HUGS AND KISSES
Summary: Mac is injured, and Harm must figure out whodunit.
Disclaimer: Most of the characters and the entire premise do not belong to me. (Petty Officer Trumbull, Commander Manetti, the never-seen and not-long-for-this-story Petty Officer Hutch, and Chief Daley are mine.) No profit is being realized from this exercise. Note: This story was written many months ago, before the arrival of the current character named Manetti.
Feedback of any kind is welcome at email@example.com.
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Harm inhaled deeply. The Patrick Henry smelled just as he remembered. He loved being here, even after all the time that had passed. His biggest regret in his professional life was that he hadn't been able to remain an aviator for his entire career. He looked across the table at Mac, who had an amused smile on her face as she watched him. All in all, he thought to himself, if he couldn't fly, working with Mac wasn't a bad second. "What?" he asked.
"You," she said. "You become a different person when you're on board ship."
"I do not!" he protested, although he knew her accusation was true. He felt like a different person here. He felt like – himself, like this was where he was meant to be.
Mac smiled that smile that said, "I know you better than you think."
"Can we talk about the case, please?" he asked. "What have we got so far?"
Her eyes still twinkling in amusement, Mac turned her attention to the file in front of her. "Petty Officer Miles Trumbull, accused of assaulting Petty Officer Paul Hutch. Trumbull maintains his innocence. Petty Officer Hutch was transferred to a hospital in Akita without regaining consciousness. The only evidence connecting Trumbull to the crime is the statement of Commander Lyle Manetti, the ship's executive officer, that he saw Trumbull running away moments before he discovered Petty Officer Hutch unconscious on the deck. Trumbull claims to have been in his quarters at the time of the assault, but has no witness to back that up. I don't know, Harm. It's pretty flimsy. We have only Manetti claiming to see Trumbull near the scene of the crime. Nothing else ties Trumbull to the assault in any way."
"You don't believe Manetti?" Harm questioned.
"I didn't say that," Mac countered. "It's just . . ." She stopped because she wasn't sure what "it" was.
"Why would he lie?" Harm pressed.
"I didn't say he did!"
"But you don't believe him," Harm continued. "Why?"
"I'm not sure," she admitted. "It just doesn't feel right. Where's the motive for the assault? Trumbull said he barely knew Hutch. Why would he hit him with a lead pipe?"
"Well, if he's guilty, he's not likely to just tell us his motive, now is he?" Harm pointed out.
"But no one we've talked to has been able to give us any reason why Trumbull would want to hurt Hutch. For all we know, Manetti attacked Hutch himself and is pointing the finger at Trumbull to keep himself from being suspected! He found Hutch. How do we know he hadn't just assaulted him?!"
"Excuse me, Commander, Colonel," a voice said, making Mac jump slightly in surprise.
She looked up to see Commander Manetti standing over her. She immediately wondered how much he'd heard. She smiled at him with what she hoped was reassurance. She really didn't believe Manetti had done anything, but she wasn't sure Trumbull had either.
"I thought you'd like to know," Manetti said with a cool look at Mac. "We just got word that Petty Officer Hutch died of his injuries."
Harm and Mac exchanged a look loaded with meaning. Their assault investigation had just become a murder investigation.
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"Sir, ma'am, you have to believe me!" Petty Officer Trumbull said, pleading with them. "I didn't do it! I hardly even knew the guy! Why would I want to kill him?!"
"Maybe you didn't intend to kill him," Harm suggested. "Maybe he fought back and things got out of control."
"Sir, I was no where near him that night! I swear to you! You gotta believe me!"
"Petty Officer," Mac said, a note of warning in her voice that was not intended for the accused. "I would advise you to make no further statements until your attorney arrives. We came here merely to inform you of the charges against you."
"I don't need a lawyer, ma'am," the young man insisted, somewhat desperately. "I haven't done anything!"
"That may be," Mac agreed quietly. "But you will be court-martialed, and anything you say now can be used against you, so I'd advise you to keep your mouth shut. Your attorney will be arriving tomorrow." Bud had already been dispatched and was on his way to defend the accused.
"Yes, ma'am," the Petty Officer agreed miserably. "But I didn't do anything!"
"We're done here," Mac said, standing up. The Petty Officer stood up as Harm followed Mac out the door.
"You sure you don't want to defend him, Mac?" Harm teased.
"Harm, you know we shouldn't be talking to him without counsel present," Mac said, moving quickly down the hall.
"We informed him of his rights, Mac. He wanted to talk," Harm protested, following her.
"You're violating the spirit of the rules!" she snapped.
"What is your problem?!" Harm demanded.
Mac stopped and whirled to face him. Unable to stop, Harm ran into her, catching her when he forced her off balance. Unperturbed, Mac said, "My problem is this case! Have you ever seen a flimsier set of circumstantial evidence?! That kid has been charged with murder on the say of one man!"
"That's the Captain's decision, Mac," Harm said reasonably. "Not ours. Our job is to prosecute him."
"Yeah, well, the Captain's decision sucks! And I'll tell you another thing! I don't think Trumbull did it!"
"That's what Bud's coming for," Harm said, still trying to reason with her. "It's his job to try to prove that."
"I thought that was our job as investigators!" she spit back.
Harm sighed in resignation. "What do you want to do?"
"I want to stop concentrating on Trumbull and start focusing on the victim. Who was he? Who were his friends, his enemies? Who might have had a reason to hit him with a lead pipe?"
"Is there a problem here?" they heard a voice say.
Harm turned around, and when he did, Mac spotted Commander Manetti behind him. Again, she wondered just how long he'd been there and what he'd heard. "No problem," Harm assured him. "Just a little disagreement."
"Little?" Manetti repeated. "I could hear the Colonel all the way from my quarters."
Mac blushed slightly and turned away.
"She gets a little heated sometimes," Harm joked.
Mac pinned him with a look that would have frightened a lesser man.
"Well, maybe you should take it inside," Commander Manetti suggested. "You wouldn't want the wrong people to overhear you. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to get to the bridge."
After he left, Harm smiled pleasantly at Mac. Exasperated, she turned with a huff and left him standing there, a bemused smile on his face.
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Mac stood on the weather deck, enjoying the warm night. She tried counting the stars, but gave up at thirty-seven, sure that she had counted some of them twice or maybe even three times. What difference does it make? she asked herself. Just say there were a million and call it good. With no flight ops tonight, the carrier deck was silent and nearly empty.
She heard a noise behind her, but she didn't turn around, assuming at first that it was Harm. Something wasn't quite right, though, and she turned around. Commander Manetti stood in the hatch, his hands behind his back.
"Commander!" Mac said. "You seem to turn up in rather surprising places."
"Do I?" he mused.
"Were you looking for me, or did you just need a quiet spot?" she asked. Something about the way he was looking at her was making her nervous.
"Both," he said.
"What can I do for you?"
"Well, you could have left well enough alone, but I guess it's too late for that." He stepped closer to her.
Mac tried to back up, but the railing of the weather deck stopped her. "What do you mean?" she asked, though she had an awful feeling that she already knew what he meant.
"You know exactly what I mean," he said menacingly. "The problem now is what do we do about it?"
"Well, you're gonna step aside and let me in, for starters," Mac said, trying to put a confidence into her voice that she did not feel.
"That's the one thing I can't do," Manetti said softly. He brought his hands from behind his back, and she could see that held a ball peen hammer in his right hand.
"This isn't going to help, you know," Mac said, tensing herself for the confrontation that seemed certain to come. She cast her eyes around the small deck, finding nothing she could use as a weapon. Jumping the railing didn't seem like a good alternative. She was at least twenty feet over the landing deck, more than high enough to break her neck. Her only hope was to draw attention to herself and try to get past Manetti and safely inside.
Expecting Manetti to lead with his right and the hammer, she was caught unaware when he threw a punch with his left hand. Still, she managed to deflect the blow, receiving only a glancing blow to the chin.
"Help me!" she yelled, adopting a defensive posture. "Somebody help me!"
Manetti had to shut her up and quickly. He moved toward her, but she drove him back with a quick punch to the stomach. He banged up against the closed hatch, knowing that he probably only had seconds before her cry summoned help. His lunge at her drove them both against the deck railing. Mac thought for a moment that they might both go over the edge, but his weight pulled them back to the relative safety of the weather deck. Up close like this, with no room to maneuver and his greater strength, Manetti held the advantage. Still, Mac managed to land a couple of blows to Manetti's ribs before he dazed her with an uppercut to the nose. He drove an elbow into her rib cage, keeping one arm securely around her neck, partially obstructing her air supply. Mac thought she actually heard her ribs cracking.
"Help me!" Mac cried one last time, then stomped on Manetti's foot with all her might. Manetti pushed her away enough to land another punch to her jaw. Mac's head snapped back and slammed into the wall. She slowly dropped to the deck, her body unwilling to obey the commands she was giving it to get up and fight back. Through half–closed eyes, she saw Manetti raise the hammer, and she waited expectantly for the final blow.
Harm raced to sick bay, summoned by the news that Mac had been taken there after being found badly beaten. He pushed through the door, then stopped when he saw the corpsman attending to Mac. Captain Ingles and Commander Manetti stood off to the side, both looking concerned. Without taking his eyes from Mac's still form, Harm asked, "What happened?"
"We're not entirely sure," the Captain answered. "CPO Henderson heard a woman calling for help. When he went to investigate, he found Colonel Mackenzie on the weather deck. She was pretty badly beaten."
"Is she all right, sir?" Harm took a step closer to Mac.
"Chief?" the Captain asked the corpsman.
The Chief, whose name tag read "Daley", turned to face them. "She has a mild concussion, sir, and I think she's got a couple of broken ribs."
Harm couldn't stay away any longer. He stepped to the edge of the examining table and looked down at Mac. His breath caught in his throat at the sight of her battered face. The blood which had come from her nose hadn't been washed off yet, and he could see darkness already forming around her left eye. She looked so very still. Harm wanted to reach out and touch her, but he comforted himself with the fact that her chest was moving up and down in slow, rhythmic breathing.
"Has she said who did this to her?" he asked.
"She was conscious briefly when CPO Henderson found her. She's been fading in and out since she was brought in here," Daley said.
Harm picked up Mac's lifeless hand and squeezed it. "Mac," he said. "Can you hear me?"
Somewhere in the fog in which Mac found herself, she could hear someone calling her name. She tried to move toward the source of the sound, but she felt as though she was walking in thigh-deep oatmeal. Struggle as she might, she seemed mired in one spot. She knew it was extremely important that she got to the voice, although she didn't know why.
"Mac! Wake up!" The voice was louder and clearer now. She must be getting closer. With a mighty effort, she pulled herself closer to the comfortingly familiar voice. She knew that all would be well if she could just make it to that voice. She didn't know how she knew this, but she did. If she had stopped to be honest with herself, she would have had to confess that she didn't even know who the voice belonged to. But none of that mattered. All that mattered was reaching the voice. She'd figure out who it belonged to later.
Mac was beginning to stir on the table, and Harm continued to speak to her. "Mac! Can you hear me? I need you to wake up now."
She was almost there. The voice was very clear now, and she couldn't figure out why she couldn't see him. There was something, one last obstacle she needed to overcome, but she couldn't figure out what it was.
"Mac. Can you open your eyes?" the voice asked.
So *that* was it! Her eyes were closed! Well, that should be easy enough to fix, she thought. It took a great amount of effort, but finally her eyes fluttered open. Unable to comprehend her surroundings, she merely blinked at the four men who stood above her.
"Mac!" said the one holding her hand. He's the voice! she thought excitedly. She turned her eyes to him and blinked again. "Are you all right?" he asked.
No, she thought. I'd say I'm far from all right. But if you give me a few minutes, maybe this will all start to make sense. The one holding her hand seemed to understand that, although she was sure she hadn't spoken it aloud.
"It's all right, Mac," he said, squeezing her hand tightly. "You're all right now. You're safe. Can you tell us what happened?"
Mac's eyes traveled to the others in the room. The man standing beside her left shoulder was apparently named Daley. He didn't look at all familiar, though he did smile encouragingly. Two other vaguely familiar men stood off to her left, a couple of feet from her bed. One was of average height and had a mustache. When she looked at him, he said, "Welcome back, Colonel." She guessed she should respond in some fashion, but she couldn't remember how. The third man Mac found rather disturbing for some reason. Finally her eyes returned to the one who held her hand, the one whose voice had led her out of the fog. She sensed this was the one who could help her, and she wished she could remember his name. It was right on the tip of her tongue, but when she tried to stick her tongue out to see it, she found her mouth was too dry to do anything but open and close.
"The One" (as she'd decided to call him until she could remember his name) was looking at her in a very concerned way. He looked up at Daley. "Are you sure she's okay?"
Daley must be a doctor, she decided. The other men turned to him for his response. "She should be fine," Daley said. "She may be a little confused. She's got quite a bump on her head. With a little rest, she should be good as new."
Mustache seemed to take that as a cue. "Then perhaps we should clear out and let the Colonel rest.
"Captain," The One said. "I think posting a guard outside would be in order."
*Captain* Mustache nodded. "I'll see to it, Commander."
So The One was a commander. Was that a good thing? Her eyes flitted to Oddfellow, as she'd dubbed him, when he spoke.
"Shouldn't we find out if she knows who attacked her?" he asked.
The One squeezed her hand again. She was glad he was here, and she hoped he continued to hold her hand. "Do you know who did this to you?" he asked, his beautiful eyes searching hers.
She looked up at him and blinked several times. She opened her mouth to speak, but no words would venture across her dry tongue. She closed her mouth and mustered what spit she could. With all four men leaning closer to hear her, Mac opened her mouth and said, "Hugs and kisses." Yup. That was it. She nodded once and said it again. "Hugs and kisses." Then, because it was way too much work to keep them open, she let her eyelids droop and fell back into the darkness, conscious still of The One holding her hand.
Harm looked up at Captain Ingles, wondering if the Captain had read anything into Mac's unusual remark.
"Any idea what she meant by that, Commander?" the Captain asked with a knowing smirk.
"None, sir," Harm confessed. He felt as though he was blushing, and he wasn't sure why. "Are you sure she's okay?" he asked Daley again.
"I'm pretty sure, sir," Daley said. "If the confusion persists, we can take her ashore for an MRI."
"I'll have that guard posted," Captain Ingles said, moving toward the door. "Commander, we've got a ship to run," he said to Manetti. "You coming, Rabb?"
"No, sir. I'll stay here for a while," Harm said.
What a surprise. "Let me know if her condition changes," the Captain said.
"Aye aye, sir."
The two men left, and Daley busied himself with his work. He cleaned Mac up and, with Harm's help, moved her to a bed. Daley left the room at some point, finally leaving Harm alone with Mac. "What was that supposed to mean, Marine?" he asked her sleeping form. He knew she was trying to tell him something, but he couldn't for the life of him figure out what it was. He sat back in his chair and sighed. He knew one thing. He wasn't leaving Mac while whoever had done this to her was on the loose.
"Well," he said. "Looks like you were right about Trumbull." No response. "Did you year that, Mac? I said you were right. Boy, you must really be out of it if you didn't even blink at that."
Daley returned, smiled at Harm, and went to his supply cabinet. Someone knocked on the door and then opened it. A young ensign entered the room. "Excuse me, Commander Rabb. Captain Ingles asked that you report to the comm room. Your office is calling you."
Harm didn't want to leave Mac, but he needed someone to start digging up some information on other crew members in the hopes of finding some lead as to who could have done this to her. He had to start somewhere. "Where's the guard?"
"Here, sir," a petty officer said, stepping into the room.
"I want you inside the room until I get back. No one goes near her. Understand?"
Harm followed the ensign out of the room. With Daley and the petty officer there, Mac should be safe enough.
"This is Commander Rabb," Harm said into the phone.
"Commander!" It was Harriet. "How's the Colonel?"
"Uh, well, it's hard to say. She's pretty beat up. She woke up briefly and seemed pretty confused."
"Has she told you who did this to her, sir?"
"No," he said, although he had a nagging feeling that she *had* told him who did it.
"Did she say anything at all?"
"One thing. Hugs and kisses."
"Hugs and kisses?" Harriet repeated, bewildered. "You mean like in a birthday card?"
Click. All at once, everything fell into place. Hugs and kisses. XOXO. The XO. Commander Manetti had assaulted Mac and had probably killed Petty Officer Hutch as well. Harm dropped the phone and raced from the room.
Harm opened the door to the corpsman's room quietly. Commander Manetti stood over Mac, holding a pillow over her face. Harm roared and lunged for Manetti. Manetti whirled at the sound in time for Harm's fist to connect with his chin. Thrown off balance, Manetti hit the floor. Harm flipped him over and punched him again, knocking Manetti unconscious.
Harm sprung to Mac's side and pulled the pillow from her face. He put his ear to her chest and collapsed onto her with relief when he felt and heard her breathing.
"Harm?" he heard her say weakly.
He picked up his head. "Mac! Are you okay?"
"Yeah. I just had this weird dream that I was eating really huge marshmallows. What are you doing on top of me?"
"Oh, sorry," he said, and he stood up. "Are you sure you're all right?"
"Yes. Harm, it was Manetti! He's the one who . . ." She stopped when Harm stepped aside so she could see Manetti's prone form on the floor.
"How did you know?" she asked.
"You told me," he said. "Although if you'd told me in plain English, you wouldn't have had to eat huge marshmallows."
"What are you talking about?" Mac was thoroughly confused now.
"Never mind, Marine," Harm said, stroking her hair. "Welcome back."
Some notes of explanation:
First, Manetti didn't hit Mac with the hammer. Had he done that, she would likely have sustained a much more serious injury. Manetti heard someone approaching the weather deck and decided to leave while he still had the chance.
Second, you may be wondering how Manetti got into the corpsman's room alone with Mac. He went there intending at some point to finish the job he'd started on the weather deck. He was surprised to find Harm absent and knew that this was the best chance he'd likely ever have. Daley left the room, and Manetti gave the guard a five-minute break to use the head. Having no reason not to trust Manetti, the petty officer was glad for the break and basically disregarded what Harm had told him. With Daley gone and the petty officer otherwise involved, Manetti had his opportunity. Fortunately for Mac, this all came together only moments before Harm appeared on the scene trumpeting the Underdog theme song.
Third, subsequent investigation revealed that Manetti had been running a black market operation on board ship, selling everything from alcohol and cigarettes to condoms. Petty Officer Hutch had stumbled across this little business of sorts and had threatened to turn Manetti in if he didn't cut Hutch in on a piece of the action. Manetti thought killing Hutch a better option. Petty Officer Trumbull was randomly chosen by Manetti to take the fall. Instead of representing Petty Officer Trumbull, Bud turned his legal expertise to defending Manetti. Harm prosecuted, and Manetti was convicted of murder and his assault on Mac, along with other, lesser, charges.
Finally, Mac never regained any memory of events from the time she passed out on the weather deck until the time she woke up with Harm on her chest, although she did come away from that experience with the unexplainable belief that Harm was "The One". The one for what was open to interpretation.