The first seven parts of this have been posted at my website, but I'm just now getting around to posting it here (mostly because I needed to edit one part so that it is not adults-only). The first two parts of this actually take place during the same timeframe as the end of Chapter III of DOALS during the week before Mac returns to work, laying the groundwork so to speak, and then part 3 will pick up immediately where Chapter III ended.
And I apologize in advance...this part (and part 7, once I post it) are Mic-centric. I've got places to go with him before he makes his exit. Not the kind of places he went in Stormy Weather/Searching For Sunny Skies, but he's not going to make things easy for Harm and Mac either.
1 JUNE 2001
OFFICE OF BRUMBY & BRUMBY
Mic looked up from the ledger book open on his desk with a heavy sigh. He hadn't planned on coming in here, not yet. Since he'd returned from Norfolk, he'd tried to avoid thinking about what he was going to do now, and a part of that meant steering clear of any thought of Brumby & Brumby. Unfortunately, despite his hopes, it was only going to be 'Brumby' now. There would be no '& Brumby'.
Monday night, after he'd arrived back in Washington, he'd drunk himself into a stupor so he didn't have to feel the hole in his chest where his heart had been ripped out. Tuesday had been payback – he hadn't experienced a hangover like that since he'd graduated from university, at which time he'd sworn he was never going to do it again. So much for the best laid plans, he'd thought.
He'd gone out to a bar Wednesday night. Not to drink – well, not to drink too much like the night before – but to see if he could find some companionship. After all, if it had been so easy for Mac to move from his bed to Harm's, why couldn't he do the same? He liked the ladies; he always had. Even engagement hadn't diminished his appreciation for looking at other women as he told himself that none could hold a candle to the one he was going to share his life with. But it wasn't as easy as he'd thought it would be. There'd been a leggy blonde, Cindy – or maybe it was Cissy – whom he'd offered to buy a drink for. But as he'd smelled her perfume, he couldn't help noting that it was a more floral scent than Mac would wear.
Frustrated that he couldn't put Mac out of his mind, he'd thought he could force her out. So he'd invited whatever-her-name-was to leave with him. As soon as they'd gotten to his car, he'd pulled her against him, letting his hands roam as his mouth plundered hers, but he was just going through the motions. All that went through his head was how she didn't taste like Mac, how her body didn't feel the same beneath his fingertips. He'd been the one betrayed, yet he'd felt like he was the traitor. The woman had been pissed off, but the voice in the back of his mind told him that there was no need to stoop to Mac's level by hopping so quickly into another's bed. He'd swatted the voice away, unable to let himself think of Mac that way, even after everything.
A trip to his favorite gym was on tap for Thursday so that he could take out his frustrations on a punching bag. The best thing he could say about that was that he'd managed to wear himself out so that he actually slept that night without being tormented by dreams of what he'd lost.
Now it was Friday, the first of the month, and it seemed like a good day to try to start his life over. First on the agenda was finding a new place to live, since he'd given up the lease on his apartment - which had been getting harder to afford anyway - in order to move in with Mac. However, in order to find a place within his price range, he needed to sit down and go over his finances to figure out what he could afford. Part of that was figuring out if he could afford to keep his law practice open, which meant a trip into the office to go over the financial records for Brumby & Brumby.
Unfortunately, the finances of the firm didn't give him much cause for hope. He'd been doing pretty steady business, but when most of your clients were in the military, there wasn't a lot of money to be made. The military just didn't pay that much, so he'd tried to keep his rates reasonable so that more could afford his services, plus he was fighting against the reality that the military offered its members free legal service. There weren't that many people willing to pay money for a civilian attorney when they could get a military lawyer for free.
He thought for a brief moment about going back to Larry Kaliski, hat in hand, asking for his old job back. He considered it – and then just as quickly dismissed the idea. His old boss was unlikely to be bowled over by his charm, and Mic wasn't a person who would stoop to groveling. Unfortunately, being on the outs with Kaliski meant being on the outs with the D.C. establishment.
There was still the Royal Australian Navy. He was a reserve officer, and it should be relatively simple to return to active duty. He just wasn't sure how welcome he would be given that he'd already talked about returning once, but had ended up not doing so once Mac had agreed to marry him. Would Captain Howell want to take back someone who just a few months earlier seemed unable to make up his mind? First he was staying in the US, then he was going back to the RAN, but then he wasn't, all in the space of less than a week.
Glancing at his watch, he quickly calculated the time difference. It was nearly 1700 in Washington, so it was just about 0700 on Saturday morning in Sydney. There wouldn't be many people in the legal office today, but maybe whoever was pulling weekend duty would be an old mate and would be able to give him an idea of the lay of the land.
Hoping that the expensive call was going to be worth it, he picked up the phone and dialed the number from memory. After two rings, a familiar voice answered, "Defence Legal Office, HMAS Kuttabul, Petty Officer Stone speaking. How may I direct your call?"
"What did a sweet lass like you do to get stuck with weekend duty?" Mic teased. Alysia Stone had been a fixture at HMAS Kuttabul for as long as he could remember. A Sydney native, she had taken the first opportunity to be assigned to her home town. As a bright, bubbly blonde, she reminded him a lot of an enlisted Harriet Sims – or rather, Harriet had reminded him of a commissioned Alysia Stone. She was one of those people who seemed to brighten the room just by saying 'G'day' and most of the office thought of her as a little sister.
"Commander Brumby," Alysia exclaimed. "It's good to hear your voice, Sir. And I volunteered for duty – there's a cute new Petty Officer up in Admin. He got stuck with weekend duty since he's new here, so I told him I'd work and keep him company."
Mic laughed. Alysia was one of the biggest flirts he knew, although she always adhered strictly to the imaginary line between enlisted and officers. "You've got a big heart, lass," he joked.
"I know," she replied. "So what can I do for you, Commander?"
He had to admit that it felt good to be addressed by his rank again. He'd been part of something with the RAN that had been missing from his life in the U.S. Before, he'd thought that what he'd gained had been worth the loss of his former identity. "Just calling to make sure the place was running without me," he replied, forcing a light tone.
"It's running, Sir," she replied, "but it's not quite the same without you."
"Thank you, Petty Officer," he replied. "So what rube got stuck with duty on this beautiful day?"
"Sir, I think all that time living in America has gotten your seasons mixed up," she joked. "We're heading into winter down here and it's raining."
"But Sydney's still got some of the best weather on the planet," he reminded her.
"True, Sir," she said. "And to answer your question – can you hold on a moment, Sir?"
Mic could hear indistinct murmurings in the background, and then another familiar voice came over the line. "Mate, when are you going to talk that lovely lady of yours into letting the two of you come back to Oz?" Lieutenant Commander Peter Lockwood asked.
Mic flinched at the reminder of Mac, but it didn't come through in his voice when he replied, "Oh, I don't know, Pete. I think about coming home all the time. So how'd you get stuck there on the weekend?" He and Pete had arrived at HMAS Kuttabul only a month apart and had quickly become friends. If Pete had been able to swing some leave time – and afford the plane ticket – Mic would have had him standing up…
Mic shook his head, trying to banish the thought before it completely formed, but it was no use. A picture formed in his head of Mac standing at the altar – not in her wedding dress, which he'd never been lucky enough to see – but in the linen suit she'd worn to the rehearsal. She took his hand, but then the vision distorted, and he was standing at the back of the church, watching Rabb take her hand in his.
Lost in the thought of what he'd lost, it took him a moment to drag himself back into the conversation, nearly missing it as Pete said, "I had no intention of being here. Laurie and I had a little getaway planned, but that was before the son of a Senator allegedly got into a fight with his wife, then nine hours later navigated a patrol boat into the dock. His CO wants him hung from a yardarm, but his old man is muddying the waters, so Howell wanted me on it immediately. It doesn't help that the bloke told anyone who would listen how pissed he was at his wife."
"I can do you one better," Mic replied. "Got an officer here who was out on a carrier qualifying on an F-14. The man was in a rush to get back to his woman, so he took off in a storm and the plane ended up in the Atlantic Ocean a little less than one hundred miles off the coast of North Carolina."
"Don't tell me you're defending the bloke?" Pete asked.
"No," Mic said emphatically, wincing at the forcefulness of his voice. Aware that Pete knew him well enough to catch his tone, he made himself add nonchalantly, "I know the people involved from my time here in the exchange program."
"Oh," Pete said. If he suspected that was less than the full truth, Mic couldn't hear it in his voice. "Too bad you're not active, mate. You'd hit this one out of the park on prosecution."
"Your case or the one here?" Mic asked, relishing the thought for a moment. He knew that even if he was still working at JAG, Admiral Chegwidden would know better than to let him anywhere near Rabb's case, but it didn't hurt to dream.
"Either one," Pete replied. "If you were here, you'd probably get to investigate the Senator's son."
"I don't know," Mic said. "Howell probably isn't happy that I ended up not coming back in December."
"I wouldn't be too sure about that," Pete countered. "Besides, I think he understood what is keeping you in the U.S. Speaking of which, have you taken the plunge yet?"
Mic froze at the question. There was no way he could talk his way around such a direct query. "Ah, it didn't work out," he replied quietly.
"I'm sorry, mate," Pete said. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"Not particularly," Mic replied, although he was grateful for the offer. There was no one to talk to here. This entire situation had just vividly illustrated for him the fact that the first loyalty of all the people he'd counted as friends was not to him. Their allegiance belonged to Mac – and to Rabb – above all. Intellectually, he knew he couldn't blame them, but it wasn't that easy to admit that he couldn't really count on anyone here and that it hurt more than he thought it would.
"Well, the offer stands," Pete said. "So what now? You gave up your career and your home…sorry, I know you said you didn't want to talk about it. Have you given any thought to coming back to Oz? You're missed around here. I'm sure if you talk to Howell, he'd let you come back."
"I've considered it," Mic admitted, "but I've got some things to take care of here first." He glanced around the stark office, wondering who he was kidding. I should just close up the place and get on the first plane back home, he thought. Why should I even think about being here just to wait for Rabb to go down for this and for Sarah to come back, ready for me to help her pick up the pieces? The man should never have been in the air that night. If he hadn't, Sarah and I would be married, enjoying our honeymoon down in Oz right now. There's nothing I can do…
"Mic, mate, you still there?" Pete asked.
Mic sighed. Maybe this hadn't been one of his brighter ideas – of course, he had no way of knowing that Pete would inadvertently rip open the wounds he'd been trying to bandage. "I'm here," he finally replied. "Just thinking about how soon I can wrap everything up here."
"You have that much to clear up before you return to your life?" Pete asked.
"Maybe," Mic said noncommittally. He glanced at his watch, mindful of the cost of the international call. "Listen, Pete, I need to head out – have things to take care of."
"Just let me know when you talk to Howell and decide to come back," he said. "We'll go out and have a brew to celebrate the prodigal son returning."
"I'll keep that in mind," Mic replied. "G'day, Pete."
Mic turned to stare out the lone window in the room after he hung up the phone. Was it a slam-dunk case against Rabb? He wasn't so sure. The case was strong, but the man was like Houdini. He had a history of making his way out of the tightest spots, or so he'd heard tell.
He knew that there were going to be questions about why Rabb had even been in the air that night, especially given the fact that the new Mrs. Rabb had been planning to marry another man right up until Rabb crashed. Anyone could connect the dots and deduce that Rabb had been planning to stop the wedding and steal the bride away for himself, which he'd ended up doing after all – just not in the way he'd probably intended.
Grabbing his Rolodex off the corner of the desk, he flipped through the cards. He knew he had to have the number somewhere. Turning to the Ns, he pulled a card out, staring at it for a long moment. Telling himself that they were probably going to want to talk to him sooner or later, he reached for the phone again, hesitating for a moment before he dialed the number. Even if he ended up burning his bridges with Mac, he did have a duty as an officer of the court.
He wished he could know that what he was thinking about doing would make a difference, but he knew it could blow up in his face. Mac might say now that she hadn't wanted to hurt him and that she was sorry, but that might change if he did this. She could end up hating him if she saw him as responsible for Rabb going down.
No, he thought. If Rabb goes down, it will be his own fault. I didn't force him to leave the carrier that night. He's the one who got into the cockpit without his head being completely in the game.
With a heavy sigh, he set the phone down. Was it worth it to put himself in the middle of this? Rabb shouldn't have been flying that night, and even if he said nothing, that fact wasn't going to change. Maybe he should just sit back and let everything play out, trusting that everything would work out as it was meant to.
Mic shook his head. There were going to be questions, and some of those questions were going to be directed at him. Those questions were going to be there whether or not he waited and let the investigators come to him. He did have information material to an ongoing investigation, and he was an officer of the court.
Picking up the phone again, he quickly dialed the number on the card. After a moment, the line was picked up on the other end. "Trial Services Office East, Petty Officer Johnson speaking. How may I direct your call?"
"Yes, this is Mic Brumby," he said, vaguely recognizing the name and voice from his dealings with the Norfolk TSO office while he'd been at JAG. Perhaps the Petty Officer would remember him as well and give him the help he needed with as few questions as possible. "I used to work at JAG Headquarters in Washington. Can you tell me who is handling the investigation into the crash of the F-14 off the Patrick Henry? I have some information for the investigators."
"Commander Brumby, right?" Johnson asked. "You were involved in the case of those sailors that beat up the guy at Breakers a couple of years back. So was Commander Rabb, as I recall."
"That's correct," Mic confirmed.
"Well, scuttlebutt says JAG is being kept as far away from this one as possible right now," Johnson said. "Understandable, I guess. Commander Rabb is pretty well known around this office. Anyway, the investigation is being handled by the office of the Force Judge Advocate for COMNAVAIRLANT."
"You wouldn't have a contact phone number by chance?" he asked. "I'd like to leave a message for the lead investigator."