38

Friday 23 March 2001 1657hrs EST, Admiral A J Chegwidden's Office, JAG HQ, Falls Church, VA (232157ZMar01)

"Tiner!"

The door flew open and Tiner stood, braced to attention in the doorway, "Sir?"

"Get me Commander Rabb! ASAP!"

"Aye, aye, sir!"

Two minutes later Harm stood in front of the Admiral's desk, "Commander Rabb reporting as ordered, sir!"

"Good!" Chegwidden indicated his briefcase and cover. "I'm securing. I have a flight from BWI at nineteen hundred, so I'm taking Tiner with to drive me to the airport. The only thing left for you and I to do is for me to hand you the keys to the classified safe." he held out three keys on a single key ring, "And for God's sake, don't lose the damn things!"

"No, sir! And sir?"

"Yes, Commander?"

"Have a good leave, sir!"

"I will!" Chegwidden replied somewhat grimly, "If you don't call me with some sort of emergency!"

"I'll try not to do that, sir!"

"Good! I'll appreciate that. Oh, and don't set fire to the place, or tear it down, or... or... or anything while I'm gone!"

Harm couldn't help the grin that spread across his face, but it was met by a scowl from his CO, "Wipe that smirk off your face, Commander; I wasn't joking!"

His years at the Academy and his career in the navy had taught Harm well, in an instant his face was devoid of all expression, "Aye, aye, sir!"

Friday 23 March 2001 1720hrs EST, Office of Commander Pike, National Naval Medical Centre, Bethesda, MD (232220ZMar01)

The nurse held the door open, "Commander Pike can see you now, ma'am."

"M'kew," Mac mumbled.

"Good afternoon, Colonel. Take a seat. What can I do for you today?" Commander Pike rattled off cheerfully and all in one breath.

Mac looked at the sandy-haired doctor hopefully, "C'd ta'e these dam' wires out?" she asked.

Pike opened Mac's notes that lay on his blotter, "H'mm... a couple of days short of the month since you were injured. How does the jaw feel?"

"I'ches," Mac said shortly.

"OK... turn to face the light, just a little to your left, please." Commander Pike rose from his chair, pulled on a pair of disposable latex gloves and came to stand in front of Mac, "OK, look up a little, yes, just raise your chin..."

He ran his fingers gently down the side of Mac's jaw and h'mmed and hawed for a minute or so, before he stripped the gloves from his hands and sat down again. He pulled a dispensation pad towards him and scribbled a few words on it, and then stabbed the intercom call button, "Lieutenant Harding?"

"Doctor?" came the reply.

"Get hold of a Corpsman to take Colonel MacKenzie down to X-ray, please."

"At once, doctor."

Pike looked across his desk ay Mac, "I'm pretty sure the wires can come out, but I want to have a look at some fresh X-rays before I decide. Now, if they can come out, when would you want to come in to have it done?"

"Tonight?" Mac said.

Pike looked a little surprised, "Oh... when did you last have something to eat?" he asked, calculating digestion time against the administration of anaesthetic.

Mac just glared at him.

"Oh... sorry, Colonel, when did you last drink anything?" Pike rephrased the question with an apologetic grin.

"Twelve thirty," Mac said.

"OK... If the X-rays show us that the fractures are healed – and as I say, I think they are, then we can admit you immediately, and I'll schedule you for minor theatre for..." he checked his schedule, "zero seven hundred tomorrow, OK? But that means nothing by mouth after twenty three hundred this evening. Understood?"

Mac nodded.

"Good. If you'll take a seat outside again, a Corspman will come and take you to X-ray."

"C'n find m'own way..." Mac suggested.

"Not going to happen, Colonel!" Pike grinned, "You'll ride, just like any other patient!"

Mac capitulated, but only because she wanted something, "C'n have X-ray of m'arm, too?" she asked.

Pike looked at her, "And if I say 'no'?" he asked.

"Then, when I get home, I ta'e scissors to it!" Mac said waving her plaster encased arm at him.

"You drive a hard bargain, Colonel!" Pike sighed as he scribbled an addendum to his disposition form.

Friday 23 March 2001 1751hrs EST, US-29 South, Halfway between Warrenton and Culpepper VA (232251ZMar01)

"I really thought that something had gone wrong at the last minute!" Loren said as she leaned back against the Lexus' head rest.

"So did I!" Harm grinned, "but it was just a last second handover, to finalise things and a warning not to burn the place down while he was gone!"

"Figuratively or literally?" Loren giggled.

"Both – I think!" Harm replied, joining in with Loren's laughter.

"So... what was in that envelope you left with the CP?" Loren asked once her giggles had subsided, "instructions on how to call the Fire and Rescue Service?"

"Ah, no... just contact instructions for the weekend, just in case something blows up that needs someone in the Big Chair."

Loren pouted slightly at that,. She didn't fancy the prospect of being dragged back to DC before time, but then sighed resignedly and shrugged, "Not my idea of a fun-filled weekend," she complained half-heartedly, "but I suppose it's something I'm going to have to get used to when you become the JAG!"

"What would ever make you think that I will ever be the JAG?" a startled Harm asked her.

"Oh come on, you're a shoe-in for the job! Who else is there? Mac? After her latest stunt? She'll be lucky if she gets to stay beyond her twenty. I can't see Chegwidden recommending her for promotion this year, or next. No, I reckon she'll hit the up or out option. Who else is there?"

"There are plenty of other Commanders and Captains too, who are ahead of me in terms of total years of service and time in grade."

"True, but by the time you come into the zone, they'll be long gone. I don't mean to imply that you'll step into Chegwidden's shoes, I reckon there'll be two, three, maybe even four JAGs after he's gone before you'll be in that position!"

"H'mm... and what makes you think I'll even want to be JAG... even all those years into the future, hey? There's far too much politics involved, not enough time in court – when did you last see the Admiral in court, other than as an observer, and definitely no investigations. No, I just don't see me doing that job full-time!"

"Well... I was kind of hoping that having a family might make you want to spend more time settled down somewhat. You know the chance for you to see our children grow up, attend their PTA meetings, graduation exercises, after school activities, and all that stuff, without having to hare off halfway around the world, risking your neck on some sort of investigation. Of course, it would also mean that our kids would have the chance of having their daddy around when they graduate, rather than going to visit him in Arlington every week."

"Wow! That got pretty heavy pretty quickly!" Harm risked taking his eye off the road for a split second to shoot a quick glance at Loren.

"Well, we have agreed that we want kids at some time in the future... and I'm pretty sure you said something about not wanting any more Rabb children to grow up without a father. So I thought that maybe, by the time we have kids, you'll be more ready, or at least more inclined to settle for a less adventurous life..." Loren let her voice trail off hopefully.

Harm didn't say anything for a minute or so while he considered her words, and then said, "Wow! Again! You sure said a heap. And you're right – at least about me not wanting any more fatherless Rabbs. I guess I just hadn't taken that thought to it's logical conclusion. But you have, and it's pretty plain that you've been giving it a lot of thought!"

"Yeah, well, I'm not just a pretty face," Loren grinned.

"Hell! I know that!" Harm expostulated as she chuckled, and then a thought occurred to him. He flicked on the indicator switch and slowed down, pulling onto the shoulder of the road, ignoring for the moment Loren's "Harm?" until he had brought the Lexus to a stop and applied the emergency brake.

Then he swivelled in his seat and looked directly at her, "Loren, is all this some roundabout way of telling me that we're going to have a baby?"

Loren looked stunned for a second, and then broke out into a peal of laughter, "Oh... no..." she gasped as her laughter died out, "just looking ahead to the future – our future!"

"Well I don't see what's so funny about it!" Harm huffed.

"Oh, it was from where I'm sitting!" Loren chuckled, "Oh, Harm, if you could only have seen your face!"

"Well, I know we're planning on having a family," he said a bit sheepishly, "and I know we agreed that it would be your timetable, not mine or mom's, but I always kinda thought it would be a decision we made together!"

"And it will be, stoopid!" she said lovingly, "But it's bound to take lots of practice, so why don't you get this show back on the road, so we can get checked in and then we can have an early dinner, and then get in some of that practice!"

"Just hold onto that thought!" he recommended as he disengaged the brake and selected 'Drive', checking his mirrors before he moved back onto the road and then practically flooring the gas pedal.

Friday 23 March 2001 1908hrs EST, Room 214, the Boars Head Inn, Ednam Drive, Charlottesville, VA, (240008ZMar01)

Harm dropped both sea bags on the bed as Loren closed the door, turning he pulled her to him and devoured her mouth with his.

"My turn to say...'wow!'" she smiled rather breathlessly, "And not that I'm complaining, but what was that for?"

"That was just to put everything on hold until we've showered, changed, and eaten, and then I'm planning a lot more of the same!"

"M'mm... sounds like a plan to me," Loren said, her hands going to her T-shirt's hem, "But I claim first dibs on the shower!"

"We could share it," Harm suggested artlessly, "We'd be saving time, and we'd be saving water!" he added.

Loren paused in the act of pulling her T-shirt over her head, lowering it enough so that she could give Harm one of 'those' looks. "You really think that us sharing a shower is going to be quick? I think not!" she ended decisively. "You're just going to have to wait your turn, mister!"

"You're a cruel, cruel woman, Loren Singer!" Harm accused her.

"Yeah, I know, but you love me for it!" Loren grinned throwing her T-shirt on the bed.

"For that, and for lots of other things!" Harm growled, once more sending shivers down Loren's spine.

"That's it! I'm outta here – before you talk me out of my shower and my dinner!" Loren gurgled and slipped past Harm's reaching arms and into the bathroom.

Harm grinned, shook his head and stripped down to his boxers while Loren was showering and then just had time to unpack their overnight gear, before she returned, wrapped in a towel, to the bedroom.

The sight of Harm with his shirt off was one that always made Loren mentally drool, but to see him in shorts – boxer or athletic, it didn't matter much – that exposed his powerful runner's legs was almost too much to stand, but she knew that if she didn't make a determined effort that although she'd had her shower, dinner was going to be very late if she got one at all.

"Go!" she managed with a grin that took the venom out of her words, "You need a shower after today!"

For a moment Harm was tempted to take hold of Loren and literally sweep her off her feet, but she seemed to have picked up on his thoughts and gave him a very direct look, but with the hint of a smile hovering at the corners of her mouth, "Go," she repeated, "Your shower awaits!" and then gave a shake of her head in disbelief at the strength of her own self-discipline as he gave her a wordless growl and stalked past her to the bathroom.

By the time Harm had showered and shaved, Loren had dressed in a clean shirt and jeans and with moccasins on her feet and was seated in front of the vanity plying hair-dryer and brush as she finished fixing her hair, and while she pretended to be absorbed in counting brush strokes, she wasn't quite above watching Harm's reflection in the mirror as he towelled down and dressed.

She put brush and dryer down as he fastened the buttons of a brushed cotton shirt, in a warm, terracotta shade and tucked the tails into his wash-faded jeans and pretended to eye him critically, "H'mm... that will do... I suppose. New shirt, Harm?"

"Uh, no not exactly," he replied torn between wanting to demand what the devil she meant by 'that will do' and his natural good manners that required him to answer her question, "I bought it the week before we went up to Gram's, I just hadn't gotten around to wearing it yet."

"It looks good on you," Loren smiled approvingly, "Very good... but," her voice took on a plaintive note, "I'm hungry, so can we please get going?" she batted her eyelashes at him.

"My pleasure, Miss Singer." He inclined his head.

"Oh, no Mister Rabb, the pleasure's going to be all mine!" she responded with a chuckle.

Friday 23 March 2001 1956hrs EST, Restaurant, the Boars Head Inn, Ednam Drive, Charlottesville, VA, (240056ZMar01)

Marie, the brunette Maître d' Hotel welcomed them with a bright, genuine smile, not only were they regular gusts, but they were the type of guests she genuinely enjoyed having in her restaurant, they were polite, cheerful, undemanding and most importantly they gave off an aura of enjoying themselves and wanting to be nowhere else but here. Of course, she knew that was nonsense, they were never here for lunch, so that they obviously just used the hotel as a base while pursuing some other activity, but while they were dining their attention seemed to be equally divided between the food and each other.

"Good evening Mister Rabb, Miss Singer, it's nice to see you again."

"Good evening Marie, it's just the two of us, as usual," Harm smiled, earning him a swift sharp sharp look from Loren.

"Of course, Mister Rabb. Sandie will take you to your table..."

"Our usual table?" Harm asked.

"Indeed."

"Oh, we can find it, alright, thank you, but could you have Sandie bring us a chilled bottle of mineral water along with the menus? It'll save her a trip."

"Yes, I'll do that, of course!"

Harm, with a hand at the small of her back, guided Loren through the tables to the little alcove that they had by degrees come to think of as theirs and then held her chair as she seated herself, smiling down into her eyes as she looked up to thank him. At his look, Loren's breath caught in her throat and she forgot any idea she might have had of teasing about him knowing the maître d's name and she found herself smiling back up at him.

Harm took a firm grip on his feelings, and despite wanting to ravish her on the spot, he forced himself to just dropping a swift, gentle kiss on her forehead, before moving around the table and taking his seat.

"I kinda like this," Loren said, gazing across the table at him.

"Oh yeah? What exactly do you like?" Harm asked, slightly suspicious that he was being set up; Loren had recently developed a disconcerting habit and talent for doing just that.

"I like being out in public, in civilian clothes with you, where we can indulge in those little spontaneous displays of affection," Loren explained. "I mean, if we'd been in uniform, even here, would you have done that?"

"Done what?" Harm asked, slightly confused.

"Would you have kissed me, even though it was only a peck on the forehead?"

"In uniform?" Harm asked, "No, of course not!"

"Exactly!" Loren exclaimed in triumph.

If Harm had been about to make any rejoinder, it was placed on hold as Sandie approached the table, bearing the required bottle of mineral water

"Good evening, Mister Rabb, Miss Singer, welcome back!"

"Thank you, Sandie," Loren answered, shooting a mischievous glance at Harm that left him totally flummoxed as to the meaning of it.

Sandie smiled at the by-play, although she had no idea of the reasons for it, or what it meant. All she saw was a loving couple in which both delighted in gently teasing each other. "I'll leave you to study the menu, and I'll come back in...?"

"Ten minutes?" Harm suggested, cocking an eye in Loren's direction.

"Yeah, ten minutes is fine," the blonde agreed as she opened her menu while Harm poured them both a glass of water.

Ten minutes, almost to the second, later the blonde waitress returned and with a friendly smile, subtly different to her professional one, she asked, "Are you ready to order yet?"

"Loren?" Harm invited her.

"Um... yeah... I'm in a kinda Mediterranean mood this evening," she explained with a smile, "So, I'll have Greek Salad followed by the Pan Fried Sea Bass with olives and peppers and wild rice, please."

"Got, it, ma'am," Sandie said as she scribbled on her order pad.

"I'll have the Greek Salad, too, please, to be followed by the vegetarian paella," Harm decided.

"Very good," Sandie agreed, "Anything from the cellar?"

"The Muscadet?" Harm asked Loren.

Loren nodded, "Yeah, that's dry enough to complement the fish – and the paella."

"The Muscadet it is, then," Harm told Sandie.

The couple passed the time waiting for and between courses by discussing plans for tomorrow. Harm wanted to just to sit back and let Loren practice the manoeuvres she had learned in the last few weeks, up to and including by Sunday, recovery from a stall-spin, but the undercurrent of deliberately fostered sexual tension was almost palpable and both Harm and Loren were happy to let it build, even to the extent of dawdling over their meal and then by Loren stating quite calmly that she would like something sweet for dessert.

Harm swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry, "What did you have in mind?" he asked.

"Um... I haven't had any for while," Loren mused aloud, "so I was thinking of a slice of Lemon meringue pie..."

Harm blinked, he had been certain that was not what Loren had meant, but..."Yeah, If I remember... you haven't had any of that since our first night here... when we were still in separate rooms, and you kissed me goodnight, on the cheek, outside your room..."

"Oh, yeah..." Loren breathed, "After I shut the door on you... you'll never know just how much I wanted, and dreaded, you knocking on the door..."

"You did?"

"Yeah... and no... I'm glad you didn't, even though I wanted you to, because it would probably have meant the end of our friendship before we ever got properly started!"

"You had no need to worry," Harm confessed, "That simple kiss on the cheek left me so stunned and confused that I was totally incapable of coherent thought or movement for damn near twenty minutes afterwards!"

"Oh... how so?" Loren asked curiously.

"Um... you... uh... showed me more affection that night than Mac had shown me since I returned from flying duties..." Harm said, flushing slightly with embarrassment as he confessed.

"Oh..." Loren said, herself now completely incapable of more coherent thought, and then to cover her confusion, and pleasure at having made such an impact, she looked around and caught Sandie's eye.

"Miss Singer?" the blonde waitress queried as she approached the table.

"A slice of Lemon Meringue Pie, and coffee for two also, please?" Loren asked.

"Certainly. Should I bring two forks?" Sandie smiled.

"No..." Harm started to say but was cut off by Loren.

"Yes, thank you, that's most thoughtful of you." Loren smiled.

Harm sighed, "That's the elevator out for at least a week, at work and at home – for both of us!" he grumbled at Loren.

"Yeah, I know..." she sighed, "But it is just so worth it!"

The pie and coffee arrived, and although Harm hadn't meant to take more than a couple of forkfuls of the former, he quickly rediscovered it's addictive properties, and by the time he sat back to let Loren chase the last few scraps around the dish he had made a significant contribution to its demise. He lifted his coffee cup and smiled as he looked across the table at Loren's face, set in a scowl of concentration as she hunted down the last of the crumbs, determined that not a single one should escape its ordained fate.

Feeling his eyes on her, she looked up and caught his half smile which triggered an answering smile on her face, smoothing out the lines of her concentration, "What?" she asked

"Oh... I was just sitting here and thinking how beautiful you are," Harm answered, taking comfort in the fact that his response wasn't a total lie.

Loren's mouth suddenly went dry, "I think... I think that you... that you'd better take me upstairs... and show me... not just tell me..."

"What about your coffee?" he asked smilingly, indicating her three quarters full cup.

"The hell with the coffee!" she exclaimed, but nevertheless picked up the cup and drained it a single swallow.

"C'mon, Mister Pilot man,quit dragging your feet!" she commanded as she stood.

Friday 23 March 2001 2247hrs EST, Room 214, the Boars Head Inn, Ednam Drive, Charlottesville, VA, (240347ZMar01)

The door almost slammed shut as Harm swept Loren into a fierce embrace and almost devoured her face and neck with hungry, demanding kisses.

"Harm!" Loren exclaimed with a crow of triumph as the edge of the bed caught her behind the knees, and she fell back on it, her arms, locked around Harm's neck dragging him down with her.

Saturday 24 March 2001 0123hrs EST, Room 214, the Boars Head Inn, Ednam Drive, Charlottesville, VA, (240623ZMar01)

Harm awoke with the feeling that something was wrong, something was missing... No, not something, but someone...

"Loren?" he asked the empty seeming darkness.

"Yeah, I'm here."

Harm turned his head towards the sound, towards the window, where he could make out Loren's silhouette as she stood staring out of the window.

He slipped out of bed and padded silently towards her on bare feet. "Something wrong, sweetheart?" he queried.

She turned slightly towards him, enough light coming in through the window to reveal that she had slipped his shirt on, but hadn't bothered to button it, keeping it closed by the simple expedient of crossing her arms below her breasts. slipping his arms around her waist

"No... nothing really, I just couldn't sleep... so I was just standing here, watching the lights on the lake." Her voice took a dreamy quality as she continued, "Do you remember our first night here, and I was so excited about the view..."

"Yeah, and I was a total ass," he replied slipping his arms about her waist from behind her.

"No... no, you weren't," she breathed, dropping her arms to hold his in place and leaning back against him. "You were absolutely right, about how the view and the... the... the feel of the lake changes with the seasons, look at it now... so many green leaves already, and even a hint of early blossom on one or two trees."

"M 'mm... so I get some credit for that weekend then, do I?" Harm asked.

"Stop fishing for compliments," Loren scolded him gently.

"I will, if you'll come back to bed," Harm said suggestively.

"You are such a smooth talker!" Loren smiled, dropping her hands and twisting to face him, forcing him to release his grasp around her waist. She offered her face for his kiss, and then just shrugged his shirt off her shoulders, Harm sensing the movement, broke the kiss and then his breath caught in his throat as the light outlined her nude body and he took a step back, reaching for Loren's hand and drawing her after him back to the bed.

This time their love-making had none of the frenzied passion of earlier, but was long, lazy, slow, sensual and totally fulfilling.

Saturday 24 March 2001 0633hrs EST, Room 214, the Boars Head Inn, Ednam Drive, Charlottesville, VA, (241133ZMar01)

Loren woke up to the smell of freshly made coffee and Harm's rich baritone in the shower, belting out a version of Gershwin's 'Summertime' from 'Porgy and Bess'. Smiling she threw off the covers and walked through into the bathroom, slipping behind the shower curtain, the sudden gust of comparatively cold air silencing Harm as he whirled in surprise, the sound of rushing water and his own voice having masked Loren's approach.

"Oh, don't stop!" she protested as he fell silent.

"Got better things to do with my mouth now you're here," he grinned and kissed her lightly on the forehead, "Good morning!"

"Good morning to you too!" she smiled, and then pouted as he stood back – well as far as the shower would let him, and chuckled.

"What's so damn funny?" she grumbled.

"Oh, I was just thinking about the first time we shared a shower!" he exclaimed, "You were so cute, trying to hide behind your hands! How times have changed!"

"Yeah, that's your fault!" she accused him, "You corrupted me!"

"I did?" he queried.

"No..." she shook her head, "but you did make me feel like a woman for the first time in my life. You made me feel that I wasn't ugly, stunted, hideous; that I had nothing to be ashamed of in the way I looked..."

"Oh, Loren..." Harm slipped his arms around her and pulled her in close, just letting her rest her head against his chest.

"No... don't worry, I'm fine now," she strained back against his arms and smiled up into his face, "Honestly, Harm, I'm really, really fine... except for one thing..."

"What's that?" he asked anxiously.

"It's this shower; it really isn't made for two people to share!" she said.

Saturday 24 March 2001 0851hrs EST, Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport, Charlottesville, VA, (241351ZMar01)

Harm waited until Loren had dismounted and grabbed her leather jacket and helmet then used his key fob to lock the Lexus. Then together, walking so close to each other that Loren's shoulder bumped against his upper arm they strolled around to the front of the hangar to greet Pop.

"Morning, Pop," they said, almost in chorus.

Pop sniffed in reply and said to Harm, "Damned iffen y'all ain't done and brung another woman with you."

"Hey, what's this?" Loren demanded, not sure whether Pop was joking or not.

"Hell, no... you're alright, it's that other one, wanting to know why there ain't a proper ladies' rest room in the hangar!" Pop spat disgustedly, "Hell, I told her that iffen she wanted bright lights an' make-up mirrors an' such, there was a-plenty of 'em over in the passenger terminal!"

Harm grinned unsympathetically, "Looks like progress is starting to catch up with you,Pop!" he clapped the older man on the shoulder, "Welcome to the twenty-first century!"

"Iffen this is progress, then you can darned well keep it!" Pop grumbled as he shuffled into the hangar's dark recesses, calling for his boys to "Wheel that damned old Stearman out onto the apron!"

Loren looked after him with a bemused expression, "Is it my imagination, or is he getting more and more cantankerous?" she asked.

"Maybe a tad grumpier," Harm half agreed, "So, before he takes his bad mood out any more on us, what say we get suited up and then up into the air?"

"Sounds like a plan," Loren agreed turning and making for the temporary 'Ladie's Room".

When she returned ten minutes later, Harm was confirming the details for the day with Pop, confirming the need, among other things for refuelling at lunch time.

Pop nodded, I reckon we can do that..."

"So... I'll just taxi over to the pumps when I land, and you'll send someone over with the keys, right?" Harm persisted.

"Yeah, got it!" Pop grumbled.

"Hey, Pop, what's up with you this morning. This isn't like you!"

"Aw, hell, son! I'm sorry, it's just that damned woman!"

"What woman, Pop?" Harm asked mystified.

"You rec'llect that Chipmunk Trainer?"

"Yeah... I met the owner last week back in DC... but she seemed OK..."

"Oh, it's not her... No. she's fine enough... it's that damned woman she brung down with her. All airs and damn graces, wanting this, wanting that, wanting a proper ladies' room! Damn it, I tried explaining to her that we didn't exactly have the facilities of Dulles or BWI, but she just went off on one, bitchin' 'about this an' that. I was damn glad when they finally went wheels up!"

Harm winced, but while he could easily sympathise, he wasn't that keen on bearing the brunt of Pop's frustration, "Well, look on the briht side, Pop, if it's a visitor she's brought that's being so picky, what's the odds she'll ever come back?"

"There is that," Pop grudgingly conceded, "but you keep bringing your'n with you!"

"Yeah, but she's not just a visitor any more, is she Pop?" Harm smiled fondly.

Pop looked him in the eye, and then sadly shook his head, "An' another one bites the dust," he said mournfully."

"You old fraud!" Harm grinned, "How long you been married now?"

"Don't rightly know as I c'n recall," Pop took straight-faced refuge in his broadening accent, "But danged iffen it don't seem like a life sentence!"

Harm shook his head,. But seeing the Stearman being wheeled out on to the apron, he clapped Pop on the shoulder, "Well at least I can get one female out of your hair for the morning,. See you later, Pop!"

Loren had already started the pre-flight walk round when he joined her, so he said nothing as he shadowed her while she painstakingly went through the drill he had taught her, nodding in silent approval as she completed each item on her mental check-list. At last she turned to him and said, "Everything looks fine, you ready?"

"Yes, ma'am. After you..."

Harm waited until Loren had settled herself into the front cockpit before climbing into his rear seat, "All set and strapped in?" he queried.

"Yep!" Loren called back over her shoulder.

"OK, wind her up and let's get going!"

Loren thumbed the starter and the engine coughed twice, spat out a plume of oily smoke from the cylinders and caught, settling down into a low throbbing note as Loren adjusted the magnetos.

Harm heard the crackle of static in his headset as she turned on the radio.

"Hello Charlottesville tower, this is Stearman November six, requesting clearance to to taxi to runway one five for take off."

"November Six, this Charlottesville tower, you are cleared for taxi to runway one five. Hold at threshold and call for take-off clearance!"

"November Six, roger."

Loren nudged the the throttle gently forward and the engine note picked up and the yellow bi-plane started to roll along the tarmac, weaving from side to side as Loren plied the rudder to keep her forward view unobstructed by the nose of the aircraft as it headed along the taxi-way.

As always it was with a silent sigh of relief that Loren brought the Stearman to a halt bang in the centre of the runway threshold. She applied the brakes and cut the throttle as she once again called the tower, "Charlottesville Tower, this is Stearman November Six requesting clearance or take-off for western manoeuvre area."

"Roger, November Six. Be aware that there is one other airplane in that area. Climb to Angels eight for transit!"

"Roger, Tower. November Six taking off now!" Loren opened the throttle to the gate and released the brakes. The Stearman rolled down the asphalt gaining speed with every passing second, Loren holding it down as the tail lifted until as the indicated speed passed seventy, she nudged the stick back and the old airplane lifted into the air with an ease that belied its age. Loren held on course zero one five until the plane had reached the stipulated eight thousand feet and then brought it round in a medium tight bank onto a heading of two seven zero, and settled back for the ten minutes it would take them to reach the designated manoeuvre area.

Saturday, 24 March 2001 0922 hrs EST, Female Orthopaedic Ward, National Naval Medical Centre, Bethesda, MD (241422ZMar01)

Mac awoke to a dry mouth and the taste and smell of onion. She had become too used, over the past few years, to feeling the after effects of a general anaesthetic to realise immediately that she was in a hospital, and then on top of that realisation, a dawning knowledge that she was in Bethesda and why she was there. Gently, she allowed her hand and tongue to explore her jaw inside and out, and a grin of sheer pleasure broke over her face as she realised that at last the hated wires that had held her lower jaw practically immobile for the last month had gone!

"Good morning, ma'am. How are you feeling?" a laughter filled voice spoke in he ear.

Opening her eyes, Mac turned her head in the direction of that very familiar voice and smiled into Harriet Sim's blue eyes, she tried to return the blonde's greetings but all she could manage was a feeble croak.

Harriet leaned over and retrieved a plastic cup of ice chips from the night stand, and dug out a teaspoon of them, "Here you go, ma'am, but mind the doctor says you're not to try and crunch them!"

Mac gratefully accepted the spoonful of ice and let them rest in her mouth feeling the coldness trickle down her throat as they melted. "Ohhh... Thank you, Harriet," she managed as the last of the ice melted, "and good morning!"

"Good morning again ma'am. I can't tell you how surprised were when we got the call from the hospital last night! I wish you'd told us beforehand, we would have brought you here quite happily."

"M'mm..." Mac managed as she looked at her cast-free but now bandaged left forearm. "Where's my uniform?" she asked plucking at the hospital gown in distaste, and then rubbing her jaw lightly as long unused muscle began to protest.

"Uh... I don't think you should be getting out of bed just yet, ma'am," Harriet protested as Mac started to swing her legs over the side of the bed, only to stop as she tried to stand up. "Wooh! I think... no, I'll be alright in a minute..." Mac said as she fought off a wave of dizziness. "Or maybe not, she said weakly as nausea overtook her, "Is there a bowl?" she asked faintly as she slumped back onto the bed.

"Try sitting up and then putting your head between your knees..." a worried Harriet offered, trying to be helpful.

Mac did as she was advised, but quickly sat up again, her face an interesting shade of pale green, "Nope, not working," she managed and then grabbed for the trash bin that Harriet had hastily thrust at her.

Harriet made a moue of distaste as Mac voided what little was in her stomach into the trash bin and hastily retreated into the hallway where she stopped a passing Corspman and asked for his help.

"I'm sorry, I'm on a detail, but I'll stop at the nurses' station and ask one of them to come and help you out!"

He was as good as his word, in a couple of minutes a nurse, whom Harriet thought she should have recognised, but couldn't figure out how or why arrived at the door to Mac's room.

"How may I help you. Ma'am?"

Saturday 24 March 2001 0932hrs EST, 8,000 Feet Over Western Manoeuvre Area, Near Charlottesville, VA, (241432ZMar01)

Harm switched his microphone to intercom and placed his hands and feet on the controls, "I have control,"

"You have control!" Loren confirmed, releasing the controls.

"OK, remember what we spoke about, about the causes and types of spins?"

"Yeah!"

"OK, well, a quick recap, a spin is caused when both wiongs stall, but when the lower wing in a bank stalls before the upper. Now I'm going to deliberately put us into a spin, and talk you through the recovery. Don't worry about what's happening outside the airplane, keep your eyes on the stick and on the pedals, got it?"

"Got it!"

Harm let the airspeed drop and then turned into a tight bank to port, and once into the turn attempted to tighten by applying hard left rudder.

The port wing stalled as the angle of attack increased, and the nose dropped as the Stearman yawed into a spin.

"Remember PARE." Harm said as the Stearman dropped out of the sky. "Power!" as he reduced the engine revs even more, "Ailerons!" Harm centred the stick so that the ailerons on both wings were in the neutral position. "Rudder!" he pushed on the pedal to apply starboard rudder. "Elevator!" he pulled the stick back until it was centralised in its vertical axis. And almost magically, the old bi-plane straightened up in a shallow dive, and Harm opened the throttle to regain level flight, and then increased the engine revs and pulled back on the stick in order to regain altitude.

"Do you want to try now?" Harm asked.

"Not yet!" Loren replied, "Can you talk us through it again?"

"OK, but this time I'm going to spin to starboard, and I'll try to make the recovery a little faster!"

"Gotcha!" Loren cried.

"OK, here goes!" Hard on the heel of his words, Harm entered into a spin to starboard, and allowing the Stearman to develop a six turn spin, he started the recovery, "Power... Ailerons... Rudder... Elevators!" he called as he applied each measure, and once again the docile old airplane recovered into a shallow dive, and once again Harm increased power and regained altitude.

"Another one?" Harm asked.

"Yes, please!"

Once again Harm deliberately put the Stearman into a spin and recited the PARE mantra, and once again the old lady behaved perfectly, straightening out and flying right.

"OK, Loren, you have control!" Harm told her.

"I have control!" Loren confirmed pushing the throttle forward and pulling back on the stick, climbing until she passed the 8,000 feet indicated on the altimeter.

"Remember how to go into a spin?"

"Yep, low speed, tight bank and apply rudder!" Loren answered.

"OK, it;'s all yours. Go ahead when ready!"

Loren licked her suddenly dry lips, cut the throttle to half speed and turned tightly to starboard, waiting until she was properly in the turn before attempting to tighten it by applying the rudder. It seemed to her now that she was at the controls that the spin developed with frightening speed. Shaking her head, as if to chase away the sudden fear, she shouted, "Power... Ailerons... Rudder... Elevator!" And if her recovery wasn't as slick and smooth as Harm's, it worked and the Stearman responded just as docilely for her as it had for him.

"Well done! Take us back upstairs!" Harm said, "and redo from start!"

"Yes, sir!" Loren's triumphant laugh was definitely adrenalin induced.

Five more times Harm had Loren effect a spin recovery, and then told her to go through another series of straight forward stall recoveries, before he spoke again into his microphone, "OK Loren, nearly time for lunch... take us home!"

"Roger!" Loren flew a wide, gently banked circle as she looked at the ground to pick up a landmark, and identifying a finger of the woods that pointed almost due East, she turned in that direction and set the throttle for cruising revs. Just over nine minutes later she was reward by the sight of the airport and set the radio to broadcast

"Charlottesville Tower, this is Stearman November Six, inbound from Western Manoeuvre Area at Angels eight, course zero eight seven degrees, range estimate four miles."

"Roger, November six keep coming and join left-hand circuit at Angels two, preparatory to landing at Runway one niner five right and call on finals"

"Join left hand circuit at Angels two for runway one niner five right, and call when on final approach, roger!"

Ten minutes later the Stearman's wheels gently kissed the asphalt of the runway as Loren flared her landing to make a perfect three point touchdown, and then basked in Harm's "Nice one!".

Once again though, she sweated through the, to her, still agonising ordeal of taxiing under Harm's instruction to where a bowser stood waiting alongside Pop's hangar. Blipping the throttle to clear each cylinder in turn, she cut the ignition letting the air-screw stutter into stillness before climbing out of her seat and stepping along the lower port wing until she could slide to the ground, where she expected and received her usual post-flight kiss from Harm who had, as usual climbed out of the rear cockpit before she had unstrapped herself from her seat.

He held her lightly by the waist as she rested her hands on the top of his shoulders and smiled down at her. "Well done!" he enthused, "That was a good morning's work!"

"And it felt like it too!" she half-joked, holding out a hand that was visibly shaking, and then she pulled a face, "My legs are doing that too – and my knees feel like jello!" she half complained.

"Well, let's go and get some of Pop's excellent lunch, if they'll support you that far," he indicated the hangar door, no moire than thirty feet distant, "or should I carry you?" he finished with a teasing smile.

"H'mm... decisions... decisions..." Loren appeared to give the matter some serious thought, but then sighed despondently, "No... much as the idea of you carrying me over the threshold appeals to me, I'm not really dressed for the occasion!"

Saturday 24 March 2001 1211hrs EST, Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport, Charlottesville, VA, (241711ZMar01)

With their arms comfortably around each other's waist Ham and Loren strolled into the Hangar Office to see that Pop had been joined by none other than Sue MacKenzie, in a Marine Corps flight suit,who turned towards the door as they entered and greeted them with a smile, "Hi, I wondered if I'd see you here today, and then when I landed, I saw the Stearman was gone, so I figured you were up there somewhere!"

"Hello Sue," Harm smiled, "You remember Loren?"

"Of course I do! Ah! Pop, settle an argument for us, please, which of these two is the Navy flier you were praising sky high?"

Pop looked uncomfortable and was tempted to pretend he hadn't heard as he took a slurping gulp from his coffee mug, while Harm and Loren aided his evasion by dragging chairs out and settling themselves at the corners of the desk.

But Sue MacKenzie was a Marine, through and through, and shared some of the attributes of the Corps' mascot, once she had her teeth into something, then like the bulldog, she had no intention of letting go. "Come on Pop, 'fess up," she cajoled the older man.

"Iffen you must know," the old glared at her, "it was..." he took a giant bite of his tuna and mayo sandwich, "hrrmphmm" he mumbled around his mouthful, and with an effort swallowed it. "There, you satisfied now?" he scowled.

Sue pouted, but was forced to laugh when Loren cried, "Oh, nice piece of obfuscation there Pop!"

"Indeed," a grinning Harm endorsed Loren's verdict, "Now will somebody please pass the pass the sandwiches?"

Sandwiches shared out, Harm lurched to his feet once more and poured Loren and he a cup of coffee, and paused looking meaningfully at Sue before he replaced the carafe back on the warm plate.

"No! Uh... I mean, no, no more for me thank you!" Sue corrected herself hastily.

"So..." Harm sat down again, I understand you had a passenger with you?"

"'Had' is the right tense, thank God!" Sue exclaimed, and seeing the amused yet slightly puzzled expressions on Harm and Loren's faces went on to explain, "I was incautious enough to mention on Thursday that I was going flying this weekend, and my OIC, Major Velasquez overheard me, and more or less invited herself along." She paused and gave a slight shrug, "You know how that goes!"

Harm grimaced in sympathy, "Yeah, it's kinda hard to say 'no' when it's your boss!"

Sue nodded gloomily but then grinned, "Anyway it all ended for the best. I don't know what she expected but what she found certainly didn't match her expectations. Neither the facilities, nor the airplane suited her, and the minute I put the brakes on, she was up, out and into her car and away!"

"For God's sake, it's a general aviation hangar, just what did she expect?" Harm asked.

"From her comments, something akin to Dulles and a seven fifty seven... Oh, excuse me, I'd better get this..." Sue broke off the conversation as it was interrupted by the strains of the Marine Corps Hymn as interpreted by Nokia, and retrieved her cell phone from the breast pocket of her flight suit.

"MacKenzie... Oh, hi, Sarah... Oh! That's great news! When are they letting you out? Wow! That's quick! No... I'm out of town at the moment, but I'll be back in DC this evening. I'll give you a call. Yeah, sounds good to me! I bet you are!" she laughed, "OK, I'll call you 'bout nineteen thirty hours!" She closed her 'phone and turned a beaming face towards Harm and Loren. "That was Sarah, my cousin..." she looked at their blank faces, "You know, Colonel MacKenzie... Mac?"

"Yes, yes, of course," Loren stammered, "It's just we're so not used to her being called anything other than 'Mac' or 'ma'am' that it took a few seconds for us to make the connection!"

Harm nodded his agreement and then frowned, "Hey, how come you could understand her on the 'phone, it's difficult enough sometimes face to face!"

"Oh, why...? Oh, of course the wires! No, that was what she was calling about. She's in Bethesda and they've taken the wires out and taken her arm out of plaster. I guess she's a fast healer! They're releasing her a bit later this afternoon and she wanted to know if I was up for joining her in a celebratory steak! She says she starving for real, solid food!

"Yeah, I'll bet!" Harm grinned. "You wouldn't believe how much that woman can eat, and never put on a pound! She says its due to a great metabolism! And the junk she eats too!" Harm shook his head regretfully, "Mac's idea of haute cuisine is a Beltway Double Cheeseburger with everything, a super size fries and a double thick chocolate milk-shake!"

"That is so gross! And so unfair!" Loren lamented, "If I so much as look sideways at anything like that, I'm rubber banding my skirt button for at least two weeks before I'm back to normal size!"

"Oh... well... I wouldn't say it was gross..." Sue said, "Sounds like a pretty good snack to me." she took a look at the horrified expressions on Harm and Loren's faces, and then burst into laughter, "Only joking, it's not a snack, it's a pretty substantial meal, it would certainly do me for a dinner!"

"Yeah, but Mac eats that for lunch!" Harm retorted.

Pop looked at his three clients, and at the expressions on their faces and burst into wheezing laughter.

"Not funny, Pop!" Harm complained.

"Yep it is! And it's your own fault for distracting me! I misremembered, but this arrived in the mail while you were up this morning!" He handed Loren a slim brown envelope. She took it and her eyes widened as she read the return address.

"Harm... it... it's... it's from Mike..." she faltered, "You open it, please!"

"But it might be your results," he demurred, "Don't you want to read them yourself?"

"No," she shook her head, "I'm too nervous!"

Harm looked askance at her, "Just open the damned thing, Harm, please!"

Harm sit the enveloped open and pulled out the single sheet of paper it contained and unfolded it. He read it through carefully, twice, deliberately prolonging Loren's agony. The he shook his head mournfully.

"For Christ's sake Harm! Tell me!" she pleaded.

"Oh, Loren, Loren... You only scored ninety two per cent..."

"Oh crap!" she burst out, and her face fell, "I thought I did so well... wait a minute! You son of a bitch!" she erupted, exploding out of he chair, "Ninety two per cent! I'll..."

Whatever threat she might have been about to offer, and Harm was pretty sure it was going to be a threat, was cut off as he threw his arms about her in a hug, lifted her off her feet and kissed her thoroughly, not breaking the kiss until the need for air drove them apart. He put her down on her feet and laughed delightedly.

"Yeah, ninety two per cent! Loren Singer! I am so proud of you!"

Loren laughed right back at him, although she was till red-faced, "Ninety two per cent!" she almost danced on the spot.

"Yeah – and that's an 'A' in anyone's book!" Harm grinned.

"Yeah, it is!" Loren agreed with huge grin, "Ninety two per cent, wow!"

sue looked on in amusement, "Ninety two per cent of what?" she asked.

"Ground school – Stage One!" Harm enthused, "Conducted by an FAA certified Flight Instructor! So it's official!"

Sue grinned even more broadly and thrust a hand in Loren's direction, "Congratulations, Loren! Now I know who Pop was bigging up to me last week. Well done!"

Saturday, 24 March 2001 1322 hrs EST, Female Orthopaedic Ward, National Naval Medical Centre, Bethesda, MD (241822ZMar01)

"Now, remember Colonel no hard food for at least ten days, let your muscles get used to chewing again before you put any stress on the bone. So, no steaks, no hard candy, no apples or pears. Soft fruit, peaches, bananas are OK. Soft food, soft bread, ground beef or lamb, chicken is OK so long as it's moist, and in small pieces, deep pan pizzas, yes; thin crust probably no. No hard cookies..."

"Yeah, I got that, thanks Doc," a disappointed Mac grumbled. "Are you sure about the no steaks thing?" she asked plaintively.

"Absolutely!" Commander Pike told her sternly.

"But ground beef is OK?" she asked.

"Yes, ground beef dishes are fine, anything like lasagne or moussaka ..."

"What about burgers?"

"Yes, burgers are OK," Pike conceded.

Mac turned to Harriet in delight, "See, now when Harm complains as soon as he sees me with a Beltway Burger bag – and you know he will – I can cite doctor's orders!"

Commander Pike grinned ruefully and said to Harriet, "I've just been played, haven't I?"

"Yes, sir. I think you have!" the blonde lieutenant agreed.

Saturday 24 March 2001 1344hrs EST, Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport, Charlottesville, VA, (241844ZMar01)

Sue had gone to take the Chipmunk up again, saying she need to clear her head after a stressful morning hearing her OIC complain about everything, leaving Harm and Loren to decide what to do for the afternoon. Harm suggested a cross-country flight that would help Loren sharpen her navigational skills, and as a reward for passing her ground school. They could carry on with the training tomorrow, he argued, but after achieving such results, to condemn her to an afternoon of circuits and bumps would be unkind.

Loren had grinned at the prospect but had warned him, "Don't think that by turning me up sweet that you're off the hook about winding me up like that!".

Sunset would be a minute or two before nineteen thirty hours, and Harm wanted to be back, wheels down, before then, so that left them about six hours from now.

They pored over an aerial chart, plotting a route with timings and course changes that would bring them back to Charlottesville with sufficient fuel on board to divert if necessary,

"OK then," Harm said as he wrote down the course headings and timings, "We'll call this Navex One, from here more or less West to Staunton, and the North by North East to Hagerstown, then West again to Cumberland, then South South East to Augusta and then South all the way down to Harrisonburg and then South east back to here. Don't forget to convert grid headings to magnetic headings before you plot them on your thigh pad, together with mileage and speed, so you'll know when to change course if landmarks are clouded over.

"What altitude, Harm? I was thinking of six thousand, that's low enough to identify landmarks, but high enough to increase range of vision."

"Yeah it's as good as any. Now, I've got to take this over to the tower and file out flight plan, that is if you've finished?" Harm said as Loren plied dividers and checked their readings against the scale bar at the bottom of the chart.

"Oh yeah, I'm just working out the course corrections from Grid to Mag, but I've got all the way points noted."

"OK, I'll be back in ten!"

Harm was as good as his word and returned to find Loren immersed in a thorough pre-flight check. Unlike this morning when he had been content to let her do the pre-flight without supervision he stopped her about a quarter of the way through, "Loren, I don't want you think I don't trust you, but this is the longest hop you'll have done to date. So let's go back to the beginning of the pre-flight, I want to double check everything and make sure we haven't missed even a moth hole in the fabric!"

Loren felt a twinge of disappointment, but Harm had told her the story of his and Mac's forced landing and their subsequent encounter with murderous poachers, so fighting back any resentment she might have felt, she returned to the port wing and started her check again, this time with Harm ensuring that between them they missed nothing that could possibly affect their flight.

Harm even went so far as to open the tools and spares box he now carried in the baggage stowage and made sure he had a full set of spare plugs, fuel pipes and oil pipes and the means to fit them, and then startled Loren by taking his Browning from the rear of his waist band and placing that in the tool box too.

Seeing her surprised look, he grinned sheepishly, "I don't expect to need it, but just in case..."

"Yeah, I know," to his surprise Loren grinned back, "Prepare for the worst, that way you cut down on unpleasant surprises!"

"You've been talking to too many fighter jocks!" he accused her.

"Only the one," she grinned.

"Oh yeah, and who was?" that he teased.

"Never did catch his real name... "she said thoughtfully, "but I met him in Falls Church a few months ago... not a bad looking guy," she added ruminatively.

"Gonna get you for that!" he cautioned her.

"Oh no, Mister Pilot Man, I still owe you real big time for that stunt with the ground school results. And like you keep telling me, payback's a bitch!"

Harm chuckled and shook his head, "Go on, get on up there!"

Once they were both settled into their respective seats, Harm flicked the radio to intercom,."OK Loren, light her up!" before he switched back to broadcast and called the tower.

Requests made and clearances obtained the little yellow bi-plane rolled out down the runway and eased into the air with Loren at the controls. Reaching six thousand feet, she made a gentle bank to starboard and settling on the heading scribbled on her thigh-pad she turned west and made for Staunton.

Pop watched them go, shading his eyes against the afternoon sun as the Stearman faded into a black speck in the distance and eventually disappeared into the wild blue yonder.