potentially dangerous medical situation. He gave himself a mental shake, "Yes, sit down, please, Diane…"
Letterwood was shaken. Sure he had called her Diane on a couple of occasions before, most noticeably only the other day when the shootings had occurred, but this was a bolt out of the blue. Nevertheless she sat, waiting in unhappy expectation as Harm began to speak.
"Diane, as you may or may not know… a couple of weeks ago, my fiancée, Agent Coates, and myself were attacked near our apartment when we returned from a night out. The would be mugger was armed, but so was Agent Coates. Shots were fired; the attacker missed, Agent Coates didn't, but she only wounded him instead of killing him outright. Stupidly, as it turns out, we went to administer first aid until the ambulance we called for arrived. Then this morning we were informed by Metro PD that he had died in hospital last night, but he did not die from his wounds, but from complications brought on by AIDS. And because both Agent Coates and I had contact with his blood, we needed to get tested ASAP. So that's where we were this morning, at Bethesda. The initial tests came up negative for HIV anti-bodies, but it can take time for these to form, so for the next four months my HIV status is unknown. Now that you know that, if you wish to be re-assigned then I will understand and will sign off on your application with no questions asked."
"That won't be necessary sir! I am assigned to you as your Yeoman, and as your Yeoman I will stay unless and until you fire me because my work doesn't come up to standard!"
Harm blinked, "Uh… Thank you, Diane… but I don't think this is something that you can decide on the spot. You have yourself, your family and your boyfriend to consider…"
"My family and my boyfriend wouldn't think much of me if I abandoned my post at the first hint of anything amiss, sir! Besides, sir, what is the real risk? As I understand things, I can't catch HIV from you just by being in the same office, can I? So, if you can put up with me until my assignment here is finished, then I figure I'll stay and carry on with my duties!"
"Thank you, Diane." Harm said simply, taken completely aback – although he wasn't sure why – his Yeoman's declaration of unconditional support.
"In that case, sir. I'll get on and fix that coffee I promised you!"
"Yes, thank you, Yeoman." Harm said and as his Yeoman stood, about faced and marched to the door he could only shake his head in wonder.
Jen's arrival at the MCRT bull pen at NCIS wasn't as cordial. Her first warning that something was amiss was a darted warning glance from Ellie Bishop as she entered the Gibbs team rea. Bishop's warning was almost immediate reinforced by Gibbs' growl, "And where the hell have you been, Coates?"
Jen blinked. "I called your cell earlier. You didn't answer, so I left a message… I was at Bethesda…"
Gibbs grunted, and fished his pocket for his cell phone. After staring at it in confusion for a few seconds and trying a few buttons apparently at random, he gave an irritated grunt and tossed it casually to Jen, "Here, see if you can find the damned messages, because I can't!"
Jen stared at the silver haired Senior Agent in disbelief for a few seconds, until his menacing, "Well?" reached her ears
"Uh… on it, Boss!" Jen snapped out and five seconds later handed the phone back to Gibbs, with her message showing at the top of a list that she swiftly calculated held twenty messages, not one of which showed that they had been sent an acknowledgement or reply.
"So… what was so urgent that you had to prioritise a trip to Bethesda over turning to for duty?"
Jen was slightly taken aback. Sure she had been mentally preparing herself to break the news of her possibly compromised status to her team, but for Gibbs openly to demand medical information in front of the entire bull pen was, she thought, going a little too far. "I do have something I need to tell the team, but it's medically confidential and I'd rather not do it in front of the whole bull pen…" she looked around, drawing her team member's attention to the fact that heads were beginning to turn in the direction of the tableau formed by the Gibbs team.
"Is this urgent?" Gibbs demanded almost sulkily, "We do have work to do!"
"Yeah, boss, it is pretty urgent, I reckon, but it won't take more'n a coupla minutes…" Jen replied.
Gibbs looked around in exasperation as he heaved himself to his feet, "Okay people, you heard Coates… small conference room!"
Once in the conference room Jen paused by the door and waited until the rest of the team piled in and stood expectantly in a loose semi-circle facing her. She took a deep breath, "As you all know, a short time ago, I was involved in a shooting incident. I didn't kill the guy who tried to mug us, but I did wound him and put him in hospital. Because he was still alive, my fiancé and I tried to stop the bleeding until an ambulance arrived. He made it to hospital, but this morning we were told that he had died, not from the two rounds I put into him, but because he developed complications caused by AIDS. Now we didn't know it at the time but the blood we came into was obviously contaminated. This morning then, both my fiancé and I went to Bethesda for blood tests. The immediate results from what they called the point of care test were negative, but we have to be retested in one and then three months' time before the medicos can label us as all clear. I know I can't infect you by just sharing space with you, but there is always a chance of one – of any one of us – getting injured, so just in case it's me, remember what I've said about my suspect status and look out for yourselves!"
The looks of shock that manifested themselves on the faces of the team sent Jen's heart plummeting, but them to her surprise, Ellie Bishop stepped forward and folded Jen in a wordless hug which she held for a good ten seconds, before she stepped back her own tears bright in her eyes. Her place was immediately taken by Tim McGee, who reached out and took her shoulder in a firm one handed grasp, "You'll make it, Jen," her said, "You're tough!" It was the unexpected use by McGee of Jen's first name that nearly broke her resolve to hang tough, "Thank you, Tim," she smiled blearily.
"Tim's right," Sam Hood said warmly, "And for it's worth, I reckon you'd have made a good Marine, right Gunny?" he added this last as he looked meaningfully at the so far silent Gibbs.
"Me a Marine, Sam? No, I don't think so. I'm a thorough-going Squid!"
Gibbs broke his silence, and looking steadily at his newest probie, "In that case, Go Navy! Not that I'm totally sure that Hood is wrong!" Then he looked around at his team, "Okay, so we've heard what Coates had to say, and we've had our pink fuzzy moment, now we still have suspects to interview and a case to close, so let's get back with the programme, people.
As the team filed out of the conference room, Gibbs paused next to Jen, "You'll do!" he affirmed and with a friendly nod he followed the rest of the team back to the bull pen, with a somewhat dumbfounded Jen trailing in his wake.
Back in the bull pen Gibbs turned to his team, "Okay… continuing interviews… Tim, I want you to interview Sergeant First Class Jacobs, I believe her attorney is on hand?"
"Yeah, boss… He arrived about an hour ago, a Major McBride from Army JAG Corps. I've parked him in one of the interview rooms with Sergeant Jacobs and a supply of coffee."
"Yeah, we wouldn't want to be thought of as being inhospitable now, would we?" Gibbs retorted with heavy sarcasm.
Gibbs winced, "No. Boss, but I figured if we played nice, he might reciprocate just a little."
"Yeah, huh, well we'll soon see won't we? Bishop go with McGee and sit in with him. Hood you are with me, while we go and have a little talk with Major Robert Thompson. McGee where's Jacobs?"
"Interview Two, Boss."
Gibbs grunted acknowledgement and then said, "Okay we'll put Thompson and his attorney – Commander Whiteway is here?"
"Yeah, got in about twenty minutes ago, he's in the holding cell with Thompson."
"Right put them in Interview Three. And tell the AV Techs that I want all three interview rooms hooked up and ready to roll!"
"Got it, Boss!" McGee replied already reaching for his phone.
Gibbs nodded and turned to Jen, "Coates, I want you in observation room three for this one!"
"Got it, Boss!" came in a chorus from the members of the team, surprising even themselves if the surprised grins that flashed onto their faces were any indication. Even the cracking of Gibbs' stoic mask seemed to show that he too appreciated the sudden, unscripted and unconscious humour.
"Okay, let's go!" he rasped and led the way to the elevator that would take the team to the basement level where the holding cells and interviews rooms were sandwiched in a macabre fashion between Dr Mallard's morgue and the evidence garage.
The warning crackle of the interphone gave notice to Harm that his Yeoman was about to speak, "Sir," Diane Letterwood's voice came crisply over the instrument.
"Yes, Yeoman Two?"
"Master Chief Picket just called, sir. He passes on the Admiral's compliments and asks that you be good enough to attend her at eleven hundred hours…"
Harm grinned unseen by Letterwood; he doubted very much that Master Chief Pickett had been anywhere near so polite, but that the gist of Letterwood's message was anything less than accurate in its relaying of the Master Chief's intent was the last thing to cross his mind.
"Thank you, Yeoman Two. Give me a reminder at ten fifty hours please!"
"Aye, aye, sir!"
Harm rolled up the map of the CONUS and gathered together the notes he had made on the realignment of JAGC areas of responsibility and how he envisaged it all working. This of course would be handed to Letterwood for her to turn into a presentation for the JAGC Command Cadre down as far as the AJAGs. The nature of committee's being what they we're, and the gathering of the cadre could only be termed a committee he doubted very much that many of his initial thoughts would survive the process and that his ideas would be heavily amended as each of the members of the cadre sought to put some sort of stamp on the outcome – whatever that might be! Oh, well, that was the way the Navy had always worked and Harm supposed that was the way it work until the end of time or the end of the Navy, whichever came first, and he wasn't prepared to wager even a bent penny on that event!.
Precisely at ten fifty hours – not that he had expected anything less – the interphone crackled in warning for a second time, "Ten fifty hours, sir!" Letterwood's voice interrupted Harm's reading through his predecessor's thoughts on BRAC as it affected JAGC and with a feeling of relief closed the file and replaced it in his 'pending tray' or as he thought of it his "TDD" (Too damned difficult) tray. Gathering up the laminated map of the CONUS and his sheaf of notes, he stood and quit his office, pausing by Letterwood's desk. "Here's some light reading for you, Yeoman Two. What I want is for you to break down and massage my notes in a briefing presentation on the computer to last no more than thirty minutes. Can you handle that? If not, I'll get you some help…"
Letterwood looked up Harm in some indignation and Harm had to hide his own smile as the young woman tried not to break protocol by protesting too much, too verbally or too loudly.
"Sir, the day I need help in carrying out my duty to assist you, is the day I apply for reassignment as a bottom scraper in… in… Keflavik!"
"I'll leave it in your capable hands then Yeoman Two," Harm allowed his smile through. "By secure on Friday?"
"Before then!" Letterwood avowed in determined manner.
"Good, that's fine… now; I'm off to see the JAG!"
"Right, sir… Do you have any idea how long you'll be?"
"Letterwood, right now, you know just as much as me as to why the JAG wants to see me, so that should give you some idea of how long this meeting is going to take!"
Letterwood coloured slightly, "Of course, sir! Thinking savagely, 'Letterwood, you idiot! Of course he has no idea of how long he's going to be!'
On his way out of the door Harm was struck by an afterthought. "If I'm not back by twelve thirty hours, don't forget to go and get yourself some lunch! And that Yeoman Two Letterwood is an order!"
Diane Letterwood blinked, but Harm had left her with only one possible response, "Aye, aye, sir!"
The short walk along the hallway, passing the DJAG's Office suite brought Harm to the JAG's offices where a tap on the door, for courtesy's sake, brought Harm into the outer office. "Good Morning Master Chief, I'm here to see the JAG…"
"Of course you are, sir," Command Master Chief Yeoman Picket replied, standing briefly to acknowledge Harm's entrance, while at the same time reaching for the interphone, and then speaking in to the instrument said, "Ma'am, Captain Rabb is here."
"Thank you, Master Chief, send him in please.."
"I heard, thank you Master Chief," Harm nodded his thanks, and drawing in a deep breath, and wondering why he suddenly felt like a delinquent High School. Mentally squaring his shoulders he knocked on the JAG's doorjamb.
Harm opened the door and turned, closing it behind him before straightening up and marching across what seemed to be acres of plush carpeting before coming to a halt in front of the JAG's imposing walnut desk.
Braced in the position of attention he rapped out in his best plebe voice" Captain Rabb, reporting as ordered, ma'am."
"Relax, Captain, stand easy,"
Harm shifted to the less stressful position.
Vice Admiral Petra Longstreet relaxed in her chair, peering at Harm over the top of her reading glasses. "There are a couple of points Captain that I want to discuss with you. The first arises from today. I am given to understand that you were away from your desk until after zero nine hundred hours... I trust this is not a reversion to your earlier habit of unpunctuality, and that you can tell me there was a valid reason?"
Harm was startled, "Uh… yes, ma'am…" Standing at ease Harm was able to drop his gaze to look into his CO's eyes. "My fiancée and I had a medical emergency that need to be taken care of ASAP."
"The nature of this emergency?"
"Yes, ma'am… it is something that I am duty bound to disclose… We… Agent Coates and I… inadvertently came into contact with HIV and AIDS positive blood… which we only found out about this morning…So we felt an urgent need to get tested immediately, and everything else ma'am we mentally put on the back burner."
"I see… and what is the outcome of this test?"
"The immediate tests turned out negative, but we need to be retested twice in the next four months."
"I see... well… I wish you both well, and that the outcome remains favourable. If things do go belly up though, you can be sure that I and the JAG Corps will do everything possible to help you." Admiral Longstreet thought for a moment, "Does this affect your wedding plans?"
Harm shook his head, "No, definitely not ma'am. The wedding will go ahead as planned. Jen – Agent Coates – and I are determined that we will live as normal a life as possible up until the final blood tests at any rate, after we get the results of that, well, we'll see what needs to be done, and then we will do it!"
"That is of course your decision, Captain, but speaking personally, I think it is the right one!"
"Uh… Thank you, ma'am!"
Petra Longstreet brushed aside Harm's thanks with an airy wave of her hand, but then sat forward, abandoning her relaxed pose. "The next issue is a little more official. It seems that your sidekick – Lieutenant Commander Coleman," she added seeing Harm's suddenly mystified expression, and then allowed herself a brief smile as enlightenment dawned on her officer's face, "Lieutenant Commander Coleman, has it seems, an unparalleled knack of treading on people's tails!"
"That's one of the reasons I brought her on board ma'am. Tread on people's tails she might, but she does it in order to get results – and she does get results. I just can't figure out why her recent billets haven't been where she was of more value to the Navy than a mediocre litigator!"
"Yes… I've looked at her SRB and her fitreps have taken a dice since she was reassigned from the SECNAV's Office, but you brought her on board just because of her talent in upsetting people?"
"Not just that, ma'am. She is exceptionally detail oriented, methodical in her approach to her work and more than merely determined to produce the right answer no matter what trampled tails her methods might engender. If I may, ma'am, may I ask who it is that she has upset this time around?"
Once again the Admiral allowed herself a brief smile, this time at the passionate nature of Harm's advocacy of his subordinate. This was a trait she always liked to see, even if it did at times give rise to a degree of conflict between officers. "This time around it is Captain Brightman at NJS. He is unhappy about the budgetary demands that Commander Coleman is making on him."
"In the first place, ma'am, it is Captain Brightman who raised the subject of his budget. In the second place, the 'demands' that Commander Coleman made came from me. If Captain Brightman has an issue with this office, then he should have come to me, as I invited him to, not to someone else who brought it to your attention…"
"Actually, Brightman, whom I have known personally for a few years, came straight to me!"
"I see, ma'am. But that doesn't really alter cases. Besides which the budgetary demands were not that onerous. I merely wanted, for Coleman's sake, a copy of his last years budget, and a copy of that same budget marked up by an average of twenty five per cent, plus any extraordinary requirements, like the annual cost of leasing extra housing for O5's. Not a difficult or time consuming task, I would have thought."
Longstreet frowned, "I see, but couldn't that have been done here, by your Commander Coleman?"
"Not without the local knowledge of Rhode Island that Captain Brightman and his crew have. It would mean sending Commander Coleman TAD for a week or maybe two, while she investigated the local costs of increasing NJS throughput, losing time, instead of staying in situ and working on other aspects of the budgetary impact of officer recruitment and retention, which she is handling with despatch and competence."
"Still, there is her abrasive nature, Captain Rabb."
"It's part of her personality, ma'am. I also suspect she's harbouring some resentment at having her fitreps marked down so severely. Leave alone that she may suspect that those low marks are an expression of personal dislike from her reporting officer, it must be hard to have them drop so drastically from the sort of marks that she was accustomed to receive."
"Are you suggesting that we have a disgruntled officer on our hands, Captain?"
"No ma'am, Faith Coleman is too professional for that, but do I feel that she has a justified sense of resentment? Ye ma'am, I think she has, and I think in view of her misemployment over the past few years, she is quite entitled to feel resentful. This is her last year before she faces the up or out requirements, and in my view she earned her promotion a good while ago. We can't make those wasted years go away, but we can make sure she's given a fair crack of the whip this time around. And I might add that I have just seen the fitrep from her last billet, which was, again in my opinion an attempt to hammer a square peg into a round hole, but this time around she made a minor success of her assignment, the fitrep signed by Major General Maxwell puts her way back up the scale for professionalism – including her ability to work as a member of a team, which her last reporting officer marked her as being the least effective."
"And if you were writing her next fitrep today, Captain Rabb, what would you have to say?"
"With respect ma'am, that's hardly a fair question, ma'am, she's only been in this billet for a short time… not really enough time to allow me to write an objective report."
"But time enough to have impressed you with her work… and time enough to have trodden on a couple of tails?"
"There is that, ma'am. Like I said I'm not in a position to write her fitrep – yet – but if pressed, I would grade her as well above average and fit and ready for promotion!"
"Well… That's going out on a limb, Captain! You really mean that?"
"Certainly do, ma'am. Yes, she's perhaps socially awkward and withdrawn, but she's keen, she's damn good at her job… I'll be honest with you, ma'am, if I was detailed with the workload I've landed on her, I would not be a happy sailor, but Faith Colman… well, I get the feeling that she positively enjoys this sort of work…"
"This sort of work?"
"Yes, ma'am. She excels at beavering away unseen and alone, working on the minutiae of behind the scenes activity, whether that be financial number crunching, or framing maritime and international law, or even working to amend the UCMJ and Navy Regulations. She just doesn't shine in the courtroom."
"Well, she's not going to cover herself in glory working 'behind the scenes' as you put it."
"No ma'am, but the people who matter, the people who get it, get it when it comes to the work she does – or has the ability to do. All she really needs is a fair crack of the whip, as I've already said. And I should be disappointed for her, and count it as a great loss to the Navy if she were forced out through of lack of career progress!"
"I begin to see why you were so successful as a litigator, Captain," the Admiral said, with more than a hint of approval in her voice. "We'll let the complaint from Captain Brightman slide this time, and I will instruct him that any queries, observations, requests for information or even further complaints are to land on your desk, not mine! In return, see if you can harness some of that passion you have just shown into offering Commander Coleman a slight course correction! Alright, dismissed!"
Harm drew himself back up to attention, "Aye, aye, ma'am!" he acknowledged his instructions before performing an about face and marching across the carpet, which didn't seem quite so far on the return walk.
Petra Longstreet watched him go, her already favourable opinion of Harmon David Rabb reinforced by the manner in which he had supported his wayward junior officer. 'Ready for promotion, is she?' Well, if Rabb is still of the same opinion when it comes around to nominating officer for the O5 Promotions Board, then the Admiral was already of a mind to throw the weight of her opinion behind his!
Jen settled onto the stool in the observation room that looked, via the two-way mirror, into Interview Room Three, where Major Thompson and Commander Whiteway waited for the interviewers. About five minutes passed before the door opened and Gibbs and Hood entered the room. Tellingly, both Whiteway and Thompson rose to meet the two NCIS Agents, and Jen exchanged a raised eyebrows look with the AV Tech who flicked a couple of switches and looking up Jen saw that the two red lights above the mirror glowed brightly to show that both cameras and microphone were working correctly and returned her attention to the view in front of her as Gibbs grunted, "Sit down… please."
The 'please' surprised Jen as it apparently did Hood, although Whiteway seemed to accept it as normal, and Thompson, with what Jen interpreted as an appearance of defeat slumped into his chair.
Gibbs and Hood took the seats on the opiate side of the table, and Gibbs opened the file he carried and laid it on the table top, "Major Thompson, I'm Special Agent Gibbs, NCIS, I'm the lead investigator in this case, and this is Agent Hood. Just so you know exactly where we're coming from, both Hood and I are former Marines, and we aren't just going to let this case go by quietly. As far as we are concerned you are a disgrace to the Corps, just like the rest of the Thirty Second's Cadre. Now, I don't know, and frankly I don't care how things in the Thirty Second got so bad, but we will have no hesitation in trumpeting from the roof tops that the cadre at least of the Thirty Second, are a lying, cheating, thieving, murdering bunch of disgraces to the whole of the Corps. Unless of course you can convince us otherwise!"
Commander Whiteway leaned forward, "Is that an attempt at blackmailing my client into giving you the information you're after?"
"Not at all," Gibbs replied urbanely," just telling him how it's going to be!"
"Wait up just a second, Commander," Major Thompson interrupted the conversation between his attorney and the NCIS Agent, "Look, Agent Gibbs, I know this isn't going to go away, but for the sake of the Corps… yeah, yeah, I know you don't figure me as having much regard for the Corps, but I do. This just started out as a harmless way to make a little extra cash… but then it got out of hand, and by the time we, at least I, realised that we had gotten in too deep, it was too late to back out. We'd already had Staff Sergeant as an example of what could happen if anyone rocked the boat."
"Was Staff Sergeant Keeler a part of whatever was going on?" Hood demanded.
Major Thompson's eyes flitted to the large and obviously angry NCIS Agent and shook his head, "No, he wasn't part of it. It was confined to the command element. How Keeler got wind of what was happening, I had, and still have, no idea!"
Gibbs nodded, "So he stumbled onto your little plot to destroy and loot the museum, and that got him killed?"
Thompson nodded unhappily, "Yeah…"
"And you were involved, oh, not directly but you scraped up that plan to insert him into an over-used OP, knowing that Corporal Angelou was waiting to line him up in his sights?" Gibbs persisted.
Again Thompson nodded unhappily, "Yeah… we figured that if he was marked up as KIA, then that would be end to it all. We just didn't figure his wife would get so bent out of shape…"
"Any wife would want to know exactly how and where her husband died!" Hood interjected sharply, ignoring the blistering look that Gibbs sent him.
Thompson shook his head, "Most of 'em accept that their husband was KIA. A few do ask for more information, but Keeler's wife…" he shook his head, "She just kept digging and probing, and then I guess she brought you guys in…"
"So why didn't you just tell her some plausible story instead of trying to stonewall her?" Gibbs asked.
"Oh we did, but she wasn't buying… like I said, she just kept asking…"
Commander Whiteway meanwhile sat back with a look of disbelief on his face as Thompson continued to ignore his signs that he should stop talking. Eventually Thompson had enough of his lawyer's silent disapproval and twisted in his chair to face him, "Look, Commander, you're supposed to be acting in my best interests. If I stay silent I figure I'm headed for Leavenworth for life with no chance of parole… just look at the charges they've got lined up against me, and don't forget there's a little matter of undeclared cash income that will probably bring the IRS down on me. If I cooperate I figure that I might get a chance of parole thrown in with the sentence! So, try to see things from my side, and try acting in my best interests. I've no real wish to die of old age in Leavenworth!"
"Okay, Major," Whiteway sighed, "We'll play it your way and see what comes up to the top of the pot. That okay by you Agent Gibbs?"
"As far as it goes yeah, that's okay. But I want the names of those who gave the orders; I want to know how you subverted a CENCOM controlled drone to hit the museum in the first place. In short, I want to know everything right up to and including the very second that Corporal Angelou squeezed the trigger!"
"Pen and paper?" Whiteway asked in a resigned tone.
"Hood?" Gibbs prompted his agent.
Hood duly produced a disposition pad and a ball point pen. "I'm sure you know how this works, Commander?" Gibbs asked.
Whiteway nodded, "Yeah, sign the disclaimer at the head of the first page, initial each page and any alterations on it, and then sign the final page."
Gibbs nodded, "Good, we'll leave you to it! Just let the people behind the mirror know when you're done, and we'll be back for the statement." Gibbs appeared to have a second thought, "And remember this is a one-time offer only. Once we have that statement it will be too late for your client to change his story."
"Understood," Whiteway affirmed, still with a touch of disappointment in his voice.
Gibbs and Hood rose from their seats, Gibbs ensuring that he closed and picked up the file from the table top before they left the room.
Jen eased off the stool and left the observation room, meeting up with Gibbs and Hood in the hallway.
"Well?" Gibbs asked.
Jen nodded, "Just like I said, Boss. He's more concerned with what other Marine officers think of him than what he actually did… although I think it is beginning to dawn on him just how wrong headed he's been all along!"
"So all that guff about caring about the Corps was so much BS?" Hood demanded.
Jen looked carefully at the former Marine, who to her eyes looked on the edge of an explosive temper outburst, "No… not entirely BS, I really think that he believe he loves the Corps, and deep down is ashamed of having betrayed the Corps ideals. That's what made me think right at the beginning that he'd be the first to crack."
"Well, whatever reason he had, you made a good call on this one! Who do you reckon on next?"
"I haven't seen what this Army Non Com is like yet. So right now, my money is on Corporal Angelou!" Jen replied confidently.
"What do you base that on?" Hood asked.
"Well, he's been in custody for longer than she has, we've got his LES and his financials should be coming in with that latest batch of warrants that Commander Arnold has in hand, and he's already shown signs of wavering. He didn't like it, Boss, if you remember when he heard about the sums of money that were being thrown around!"
"No, he didn't. Okay, we'll speak with Angelou again this afternoon..." He turned to Hood, "Get onto JAG Trials Office and have his attorney here for fourteen hundred, okay?"
"On it, Boss!" Hood replied.
Gibbs nodded, "Okay, let's go get a coffee while we're waiting for Thompson to finish writing his statement!"
As Jen followed Gibbs and Hood along the hallway towards the elevator she was taken by surprise when Gibbs dropped back to walk alongside her and said in a quiet voice, "Coates, after what you told us this morning, about your possibly compromised health status, a thought occurred to me, would you like to speak with a counsellor… maybe Rachel Cranston?"
"Oh… I don't know… the doctor at Bethesda made pretty much the same offer… It's something that we… Captain Rabb and myself haven't had a chance to discuss yet… Can I get back to you on that, tomorrow, maybe?"
Gibbs nodded, "Sure… this isn't like a one-time offer I made to Major Thompson. Any time you're ready to talk let me know, and I'll get ahold of Rachel Cranston for you."
Jen summoned up a smile, mostly of surprise at the way Gibbs was acting, but acknowledging his good intentions at the same time, "Thanks, Gibbs. I'll try not to keep you waiting too long for an answer."
"As I said, Coates, take your time." Gibbs replied as they arrived at the elevator to meet a slightly inquiring glance from Hood, a glance which Jen, following Gibbs' lead ignored, so that the ride up to the MCRT floor passed in a comfortable silence, except maybe for a burning itch of curiosity in Hood's mind.
Harm returned to his office a peculiar expression on his face, or so Letterood thought, it seemed to her that her chief was trying to frown and smile at the same time, but he broke his concentration long enough to suggest, "How about a fresh pot of coffee, Yeoman Two? And once you've got that underway, ask Commander Coleman to come to see me at her earliest convenience, please!"
"Coffee and then Commander Coleman, aye, aye, sir! And to appear in that order, sir?"
"Yeah, I think so. It seems that Commander Coleman has an aversion to drinking anything that she hasn't made herself!"
"Yes, sir." Letterwood replied demurely.
Harm let that pass, the words were unexceptionable, but the tone was only just on the right side of insubordination. Instead he nodded towards Letterwood's computer, "Is that the BRAC presentation you're working on?"
"And how's it coming along?"
"I think I've broken your notes down into enough slides to last out the half hour. The map is taking a little longer to finesse though, sir. And I do have some questions about a few of your notes, sir."
"Okay... well… I'll have my coffee and then speak with Commander Coleman. Have you got the brought forwards from the First sight File?"
"Already in your in-tray, sir!"
"Very well. I'll see to those after I've spoken to Commander Coleman, and then, if my calendar is clear for this afternoon, we can go through those notes that you're having difficulty with!"
"Thank you, sir!"
"In the meantime, see if you can't finesse that map!"
"Aye, aye, sir!"
Harm nodded at his Yeoman in a cordial manner and then headed on in to his own office, leaving Letterwood to scurry about fixing his coffee and then phoning Commander Coleman's office.
However, the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley, as Harm soon discovered. He had barely taken a sip of his freshly brewed and delivered coffee when a tap on his doorjamb announced the arrival of Faith Coleman, who had obviously – and correctly – assumed that 'at her earliest convenience' meant 'immediately', but for once Harm wished that she had taken just a few more minutes to let him enjoy his coffee. With a look of regret he pushed his barely started mug to one side and called out, "Enter!"
Faith Coleman opened the door and much as Harm had done when reporting to Admiral Longstreet she turned and secured it behind her before marching across the carpet – much less of an expanse than in the JAG's office – before coming to a halt at attention in front of Harm's desk, her freckled face set in an expressionless mask.
Harm almost gave a slight shake of his head as he wondered if the stiff officer in front of him ever allowed himself to unbutton.
"Relax, Faith, sit down, can I get Letterwood to get you a coffee?"
Faith Coleman's eye had spotted the steam arising from Harm's mug an guessed that she had interrupted his drink and that he wouldn't be so crass as to finish his coffee in front of her while she had none, so against her deepest instincts. She replied, "Yes, thank you, sir!"
Harm almost gave away his astonishment, but reached forward and stabbed the interphone button, "Yeoman Two, bring in the rest of that coffee please and a mug and fixings for Commander Coleman…" he released the button, "I'm sorry Faith, if you've ever told me, I've forgotten how you like your coffee."
Faith Coleman actually allowed her expression to relax into what was almost a smile, "After my deployment with the MEU, I got to like it Marine Grade, black but with just a hint of sugar, just to take any edge off over brewing… you know how that goes, I'm sure sir!" Faith suddenly stopped aghast. The damned man had done it again. With no more than a few words he had inveigled her into disclosing yet another snippet of personal information. She really needed to watch her step around Captain Rabb, at least until she found out what made her so susceptible to his… to his… to his charms? she thought indignantly. No! She could not be developing a crush on him! Not only was he a senior officer, but scuttlebutt had it hast he was engaged to an NCIS Agent based just across on Sicard Street! So in an effort to change the subject she said, "I couldn't help but notice that you called your Yeoman by her rate and rating, rather than just her name, sir. Isn't that a little unusual?"
"I guess so, but it's something I picked up working alongside British officers, one of them explained that if the officers didn't show respect to their Non Coms and POs, how could they expect their Marines and sailors to show those same individuals the respect that they deserve? And it is my opinion that British Marines and Sailors – and I guess it goes the same for their soldiers and airmen – have to work a darned sight harder than do ours to achieve promotion! It's only a little thing, but it does no harm to let our people know that we appreciate and respect them."
Faith Coleman nodded her expression thoughtful, "Yes, I see…"
Harm raised an eyebrow in mild surprise, but before anything else could b said a knock at the door announced the arrival of Yeoman Two Letterwood, complete with tray bearing coffee, creamer and sugar as well as a clean mug destined for Lieutenant Commander Coleman.
Harm waited until Letterwood had quit the office and closed the door behind her before raising his coffee mug to his lips and taking a sip. Swallowing he replaced the mug on the desk protecting coaster and cleared his throat, "Earlier this morning, I was detailed to report to the JAG, where among other subjects, your recent activities were raised. Why didn't you tell me that you were having problems with Captain Brightman at NJS?"
"It was nothing I couldn't handle, sir, and besides I wouldn't be much of an officer if every time I hit a roadblock I came crying to you, would I?"
"There is that, Faith," Harm admitted. "But this time it just wasn't a roadblock. Captain Brightman is acquainted with Admiral Longstreet and reading between the lines it seems he considers himself to be one of her protégés, at least he was confident enough in that sense to complain directly to her about some sort of upset that you caused him."
"With all due respect to captain Brightman, and to you, sir, that is absolute rubbish. I explained to him exactly what was needed for us to work on his budgetary issues – issues that he raised. And we had the one conversation on the subject, so how I could have upset him, I'm not quite sure."
"Ah… did you make it clear that the demand for information emanated from my office and not yours?"
"Uh… no sir. I do not make a habit of hiding behind the 'I was only obeying orders' gambit."
Harm looked at her, a sense of amusement at her earnestness threatening to bubble up, "No… I didn't think for one second that you were in such a habit, but Faith, and I mean this in the most supportive way, you need to soften your outline just a little when dealing with senior officers. Now, I'm aware that you've had a string of disappointing fitreps since you left the SECNAV's office, but your last fitrep from General Maxwell graded you well above average for your rank and time in grade. So far, since you have reported here for duty, you have shown exceptional diligence and attention to detail. Keep up that standard of work and I will have no hesitation in upgrading General Maxwell's rating to outstanding, so just try not to upset too many Captain and Admirals. Okay?"
Faith stiffened up again under even the mild rebuke in Harm's words, and seemed not to hear the encouragement in his last sentence, "Aye, aye, sir. I will try to do better in future."
Harm nearly sighed in disbelief, there just seemed to be no getting through to this woman. "Okay, that's the awkward moment over and done with. Apart from duty, are you settling back into DC life okay?"
"Yes, thank you sir. I have been able to pick up the reins of my old DC life in a satisfactory manner and to a satisfactory degree."
"Good. I'm relieved to hear it. Remember all work and no play makes Jill a dull girl."
"Just so, sir. But on the subject of work, I still have a fair amount of it on my desk, so by your leave, sir?"
"Yes, of course, Commander. Dismissed!"
Harm watched her go, back ramrod stiff, as she crossed the carpet and let herself out of the office.