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In Their Own Words - Ghosts

Harm    Mac    Bud    Clay    AJ-Version A    AJ-Version B

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Due to a clerical error on my part, there are two versions of AJ for this episode

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Rear Admiral A.J. Chegwidden

By Packrat (packing@gte.net)

I wonder if it's possible to go quietly nuts.

After the past few days, the nuts part is all too possible, but I suspect I wouldn't be quiet about it. More like Mt. St. Helens -- one spectacular eruption.

These days it's OK, even encouraged, to go to a shrink and spill your guts. Better to talk it out than bury it deep inside. Problem is, that's not...me. Hell, I'm over fifty. I was born and raised in Texas. I've been a Cold War warrior all my life. And none of those things encourages me to sit down and tell all for the benefit of some weenie who's never even picked up a gun, much less broken a guy's neck because it's the quickest and quietest way of getting rid of an enemy. I have, and I'm not about to "share" what's eating at me. Even though the folks I depend on the most at JAG know something about what has been going on, I still don't plan to turn them into my own personal wailing wall.

Hence, the glass of scotch, the pen, and the yellow legal pad. If I want to rant and rave, at least no one will see it here; and I'll have a chance to think about everything that's killing me right now. Whether it will do me any good is a question for another day.

So, what's the problem? Spit it out, sailor. Come on, you stupid squid! What's eating at your innards, huh?

How about, it seems that every time I get a chance at a good relationship with a woman, it goes sour? Hell, I've never been one to refuse a woman's warmth, but once I got out of my horny early twenties, I realized that what I really wanted was a safe harbor, a wife and a home and a family. I tried it, too; married a beautiful, passionate woman but it didn't work out. She was too young and too spoiled and -- admit it, you jerk -- unable to adjust to being the wife of a guy who disappeared at irregular intervals, who could never let her know where he was going. God, it's no wonder she spent most of the time not only homesick but scared stiff because she didn't know whether I was alive or dead. Looking back, I can see all too well why Marcella gave up on us. There were other women over the years, of course, but I made sure, up front, that they knew my career came first. I know damned well that was what made those relationships come apart, but by that time I was so into what I was doing that I wasn't willing to let anything get in the way.

No, dammit! Be honest, sailor. You knew what your life was going to be way back at the Academy, and you made those choices by the time you were twenty. Being assigned to a ship and going on regular deployments had nothing to do with it.

Shit!

I was on the beach at thirty-eight. If I'd worked at it, I could still have had a decent marriage. It's not as if there weren't women around, in law school and after. I'd bet that more than one woman would have enjoyed the assignment in Hawaii when I was the JAG in the Pacific, but I didn't do anything about it. Instead, I let the job eat me up, just like I've done the past couple of years here in DC.

Then, a few months ago I met Laura. Smart, funny, a big girl, just the size I like 'em. We met at one of those interminable parties that happen around Washington. She started teasing me about being a lawyer. Funny part was, she was a judge. She'd grown up on a farm in Ohio. That may not be Texas, but the rest of it was one hell of a lot like the way I was raised - bicycling all over the county with her buddies, swimming at the local lake, driving tractor for her dad, putting every bit of energy into school and sports and seldom thinking beyond the next meal. You have to be a growing fourteen-year-old to truly appreciate how important food is. Laura always hated how tall she was, towering over most of the boys she grew up with. It made her a little isolated, and she threw herself into preparing for a career, assuming that she'd never find anyone who could match her in the brains department and still be tall enough to look decent as a couple. She finally did meet Phil Delany in law school, and they married once they had graduated. She did the good little wife thing and followed him to Washington when he worked for a congressman and then went with one of the Beltway Bandits; but she made sure she built her own career, too, and, pretty soon, she outstripped him. Poor sod! He couldn't handle it, and their marriage began to come apart. From what she said, they stuck it out for a long time, but she finally couldn't take it anymore, and she separated from him about six months ago. We met something like four months after that, and that was the most enjoyable two months I've spent in years -- too many years. No one else has had the guts to do thing like send me flowers at the office, that's for sure!

Laura...

Damnation!

I stood out in those woods last Sunday morning, a place I've run more times than I can count, and I knew there was something wrong. I *knew* it -- I just couldn't put a name to it until Laura tripped the wire to the fake mine. She was more mad than scared, and more worried about me than herself; but I saw the holed-out Buddha, and I knew what that meant. Problem was that I couldn't explain it to her; she never understood the absolute necessity of security and how totally that is drilled into every member of a military service. She didn't know about the ugly part of it, the part I've never talked about, either, and she was the kind to get their teeth into something and not let go. Worse, she refused to take me seriously when I went to her office and said we had to quit seeing each other till the problem was cleared up. She even went out to the house because she wanted to talk it out. I'm not so stupid that I don't know a decent relationship requires two people to talk seriously and honestly to each other; she just had no idea how dangerous the situation was and I wasn't able to protect her.

I couldn't keep that piece of shit from destroying her instead of me.

It's not the first time someone has been hurt because I put them in a situation where it was bound to happen. It's just that, when you're in the military, you get used to the reality of people taking chances and going into danger, usually for good reasons. You can live with it under those conditions. When someone innocent of the whole situation is killed because they walked into a trap set for you, that's a hell of a lot harder to take.

So she died. She stepped on a mine set in the steps of my house that was intended for me. I walk out that door every morning now and make myself go down those steps, even though I wish to hell that I could just sneak out the back door. I'm never going to forget seeing her on the porch. I'm never going to get over yelling at her -- yelling! - "Dammit, Laura, I told you...!" right before she was blown up. And I'm never, ever, going to forget holding her, knowing she was still alive and that there was no way she could survive, screaming at the universe for the horrible wrongness of the whole thing....

Gayle Osborne, that son of a bitch, had, no doubt, been planning it for months, ever since he got back to Washington from the crummy assignment the Firm gave him after the Magida debacle. He even killed Chief Stroud in order to set me up.

The sophistries of villains! He claimed that it didn't matter that the Chief had died, that he'd been terminal within months with cancer anyway. What a bunch of crap! He had absolutely no right to make that decision and he robbed Chief Stroud and his wife of a few more months they might have spent together. It was typical of Osborne, though. He had no honor, no integrity, and I'm not sure he ever knew the difference between what was right and what was absolutely, utterly wrong. As far as he was concerned, Laura just got in the way. Hell, knowing him, he probably enjoyed the fact that she was killed and it hurt me.

OK, Osborne, you shit, it hurt me! Are you satisfied?

So you walk around in shock for a while and think about angry husbands that blame you for the death. (Poor, stupid, useless son of a bitch. He's probably never had to walk away from a death like that before.) You boil with anger and you think about revenge. You think about slitting the guy's throat, breaking his neck, making him walk into a mine, just like he did to Laura - and, bit by bit, the idea begins to take shape.

How could I get him to walk into a mine? At the same time, I kept thinking about the situation he had been at such pains to remind me of, the deal with Jack Holford. I despised Holford, too, for much the same reasons. He loved killing people, didn't care whether it was justified or not, and he really liked inflicting pain on them. Just the killing wasn't enough: he had to hurt them first. My squad had seriously discussed fragging Holford more than once. Much as I agreed with them, I put a stop to it; but when Holford was shot -- one shot from a handgun, not multiple shots from an automatic weapon -- I had to wonder whether it was one of my guys who took him out. Since then, I've wondered whether Gayle Osborne was behind that one, too. There was no way to prove it, though, especially when Holford's body disappeared; so I kept my mouth shut, although it's eaten away at me ever since. It wasn't the killing, either; I can kill. I've done it many times; but it was duty, not murder. So, even hating him as much as I did, I couldn't just kill Osborne, no matter how much he deserved it.

Maybe some will think what I did was just as bad. I'm not so sure. In my mind, it was justice. I didn't enjoy it, but it needed to be done. That animal couldn't be allowed to run free and kill again. So I set him up. I faked a resignation, talking to the bug he had planted in my office, the one I found as soon as he left -- even Osborne is pretty obvious at times. I had Rabb and MacKenzie speculate to the bug about whether I was going to kill Osborne. I even had a friend (my "sister Adele") call Roberts so that he blurted out information Osborne needed. Gayle swallowed the whole thing, too. Went straight to the house where we'd told him he could find Holford, and I took him.

Gayle knew damned well how angry I was. When I offered him a chance in the clearing in the woods, tossed him that knife, he grabbed at it, putting his foot right on the mine. You never forget the sound of that "click," or the sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, knowing that if you move you'll get blown to bits! He didn't know whether it was real or fake, but he knew that I had suckered him and that he was probably in mortal danger. Hell, he was so completely without honor that he figured I was, too. That's the mistake all men like him make. He really believed that I might kill him, and he blurted out everything I needed to condemn him. As bad as Webb is, he was a useful friend that day, too. Osborne, the sweeper, will be swept under the rug in the next few weeks, and he'll never kill another person.

Poor Rabb. He's a smart guy, but he's still an innocent in some ways. He actually thought for a moment that I had put a real mine in the ground for Osborne to step on, too. I hate to think that my staff believes me capable of that, but have to admit that I've been pretty grim about this whole thing. Loss and grief and anger makes a corrosive combination. In any case, I think Rabb got the point that if he enjoyed Osborne's dilemma, he just became another Holford or Osborne. For damned sure, I don't want anyone like that in my office -- or in my corps, for that matter.

My hand hurts. Time to put the pad and pen away. This is going to go into a drawer, and I may never get it out again, but I'll know it's there and maybe it will help me make it from day to day till time makes things better. As for my bottle of single malt, I plan to get stinkin' drunk tonight. It's the only way I'll achieve unconsciousness, and I think I deserve a few hours of oblivion.

To absent friends!

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Disclaimer: While based on the JAG episode, this is for entertainment purposes only and no profit is being made.