by ScoobieD
Summary: An undercover assignment takes Mac places she never thought she'd go
A little background: This story idea came to me one day while I was performing a little hard labor in the back yard. As it began to take shape, it didn't seem to fit into the current JAG state of things, so I needed to decide at which point in the JAG universe to insert these events. I needed Mac to be at a low point in her life and to be feeling a great need to redeem herself in the eyes of others. I thought she reached that point after Chris Ragle's death and the punishment she received as a result of her part in all of that. So the events in this story take place after The Black Jet, but before Jaggle Bells.
There are a couple of things I have to ask you to suspend your disbelief about. First of all, I know this is not the type of undercover operation that would be offered to the good folks at JAG. However, if our heroes only did the things that real JAG's do, we'd be bored out of our skulls watching (and the show wouldn't have lasted more than one season, tops). Like the real writers do, I've taken a little liberty and sent them somewhere more interesting. The other thing is that the time period I've chosen to place this story in is just before Christmas. However, try to pretend its summertime, okay?
Oh, and one more thing. I was watching Boot the other night. I'd seen this episode before, but I don't really care for Season 1 all that much, so I don't rewatch those eps as often as I do all the others. I was surprised to hear that Meg had gone undercover as a Private McIntyre. Mac's undercover name in this little fic is McIntyre. I thought about changing it, but then decided against it for two reasons: (1) I'd written three-quarters of the fic using the name McIntyre and was too lazy to go back and change it, and (2) it works for this character (better than it did for Meg). So it stays.
I should probably confess my ignorance as to the specifics of the US Disciplinary Barracks at Leavenworth, Kansas. I was able to obtain a little information from their web site, and I've used my imagination to fill in the details.
The last thing is a little warning. There are a couple of places in this fic that will need a warning, one for strong language and one for an "adult situation". I'll post a clearer warning when we get to those parts, but I thought I'd warn you now for those of you who might choose not to begin at all.
Better do a disclaimer. I don't claim ownership to JAG (including its characters or premise) in any way, shape, or form. As you all know, they're owned by Bellisarius, et al. Some of the characters in this work are mine, and you'll recognize them when you don't recognize them (make sense?).
Ready? Here we go.
The intercom buzzed on Admiral AJ Chegwidden's desk. Without looking up from the file he was perusing, AJ reached over and pressed the "talk" button. "Yes, Tiner?"
"Commander Rabb and Major Mackenzie are reporting as ordered, sir."
"Send them in," AJ ordered.
"Aye, sir."
Seconds later, after a polite knock on the door, Rabb and Mackenzie stood at attention before his desk. "At ease. Sit down," the Admiral invited, waving vaguely at the chairs in front of his desk.
AJ closed the file on his desk and looked up at them. "Three days ago, former Lieutenant Commander Stephanie Saxon was found dead in her cell at Leavenworth. The ensuing official investigation concluded that she committed suicide by hanging herself with her bed sheet. This is the third such suicide they've had there in the last eight months. The other two victims died in a similar manner."
"You said 'victims', sir," Mac pointed out. "Is there some reason to think these women didn't commit suicide?"
AJ was impressed, not for the first time, by the Major's ability to pick up on a seemingly inconsequential nuance and go right to the heart of the matter. Must be that female intuition thing. "The warden has his concerns," AJ confirmed. "All three of these women had too many similarities in their circumstances to be merely coincidence."
"What sort of similarities, sir?" Mac asked, intrigued with where this might be heading.
"We'll get to that in a bit," AJ said, putting her off.
"May I ask why JAG is involved in this, sir?" Harm asked.
"I was getting to that, too," AJ said. "The warden's suspicions center around Navy Lieutenant Tom Bourgoin, one of the prison guards. He has nothing solid on which to base his suspicions, or he'd conduct an official investigation. As things stand, he'd like to do a little snooping around on a very informal basis and see if there's any evidence to justify his suspicions. Since the guard is Navy and all three of the victims were formerly in the Navy, he's come to us. The SecNav has approved our participation in this investigation, purely on a volunteer basis."
"What do they want us to do, sir?" Mac asked.
"They want us to send in an undercover team."
"A team, sir?" Harm repeated.
"Yes, Commander. They want a female officer to go in as an inmate, and they want a male officer to impersonate a guard, to tackle the problem from both ends."
Harm and Mac sat quietly, digesting what he'd said and pondering what they were being asked to do.
Harm's first inclination was to say, "Thanks, but no thanks." Sending people to prison was as close as he ever wanted to get to a penal institution. He'd spent only a little bit of time in the brig after being charged with murder, and that was more than enough to last him the remainder of his life. Of course, he wouldn't be going in as a prisoner, but being a guard would be bad enough. He looked at Mac, wondering what she was thinking. His decision hinged on whether or not she agreed.
Mac was turning the possibilities over in her mind. The thought of being in prison was, quite frankly, scary. She'd spent a brief period of time in police custody after Chris had been shot, but she'd only had a tiny glimpse into the life of an incarcerated person. It had been enough. But if someone was hurting helpless women, and she could do something about it, did she have the right to refuse? Besides, her own life wasn't all that great at the moment. The more she thought about it, the more she relished becoming someone else, even if just for a little while. But there was one problem.
"Sir," she said. "My uncle is at Leavenworth. So is Clark Palmer. And it's conceivable that I put some people in that place. There's a good possibility I'd be recognized."
She's actually thinking about doing this?! Harm thought, surprised.
"Already thought of that," the Admiral assured her. "Men and women are kept entirely separately. They never even see each other. The guards are different, too. We checked the records. While you did prosecute seven of the men currently residing at Leavenworth, none of the women there can blame you for their present residence. If you decide to do this, we'll have you review the files of all of the women inmates just to be certain no one rings any bells. I do want you to take some time to think about this, though."
"I don't need to think about it, sir," Mac said. "I'd like to do it."
AJ stared at her. This was a serious operation, with much to consider. She'd agreed far too quickly, and he wondered about her motivation. He'd come down pretty hard on her a week ago at her Admiral's mast. He had no doubt she deserved the punishment he'd given her, or he wouldn't have done what he did. In fact, he'd wondered at the time whether he'd been letting her off too easily. But he'd watched her face as he'd handed down his sentence, and he knew how deeply it had wounded her, though she was too much a Marine to let it show much. He wondered if she was using this operation as a way to get back into his good graces. He couldn't tell her she hadn't really fallen all that far in his good graces without lessening the impact of the punishment, thereby diminishing the importance of her crime. They were JAG, dammit, and if they didn't take the truth seriously, who would? But if regaining his confidence was the motive for an undercover assignment in the nation's toughest penal institution, she wasn't using her brain.
Mac looked at her CO impassively as he studied her. She had no idea what he might be thinking, but something was obviously making the wheels spin in his head. She waited until he spoke again.
"Mac, are you sure? These women have all been sentenced to hard labor, and many of them are there for life."
"I'm not afraid of a little hard work, sir," she told him.
That wasn't what he'd meant, and she knew it. He took his glasses off and tossed them on his desk, rubbing the bridge of his nose. "Look, I know you think you want to do this, but I want you to think about it. Take some time and give me your answer later today."
"But, sir . . ." she started to protest.
"Major, I said take some time and think about it. And I mean really think about it," he said firmly.
Mac straightened in attention. "Aye aye, sir," she said, looking at a point six inches over his head.
"You're both dismissed," AJ said.
"Aye aye, sir," Mac said again. She stood and pivoted to leave.
"Sir," Harm said as he stood up. Mac stopped in her tracks. "Could I speak with you for a moment?"
Mac studied him, wondering what he was up to. Harm kept his eyes to the front, ignoring her scrutiny.
"Go ahead," AJ prompted.
"In private, sir?" Harm requested.
"All right. Major, you're dismissed."
"Aye aye, sir," Mac said again. Narrowing her eyes at Harm, she left the room.
"Problem, Commander?"
"No, sir. Maybe, sir. I'm just wondering about the Major's state of mind. I'm not sure she's considering the implications of this assignment seriously enough."
"I'd say you're wrong about that," AJ noted, causing Harm to raise his eyebrows.
"But, sir . . ."
"She's not considering them at all!" AJ interrupted. "I have my own concerns about the Major's motive for participating in this operation, Commander. In fact, I had my doubts about offering the assignment to her at all."
"Then why did you, sir, if you don't mind my asking?"
Though he looked like he did mind, AJ said simply, "She's the best I've got."
Harm couldn't argue with that. "Sir, if she does decide to go through with this, I won't let her gon in there alone. If she goes, I go."
"I thought you'd probably feel that way. I'll talk to you both at the end of the day," AJ said dismissively.
"Aye aye, sir. Thank you."
"Bud, I need to see you in my office," Mac said on her way through the bullpen. "Are you free?"
"Yes, ma'am. I'm right behind you."
Bud followed Mac into her office and sat after she'd invited him to. She sat behind her desk. "How's your work load?"
"It's manageable at the moment, ma'am," Bud said carefully. He'd learned that when the Major or the Commander asked him that question, it usually didn't matter what his answer was. It also usually meant that his workload was about to increase dramatically.
"I'm going to need someone to take over all of my active files," she told him.
Bud's eyes widened in surprise, both because of the thought of taking on that much extra work and with wonder about why it would be necessary. "Are you going somewhere, ma'am?"
"Temporarily," she said with a nod. "An undercover assignment at Leavenworth."
"As a guard, ma'am?"
"No, Lieutenant. As an inmate."
Bud's eyes got even wider, but he quickly regained his stolid military demeanor. "That sounds . . ." he searched for the right word. "Dangerous, ma'am."
"You're my first choice to take care of things for me while I'm gone, Bud, but I don't want to over-burden you."
"I'll be happy to do what I can, ma'am, but what about Commander Rabb?"
"I suspect he's going undercover, too."
Bud's eyes shot open again. "As a prisoner?!"
"No, as a guard. I'm going to figure out exactly what I've got going. Why don't you do the same so you'll know what you can afford to take on. We'll talk again in a bit."
"Yes, ma'am," Bud said, standing up. "Let me know when you're ready."
"Oh, and Bud. The fewer people who know where I'm going, the better."
"Yes, ma'am." Bud nodded curtly to Harm on his way out.'
"You're supposed to be thinking about it, not making plans to be gone for an extended period of time," Harm told her.
She ignored his statement. "What did you and the Admiral talk about?"
"It was private," he said. "I think you're making a mistake. This is Leavenworth, Mac. It's not Club Med."
"I'm well aware of that. You don't have to go," she pointed out.
"Neither do you," he rejoined.
"I've got a lot of loose ends to tie up here. Do you mind?" she asked pointedly.
Harm sighed and shook his head, recognizing that she'd slipped into stubborn Marine mode. He left, knowing that there was nothing he could say that would change her mind.
It took Mac an hour to make a list of every case she had pending, including a brief summary of the facts of the case and where it stood procedurally. She had a couple of minor things she thought she could get wrapped up before she left, but the majority of her case load would need to be taken over by someone in her absence. She put stars next to the cases she thought needed the best attention they could get. If Harm decided not to go, she'd give what she could to him. If he did, and she was pretty sure he would, she had no qualms about leaving them in Bud's capable hands. She'd let the Admiral re-assign whatever was left over.
Shortly before the day was to end, the Admiral summonsed them both back to his office.
"Commander, I'd like to speak with the Major alone for a moment," AJ said. "Would you mind waiting outside for a moment?"
Whether he minded or not, Harm said, "Of course not, sir," and went out of the room, shutting the door behind him.
AJ studied Mac briefly before he said, "Sit down, please, Mac. Have you made up your mind?"
Mac sat. "Yes, sir. I'd like to do it."
"The Commander and I both have concerns about the reasons you're taking on this assignment."
"The Commander talked to you about me?!" Even though she suspected he'd done that very thing, it still made Mac angry to hear the Admiral say it.
"He's concerned. As am I."
"With all due respect, sir, if you had doubts about my ability to handle this assignment, why did you offer it to me?" Mac asked hotly.
AJ looked at her coolly. Never had he known such a competent officer with such a low opinion of their own self-worth. "Major, I have every confidence in your ability to complete this mission successfully, or I would not have offered it to you. My concerns center around your reasons for taking on the assignment. Would you care to explain those to me?"
Mac look surprised, but she said, "Well, sir, it seems apparent that something's going on at Leavenworth. Women are dying, and if I can do something about it, I don't see how I can refuse to try."
AJ studied her, his gaze steely, knowing there was more, but not willing to ask again. She was a big girl, not to mention a Marine officer. If she'd decided to do this, as she apparently had, who was he to examine her motives under a microscope? Inwardly, he sighed. He had an uneasy feeling about this. He pressed the intercom button on his phone. "Tiner, send Rabb in."
"Aye aye, sir," he heard. Moments later, Harm re-entered the room. He felt Mac's angry eyes on him, but he ignored her and came to attention before the Admiral's desk.
"At ease. Have a seat."
As they sat, Harm chanced a quick look at Mac. The fury he saw in her eyes made him flinch. Clearly, the Admiral had told her what they'd discussed. Just as clearly, she was not pleased with his interference. He turned his attention to the Admiral. He'd deal with Mac's anger later.
"Since you've both apparently agreed to volunteer for this operation, let's discuss some details. Major, we'll send you in first. Commander, you'll follow several days later."
Harm opened his mouth to protest, but AJ stopped him with a raised hand, knowing his concern before Harm could voice it. "It's too risky to send you both in together. It'll draw too much attention to both of you."
"Then send me in first, sir," Harm suggested, knowing Mac was only getting angrier with him.
"It's going to take you longer to get up to speed, Commander. You ever done any duty in a correctional facility? Other than as an inmate?" the Admiral added dryly.
"No, sir," Harm admitted uncomfortably.
"You're going to need some training. It may be just an undercover assignment, but I won't have you sponsoring a brig break because you're not familiar with prison protocol. We've got someone who can give you a crash course on correctional institutions in general and Leavenworth in particular. That'll take five or six days. Then you'll go in." He turned to Mac.
"Major, I'd like you to take a couple of days to study the files of the three victims and the women you'll be sharing quarters with. I don't want there to be any surprises. We've built a cover for you already."
"What'd I do, sir?" she asked.
"Excuse me?" AJ asked, not understanding her question.
"My crime, sir. What did I do to get myself sentenced to hard labor at Leavenworth?"
"Oh," AJ flipped open a file on his desk. "You apparently killed your boyfriend in a jealous rage, stabbing him brutally eighteen times with a bayonet while he slept. You then chopped his body up into pieces. You were sentenced to life without the possibility of parole due to your lack of remorse for the crime."
"Bastard deserved it, sir," Mac said firmly, already playing her part, causing both men to arch their eyebrows in shock. It took a lot of control not to smile at the looks on their faces.
AJ cleared his throat. "Yes, well Your name will be Sarah McIntyre. People call you Mac. The warden will be the only one in the facility that knows your true identity. Under normal circumstances, access by inmates to the warden is very limited. Should you find yourself in need of assistance, you'll have to be creative in your attempts to get around the normal chain of command."
"I understand, sir," Mac assured him.
"I have a box of material ready for your review, Major," AJ continued. "I'll have Tiner bring it to your office. We'll need to re-assign whatever you're working on."
"I've already spoken to Lieutenant Roberts, sir. Whatever he can't take, I'll bring to you to re-assign, if that's all right."
"That's fine. Commander, you're in the same boat. Try to wrap up what you can while you're in training, then let me know what you've got left."
"Yes, sir," Harm said with a sideways look at Mac, a bit peeved at her for beating him to Bud. Now he'd have to hand over most of his cases to Brumby, which left a really bad taste in his mouth.
"As with most undercover operations, the fewer who know the details, the more likely secrecy is to be maintained. I'd suggest we limit those who know to the barest minimum," AJ suggested.
"I've already told Lieutenant Roberts, sir. I also impressed on him the need for secrecy," Mac told him.
"I think we can trust the lieutenant to keep his mouth closed," the Admiral noted. "But I suggest we close the loop there. Tiner knows. The three of us and Lieutenant Roberts makes five. That's probably two too many, but we'll deal with that. Do either of you have any questions?"
Mac had many, but they weren't questions the Admiral could answer. Hopefully, some of the answers were in the box of material she'd been promised. "No, sir," she said. "None that I can think of at this time."
"No, sir," Harm parroted.
"Sir," Mac said, a thought occurring to her. "What if someone at Leavenworth has questions about me? What if they try to call the court where I was sentenced or the lawyer who prosecuted me?"
"That's a good point, Major," the Admiral admitted. "And one we hadn't thought of. We'll have to widen our loop to include someone from NCIS."
"They're likely not to be happy about being left out of this, sir," Harm pointed out.
"Tough! This comes from the SecNav. They don't have to like. They just have to do it. We'll find someone over there that can be trusted. Hell, there can't be that many," the Admiral joked. "Anything else?"
"No, sir," both officers responded.
"Dismissed, then," AJ said.
Harm and Mac got to their feet and stood briefly at attention. "Aye aye, sir," they said in unison.
After they'd left his office, Mac turned on Harm. "How dare you go to the Admiral behind my back!" she snapped as they headed across the nearly empty bullpen.
"Mac, I was concerned . . . I am concerned about why you're doing this," he said, trying his best to sound reasonable.
"My motives are none of your business!"
"They are if they put you in unnecessary danger. Danger which involves me," he said as they reached her office.
"You don't have to go," she said again, walking around behind her desk.
Like that was gonna happen. Harm sighed. "Look, Mac, I just want to make sure that you're not doing this because you feel you have something to atone for."
"But I do!" she said. "I have a lot to atone for! Obviously, the Admiral has lost all faith in me. Just as obviously, you don't have any more faith in me than you ever did!"
"You couldn't be more wrong," Harm said.
She turned away from him, obviously not believing him. "Why I'm doing this is my business, just as why you're doing this is your business. I didn't notice anyone questioning your motives."

"That's different, Mac."
"Why is it different, Harm?! Is it different because you're a man?! Is it different because you're considered different from the rest of us here?! Why exactly is it different?!"
Harm knew this conversation was useless. "I can't talk to you when you get this way. If you want to talk like a reasonable human being, you know where to find me." With that, he left.
Mac picked up her stapler and raised her arm, but she stopped herself before she hurled it after him. Squared-away Marines did not throw office implements at annoying squids. She tossed it back on her desk and sat down with a heavy sigh.
That night . . .
Mac sat in her apartment, sipping a cup of tea, reading through the files of the women inmates at Leavenworth. None of the women had been familiar to her, and she was reading through their files now to learn more about the women she would soon be surrounded by. They were there for a variety of crimes: murder, aggravated assault, drug trafficking, espionage, armed robbery. They all had one thing in common: their crimes had been deemed serious enough to warrant extended stays at Leavenworth, many of them for life. Some of them were violent; some were "only" chronic drug abusers.
Mac had saved for last the files of the three inmates who had ended their own lives, at least according to official reports. She picked up the first one, but before she could open it, someone tapped softly on her door.
She was not really surprised to find Harm staring back at her when she checked the peephole. She opened the door and looked at him without speaking.
"I brought a peace offering," he said, holding up a quart of ice cream. "Chunky Monkey."
She moved aside to let him enter, then closed the door softly after he had.
Harm looked at the piles of documents in her living room. "Looking over your assignment?"
"Harm, I don't want to talk about this any more," she said wearily.
"That's not why I came," he said. "I came because . . . I thought it would be helpful if we prepared together. And because I felt like eating some Chunky Monkey with a friend."
She smiled gratefully. "I'll get some spoons."
While Harm looked over the files of the female inmates, Mac studied the files of the victims.
The first was Lydia Carmichael, formerly Lieutenant (j.g.) Lydia Carmichael. She'd been convicted of manslaughter when she'd struck and killed a pedestrian while driving under the influence. With two prior OUI arrests on her record, the members at her court martial were not inclined to be lenient when it came to sentencing. They'd thrown the proverbial book at her with as much might as they could muster, sentencing her to twenty years at hard labor, stripping her of rank and privileges, and discharging her dishonorably from the Navy.
She'd served three years of her sentence at the time of her death. Her inmate file contained numerous incident reports detailing Carmichael's frequent run-ins with authority figures. The incidents had come almost daily beginning four weeks prior to her death. One week prior to her death, the incidents ceased. There were two notes made by members of the medical staff that Carmichael seemed depressed. Then, one morning, she was found by the guard in her cell, dead. She'd hanged herself by tying one end of her bed sheet to the window in the cell door and the other around her neck. That had been eight months ago.
Mac flipped the file closed with a sigh. What a depressing story. And what an awful ending. She looked up to find Harm staring at her, questions in his eyes. She smiled reassuringly and picked up another file.
Petty Officer Betty Bergman, sentenced to five years for possession of illegally obtained Oxycontin which she had been selling to her shipmates. Five months ago, she, too, had been found hanged in her cell. Her file also detailed that she'd been a discipline problem in the two months she'd been incarcerated prior to her death.
And finally, Stephanie Saxon, convicted eight months ago of espionage after she'd been found guilty of allowing her boyfriend to have access to sensitive information to which she was privy through her job at the Pentagon, knowing that her boyfriend was selling that information to the Chinese. Like the other two, Saxon seemed to have a problem with authority, and she'd killed herself in a similar manner two months ago.
Mac closed the final file and picked up a pen. She began to make a list of all of the things these three women had in common.
1) All three were had labor inmates.
2) They were all listed as indigent inmates.
3) They all had had multiple run-ins with authority until the week or so prior to their deaths, when they'd become withdrawn, depressed even, according to fellow inmates and jail staff interviewed after the fact.
4) All three had been housed by themselves at the time of their deaths. Housing records showed that roommates had either been transferred out or the victim herself had been moved at roughly the same time as the change in attitude had been noted.
5) Finally, all three had been found hanged in their cells, the first from the cell door, the second and third from the top bunk. All had failed to appear for the morning wake-up call. None of the deaths were suspicious in any way, and all had been ruled suicides without much thought.
Mac looked at the list, studying it, wondering what else she might be missing.
"Whatcha got?" Harm asked.
Mac jumped at the sound of his voice. She'd been so engrossed in what she'd been doing, she'd forgotten he was there. She smiled sheepishly and handed him her list.
Harm studied the list, not liking what he saw. He had a very bad feeling about this operation, and he wished Mac would change her mind about participating in it. He knew better, though, than to try and talk her out of it again.
While Harm was looking at the list, Mac began to review the service records of the personnel guarding Leavenworth's female population. Most were male. They ranged in age from twenty to thirty-nine. Some were fresh out of the naval criminal justice program; some had nearly twenty years experience in law enforcement.
Mac had saved for last the file of Tom Bourgoin, who had somehow aroused the suspicions of the warden. He was average-looking, a lieutenant who had been transferred to Leavenworth eleven months ago.
"Can I see that list?" Mac asked.
Harm handed it back to her. On the bottom of it, Mac wrote:
Eleven months ago - Bourgoin transferred to L
Eight months ago - Carmichael suicide
Five months ago - Bergman suicide
Two months ago - Saxon suicide
There was a pattern developing. She handed the list back to Harm. "Do you see it?" she asked. Without giving him a chance to respond, she continued. "Bourgoin transferred there eleven months ago. The first death happened three months later, the second three months after that, and the third three months after that. It can't be a coincidence."
Harm tended to agree.
"And if the pattern hold true, there will be another suicide in four weeks. Unless I stop it."
"Unless we stop it," Harm corrected.
A short time later, Harm prepared to leave. "You know, it's not too late to back out," he said at the door.
"I thought we weren't gonna talk about that any more." Mac was more determined than ever to go through with this now. Someone's life was in danger, and there was something she could do about it.
"I know," he said. "It's just . . . You've sort of become irreplaceable, you know? I just don't want anything to happen to you."
Mac smiled. "Aw, that's sweet, Harm. But I'll be fine. You'll be there, watching my six."
That failed to make Harm feel any better. It was the thought of who else might be watching her six that made him nervous.
Mac's first day of incarceration . . .
The day had started out like any other. Mac had gotten up, showered, and eaten breakfast. Then came the knock on her door that would turn her world upside down.
NCIS Agent Mary Holland had been brought into the loop and would be a contact person if anyone had questions about a new inmate named McIntyre. The inmate file indicated that McIntyre's case had been handled through JAG HQ in Falls Church; that the case had been prosecuted by Lt. Commander Harmon Rabb; and that the defendant had been represented by Lt. Bud Roberts. A phony file had been created at JAG, on paper and in the computer, in the event a question was inadvertently directed to someone with no knowledge of the undercover operation. A picture of Sarah McIntyre had conveniently been omitted from her file at JAG. Her tracks covered at JAG, an NCIS agent was necessary to transport the "prisoner" to Leavenworth.
Agent Holland had already asked Mac twice if she was out of her mind for even considering this assignment. Mac had smiled indulgently and ignored the question. She was in her bedroom, changing into her prison garb, when she heard a knock on her door. "Could you get that, please?" she called out to Agent Holland.
"Hello," Harm said in surprise. "I'm looking for Sarah Mackenzie."
"She's changing. Come on in."
"What do you think?" Mac asked, exiting the bedroom dressed in a bright orange jump suit.
"It's what all the well-traveled convicts are wearing this season," Agent Holland noted.
"Hi, Harm!" Mac said with a pleased smile. "What are you doing here?"
"Just came to see you off." Only Mac could make a prison uniform look sexy, he thought.
"You didn't have to do that," Mac said, happy that he had. "This is Agent Holland. She's my tour guide. Lt. Commander Harmon Rabb."
Agent Holland smiled in acknowledgment at the introduction. "I hate to cut your good-bye short, but we've got a plane catch. Oh, and I have some bad news. Two other prisoners are being transported on the same flight. That means you'll have to be in handcuffs and leg irons during the entire trip. I had hoped to avoid that, but we can't have you blowing your cover before you even get there. We'll put them on before we get out of the car at the airport."
Mac looked uncomfortable with that, but she smiled bravely. "Okay. I'm ready to go. I could get used to traveling light," she joked. No much sense in packing for a stay at Leavenworth, now was there?
"You take care of yourself, Marine," Harm said softly. "Try to stay out of trouble, at least until I get there."
Mac stepped into his embrace, and they hugged briefly. "Just hurry with your training. I'll see you in a few days."
Mac had been manacled at the airport and led into the plane. People on the plane either looked away from her in disdain or stared openly at her with curiosity. It was the most uncomfortable flight she'd ever endured, both because of the shackles and because of the attention she had garnered.
Upon arrival at Leavenworth, Agent Holland had turned her over to a guard at the gate, and she'd been taken to intake. There she'd filled out numerous forms; been issued her prison clothing and a box in which to keep personal items (of which she had none), and her bedding; and been asked many personal questions, such as: Is your skin in good condition and free of vermin? (To which she answered yes.) Have you ever had a venereal disease? (No.) Have you ever been admitted to a hospital for psychiatric or emotional reasons? (Not yet.) Have you lost your spouse or significant other as a result of this arrest? (Well, duh!) Have you ever been treated for drug or alcohol addiction? (No. They hadn't asked if she needed treatment, just if she'd received it.) Are you a homosexual? (No.)
After intake, Mac was forced to shower in front of a female guard, dressed in what would become her new uniform (dark blue work pants, a light blue buttoned, short-sleeved shirt with "USDB" stenciled in large letters on the back, and white tennis shoes). She was also issued a pair of boots for working outside, a pair of gloves, and a baseball cap, also with "USDB" stenciled on it.
She was then taken to medical, where they gave her a physical (complete with body cavity search, thank you very much) and put her through a suicide assessment, just to make sure she wasn't planning on harming herself before they made her life hell. Mac wondered if the suicide assessment was something new since the recent rash of suicides or if they'd always done them. She would have been happy to learn that suicide risk assessments had been done as part of the intake process at Leavenworth for many years and that they identified more problems than they let slip by. Many people came into this place depressed. Many more became that way after a stay of any length.
Mac was then taken to the commissary. Because she had been deemed indigent, she was allowed to take from the commissary, at no charge, personal essentials (i.e., toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant, etc.). She was told these items could be replaced once they were used up. She was also given three stamps, three pieces of paper, and three envelopes, her supplies for writing letters home. She would be given the same amount of writing materials every week. Inmates with money in their accounts were allowed to purchase whatever they needed or wanted from the commissary and didn't have to rely on the minimums set by the prison. But the three women who'd committed suicide had all been indigent; therefore, Mac was indigent, too. Her supplies were placed in the box she'd been given and were taken to her cell.
Finally, Mac was taken to the warden's office. The shackles had been removed from her feet at intake. The handcuffs had been removed prior to her shower and had been put back on before she was escorted out of sick bay. She sat now in the waiting room outside the warden's office, wondering if he was risking her cover by having her here or if he normally personally greeted new arrivals.
The office door opened and an Army Colonel came toward them. The guard at her side snapped to attention. It was all Mac could do to quell the ingrained reflex and not rise to her feet as well. Instead, she stayed slouched in her chair, looking at the warden through half-closed eyes.
"Ms. McIntyre," the warden said softly. "I realize you've been stripped of rank, but we still like to maintain military discipline here. It's customary to rise when an officer enters the room."
The guard, realizing now that she hadn't stood with him, grabbed her elbow and hauled her roughly to her feet. Mac pulled her arm away abruptly and stood straight. "How's this, sir?" she asked insolently.
"I'm Colonel Lewis Franklin. Follow me, please," the warden ordered. Mac did so, surprised that the sergeant who had accompanied her did not.
"Have a seat," the warden said, indicating a chair before his desk. After Mac sat, he said, "I like to introduce myself to all new prisoners. How have you been treated since your arrival here?"
"Well, it ain't the Ritz," Mac noted loudly enough for the sergeant in the outer office to hear.
Franklin smiled thinly. "I think you'll find that life will be much smoother if you do what's expected of you and maintain the proper respect owed to those around you." He dropped his voice. "Is there anything you need?"
"No, sir," Mac said softly.
"I hope you didn't find intake too disturbing."
"No, sir," Mac repeated, though that was a bit of a lie. She'd found the body cavity search more than a little disturbing. In point of fact, it wasn't much more intrusive than a gynecological exam, but the reason and the setting for it made it seem much more humiliating.
"I've never been strip searched before," she noted as an afterthought.
"Sorry. It's common practice to ensure that inmates about to be released into the general population aren't carrying contraband."
"It's all right, sir. I was warned." Being warned about and actually being prepared for something were two different things, she now realized.
"If you need me at any time, fill out an inmate request form. The guards will try to deal with your request themselves, but keep insisting you need to speak with me. Make up a story if you need to. Just don't abuse the privilege."
"I understand, sir," Mac assured him.
"Your partner is due to arrive here on Thursday." Today was Monday. "I'm sure it'll be nice to see a friendly face."
"Yes, sir."
Franklin's voice rose slightly. "Remember, Ms. McIntyre, treat everyone the way you want to be treated, and your time here won't be so bad. You are dismissed."
Mac stood up, remembering at the last moment not to come fully to attention. "Later," she said and sauntered out of the office.
Mac was then brought to her new home away from home, a cell six feet wide by ten feet long. One wall was almost completely taken up by a metal bunk bed. A toilet, unscreened from the view of the door, stood in one corner. There was no sink. A dispenser of "soapless" soap hung on the wall. The walls were gray brick, the door gray metal with a 10"x10" window with bars. The floor and ceiling were painted gray. There were no outside windows. One 80-watt light bulb was screwed into a fixture in the ceiling, protected by a wire mesh cage. This was it her new home for the foreseeable future. Mac was glad she wasn't claustrophobic.
"Yours is top bunk," the guard told her. "You'll meet your roomie later when she returns from the work detail. You might want to rest up. You'll be going out tomorrow." Mac was pushed gently into the room, and the door clanged shut behind her.
Mac had reclined on her bunk, studying the inmate handbook, paying particular attention to what types of misbehavior resulted in certain kinds of punishment. As far as she could tell, she was the only inmate inside at the current time. Her mattress was about three inches thick and lumpy as badly-mashed potatoes, and she suspected sleeping on it would not be pleasant or easy. She also suspected this would be the last peace she'd enjoy for a while.
Finally, at just before 1700, a guard appeared at her door. He looked in, but said nothing. Mac sat up, wondering what would happen now. "Stay on your bunk," she was told.
Suddenly, a buzzer sounded, shattering the stillness and making Mac jump. The buzzer was immediately followed by her cell door sliding open, along with, she guessed, the doors of all of the other cells. That sound was followed closely by the sound of several female voices which got louder as they got closer. The guard remained outside her door, watching the women as they began to pass him. Some of them looked in at her curiously, but most kept their eyes in front of them, shoulders bowed wearily.
A tiny Hispanic-looking woman entered the cell. She smiled at Mac when she saw her sitting cross-legged on the top bunk. Apparently, this was her roommate. Mac estimated her age at twenty-two or -three. She couldn't be more than five foot two, and if she weighed one hundred pounds, she'd have to have rocks in her pocket. She had black hair tied back in a pony tail and beautiful large brown eyes. The guard entered the cell behind her.
"This is your new roommate, Rita," he said. "Sarah McIntyre, meet Rita Jiminez."
"Hi," Rita said, flashing Mac a bright smile.
"Hi," Mac answered, unable to stop herself from smiling back. What on earth could this tiny little thing have done to get herself put in here? Mac searched through the files in her memory bank, trying to place the name with crime and punishment. She came up empty.
The guard left the room. "Showers in twenty, ladies!" he called to the block as he left. The door slid shut with a loud metallic clang.
Mac uncurled her legs and jumped down off the bunk.
"Welcome to Leavenworth," Rita said.
Mac smiled. "Thanks. Been here long?"
"Six months. What'd you do?"
"Killed my boyfriend," Mac said, trying for the right mix of reluctance and pride. After all, she was supposed to be unremorseful. "You?"
"Drugs," Rita said simply. "But I'm clean now. Have been since I got here. I'll show you my kids."
Rita reached under the top bunk and removed a picture that had been taped to the wall. She handed it proudly to Mac.
Mac looked at three smiling, dark-skinned angels. They ranged in age from approximately two to maybe six. "They're beautiful," Mac said.
"Thanks," Rita said, taking the picture back. "That's Jimmy, Jr., Claire and Rosalita is the baby. You have family?"
"Not really."
"That's too bad. I don't know what I'd do without my kids. My sister brings them in to see me every week. They're living with her while I'm in here," Rita said sadly.
"How much more time have you got to serve?"
"Nine and a half years."
Wow. Her son would be nearly a man before she was released. Her daughters would remember nothing of their mother except that they'd visited her in prison. How sad was that?!
"I'm gonna rest a bit," Rita said, laying on her bed. "After we all take showers, we'll go to eat, and I'll introduce you to the others."
"I took a shower when I came in," Mac said.
"Doesn't matter," Rita said, her eyes closed. "They'll expect you to shower again. You'll learn to do what's expected of you, when it's expected."
Mac doubted that, but she didn't speak. Rita looked like she needed the rest.
As she'd been told, when the guard returned, Mac was informed that she needed to shower with the inmates who had been out working all day. She protested, though not forcefully, then got into line with fourteen other females (Mac counted them) and walked to the shower. Under the watchful eyes of two female guards, all of the inmates stripped and showered in the shower room, which was a large, rectangular room with four showerheads on each wall. Mac tried to tell herself that this was no different from showering after high school gym class, but it didn't work. The girls shower at the high school she'd attended had had individual shower stalls with partitions and a curtain, affording as much or as little privacy as the user desired. This was more like the male communal locker room (or so she'd heard). She wasn't sure if she only felt it or if the other inmates were watching her. She washed quickly and toweled off. When she was dry, she was handed a clean set of clothes, which she dressed in quickly and gratefully.
When they were all clean and dressed, they were marched to the cafeteria. The hard labor inmates were apparently allotted two tables in an isolated corner of the female mess hall. After making their way through the chow line, the women seated themselves at the two tables, apparently sitting in whatever seat they chose. Two guards stood at either end of the tables, trying to appear as though they were watching vigilantly. In the rest of the mess hall, the inmates who weren't sentenced to hard labor basically had the run of the room. Four guards were dispersed around the room, mostly at the exits. Security for those inmates was obviously much more lax.
Rita insisted that Mac sit beside her. As soon as she sat down, Mac picked up her fork and pushed her food around suspiciously.
"Not yet," Rita said under her breath.
"Huh?" Mac asked.
"Put your fork down," Rita ordered.
Mac complied, then noticed that no one else had begun to eat. As soon as all of the women were seated, one of the guards announced, "You may eat now." The women around her began to eat.
Rita now introduced her to the other women who shared their table. None of them were overly friendly in their greeting, although they all seemed to like Rita. Rita, Mac guessed, was a tough person to dislike.
After introductions, Rita pointed out an inmate at the table next to them. She was a large woman (Mac guessed 5'10" or so and 175 pounds) with wide shoulders and large hands. "That's Geri," Rita said in almost a whisper. "Watch out for her."
Mac again searched her store of information, and this time, she came up with a hit. "Geri" must be Geraldine Hineman, sentenced to life at hard labor for the killing of two convenience store clerks during a robbery attempt. Hineman's boyfriend, whose name Mac couldn't remember, had been sentenced to life in a federal penitentiary for his role in the crime.
"Why?" Mac asked.
"She has friends in convenient places," one of Mac's new friends told her. "And she likes to remind the rest of us about it."
Mac turned her attention to her meal (using the term generously). Her tray contained a white substance that she supposed was mashed potatoes, though they had the consistency of apple sauce, green beans which looked (and tasted) like plastic, and some sort of meat (chicken, maybe?) that was tasteless. Mac forced the beans down and drained her milk.
"You really should eat," Rita scolded. "You'll need it to keep your strength up tomorrow."
"I can't," Mac told her. It had been a long time since she'd eaten institutional food. She hadn't missed it.
"Do you mind then?" the woman on her left asked. Her name was Beverly Morgan, Mac thought.
"No, go ahead," Mac said, pushing her tray over. "Beverly, right?"
The young woman smiled. "Right. Everyone calls me Boots," she said as she pulled Mac's tray closer and began to eat what was left on it.
It was 1900 when the women were returned to their cells. Unlike the lower classifications of inmates, those sentenced to hard labor were not accorded the freedom of open cell doors, a common room (with a television and phone access) for everyday use, and the opportunity to mingle with the general population. They were returned to their cells, and the doors clanged closed. Mac wondered if she'd ever get used to that sound.
Mac paced in her cell for a time, not yet used to the tight confines. Rita read for a while, then invited Mac to play a card game. Rita knew only kids games, so they played Crazy 8's until it was time for lights out.
Day 2
At 0600 the next morning, some inconsiderate jerk was walking around outside yelling, "Up and at 'em, ladies! It's time to rise and shine!"
Mac rolled over in her bed and promptly fell the five feet to the floor from the top bunk. Damn! She'd forgotten where she was. "Ow!" she said, sitting on the floor and rubbing her now sore shoulder. She closed her eyes tiredly. She'd lain awake until 0300 on the thin, lumpy mattress, listening to the sounds around her. For a time after lights out, someone had cried noisily, until someone else had yelled, "Would you shut up!" The crying had stopped, but not the unmistakable sounds of other human beings in close proximity. Mac hadn't been in a situation like this since boot camp, and she'd grown accustomed to being alone while she slept. It seemed like she'd been asleep for three minutes instead of three hours when she'd been awakened.
"Are you okay?" Rita asked, concern in her voice.
"Fine," Mac said grumpily. "Forgot I was on the top bunk."
At Rita's direction, Mac dressed and stood by the door to the cell. At 0615, the door slid open, and they went into the hallway and formed a line. They were once again led to the mess hall, where, after lining up for their food, taking it to their table, and being given permission to eat, the other inmates dug into their breakfasts. Mac poked at the powdered egg mess on her try and stabbed at the thin, tough piece of ham(?). No one could screw up toast, she concluded, and she ate the two thin slices with little enjoyment, washing them down with weak, lukewarm coffee. Once again, when one of the others asked for her remaining food, she gladly gave it up.
At 0700, after the meal, the women were lined up once again and locked back in their cells.
"Better use the bathroom," Rita advised. "You won't have a chance again until lunch." She pulled her pants and underwear down and sat to follow her own advice.
Mac turned away in embarrassment. She doubted she'd ever get used to the more humiliating aspects of this place. She'd used the toilet only twice since arriving here: once yesterday, when she'd been all alone, though she'd looked around and wondered if there were hidden cameras in here, and once in the middle of the night last night, when it was too dark for anyone (including herself) to see anything.
"You gotta go?" Rita asked when she was done.
"Um, no, thanks," Mac said with a weak smile. "I'll wait." Until what? she wondered. There would never be a time when she wasn't being watched. She certainly couldn't hold it until the end of this assignment.
"Want some advice?" Rita asked. Before Mac could answer, she continued. "Go now. You can go at lunch, but we don't come in from the fields. The guards will let you go outside, but they're gonna watch you. And they're all men."
Mac immediately saw the wisdom of this advice, and she sighed.
"I won't look," Rita promised. She'd been new here herself not so long ago, and she remembered what it was like.
Mac did what she needed to do as quickly as possible.
At 0715, the door once more slid open. The women were lined up, marched outside, and loaded onto a bus. Mac counted only twelve of them today, and she wondered where the other three were.
When they were seated on the bus, two to a seat, with an armed guard in a caged-in area in the back, another guard climbed up the stairs and into the bus. Mac knew immediately from the photo she'd seen that this was Tom Bourgoin, the object of her investigation.
"Good morning, ladies," he said brightly. "How is everyone today?"
No one answered him.
"We have a new arrival, I understand," he continued. He scanned the faces on the bus until he found the new one. "Sarah McIntyre, welcome to our little family. Please let me know if I can do anything to make your stay with us more pleasant."
Mac felt everyone's eyes on her, and she stared balefully at Bourgoin. He seemed amused by her discomfort.
"Well, shall we get to work?" he asked rhetorically.
The driver, also an armed guard and also enclosed in a metal mesh cage, started the bus and closed the door. Bourgoin took his seat at the front of the bus. His seat was positioned behind the driver's, facing the others on the bus. He stood the butt of his rifle on the floor between his feet and leaned the barrel toward the window.
Mac studied him as unobtrusively as she could. He was good-looking in a plain sort of way. He had wavy brown hair cut as long as it could be given military regulations. His blue eyes were somewhat cold and cruel. His features were square, as though chiseled from stone.
"Where are the others?" Mac asked Rita, who sat beside her.
At the same time that Rita and others turned warning eyes on her, Bourgoin's ears perked up at the sound of her voice. He jumped to his feet.
"McIntyre," he said sternly. "There is no talking on the bus. You're new, so I'll forgive you this one time."
It was time to get a little better acquainted with Mr. Bourgoin. "Gee, thanks," Mac said sarcastically. "I can see how those four little words could be considered a breach of security."
Bourgoin eyed her coldly. "On the floor of the bus. Now."
"What?" Mac asked.
"I said, on the floor of the bus. Now! On your knees!" Bourgoin ordered, taking one step closer and taking a firmer grip on his rifle.
Bewildered, Mac looked at Rita. Better do it, was in her eyes.
Still not understanding, Mac got to her knees in the aisle of the bus. "Face the back of the bus," Bourgoin said. Mac complied. "On your face!" Bourgoin ordered. Mac dropped to a push-up position. "Hands behind your back!"
Mac clasped her hands behind her back, waiting expectantly. She felt Bourgoin attach something to her ankles, then her wrists were similarly bound. When she tested it, she found she was in a five-point restraint and that her wrists and ankles were tied together.
Mac was left trussed on the floor for the remainder of the thirteen-minute journey. When they arrived at their destination, Bourgoin evacuated the bus. The prisoners who had been sitting behind her had to step over her to get off.
When the bus had emptied, Mac heard footsteps approach her. She felt someone untying the leather straps which held her. "On your feet," he said.
Mac climbed to her feet slowly, allowing the circulation to return to her limbs. She turned to face Bourgoin and was surprised to find that he was inches shorter than she was.
"You will do well to remember just who's in charge here," he said, his voice low and menacing. "In case you're too stupid to figure it out, that's me. And there's not a damn thing you can do about it. Now get your ass off this bus and get to work."
Mac started to move by him, but he stopped her. "The proper response when given an order is, 'Aye aye, sir.'."
Mac looked down at him. "Aye aye, sir," she said, biting off each word.
Bourgoin smiled, revealing a row of perfect teeth. "Now that wasn't so hard, was it? You can go."
This time, he let her pass.
By the time they returned at the end of the day, Mac was exhausted. She'd thought she was in good shape, but her daily exercise regimen had not prepared her for what she'd faced today.
Someone had decided that it would be a good idea if the prison grounds included a pond. From this pond, an irrigation system could be fed to water the fields. At present, there was no pond, only a field that had been partially cleared of trees and brush. Two weeks ago, ground had been broken, and a hole three feet deep and the size of two swimming pools had been dug. Plans called for the pond to be nine feet deep at its center and to cover one acre. Obviously, this project was going to take some time. Just as obviously, the inmates, collectively, had all the time in the world. Once the pond was completed, irrigation ditches would be dug and pipes laid to carry water to the crops grown and cared for by the non-hard labor inmates.
Removal of the dirt was being accomplished solely by hand. Inmates broke up the soil with pickaxes and shoveled it into waiting wheelbarrows, which were then moved by other inmates to a designated fill area. The soil was mostly clay and contained many large rocks. Nearly every swing of the pick axe was met by a rock, which sent a bolt of shock and pain up the arm to the elbow.
As if conditions weren't miserable enough, biting insects seemed to be swarming. There were mosquitoes, black flies, midges, deer flies and a particularly nasty creature called a stable fly. It was difficult to swing an axe and swat at bugs at the same time, and as a consequence, inmates were bitten repeatedly while they worked.
Mac had been handed a pickaxe and told to get to work. The job she was doing required no instruction or training. Swing the axe down, hoist it up, and bring it down again. Then repeat the process. Over and over and over again.
The humidity level had reached oppressive portions by 1000. All of Mac's clothing was soaked with sweat and caked with dirt by lunch time. Lunch consist of a ham sandwich and an apple packed by the kitchen and brought out to the inmates. Mac ate the apple, but was too exhausted and hot to eat the sandwich. She was beginning to be very popular with the other inmates, who greedily ate her leavings. Mac drank all the water she was allowed and lay down to rest.
After a half-hour break in the shade of a nearby tent erected for that purpose, the inmates were sent back out to work, which they did until 0430, when they were loaded in the bus and taken back to the prison.
Mac stood gratefully under the shower spray, not caring now who might be watching her. She let the water run hot down her back, soothing the bug bites she couldn't reach to scratch. She had to be told twice to turn the water off and dress.
Mac ate little at supper. Surprisingly, she didn't feel hungry, though she'd eaten little in the last twenty-four hours.
When she returned to her cell, she wanted only to sleep, but she had too many questions. While playing Crazy 8's with Rita, she plied her for information.
"There were only twelve of us today. Where were the other three?"
"Oh, Geri don't go out with us," Rita said, laying down an eight. "Hearts."
"Oh? Why not?" Mac said, playing the only heart she had.
"We told you she had friends in high places," Rita said simply.
"Where?" Mac asked. "I'd like to get me some of these friends."
"You've met one already," Rita said. "Bourgoin is the wrong guy to piss off."
Mac raised her eyebrows. "Are Bourgoin and Geri . . . involved?"
Rita nodded.
"That's gotta be against regulations!"
The look Rita gave her now asked if she could actually be that naive. "You don't really believe that rules apply to everyone in a place like this, do you?"
"Well, that explains Geri," Mac said. "What about the other two?"
"Vera and Jo are Geri's friends. They stick together."
"So what do they do while we're out in the fields?" Mac asked.
"Kitchen duty. Or laundry. Work supposed to be done by what we call the soft labor inmates."
"That's not fair!" Mac protested. "Why doesn't anyone complain?"
Rita looked up at her. "The last person who complained got the crap beat out of her one night. No one saw a thing. A week later, she was dead."
"They killed her?" Mac asked, horrified.
"The official word is she killed herself."
"But . . ." Mac prompted.
"Look, all I know is that Bourgoin started to pay a lot of attention to her. That made Geri jealous. Betty got beat up. A few days later, she was dead. And it's not the first time that's happened. Or the last."
"What's going on here, Rita?" Mac asked.
"I don't know. And I don't want to know. Just take my advice and stay as far away from Bourgoin as you can."
That sounded like good advice, but Mac knew she couldn't take it. "I'm tired," she said. "Mind if we call it a night?" Her shoulder, already sore from her tumble out of bed this morning, was throbbing from the work she'd performed today.
"Get some rest," Rita advised. "You thought today was bad. Tomorrow will be worse."
Day Three
Rita had been right. Day 2 of hard labor was far worse than Day 1. Mac had gotten little sleep. Every time she moved, another muscle she'd forgotten she had screamed at her. She was sore from head to toe, and she had no idea how she'd be able to swing a pickaxe when she returned to the field. She had tossed and turned all night, but at least she hadn't fallen out of bed. She was grateful for that. The way her body felt, she probably would have broken into a million pieces, and they probably would have made Rita sweep up her shattered remains and throw them in the garbage.
She'd breakfasted on toast and coffee again. Her dread grew as the bus approached the work site. She didn't think she could raise her arms to scratch her nose, let alone swing a heavy implement. As it turned out, Bourgoin provided all the motivation she needed.
"Little sore today, are we, McIntyre?" he asked as she stepped gingerly off the bus.
"Not a bit," Mac lied.
Bourgoin laughed meanly. "I should probably warn you. If you don't work up to my expectations, I can have you transferred to latrine duty. You'll be cleaning sewers instead of enjoying this beautiful sunshine."
"And your sparking personality," Mac noted sarcastically.
Bourgoin got in her face. "I can make life really miserable for you," he promised.
"It's already about as miserable as it can get," she rejoined.
"Oh, don't bet on that," Bourgoin warned. "Now get to work. I'll be watching you. I see you leaning on your shovel once, I'll transfer your ass to sewer detail."
Mac doubted he would do that. He seemed to enjoy the challenge of dealing with difficult inmates, and he seemed to already have taken a special interest in tormenting her, which was just what she had planned. But she couldn't take a chance.
With a defiant glare at him, she'd picked up her axe and gone to join the others. The first few blows hurt like hell, but she'd be damned if she'd give Bourgoin the satisfaction of seeing that. She was surprised to find that the pain disappeared after a while, and she was able to work at a steady pace all day.
Mac spent most of the bus ride "home" on the floor of the bus in restraints again after speaking on the bus. She knew what to expect now, and she was experimenting with which of Bourgoin's buttons to press and how hard.
While she lay on the floor, she kept reminding herself, "Harm's coming tomorrow."
WARNING: Mac uses some strong words in this chapter. I know, I know. I told her it was inappropriate, but she was unrepentant and said she chose the words carefully for their effect. Anyway, I've masked one so you'll know what it is without having to read it. I can't mask the other, so I apologize if it offends anyone.
Day Four
Mac had been hoping that Harm would be the guard at the back of the bus this morning, but Sergeant Ernie Hancock sat at his usual post. She'd come to know that three guards transported the inmates to the work site: Bourgoin, Hancock and the driver, Ensign Joe Phillips. They were met at the work site by three others, and the six of them guarded the inmates while they worked and supervised them while they ate.
When the bus arrived at the work site (Mac managed the entire journey in her seat rather than on the floor) and she saw that the three guards were the same as usual, she nearly cried. She hadn't realized just how much she'd been looking forward to seeing Harm until he wasn't there.
While she worked, she wondered. Had something gone wrong? Had he not completed his training? Was he coming at all? That thought terrified her, and she kept trying to push it away, but it kept returning like a stray cat, feeding on her fear. By lunch time, she was convinced he wasn't coming and that she'd have to do this alone. She wasn't sure she could.
She lay in the shade with her eyes closed, more than happy to rest instead of eating. She'd poured half her allotment of water over her head, then drank the rest. She was nearly asleep when the other inmates began to talk excitedly among themselves.
"Now would you look at that!" one of them said. "Why can't all the guards look that good?!"
Mac opened her eyes but didn't sit up. She turned her head and immediately spotted Harm towering over Bourgoin. He was dressed in the uniform of a Navy Chief Petty officer, and Mac had never been happier to see an enlisted man in all her life. She squeezed her eyes shut to hide the tears that had sprung there, unbidden. What's up with that? she wondered. I must be more tired than I thought.
A couple of the women whistled appreciatively as Bourgoin led Harm to the tent.
"All right, ladies! On your feet!" Bourgoin ordered. "Break time's over. This here's Chief Brad Hammond. Today's his first day, so you all take it easy on him."
"Easy, hard I'll take it whichever way he wants to give it," someone said, just loud enough for Bourgoin to hear.
Bourgoin surveyed them angrily. "Who said that?!" he demanded. No on answered him. "McIntyre! Was that you?!"
Still sitting on the ground, Mac looked up at him, surprised. "No." She felt Harm's eyes on her, but she carefully avoided looking at him.
"On your feet!" Bourgoin bellowed.
Mac wearily got to her feet.
"I'll ask you one more time," Bourgoin yelled into her face. "Did you just make an inappropriate comment about Chief Hammond?"
"No, sir!" Mac said, staring down at him belligerently.
"I think you did. I think you owe the Chief an apology," Bourgoin said, his tone making it obvious that the apology was more than a suggestion.
"F%$* you and the whore you road in on," Mac said, surprising even herself with the vehemence of her statement. This guy was really beginning to get to her.
Bourgoin started as though she'd slapped him, then stepped closer to her. "You want me to bring out the leather, McIntyre?" He asked through clenched teeth.
"That the best you got to offer?" Mac taunted.
Harm watched their interplay with growing concern. What was she doing?! Had the stress gotten to her? When Mac stepped closer to Bourgoin, putting them effectively nose to chin, he decided he'd better do something.
"Lieutenant, . . ." he began.
"You stay out of this!" Mac snarled at him.
Surprised, Harm said, "Maybe you just need to calm down a little." He put his hand on her shoulder, and she promptly knocked it off.
That was the opening Harm had been waiting for. He spun Mac around and grabbed her from behind in a tight bear hug. Mac struggled, but he didn't let go.
"Let me go!" she demanded.
"Not until you calm down," Harm said.
Mac gradually got control of herself and stopped struggling. "I'm all right," she said.
Harm let go of her, and when he did, she flung herself to the ground, making it look for all the world like Harm had thrown her there. She stared up at him from the ground, fire in her eyes. "You ever heard of the Eighth Amendment?!"
"On your feet, McIntyre!" Bourgoin barked. "You just earned yourself extra duty! Get to work! All of you! Before you join McIntyre!"
The women began to shuffle away, talking animatedly, worked up by the scene they'd just witnessed. Mac followed them without a backward glance for Harm or Bourgoin.
"She's trouble, Chief," Bourgoin warned Harm as they watched her walk away. "Has been from the moment I met her. Know what she did?" When Harm shook his head in the negative, Bourgoin said, "She killed her boyfriend with a bayonet. Stabbed him like twenty times! Then she cut him up into little pieces. You'd never know that behind that sexy exterior, there beats the heart of a vicious killer, would you? Anyway, I like the way you stepped in. You can't hesitate to let them know who the boss is."
"Thank you, sir," Harm said, disliking this man intensely already.
The afternoon finally came to an end. Tired and sweating and itching all over, Mac joined the others as they lined up to return to the prison.
"Did you forget your extra duty, McIntyre?" Bourgoin asked with a smile on his face. "You're not ready to go just yet."
Mac stepped back out of line. She had assumed she'd be allowed to return to the prison to eat, but obviously, she'd been wrong.
"You see that pile of dirt over there?" Bourgoin asked, pointing at a pile two to three feet high and covering a six-foot circle. "I think it would look much better over there," he said, pointing at a spot fifteen feet from where the pile stood currently.
Mac's heart sunk into her boots. She was so tired! How was she ever going to move that pile of dirt by herself?
"Don't let her come in until she finishes it," Bourgoin said, tossing Harm a set of keys. "When she's done, bring her back in the van."
"What about supper, sir?" Harm asked.
"I'll have someone bring you a sandwich."
" I meant for her," Harm said, gesturing at Mac.
Bourgoin stared at her, his eyes small and mean. "I think this little lesson will sink in better if she's hungry while she works. Giver her a drink and put her back to work!"
"Yes, sir," Harm said, obviously unhappy.
Bourgoin misunderstood the source of Harm's discontent. "Sorry, Hammond, but the new guy always gets extra duty."
"No problem, sir."
"Just watch her, Chief. She's a violent one."
"I'll keep my eyes on her, sir," Harm promised.
As they watched the bus drive away, Harm asked jokingly, "What are you in for?"
"I ripped the tag off my mattress," Mac said.
"I always wondered what happened to people who did that." He watched as the bus drove out of sight. "I'm not sure how much longer I can keep calling that guy sir."
"Give him a break, Harm. He's suffering from LMS."
Harm turned questioning eyes on her.
"Little Man Syndrome," she explained. "I see it all the time."
Harm ignored her joke. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," she said, taking a long drink of water.
"You look tired."
She looked at him but didn't say anything. His concern made her suddenly feel like crying again. She turned away and picked up the shovel.
"You want to tell me what that was about? That little scene at lunch?"
"He targets problem inmates. I was making myself a problem," she said simply.
"Not for the first time, I gathered," Harm noted. "Are you being careful?"
"As careful as I can be and still get the job done," she assured him.
"How are things . . . on the inside?"
"Really cozy," Mac said, striving to keep her tone light. "They gave me a suite with a hot tub and twenty-four-hour a day room service."
"Mac . . ."
"I really need to get to work if I'm going to finish this." A thought struck her. "Damn!"
"What's the matter?"
"I'm going to miss the library cart!" Rita had told her that every Thursday night, one of the guards wheeled a large cart of books from cell to cell. Inmates were allowed to borrow two books at a time. Mac had been looking forward to having something to read to help pass the time. She was surprised by just how disappointed she felt at missing something so trivial.
Harm seemed surprised by her depth of feeling, too. "Mac, is everything all right?"
"Fine," she said, attempting to smile.
"Give me the shovel," he said, holding out his hand.
"Because I'm going to do some of that for you. You're exhausted."
"No, you're not," Mac argued, hugging the shovel handle to her chest.
"Give me the shovel, Mac," Harm ordered softly.
"What are you gonna do? Shoot me?" she teased.
"Let me help you!" he pleaded.
"Harm, you'll compromise your cover. If they catch you helping me, you'll be out of here immediately. I don't think I could finish this if you weren't here. I'll be fine."
She turned her back on him and walked to the dirt pile.
Harm sighed in frustration because he knew she was right. He stood and watched her work, feeling guilty because he couldn't help and because he knew that she was beyond tired. He could hear her muttering something under her breath as she worked, and he moved closer to where she was. It took him a moment to realize that she was singing the Marine Corps Hymn. Every time she drove her shovel into the pile, she grunted with the effort.
From the halls of Montezuma
To the shores of Tripoli
We will fight our country's battles
From the air, on land and sea.
He smiled at her source of inspiration. Only Mac.
For her part, Mac worked mindlessly. If she'd dwelled on how tired she was, she would've collapsed onto the ground. She'd be damned if she'd give Bourgoin the satisfaction. So she shoveled dirt into the wheelbarrow, and when it was full, she pushed it to the designated spot fifteen feet away, dumped it out, and repeated the process. When Harm's supper arrived via another guard, he waited until the guard was out of sight, then forced Mac to take a break and eat the sandwich intended for him. She took no enjoyment from the meal and went dully back to work when she'd finished.
Finally, two hours and eighteen minutes after she'd begun, Mac had moved the entire pile. She leaned on her shovel it was her only source of support.
"Let's go, Mac," Harm said softly behind her.
"Give me a minute." It took a while, but she gathered her remaining strength and was able to walk to the van on her own power.
"Can we talk now?" Harm asked after he got in and started the van.
"About what?" Mac asked listlessly.
"About you. What's going on? What have you found out?"
"You mean other than that the food sucks?"
"Mac," Harm admonished. They didn't have a lot of time to talk. It would be helpful if she wasn't cracking jokes.
Mac sighed. "Other than finding out fairly quickly that Bourgoin is a mean son of a bitch, I haven't really found anything we can use. My roommate seems to think he's connected somehow to the deaths of those three women and also that he's having an affair with one of the inmates."
"What?" Harm asked, dismayed.
"Yeah." Mac yawned. "It's hard to tell in a place like this what's rumor and what's fact, though. There may be nothing to it."
"Please be careful. I can't watch your back inside." There was no response. "Mac?" Still no response.
Harm turned around to look in the back seat. Through the mesh screen that separated them, he saw Mac slumped against the door, sound asleep. Good. She looked like she could use it.
He drove as slowly as possible to allow Mac as much rest as he could. When they arrived back at the gate, he stopped the van. He wanted to just leave her there and let her sleep, but a guard was already unlocking the gate to escort her in.
"Mac," he said. "Mac, we're back."
"Five more minutes, Harm," she mumbled without opening her eyes.
"Inmate McIntyre!" Harm said, his voice loud. "You will wake up now!"
Startled, Mac sat bolt upright. She realized simultaneously that she'd called him Harm (potentially risking both their covers) and that he was trying to make sure she was awake enough not to do it again in front of the approaching guard. She smiled briefly at him in gratitude.
Harm got out of the van. Mac tried to do the same until she realized that there were no inside door handles in the back. The approaching guard slid the van door open, and Mac climbed wearily out as Harm joined her. Harm came to attention in front of the guard and saluted. "Chief Brad Hammond reporting with a work detail of one."
The Lieutenant guard returned the salute. "At ease, Chief. You're new here, aren't you?"
"Yes, sir. First day, sir."
"Then that explains why this prisoner isn't cuffed. Check the manual, Chief. SOP."
Sorry, sir. It won't happen again, sir," Harm promised.
"See that it doesn't," the Lieutenant admonished. "You're dismissed, Chief."
Harm came to attention again. "Aye aye, sir."
"Thanks for dinner and the movie," Mac called. "We'll have to do it again some time. Now I'd better get inside before Dad turns the porch light on. I think it would be better if we skipped the goodnight kiss."
Harm smiled at her joke. "See you tomorrow." He watched as the Lieutenant handcuffed Mac and led her inside the prison gate.
"Can I take a shower?" Mac asked when they got inside the cell block.
"Showers close at nineteen hundred," she was informed. "You don't get back before then, you don't take a shower. No exceptions."
"Come on, Lieutenant," Mac wheedled. "Three minutes. I promise."
"No exceptions," he repeated stubbornly.
"I could order you to let me take a shower," she pointed out, wishing that were true.
The Lieutenant laughed. "You're a funny one. It's good to have a sense of humor in a place like this."
"Oh, yeah," Mac agreed. "On the outside, I'm a real cut-up."
The Lieutenant blanched. Everyone knew what she'd supposedly done to her boyfriend.
Mac ignored his reaction. "It's the sense of smell I could live without," she said, sniffing herself delicately.
The Lieutenant chuckled again.
"You know, I think I have a constitutional right to take a shower," she said.
"Oh, yeah? And what part of the Constitution would I find that in?"
"Oh, it's a little-known part of the Nineteenth Amendment. You know, the one that gave women the right to vote? It also gives us the right to change our minds frequently, to own an unlimited number of shoes, and to shower daily. Really. Go look it up. I'll wait in the shower while you do."
The Lieutenant laughed again, seemingly enjoying her banter. Unfortunately, he didn't seem to be changing his mind.
"You're not nice," she pouted.
"Look, I'd like to let you take a shower. But it's against the rules. I'd get in trouble."
"You're sweet. I wouldn't want that," Mac said, lying through her teeth. She'd feed him to the sharks for five minutes under the hot water.
"Here you go," the Lieutenant said, stopping to remove her cuffs. "Home sweet home."
"I hope the maid came today," she said airily as she waited for the guard on the other side of the door to open it. "I hate coming home to a messy house after a busy day at the office."
"Good night," the Lieutenant said as she was escorted toward her cell. Mac turned to wave cheerily at him as she was pulled down the hall.
Her new escort checked to make sure Rita was on her bed, not crouching by the door waiting to pounce on him, then spoke into the two-way radio pinned to his shoulder. "Open A-13."
The door slid open, and Mac walked in. She closed her eyes until the door clanged shut. God, she hated that sound!
"How are you?" Rita asked, concern in her eyes.
"I'm fine. I'm tired and dirty. They wouldn't let me take a shower."
"Have you had anything to eat?"
"No," Mac said, which, of course, was a lied. But she wasn't supposed to have eaten Harm's sandwich.
"I have a chocolate bar in my locker. You can have it," Rita said.
"No. That's very nice of you, Rita, but I'm okay," Mac protested.
"Don't be silly," Rita said, pulling her box out from under the bed and rummaging through it. She came out with a Hershey bar. "Here," she said, pressing it into Mac's hand.
"Thanks," Mac said with a grateful smile. She pulled her boots off and undressed to her underwear, then climbed up onto her bunk. She ate the chocolate as she lay staring at the ceiling. Fatigue felt like a heavy weight pressing down on her body.
Rita's head popped up beside her. "You have to stop pissing Bourgoin off. Why do you do that?"
"There's just something about that guy I don't like," Mac said, her eyes closed. "He rubs me the wrong way."
"Be nice to him," Rita pleaded.
"I'll try," Mac promised.
"The new guard is hot," Rita said.
Mac opened her eyes and turned her head to look at Rita. "You think so?" she asked with a smile.
"Mm hmm! Don't you?"
"A good-looking guy got me into this mess," Mac said. "They're a dime a dozen. What really counts is what's on the inside."
"Well, I'd like to check out Chief Hammond's insides some time," Rita said with a self-conscious giggle.
"Rita!" Mac said, shocked by her normally prim and proper roommate's statement. "You're bad!"
Rita smiled shyly at her. "You wanna play some Crazy Eights?"
"Nah. I'm too tired tonight. Sorry."
"That's okay. You get some sleep. I'll just read for a while."
"The library cart!" Mac said, remembering. "Did I miss it?"
"Yeah, but you can read the books I got if you want."
"Thanks, Rita. You're a good friend."
"Go to sleep, Sarah," Rita said softly.
Mac did, until 2330, when fire bells began clanging. Tonight was apparently the night of the jail's semi-annual fire drill. The inmates were rounded up by many armed guards. They were not given time to dress and were led to a far corner of the exercise yard. Some of the inmates, who apparently slept in their birthday suits, had been allowed to wrap themselves in blankets. They stood in a group, in various stages of undress, talking sleepily. Mac could see other groups of inmates gathered at multiple places around the yard, and she assumed that others had been taken to points on the other side of the building out of her sight. After what felt like an eternity, the inmates were allowed to return to their cells. Try as she might, Mac couldn't fall asleep again, and she lay staring at the ceiling until wake-up call.
Day Six
Inmates worked in the fields only until noon on Saturday. After lunch, they cleaned their cells from top to bottom. After the work in the fields, cleaning seemed like a piece of cake, and Mac almost enjoyed the easy task of washing the floors and the walls and cleaning the toilet. Old bedding was stripped and left for laundry, and clean bedding was applied. While they worked, Mac and Rita chatted, getting to know each other better. Mac let Rita do most of the talking. She liked her roommate a lot. She was sweet and kind and giving, and Mac was amazed that she'd ended up in a place like this. Tomorrow was visiting day, and Rita was looking forward to seeing her children very much. She told Mac weekly visits with her kids were the only thing that kept her sane.
All in all, it was a rather pleasant day, comparatively speaking. Friday had been another long day. Mac had been purposely disrespectful to Bourgoin again (she found this was coming naturally now), and he'd sentenced her to additional work again. As before, Harm was the guard ordered to stay behind with her. Though the extra work was difficult, it at least gave her an opportunity to speak with Harm without other ears present. She was wondering what she'd need to do to accelerate Bourgoin's time table. She wanted this over with as quickly as possible.
Mac slept better that night than she had since her arrival here.
Day Seven
Sunday was a day of rest, even at Leavenworth. After breakfast, religious services of any denomination were available to inmates. Mac chose not to attend and instead spent that time resting on her bunk.
After lunch, the inmates waited anxiously for visitation to begin. At 1330, the cell doors slid open, and two guards began moving down the hall, calling the names of inmates who had visitors. Rita stood excitedly by the door and hopped into the hallway when her name was called.
"McIntyre, you've got a visitor," the guard said.
"Who? Me?" Mac asked. She hadn't planned on a visit from anyone, and she was surprised. "Who is it?"
"They don't tell me that," the guard said. "Just get in line."
Mac did as she was told, wondering who she'd find in the visitation room. She and Rita and two others were the only inmates escorted from the pod, and Mac wondered why they all weren't going. That question would be answered for her later.
"All right, ladies, you know the drill. You get to visit for one hour. Limit your contact during the visit. Enjoy your time."
The women were led into a large room with tables and chairs lining the sides. Mac watched as Rita's children spotted their mother and ran to greet her. She smiled at Rita's obvious jot at simply being able to hug her children.
"Sarah," she heard a familiar voice say. She turned to find Harriet beside her.
"Hi, sis!" Harriet said, hugging Mac.
Mac hugged her back, trying not to look as surprised as she felt. "What are you doing here?" she asked into Harriet's ear.
"You didn't think I'd come to visit?" Harriet asked as she pulled away.
"I . . . I wasn't sure."
"All right, ladies!" one of the guard intoned. "Let's have a seat."
Everyone found seats. Mac and Harriet sat as far away from the others as they could.
"How are you, ma-"
Mac stopped her before Harriet could call her ma'am. "Harriet," she said warningly.
Harriet looked at her apologetically. "How are you, Sarah?"
"I'm fine," Mac said. "What are you doing here?"
Harriet spoke softly. "The Admiral thought it would be helpful for you to have another link to the outside. How are they treating you? What's it like in here?"
For some reason she wasn't sure she understood, Mac didn't want to discuss living conditions at Leavenworth with Harriet. "I'm fine. How are things at the office. Is Bud having any trouble with the cases I left him?"
Harriet spoke animatedly for a time about office gossip, Bud's antics in the courtroom, and the Admiral's moods. Then she described to Mac how it felt being pregnant. Before they even realized it, an hour had slipped away.
"Okay, first group. Your time's up!" a guard announced.
"I guess that's me," Mac said sadly.
"Gosh, I talked the whole time!" Harriet said. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be. I enjoyed our visit."
"Is there anything you want me to tell the Admiral?"
"Just tell him I'm fine and things are going according to plan." Whose plan?
"All right." Harriet hugged Mac again. "Are you losing weight?"
"Maybe a little," Mac admitted.
"Let's go, McIntyre!" the both heard.
"I have to go," Mac said. "Thanks for coming. Will I see you next week?" she asked hopefully.
"You bet," Harriet said with a bright smile.
Mac waved and followed the guard and the other inmates out of the room. They were led to sick bay, immediately adjacent to the visitation room.
"What are we doing here?" Mac asked a little nervously.
"Strip search," Rita said matter-of-factly.
"What?! Why?!" Mac asked, edging backward until she came up against a guard.
"SOP," he said. "Any time you have a contact visit, you get strip searched. Gotta make sure you haven't been smuggled in any contraband."
"How about if I just give you my word?" Mac proposed.
The guard chuckled. "Cubicle three, please."
Because she didn't have any choice, Mac complied. While she suffered through the indignity again, she figured some things out. She'd been brought to the visit in a group of four. Fifteen minutes after her group had arrived, another group of four had come into the room, followed fifteen minutes after that by another group. There were four cubicles set up in sick bay, with two nurses and two female guards conducting the examination/search. They were brought out in groups of four because that's how many they could strip search at one time.
She also figured something else out contact visits weren't worth this.
When it had been determined that the women weren't attempting to smuggle contraband into the prison anywhere in or on their persons, they were allowed to return to their cells. Before the guard left them, Mac told him she needed to see the warden as soon as possible. When the guard asked her why, she told him that it concerned prison security and contraband and that she would discuss it only with the warden. She was told that the warden wouldn't be in until the following morning and that her request would be passed through the usual channels.
After the inmates had all been returned to the pod, their doors were left open, and the inmates were allowed to mingle in their cells and in the common day room. A telephone was available for inmate use until 1700, and a line formed immediately after the day room was opened at 1500. Inmates were limited to two calls for a duration of twenty minutes, total.
Mac was not pleased to see Bourgoin in the day room. "What's he doing here?" she asked. The previous week's newspapers were kept in the day room, and Mac was catching up on the news she'd missed.
"They must be short-handed again," Rita said. "The outside guards don't usually come inside unless they're short-handed."
"Couldn't they have brought Hammond in instead?" one of the other women asked. "Now that I don't mind seeing any time."
A conversation then ensued about Harm's physical attributes, a conversation which Mac listened to with great amusement, but which she didn't participate in.
By 1625, Rita had worked herself to number two in the phone line. Geri dialed a number and settled in to complete her call.
At 1650, she still hadn't hung up, and Rita was fidgeting anxiously. Mac watched as long as she could, knowing Rita was too timid to say anything. Finally, she approached Geri. "Excuse me. Rita would like to us the phone. It's almost seventeen hundred."
Rita nervously tugged at her sleeve. "It's okay, Sarah."
"No, it's not, Rita. She's been on the phone for thirty-two minutes. It's time for her to get off." As she spoke, Mac never took her eyes off Geri.
The room had gone eerily quiet, all eyes turned to the expected confrontation. Geri turned away and continued talking.
"Excuse me," Mac said loudly. "Maybe you didn't hear me. It's Rita's turn to use the phone."
"What seems to be the trouble here?" Bourgoin asked loudly.
"She's been on the phone for thirty-two minutes," Mac explained. "She won't get off."
"You want to use the phone do you, McIntyre?" Bougoin asked.
"No. Rita does."
"You don't have enough trouble of your own?" Bourgoin asked. "You have to take on other people's problems?"
Mac sighed. She'd hoped to make it through this afternoon without a confrontation with Bourgoin. She'd almost made it, but apparently he wasn't going to let that happen. "Look, the rule is twenty minutes. I thought it applied to everyone."
Behind them, Geri hung up the phone. "All done," she said brightly, secure in the fact that she enjoyed Bourgoin's protection.
"Return to your cell," Bourgoin ordered softly. "The rest of you go back to your cells, too."
"Rita wants to make a call," Mac said stubbornly.
"It's seventeen hundred," Bourgoin said.
"No, it's 1659. If you'd been doing your job, she would have had fifteen minutes," Mac argued.
"Sarah, please," Rita begged.
"No, Rita. You wanted to call your mother. You should be allowed to call your mother."
"Make your call, Jiminez. You've got ten minutes," Bourgoin ordered, his eyes never leaving Mac's face. "McIntyre, I'll escort you back to your cell."
Mac turned and walked quickly back to her cell, aware that Bourgoin was right behind her.
"What is it with you, McIntyre?" Bourgoin asked conversationally after she'd entered the cell. Bourgoin stood at the door. "You got some sort of a problem with me?"
"I don't know what you mean."
"Come on," Bourgoin wheedled. "We've done nothing but butt heads since you got here. I'm a nice enough guy, so I figure it must be you."
"You're probably right. After all, I'm just a common criminal, and you're a mighty lieutenant in the US Navy."
"You're very sarcastic, you know that?"
"So I've been told."
"I think we could be really good friends if you'd give us a chance," Bourgoin said.
Mac studied him. Was he making his move on her? Was this how he'd done it with the others? "Friends, huh? I've got enough friends, thanks," she told him.
"You can never have too many friends, McIntyre. The right friends can be very useful. Remember that." With that, he was gone.
Day Eight
Mac's day had started out on a bad note. She'd discovered her work gloves missing from her "locker". She knew she'd put them there on Saturday, and it was pretty difficult to lose something in a room this size. That left as the only logical conclusion that someone had taken them. It had to have happened yesterday afternoon, since that was the only time cell doors were left open, and she'd be willing to bet it had happened at the time of her run-in with Geri and Bourgoin. One of Geri's friends must have taken them while she was busy defending Rita's rights. Rita offered Mac her own pair, but Mac declined.
As they were lining up to leave the prison after breakfast, the guard told her. "You stay, McIntyre. The warden wants to see you." Mac sat down and waited until someone came to get her a short time later.
Mac waited until the warden had closed his office door before coming fully to attention. "Thank you for seeing me, sir."
"At ease, Major. Have a seat. Is there some kind of problem?"
"Not really, sir. I just wanted to tell you that I don't want any more visitors."
That surprised him. "I'm sorry? No visitors? Why?"
"It's rather personal, sir. Frankly, I didn't even know I had a visitor list or that Lieutenant Sims was on it."
"Your Admiral thought it a good idea," Colonel Franklin explained. "Are you sure about this?"
"Yes, sir. If she, or anyone else for that matters, comes next week, I'll refuse to see them. I thought perhaps you could put in the record that I reported to you that she tried to slip contraband to me. That would keep her out, wouldn't it?"
"It would," the Colonel confirmed. He studied her for a moment. "Is Admiral Chegwidden going to have me for lunch over this?"
Mac smiled. "I don't think so, sir. I'll make sure he knows after that it came from me."
"All right. If you're sure that's what you want. How is everything going? Have you found anything yet?"
"Nothing solid, sir," Mac reported. "But I feel as though I'm getting closer. As soon as I have anything definite to report, I'll let you know."
"All right. Well, I guess the guard will take you out to the field now."
"Yes, sir," Mac said, standing up gingerly. Her muscles, though they were getting a little more forgiving, were still angry with her for what she was putting them through.
"Sore, Major?" the Colonel asked, noticing her wince.
Mac smiled thinly. "You could say that, sir."
Harm hadn't had a chance all day to ask Mac where she'd been this morning. He'd been surprised when she hadn't been on the bus with the others, but all Sergeant Hancock knew was that she'd been held back for some reason. He was quite relieved when she showed up later, escorted by a lone guard.
"What did you see the warden about?" Bourgoin asked her as soon as he could get her alone.
"He wanted some ideas about how to run the prison. I told him the first thing I'd do is can your ass."
All pleasantness went out of Bourgoin's eyes. "You're never gonna learn, are you, McIntyre? That mouth of yours just keeps getting you in trouble. You can stay an extra half hour tonight for that."
"I thought you wanted to be friends?" Mac ask, coyly batting her eyelashes.
"Make it an hour," Bourgon said. "Keep talking, and I'll double it."
Mac considered that, decided it wasn't worth it, and kept her mouth shut.
Bourgoin laughed meanly. "Finally. You're acting sensibly."
"Jerk," Mac said, unable to stop what she was thinking from falling from her lips.
Again, the humor disappeared from Bourgoin's eyes. "Two hours, McIntyre. One more word out of you today, and you're on sewer detail tomorrow."
This time, Mac was able to control herself.
"Why don't you give yourself a day off from extra duty?" Harm asked as soon as they were left alone.
"Can't," she said simply. "Gotta keep the pressure on."
"You'll kill yourself in the meantime." Harm realized how awful that sounded considering why they were here. "Sorry. Two questions. First, where are your gloves?"
Mac had two blisters on each hand as a result of her lack of gloves. They'd all broken and bled at one point or another during the day. "Someone took them."
"Get another pair."
"Can't," she said. "They only issue you one pair. They come with a stern warning that if you lose them, you have to buy another. I have no money in my account. That's part of my cover."
"I'll bring you some tomorrow," Harm promised.
Mac didn't respond.
"Second question. Why were you late this morning?"
"I slept in. I've got to get to work now." She picked up her pickaxe and walked away. She was reluctant to tell him what she'd requested from the warden because he'd want to know why. She wasn't sure she could adequately describe the humiliation of a strip search, and she knew she didn't want to try. He'd probably find out soon enough, and she'd deal with it then.
Harm watched her go, frustrated with her. Something had changed about her, and he couldn't figure out what it was.
Day Nine
After breakfast, Mac slid her foot into her boot while getting ready to go out. Her foot met icy cold water.
"Oh no!" she exclaimed, pulling her foot out. She took her boot to the sink and dumped about a cup of water out of it. Her other boot contained just as much water.
"Who could have done this?" Mac asked, bewildered.
"It had to be Geri," Rita said. "Or Vera or Jo. One of them got in here while we were eating. I knew you shouldn't have made such a big deal about the phone!"
"Don't worry about it, Rita," Mac said, trying to sound reassuring. "I'll just wear my shoes."
The guard, however, noticed she was wearing her white tennis shoes and made her change into her boots, not caring that they were soaked and would likely cause terrible blisters. Mac sighed. This was going to be another bad day.
Mac was right. By the end of the day, her feet were throbbing where three large blisters had formed. Without even intending to, she'd earned herself a half four of extra duty, and by 1630, she couldn't even remember how.
After the bus had driven away, Harm skipped right over the pleasantries. "Why did you end the visits with Harriet?"
Mac sighed and picked up her shovel. "I really don't want to talk about this, if you don't mind."
"I do mind," Harm said stubbornly. "Harriet said the visit went well and that you seemed to enjoy it."
"I did enjoy it."
"Then why did you tell the warden that you'd refused to see her if she came back?" Harm demanded, his hands on his hips. When she didn't answer, he said, "Mac, the Admiral wants to know why you canceled the visits."
"Tell him it's none of his damn business," she said.
Harm snorted, only half amused. "And should I do that before or after I hand him my head to save him the trouble of removing it?"
Mac sighed. "You wouldn't understand," she said, watching the shovel as she aimlessly scraped at the dirt.
"Well, I certainly won't understand if you don't even try to explain," he pointed out.
"I read through the handbook, and I knew that it could happen, but I was so happy to see Harriet, I just forgot all about it." She couldn't look at him, and she wasn't sure why she was so embarrassed. It wasn't her fault they'd strip searched her.
"What could happen?" Harm probed.
"Do you know what they do to inmates after contact visits?" Mac asked, raising her head.
Harm shook his head in the negative.
"They strip search them," she said, forcing herself to look directly into Harm's eyes. "Have you ever been strip searched, Harm? Have you ever been forced to strip naked in front of another human being whose job it is to make sure you're not concealing contraband in your body cavities?"
"No," Harm admitted softly, completely understanding now the reason for her reluctance to be subjected to that humiliation.
"Yeah, well, I have. Twice now. And it's not going to happen again if I can help it," she said firmly.
"You don't have to say anything else. I understand. Now tell me why you're limping."
"Someone poured water in my boots this morning. I haven't taken them off to look, but I suspect I've got some really nasty blisters."
"You've made an enemy," Harm guessed. "Do you know who it is?"
"I don't know for sure, but I've got my suspicions."
"Be careful," Harm said. "Oh, here. I brought you some gloves." He took them out of his pocket and handed them to her.
"Thanks," Mac said gratefully, slipping them over the raw flesh on her hands. "I don't suppose you've got a tractor in your pocket?"
"Then I'd better get to work."
Day Thirteen
The hard labor inmates were being given a treat today. Professionals with chain saws were clearing more land at their usual work site, so the women on the hard labor detail couldn't engage in their usual activities. Instead, they were to be transported to the corn field, where they'd be put to working hoeing corn. Bourgoin informed them about this change in their daily routine after he had them all on the bus.
"And just so that everyone knows who works the hardest around here, each and every one of you is going to do the work of two of them. You have no idea how embarrassing it would be for me to be shown up out there. In order to get you properly motivated, I'm going to give you a little incentive. Anyone not completing their allotted amount of work will not be able to participate in visitation on Sunday." He let this announcement sink in before proceeding. "This is a very important detail," Bourgoin continued pompously. "Does anyone know what we can use corn for, other than food?"
"No," someone said, violating Bus Rule Number 1. "But I have a suggestion as to what you can do with the cob." To her horror, Mac realized that those words had just come out of her own mouth.
Her suggestion was met by amused snorts and some outright laughter.
Bourgoin's eyes narrowed until they were tiny slits. He started to approach her, and before he'd taken two steps, Mac was already on the floor, her hands and feet ready for the restraints she was sure were coming.
When the bus arrived and the women stopped exiting, followed by Bourgoin, Harm was surprised not to see Mac. "Missing one, aren't we, sir?" he asked Bourgoin.
"Yeah. McIntyre. You noticed, huh, Chief?"
"She sort of stands out, sir." Harm could tell that Bourgoin was agitated, and he wondered what Mac had done now. "Will she be coming later, sir?"
"She's on the bus," Bourgoin told him. "She's gonna stay there a while." His tone made clear that there would be no more conversation on the subject.
Harm wanted badly to go onto the bus and make sure Mac was all right, but he knew that Bourgoin would string him up if he did. With one last look at the bus, he followed the women out to the field.
Bourgoin left Mac on the floor of the bus for an hour. When he finally went back onto the bus, he stood over Mac for a time without speaking. She waited, knowing he was there, bracing herself for whatever he might have in mind. Finally, he untied her ankles. "Roll over," he ordered.
Mac did, the muscles which had fallen asleep protesting her sudden movement. Before she could even try to sit up, Bourgoin had dropped to his knees on top of her, his legs straddling her hips. With her hands tied behind her back, Mac was at his mercy.
Bourgoin put a hand on either side of her head and leaned over her until his face was only inches from hers. "Why don't you ever learn?" he asked through clenched teeth.
Mac felt her body stiffen from Bourgoin's proximity. "Let me up," she said.
"When I'm good and ready," he said. He gently stroke her hair back from her face. "You're really quite pretty. I haven't given up on being your friend, you know. I think you'll come around eventually. I can be very persuasive."
"I'm not interested. Let me up."
Bourgoin stared down at her, enjoying her helplessness. He suddenly leaned forward and kissed her, pressing his tongue into her mouth. With her head trapped against the floor, Mac could only try to turn her head sideways, but he cut off that avenue by holding her head in his hands. Just as suddenly, he pulled back and smiled at her, a cruel and wicked smile, filled with the power he knew he held over her. He reached a hand up and fingered the top button of her shirt. He was pleased with the fear that leapt into her eyes. He grinned down at her smugly and undid the button.
Mac knew better than to struggle. She knew that Bourgoin was getting off on this power trip, and if she showed any more fear, he was likely to get downright nasty. She also thought (prayed, really) that he wasn't going to risk raping her here and now.
"Lieutenant Bourgoin?" She heard Harm's voice from outside the bus.
"Damn!" Bourgoin muttered. "We're not done here," he promised her. He got to his feet just before Harm stepped into the bus. "Get up!" he hissed at Mac.
Harm reached the top step in time to see Mac getting up off the floor, her hands still bound behind her. He looked from one to the other, letting his imagination fill in the details about what had been going on here. He looked outwardly calm, but Mac could see the fury in his eyes, and she pleaded silently with him to keep his cool.
"What is it?" Bourgoin asked, an edge to his voice.
"Sergeant Hancock was looking for you, sir," Harm siad.
"Get to work, McIntyre," Bourgoin ordered.
Mac turned around so that Bourgoin could free her hands. Buttoning her shirt, she kept her eyes down as she passed Harm.
Though she was an hour behind everyone else, Mac was expected to complete just as much work as the others. Each inmate was given three rows of corn to hoe. The corn was waist high, and doing the job properly, they were told, required them to pull dirt up around the plants while going up one side of the row and then doing the same while going down the other side. The rows were one hundred yards long, but they seemed twice that long. Comparatively speaking, the work was much less physically demanding than the work they usually did, but it was hot and humid, and the bugs were biting just as ferociously here.
Mac knew there was no way she'd complete her rows in the allotted time, but she really didn't care she had no plans to visit with anyone anyway. She was concerned, however, about Rita, who seemed to be lagging behind. Mac had noticed that Rita always had a difficult time keeping up with the others. She was slightly built and not very strong. Under normal working conditions, it wasn't as noticeable, but with this "competition" Bourgoin had set up, it would be very apparent if someone didn't complete their work.
Working quickly, it didn't take long for Mac to catch up with Rita. She was in the row next to Rita's, and once she caught up with her, she began to do the opposite side of Rita's row as well as her own. This basically required Rita to do half as much work as the others from that point on and Mac to do twice as much. Rita smiled gratefully at Mac as soon as she realized what was going on, and they both kept their eyes out for the guards, knowing they'd be separated and probably disciplined if anyone discovered what they were doing.
Harm had been keeping his eyes on Mac as much as he could without drawing attention to himself. He realized very early on that she was doing part of Rita's work, and he also knew that she was risking Bourgoin's wrath in doing so. He also kept his eyes on Bourgoin. Normally, Bourgoin didn't stray far from Mac, waiting for her to screw up, but for some reason, he was leaving her alone today. When Harm saw Bourgoin starting to work his way over to Mac's position, he nonchalantly wandered in that direction.
Seeing that it was Harm, Mac didn't bother switching back to her own row. Harm let her work on Rita's row as long as he could.
"McIntyre, get back to your own row," he ordered quietly.
Without a word, Mac turned back to her own work and continued hoeing.
By noon, everyone but Mac had finished their work, including Rita. Considering that she'd started an hour after everyone and had also been doing someone else's work, it was pretty amazing that Mac was only half a row from finishing at quitting time.
While the others turned in their hoes and treated themselves to water, Mac continued to work, determined to finish what she'd started, not because she cared about visitation (because obviously she didn't), but because it was a challenge, and overcoming a challenge was about the only way she had left of feeling any personal gratification.
She sensed, rather than saw, Bourgoin walk up behind her. She tensed, waiting for the berating that was about to come.
"Take five, McIntyre," he said softly.
Surprised, Mac stopped hoeing and looked at him.
"You do nice work," he said.
Stunned, Mac could only say, "I'd like to finish."
"You would have finished if you'd let Rita do her own."
Uh oh, Mac thought. Here it comes. Poor Rita. She'll die if she can't see her kids tomorrow. "I don't care what you do to me," she said. "Just don't take Rita's visit away."
"You underestimate me, Mac," he said, surprising her again by using her nickname. "I wouldn't do that to Rita. However, having made the statement I did, I can't very well allow you to have visitation tomorrow."
"I can live with that," Mac assured him.
"There. You see," Bourgoin said softly. "It isn't so hard to be civil. I told you there were advantages to being my friend."
"I'd like to finish this," she said. "It won't take me long."
Bourgoin smiled at her. When he wanted to, he could be very pleasant. "That's my girl. I like your spirit."
Mac tried to keep the revulsion she felt for this man to herself. She almost liked it better when he was yelling at her.
"Carry on, McIntyre," he ordered.
"Aye aye, sir," she said, though she wasn't sure why. Bourgoin, however, seemed to like it and walked away with a happy smile on his face. When he returned to the waiting inmates, he ordered Rita to start at the end of the row Mac was working on and help her finish.
As she worked, Mac put some of the pieces of the puzzle into place. It seemed clear to her now how Bourgoin operated. After selecting a target, he wore her down not only emotionally, by constantly belittling her in front of the others and reminding her just how little power she had, but also physically by assigning her extra work on top of her already grueling day as punishment for disciplinary infractions, either real or imagined, many of which he'd goaded her into committing. Once he had her at her most vulnerable, he approached her with an offer of "friendship". Mac could only guess that his definition of friendship included activities of a sexual nature. Why else go to all this trouble?
What she didn't know was what happened next, either to the women who'd come before her or to herself. Had the others accepted Bourgoin's advances, looking for a way to end the torment? Once he'd "conquered" them, had Bourgoin discarded them since he had no more use for them? Had they turned him down, thus making themselves a threat to him? Had he had something directly to do with their deaths? None of the autopsies had revealed any signs of assault or rape, although she suspected Bourgoin was too smart to have sex with these women and then kill them, effectively leaving evidence that would incriminate himself. No, if he'd forced himself upon these women (and there was no way in Mac's mind that sex between a guard and an inmate could ever be consensual), it had been far enough in advance of their deaths for all physical traces to have disappeared.
Option number two, one which Mac thought more likely, was that Bourgoin had led them to a place where they'd felt the only course left to them was ending the misery the only way they could, the only aspect of their lives over which they still had some control. Why hadn't any of them filed a complaint? Mac thought she knew the answer to that one. When one felt utterly powerless, the idea that someone might be able to help just never occurred. She supposed that was why neither she nor her mother had ever appealed to anyone for help while she was growing up and things had gotten really bad at home. What if no one believed you, and your tormentor found out you'd squealed? The one thing she did understand was why these women had kept quiet.
By the time she met Rita hoeing toward her, Mac had come to only one conclusion: she needed to keep all her options open at this point. She smiled as nicely as she could at Bourgoin and said, "Thank you," when she'd finished. He smiled back and allowed her another two minutes to get a drink before getting on the bus.
Mac listlessly cleaned her cell. Rita sensed something was wrong and asked Mac if she was all right. Mac assured her that she was fine, but she knew she wasn't. She was physically almost at the end of her rope. Every muscle in her body seemed to ache at one time or another. Each new task she was assigned used a new group of previously-forgotten muscles, and she hadn't had a day without some sort of pain since she'd arrived here. Her feet were still painfully blistered from the day she'd had to wear wet boots, and her hands still had slowly-healing blisters from her two days without gloves. Her entire body was covered with bug bites that itched incessantly. She'd been sleeping very little and eating less, and it was all taking its toll on her.
What troubled Mac more, though, was her emotional state. She found herself more and more thinking of the prisoners as "us" and the guards as "them", though she knew technically she belonged more to the group of detainers than detainees. She knew this meant she was beginning to identify with her fellow prisoners, and she wondered how this assignment was affecting her long-term mental stability, assuming she'd had some to begin with, which she was beginning to doubt. Harm and the Admiral were right. She never should have taken this assignment. At times, she despaired that she was ever going to be able to successfully complete this mission, and the thought of having to ask the Admiral to pull her out before she'd done any good here filled her with shame.
She hoped that her current emotional state was tied very tightly to her physical exhaustion, and that as soon as she was able to get some rest that she'd be fine. She had to believe that because the alternative was too unsettling.
If she'd been able to step outside herself and observe things objectively, she would have realized that her current state of mind was very nearly identical to what the victims before her had experienced in the days prior to their deaths. She would have been interested to know that Bourgoin had also noticed this and thought he had her almost where he wanted her.
Day Fourteen
Rita spoke animatedly about her visit with her children. After the visit, she and Rita talked for awhile and were joined from time to time by other inmates who wandered in to chat. When the day room was opened, most of them moved there. Mac, however, stayed on her bunk. She had several reasons for this. First, she was tired, and the thought of climbing down off her bunk seemed like too much work. Second, she didn't want to risk a run-in with either Geri or Bourgoin, if he was there again. Finally, she didn't want to allow Geri or her friends access to the cell and her stuff. She was getting very protective of her "stuff", which she recognized for the survival instinct that it was. The funny thing about trouble, however, is that it sometimes comes looking for those who try the hardest to avoid it.
Mac had closed her eyes, trying to sleep. As she had found to the case a lot of late, though she was more tired than she could remember ever being, sleep wouldn't come.
She became aware that someone was in her room, and she opened her eyes to find Geri Hineman looking at her. She sat up immediately, anticipating trouble.
"We haven't met yet," Geri said, pleasantly enough. "So I though I'd introduce myself. I'm Geri Hineman."
"Sarah McIntyre," Mac said warily.
"It's nice to meet you. I've been hearing a lot about you."
"Yeah. The girls tell me you take good care of Rita. That's good. I like Rita."
"So do I," Mac said, waiting. She suspected that Geri hadn't come here to talk about Rita.
"I also hear that you and Tommy have gotten pretty friendly lately."
Tommy? Oh - Bourgoin. "I wouldn't say that. I can't stand him, and he seems to find a lot of joy in riding me as hard as he can." In retrospect, Mac thought, maybe I could have phrased that better.
Geri either didn't notice or chose to ignore what she'd said. "I just thought I'd pass along a little friend advice." She stepped closer to Mac. "He's mine. Stay away from him," she said menacingly.
"I'm not afraid of you," Mac assured her. "But you don't have to worry about me. I've never gone out of my way to get Tommy to notice me. He seems to be doing that on his own. Maybe you should tell your boyfriend to stay away from me." Mac had a flashback to junior high. This conversation sounded eerily familiar to one she'd had with a classmate over a boy they'd both been interested in. That boy hadn't been worth it, either.
Geri's eyes hardened. "Listen to me good. Stay away from him," she warned.
May lay back on her bunk. "Thanks for stopping by," she said conversationally. "I've enjoyed our little chat. Be sure to stop in again some time. Maybe next time, you can bring your little friends." She closed her eyes, hoping Geri would just go away. "We can have tea or something."
Whatever Geri was about to say was interrupted by a polite k nock on the wall outside Mac's cell. "May I come in?" Harm asked. "Or am I interrupting something?"
Mac opened her eyes in surprise. "No. You can come in. We're done here."
Obviously upset, Geri tried to collect herself enough to smile pleasantly at Harm. She left without a word to either of them.
"Nice place you've got here," Harm said after she'd gone.
"Thanks. The decorator cost me a fortune. What are you doing in here?"
"They asked for a volunteer. Why aren't you in the day room with the rest of the inmates?"
"Tired," she said, closing her eyes.
"You okay?" he asked softly.
Mac nodded.
"Who was your friend? I haven't seen her before."
"That's Geri."
"Isn't she a hard labor inmate?"
"Yes," Mac said. "She wouldn't be in this pod if she wasn't."
"Then why doesn't she work with the rest of you?"
Mac opened her eyes. "That's Bourgoin's girlfriend."
Harm's eyes widened in surprise. "You're sure of that?"
"She seems pretty sure of that. She just came in here to warn me to stay away from him."
"Is she a threat to you, Mac?" he asked.
Mac looked at him, unsure how to answer his question. How could he understand that this whole place was a threat to her and every other inmate in it? "I can handle her," she said finally.
Harm didn't like this at all. He was worried about Mac. He'd noticed a change in her over the last few days. He'd also noticed Bourgoin's change in attitude toward her and was concerned about it's source. They'd known that Bourgoin would be a threat. In fact, Mac had played him in such a way that she'd made him a threat. He hadn't expected her to be threatened from within, however, some place where he had no control over what happened to her. "I don't like this," was all he said.
"Don't worry about me. With the exception of a few hours on Sunday, the cell doors are kept locked, and we're always guarded. She can't get to me."
"Chief Hammond! What a surprise!" Rita said from the doorway.
"Hello, Rita," Harm said with a smile. He'd come to like Rita as much as Mac did.
"How's your mom?" Mac asked.
"She's great," Rita said, smiling broadly. "And I didn't even need you to help me get the phone away from Geri!"
"That's because she was in here," Mac told her.
Rita's eyes widened in surprise. She looked at Harm, unsure what she could say in his presence.
Harm took the hint. "Well, I've got to get going. You ladies enjoy the rest of your afternoon."
He left with a warning glance for Mac and a smile for Rita.
"What did Geri say?" Rita asked.
"She warned me to stay away from her boyfriend."
"Well, that's kind of hard to do," Rita pointed out.
"That's what I told her."
"You be careful," Rita warned. "Geri can be mean."
"I'll be careful," Mac promised.
Day Fifteen
Mac had decided early in the day that this was the hardest she'd ever worked in her entire life. When the women had arrived at their work site this morning, they had found fallen trees lying every which way on the ground. It was their job, they'd been told, to pull the trees to an area where they'd be limbed out and cut up by the same crew that had cut the trees down. The trees were twenty to thirty feet long and had been left where they'd dropped. The branches had tangled together, making pulling one tree out of the pile extremely difficult. With three or four inmates pulling on one tree, it was possible to move the tree very slowly to the area that had been designated as the yard.
By noon, most of the women were so tired they could hardly move. Mac had made the decision that today was the day she'd give herself a break from extra duty. Unfortunately, she didn't know that Bourgoin had decided that she needed only a little push to knock her over the edge into the abyss of exhaustion. Physical exhaustion was one of the two components necessary for him to make his move. The other was emotional despair. Driving someone into the depths of emotional hell was much easier when their body was weakened by fatigue.
Bourgoin had learned that one of the surer ways to get at Mac was to go after Rita. After the lunch break, he began to harp on Rita. Finally, Mac said quietly, "Why don't you leave her alone?"
"Are you speaking to me, McIntyre?" Bourgoin asked.
Mac sighed. Damn! Maybe if she ignored him, he'd just go away.
No such luck. "McIntyre, I'm speaking to you. You have something you want to say?"
"Yeah. Why don't you pick on someone your own size?" Mac suggested. "I think there's a junior high school somewhere nearby."
Bourgoin had no sense of humor when it came to his height. It wouldn't have mattered, though, because he'd just been waiting for a reason to jump on her. "That mouth of yours has done it again. We'll see how much energy you have to back talk after you get done tonight."
Mac tiredly watched the bus leave.
"Why do you do that?" Harm asked.
"This time it wasn't my fault," Mac protested weakly. "He was just waiting for me to open my mouth."
"Then why didn't you keep it closed?" Harm suggested practically.
"Because he's learned which buttons to press to get the reaction he wants," she admitted.
"Like you know which of his buttons to press?"
"Yeah," she said with a tired sigh. "Which button do I press to get these trees to move?" she asked, surveying the six trees that still lay on the ground. Bourgoin had told Harm not to bring her in until she'd moved all of them to the yard.
"Mac, just don't," Harm advised. "What's he gonna do to you if you just don't do it?"
"He could transfer me to the sewer detail."
"We both know he won't do that," Harm countered. "He likes you."
"Lucky me," Mac noted wryly.
"Mac, I don't like what this is doing to you." Harm was concerned by the dark circles under her eyes and the fatigue he saw in her eyes.
"I have a feeling it'll be over soon."
"What does that mean?"
"I don't know," Mac confessed. "I just don't think this can go on much longer. But for now, I'm just gonna worry about these damn trees."
"Because he doesn't think I can," she said simply.
Two hours later, Mac had moved all but one tree. She was drenched from head to toe with sweat. When she shook her head, beads of sweat flew around her, temporarily disrupting the swarm of bugs that somehow, inexplicably, found her odor particularly attractive.
The largest tree had been on the bottom of the pile, and it was all that stood between her and her bed. She removed her gloves and wiped her forehead. She surveyed the tree, wondering how she was ever going to move it. It was about a foot in diameter, and she knew from experience that it weighed much more than she did.
"Suck it up, Marine," she told herself. She put her gloves back on, wrapped her arms around the trunk, and heaved. The tree moved about four inches before she could pull no more. She did this again and again until she'd moved the tree about five feet. Exhausted, she dropped to her knees.
"Let me help," Harm said. He'd watched her wear herself into a frazzle, and he'd finally decided, to hell with it. If someone saw him helping her, he could claim he only did it because he wanted to get back.
"No!" she snarled at him, surprising them both. "I'll do it myself!"
Mac sat on the ground in front of the tree. "Okay, look," she said to the tree. "You and I need to have a talk. I know I don't look like one, but I am an officer in the United States Marine Corps, generally acknowledged to be the world's elite fighting organization."
Harm thought now was not the time to take issue with that statement. She'd probably find the strength to swing the tree like a baseball bat and smack his head into the center field bleachers.
"Now, I won't take the time now to tell you about Iwo Jima, Bellau Woods, or the Chosin Reservoir, although I'm sure you'd find those tales fascinating. I bring them up simply to illustrate to you that as an officer in the world's elite fighting force, with the example of all of the brave men and women who have come before me to inspire me, I will not be defeated by an inanimate object, a simple pile of bark and leaves. I will drag you to that pile, and you will go along willingly, or I swear to you as a Major in the United State Marines Corps that I will laugh with evil vindication as I roast chestnuts over your flaming ass. Do we understand each other?" Mac stopped, as though listening for an answer. "Good. Then let's do this."
Mac stood up, latched onto the tree, and dragged it six feet until her legs gave out and she found herself on her knees again. She dropped her hands to the ground and stayed there on all fours, panting.
Suddenly, the tree beside her began to move, as if on its own. Mac looked up to find Harm dragging the tree toward its destination. It took him two tries before he got it where it needed to be.
Mac stayed where she was, unable to move, until Harm came up behind her. "Let's go home," he said quietly.
Home. Now didn't that sound like a wonderful idea! "I don't think I can," she said to the ground, too tired to even lift her head.
She felt Harm's arm around her back, helping her to stand. With what little she had left, she helped as much as she could in the effort to get her upright again.
His arm still around her, Harm wrinkled his nose. "You could really use a shower," he joked.
Mac didn't respond, aware that, once again, she'd missed out on a shower.
"Sorry," Harm said.
Leaning heavily on Harm, Mac managed to make it to the van. More reluctantly than ever before, Harm snapped the cuffs on her, then closed the door.
Mac slumped against the door. Until now, she hadn't been aware that a person could be too exhausted to sleep. Every bone, every muscle in her body felt as though it weighed twenty pounds, and if she never had to move again, it would be too soon.
When they arrived at the gate, Harm helped Mac out of the van. When the gate guard approached him, Harm snapped off a quick salute to the ensign.
"Evening, sir. Chief Hammond reporting with a detail of one. My orders from Lieutenant Bourgoin are to escort the prisoner inside myself."
Mac hardly raised an eyebrow at his lie, though she had to wonder what he was doing.
"By all means, Chief," the ensign said. "Take her in."
"Thank you, sir," Harm said. He took Mac's arm. "Let's go, McIntyre."
Grateful for his support, Mac accompanied Harm toward the building. "What are you doing?" she asked.
"Which way to the showers?" he asked.
"Harm, you'll get yourself in trouble," Mac protested, but not very strongly. She was close to the point where she'd kill for a shower.
"Let me worry about that. Which way?"
Mac led him to the showers. "You've got ten minutes," he told her as he unlocked her handcuffs. "I'll wait right here."
Mac looked at him gratefully. "I only need five." She didn't want anyone to catch them and get Harm in trouble. She didn't know what she'd do if Harm's cover was blown or if he was suspended as a disciplinary measure for breaking the rules.
Mac undressed as quickly as she could. Her sweat-soaked clothing clung to her, and removing it was like peeling a grape. She stood under the hot spray, relishing the feel of the dirt and sweat washing off her body.
Outside in the hallway, Harm waited for her anxiously, looking at his watch every few seconds. His heart sank into his boots when Bourgoin appeared out of nowhere.
"Chief?" Bourgoin asked, surprised to find him there. "What are you doing here? Is McIntyre back already?"
"She's . . . uh, she's inside, sir," Harm said, nodding toward the shower room. "I'm sorry, sir, but she really needed a shower badly. I know it's after hours, but she practically begged me."
Bourgoin held his hand up. "It's all right, Chief. No harm done. Don't make a habit out of being nice to them, though. They'll start to expect it. Why don't you call it a night, Chief. I'll escort McIntyre back to her cell."
"Oh, I don't mind, Lieutenant," Harm protested, he hoped not too vehemently. "She'll just be another minute."
"That wasn't a suggestion, Chief," Bourgoin said, with a thin smile. "You're dismissed."
Harm immediately stood at attention. "Aye, sir." He didn't really want to leave Mac alone with this guy. "The Lieutenant will be happy to know that the prisoner completed her prescribed task."
"Well, that's great, Chief. Good night."
He was clearly being told to leave. Though he didn't like it, he had no choice. He came to attention again and left.
Feeling guilty for taking the seven minutes she had, Mac turned off the water. That was the first shower she'd taken in weeks without someone watching her. Or so she'd thought. She turned around to find Bourgoin watching her, though she only barely perceived his presence. She was too tired to start in surprise. She was too tired to protest with indignation. She was too tired to care, and she didn't. She walked past him and began to towel off, aware that he was watching her every move.
Mac noted with surprise the change of clothing sitting neatly folded on the bench. She'd known that with no one on duty here, there would be no clean clothes to put on after she showered. She'd been prepared to put her soiled clothes back on, foul-smelling as they were, long enough to get back to her cell, where she could strip down to her underwear to sleep. She knew Bourgoin must have put the clean clothes there, and she thought briefly about leaving them there in favor of her dirty clothes out of principle, but decided that would be foolish. She dressed slowly, then held her hands out to Bourgoin. He put handcuffs on her wrists and led her without a word to her cell block.
WARNING: This is the chapter that gets the warning for "adult situations". It happens towards the end of the chapter. It may be some consolation to learn that what appears to be about to happen is not actually going to happen. I hope that helps.
Day Sixteen
"What happened to you last night?" Mac asked under her breath, somewhat accusingly, the first chance she had.
"Bourgoin came by and relieved me. There wasn't a lot I could do. I'm sorry. Did he . . . do anything?"
Mac looked away. "Not really. Unless you call watching 'doing something'."
"He watched you shower?" Harm asked incredulously.
"Keep your voice down," Mac warned.
"Mac, I can't just let this go!"
"You can, and you will," she said simply. "Bourgoin's going down. You can do whatever you want to him after that. For now, you've got to let it go. It won't be long."
"You keep saying that. Why?"
"I don't know," Mac admitted. "I just feel it."
The day had been long and arduous. Mac had spent most of it alone, stacking large branches from the fallen trees. They'd been told that a chipper was being brought in tomorrow and that they'd be feeding the branches they stacked through it.
Bourgoin surveyed her work just prior to quitting time. "That's a really nice pile, McIntyre," he said. "Too bad it's in the wrong spot. Guess you'll have to stay behind and move it."
Mac wasn't sure if she felt it or heard it, or both, but something inside her definitely snapped. Before she even knew what was happening, someone was pulling her off of Bourgoin. She heard someone screaming profanities, but only part of her was aware that it was she herself doing the yelling. She struggled against whoever held her, kicking and clawing, wanting only to be free to get at Bourgoin. A very tiny voice deep down in her brain was telling her to get a grip, but for the first time since she'd given up alcohol, Mac had completely lost control of herself.
Harm held onto Mac for dear life (hers, not his). He tried speaking to her, but the effort it was taking to keep her restrained took his breath away. From a distance, he'd seen Mac launch herself at Bourgoin, and he'd been the first guard to reach her and pull her off the smaller man. He'd been holding onto her ever since. He felt as though his strength was deserting him, but Mac's struggles to be free hadn't lessened one bit. Some of the epithets she was hurling at Bourgoin were making him cringe. Marines sure knew how to cuss. He'd have to remember some of them next time he pounded his thumb with a hammer.
"Let her go, Chief," Bourgoin ordered, holding the back of his hand to a bloody lip.
"I'm not sure that's a good idea, sir," Harm managed to get out.
"I said, let her go, Chief!" Bourgoin repeated.
All right, Harm decided. You asked for it, you bastard. You deserve everything she's gonna do to you, too. Harm released Mac as he'd been ordered to do.
As soon as she realized she was free, Mac rushed at Bourgoin. Unfortunately for her, he had no intention of making this a fair fight. Before she reached him, he pulled out a can of OCS spray (otherwise known as mace) and sprayed her full in the face with it.
Blinded by rage, Mac didn't immediately realize she'd been blinded by a foreign substance. She continued her rush toward Bourgoin, but she was brought down from behind by Harm before she reached him. Harm hadn't let her get too far from him, figuring she was better off with him than Bourgoin.
As she struggled on the ground, trying to free herself from Harm's grip on her ankles, it began to filter through to Mac that her eyes were burning like they were on fire.
"My eyes!" she cried, rubbing them furiously. "You son of a bitch! You blinded me!"
"Don't rub them, Mac!" Harm advised, trying now to pin her arms to keep her from rubbing her eyes. "It'll just make it worse!"
Harm finally got Mac's arms pinned to her body. Tears were streaming from her closed eyes, and she continued to wail, "The son of a bitch blinded me! Let me up! He blinded me!"
"You're not blind, Mac," Harm tried to reason with her.
But Mac was beyond all reason. Finally, one of the other guards approached with the leather restrains. Mac was quickly trussed and lay on the ground, cursing and fighting the restraints. The other inmates had been watching the struggle and began to applaud now at Mac's valiant effort.
"You all right, Chief?" Bourgoin asked.
Breathing hard, Harm looked at Bourgoin, wanting very much to pop the younger man just once right now. "I'm fine, sir," he said through clenched teeth. "You?"
"Oh, I'll live," Bourgoin assured him. "All right, ladies! Let's get loaded up!"
Disappointed that the show was over and the inmate had lost again, the other women began to head toward the bus.
"What about her, sir?" Harm asked, the "sir" tasting foul in his mouth.
"She's got a job to finish," Bourgoin said.
Sergeant Hancock spoke up before Harm had a chance. "Sir, procedure requires that we flush her eyes. And with all due respect, sir, she's in no condition to do anything other than be evaluated by the medical staff."
Bourgoin looked as though he were about to disagree, but then changed his mind. "Get her on the bus then."
"Sir," Harm said. "I think we should flush her eyes here. We've still got water in the canteens."
"Whatever," Bourgoin said with a wave of his hand. "Just be quick about it."
With Hancock's help, Harm managed to flush Mac's eyes as well as he could. Far from calming her down, Mac was still highly agitated and nearly bit Harm when his hand came near her mouth.
Harm and Sergeant Hancock carried Mac to the bus.
"You'd better come with us, Chief," Bourgoin ordered.
"Aye aye, sir," Harm said. He'd had no intention of getting off this bus anyway.
Mac was taken to medical, where her eyes were flushed more thoroughly. Still struggling, Mac showed no signs of gaining control any time soon, and the decision was made to leave the restraints on and to place her in an observation cell for the time being. Mac was carried to the cell, placed as gently on the bed as she would allow, and then her hands were cuffed to the bed frame. She struggled against the restraints, the leather cutting into her wrists. Rather than deterring her, the pain seemed to enrage her more.
Regulations called for an inmate in restraints to be checked every fifteen minutes. The first two checks came at fifteen-minute intervals, and when Mac saw Bourgoin standing at the cell door, her struggles to get free increased. As the night went by, more and more time went by between check, until finally it was nearly thirty minutes before anyone came to look in on her.
At 2318, two minutes after a guard she didn't know had looked into the cell, Mac's cell door slid open. Moments later, Geri Hineman entered the cell, a night stick in her hand, Vera and Jo trailing behind her.
Mac watched warily as Geri approached her, purposefully slapping the night stick in her open palm.
"Vera," Geri said.
Before Mac could react, Vera stepped next to Mac and stuffed a sock into her mouth. Mac tried to spit it out, but Vera stuffed it in so far it nearly went down Mac's throat. She fought against the urge to gag, knowing that vomiting right now would be a really bad idea.
"You didn't listen, did you?" Geri asked. "I told you to stay away from him, but you didn't listen. I tried to warn you. Didn't I, girls?"
"You sure did," Geri's puppets parroted.
"So now I have to teach you a lesson," Geri said, leaning over so that her face was inches away from Mac's. Try as she might, Mac couldn't keep the fear from her eyes.
"I didn't want to have to do that," Geri continued, "but you leave me no choice. The question is what do I do to make you understand? I could just beat the crap out of you. But that's not good for two reasons. One, it would leave too many bruises. And two, it doesn't resolve the bigger problem. Do you know what that bigger problem is?"
Mac closed her eyes, praying silently for someone to come and rescue her. She felt Geri grab a handful of her hair and pull hard.
"Open your eyes when I'm talking to you!" Geri ordered.
Against her wishes, Mac's traitorous eyes opened. Tears of pain trickled from their corners.
Geri let go of her hair, but held Mac's head down on the bed with a hand on her forehead. "As I was saying, I think the bigger issue is that you've been without a man too long. That's why you're interested in my Tommy. So I thought maybe if you could be satisfied another way, you'd stay away from him. She brought the night stick down forcefully beside Mac's head, missing her by less than two inches. "Girls!" she ordered.
Mac couldn't see them, but she felt someone unbutton and unzip her pants. Rough hands pulled her pants off, then her underwear. She struggled and kicked, even when Geri pulled her hair again, but it was no use.
The fact that she was about to become a victim of lesbian gang rape trickled slowly through Mac's consciousness, and once it did, she began a struggle of mighty proportions.
"Grab her legs," Geri ordered.
Mac felt someone take hold of both of her ankles and painfully yank her legs apart. She managed to get her right foot free and lashed out with it. She was heartened by the sickening crunch when she felt her foot connect with something semi-solid. "My nose!" Jo wailed.
Mac continued to struggle until Geri pinched her nose closed. With the sock in her mouth, Mac could no longer breathe. As panic set in, Mac began to thrash around more. Eventually, as she began to gray out, her struggles lessened, then stopped altogether. When she lay still, Geri let go of her nose. From somewhere far away, Mac heard Geri say, "That's better. You'll enjoy this more now that you're relaxed. And don't worry. The girls and I promise that whenever you need this again, we'll be here."
From wherever she had retreated deep inside herself, Mac knew there was nothing she could do to stop this. Then, from a place she couldn't identify, she heard a man's voice say, "All right. That's enough."
"But, Tommy," Geri whined. "We were just getting to the good part."
"I said, that's enough," Bourgoin repeated softly. "You all go back to your cells now."
In seconds, they were alone. Bourgoin looked at Mac for a moment, half-naked on the bed, then approached the head of her bed.
"It's okay now, Sarah. They're gone. You're safe."
Oh, God! He called me Sarah! Somebody help me! Mac's mind called out, knowing that no one would come because Bourgoin was her captor, sanctioned officially by the United States Government.
Bourgoin stroked her cheek. "You really are beautiful. I could make your time here so much more enjoyable if only you'd let me."
In a sudden burst of lucidity, Mac saw what was going on here. She'd been set up. There was never to be a rape. Bourgoin had come to her rescue just in time to save her from a fate almost worse than death. In reality, he'd probably watched the whole thing from the doorway. She was supposed to be so pathetically grateful to him, apparently, that she'd just giver herself to him. She wondered if the others had. Either way, they'd become a threat to him, and he'd either convinced themselves to take their own lives, or he'd helped them to do it. She wondered if she could go through with this. She almost thought she could if he'd just take the damn sock out of her mouth.
When Bourgoin leaned down and breathed, "I want you, Sarah," into her ear and slid his hand up the inside of her thigh, all doubt was erased from her mind. There was no way she'd willingly let this man touch her. She began to struggle again, renewing her efforts to get the sock out of her mouth to call for help.
Realizing that he had his answer and not liking it, Bourgoin's eyes grew cold. "You breathe one word of this, and I'll send Geri after Rita. Don't think I won't," he threatened. With that, he was gone, leaving the sock still in her mouth and her clothes on the floor.
When the cell door had clanged shut, Mac began to cry, and this time, it had nothing to do with oleoresin capsicum.
Day Seventeen
Harm had been awakened in his quarters and told to report to sick bay. As he dressed, he couldn't help but worry about what might have happened to Mac. When he'd left her, she'd been shackled to the bed in the observation cell, struggling still against the restraints, apparently yet unable to gain control of herself. He'd been reluctant to leave her, but he'd been dismissed, and without a legitimate reason to stay, he'd had to leave.
Warden Franklin met him in sick bay. "Sir, what's going on?"
"Come with me, please, Chief," the warden requested. He led Harm to an office where they could speak without being overheard.
"Major Mackenzie was brought in twenty minutes ago. As you may know, she'd been placed in an observation cell due to her violent outburst and continued agitated state. I'm assuming that was all an act?" he asked.
Harm wasn't entirely certain whether it was or not, but he said, as confidently as he could, "Yes, sir."
"A very convincing one, apparently. As per standard procedure, she was placed on fifteen-minute checks. Unfortunately, as often happens, fifteen minutes became twenty and then thirty."
Harm wanted to scream at him to get to the point of all this, but, of course, he couldn't. Instead, he waited, trying to appear impassive.
"At 0120, it was discovered that Inmate McIntyre Major Mackenzie had apparently been assaulted."
"Assaulted, sir?" Harm repeated.
"She was found undressed from the waist down, a sock in her mouth, semi-conscious. We think she may have been raped."
"Raped? By a guard? A guard raped her?" Harm asked, his anger growing with each word. It had to be Bourgoin. By God, he'd kill that son of a bitch!
"No, Commander. And before you ask, Bourgoin had checked out, though we haven't yet confirmed his whereabouts. We think it was another prisoner."
Harm stopped to think about that. "But how is that possible, sir? The men are kept separately."
"Not a man," Franklin said gently. "We think she was raped by a female prisoner. Quite possible more than one."
Harm's legs seemed suddenly incapable of holding his weight, and he sat down before he collapsed. Franklin saw the look on the younger man's face and forgave the breach in protocol.
"How is she, sir? Can I see her?" Harm whispered.
"In a minute," the Colonel promised. "The Major won't tell anyone what happened, but she is denying she was raped. Quite frankly, Commander, we don't believe her. All evidence points to an assault. It's not uncommon for victims of an assault like this to enter into a state of denial."
"This happens often?" Harm asked, unable to keep the sarcasm out of his voice.
Franklin heard it, but chose not to be offended by it. "Not often," he said. "But, yes, it's happened before." Now was not the time to go into the "we do the best we can with what we're provided" speech. "Right now, I need your help. She won't let the doctor examine her. For obvious reasons, she's reluctant to let anyone touch her. I need you to convince her. It's not unusual to request assistance in situations like this from a guard who's established a rapport with a particular prisoner. I can get you in to see her without compromising your cover or hers."
"With all due respect, sir, my cover and Mac's cover and this whole damn assignment are the least of my concerns right now."
"I couldn't agree with you more, Commander," Franklin said. "And if she won't let us examine her, I will not let her continue with this operation. Quite frankly, I have serious doubts about letting her continue in any event. Assuming she even wants to continue. And I, for one, certainly wouldn't blame her if she wanted out of here. But why don't you talk to her first. See what you can do."
Mac was sitting up in bed, staring at the wall beside her, when Harm entered the cubicle. She was unshackled, her eyes were still reddened, and she looked very small and vulnerable.
"Hey," he said softly.
Mac turned to look at him briefly, then looked away.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
"I'm fine," she said flatly.
"You want to tell me what happened?"
"Mac, you have to tell me what happened. You have to let the doctor or the nurse examine you."
"No," she said again.
"Look at me," he requested. "Please," he said when she didn't comply.
She looked up at him, and the torment in her eyes physically knocked him backward a step. He gathered himself to try to get through to her. "Mac, whatever happened in there, it's not your fault. Let me help you."
"You can't help me. It's too late," she said dully.
"Tell me what happened."
She looked away again. "Nothing happened."
"I don't believe that. And neither does the warden."
"I can't help that. Nothing happened," she repeated stubbornly.
Harm sighed in frustration. "All right," he said, beaten. "If that's the way you want it. I'm pulling you out. Right now."
"No!" Mac said vehemently, color and life returning to her cheeks. She turned fiery eyes on him. "I am not leaving now! Not when I'm so close! Then everything I've . . . it would all be for nothing! You are not pulling me out! You don't have that authority!"
"No, but the warden does. And he told me if you don't let them examine you, he won't let you continue. He also said that even if you did, he may not let you keep doing this. He has concerns about your emotional health, Mac, and, quite frankly, so do I."
"There's nothing wrong with my emotional state," Mac said, though she knew it was a lie.
"Then what was that about out there in the field today?" he challenged.
"It was an act, for Bourgoin's benefit."
"Was it?" he pursued. "Because it looked to me like you lost control. Not just a little, but completely."
Mac looked at him for a long time, not speaking. Finally, she said, "Get the nurse. I'll do whatever they need me to." She'd worry about convincing the warden about her fitness later.
Harm sighed. Damn, she was stubborn! "All right," he said. "But I think you're making a mistake."
Another mistake, you mean, Mac thought. "Harm, would you . . ." She was about to ask him to stay with her while she was examined. She wasn't sure how she was going to lay there quietly while someone poked around down there, and she thought maybe it would help to have him by her side. But then the humiliation and shame washed over her, and she wasn't sure she could even stand to have him look at her another minute. She'd somehow find it within herself to get through the next few minutes alone. "Never mind," she said. "Just get the nurse."
Harm studied her for a moment, wondering what she'd been about to ask him and why she'd changed her mind. As he watched, a veil seemed to drop behind her eyes as she retreated to a place far away where no one could touch her.
While Mac was being examined, Harm again spoke with the warden. "She won't tell me what happened, but she's agreed to be examined. She wants to continue."
The warden looked troubled. "You know her better than I do, Commander. What do I do?"
Harm was torn. More than anything, he wanted to get Mac out of here, take her home, and let her begin to recover from the wounds she'd already sustained without incurring any more. But did he have the right to make that decision for her? Though his intentions were good, he knew she'd resent it for a long time if he interfered now. "I think, sir," he said after a pause, "that you should speak with her and make up your own mind. I'm too close. Whatever decision I might make would probably be the wrong one, though made for the right reasons."
The warden nodded once. "All right. Do you have any idea who might have done this to her?"
"You're sure Bourgoin wasn't involved, sir?"
Colonel Franklin rubbed his eyes tiredly. "I'm not sure of anything, Commander."
"If it was another inmate, I do have an idea, although I'd just be guessing."
"This isn't a courtroom," the Colonel pointed out. "Let's have a name."
"Geri Hineman," Harm said without hesitation.
"Is there bad blood between the two?"
"There's apparently speculation that Hineman and Bourgoin are involved in some sort of improper relationship," Harm told him.
Franklin raised an eyebrow. "A sexual relationship?"
"That seems to be the general consensus, sir," Harm confirmed.
"I'll look into that, Commander," Franklin promised.
They were interrupted by a knock on the door.
"Enter," Colonel Franklin said.
The doctor opened the door. "Excuse me, sir, but you wanted a reported after we examined the inmate."
"How's she doing, Doc?"
"There are no signs of a physical attack, sir. She's fine, as far as I can tell. She's denying she was raped, and I can't find any physical evidence to disprove her claim."
"But you have doubts?"
"Well, as I said sir, she's fine physically, but emotionally, she shows all the signs of someone who's been assaulted. She's withdrawn, she's depressed, she's afraid of being touched. I'm comfortable saying she wasn't raped by a man. We found no semen in the vaginal vault. But something happened to her. I'd bet on that."
"And she won't tell you what?"
"No, sir. She says nothing happened. What would you have us do with her now, sir?" the doctor questioned.
"Keep her where she is for the night. I'll be in to speak with her shortly."
"Yes, sir," the doctor said and withdrew from the room.
"All right. Commander, why don't you go get some sleep. I'll make sure she's all right here."
Unhappily, Harm did as he was told.
Harm had been unable to sleep, and after tossing and turning fitfully on the bed for a time, he got up. He went for a run to try to relieve some of the stress that had built up because of the helplessness he felt. Finally, he could stay away no longer. Instead of going out to the work site, as was his normal practice, he went directly to the warden's office. He was not surprised to find Colonel Franklin already there.
"Good morning, sir," Harm said after he'd been admitted to the inner office. "Did you get any sleep at all?"
"I could ask the same of you," Colonel Franklin said.
"How's the Major this morning, sir?"
"I haven't seen her since early this morning, Commander. She managed to convince me that she was well enough to continue. She stayed in sick bay for the remainder of the night, and I told her it was up to her whether she went out to work this morning. I've already checked with the medical staff and was informed that Inmate McIntyre checked herself out of sick bay. My guess is that she's on her way out to the field as we speak."
"Then I guess I'd better get out there, too," Harm said, disappointed that Mac had chosen to go back so soon. He was convinced that something had happened to her. He was also convinced that Bourgoin had had something to do with it. "Did you check on Bourgoin's whereabouts last night, sir?"
"Not yet. I thought it best not to raise his suspicions, which calling him in here and asking him to account for himself certainly would have done. I'll make some discrete inquiries today. Oh, and about Geraldine Hineman. I pulled her file last night after we spoke. For some reason, she hasn't been doing the work of the other hard labor inmates. There was some sort of vague medical excuse in her file. I found the same suspect documentation in the files of two other inmates as well. That situation has been corrected, and Hineman and the others will now enjoy the same conditions as the others."
"She's in the field today, Colonel?"
"She is," Franklin confirmed.
All the more reason for him to get out there ASAP. "And what happens to Major Mackenzie tonight, sir? Does she got back in with the general population?"
"I think it's best if we keep her in administrative segregation, at least for tonight. I can arrange to have her put in a cell which can be monitored with cameras. If anyone goes near her, we'll know."
"Thank you, sir. Now if you don't mind, I should get out there."
"You're dismissed, Commander."
Mac had been taken to the mess hall to eat with those who had become her friends. She smiled weakly at Rita as she sat next to her.
"Are you all right?!" Rita asked. "I was so worried!"
"I'm fine," Mac assured her, sipping her tepid coffee.
"What happened to you?" Boots asked. "You just totally lost it!"
"I guess I did," Mac admitted. "I just couldn't take that pompous ass in my face another second."
"Well, if it's any consolation," Boot continued. "If he hadn't maced you, you'd have whooped his skinny ass! You gonna eat that ham?"
"No. Go ahead," Mac offered tiredly. She was not looking forward to facing Geri or Bourgoin this morning. This had to end, somehow, today. How was obviously the question.
When the inmates were returned to their cells and then lined up again to walk to the bus, everyone was surprised to see a very sullen-looking Geri, Vera and Jo join the line. Mac shrugged at Rita when Rita asked her if she knew what was going on.
Geri caught Mac's eyes after they'd been seated on the bus. Geri drew an index finger slowly across her throat, then pointed at Mac. Since speaking was not allowed on the bus, Mac used the universal sign language symbol to suggest that Geri performed an anatomically-impossible act, then looked out the window. Great, she sighed inwardly. Now she'd have to watch her back every second she was in the field, too.
Bourgoin stepped onto the bus, and instead of offering his usual cheerful greeting, which always made Mac want to ram his teeth down his throat, he muttered to the driver, "Let's go."
Mac kept her gaze studiously out the window. If looks could kill, she thought, I'm getting hit by a death ray from two directions. Death might actually be a comfort. Mac's eyes widened in horror as soon as she realized what she'd been thinking. Had she finally reached the point where death was a better alternative than this miserable life? Is this how the others had felt beaten down physically, battered emotionally, their psyches bruised, their invulnerability shattered, with no hope of salvation on the horizon? Mac sat up straighter, angry with herself. She had something those women hadn't had Harm. He was here, he cared what happened to her, he was her salvation. Bourgoin and Geri could go straight to hell if they thought they could beat her down. Feeling immensely better, Mac began to hum to herself. As far as she knew, there was no rule against humming on the bus.
When they arrived at their destination, Mac was careful to keep her distance from Geri. She felt the other woman watching her, and she sat as close to Harm as she could without attracting attention when they were instructed to sit on the ground.
"All right, ladies, settle down," Bourgoin instructed. "As you can see, we've got a couple of wood chippers here today."
So that's what those are! Mac thought sarcastically. Luckily, she was able to keep that thought to herself.
"They've been leased at great expense to the facility," Bourgoin continued. "Therefore, you will treat them with great respect. They are also very dangerous, since they're capable of taking a nine-inch tree trunk and chewing it up into little bits. They will also do the same with your arms or legs or whatever other body parts you happen to get careless with. Therefore, you will use extreme caution at all times.
"You will be broken up into two groups. One of you will be assigned the job of feeding the branches into the chipper. The rest of you will bring the branches to the chipper. We may alternate these tasks, although some of you cannot be trusted to get too close to the chipper, for your safety as well as the safety of others."
"McIntyre," someone said.
"Yeah, she'd probably stuff him in the chute," someone else said.
Harm hid a smile. One of the guards had said exactly the same thing at the pre-shift meeting. Bourgoin hadn't seen any humor in it then, and he saw less in it now.
"One more word, and you'll all be cleaning sewers tomorrow!" he snarled, which silenced the snickers.
Mac studied the ground, pretending to ignore everything around her.
"You," Bourgoin said, indicating one half of the group with a sweep of his arm, "will work with that chipper on that half of the field. The rest of you will work on the other side."
Mac looked around at her group. Damn! How had Geri and her cohorts managed to get close enough to her to be included in her group?!
The morning wore on with its usual banality. Drag the branches to the chipper, drop them, go back for more. The threats to her life and general safety thrown at Mac every once in a while by Geri actually served to break up the monotony. Geri obviously blamed Mac for the fact that she was out here being forced to perform manual labor, and just as obviously, she intended to extract retribution of some sort at the earliest opportunity. Though Mac kept telling herself she was not afraid of Geri, it would have been foolhardy not to keep her guard up. She was glad that Harm was hovering (which he appeared to be doing) close by.
It was almost lunchtime, and Mac was looking forward to the break. She thought Vera and Jo were looking forward to it more, though. Even considering what they'd been a part of last night, Mac couldn't help but feel sorry for them. They weren't used to the heat, the biting insects, and the hard labor, and their appearance brought to mind her own first days here. Besides, Vera and Jo weren't the problem here. Geri was. They were only Geri's puppets, having latched onto her as a perceived means of protection from the demons in this place. Geri, benefitting from her "friends in high places", had been given the task of feeding the branches into the chipper, which was easily the least strenuous job out here. Despite Bourgoin's mention of alternating people on this job, no one else had been allowed to take over this task, and Geri looked much fresher than any of the rest of them.
Mac's internal clock told her she had just enough time to deliver one more load of branches to the chipper before the lunch break. She followed Vera to the noisy machine and watched as Vera slipped something to Geri unobtrusively. Mac couldn't tell what it was, and she began to get nervous. Vera looked at her contemptuously as they passed.
Mac kept her eyes on Geri, certain that whatever Vera had slipped her could be used as a weapon. There was no one else in their immediate vicinity, and she had no intention of turning her back on Geri and making herself an easy target.
As Geri placed the branches Vera had brought into the machine, Mac heard the metallic thunk of something dropping onto the chipper. Seconds later, the chipper made a terrible, high-pitched grinding sound as though something were caught in its powerful jaws. The entire machine began to shake, and the pin holding the chute in place wriggled free and dropped to the ground. A split second after that, the chute began to spin around in a circle, shooting bits of bark, wood, leaves and something else as it went. Mac felt little pieces of something that felt like glass biting into her body at various places through her clothes. She stared down in horror as each one of the cuts began to bleed.
Mac was distracted from her own plight by a cry from Geri. A large piece of what Mac now knew to be metal had struck Geri in the throat. She put both hands to her neck and fell to her knees, blood gushing from between her fingers.
Without a thought for her own safety, Mac moved to Geri's side, taking her shirt off over her head as she did so. Balling her shirt up, she placed it over the wound on Geri's neck, seeing as she did so that the metal had nicked Geri's aorta. Mac knew at the rate Geri was losing blood, it wouldn't be long before she bled to death. She forced Geri to lie down and pressed the shirt to the wound. Mac's shirt was already soaked with Geri's blood.
Mac felt the metal rain began to hit her again, and she instinctively bent over to cover Geri's face with her own body. She felt the pain as bits of metal stung her now mostly unprotected back, and she guessed it was more than sweat she felt trickling down between her shoulder blades. From somewhere at the perimeter of her consciousness, she heard the shouts of others.
Like some demonic sprinkler, the shower moved past them again. Mac jumped to her feet and found the switch to shut the machine down. The chute's rate of revolution slowed, and the motor slowly began to grind to a halt.
Mac returned to Geri, lying lifeless on the ground, her glassy eyes staring unseeingly up at nothing. Mac bent over to listen for the sounds of breathing, and when she heard none, she began CPR, trying to disregard the blood that had pooled under Geri and the swarm of insects that had already been attracted by the scent of fresh blood in the heat. She knew it was pointless no one could live without the blood Geri had lost but she had to try.
"Mac," she heard a familiar voice beside her say. She ignored him and continued rhythmically blowing air into Geri's lungs.
"Mac," Harm said again, more insistently this time.
"Help me!" Mac cried. "Can't you see she needs help?!"
"Mac, it's all right," Harm said gently. He put a hand under her elbow and an arm around her shoulders and pulled her to her feet.
Mac stared at Geri, horrified.
"It's okay, Mac," Harm assured her. "You did everything you could."
By now, one of the other guards had reached Geri's prone form. He placed two fingers on her neck, looking for a pulse. It was obvious he found none when his shoulders hunched over in defeat.
"Are you hurt?" he asked her.
"What? No," Mac said, unable to take her eyes away from Geri's still form.
Harm turned her so she could no longer see Geri. "You're bleeding," he said.
"No. That's Geri's blood."
"I don't think so, Mac," Harm contradicted.
Mac looked down at herself. She was covered in blood, most of it Geri's, but she did see numerous cuts on her arms, all of which were bleeding. She could feel the sting in multiple places on her back where her sweat ran into the cuts there. Suddenly, the events of the last few weeks and the last few minutes caught up with her, and she felt herself succumbing to the darkness that had been beckoning to her since she'd arrived at this place.
Harm caught her before she hit the ground.
When Mac awoke some time later, her internal clock told her it was 1643. It only took her a moment to figure out that she was back in sick bay, and another moment later, the reason she was here came crashing back into her memory. The horror of Geri's accident made her feel physically ill, and she took several deep breaths to keep herself from vomiting.
Once she had control of herself, Mac took stock of her condition. She counted nine bandages on both her arms. She was lying on her back, and she could feel several areas that felt as though they were bandaged.
She heard voices behind the curtain which formed the wall to her cubicle, and an unfamiliar face poked through the opening.
"Ah! You're awake!" he said, fully entering the cubicle. " How are you feeling?"
"I feel fine," Mac told him. She smiled at Harm, who had entered behind the man. He smiled warmly back at her, but she could see the concern in his eyes.
"Let's just take a look, shall we? We don't want to keep you here any longer than necessary," the stranger said.
"Do you mind if I ask who you are?" Mac asked pointedly. She had no intention of letting a stranger touch her until she knew he was qualified to do so.
"This is Doctor Forman, Mac," Harm said. "He runs the prison health center."
"Forgive me for not introducing myself. I'd forgotten that when we met earlier, you were not quite with us."
Mac had to know. She thought she knew, but she had to be sure. "Geri?" she asked Harm hopefully, sitting slightly upright. "Is she . . . all right?"
Harm and the doctor exchanged a look, which gave Mac her answer. "She didn't make it," Harm said softly.
"Damn!" Mac said under her breath. She fell back against the pillow, putting pressure on the cuts on her back. She winced at the sudden ache.
"Hurt, does it?" Dr. Forman asked sympathetically. Harm had stepped to her side with one stride at the look on her face.
"Not much," Mac said.
"Why don't you roll onto your side, and I'll take a look," the doctor requested.
Mac carefully rolled onto her side. Without asking Harm to step outside or even asking Mac if she minded if he stayed, Dr. Forman untied her johnny and opened it to examine her back. Mac could feel her face turning red with embarrassment. Harm noticed this and had the grace to turn away. Mac was left to wonder just how much of her privacy had been preserved when she'd been cleaned up and dressed. Maybe it was better if she didn't dwell on that.
"They look fine," the doctor pronounced. He tied her back up and Mac rolled onto her back gratefully. "I want you to stay here until you feel strong enough to get up. You lost a good deal of blood. Let the nurse know when you're ready." He smiled and left, pulling the curtain closed behind him.
"You okay?" Harm asked.
Mac smiled with all the confidence she could muster. "I'm fine. I'm sorry about Geri. I wish I . . ."
Harm stopped her. "You did all you could, Mac. Considering what she did to you, maybe more than you should have."
Mac looked at him, wondering how he could know what Geri had done. She decided there was no way he could know. "Did they figure out what happened out there?"
Harm sighed. "A spike went through the chipper. They think it must have been in one of the trees."
Mac knew better. "I need to talk to Vera."
"Vera? Why?"
"I just need to talk to her. Can you set it up?"
Harm looked down at her, trying to figure out her motive. He could say no, and he seriously thought about doing that since she wouldn't tell him the reason for the request. However, the bottom line was that she would simply go around him and get the meeting set up on her own if he refused to help. He might as well make it easier on her.
"All right," he consented. "I'll talk to the warden."
"This afternoon. As soon as possible," Mac pushed.
"I'll go talk to him now. Are you sure you're all right?"
"I'll be fine," she assured him. "Just get me Vera."
Twenty-two minutes later, Harm escorted Vera into Mac's cubicle. Vera's eyes were rimmed with red, giving away the fact that she'd been crying.
"Could you take the cuffs off her, please?" Mac requested. "And then leave us alone."
Harm unlocked Vera's handcuffs, then looked at Mac.
"Alone," she repeated firmly.
He shrugged almost imperceptibly and left them. Mac listened to see if Harm had actually left or if he was simply standing on the other side of the curtain, preparing to eavesdrop.
"What am I doing here?" Vera asked nervously.
"I needed to talk to you. I wanted to ask you about what happened out there today."
Vera eyes her warily. "What makes you think I know anything?"
"Vera, I saw you pass something to Geri right before all hell broke loose. I have no intention of telling anyone what I saw." She paused for a moment. "Was it your idea or hers?"
Vera hung her head. "Hers," she said so softly Mac almost didn't hear her. "She thought if the machine was broken, they'd send us back inside. I told her I'd found the spike half buried in the dirt. She thought if she dropped it in the chipper, something inside would break. We didn't know it would chip the spike up."
"You couldn't have known," Mac said softly. For some reason, she wanted to absolve Vera of responsibility for this accident and take away some of the pain she'd seen in the other woman's eyes. She wasn't sure why. She had every reason to hate Vera.
Vera looked at her, surprised by Mac's compassion. "What you did out there . . . You tried to save Geri. After what she did to you . . ."
"After what she did to me?!" Mac asked incredulously. Her compassion didn't extend to pretending that Vera had had no role in last night's attack.
Vera had the grace to look guilty. " You're right. I'm sorry. I just wanted to thank you for trying to save her. I don't know what I'm gonna do without her." Tears began to fall from Vera's eyes.
"If I offered you a way out of this place, what would you be willing to do?" Mac asked.
The wariness was back. "What do you mean? How could you get me out of here?"
"I can't explain how, not yet anyway. But if I was to promise you that I could have you moved to another facility, with minimum security, what would you be willing to do for me?" Mac wasn't entirely sure she had the authority to do what she was proposing, but she was quite certain she could get someone to agree to give Vera a break if she provided information that was useful.
"And how do I know you can do that?" Vera asked, cutting right to the heart of the matter.
Mac thought furiously, unsure how to proceed. If she confessed to Vera who she was, and Vera either couldn't or wouldn't help, her effectiveness here was ended, and she'd be no closer to getting Bourgoin out of here or to making him pay for what he'd done. Mac could try to be as noble as she might about her motives, but the simple fact was that making Bourgoin pay for what he'd done was now very important because of what he'd done to her. Selfish? Maybe.
On the other hand, if she didn't tell Vera who she was, Vera would never agree to cooperate in something that very possibly incriminated herself.
In the end, Mac decided to take the risk, both because she thought the odds were in her favor and because it meant her assignment here was over.
"Vera, I'm not who you think I am," she said. "I was sent in here as part of an undercover team to investigate the recent suicides. My name is Sarah Mackenzie, and I'm a Marine Major and a lawyer stationed with JAG. I think you might know something about the women who killed themselves, and I'm willing to trade for that information."
Very stared at her, trying to decide whether or not she believed what she'd just been told. "I don't believe you," she said weakly, although not very convincingly.
"Should I call the warden?" Mac asked. "I can tell him what I know about the 'accident' today. Or you and I can keep that between ourselves."
That offer was very appealing to Vera, but she wasn't quite ready to give in. "You said you were part of a team. Who else is here?"
"I think you already know the answer to that."
Vera nodded. She'd been surprised when the guard who escorted her here had taken orders from an inmate to take off her handcuffs and leave them alone. "Chief Hammond. That's not his real name, is it?"
"No, it's not. Vera, I think Bourgoin was behind the deaths of those women. I think he used Geri to help him, and I think you and Jo got caught up and went along for the ride. I don't care about that. Geri's dead, and whatever she might have done, we can't touch her now. I want Bourgoin. I think you can help me get him."
"What about Jo?"
Mac's opinion of Vera went up just a little at her concern for her friend. "If she wants to help us, we'd welcome her. If she doesn't, I can't think of any reason why anyone needs to know she even exists."
Vera looked at the floor. "What do you want to know?"
Mac smiled. The first hurdle had been successfully cleared. Whether or not she got over the second one depended on how good Vera's information was. "I've got a bunch of questions to ask you. I'm going to need help. Oh, Chief Hammond!" she called, knowing Harm was there and had heard every word they'd said.
Sheepishly, Harm poked his head around the curtain.
"Vera, meet Lieutenant Commander Harm Rabb, US Navy."
Vera smiled thinly.
"Harm, we need pads of paper and pens, and we need to be undisturbed here for the foreseeable future."
"I'll see to it," Harm promised and disappeared again.
"You're doing the right thing Vera," she said when she was sure Harm was actually gone this time. "I'm not going to ask you any questions about last night. Let's just forget that ever happened."
They'd been moved to a conference room, and they spent the next several hours prying from Vera all of the information she had. The story that emerged pretty much confirmed Mac's suspicions.
Geri's affair with Bourgoin had begun within days of his transfer to Leavenworth. Though they were careful to keep their relationship from the other guards, they weren't so circumspect around the other inmates, and Vera had actually seen them engaging in carnal activities.
Bourgoin began to pay closer attention to an inmate named Lydia Carmichael soon after. This made Geri very jealous, according to Vera. Bourgoin seemed to enjoy this and began to direct even more of his attention to Carmichael. Geri became consumed by jealousy and began to plot with Vera and Jo a way to get back at Carmichael, whom Geri perceived to be at fault. Though Vera couldn't follow her reasoning, she did go along with her friend's plan. Since Geri had begun her relationship with Bourgoin, Geri, and by extension Vera and Jo, had attained favored status among the inmates, being taken off work details, being allowed extra privileges, etc. Vera was reluctant to disturb this new security she'd gotten through her association with Geri.
One night, Geri, Vera and Jo visited Carmichael in the cell she'd been moved to as part of disciplinary segregation she'd been assigned to after one of her numerous run-ins with Bourgoin. Vera wasn't certain how they'd been able to get out of their own cells and into Carmichael's. All she knew is that Geri woke her up late one night and instructed Vera to follow her. Vera did so without question. It was only later that Vera suspected that someone on the staff had to have known what Geri was up to. The logical conclusion she came to was that that someone was Bourgoin.
Carmichael had been sleeping when they entered her cell. Before she even knew what was happening, Geri had stuffed a sock in her mouth and hit her on the head with force sufficient enough to daze her, but not to knock her unconscious. Then, while Vera and Joe held her down, Geri raped Carmichael with the handle of a hair brush. After threatening Carmichael with more of the same if she didn't stay away from Bourgoin, Geri removed the sock and the women left. Vera was very surprised to find Bourgoin in the hallway right outside Carmichael's cell. At first, she thought they were going to be in serious trouble, but Bourgoin kissed Geri and then told them to return to their cells. As they were leaving, Vera saw Bourgoin enter Carmichael's cell, but obviously, she had no idea what he might have done in there.
A week later, Carmichael committed suicide. Vera adamantly denied that she'd played any direct role in Carmichael's death and maintained that as far as she knew, Geri hadn't had anything to do with it either. When Mac threatened to pull her offer of a move to a lower security facility, Vera got upset, crying out her innocence on this point. When Mac offered her immunity from prosecution for whatever she might have helped to do (another offer she didn't have the authority to make), Vera continued to maintain her innocence. Mac finally believed her.
Vera thought that Carmichael's death would improve things between Geri and Bourgoin, but very soon after, he began to pay close attention to another inmate. This time, the object of his "affection" was Betty Bergman. Again, Geri became very jealous and blamed the other woman for coming on to Bourgoin. Geri began to orchestrate small "pranks" against Bergman stealing her food, watering down her blanket, filling her shoes with applesauce. Again, when Bergman was moved to an isolation cell, Geri, Vera and Jo paid her a night-time visit. This time, however, before the intended rape was realized, Bourgoin had stepped into the cell and ordered them to stop and return to their own cells. They did as they were told, and again Vera had no idea what Bourgoin might have done to Bergman after they left. A few days later, Betty Bergman was dead.
Finally, they talked about Stephanie Saxon. Her situation was exactly the same as Betty Bergman's. She'd killed herself a few days after the night-time raid by Geri and her friends and the subsequent "rescue" by Bourgoin.
Mac's questioning didn't include events after Bergman's death. In her own mind, there was no reason to get into that with Vera. In Harm's opinion, it was a deliberate attempt to keep undercover whatever had happened last night.
Hours has passed before they were satisfied they'd extracted every bit of information that Vera had. Vera had been brought a tray with supper on it, but Mac had been too involved to eat.
"I'm tired," Vera said finally.
"All right. I think we're done here. You wait here a bit," Mac instructed. "I'm not going to have you sent back to the general population. We'll need to figure out what to do with you."
Vera smiled thinly, frankly no longer caring after the intense grilling she'd just been subjected to.
After they stepped outside the room, Harm turned to Mac. "So what do you think?"
Mac sighed. "I think we don't have anywhere near enough to tie him to the deaths. But we've got plenty to get him the hell out of here. I don't want her back out in general population. Let's have the warden keep her in segregation until we figure out what to do with her. She should be cell fed by someone Colonel Franklin trusts."
"Is that for her protection or so she won't blow your cover?" Harm asked.
"I have no intention of going back in there," Mac assured him.
"Good. Let's go home," he said, relieved.
"We can't go yet, and you know it. We've got to fill the warden in on what we know about Bourgoin. I need to see Rita. And I want to stay for the memorial service tomorrow morning." Vera had told them that Geri's family had already claimed her body from a local mortician and that the warden had planned a brief service for her tomorrow at 1100.
Harm was surprised by the last. "After what she did to you?"
"I find it hard to blame her. Everyone finds their own way to survive in a place like this. She thought she had a ticket to Easy Street. Instead, she ended up on the road to hell."
After listening to Vera's detailed descriptions of their attacks on the other women, Harm now had a pretty good idea what had happened to Mac the night she was assaulted. (Was that really just last night?) He was amazed that she had found it in herself to find some measure of forgiveness for them. He stared at her, unable to find the words to express how impressed her was with her.
"Let's go talk to the warden," she said softly.
After they'd filled the warden in on the evidence they'd gathered, Colonel Franklin immediately sent for Bourgoin. He entered the room and stood at attention, obviously surprised by the presence of Inmate McIntyre and Chief Hammond.
"Lieutenant Bourgoin," Colonel Franklin began. "As your commanding officer, it's my duty to inform you that effective immediately, you are hereby suspended from duty. An investigation will be conducted into your actions, after which I feel sure charges will be proffered against you."
"Charges, Colonel?" Bourgoin repeated. "I'm not sure I understand. What charges, sir?"
"Dereliction of duty for starters. I'm sure the good folks at JAG can come up with a few others. Maybe conduct unbecoming."
Bourgoin looked at Mac. "Sir, I don't know what she's been telling you, but you can't seriously be accepting the word of an inmate over mine."
"Normally, Mr. Bourgoin, you might have a point. But this isn't your average inmate," Colonel Franklin said. He allowed Bourgoin to be confused a moment longer. "I'd like you to meet Major Sarah Mackenzie, JAG Corps."
Mac smiled thinly at Bourgoin, too tired to even take any satisfaction at the look in his eyes.
"And her partner, Lieutenant Commander Harmon Rabb."
Bourgoin had the look of a man who knew his world was crashing down around him.
Colonel Franklin continued. "You're to be held in custody pending the results of the investigation. Sergeant!" he called.
A crew-cutted head poked itself into the room. "Yes, sir?"
"Escort Mr. Bourgoin to a holding cell for the time being," Franklin ordered.
The Sergeant was obviously puzzled by this order. "Sir?"
"Lieutenant Bourgoin is being held pending possible charges. Lock him up, please, Sergeant," Franklin said.
"Aye aye, sir," the Sergeant said. Obviously reluctantly, the Sergeant led Bourgoin from the room.
"Major, you look beat. Why don't you go get some rest? We'll need a full statement from you in the morning, everything you remember about Bourgoin and violations of our policies. It'll be a great help for the investigators."
"And in drafting charges, sir. I'd rather do that tonight, while everything's fresh." Like she was ever going to forget anything that had happened in this place. "Commander Rabb can debrief me."
"Your quarters all right for that, Commander?"
"That'll be fine, sir. I may have problems taking her outside the gate." She was, after all, still known to be inmate.
"I'll take care of that," the warden promised.
Harm's quarters reminded Mac of the barracks in Hogan's Heroes: bare wooden walls, wooden bunk bed, spartan interior. They sat at the table, and Mac told Harm everything she could remember about her run-ins with Bourgoin and the many times which he had violated prison policies in his use of restraints, the way he'd kissed and touched her on the bus, when he'd watched her shower, how he'd maced her and then planned to leave her in the field without treatment. The only thing she left out was his presence in her cell the night she'd been assaulted.
Harm put his pen down on the pages of notes he'd taken and tiredly rubbed his eyes. "Is there anything else you want me to know?"
She knew what he wanted to hear, and she looked away. "No. I think that about covers it."
"Mac . . ." he began, but she cut him off.
"It's late," she said. "You're probably hungry." It was 2300 and neither of them had eaten.
"Kitchen's closed," he noted.
"I'm sorry. The warden would probably make an exception for you."
"I'm all right. What about you?"
"I'm not hungry."
"What's our plan for tomorrow?" Harm wanted to get her out of here as early as possible.
Mac was eager to leave, too, but there were some things she needed to do first. "I want to talk to the warden, and I need to see Rita. After Geri's service, we can go."
"What do you want to see the warden about?"
"Policy issues," she said vaguely. "I'm kind of tired. I think I'll turn in." She didn't think she'd sleep, but she didn't want to talk anymore, and sleep was as good an excuse as any. The warden had told her she could stay in Harm's quarters, and she appreciated very much the fact that she didn't have to go back inside the prison to a cell.
"All right," Harm said, giving in to her reticence. She really needed to talk to someone about what had happened to her. That much he knew for sure. He also knew if she didn't, it would fester and eat away at her soul. What he didn't know was how to make her open up and whether he was competent to deal with it if she did.
Day Eighteen
Mac had slept fitfully, waking often with a vague sense of being some place unfamiliar. She'd chosen the top bunk, and Harm had lain awake below her, listening to her toss and turn. When it started to get light, Mac gave up on trying to sleep anymore and rolled out of bed, dropping to the floor quietly beside Harm. When she looked to see if she'd awakened him, she found him staring at her.
"Morning," he said solemnly.
"Morning," she replied. "Did I wake you?"
"No. I was just lying here waiting for the sun to come up." It was the truth, and she recognized it as such and not as an attempt at sarcasm.
"Do you think it would be all right if I went for a run?" she asked. That was something she hadn't done in a long while, and her body missed it.
"You don't need to ask my permission, Mac. Hold on. I'll go with you."
Harm shortened his stride to match hers, staying at her side during the entire three-mile jog, part of which took them just outside the prison fence. Mac was not looking forward to going back inside those walls.
When they got back to Harm's quarters, Mac was winded. She went into the bathroom to shower, the first time in weeks she'd done so without an audience. The solitude was heavenly, and she lingered much longer than she did normally. Finally, she emerged from the bathroom, her hair wet and disheveled from towel drying.
"I was beginning to think you'd been washed down the drain," Harm joked.
"Sorry. It felt good." It had felt good. The water was hotter here than it was on the inside, and it had felt wonderful to let it soothe her still-aching muscles and alleviate some of the itching she was still suffering from.
"It's all right," he assured her. "The warden called. He'll see you in twenty minutes."
"Great," she said, running the comb she'd found in the bathroom (Harm's, she hoped) through her hair.
"Do you want me to go with you?"
Mac debated with herself briefly. Finally, she shrugged. "It's up to you."
"Give me ten minutes," he said, then disappeared into the bathroom.
"How are you, Major?" Warden Franklin asked after he'd invited them to sit.
"I'm fine, sir."
"Back giving you any trouble?"
Mac squirmed reflexively in her chair. The bandages pulled and itched. "No, sir," she said.
Franklin sat back in his chair. "What can I do for you, Major?"
"Well, sir, I wanted to talk to you about a couple of things. The first is your policy of strip searching inmates following contact visits."
Franklin's eyebrows rose. "You understand the need for that surely, Major. Prison contraband is a serious problem affecting the health and welfare of both prison staff and other inmates."
"I understand that, sir. But your own policy states that digital or simple instrument searches can only be conducted upon approval of the warden and only if there's a reasonable suspicion that an inmate is concealing contraband. From what I've seen, these types of searches are conducted routinely following contact visits.
"Your policy also states that these searches will only be conducted by qualified health personnel. My search wad conducted by a female guard who had no such qualifications. You're violating your own policy on a routine basis, sir. On behalf of all of the prisoners, I'd request that you re-evaluate what has apparently become a de facto policy."
Mac stopped and waited anxiously for a response. She didn't know Colonel Franklin well enough to know how he would react to what was essentially a criticism of his command.
Before making any kind of judgment about what she'd said, Colonel Franklin said, "Is there more, Major?"
Encouraged by the fact that he hadn't thrown her out of his office yet, she pressed on. "Yes, sir. It's the lack of bathroom facilities when the women are working in the field. I'm sure the women would be willing to dig their own latrines. If there's concern about being able to supervise the inmate at all times, I'd suggest stationing a female guard in the field with them. It's a matter of human decency, really." Again, Mac stopped, waiting for him to say something.
"Is that all?" was what he said.
"There is one more thing, sir, but it's more of a personal favor," Mac told him.
Colonel Franklin looked at her appraisingly. "I have a suggestion for you, Major. We have a committee here at Leavenworth that's made up of our personnel and local civilians which oversees policy and procedure matters. Given your unique perspective, I think you'd be invaluable to them. Would you consider lending your time? They'd be the likely place to present the issues you've raised."
Mac didn't even have to think about it. "Yes, sir. I'd be honored to."
"Good. Now you mentioned a favor?"
"Yes, sir. Actually, two. I'd like to meet briefly with of your male prisoners, and I'd also like to see Rita Jiminez."
"One of our male prisoners?" the Colonel asked, puzzled by her request.
"Yes, sir. Matthew O'Hara is my uncle. While I'm here, I'd like to say hello."
The warden was clearly surprised. "Matt is your uncle? He's a remarkable man."
"Yes, sir, he is," Mac agreed. "I'd only need a few minutes."
"I don't think I need to tell you that it would be wiser if the entire population didn't learn about what you've been doing here," the Colonel noted.
"No, sir," Mac assured him. "I'll tell him I've been under cover. He'll understand."
"I'm sure he will. Now who was the other prisoner you wished to see?"
"Rita Jiminez," Mac repeated.
"Rita Jiminez? She's one of the hard labor inmates?"
"Yes, sir. She was my roommate. I'd just like to say good-bye."
"The women weren't sent out to the field this morning, considering what happened. She should be in her cell. I can have her brought to a conference room in twenty minutes. Will that give you enough time with your uncle?"
Mac smiled. "Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. That would be fine."
"Quite frankly, Major, it's the least I can do. We owe you a large debt. The personal sacrifices you've made were certainly not a foreseeable part of this assignment."
"I was just doing my job, sir," Mac said uncomfortably.
"But we had no right to ask that of you. Let me get Jiminez for you. I'll put you in the same conference room you used yesterday. By the way, have you given any thought to when you'll be leaving us?"
"I'd like to stay for the service, sir," Mac told him. "After that, there's no reason to remain here any longer."
"I wish I could find you an appropriate uniform, Major."
"Don't worry about that, sir. This is fine," she said, indicating the prison uniform she still wore. "However, a clean one might be nice." She'd been wearing these clothes since yesterday morning (with the exception of the brief time she'd been jogging this morning, for which Harm had lent her a t-shirt and a pair of shorts they'd found in a drawer). It wasn't as though she had a large wardrobe to choose from.
"I'll see to it," the warden promised. "I think I can get you a hop to Norfolk. Save you from flying commercial. You interested?"
"Yes, sir," Harm said, speaking for the first time. "We'd appreciate that."
Franklin stood up, and Harm and Mac followed suit. "Thanking you for what you two have done here hardly seems adequate, but thank you."
Mac could only smile wanly, while Harm said, "We're happy to have been of service."
Mac first changed her clothes, then was taken to the male wing of the prison. Harm waited outside for her while she was reunited with her very surprised uncle. Not only was he surprised to see her, he was more surprised by her prison outfit. She explained the barest minimum about how long she'd been there and what she'd been doing. Matt didn't press her for details, as she'd known he wouldn't. They spent the rest of their brief time getting caught up, and Mac left with a promise to visit more often. Her new assignment on the prison's policy committee would bring her back here regularly, she guessed, making that promise an easy one to keep.
Mac and Harm waited in the conference room for Rita. "Should I leave you alone for this?" Harm asked.
"You can stay. You may be able to help."
"Help with what?"
Before she could answer, the door opened, and Rita was escorted in by a guard. When she saw Mac, her whole face lit up in a huge smile. "Sarah! You're okay! I was so worried!" She rushed to Mac and hugged her tightly. The guard left them, closing the door behind him.
"I'm okay, Rita," Mac assured her. "Sit down. We need to talk."
Obviously confused, but willing to comply, Rita sat at the table. Mac sat opposite her, and Harm remained standing unobtrusively against the wall.
"Have you heard any rumors about me?" Mac asked, wondering how much information had already made its way through the prison pipeline.
"Rumors? Well, everyone's talking about how you tried to save Geri. Is that what you mean?"
Mac shook her head. She was surprised word about her true identity hadn't leaked out yet. "No, that's not what I mean. I'm not Sarah McIntyre, Rita. My name is Sarah Mackenzie. I'm a Major in the Marine Corps. I'm a lawyer."
Now Rita was really confused. "I don't understand."
"I was sent here by the Navy's Judge Advocate General to investigate the deaths of the three female inmates who committed suicide," Mac explained.
"You're not a criminal?"
Mac smiled and shook her head. "No."
"You didn't kill your boyfriend?"
Mac had a harder time with that one. She had, after all, very recently killed her husband. However, Rita didn't know that. All she knew was that Sarah McIntyre had supposedly stabbed her boyfriend to death. "No," she finally answered.
Harm noticed her hesitation and knew exactly what had gone through her mind.
"Wow," Rita said. "This is very hard to believe."
Mac smiled her understanding. "I'm sure it is. Chief Hammond here is actually Lieutenant Commander Harmon Rabb. He's my partner."
Rita smiled at Harm, a little overwhelmed by what she was hearing. Harm smiled warmly back.
"You came here to look into the suicides?" Rita asked.
"Yes," Mac confirmed.
"Were they? Suicides, I mean."
Mac looked at Harm. "We're not sure. The warden's going to continue with that investigation. Lieutenant Bourgoin has been suspended from duty and will probably face court martial for a variety of offenses."
Rita's eyes opened wide in surprise. "He killed those women?"
"We don't know that, Rita," Mac said hastily. "But we do know that he's guilty of violating several of Leavenworth's policies and procedures, and for that alone, he can be brought up on charges."
"I hope they send him here," Rita said malevolently. "Too bad they can't put him in with the women."
"Rita, my job here is done, and I'm going home today. I wanted to see you before I left. I want to thank you for all you did for me while I was here. You made this place a little more bearable. I also wanted to offer you my help."
"With what?"
"You've told me why you're here, and it became obvious to me that you're protecting someone. I think I've put the pieces together from what you've told me. You tell me if I wrong.
"Several years ago, you met a man. Somehow or other, the details don't really matter, he introduced you to street drugs, and you got hooked. He encouraged your dependence as a way to control you. You got pregnant and became even more dependent on him. Eventually, he saw your access to the base as a way to open up a new market for his garbage. He threatened your kids and he threatened to cut you off if you didn't keep selling. Finally, you got caught. When you wouldn't turn over your supplier, you were sentenced to ten years. You got sent here. Somewhere along the line, you got clean, and you realized that your children are the most important thing in the world to you. Is that about right?"
Tears filling her large brown eyes, Rita nodded.
Mac reached across the table and took her hand. "I want to help you get your life back, Rita. I want to send you home to your kids. They need you as much as you need them."
"What do I need to do?" Rita asked, although Mac thought she already knew the answer to that question.
"Give him up," Mac said simply.
Fear and uncertainty pushed the tears from Rita's eyes, and they trickled down her cheeks. "I don't know if I can," she whispered. "He is the father of my children."
"Loyalty is a wonderful thing, Rita, if it's vested in the right people. He left you hanging out to dry. What does that say about him? Does he even visit the kids?"
Rita shook her head. "No. He hasn't seen them since I was arrested. I'm not even sure where he is."
"I promise you, Rita, if you give me his name, I will find him. If you help us bring him in and agree to testify against him, I'll work my ass off to get your sentence reduced. Maybe we can even get it commuted to time served."
"You mean I could just walk out of here?" Rita asked hopefully.
"It's not going to happen today or tomorrow," Mac cautioned, realizing that, once again, she was making an awful lot of promises to Rita she didn't know if she could keep. "But if all goes well, maybe in a couple of months. It depends on what you're willing to tell me."
"I'm afraid," Rita confessed. "Not for me. But for my kids and my sister. James has some friends. They always scared me."
"We can protect them," Mac assured her, making yet another promise. "We'll have them moved to some place safe."
Across the room, Harm sat silently, also hoping that she wasn't making more promises than she could realistically keep and also knowing that he'd do whatever it took to help her keep them.
Rita sat quietly for a moment. "You'll keep them safe?"
"You have my word," Mac promised without hesitation.
"What do you need to know?" Rita asked, her mind made up.
Mac allowed herself a small, encouraging smile for Rita. What she really wanted to do was jump up and shout, "Hallelujah!", but she thought that might be considered an inappropriate response. Harm was already worried about her mental state.
She hid behind her professional Marine lawyer mask. "His name, including middle initial, and date of birth are a great start. His social security number is very helpful if you know it. And whatever else you know about his family, his friends, his employers, where he likes to hang out all of that would be very useful in finding him."
Rita gave them what she knew. Mac wanted to noisily praise God again when Rita told them that her boyfriend was also in the Navy. Finding him should be a piece of cake.
When they'd extracted every piece of information Rita's memory could supply them, Mac said, "It's 1038. Geri's service starts in twenty-two minutes. We'll be leaving directly after that, so I probably won't see you again. As soon as I get back home, I'll get started on this. I'll let you know as soon as I hear something." Mac scribbled on her note pad, then ripped the page off and gave it to Rita. "Those are my numbers - office, home and cell. You call me any time you need me, day or night."
Mac and Rita stood up, and Rita moved toward the door. She stopped to share a long, tight hug with Mac. "Thank you," she whispered in Mac's ear.
"Thank you," Mac said. She pulled away from Rita. "You take care of yourself and pray we find him quickly."
Rita smiled. "Praying is something I definitely know how to do." She turned her smile on Harm. "Bye, Chief I mean, sir."
Harm smiled in return. "Take care, Rita. We'll be in touch."
Rita knocked on the door, and the guard came and escorted her out.
"Ready?" Harm asked her.
Geri's service was held in the courtyard just outside the women's wing. Folding chairs had been set up for the hard labor inmates and a few lesser security prisoners who had voiced an interest in attending. It was brief, lasting no more than ten minutes, and when it was over, Mac looked at Harm and said, "Let's go home."
They were airborn, sitting side by side on an otherwise empty troop transport bound for Norfolk. The warden had obviously arranged this flight just for them, for which they were both grateful. Mac had gone to the base exchange in the time prior to the flight and had purchased a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, which she was now wearing. She'd gladly returned her prison uniform. All but the underwear and tennis shoes. Those she'd been allowed to keep.
"I'm just gonna poke my head in the cockpit," Harm said, unbuckling his seat belt.
Mac smiled indulgently. "I'm sure the pilots are more than capable of flying this bird on their own."
"I know. I just want to say hello," Harm assured her.
"Harm, no emergency landings or engine trouble or aerial acrobatics today, okay? I don't think I could handle that much excitement."
Harm placed his hand over his heart. "You have my word," he said with a boyish grin before disappearing into the cockpit.
When Harm returned minutes later, he found Mac trying to get comfortable in her seat.
"What?" Mac asked in mock surprise. "They didn't ask you to take over the controls?"
"No," he said after he sat, actually sounding disappointed. "They seem to have everything under control."
"Imagine that," Mac said dryly.
"How are you?" Harm asked, suddenly serious.
"Glad to be away from there," she answered honestly. "And tired."
"Why don't you try to get some sleep," he suggested. "I'll be sure to wake you when we land so you don't make the return flight."
Mac shuddered in horror, only half joking. She squirmed in her seat. "They didn't make these things with the troops' comfort in mind, did they?"
"I thought Marines could sleep on a rock."
"Oh, we can," she assured him. "The hardest and coldest you can find. I was more worried about your tender Navy-issued body."
"What do you know about my tender body?" Harm challenged.
Mac was not up to playing flirtatious word games with him, and she let that remark pass. "Permission to use the commander as a pillow?" she asked instead.
He looked at her in surprise.
"You remind me of a rock," she said in self defense.
Now he looked at her suspiciously. "I'm going to assume that by that you meant I'm solid and dependable and someone you can lean on, and not that you think I'm hard-headed and immovable."
"Take it whichever way will get me what I want," she said mischievously.
"Which is what, Major?" he asked, challenging again.
"A shoulder. You got one?"
"I have two. Which do you want?"
"The closest one. The crew might think it a little strange if they were to come back here and see my leaning on the other one."
Strange, maybe, Harm thought. Interesting, definitely. "Suit yourself, " he said and lowered his shoulder a little bit.
Mac lowered her head to his shoulder. It was hard. "Yup. Like I said. A rock."
"Try this," he suggested. He raised his right arm and brought it down on the other side of her.
She looked up at him, surprised by his gesture. "What will the neighbors think?"
"Shut up and go to sleep," he ordered.
Mac obediently put her head down on his chest and felt him curl his arm protectively around her.
"Comfy?" he asked, the sound loud and rumbly with her ear to his chest.
"Mm hmm," she acknowledged sleepily. "Know what I'm gonna do when I get home? I'm gonna take a bath in water so hot you could poach an egg in it. Then I'm gonna eat. Prime rib, maybe. Or lobster. That would be good. And chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting and chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. Then I'm gonna sleep for a week."
"Sounds like a plan," Harm whispered. "Nighty night, Marine."
Mac didn't answer. She was sleeping, gently surrounded by his embrace.
Mac's sleep had been anything but peaceful. Bits and fragments of experiences she'd had both at Leavenworth and throughout her life made a continuously running montage behind her closed eyelids. None of her more pleasurable moments made their way into this dream, and while Mac never actually awoke, she was restless and whimpered more than once during the flight.
Finally, they landed, and Harm shook her gently awake. "Mac, we're here."
"Home?" she asked, still groggy with unproductive sleep.
"Not yet. Norfolk. Come on. We're almost there."
As soon as Harm had learned the details of their travel arrangements, he'd called the Admiral to share those details. The Admiral had graciously offered to have someone drive Harm's vehicle to Norfolk and leave it there for the last leg of their journey. While Harm worried about someone else driving his 'Vette, he knew they'd get home faster with it. They found the car just where it had been promised to be. Neither had any luggage, so they loaded themselves in and took off. They hadn't gone ten miles before Mac was slumped against the passenger door, eyes closed, mouth open, and asleep.
Dreams again pervaded her sleep, and she moved about restlessly in the tight confines of the seat.
She was sitting like an Indian on the top bunk her cell at Leavenworth. The ceiling was only inches from her head. A pile of paperclips was on the blanket in front of her. In her hands, she held the beginnings of a paper clip chain, ten or so links long. She worked rapidly on the chain, and soon it was over two feet long. She looped one end of it over her left wrist and linked it closed. She did the same to her right wrist, leaving about two inches of chain between her hands. She made herself a set of handcuffs.
She pulled on them to check their strength, in an attempt to get free, and when she did, the pliable paperclips morphed into a solid steel cable, sharp burrs running along its length. She continued to struggle against them, and they began to tighten on her wrists, cutting into her flesh, causing bright red blood to drip onto her prison uniform, the blanket and the floor.
Suddenly, she noticed that she was bumping her head on the ceiling, and she realized that the walls and ceiling were moving, closing her into an increasingly smaller box. She bent over and covered her head with her hands, and the river of blood ran down her face. Still the walls pressed closer until she was sure she'd be crushed.
She tried to scream for help, but no words came out of her mouth. Somehow, she knew it wouldn't have matter anyway. There was no one here to save her. She was all alone.
She could no longer sit on the bed. The ceiling was just too low. She lay on the bunk, watching the ceiling come toward her, feeling the walls pressing in, until she was in a box the size of her bed. Or the size of a coffin.
Harm had just made the turn onto I-95 and knew they were on the home stretch. He loved driving this car she responded almost to his every thought and gave him everything he asked for, and more, the moment he asked for it, without complaint or hesitation. He'd just been musing to himself that if only women could act the same way, life would be good, when Mac's eyes flew open. She looked around her, her eyes wide with fear, her breath coming in ragged gulps. Harm guessed that if he placed his fingers on her wrist, he'd feel her pulse racing. He was just about to ask if she was all right when she spoke.
"Pull over."
"Huh?" he said, sure he'd misunderstood her.
The tiny car was close around her too close. The dashboard was almost touching her knees, the door was less than inches from her right side, the center console too close to her left, the seat back touching her, the roof holding her down, the seat belt confining her in place. She needed to get out of this car, and she needed to get out now. "Pull over," she repeated. "I need to get out."
Concerned that maybe she was going to be sick, Harm flipped his blinker on and pulled off to the side of the highway as quickly as he safely could. Before they'd come to a complete stop, Mac had flung her seatbelt off, opened the door, and rocketed out of the car. While Harm pulled his baby as far off the road as he could without scratching her beautiful body, he watched Mac half run, half stumble through the field next to the road. He stopped the engine and got out of the car, wondering what on earth she was doing. Finally, she stopped running and sat abruptly where she was.
Harm closed the car door and began to walk slowly toward her. Her back was to him and her shoulders were hunched over, and he wondered if she was crying. He felt totally helpless as he approached her. Something at Leavenworth had affected her deeply, and when you piled that on top of extreme mental and physical exhaustion, Harm guessed a breakdown of some sort was a definite possibility. Is that what was happening now, he wondered as he got closer. Had the strain finally gotten to her? And if it had, what was he supposed to do? They were still almost a hundred miles from home. What if she refused to get back in the car?
Mac sat on the ground, hugging her knees, rocking back and forth, trying to take great, hopefully cleansing breaths. She'd never been claustrophobic, but that dream had left her with a terrified, panicky feeling she'd never experienced before and hoped never to experience again. This was definitely not Marine-like behavior, and she was trying desperately to get herself under control. She was almost there when she heard Harm approaching. He came up behind her and just stopped, watching her, waiting for her to make the next move.
Though she knew he was there, Mac wasn't ready to face him just yet. She stayed where she was, gently rocking herself to a quieter state of mind.
Harm tried to give her the time and space she needed, but finally he couldn't take it any more. Turning so he could keep an eye on his car, he asked quietly, "Are you okay?"
"Yeah," she said, and he could tell by the sound of her voice that she had not been crying. "I'm sorry. I freaked out a little, that's all."
"I had a dream," she said. "It was nothing." That wasn't true. It had been everything and had summed up the last three weeks of her life the feeling of being locked into a place from which there was no out, of knowing that it had been of her own doing, the confines, the feeling of helplessness and desperation, the blood. Mac rubbed her left wrist as it suddenly began to ache with a phantom pain.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
She definitely did not want to talk about it, or think about it, or try to analyze it. "No. Just give me a minute. I'll be fine."
"Take all the time you need," Harm offered graciously, though he wished she would hurry up. He was worried about her, and if she was going to crack, he'd rather have her home than out here in the middle of nowhere. Still behind her, Harm settled himself on the ground, his back to her so he could see his car, and prepared himself to wait until she was ready to go.
Mac was grateful he wasn't looking at her. She wanted to pretend that she was the only person in this large expanse of earth, that it was all hers, and that no one could tell her when she had to get up and where she could walk once she did. In order for this little fantasy to work, she had to pretend that she didn't hear cars whizzing by behind her, that this small field was a "large expanse", and that Harm wasn't sitting five feet away from her. She'd always been pretty imaginative when it came to removing herself from her present circumstances, a skill she'd honed as a child, and she had no real trouble now carrying herself to the place she needed to be. She stayed there contentedly for fifteen minutes (which felt like an hour to Harm) and didn't even notice when it began to drizzle or when that drizzle turned into a steady, light rain. Finally, the fact that she was getting wet broke through, and because there was no rain in Mac's special place, it brought her back to reality.
She tilted her head back, enjoying the sensation as the clean rain washed over her face. She felt much better now, and she was ready to go.
She stood up. "You're all wet," she said to Harm.
"Yeah, well, that sometimes happens to me when I sit out in the rain."
"Only sometimes?" she teased. "I'm sorry. Why didn't you say something?"
He had said something. As soon as it had started to rain, he'd mentioned that very fact, thinking about what wet clothes would do to his leather seats. She hadn't answered him, and he wondered if she'd even heard him. "Where did you go?" he asked.
"What do you mean? I was right here the whole time."
"No, you weren't," he argued. "You went somewhere. It was probably a real nice place, and you left me here in the rain."
Mac had to laugh as his "poor little me" act. "Sorry. There was only room for one. Would you like to go home now?"
"I'd like that very much." He got to his feet, and they walked back to the car.
"I'm sorry you got all wet," she said again when they reached the car.
"It was worth it if you're okay."
She favored him with a tired smile. "I'm all right. I promise I won't freak out on you again." She hesitated only a second before getting back into the car.
Harm shook his head. Had he really been worried about her cracking up? He should have known better, he supposed. She was one of the toughest people he knew. She did, however, have a vulnerable streak about a mile wide. The location of that streak was a closely-guarded secret and was not published on the Rand McNally map of Sarah Mackenzie. At some point, he knew, she was going to have to talk to someone about her experiences. No one could keep that bottled up forever. Not even a Marine. Not even this Marine. He got back in the car, and they continued their journey.
Despite her best efforts to stay awake, Mac kept nodding off to sleep during the remainder of the ride. She was finding it increasingly more difficult to stay awake. She'd known that eventually the lack of sleep, the tremendous amount of physical activity she'd been involved in, the little sustenance she'd been giving her body, and the incredible emotional strain she'd been operating under would all catch up with her once she let her guard down. She was beginning to worry that she wasn't even going to make it back to her apartment before she entered an advanced state of hibernation.
By the time they arrived, at just before 1900, she was semi-comatose. Harm supported her up the stairs to her apartment, and she leaned heavily on him while he opened the door. He supposed if any of her neighbors looked out into the hallway right now, they's assume that she was being escorted home after a particularly fierce bender. He got her inside as quickly as he could, then wondered what to do with her. She stood on her feet, eyes closed, swaying gently.
"Come on, Mac," he said softly.
She followed him, unprotesting, into the bedroom. He sat her on the edge of the bed and bent down to remove her shoes. He pulled the bedclothes back, and he helped her to climb into the bed. Before she could register that she was finally home again, safe in her own bed, she was so deeply asleep a mortar blast right outside her window wouldn't have awakened her. Harm pulled the covers up to her chin and left the room, closing the door behind him.
What should he do now? he wondered. He was pretty tired himself, and he supposed he should go home and go to bed. He didn't want to do that, though, and leave Mac alone. It was pretty obvious to him that she'd been having nightmares which had been interrupting her sleep. He felt as though he should be here if she had another one, though he didn't know why. He supposed it was some kind of over-protective instinct he was feeling for his best friend. He thought he knew exactly what she'd say if she knew what he was planning to do. Fortunately for him, she was asleep and couldn't say anything.
He sighed tiredly and rubbed his eyes. He removed his shoes and stretched out as well as he could on her couch. One part of him argued that he should go home and sleep in his own bed, but the other, much more stubborn part of him said he was going nowhere. She needed to sleep, and he was going to make damn sure she did. He got up from the couch and snapped the lamp on. He picked up the phone on the table and found the ringer switch, which he moved to the off position. He went quietly into her bedroom and did the same to the phone by her bed. Her cell phone was on the night stand, and he picked that up to bring back to the living room with him.
He stopped for a moment to watch her sleep. She really was very beautiful. He'd never had a problem admitting that to himself. The problem arose when he went beyond that and tried to figure out how he felt about her. That he'd never had a better friend went beyond saying. But she was so much more than just a friend. When he'd heard about and seen for himself what Bourgoin was doing to her, he'd wanted to kill the little man with his bare hands. Was that just friendship? When he'd learned about the attack by Geri and her friends, he'd wanted to wrap her in his arms and carry her away somewhere safe and soothe her pain away. Was that the reaction of someone who was solely a friend?
Harm shook himself. This was silly and pointless, he told himself. He left her bedroom again and closed the door quietly. One look at her cell phone told him the battery was dead and would consequently be no threat to her slumber. He lay down again and was soon fast asleep.

The Following Day
Harm was awake by 0500. He looked in on Mac, and when he saw her still sound asleep, he decided to risk a short trip home. He drove as quickly as he could and allowed himself a quick shower and dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. He decided to call the Admiral later and let him know they were back. He grabbed the stack of accumulated mail which Bud and/or Harriet had collected daily for him and headed back out. On his way back, he stopped at the grocery store to replenish Mac's food supply. He suspected that whenever she woke up, she was going to be hungry.
All was quiet when he returned to her apartment, and he peeked into her bedroom just to reassure himself that she hadn't gone AWOL while he was away. She was still sound asleep in the middle of the bed, her arms outstretched. If she'd been awakened by nightmares at any time during the night, he hadn't been aware of it. He wasn't sure if that was due to the untroubled nature of her slumber or to the fact that he'd been so deeply asleep himself.
Harm read the newspaper as he ate the bagel and drank the coffee he'd picked up while he was out. When he was finished, he tidied up in the kitchen a little, then noticed the dust which can accumulate in a three-week period. He poked around in the cabinets until he found her cleaning supplies, then set to work cleaning her apartment.
He was dusting the living room when he heard a knock on the door. He crossed to it quickly before whoever it was could knock again. He was surprised to find Admiral AJ Chegwidden standing in the hallway.
Said Admiral was even more surprised to find Lt. Commander Rabb in Sarah Mackenzie's apartment at 0630, holding a can of Endust in one hand and a pink feather duster in the other. "Moonlighting as a maid, Commander?" he asked wryly.
"Oh! No, sir!" Harm said, embarrassed at being found here like this. "I was just cleaning. To pass the time."
AJ raised his eyebrows, asking with his expression, to pass the time until what? But he didn't say it. "Do you think it would be all right if I came in? Or did you just do the floors?"
"Oh! Of course, sir! I'm sorry. Come in." After AJ entered, Harm offered, "I was going to call you in a little bit, sir."
"How was the flight back yesterday?" AJ asked, with an emphasis on the last word, fully aware that they had returned home yesterday afternoon.
"It was fine, sir. No problems at all."
"Where's the Major?"
"Sleeping, sir. She was really exhausted. Been out like a light since we got here last night."
AJ's eyebrows rose again at the implication that Harm had spent the night here. Harm wanted to kick himself.
"I've been trying to call," AJ pointed out. "I also stopped by your place first."
"I'm sorry, sir. I turned all the phones off. I didn't want her to wake up until she was good and ready."
"Is she all right, Commander?" AJ asked, his concern obvious.
Harm hesitated, wondering how much he should tell their CO. "As I said, sir, she's exhausted. When they say hard labor, they're understating what goes on out there. I don't think she's been sleeping very well or eating enough to keep a bird alive. She fell asleep on the ride home yesterday and seemed to be having nightmares, so I thought maybe I should stay. In case she needed me." The excuse, having been said out loud, sounded really lame now.
AJ seemed to understand, though, and he nodded. "Colonel Franklin told me about some kind of inmate-on-inmate attack. I suppose it's not surprising she'd have nightmares after that."
Harm had hoped that the Admiral wouldn't know about that. It was obvious from the way he spoke that he not only knew about the attack, but that he knew what everyone suspected had happened.
"Well, Commander. I'll expect to see you in the office in the morning. Tell Mac to take the rest of the week off," AJ ordered.
"Aye aye, sir."
"You can also tell her Never mind. I'll do that myself. Carry on," he said, eyeing the feather duster.
"Aye aye, sir," Harm repeated, shaking his feathers.
The Admiral replaced his cover and left.
Harm had finished cleaning her apartment (except for the vacuuming), he'd sorted through his mail, and he'd been reading a book he'd found on Mac's bookshelf. It was approaching noon, and he was beginning to wonder just how long she was going to sleep when he heard her moving around in the bedroom. He put the book down and waited for her to come out. He heard the toilet flush and moments later, she stood in the doorway, looking at him.
Her hair was cutely mussed (AN: why is it Mac gets to have "cutely mussed" hair, and mine just looks like I slept hanging upside down?) and her eyes were still heavy with sleep. She seemed to take some time assimilating that she was home and that Harm was in her living room. Those two things didn't seem to go together, and she blinked a couple of times to try to clear away the confusion.
He watched her with a small smile on his lips. God, he l liked seeing her like this. "Good morning, sleepyhead," he finally said.
"Morning," she mumbled thickly. She scratched her head. "What are you doing here?"
"Waiting for Sleeping Beauty to awaken from the sleep of the dead. Welcome back."
A small hint of amusement crept into her eyes. "I guess that makes you Prince Charming."
Harm stood and bowed. "At your service."
"Where's your noble steed?"
"I left her in the hangar. City ordinance. No noble steeds within city limits."
"Sorry, but you can't be Prince Charming without a noble steed."
"Cut me some slack!" he protested. "How many Prince Charmings do you know who would clean your apartment while you slept?"
Mac looked around her, but truthfully, she had no memory of arriving here last night and no idea what her apartment had looked like prior to his imitation of a Merry Maid. "Only one," she said. Their little exchange had done much to chase away the cobwebs. "Seriously, Harm, what are you doing here?"
"Your apartment needed cleaning?"
She tilted her head to one side, a look that said, "Come on. You can do better than that."
"I was worried about you, Mac. You were having nightmares."
A warm light shone from her eyes, bathing him in its glow. "That's very sweet of you," she said sincerely. "But I'm fine. Why don't you go on home."
"The Admiral stopped by this morning."
"The Admiral? What time?" she asked, alarmed.
"0630 or so."
"The Admiral was here at 0630?" she repeated. And he found you here. What he did think about that? she wondered.
"Yes. He tried calling, but I turned all the phone off. He said to tell you that you should take the rest of the week off."
She brushed that away. "What else did he say?'
Harm hesitated a moment too long before saying," Not much."
"Harm!" she challenged. "What did he say?"
He didn't really want to tell her, but he knew she had every right to know. "He said that Colonel Franklin had called him and that he knew about . . . what happened."
Mac's first thought was, "Damn!" Her second thought was, "Well, nothing happened, so all he could know is nothing." "Anything else?" she asked.
Harm had seen the mask slide into place. "No. That was it. Hey, you're probably hungry. I'll fix you something to eat."
"You don't have to do that, Harm," she protested, though her stomach growled in anticipation.
"I know. I want to. Just give me a few minutes." Harm disappeared into the kitchen.
"Can I help?" she called.
"Nope. Just relax. I won't be long."
Harm brewed a pot of coffee and then built her an omelette cheese, then ham, then mushrooms, then green peppers and onions.
Mac inhaled the aroma after he placed the plate in front of her and wondered if this was how Heaven smelled. Harm poured her a cup of coffee and sat opposite her. She looked at him, waiting for something.
"What?" he asked. "Is something wrong?"
Suddenly, Mac realized what she was doing, and a look of horror passed over her face. She pushed the plate away, put her head on her arms on the table, and began to cry.
Harm stared at her, astonished. What on earth had brought that on? He watched her cry, feeling helpless.
"Mac," he finally said.
She stopped crying, but she didn't lift her head.
"If you didn't want an omelette, you could have just said so."
He heard a snorting sound now that was more like laughter than crying. Finally, she lifted her head and dried her eyes with a napkin.
"Do you want to tell me what that was all about?" he asked.
"You were never in the mess hall when we ate, were you?"
He shook his head no, confirming what she already knew.
"We'd line up and get our food and take it back to the table. We'd all sit there and wait for one of the guards to tell us to begin eating. I was waiting for you to tell me it was okay to eat." Mac closed her eyes, wondering when and if she'd ever feel normal again.
"Mac, it's okay," Harm said. "And I don't mean it's okay to eat. It's going to be okay."
She opened her eyes and smiled at him. "Thanks," she said, pulling her plate back toward her.
"No problem," he assured her.
"You're not eating?"
"I'll eat later, while you're in the tub."
She raised her eyebrows in appreciation, but didn't speak for a time. "I was only there three weeks," she finally said. "How do they do it?"
"How does who do what?"
"The prisoners that get released after serving their sentences. If I'm like this after three weeks, how does someone who's been there for years adjust to normal life again? And what is normal anyway?"
Harm had no answers for her and told her so.
"Thank you," she said after she'd finished eating. "That was wonderful."
"Thank me after supper."
"Harm, you don't have to babysit me. I'm fine."
"I know. But you deserve this, so let me do it, okay?'
"Okay," she consented.
"Now, with your permission, I'll go draw madam's bath."
"Permission granted," she said regally.
"You're not going to fall asleep and drown in there, are you?" Harm asked after he'd filled the tub. He'd found some little bead thingies and had dropped two into the water, making the entire bathroom smell like lilacs.
"I can't promise I won't fall asleep. But no, I'm not going to drown," she assured him.
"Good. Because I don't think you want me to have to come in there and rescue you," he joked.
"Maybe I do," she said coyly and walked into the bathroom.
Harm's mouth fell open as he watched her go.
Mac was in the bathroom long enough for Harm to begin to wonder if she had, in fact, fallen asleep. Finally, he heard her moving around, then he heard the shower running. Minutes later, the water stopped, and he heard the sounds of her rummaging around.
When the rummaging stopped, he heard her call, "Harm!"
He walked into her bedroom, where he found her lying face-down on her bed, wearing shorts and nothing else. "Oh, I'm sorry," he said, backing immediately out of the room.
Mac giggled. "Don't be silly! I asked you to come in here. The doctor told me to put antibiotic cream on my back until the cut have healed. I didn't bother to tell him I couldn't reach them myself. Would you mind?"
"Uh, sure," he said, looking everywhere but at her. "Where is it?"
"Right there," she said, pointing at the table beside her bed.
Harm looked at his feet as he walked to the table. He picked up the tube he found there. Yup, antibiotic cream. That's what it said all right. Bacitracin, neomycin, polymyxin B. Yes, sir. Sure sounded like an antibiotic cream.
"Is something wrong?" she asked when he didn't move.
"Um, no," he said. He sat gingerly on the edge of the bed and turned to look at her back.
"Oh, man!" he said, curiosity and sympathy overwhelming his sense of embarrassment. He counted seven cuts that had been stitched closed. The stitches were still in place, and they made a gruesome haphazard patchwork pattern on her back. There were also several smaller cuts and scratches that hadn't required stitching. Scattered among the cuts were raised red bumps, the remaining bug bites that still looked angry and irritated.
"You wanna take a picture?" Mac prodded.
"Sorry," Harm said, spurred to action. He squeezed a small amount of ointment onto his finger and began to gently rub it into one of the cuts. "Am I hurting you?" he asked.
"No," she said. "It actually feels good."
He continued rubbing her back, even when there was no longer any legitimate reason to do so, encouraged by Mac's occasional moan of pleasure.
Mac lay on the bed enjoying the attention. Any other time, she would have found his hands on her bare back very erotic, but right now, she was so damn . . .
Asleep, Harm concluded. She's asleep. Even with this realization, he continued to gently massage her skin. Finally, his hands came to rest on her back. He was strangely reluctant to break this contact with her, but he finally withdrew his hands, covered her with a blanket, and left the room.
Mac slept another three hours. When she awakened, she was surprised to find she was not wearing a shirt, but then she remembered why. She got up and threw a USMC t-shirt over her head and went out into the living room. She heard noises in her kitchen and approached the door cautiously. "Harm, what are you still doing here?"
"I told you. Making your supper," he said, his back to her as he worked at the counter.
She hadn't really expected him to stay. "You really didn't have to do that," she said, though she was pleased that he had. "Whatcha making?"
"That's a surprise. Why don't you go sit down. I won't be much longer."
"I want to help," she said, trying peering over his shoulder.
"Tomorrow, you're on your own. Today, you have to put up with me." He turned around to hide her view of the counter. "Now get." He realized immediately that she was not wearing a bra, and he tried valiantly to keep his eyes north of her shoulders.
"All right," Mac said with an exaggerated sigh. She recognized his struggle and took herself out of the room. Had she known he was still here, she never would have come out dressed the way she was. She went back into her bedroom and dressed appropriately before returning.
She waited impatiently in the living room. The smells wafting from her kitchen were very enticing, and she was getting hungrier by the moment. Finally, Harm came out and announced that dinner was served.
Mac couldn't believe the feast he placed before her prime rib, twin lobsters with drawn butter, a green salad, and French bread. It was everything she'd said she wanted on the flight home. "I can't believe you did all this!" she exclaimed.
"Well, truthfully, I didn't do all that much. The prime rib, I have to confess, was prepared by that little restaurant on the corner. The lobsters were flown here from Maine especially for you, but all I did was sacrifice them to the boiling water. The salad is a salad. Not much to say about that."
Mac was not going to let him belittle what he'd done for her. "Harm, this is wonderful. I think this is the nicest thing anyone's ever done for me. There are times when you amaze me with your thoughtfulness."
"And the rest of the time?"
"The rest of the time, you're a jerk," she said, a teasing twinkle in her eyes.
"So much for gratitude," Harm said, rolling his eyes and smiling at her.
"Do you mind if we stop talking now?" she asked, eyeing the food on the table with great anticipation.
"Dig in," he suggested.
Harm munched his salad while he watched her devour everything he'd set on the table. When she'd finished her main course, he brought out the chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting and chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. Mac blissfully ate a huge piece of cake with two scoops of ice cream. When she was finished, she groaned, so stuffed she wasn't sure she could move.
"Thank you," she said simply and sincerely.
"You're welcome," he said, pleased with himself for making her so happy. "You want anything else?"
"There's only one more thing you can do for me."
"Name it."
"Leave me alone," she said gently.
"Oh," he said, deflated.
"I appreciate everything you've done for me. More than I could every say. But I just need to be alone for a while."
"But the dishes . . ."
"I'll get the dishes. It'll actually feel good to do chores like dishes again."
"All right," he said, standing up. "As long as you're sure."
"I'm sure," she assured him, standing up as well.
She walked him to the door. "Thank you," she said. "For everything."
"Are you going to be all right?" he asked seriously.
"I think so," she said, just as seriously.
"Call me if you need me," he ordered her softly. "I don't care what time of night." He opened the door.
"All right," she agreed far too easily.
"Promise me," he said sternly, placing his hand on her shoulder for emphasis, not really believing that she would.
She looked up at him. "I promise," she said sincerely.
His hand slipped down her arm. "I'm glad you're okay. If anything had happened to you . . ." He couldn't finish the thought, and he squeezed her elbow, hoping she understood.
She did, and she smiled at him. "How could anything have happened? My best friend was there watching out for me."
He smiled in return, reluctant to leave but unable to think of a valid reason to stay. They stared at each other for uncounted seconds, his hand still gripping her arm. Finally, he dropped his hand to his side. "Well, good night," he said.
"Good night, Harm," she said with a smile. "Thanks again."
He traced the line of her jaw with his fingertip, briefly, solemnly, and then he was gone.
The following day . . .
Mac had gone to the office early, though looking at her nearly empty desk, she wasn't sure why. Everything she'd been working on had been re-assigned, so she had no current case load. She looked through the small stack of phone messages that had accumulated, then turned her computer on. After she got a cup of coffee, she'd sort through the e-mails in her in-box. Hopefully by then, the Admiral would be in and would have some new assignment for her. She was eager to get back to work.
She met said Admiral on the way back to her office, her coffee cup full of steaming dark brew. Now this was coffee!
"Major!" the Admiral said, a look of surprise on his face. "What are you doing here?! I thought I told Rabb to tell you to take the rest of the week off!"
"Good morning, Admiral. Yes, sir. You did, sir. The Commander did pass that suggestion along to me. I just didn't see the need. I'm ready to go back to work."
"And what makes you think that was a suggestion and not an order?" he asked, crossing his arms in front of his chest.
"Sir?" she asked.
"Follow me, Major," he ordered and turned toward his office.
Mac hastily put her coffee down and followed his retreating form.
After they were seated in his office, the Admiral began to speak. "First, let me just tell you what a bang-up job you did at Leavenworth. Colonel Franklin has called me twice, singing your praises. He's told me that if you ever tire of being a lawyer, he'd be more than willing to have you on his staff."
Mac shuddered inwardly at the thought of going to Leavenworth every day, but she didn't speak. She hated being praised. She'd almost rather he was yelling at her. Almost.
AJ continued. "I told him that would be over my dead body! In any event, I wanted to tell you 'good job'. According to Franklin, you were instrumental in ridding the prison of someone who clearly didn't belong there. The Colonel has also told me that you've agreed to serve on a committee that oversees conditions at the prison, and I think that's a wonderful idea. If we're going to be responsible for putting people in there, we should have some responsibility for making sure it's as humane as possible."
Mac shuddered again, this time bothered by the thought that she could ever again be responsible for sending anyone to that place. She had serious doubts about her ability to perform certain aspects of her job now, but she wasn't ready yet to share those doubts with her CO.
"When last I spoke with the Colonel, they'd only just begun their investigation into what part Bourgoin might have played in the suicides of those three unfortunate women," the Admiral continued.
Mac wanted to scream. Unfortunate?! That was such an understatement! They weren't just unfortunate. They were tormented, desperate, hopeless, and friendless. That was how they'd lived the last few days of their lives, and that was how they'd died. That was so much more than merely unfortunate. But she couldn't scream at the Admiral over his choice of words, so she sat, impassively staring at a spot on the wall behind the Admiral's head while her insides churned.
"The Colonel also told me about the assault," the Admiral continued hesitantly. "He was concerned about you. As am I. If you need anything if you want to talk to someone " He stopped, not sure how much farther to press.
"I appreciate the Admiral's concern," Mac said, her eyes still averted., "but as I told the Colonel and the Commander, nothing happened."
If that's true, AJ thought, why won't you look at me? "In any event, the offer stands? What offer? he asked himself. I haven't actually offered her anything.
"Thank you sir. I just want to get back to work."
"I'll see what I can do for you at the staff meeting."
"Thank you, sir."
It was obvious they were done. "You're dismissed, Major."
Mac stood at attention. "Aye aye, sir." She made it to the door before he stopped her.
"Yes, sir?" she said, really looking at him for the first time.
"Well done," he said softly. "And welcome back."
She dropped her eyes to the carpet. "Thank you, sir," she said, and she left his office.
The first person she met on her way back across the bullpen was Harriet. "Ma'am! What are you doing here?! We didn't expect you back until next week!"
"I didn't see the point in staying away," Mac told her. "Harriet, I wanted to make sure you understood my decision not to receive visits from my sister had nothing to do with you."
"That's okay, ma'am. It's not a problem. Are you all right?"
"I'm fine, Harriet. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a lot to catch up on." That wasn't true, but small talk seemed like such a burden. Mac continued the trek to her office but didn't get far before she ran into Bud.
"Ma'am! What are you doing here?!"
"Working, hopefully, Lieutenant," she said, trying to keep her expression pleasant. Behind her mask, she was thinking, if one more person asks me that, I'm going to hurt someone!
"Welcome back, ma'am," Bud said, seemingly genuinely pleased to have her back.
"Thanks, Bud. And thanks for pinch hitting for me. I really appreciate it."
"Glad I could help out, ma'am," Bud said brightly.
Mac almost made it to her office, but she was once more interrupted. "Mac!" Harm said, very surprised to see her there. "What are you doing here?"
"I wish everyone would stop asking me that!" she snapped. "Do I not still work here?!"
Harm stopped, taken aback. "Of course you do, Mac. I was just surprised to see you. Sorry." He retreated to his office.
Mac was angry at herself now. After all he'd done for her, the last thing he deserved was to be snapped at. She followed him to his office and stood in his doorway until he looked up at her. "You didn't deserve that," she said contritely. " I'm sorry. You were the fourth person to ask me what I was doing here, and I just lost it."
"At the risk of incurring bodily injury, what are you doing here?" he asked. "The Admiral gave you the rest of the week off. Why didn't you take it?"
"I didn't think it was necessary."
"No, the truth is you just didn't want to stay home alone and think about what happened," he said.
Mac felt her anger rising, and she forced it down with an effort. She knew he was trying to goad her into facing what she was trying to desperately to avoid. She thought the easiest way to get him to back off, at least for now, was to agree with him. "You're right."
His surprise was evident. "I am?"
"Yes. Work is an escape. I admit it."
"Oh. Well, good. That's good. But eventually, you're going to have to stop running. You know that?"
"Yes, I know. You're right. Anyway, I'm sorry."
He smiled. "It's all right. You want to get some lunch later?"
"Sure," she said, smiling back. New strategy for dealing with Harm, she thought on the way back to her office. Tell him he's right and smile prettily.
Mac returned to her office and began to work on what she'd really come here for locating James Emmanuel Garcia, former boyfriend of Rita Jiminez and father of her children. Once she began that process, she began the paperwork that would be necessary to get Rita released once Garcia was located. She was half-way through that when 0900, and staff call, arrived.
Mac very happily accepted two new cases from the Admiral, both of them defense cases, she was pleased to note. She returned to her desk and was thrilled to learn that Petty Officer Third Class James E. Garcia was currently stationed on the USS Shoup, a destroyer in the battle group currently with the Thomas Jefferson in the Indian Ocean. Mac immediately put a call through to the JAG aboard the Jefferson and had to leave a message for a return call. She returned her attention to Rita's paperwork, and when she'd finished that, she started on the two new files she'd been given this morning. She felt like she was on a roll, and she was quite surprised when Harm poked his head in her office to tell her it was time for lunch.
Before she could respond, her phone buzzed. "Yes?" she said after picking it up.
"Ma'am, this is Lieutenant Eric Norton. He's calling from the Thomas Jefferson. He says he's returning your call."
"Thank you, Harriet." She hung up. "I really need to take this call. Can you wait?"
"Sure," he said, leaning in her doorway.
"It might take a while."
"Oh," he said, taking the hint. "Let me know when you're ready."
Mac nodded and picked up her phone. "Lieutenant Norton, this is Major Sarah Mackenzie. Thanks for getting back to me."
Mac spoke with the lieutenant for nearly twenty minutes. She filled him in on Petty Officer Garcia and what she believed him to be guilty of. The lieutenant was very interested in what she had to tell him. They had a drug problem in the battle group, but they'd been unable to find the source of the problem in order to stop it. Lieutenant Norton promised to contact NCIS to begin an investigation into Garcia right away. Mac asked that protection be provided for Rita's family as part of that investigation, and Lieutenant Norton promised to take care of that.
Pleased, Mac hung up and went to get Harm for lunch.
"So, are you going to tell me why you look like the cat that ate the canary?" he asked her after they'd seated themselves outside with their lunches. "All you're missing is the little yellow feathers."
Mac filled him in on what she'd done and learned this morning. "As we speak, Garcia's probably being detained for questioning. I'm gonna call Rita tonight and let her know what's going on. It's looking good for getting her out of there sooner as opposed to later."
"This is a good thing you're doing," Harm told her.
"Maybe something good can still come out of all this."
"Something good already has, Mac. You got Bourgoin out of there."
Mac didn't speak for a moment. "I got an e-mail from Colonel Franklin this morning. The next meeting of the policy committee is next week. I'll have to go back."
"You don't have to," Harm pointed out.
"Actually, yes, I do. The Admiral thought it was a wonderful idea. Besides, maybe I can get some things changed. Maybe I can make life a little better for them."
"Do you really think they deserve to have life made easier for them?" Harm asked quietly.
Mac looked at him briefly, then looked away. It was a legitimate question. "A month ago, I would have said no way. But now that I've seen how they live, I see things so differently. They have no privacy. They're treated like cattle. They have next to no rights to protect them from abuses. I'm not asking that they not be punished for their crimes. All I'm asking for is that they be treated like human beings, because when you're treated like an animal, you tend to forget you're not one." Mac realized she'd gotten a little carried away, and she decided it was time to shut up. She sipped her coffee.
"Will you be all right going back?"
"I think so. I know I can leave," she said with a smile. "That's a plus."
"Do you want me to go with you?"
"That's very nice, but not necessary. I'll be fine."
By the time she'd left for the day, Mac had learned that Garcia was in custody, but that he hadn't confessed to anything, and that Rita's family had been moved to a new location for their own protection while Garcia and his associates (whoever they might prove to be) were investigated. She'd spoken by phone to Colonel Franklin to confirm her attendance at next week's meeting. She'd learned that there investigation of Bourgoin had uncovered multiple and chronic abuses of the jail's procedures, but had failed to turn up any evidence that he'd been connected in any way, directly or otherwise, with the deaths of the three inmates. That had disappointed her, but she consoled herself with the thought that Bourgoin would never again be in a position to threaten helpless female inmates. She made arrangements to speak with Rita later that evening and hung up.
When she got home that evening, she called Rita. She told her everything she'd done to this point and told Rita she thought she'd be seeing her soon. NCIS had told Mac that they'd be sending an investigator out to the prison within the next few days to take a detailed statement from Rita, and Mac told her to cooperate fully with the investigator. Once Mac got a copy of Rita's statements, she'd use it as part of her clemency argument. Rita was grateful when she learned that her family had been moved, thought she knew that meant she wouldn't see them again until she was freed. Mac hung up from her call to Rita, feeling pretty pleased with herself for all she'd done.
Now if she could only make it through the night without that dream.
Four days later . . .
"Mac, you're being unreasonable," Harm told her.
"How is it unreasonable to protect the interests of my client?" she asked.
"Because you're not protecting the interests of your client. He's guilty. You know it. I know it. He knows it. And a jury's gonna know it, and they're gonna give him the maximum sentence. I'm offering you a deal that'll cap his prison time at five years. You refused that without even talking to him."
"I knew he wouldn't go for it," she said stubbornly. She had talked to her client, and he had seemed inclined to take the deal being offered him, but Mac had persuaded him to hang tough. "And I did speak with him."
"And what did you promise him to get him to along with you?" Harm challenged. "No time in the brig? That's unrealistic, and you know it! You're stone-walling me, Mac. Bud told me you're doing the same thing to him on the Carruthers case. I think you're afraid of the consequences."
"Okay!" Mac said, standing up. "This discussion is over!" She began to gather her books and papers together, clearly irritated with him.
"Mac, you can't let what happened to you interfere with performing your job. If a plea agreement is the best thing for your client, then you've got to put aside your personal feelings and do what's right for him. It's your job."
"Yes, it is my job!" she fired back. "And I'd appreciate it if you'd stop trying to play head games with me and let me do my job! My way!"
"If you can look me in the eye and tell me that you honestly think you can get Griffin off, despite the overwhelming evidence supporting his guilt, then I'll wish you luck and we'll go to trial."
Mac stood, fighting to keep her temper reigned in, the fire showing in her eyes.
"Or," Harm continued, "If you think, like I do, that he's a good kid who made a stupid mistake, and that he's ready to accept responsibility for that mistake, then you'll make a deal that will keep him in the Navy and keep him from throwing away ten years of his life, maybe even the rest of his life. No matter what you think or feel, you've got to do what's best for him."
Mac knew he was right and that she was being, at best, stubborn, and at worst, stupid. Her client was guilty. He'd admitted that to her. And there would be no way to keep that from coming out at trial. His best bet was to plead guilty and make a sentencing deal that would keep his confinement at a minimum. Normally, she would have had no problem making that deal given the circumstances of this particular case. But she was no longer normal. She was an ex-con. And as such, she couldn't bear the thought of that nice young kid being sent to Leavenworth for even a minute, let alone years.
She wanted to tell Harm to shove his offer where the sun didn't shine, and she opened her mouth to do that. But she couldn't. She couldn't sell Griffin out. She owed him more than that. "Let me think about it," she said, feeling defeated and vindicated all at once.
"Offer's good 'til seventeen hundred," he told her, keeping his expression neutral, but pleased that she was coming around. Not because he thought he was putting one over on her (although he was certainly not above trying to do that), but because he really did think that a deal was the best thing that could happen to Petty Officer Griffin.
At 1650, she was at his office door. "Two years," she said.
He didn't have to ask what she meant. "Four," he counter-offered.
"Done." He smiled at her. "See? That wasn't so hard."
"You're too easy," she teased.
"Easy?" he asked, affronted. "Me?! I'd have settled for two years if you'd stuck to your guns!"
"I'd have recommended four," she told him. She winked coyly at him before she left.
Two days later . . .
It was late. Really late. She knew that. She should be home. In bed. Sleeping. She had to be at work in less than six hours. But instead of being at home, sleeping, Mac was sitting in her car outside Harm's apartment at 0232.
"What am I doing here?" she asked herself aloud. It was a rhetorical question because she knew the answer. She needed someone, and Harm was all she had. But it was two-thirty in the morning, and she didn't feel right about just waking him up. What would she tell him? I just got back from Leavenworth, and I was feeling really awful? I need someone to talk to, but I don't want to talk about what's making me feel so awful? She couldn't say that because he'd press her for more. She knew that. It was why she had come.
Still, she couldn't do this. She couldn't wake him up out of a sound sleep just because she needed to be near him.
"Get over it girl," she muttered to herself. She reached for the key, which was still in the ignition, fully prepared to go home and leave this for later, maybe never, but she froze when her cell phone rang, shattering the stillness of the night. Her heart racing, she fished her phone out of her purse, wondering who on earth could be calling her at this time of night. "Hello?"
"You wanna come up?" Harm asked.
Harm! But how had he "No. I'm sorry to have bothered you."
"You didn't bother me," he pointed out, his voice thick with recent sleep. "I called you."
"How did you know?"
"I got up to use the bathroom. I looked out the window. There you were. Come on up."
"It's late," she argued, more with herself that with him. She was scared to death now by the thought of having to face her demons. Maybe they really could wait. "You need your sleep."
"I'm already awake," he said. "I probably won't go back to sleep now." That was a white lie. If he lay back down, he'd be asleep in a minute. But a little guilt might be just what she needed to get her up here. "You might as well come up." He flicked the bedside lamp on, squeezing his eyes shut against the sudden light. "See? Light's on."
"Okay," she finally relented. "But just for a minute."
Slowly she got out of the car, and reluctantly she crossed to the door of his building. Her feet felt as though they were made of lead, and she chose to use the elevator, something she'd never done before, because she didn't think she could drag her feet up the stairs. As it began to creak upwards, she wondered if she'd made a mistake getting in this elevator, coming here, going back to Leavenworth, accepting the assignment to Leavenworth in the first place, becoming a lawyer, joining the Marines, being born. Her burden seemed great as the elevator ground to a halt. The doors slid open (AN: Does the elevator in Harm's apartment have sliding doors? Hmmmm), but Mac didn't step out into the hallway. After a moment, the doors closed, and she was shut inside again. She pushed the "open doors" button and watched them slide open again. Still she didn't move, and the doors closed once again.
She should go, she knew. Just press "L", go back down, get in her car, and go. But something held her here. Long moments passed before she finally hit the "open doors" button again. This time, when the doors opened, Harm stood just on the other side of the metal gate which closed off the elevator shaft, looking at her, worried.
"What are you doing?" he asked, sliding the gate aside and holding onto the side of the elevator so the doors couldn't close again. From inside his apartment, he'd heard the elevator reach his floor, and he'd heard the doors open and close twice. Wondering what on earth could be holding her up, he'd gone out to see.
She shrugged helplessly at him. She really didn't know what she was doing. She wanted to run. She wanted to collapse on the floor in a heap. She wanted to scream. She wanted to never talk again. She wanted to do none of those things and all of them at once.
"Get in here," Harm ordered softly.
Obediently, Mac did as she was told. After she'd exited the elevator, Harm slid the gate closed. It latched with a metallic click, a sound very similar to that of a cell door closing. Mac froze momentarily at the memories associated with that sound.
Harm noticed that she'd stopped in the hallway, all movement arrested. A moment later, she began to move again and walked through the open door of his apartment. Harm followed her into his apartment and closed the door. She walked to the window and stared out at the darkness.
"I've put the water on for tea," he told her. "It should be ready in a minute." She didn't answer. "How long have you been down there?"
She shrugged again. "Not long."
"Did you just get back?"
"Yeah." She'd left the office in the early afternoon to go to the airport. She'd flown commercially into Kansas City International, where she'd been picked up by an Army sergeant and driven the twenty or so miles to Leavenworth, Kansas. The meeting had lasted ninety minutes. She'd been driven back to the airport, where she'd caught a flight to Dulles, which had arrived at 0200. She hadn't brought any luggage, and she gotten immediately into her car and come here. She'd spent almost seven hours commuting to and from a meeting that had lasted an hour and a half, a meeting which had been wholly unproductive, at least in her mind.
"How did it go?" Harm asked.
"Okay," she said vaguely, her back to him as she stared unseeingly into the night.
Harm rubbed his eyes tiredly, growing quickly frustrated with her reticence. He inhaled deeply, willing himself to be calm and patient. She'd come here for his help, of that there was no doubt, but she'd begin when she was ready, not before. Pushing her now would likely drive her out the door. So what now?
The whistling tea kettle gave him an excuse to postpone coming up with a plan to get her talking. While he fixed them both a cup of tea, she continued to stare out the window.
"Come sit," he requested.
She jumped a little at the sound of his voice. He'd come up behind her noiselessly, and she hadn't been aware he was there until he spoke. She smiled sheepishly and sat at the kitchen table. He joined her and waited while she blew delicately into the steaming cup, then took a small sip. She looked up at him, and their eyes locked. She seemed about to speak, then changed her mind and averted her eyes.
Several seconds later, still looking away, she said, "Do you know what they were most interested in?"
"Who?" he asked, with no clue about whom she was speaking.
"The people at the meeting. Once they learned who I was and what I'd done, all they wanted to talk about was what it was like to be locked up. Not one of them had ever experienced anything even remotely like it. So they didn't want to hear my ideas on how to make life a little better for the inmates, a little more humane. I tried, but they just weren't interested. They wanted to know if I was frightened being locked up with dangerous criminals and what those awful women were like. One woman called them 'poor dears'. Have you ever heard anything more patronizing?!" For someone who didn't want to talk, the words were sure coming out in a torrent now.
"So you're upset because they didn't listen to your ideas? You were new to them, Mac, and I'm sure your experiences were fascinating to them. Next time, the newness will have worn off, and they'll be ready to listen. You'll make them listen."
"I felt like a circus freak!" She took another sip of her tea. "I don't know about a next time, Harm. I've always hated committees. Committees were invented by people who like to identify problems, but don't want to actually solve them. It's just people sitting around, talking about unrelated issues, wasting time. But no one wants to actually do anything! No one wants to get off their butts and roll up their sleeves and get to work to fix the problem instead of talking it to death."
"Kind of like what you're doing now?" he asked, sensing that now was the time to begin.
"What do you mean?" she asked warily.
"You know what I mean. You're talking about how you were upset by the committee's reaction to you so that you won't have to deal with your reaction to being back in that place," he charged.
She stared at him over the rim of her cup, then sipped her tea to give herself time to think. "You're right, Harm," she said with a slightly dramatic sigh. "I'm avoiding. I've got to stop doing that. Thanks for the tea," she said, setting her cup down. "But it's really late, and I shouldn't be keeping you up like this. You need your beauty sleep. We can talk another time."
"Oh no!" he said. "That's not gonna work this time!"
"What?" she asked innocently.
"Telling me I'm right just to get me off your back. Now's the time to stop running. You didn't come here to bitch about the inefficiency of committees in general. Let's cut to the chase."
Mac jumped up so quickly that her chair fell over backward with a crash. She looked around her as though deciding which way to bolt. Surprised, Harm jumped up too, prepared to restrain her physically if need be. She was going to deal with this here and now. Even if he had to tackle her and hold her down and force it out of her.
"Mac . . ." he began, his voice calm and steady.
"What do you want from me?!" she cried.
"I want you to stop tormenting yourself. I want you to tell me where it hurts so I can try to fix it."
"You can't fix this!" she said firmly. And then the tears started.
"Tell me!" he begged. "Let me help!"
"How can you help, Harm?! How could you possibly understand?! I shouldn't have come here!" She spun toward the door, but before she could take a step, he was next to her, enveloping her in his arms, pulling her tightly to his chest, holding her head to his heart. Mac struggled briefly, but Harm only tightened his hold. She let herself go then, sobbing into his chest while he smoothed her hair and said nothing, letting her cry out some of the emotion she was feeling.
When she'd calmed some and he felt he could let her go without fear of her flying away, he led her to the couch and sat both of them down. He looked at her tear-stained face, and with his own heart breaking with the pain she was feeling, he said, "Talk to me."
She didn't speak for a while, trying to gather her emotions into a place where she could keep a tight reign on them.
"I stood outside the gate today, waiting for someone to let me in. Suddenly, it felt as though an ice cold hand had grabbed my gut and was squeezing it as tightly as it could," she squeezed her fist as though in demonstration. "I couldn't breathe. I wanted to run, but I couldn't." Talking about it now, that cold knot of despair was returning to the pit of her stomach, and she stopped for a moment to take a deep breath and blow it out, much like a woman in the early stages of labor does to ease the pang of a contraction.
"I couldn't run. I mean, how would that have looked?! The lieutenant was unlocking the gate, and the sergeant who drove me there was standing behind me. A Marine doesn't run like a coward, especially in front of a squid or a grunt. This uniform is the only thing that kept me standing there," she said, looking down at herself, stilling wearing her uniform, still drawing strength from it.
"Why was it so difficult to go back in?" Harm prodded.
She looked up at him. "Because of what . . . because of everything that happened in there!"
"Such as?"
"You know!" she blurted out. "Just everything! The lack of privacy! The awful food! The living conditions! The never being alone, not even for a second, forever!"
"Not the hard work?"
"No. The work was the only redeeming part of it all, at least to me. There's something satisfying about working up a sweat and getting dirty doing a job that's demanding physically. No. That was the least of it."
"So what was the most of it? What was the absolute worst thing?"
"The absolute worst thing?" she repeated. "The absolute worst thing was the loss of control over your life and the feeling of helplessness."
"Helplessness against what?"
"Against everything! Against anyone who wanted to hurt you!"
"Who wanted to hurt you, Mac?" Harm asked.
Mac hung her head. "Geri," she whispered.
"Tell me what they did to you," he requested. "It's not going to get any better until you can admit that it happened."
She looked at him then, her eyes pleading with him not to make her do this, to magically take the pain away. She wanted so badly to just let the hurt and the anger go.
"Trust me," he said softly. "It's going to be all right. I promise."
Mac looked away. Her natural reserve wasn't something that was easily overcome, and it made her cling now to her feelings, even when she wanted so badly never to feel again. She took a deep breath.
"I was in the isolation cell," she began, though she knew that he knew that already. "I was still a little out of it. You were right," she said with a quick glance at him. "It wasn't an act. I was out of control. It was a scary feeling. Like I was somewhere outside myself, looking down, wondering who that animal was. Anyway, they took the restraints off my ankles, but they left them on my wrists. They put me on the bed, and then strapped my wrists to the bed frame."
So far, she hadn't told him anything he hadn't already known.
"Someone would come by and check on me every so often. Sometimes, it was Bourgoin, and when I saw him, I'd just get crazy all over again. I think I would have killed him if I'd been able to get my hands on him," she admitted. The depth of the rage she'd felt then still scared her. She hadn't known she was capable of an anger so deep and so intense that it erased all reason. "They apparently figured I wasn't ready yet to be unrestrained, so they left me like that for a long time."
Harm hadn't known that Bourgoin had still been in the cell block while Mac was restrained. Though the records showed otherwise, and though he'd had his suspicions, this was his first confirmation that Bourgoin had been anywhere near her that night. If he'd known that then, Bourgoin just might not have made it out of there physically unscathed.
"Finally, the door slid open, and I thought, 'They've come to free me at last!' But it wasn't a guard. It was Geri, with Vera and Jo tagging along behind her. Geri was carrying a night stick in her hand, and she kept slapping it in her palm, obviously trying to intimidate me. I didn't know then where she'd gotten it, but I suspect Bourgoin gave it to her. Big bad Marine that I am, I didn't call for help immediately, figuring I could handle whatever she intended to do, although why I thought that I have no idea."
Harm could feel his blood pressure beginning to rise, and he fought with himself to keep his emotions down. She needed him to be cool and collected.
"Before I even realized I was going to need help, Vera stuffed a sock in my mouth. Of course, then I knew that they weren't there to bring me a midnight snack. Geri told me that since I hadn't heeded to her warning to stay away from Bourgoin, she needed to teach me a lesson. She said that since I hadn't had a man in a while, maybe she needed to figure out some way to satisfy me so I wouldn't have to chase after her boyfriend. She smashed the night stick down on the pillow, so close I could feel the breeze on my ear. It seemed pretty obvious at that point that she intended to rape me with the night stick.
"She told Vera and Jo to take my pants off. I struggled, but my hands were tied." She smiled wryly. "Literally. I kicked someone, I think it was Jo. Then Geri pinched my nose closed. I couldn't breathe, and I started to pass out. When I stopped struggling, she had Vera and Jo hold my ankles." Mac had been telling this story almost in a monotone. While she talked, Sarah had gone somewhere deep inside to hide.
Harm thought it was time he brought her back out. "Sarah," he said.
"What?" Mac asked, not even registering surprise at the use of her given name.
"Not you, Mac. I want Sarah. Mac's a Marine. She can handle anything. It's Sarah I'm worried about. It's Sarah I want to talk to."
When Mac put her head down and started to cry again, Harm knew Sarah had come back. Sarah was Mac's vulnerability, and it was Sarah who needed healing now. She couldn't be made whole again if she was constantly in hiding.
Harm laid his arm gently around her shoulders, worried that his touch might be an unwelcome reminder of that awful night. Even in her distraught state, Mac could tell the difference between her friend's comforting embrace and a psychopath's brutal assault. She leaned into his side, grateful for his friendship.
"Did they rape you, Sarah?" he asked. They had to finish this.
"No. Just as they were about to, Bourgoin came into the cell. He sent them away. I realized then that it was all an act, a set-up. They came in to intimidate me, and then he rode in to 'save me' at the last minute. I guess that I was supposed to be so grateful to him that I'd do anything for him. But I couldn't do it, and I told him so. He just left me there."
"Did Bourgoin touch you?"
"He just sort of ran his hand up my leg. Nothing else."
"Have you told me everything?" Harm asked.
Mac nodded. She'd held nothing back.
"Look at me, Sarah," he said.
She looked up at him, her large brown eyes liquid pools.
"None of that stuff was your fault," he said firmly. "There's nothing that you could have done to prevent it. Do you understand that?"
"Up here, I do," she said, touching her forehead. "But in here," she said, putting her hand over her heart, "I'm not so sure. I'm a Marine. I should have been able to do something! In reality, nothing happened to me, so I don't know why I should feel the way I do."
"Don't belittle what you went through, Mac. You felt completely helpless, and that's a terrifying feeling. And you may beat yourself up, thinking that you should have been able to control what was happening to you, to your own body, but the simple truth is that you can't control some things. I couldn't control my night blindness, and you couldn't control this."
His message was filtering through, mostly because she already knew, in the intellectual part of her being, that he was right. The emotional part of her would need some more time to completely heal, but she'd made a start. She looked up at him, her eyes still shining with tears. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," he said. He reached up with his free hand to gently wipe the tears from her cheeks. His touch sent shivers through her body, and she placed her hand over his own, leaning into the palm of his hand.
Their eyes met and locked, and they sat that way for many seconds, neither speaking, their hands touching and still resting on her cheek.
"Have you ever wanted something really badly, even though you suspected it would hurt you in the end?" Mac asked, her eyes never leaving his.
After many moments, Harm cleared his throat. "Yeah. When I was eight, I wanted a skateboard. Bugged my mother for weeks to buy me one. She finally did. The second time I used it, I fell off and broke my arm."
Again many seconds passed before she spoke. "You're my skateboard," she confessed.
"And I don't want to break your arm," he said sincerely.
It seemed as though they'd come to some sort of understanding with each other, though both would have been at a loss to put this understanding into words. Whatever it was, it felt comfortable.
Harm reluctantly extracted his hand. "So what happens now?" he asked, finally breaking eye contact.
"Now? Like right this minute?" she joked, further breaking the tension they'd created around themselves.
"No. I meant a little further down the road."
"Well, I guess I start doing my job properly again. And I keep going to meetings, and I keep trying to make a difference."
"You've already made a difference," he assured her, his words heavy with meaning.
"Oh! That reminds me!" She placed a hand on his chest and used it to push herself away from him. "I have a surprise for you."
"What is it?"
"Well, if I told you, it wouldn't be a surprise, now would it?" she teased. "You'll just have to wait. You busy at seventeen hundred?"
He thought about it for a minute, then shook his head. "Nope."
"Good. Be in my office a few minutes before that." She put her head back on his shoulder.
"Not even a little hint?"
"Not even a little hint." She closed her eyes, tiring quickly after the day's and night's events. "I should go now," she said, trying to stifle a yawn.
"You may as well just stay at this point," he suggested. "You can get a couple hours' sleep, then go home and shower and change."
"I could do that," she agreed. "But I really just don't want to move."
"Then stay, and you won't have to," he invited.
"We'll, you'd probably like to go back to your own bed," she guessed.
"I'm fine right here," he assured her. "You get comfortable."
Mac swung her legs up onto the couch and settled herself with her head in his lap. "Thanks, Harm. You're a good friend," she sighed.
He smoothed the hair back from her forehead. "Yeah. Friend," he repeated.
It wasn't long before they were both asleep.
Later that day . . .
Mac had looked forward to 1700 anxiously all day. Harm had conveniently provided her with many opportunities to share her surprise with him, but she'd passed on every one. Finally, at 1649, Harm reported to her office. "So what's the big surprise?"
"It's not quite time yet," she told him.
"It's close enough," he said.
"Impatient, aren't we?" she teased.
"No. What's the surprise?"
"Come with me," she suggested. She stood up and left her office, and he followed her to the conference room. Harm looked around expectantly, but the room empty.
"I told you it was early. Just wait. Shouldn't be but another minute."
They waited without speaking. Finally, the door opened, and a woman Harm didn't recognize was escorted into the room by a petty officer from security. The petty officer came to attention in front of Mac. "Major Mackenzie, this is Lisa Velazquez. I brought her here as you requested."
"Thank you, petty officer. You're dismissed," Mac told him.
"Aye aye, ma'am. I'll be right outside." The petty officer pivoted and left the room.
Mac extended her hand to Lisa and smiled welcomingly. "Lisa, I'm Major Sarah Mackenzie. It's very nice to meet you." They shook hands, and Mac turned to Harm. "This is my partner, Harmon Rabb. Harm, this is Lisa Velazquez." As they shook hands, Mac asked, "Where are the children?"
"Agent Holland took them to the bathroom. Is she here yet?" Lisa asked.
"Not yet. Should be any minute."
The door opened again, and Agent Mary Holland led three small children into the room. They were all dark-skinned with large brown eyes and black hair. They moved to Lisa's side and rather shyly clung to her legs.
"You're Jimmy, right?" Mac asked the young boy.
He nodded, and Mac extended her hand to him. Lisa nudged him, and the boy put his small hand into Mac's and they shook solemnly. "My name is Sarah. This is Harm," she said, nodding in Harm's direction.
"And this must be Claire. You're even prettier than your picture, Claire." The child Mac was addressing slid further behind Lisa's leg, peering shyly out from her hiding place.
Mac knelt in front of the youngest child. "And you must be Rosalita."
"I got a boo boo," the child said, lifting her leg to show Mac the scab on her knee.
"Ooo! That's a bad one!" Mac said sympathetically.
"I fell down," Rosalita explained.
"How would you like your mommy to kiss it and make it all better?" Mac asked.
"Mommy's gone away," Rosalita said sadly.
"Wanna know a secret?" Mac whispered. "Mommy's coming home."
Everyone turned as the door opened once again, and Rita Jiminez was escorted into the room by another NCIS agent. Rita was dressed in jeans and a light blue sweater, and she was smiling radiantly. When her children saw her, they shouted, "Mommy!" and ran to her. Rita dropped to her knees and embraced the three of them, tears streaming from her closed eyes.
Mac felt tears stinging behind her own eyes, and she beamed as she watched this little family being put back together. Feeling pretty emotional himself, Harm turned away toward the window.
"How'd you do that so quickly?" he asked quietly.
Mac wiped a stray tear from her cheek. "Everything just kind of came together. I couldn't have planned it any better than this."
Rita disentangled herself from her children and came to Mac, intending to thank her for everything. Unable to summon the right words, she threw herself into Mac's arms, sobbing incoherently. Mac held her tightly, not even trying to understand Rita's unintelligible expression of gratitude. Seeing Rita reunited with her children was all the thanks she needed.
"Ms. Jiminez," the unfamiliar NCIS agent interrupted. "We need to get you to the airport. I'm sorry, but it's time to go."
Rita pulled away from Mac and wiped at her eyes. "Thank you," she whispered.
"You take care of those kids, Rita. And call me if you need anything."
Mac waved good-bye as the little family, now whole again, was escorted from the room.
"Where are they going?" Harm asked after the door had closed.
Mac wiped a final tear from her eye. "NCIS is moving them somewhere safe. The information Rita has given them should hang her boyfriend. Knowing that, he's begun to sing loudly about those higher up the food chain. NCIS has rounded up several people they suspect have been importing, manufacturing and selling all sorts of drugs. They think they've got a good chance of busting up a very productive pipeline. Until they're sure it's safe, they'll keep Rita and the kids and her sister somewhere where they can keep an eye on them."
"You've been busy," Harm noted. "What else haven't you been telling me?"
"Colonel Franklin called me today. He thanked me for thinning out his female population. Geri's gone, and I left. Vera and Jo have been moved in exchange for the information they had. Now Rita's been released. He called me a one-Marine liberation force."
"And what about Bourgoin?"
Mac sighed. "Unfortunately, it looks like there's just not enough evidence to connect him to the deaths. We may never know what really happened. His DOD charges will be handled through TSO Lemoore. I don't think there's any doubt he'll be convicted."
"Your testimony alone will ensure that," Harm predicted.
"Yeah," she said, obviously not looking forward to the prospect of testifying.
"Are you okay now?" he asked softly.
"That helped," she said, referring to Rita's reunion with her children. "Yeah," she said, sounding as though she meant it. "I think I'm gonna be okay."
"What about Sarah?" he asked.
Mac smiled shyly at him. "She okay, too. Thanks to you."
"I didn't do anything," he said modestly. "You're the one. You've broken up a drug ring, removed from the picture someone who was a threat to every female prisoner at Leavenworth, and taken someone who didn't belong in there and reunited her with her family. If you tell anyone I said this, I'll have to deny it, but I think you're pretty amazing."
"Was that a compliment?" she asked, amazed.
"Couldn't have been," he said with a grin. "That wouldn't be like me at all."
Mac smiled at him, grateful for his friendship. "Hey, how about I buy you dinner?" she asked as they moved to the door. "I still owe you for that feast you laid on me."
"I could go for that," Harm agreed. "As long as I get to pick the place."
Mac paused to open the door and think about that. "All right," she said. "As long as there's meat on the menu, I'll be happy." She exited the conference room, followed closely by Harm.
"Deal," he said, and the door closed on their cheerful teasing about each other's diet
Sorry guys! I couldn't get them together this time. It just wasn't in the cards.