Enough is Enough
Monday, January 29th, 2001, 0900hrs EST, Conference Room, JAG Headquarters Building, Falls Church, VA (291400ZJan01)
"Attention on deck!" Yeoman Second Class Tiner called out as the conference room door opened to admit the JAG.
Admiral Chegwidden took his accustomed seat at the head of the long table, growling as he did so, "As you were, people, as you were." Then casting a jaundiced eye around at the faces turned expectantly towards him, he said in exasperated tones, "Where is Mr Rabb, this morning?"
The answer was a blank silence. "Does anyone know the whereabouts of Commander Rabb?"
This time his answer was in the form of a chorus of mumbled denials and disclaimers. "Tiner!"
"Tiner, where is Commander Rabb?"
"Sir, I don't know, sir!"
"Goddamwell find him Tiner!"
"Aye, aye, sir!" Tiner left the room as quickly as decorum would allow. Thanks Commander, he thought bitterly, now you've put the Old Man into a foul mood, and because you're not here to take the flak, I'm going to get it in the neck all morning - if I'm lucky, or more likely all day!
The admiral glowered at his staff at the conference table. "DUI, Seaman Marian Gates; Commander Brumby you'll prosecute, Lieutenant Singer, you'll defend. Lieutenant Roberts, no... Colonel MacKenzie, you and Mr Roberts... Pack your bags. I'm sending you to Naples on a JAGMAN investigation. A collision at sea between the USS Monroe Smith and a Turkish destroyer - see Tiner, for your orders and movement instructions. Commander Imes, Lieutenant Barlow how's your Article 32 going?"
"We expect to wrap it up by midday tomorrow at the very latest, sir, right Lieutenant?"
"Yes, ma'am. Either way sir, it's going to a court martial. Either PO Williams on the original charge, or Seaman Mathews for filing false charges, sir."
"I agree, sir. The navy has a zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment; and equally strict regarding false allegations of that conduct. I'm certain that Captain Sebring will order one or the other of them to a court martial."
"Very well, let me know the outcome. ASAP!"
The admiral leaned back in his chair as his Yeoman re-entered the room, "Well, Tiner?
"Sir, the Commander's cell is going direct to voicemail - I've left a message that he is to call back ASAP, sir - and his land line isn't picking up sir!"
"I didn't ask you to run a comms check on the Commander, Tiner! I told you to find him!" The Admiral replied, his voice rising to a roar on the last two syllables.
"Aye, aye sir!" Tiner replied, once again fleeing the conference room.
The Admiral gave an exasperated grunt, "Colonel MacKenzie, as soon as we've finished here, get over to Rabb's apartment and find..."
"Sir, Naples, sir?"
"Dammit!" Once again the Admiral surveyed his assembled officers as he mentally ran down the list of their assignments, "Lieutenant Singer! As soon as we've done here, get over to Commander Rabb's apartment and find out just what the hell he's playing at!"
"Aye, aye, sir!" Damn! Why did she have to play nursemaid when duds like Roberts get JAGMAN investigations. She was a damn sight better lawyer than that clown, but she was not about to start arguing with the Admiral, well, not in front of witnesses who could possibly use any sign of dissent against her. That was not part of her plan; all she could do for the moment was suck it up!
Monday, January 29th, 2001, 1020hrs EST, Commander Harmon Rabb's Apartment, Alley off 4th Street NE, Washington, DC (291520ZJan01)
Loren Singer froze, and guiltily looked around to ensure that no-one had seen her indulge in such childish behaviour. She couldn't believe she had actually just stamped her foot! She knew he was in there, she could hear music and it's not that loud, he must have heard her at the door!
She knocked again, this time harder so that it stung her knuckles. Still no answer, dammit! Right, buster, you asked for it.
Her hands went to the bun of hair gathered below the rim of her cover, and extracted two hair grips, carefully straightening one, she gently inserted them in the door lock. Let's see if I've lost my touch, there... no... there! Yes! That's it! Now, if only he hasn't put a chain on the door, no, it's opening!
Cautiously she pushed the door open and entered the apartment. She looked around curiously; it was the first time she'd ever been here. She'd never been invited to share a cosy dinner with the Commander, not like some she could mention, like that Bitch-Colonel Sarah Bloody MacKenzie! Not that she'd ever wanted an invitation, she wasn't about to become another clandestine notch on Harmon Rabb's bedpost - unlike some she could mention. According to report, there had been his best friend's widow, the one with the kid, then there had been that shrink from Bethesda, then that TV film maker, oh, yes, Singer remembered her alright, Renée Peterson, and now if scuttlebutt was to be believed he was sleeping with the Bitch-Colonel behind her fiancé's back! If she could only just find some evidence of that sort of misconduct, it would not only pay MacKenzie back for the stream of insults and constant put-downs thrown her way, but the removal of two senior JAGs would move her two steps closer to achieving her ambition.
Ah, there was the source of the music, the AM/FM selector on a music centre on a wall-mounted shelf. Tuned to a blues station too, that was Lightnin' Hopkins, or she'd never heard him before, she thought as she pressed the power off switch. And there was a guitar propped on its stand by the couch. And that was a Dress Blues jacket just thrown on the couch; it must be meant for the cleaners, it would take cleaning and professional pressing to restore that to the required standard of presentation. And a shirt on the floor! Tutting with impatience, she picked it up and draped it over a chair. Men were such slobs! What was that smell? sort of sharp and metallic, and like ammonia, like in a badly cleaned public bathroom! That just went to confirm her opinion!
OK, so, living space, no TV, she noted; kitchen area, complete with unwashed plates on the work bench; two doorways, no doors, that she could see, at the far end of the room on the raised portion of the floor. They were the only other access points to the apartment, unless you counted the large window which, she saw as she peered through it, led to the external fire escape. So those two doors must lead to the bathroom and bedroom. Interesting use of glass bricks to divide one or the other of those two rooms from the rest of the apartment.
As she stepped up to the raised floor she could hear a muttering coming through the doorway to her right. Oh, God! She felt her face burn, please, she begged silently; don't tell me he's got a woman in there with him!
"Commander?" She raised her voice so that he might be in no doubt that he, they, were not alone. Hearing no reaction, she tried again, louder this time.
"Commander. It's me, Lieutenant Singer!" That was a reply of some sort she told herself. And then a thought struck her, How was she going to explain her presence in his apartment on a Monday mid-morning! Stop being such a pussy she told herself. The Admiral had ordered her to investigate why the Commander wasn't at work, and why he wasn't answering 'phone calls; she was only obeying... she winced at the thought she'd very nearly completed. She was only doing what she had been told.
She sniffed, whatever that smell was, it was getting really ripe! "Commander?" she called again, that wasn't a mumble she heard, more like a croak. Well, if he was in bed with a hangover, she might not have to find charges to file against him; he had just run his career aground. Stepping through the doorway, she stopped and almost gagged. The smell, no, the stink was even more powerful in here, but with the drapes closed, it was difficult to see what was going on here. Almost tripping over a discarded shoe in the middle of the space between the foot of the bed and the wall, she made her way to the window, and pulled back the heavy material to flood the room with the cold light of the morning. Then turning impatiently, she was about to goad the Commander back to life when her heart missed a beat.
Commander Rabb was in bed, but he was almost buried under a pile of blankets, but even so she could see that despite the sweat pouring down his face and soaking his pillow, he was shivering, no, he wasn't shivering, he was shuddering violently. Seriously alarmed at the sight, she crossed to the bed and sitting on the edge, she stretched her hand out to feel his forehead. She was neither physician nor nurse, but she could tell that he was running a high fever. And that smell! It was coming from him. It was the bedding she realised. God knew how long he'd been lying here in his own sweat! Investigating the closets she found spare blankets and a sleeping bag neatly folded and ready for use, and yes, clean sheets as well. She looked doubtfully at the bedding and then back at the sick man lying in his own sweat and then sighing, she shrugged off her raincoat and wrinkling her nose in distaste, she set to work stripping the soiled bedclothes off him.
Two minutes later she gasped in shock; at some time during his illness he had lost control of his bladder and had soaked his bed, but that wasn't the problem. The problem was that the contents of his bladder had been a dark crimson, almost black colour. Whatever was ailing her superior officer it was no hangover, and neither was it a bad case of the 'flu. Although she had thought that looking after the Commander was way above and beyond the call of duty, she had resigned herself to doing just that, but whatever was ailing him was way above and beyond her abilities to deal with. Picking up her purse from where she'd left it with her raincoat, she fumbled inside it for her cell 'phone and scrolled down through stored numbers, Fortunately Bethesda Naval Hospital was the fourth number stored, so in a very few seconds she was able to press the call button and waited impatiently for her call to be picked up. Giving the Commander's address, she urged upon them that she needed immediate medical help, and described what she had found, and that an ambulance was needed ASAP if not even faster.
She nearly jumped out of her skin when a clammy, moist hand gripped her wrist and a weak strangled voice said, "Meg... You've come back...! Don't go!"
Recovering from the surprise she turned and looked at the Commander, but seeing his tear-filled deep blue eyes fixed on her own and the look of misery in his face, she fought back her first instinct to wrench her hand free and to reprimand him, and instead, said soothingly, "No, it's alright, I'm not going anywhere."
"I still love you, Meg... never told you, but... never stopped loving you..." he gasped.
"Yes, I know, I know," she answered him soothingly. She had thought at first he had called her 'Mac', and that she reasoned would have been understandable, but the second time, he had undoubtedly called her 'Meg', so she tried to ease his agitation and told him that she knew he loved her, and now, unaccountably, she felt the tears rising to her own eyes and her throat closing. There was, she felt, suddenly something unutterably sad about this tall, strong man confessing his love for what? For whom? A ghost from his past? A high school sweetheart? For some reason or other she immediately squashed the idea that he was talking about some casual conquest.
"Not since Diane..." he muttered before his eyes closed and his head rolled back on the pillow.
Diane? Meg? Who were they? she wondered. But there would be time enough for that sort of speculation later. In the meantime... she picked up her cell 'phone again and pressed the '1' on the speed dial menu.
"Tiner? The Admiral, please." She waited, keeping an anxious eye on the man in bed and an ear open for the sound of an approaching ambulance. "Admiral, sir, it's Singer. I'm at the Commander's apartment, sir. He sick, very sick. I've called Bethesda for an ambulance and they should be hear shortly, sir." She listened to the Admiral's grunt of surprise, and waited for his response.
"Yes, sir... Got it... I had intended to go with him, anyway, sir... Yes, sir, as soon as I hear anything, sir... I'll get straight back to you sir... Yes sir, I'm on it, sir. Sir, there's someone at the door sir." Crossing the living room she opened the door to find two Petty Officer Corpsmen waiting with a gurney. "Sir, the EMTs have arrived, sir. I'll call as soon as I know anything. Goodbye sir!"
Monday, January 2001, 29th, 1300hrs EST, Intensive Care Unit, Medical Wing, National Naval Medical Centre, Bethesda, MD (291800ZJan01)
"Lieutenant Singer?" The speaker was a tired-looking Doctor in khakis and a white coat.
"Yes, sir" She acknowledged getting to her feet.
"You did well," he assured her with a smile. "I think, that thanks to you, the Commander might still pull through."
"Might pull through, sir?" Loren was shocked. Rabb could have died? He might still die? No, that was impossible; he was as strong as an ox, probably one of the strongest, fittest men she had ever met.
Commander Matthews observed the colour draining from the young woman's already pale face. She was obviously close to the man she'd said was just a senior officer in her department, but he was more a doctor than a naval officer, and he didn't particularly care about fraternisation regulations. Hell, half the doctors and nurses here were involved with each other and it was accepted as a normal part of working in a hospital. Still, he needed to both set this woman's mind at rest, and to explain the gravity of the situation.
"Commander Rabb is very seriously ill," he explained, "Did you know that he was subject to malaria?"
She shook her head numbly.
"Well, he has a strain of malaria that shouldn't normally be such a great a threat as cerebral malaria, that's the real killer; but the Commander's illness has been compounded into what used to be commonly called Blackwater fever; that would explain the blood in his urine. The Commander was on the verge of kidney failure when you called for help. You did the right thing, but why wait so long?"
"Uh... he was fine when I saw him on Friday, it was only when he didn't turn to for duty this morning that I went to his apartment, and found him like he was."
"Aah, I see." Commander Matthews, suspecting a lovers' spat, didn't see at all, "Well, I suspect that the Commander has been self-medicating for a while, probably using quinine as a prophylaxis, and sometimes the malaria parasite develops an immunity to quinine and then the body's auto-immune system fails."
"So, what's going to happen now?"
"We'll keep him here while we treat him with antimalarial chemo-therapy. We'll rehydrate him, and we'll monitor his progress, and if necessary we'll put him through a course of dialysis. A few days should see him on the road to recovery, but he'll need to take it easy for a while, and he'll need looking after, Lieutenant."
Yeah, fine, she thought. But why tell me? And why is he looking at me like that? She asked herself, and then the answer came: Oh God, he thinks we're a couple! I'll have to tell him... I can't, it's all too complicated, and the way he's looking at me he won't believe me, especially now that.. Oh crap! I am blushing! She was furious with herself, which didn't help matters - it only made her scarlet face deepen to a shade of crimson. Mom! Why did I have to have your colouring? Mom! I hate you! The trouble is she thought as she turned away from the doctor and rapidly fanned herself with her open hand that as soon as I know I'm blushing, it gets worse!
Commander Matthews smiled, not unkindly, to himself. The Lieutenant had shown remarkable presence of mind and had demonstrated an equally remarkable level of self-control. Many people, men as well as women, would have lost it when told that their partners could still die even when surrounded with the best treatment, facilities and staff that modern medicine could provide.
Monday, January 29th, 2001, 1500hrs EST, Ops Bull-pen, JAG Headquarters Building, Falls Church, VA (292000ZJan01)
Since her return from Bethesda, nearly half-an-hour ago, Loren Singer had been closeted with the admiral, and although the bull-pen was alive with speculation, even Tiner, renowned as he was as HQ Scuttlebutt Control, hadn't yet been able to shed any light on the Lieutenant's absence for most of the day, nor on the non-appearance of Commander Rabb, although Seaman Liz Hawkins had smiled significantly and tapped the side of her nose when she had been asked if she, as one of Tiner's favoured confidants, knew what was going on.
"Lieutenant, do you have a moment, please?" Harriett Sims looked up from her computer screen in surprise. What was going on? Lieutenant Witch was being polite, almost pleasant, it was unheard of.
"Yes..." Harriett replied cautiously, "How may I help you?"
"I need to ask you a couple of questions, about things that maybe happened before I was assigned here, but we could do with a little privacy," and Loren raised an inviting eyebrow as she gestured towards her office.
Intrigued by the Bulldog's manner, Harriett followed her into the office and in response to Singer's suggestion she shut the door behind her and sat down.
A shiver of anticipation ran around the entire office. Harriett's reputation as a source of intel was second only to Tiner's and the denizens of the bull-pen now looked forward to gleaning a juicy tid-bit or two. Had they been privy to the conversation between the two Lieutenants they would have been disappointed. Loren Singer came straight to the point. "With reference to Commander Rabb, do you know who Meg and Diane are, or were?" she asked.
Harriett thought rapidly and then reluctance to talk about a friend warring with intense curiosity and her compulsion to gossip, said slowly, "If this is in connection with Commander Rabb... then I think Meg was his partner before Colonel MacKenzie arrived at JAG... It was before my time here, but I think the Colonel actually replaced her. I heard somewhere that, if we're talking about the same person, she was snapped up by the NSA, or DSD or some other super-secret spook agency."
"Uh-huh. What about a Diane?"
"No, I don't think I've ever heard that name?" The inflection of her voice clearly showed that she wanted more information.
Loren Singer, however, was not one to share what she knew. To her mind, knowledge was power, and she intended to become as powerful as she could. Her sights were firmly set on becoming the first female JAG. She knew in formulating her ambition that she faced a long, rough, rocky road and intended to use all the knowledge and power she could muster to smooth out some of those bumps.
Keeping those aims in mind, she ignored Harriet's implied question and replied coolly, "Thank you, Lieutenant. If you'll excuse me, I do have work to catch up on today, and I'm sure you must be equally busy." The smile she gave Harriett was strictly professional and had nothing to do with either warmth or friendship.
Seething with frustration at her inability to wring any information out of the annoying Ice Queen and with anger at was what after all no more than a peremptory dismissal, Harriett Sims stalked back to her desk, and sitting down if front of her computer she started typing furiously. There was, she was sure, one certain source of information about the Commander's past. If there was anything worth knowing about Harmon Rabb, then Sarah MacKenzie was the person who would have all the answers! She couldn't however approach the Colonel directly, but Lieutenant Witch wasn't the only female officer in the building who could be devious. The e-mail to Bud finished, she proof-read it before hitting the 'send' button:
"Bud, re Cmdr Rabb, who is/was Diane? If you don't know, ask Col Mac. Urgent. Love you, H."
That should bring a result she thought with satisfaction.
Monday, January 29th, 2001, 1800hrs EST, Ops Bull Pen, JAG Headquarters Building, Falls Church, VA (292300ZJan01)
"Hold the door, there!" Admiral Chegwidden's roar was just in time to stop Lieutenant Singer from pressing the 'L1' button on the elevator control panel, and as her CO stepped into the elevator car she stood back, allowing him to operate the control.
The Admiral looked at his Lieutenant speculatively. She had a pretty good record of court wins over her contemporaries, but despite her ambitions, of which he had some idea, she was nowhere, yet, near as good as she thought she was. Certainly not ready to lock horns on a regular basis with either Rabb or MacKenzie, although she had won one case against each of them and had also beaten Mattoni and Imes; not many times in the overall scheme of things, but still enough to show that she had real potential. He just wished that she would relax a little bit, let people get to know her, and... and... stop being so damned... unapproachable! The seed of a plan started to sprout in his mind; maybe...
"Lieutenant, all secured for the day?"
"Yes, sir!" Loren Singer looked, and was, surprised at the question. She would hardly be leaving the office with briefcase, raincoat and cover if she hadn't been certain that she could no more for the moment.
"Humph. Any plans for the evening Lieutenant?"
Her eyes widened, that question was normally the precursor to an invitation to dinner, to the theatre or a movie. And that implied an acceptance of a certain degree of friendship, or companionship, or... or... even intimacy... or romance! And that was definitely out of the question! Ambitious she certainly was, ruthless, well maybe, but she was never going to be accused of sleeping her way to the top! Loren Singer was no innocent she admitted to herself. She'd had lovers in the past, but they had been lovers, men with whom she had been romantically and emotionally involved, certainly not one-night stands or a means to achieving a professional end. The admiral's question therefore merited only one possible answer.
"Yes, sir. I'm washing my hair!" she replied emphatically and in arctic accents.
It was the admiral's turn to be surprised. The lieutenant's reply was the oldest excuse in the book when a woman was turning down an unwelcome proposition. His mind raced, what on earth had he said to provoke such a reaction? Then his memory's tumblers clicked into place. Uncharacteristically he felt himself becoming red-faced and heated.
"Ah, no Lieutenant, that wasn't a pick up line, nor was it an invitation... well, yes it was, I suppose, in a way... But not perhaps the way in which you understood it! I was merely going to suggest that you might like to accompany me to Bethesda. I was going to look in on Commander Rabb before I went home!"
Loren Singer gritted her teeth in dismay and went bright scarlet. Oh hell! Talk about putting my foot in it! Damn, there's only one thing I can say now!
"Sir, yes, I was thinking of doing the same myself. I'll be glad to follow you there." Well, it wasn't really a lie, she admonished herself, I had been thinking about going, there's no need to tell him, she thought, that she'd decided against visiting the Commander.
Monday January 29th, 2001, 2140hrs EST, Lieutenant Loren Singer's Apartment, 1054 Canal Street NW, Georgetown, Washington, DC (300240ZJan01)
It had certainly been a day of days, Loren thought as she slumped into an armchair and kicked off her shoes. Not your everyday, run of the mill office routine, she smiled grimly to herself. Strange tropical diseases and emergency dashes to hospitals, not to mention insulting her Commanding Officer and having to redeem herself by visiting an unconscious, well semi-conscious, Commander Rabb, who had stared at her with half-seeing eyes and had called her 'Meg' - again! Fortunately the admiral had been talking to a doctor just then and hadn't noticed the Commander's mistake, or maybe he'd thought that the Commander had called her 'Mac'.
Not only that, she had been talked into, well, ordered, really by the admiral to go back to the Commander's apartment, collect his toilet gear and a set of clothes, and to make sure the apartment was secured. And to be quite honest with herself, she knew that she'd closed the door, but she wasn't sure that she'd made sure it was locked!
She had been startled now that the adrenalin of getting help for the Commander had dissipated, how ill he looked propped against his pillows in that ICU bed. Some sort of pump had stood ready in the corner of his room, and two IV's had been set up. He had been barely conscious at the best of times and had obviously been rambling, she could have sworn she heard him call the admiral 'Keeter', so if he was confusing the admiral with somebody else, then maybe he was just confusing her with this 'Meg' woman.
Tuesday January 30th, 2001, 0300hrs CET, Wardroom, USS Monroe Smith, Naples Naval Dockyard (300200ZJan01)
"Ma'am, do you know of anyone in the Commander's life called Diane?"
When Bud said 'the Commander' he could only mean one person, and then the mention of 'Diane' was enough fully to divert Mac's attention from the mishap report and direct it towards Bud.
"Why? Where did that come from, Bud?"
"Oh, I got an e-mail from Harriett, asking about her," Bud squirmed uncomfortably, damn Harriett for always putting him on the spot like this, "She said it was urgent, ma'am."
"Did she say why she was asking, Bud?"
"No... I I-M'd her back, but all she would say was that Lieutenant Singer was asking about this Diane and about Lieutenant Austin..." Bud's voice trailed into silence as he saw two vertical creases appear between Mac's eyebrows.
"I wonder what Lieutenant Witch is up to now..." and then becoming aware that Bud's eyes were fixed on her in surprise, she asked, "Er... did I just say that out loud?"
"Oh... well, let's just pretend I didn't, OK, Bud? And let's get back to work Whatever Lieutenant Singer is concerned with, needn't concern us!"
"Yes, ma'am!" A relieved Bud Roberts replied. These days he hated getting mixed up in anything that might put Mac and Harm's names together in the same sentence. For almost three years he had thought that there was something between them, that they could make a match of it, if the Commander could ever get over the sudden disappearance of Meg Austin. There had definitely been sparks between those two, especially after... Of course! Diane! Diane Schonke, the Lieutenant from the... he couldn't remember the name of the ship, but she had been the Commander's girlfriend from their academy days! What a numbnuts he was, he should have remembered that! But that didn't alter the changed circumstances between the Commander and the Colonel. He liked the Colonel and had once thoroughly respected her, not just as an officer and a lawyer but as a person, but something had gone wrong somewhere along the line. The way she had treated the Commander ever since he'd returned to JAG from his flying tour, and then getting engaged to Brumby of all people; the one man Bud had ever seen the Commander so implacably hostile towards. He rubbed his jaw in pained memory of the accidental punches he had received from them. Could it have been that investigation in Australia that had started the rot? No, the Colonel has started climbing all over the Commander's back before that. But something had happened down there in Sydney he was certain of it.
"Bud? Bud!" The Colonel was regarding him impatiently. "If you've quite finished wool-gathering, Lieutenant, we do have a mishap report to finish analysing."
"Yes, ma'am. Sorry ma'am!"
Tuesday January 30th, 2001hrs EST, Commander Harmon Rabb's Apartment, Alley off 4th Street NE, Washington, DC (310101ZJan01)
Loren Singer looked around the empty apartment. She had collected the Commander's toilet bag from his shower room, and had found clean Boxers, T-shirts and sweat shirts together with jogging pants, socks and sneakers in his various drawers and closets, and had packed them in a small valise she had found, also in the closet, but she had also found a shoe box in the closet, and unable to resist her curiosity, she had opened it to find it stuffed nearly full of photographs and giving in to impulse she had opened a couple of the photo-lab wallets to look at the contents. Among the many photographs of ships and planes - particularly F-14s, she had found several of a beautiful blonde officer, one shot in particular had struck her. The woman had been bareheaded, obviously on board a ship somewhere. She had been leaning forward, her hands gripping a rail, her shoulders braced back and her laughing face turned to the camera. Her stance was provocative, pushing her breasts against the material of her shirt and she was obviously enjoying teasing the photographer.
Another, older, wallet had no negatives inside and only two prints, these were of Colonel MacKenzie, no surprises there! Hey, hold up, that wasn't the Colonel, but she could have been her twin sister! The woman in the pictures was wearing an academy midshipman's uniform in one picture, and summer whites with lieutenant's bars in the second against a sunlit Mediterranean looking background. But otherwise the similarity between the woman in the photograph and the Bitch-Colonel was astounding. Turning the photographs over she found that on the one of the subject as a Lieutenant was written,
"To my dearest love, Harm. Look forward to seeing you at Norfolk. All my love for ever, Diane."
Feeling uncomfortable, Loren made haste to close the shoe box and put it back where she had found it. She felt almost... unclean... as if she'd been indulging in some shameful act, a despicable act of voyeurism. And she had been doing just that she was compelled to admit. She would have been livid if anyone had pried into her private life the way she had just pried into the Commander's! She had absolutely no excuse for poking into another person's private affairs. Yes, knowledge was power, but this... she gave herself a shake, determined to forget what she had just discovered, or if she wasn't able to forget it, at least resolved never to mention it to anyone. Ever.
Picking up the valise, she looked around for a last time, and then ensuring that she locked the door behind her, she left the building and started the commute to Falls Church.
Tuesday February 6th, 2001, 0900hrs EST, Conference Room, JAG Headquarters Building, Falls Church, VA (061400ZFeb01)
"As you were, everybody," Admiral Chegwidden rumbled as his staff leapt to their feet when he made his unheralded arrival in the Conference Room. "Welcome back Colonel, Lieutenant. A good job in Naples. Sometimes I think we'd be better off without our so-called allies!" He paused and looked up over the top of his spectacles. "That needn't go any further than this room, people!"
A chorus of "No, sir" and "Of course not, Admiral," reassured him
"Moving right on then. Commander Imes, is your sexual harassment case ready to go to trial?"
"Yes, sir, Petty Officer Williams is to stand trial on the original charges, sir. Trial to start on Monday"
"H'mm, very well, you'll prosecute. Colonel, you'll defend. Commander Brumby, tough luck on the DUI! That was some very creative thinking and argument on that Lieutenant Singer, but don't bank on that ever happening again! But well done!"
"Oh... thank you, Sir!"
"Yes, well don't let it go to your head! You can change sides of the aisle for this one, FC 2 Grainger, DDO, Lieutenant Barlow, you'll sit second chair; Lieutenant Roberts you'll defend."
"Aye, aye sir!"
"Right, you'll all be relieved to know that Commander Rabb is being moved out of intensive care and will be allowed to receive visitors according to the hospital's schedule. I know he'll be looking forward to seeing you very soon Colonel."
"Yes, sir. I'll try my best to see him very soon".
The admiral raised an eyebrow. He didn't know what had gone wrong between his two top attorneys, but their estrangement was causing more disruption that any fraternisation. It was that damn Australian's fault, he was sure of it, but what the hell could he do. Technically the visiting officer was just that, he wasn't even in the JAG chain of command he was only attached to it!
The Australian officer in question sat stony faced. Like hell Sarah was going to see that bastard Rabb. She'd been away for over a week, and then when she'd got back last night she'd been 'too tired', well she wasn't going to be too tired tonight, or 'too busy'!
Saturday February 10th, 2001 1018hrs EST, Lieutenant Loren Singer's Apartment, 1054 Canal Street NW, Georgetown, Washington, DC (101518ZFeb01)
Loren had woken early, and unable to get back to sleep, she had been seized by an attack of housewifely zeal and scrambling into a sweat-shirt and jeans had attacked her already neat and clean apartment with gusto. That had been nearly four hours ago, and despite, or more likely because of, her breakfast ration of two mugs of marine coffee, she had been unable to settle.
She had in the last ten days got into the habit of visiting Commander Rabb each evening after work. She didn't quite know why. She supposed vaguely that it had something to do with the old Chinese superstition that if you saved someone's life you became responsible for them. But whatever the reason, she had come to value those quiet hours she spent with the Commander, or Harm, as he had told her to call him, even though she was never quite comfortable doing so. But that interlude was coming to an end. Four days after being admitted to ICU the doctors had agreed that he was out of danger and had moved him to a regular room, it was Saturday today and provided that he maintained his rate of recovery, it had been agreed that he would be allowed home on hospital leave on Monday. Provided that he took that leave, they had warned him. One hint of him appearing at his desk and they would bust his ass straight back into hospital, and then when he was fully fit they would sling his ass into the brig for disobedience to orders! And you, Lieutenant, you make sure he does as he's told, or it's your a... er... your butt too!
Their joint protests that his behaviour had nothing to do with her had made little or no impression on the either the medical or nursing staff, who had just regarded the two of them, him in bed, and her chair so close that she was practically in bed with him, with cynical amusement, and one Nurse Lieutenant Commander, who in Loren's opinion should have known better had smirked, "Yeah... riiight!"
The helpless look they had shared with each other had only served to intensify the nurse's amusement.
She could now smile, at least in private, at that nurse's conviction. Hell, they weren't a couple, they weren't even friends, really... but maybe she would like them to be. She'd never heard him use any of the insulting nicknames the others in the office called her, but he'd never really called her Loren either, well, not until this week. But thinking about it, he'd never really been hostile to her either, neutral, yes, hostile, no. He'd even complimented her on a couple of occasions, not as a woman of course - not that she would have welcomed that - but as a lawyer, and those were the compliments she valued. She'd won a difficult case against him, much to everybody's surprise, her own included, and after Admiral Morris had adjourned the court-martial, he had crossed the aisle and held his hand out to her and had said, "Good job, Lieutenant! Well argued."
He'd repeated that compliment, and congratulated her, the first, and only time, she had beaten Bitch-Colonel Sarah Bloody MacKenzie, too; not that that had gone down well with the hard-assed marine cow.
So, maybe they could be friends after all... No, he might be friendly in private, but to expect him to keep acting friendly in front of all his old friends at JAG was asking too much. The most she could hope for was a continuation of non-hostilities. But they could still be friends for what was left of the weekend. And while she had the energy...
Flitting into her bedroom, she chose a simple blue denim skirt, and black V-neck sweater and a white blouse together with a pair of plain black low-heeled pumps, and assembling the chosen outfit, placed it all on a hangar before she packed her toilet bag and wrapped it in a large towel, and then almost emptied the contents of her under-the-kitchen-sink-cupboard into a large cardboard box.
Struggling slightly under her load, she made it down to street level where she thankfully dumped everything on the passenger seat of her Miata MX5 and headed across town on the twenty minute drive to 4th Street North East, to the old red-brick converted warehouse.
Saturday February 10th, 2001, 1110hrs EST, Commander Harmon Rabb's Apartment, Alley off 4th Street NE, Washington, DC
Letting herself in to Harm's apartment - just why, she asked herself had she kept that key? And determined not to do any snooping this time, she tackled the worst job first. Gathering the soiled sheets and pillow slips from the bed - God they really stunk now - she bundled them into the washing machine in the shower room and added a generous amount of her own detergent and fabric conditioner and set the machine to its longest cycle. She wasn't too happy about having electrical appliances in the shower room, she'd always been told that electricity and water are not a good mix, but it wasn't her apartment, so provided she was careful, what did she care? The blankets, once she had inspected them, she decided would have to go to a professional cleaners, or maybe in the end have to be thrown out. But she wouldn't do that without asking the Commander, asking Harm first, so they were folded and left by the door to remind her to take them with her when she left.
The mattress, as she'd thought it would be, was stained, but turning it over showed that the wetting it had received hadn't soaked right through. It would do for now, but again she'd have to find some tactful way of suggesting that he might want to replace it. Fresh bed linen and blankets were where she recalled seeing them and it was only the work of five minutes for the bed to look pristine, and if she couldn't quite bounce a dime off the top blanket, it wasn't so bad that she'd have been gigged for it by her NROTC Gunny.
Tidying away the shoes and other bits and pieces of uniform that had been dropped on the floor, she picked up the wallet that had fallen from his Dress Blues pants and went to place it in the drawer in his nightstand, and froze in shock. She had not expected to see a pistol lying unattended around the apartment. Cautiously, remembering her weapons training, she picked it up and checked the safety, then after examining the unfamiliar model, she pressed what she'd guessed to be the magazine release button and caught the clip as it slid out of the pistol's butt. Working the slide, she ejected the round that had been in the chamber into her hand, and carefully pressed it back into the clip.
What sort of lawyer was it she wondered, who'd keep a loaded and cocked sidearm in his nightstand? But then she remembered some of the stories she had overheard. Stories about him being involved with that CIA creep who always seemed to be hanging around JAG, what was his name? Oh, yes, that was it, Webb, and hadn't he nearly got both Harm and the Bitch-Colonel killed with some crack-pot scheme in Russia? That had been before her time at JAG, of course, but she had heard the stories.
Still, with the weapon unloaded, she felt easier, but wished there was somewhere more secure she could stow it away. There was a wall safe, but without either key or combination it might as well be on the moon rather than set into the living room wall, so reluctantly placing the weapon back in the drawer she left the bedroom and turned her attention to the kitchen area.
Apart from the very interesting, and revolting species of mould growing on the dirty plate on the work-top, and the remains of what seemed to be a furry variation on a vegetable lasagne in an oven-proof dish, the work of cleaning up the kitchen area didn't take all that long. For a man's kitchen it was surprisingly neat and well ordered, Loren considered. It was probably something to do with shipboard living where everything is so cramped that there must be a place for everything and everything in its place. So dish and plate washed, dried, and their respective stowage discovered, all that remained now was to run a duster over the surfaces, wipe down and give the place a shot of air freshener. Then all she'd need to do is to freshen herself up and put the laundered bed-linen into the dryer. Harm could then sort out anything else he needed when he came home on Monday!
It wasn't long before she'd showered - a bit cheeky maybe, using his shower without his say-so, but she had cleaned the place up for him as payment - and changed into the spare outfit she'd brought with her. She'd have time to grab a coffee and sandwich at the Hospital commissary, if she wasn't delayed too much by traffic.
Saturday, February 10th, 2001, 1400hrs EST, Male Medical Ward, Medical Wing, National Naval Medical Centre, Bethesda, MD (101900ZFeb01)
Harmon Rabb was disappointed that he hadn't had a visit from Mac, he knew she was back; Harriett had told him she'd been back at Falls Church since Tuesday, but maybe she'd show this afternoon or this evening. He could hear heels approaching along the along the hallway now, but the sound didn't have the quite same resonance as Mac's impatient tap-tap-tapping. But the time for disappointment was past; he smiled as Loren, not Lieutenant Singer, but just Loren appeared in the room's doorway and smiled at him. He wasn't quite sure when, or how the changes had come about. Lieutenant Singer had become Loren, and the Ice-Queen scowl had left her face, and it had somehow become softer and rounder when she was with him. He had seen, when Harriett or Carolyn Imes had visited, and this week when Bud had come with Harriett, how quickly she had reverted to her office persona, how quickly her face had resumed its rather sharp, sour expression and how she had quickly excused herself and left him to the company of his other friends.
Hold hard there, Rabb. He backtracked over what he'd just said; 'his other friends'. Other, in the sense that he now counted her as one of his friends as well? This was going to take some figuring out. It appeared, so the doctors said, that by breaking into his apartment she had saved his life. Hell, he'd had malaria before, maybe five or six times over the years since he'd picked it up in Columbia, and before a handful of quinine tablets over a week or so had fixed the problem. This time though, it appeared that the quinine had damned nearly killed him! So, maybe he owed her. Maybe, hell! He did owe her! But friends? With Loren Singer? Was a friend someone with whom you talk about books, food, music, the theatre, cars, motor-cycles and even football? Yes, that's exactly what a friend was, but the football had been a surprise! Loren Singer was a devoted, dyed-in-the-wool Bears fan! She had been attracted to the NFL by the advent of William 'The Fridge' Perry and by Walter 'Sweetness' Payton and other Bears' stars of the Mike Ditka years. Rabb, in turn, was a die-hard Chargers' fan and each had discovered within the other a fine contempt for the washed-out has-beens of the Washington Redskins. Putting aside their own tribal differences they had spent hours dissecting the capital's own team's faults and failings. The motor-cycles had been a surprise too, but after her revelations about football, it hadn't somehow been such a shock. An old college boyfriend had owned a 1974 British-built Triumph 650cc Bonneville, and she had been bitten by the bug. She in turn had been startled to hear that he had an even older Indian 1200 V-twin Chief in his garage, and the two of them had made nebulous plans to take it for an airing once the weather improved, but nothing firm had been settled. Neither had she accepted nor refused an equally vague invitation to go flying with him one weekend, again once winter had turned the corner into spring. And she knew her jazz and blues too; her depth and breadth of knowledge, although she claimed not to play an instrument, was almost encyclopaedic and left him struggling to keep up with her. But in addition to keeping him entertained, Loren had also sensed when he was too tired to talk and she had been content to sit in the visitor's chair and read silently to herself, but always ready to resume a conversation whenever he was.
And she had been surprisingly forthcoming about her personal history, losing some of her habitual reticence as she told him something of her background. She had been born and had grown up in a small community in rural Ohio, one of seven children of a deeply religious family, but had cut loose from them when she was seventeen and had put herself through college with the help of an NROTC programme and had then gone to NJS. She had been remarkably frank about her reasons and her goal. She hadn't become a naval attorney to make a difference or to save the world, but simply because JAG Corps was a small pond, and she could potentially become the biggest fish in that pond; she stood more chance of realising her ambition by taking that route to the top than joining say the surface warfare branch or the navy's intelligence community.
He smiled to himself, remembering that after one long evening's desultory conversation while he was still in ICU he had drifted off to sleep, only to waken during the small silent, early hours of the morning, to find that Loren had fallen asleep while waiting to see if he was going to re-surface, and while she had slept, one of the nurses had covered her with a blanket. Obviously their denials of a discreet involvement with each other were still meeting with disbelief from the ICU nurses!
His smile equally obviously hadn't been discreet either, as a slight, deliberate cough made him aware. Loren was still standing in the doorway of his room with one delicate blonde eyebrow arched in a question.
"Hey, there, Loren, don't just stand there come on in!"
"I will, but only if you'll tell me what you were smiling at," she teased him.
His eyes met her's and he thought, what if they could have heard that at the office. Who could imagine Loren Singer bantering as if to the manner born!
What I have just said? She thought frantically, why is he smiling like that? Doesn't he know what effect that has... Oh... of course he does that's why he does it! It's what the Lieutenant-Bitch-Colonel calls his flyboy smile! Oh... no! She could feel the blood rush to her face. Oh, Mom, no! She gave a mental wail of despair.
What the hell's got into her? I didn't say anything, why the hell is she blushing like that!
It took time, but eventually their newly acquired habits of easy conversation overcame the awkwardness and by the time Bud and Harriett Roberts arrived for the evening watch as Bud put it with heavy-handed humour, they had resumed their easy-going ways and had arranged that Loren would pick him up at thirteen hundred hours on Monday and drive him home. The arrival of the new visitors placed its usual constraint on Loren, and after making their plans known to Bud and Harriet, and gathering that A J was in the custody of Carolyn Imes and that they were in no hurry to leave, Loren soon made her farewells, leaving the three long time friends behind.
Harriett, who was firmly convinced that Harm and Mac were destined for each other had become disturbed by what appeared to her to be Harm's unnecessarily close acquaintance with Lieutenant Pit-Bull, exchanged a worried glance with her husband as the petite blonde officer left, and then turned to Harm and said, "Sir, what is the Lieutenant doing here, so often? It's not as if you are friends, after all, and what would the Colonel think?"
Bud winced. He had seen if his wife had not, the manner in which the Colonel had treated the Commander since his return to JAG. To his immense relief, however, Harm did not blow up. He merely replied, "Not friends with Lieutenant Singer, Harriett? At least Loren has cared enough to come to visit me while I'm here!"