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Every Tom Dick and Crazy - Part 4
A few minutes later
Harm heard Meg approaching his open door and called for her to come in before she could raise her hand to knock.
“I called Baskin. He’s on his way. What’s going on?” Meg stood curiously by Harm’s desk.
“This.” Gesturing to the piece of paper in front of him, Harm waited patiently for Meg to walk over and read. He could tell when she reached the reference to ‘Commander Homewrecker’ by the way her eyes suddenly grew wide. Before either could make a comment, Staff Sergeant Tibb was knocking at the door.
“You sent for me, sir?”
“Yes, at ease, Sergeant. I need to know what time this was delivered, and by whom.” Harm carefully lifted the plain white envelope, careful not to damage any more physical evidence than he may have already.
“Yes, sir. A young boy, blond hair, around 8 years old, dropped it off at 0645. He said he was helping Mrs. Rabb.” The sergeant stood at parade rest, hoping he hadn’t done something wrong.
“Mrs. Rabb? Did he say anything else?”
“Not really, sir. I asked what he was doing up so early and he said Mrs. Rabb had given him ten quid if he could deliver it to you before school.”
“And you didn’t find that odd?”
Sergeant Tibb paused, wondering how to phrase what he was thinking without risking his career. “Sir, when my wife and I were newlyweds we surprised each other with little gifts and notes all the time. Sometimes it was a note in my lunch, or on Millie’s windshield. This reminded me of that. It didn’t appear that this note was anything much different, sir.”
“I see. Have you seen this boy around before?”
“Very well. Dismissed, and close the hatch behind you please.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
Harm and Meg waited for the door to latch shut.
“What do you think?”
“I think he’s right. Newlyweds send each other notes all the time. On the other hand, security may need to be stepped up a bit.” Meg tipped her head, shrugging one shoulder. Suddenly she was very thankful the only thing in the letter was a veiled threat and not biological spores.
“Dare I ask exactly who ‘Commander Homewrecker’ is?” Meg stepped back around to the other side of the desk and took a seat.
“Well, considering there are only 12 officers in this office, only three of you are full Commanders, and you’re the only female among them, I think the choice is pretty clear.”
“What did ‘I’ do?” Meg stared at Harm incredulously.
“Hey, I didn’t write the note. Why the hell has this lunatic killed four women?” A twinge of panic rushed through Harm. Did this mean Meg was his newest target?
“Harm, look at this.” Meg sat up straight and pointed with a pencil to the line ‘until she’s learned her lesson.’ “Why is it singular? Shouldn’t that be until ‘they’ve’ learned their lesson?”
“Until who’s learned their lesson?” Darrell Baskin asked from the doorway. Having taken full advantage of Petty Officer James’ momentary absence, he saw fit to simply let himself in unannounced.
“Didn’t your mother ever teach you to knock?” Harm took a deep breath. Meg merely pointed to the letter on the desk.
Ignoring Harm’s accusatory tone, Baskin strolled over to the desk and perched himself behind Harm’s large chair, staring down at the letter. “I see.”
“Good, then you can explain it to us?” Meg snarked rather sharply.
“Whoever wrote this note is killing the same person.” Darrell noticed the odd expression on both his temporary associates’ faces. “The killer is fixated on teaching one person, one woman, a lesson. Something about each of his victims reminds him of her. My guess is there’s some association with infidelity since he seems to be accusing …” Darrell looked up at Meg. “You?”
“Me,” she nodded. “But it’s unfounded.” She wasn’t sure why she felt the need to point that out. It should have been obvious.
“I’m sure. Nothing personal, but if I were recently married to Mrs. Rabb, I wouldn’t be looking elsewhere for comfort yet either.” Darrell intentionally ignored the pointed glare Harm gave him. “Speaking of which, where is the little woman?”
“On her way,” Harm responded through slightly clenched teeth. His dislike for Darrell Baskin was escalating by the minute.
“I’ll take this to the lab. Make sure it gets top priority. With any luck, they’ll be able to get something from it.”
“I’m not holding my breath,” Meg interjected. “Looks like ordinary copy paper, inkjet printer. Nothing traceable.”
“Ah, but you’re overlooking one simple detail,” Baskin replied rather smugly. “This isn’t A4 paper. This was probably sent by a Yank, or at least someone working with Yanks.”
Harm glanced up at Meg. He hated to admit it, but the man was right. They were so used to seeing US standard 8.5 by 11 paper that they’d neglected to notice it wasn’t the longer, narrower standard A4 paper all of Britain used.
“Well, at least we know we’re right about one thing.” Shrugging at Harm, Meg repeated what they’d all been dreading. “We’re looking for one of our own.”
“Sir,” Beth James’ voice came over the intercom. “Your wife is here.”
“Send her in.”
“Having a party without me?” Mac smiled as she entered the room. Seeing Harm still seated, she followed his lead and kept the meeting strictly professional.
“It seems we have a new invitation,” Meg offered, pointing to the letter. “The inspector was just about to bag it.”
Mac scanned over the letter before carefully looking at the others in the room.
“Well, now that we’ve all had a chance to examine the evidence,” Baskin’s sarcastic tone wasn’t lost on anyone, “I’ll take this in and see what the lab can find out.” Without any further comment, he nodded at the ladies and made his way out the door.
“I thought all English were supposed to be impeccably polite,” Mac commented to Meg, taking the seat next to her.
“Apparently they missed one.” Meg raised one arm, flipping her hand in an appropriate gesture.
“So what did you come up with?” Mac asked.
“This paper is standard 8.5 by 11, not British A4,” Meg started.
“So, we definitely are looking for an American?”
“Looks like it. According to the MP, the letter was delivered by a little boy. He said he was doing a favor for you.” Meg carefully watched Mac’s expression at that bit of news.
“Uh huh. And in case you’re wondering, we think I’m ‘Commander Homewrecker’.”
“What? Were you two making out in a dark booth at the pub last night?” Mac teased, surprised to see the startled look on both Harm’s and Meg’s faces.
“That’s it, isn’t it?” Meg turned asking Harm, her eyes wide as saucers.
“Somebody must have seen us,” he confirmed, shaking his head ever so slightly.
“You WERE making out in a back booth?” Mac knew better, but she needed to get them to include her in this conversation.
“Maaac… NO. But we were alone for what, an hour, maybe, before you got there.” Harm looked to Meg for confirmation.
“About that long, and I did kiss you hello. I mean on the cheek, but after all, that’s not exactly standard protocol. I suppose the dart game might have looked a little cozy to someone watching who didn’t know we’ve been friends for over ten years, and that we’ve saved each other’s six often enough to be in some sort of partner hall of fame."
“Then we’re right on two counts. Our perp is an American, probably military, and he has reason to be around Kensington in the evenings. Most likely lives there,” Mac counted off.
“And he’s easily upset by what appears to be infidelity. That would explain setting the victims up like Jack the Ripper’s hookers. He could be picturing these women’s broken relationships…”
“Or new ones,” Harm interjected calmly.
“Or new ones,” Meg repeated, surprised she hadn’t noticed that before. “Of course, these new dates are a sign of infidelity to the future husbands abandoned while serving in Iraq!”
“Fine. We’re on track on three counts. Now all we have to figure out is who this guy is.” Mac sighed heavily. They were so close and yet still so far.
“Ten quid!” Harm practically shouted, straightening stiffly in his chair.
“What?” Mac questioned.
“Ten quid. Sergeant Tibb said Mrs. Rabb paid the boy ten quid to get the letter to me before working hours. We can’t find our man because we should be looking for a woman!”
Mac and Meg stared at Harm in stunned silence, both running through the possibilities in their minds.
“Harm, it doesn’t make sense,” Mac finally spoke up. “Why would a woman be out killing other women?”
“Maybe she feels guilty. She doesn’t want to die, so she’s symbolically killing herself through her victims,” Harm offered.
“Maybe she’s just an accomplice. A friend or relative,” Meg speculated.
Turning to face Meg. “It must be some friend if she’s willing to set someone up for murder,” she countered.
“What if this letter has nothing to do with setting up the next murder. What if this is simply a friend helping a buddy pull a joke on his CO?” Meg continued.
“Or get even with him for a dressing down?” Mac’s eyes suddenly grew wide as saucers.
Harm silently watched his wife and Meg bat information back and forth a moment longer before interrupting. “I’m not sure we should discount the possibility that a woman is the perpetrator and not merely an accomplice.”
“Projected suicide sounds a little iffy to me. Any other motives?” Mac asked.
Harm shook his head. “I don’t know.”
“Friend or relative could still work,” Meg suggested. “Maybe she saw how a buddy on the line was affected by a breakup, or a brother, or even a son.”
“If she has a son she’s probably too old to fit the profile of a serial killer,” Mac pointed out.
“If she’s a woman she already doesn’t fit the profile. I think we should keep our initial parameters fairly broad,” Meg shrugged one shoulder.
“Agreed,” Mac and Harm nodded.
“Add women with broken engagements to the list we’ve already got of guys returning, as well as any women who may have been stationed in Iraq. Then look for any women with brothers or sons who recently returned from Iraq. We’ll weed out the friends and family with broken engagements once we’ve had a chance to look over all the new lists.” Harm rubbed his temple. New theories were supposed to narrow the search, not double the workload.
“Do we tell Baskin what we’re doing?” Meg questioned.
“Not yet. Let’s narrow down the theory to something manageable before we approach him.”
Harm and Mac’s Flat
“Hi, beautiful.” Harm leaned over the sofa and kissed Mac hello. Dropping his briefcase on the floor, he plopped down beside her, his head falling heavily against the back of the oversized piece of furniture.
“You look exhausted,” Mac frowned slightly.
Meg and PO James had spent the rest of the day gathering lists of sailors that fit the requirements and getting personnel files. Mac had come home to spend some time with Mattie. Slowly, she began running her fingers gently through Harm’s hair. “It’s starting to get a little long.”
“Haven’t had time to get it cut.” Harm had let his eyes fall closed at Mac’s gentle touch. He had a headache the size of all England.
“It looks good. Takes a good five years off your age,” she smiled.
“Are you insinuating I’m getting old?” Harm opened one eye.
“No, just that you should consider leaving your hair a little longer. It still passes muster and makes you look even sexier.” She withheld a giggle at the cute way the corners of Harm’s mouth twitched upward.
“You two at it again?” Mattie shook her head as she rolled into the living room.
“At what?” Harm raised his eyebrows, feigning innocence. No sense in admitting what he was really thinking. Besides, Meg had given him way too many files to go through to even consider following up on what was going through his mind.
“Never mind. I guess you’re cute in a sort of an old people way.”
“Old people? That’s two people in ten minutes telling me I’m old. I may start to develop a complex, or worse…” Harm very very slowly began moving to get off the couch. Grimacing at every motion, he mimicked someone older than Methuselah.
“Oh, lord. See what you started.” Mac shook her head at Mattie just as Harm reached her wheelchair and began tickling her feverishly.
“…or maybe not.” He laughed wildly as Mac joined forces with Mattie, turning the tables against him until he was rolling on the floor with laughter, his two favorite women sprawled around him.
“So what’s for dinner?” Mattie panted after they’d all collapsed in exhaustion.
Flat on their backs, staring at the ceiling, catching their breath, Harm and Mac turned to Mattie.
“Don’t look at me that way. Winning the battle of the tickles makes a girl hungry,” the teenager grinned impishly.
“You sure you’ve never considered the marines?” Harm teased.
“It’s always a consideration,” Mattie shot back.
Reaching his arm over his head, Harm pulled a throw pillow off the sofa and tossed in it Mattie’s direction. “Consideration, huh?”
“Oh, no!” Mac jumped up, biting her lower lip so not to laugh. “This Marine is hungry too and if we start the battle of the pillows I’m going to spend the rest of the week cleaning feathers.”
“Spoil sport!” Harm and Mattie called out simultaneously, both overcome with another fit of laughter.
Harm let out a deep sigh before getting up to help Mattie back into her chair. This was exactly the break he needed from the pressure of this frustrating case. With each passing day he wondered more and more how he had ever considered himself happy without Mac and Mattie in his life.
They had a light dinner of soup and sandwiches, and listened patiently as Mattie carried on about how great PT was going. Harm and Mac both knew if it weren’t for Mike, she’d be complaining every step. As much as it pained his male ego, he had to admit Mac had been right. Having a ‘hot’ guy for a therapist was exactly what Mattie needed now.
“Ready to get started on those files?” Finished cleaning off the table, Mac pointed to Harm’s briefcase with her nose.
“Oh those aren’t the case files.” Walking over by the front door, Harm bent over and picked up a medium sized file box. “These are. Where do you want to do this?”
“Did you say Meg has the other half?” Surprise was clearly evident on Mac’s face.
“Well, I gave her about a third, and this box isn’t getting any lighter. Where to?”
“The bedroom. We can’t both sit at the desk in the office, and I have a sneaking suspicion it’s going to be a long night. We might as well make ourselves as comfortable as possible.”
Meg had managed to sort her way through half the files the night before, carefully separating them into ‘viable’ and ‘unlikely’ categories. She’d been checking out the personal histories of all the personnel on her viable list, stationed at Ruislip.
“Commander Austin.” Meg opened the door to the BX, her cell phone at her ear. “Oh, Harm. I was just going to call you. I’m about finished here at Ruislip. I’m going to pick up something to eat and then make my way over to Daws Hill this afternoon.”
“Anything yet?” he questioned.
“Skip lunch from the BX. Come into the office and we’ll go for a quick lunch next door, then I won’t have to change, and you can fill me in on what you’ve got so far.”
“Okay. I can work with quick. What about Mac?” Meg had headed out to Ruislip first thing in the morning so she hadn’t had time to report in on what she’d sorted.
“She and Mattie are stuck at therapy for a while. Mike got a late start this morning, he got caught in the backup from a truck accident. Excuse me a ‘lorry’,” Harm smiled to himself. “ And now his whole day is backed up.”
Smiling at Harm’s attempt to speak British ‘English’, Meg shook her head playfully before answering. “Works for me. I’ll get there as soon as I can.” Flipping her phone shut, she walked over to the counter. A bottle of Coke would provide just about the right shot of caffeine to keep her going until she could refuel.
A short time later Mac walked into the Maize Restaurant, her eyes quickly scanning for someone tall, dark, and handsome. Immediately spotting the cozy couple, she made her way across the room.
“What is the matter with you two? Are you trying to get yourself killed?” Mac pulled up a chair, shaking her head at Meg, obviously frustrated.
“What?” Meg flashed a glance at Harm before turning back to Mac.
“Do you guys have any idea what you look like from across the room? Nice little tęte-ŕ-tęte.”
“Maaac...” Harm began.
“Harm, I know this is business, but anyone else watching may not have a clue. With Meg running around all day, she’s not even in uniform. What’s the killer going to think if he or she is watching you?”
“Homewrecker,” they both mumbled.
“Point taken, Colonel.” Harm had to admit Mac was right. The last thing he wanted was for Meg to become the next target. From now on he would be careful to make sure he and Meg didn’t get together outside of the office without a chaperone. “I thought you were going to be tied up for a while.” A puzzled look crossed his brow.
“Mike offered to take Mattie home. His next couple of appointments couldn’t stay for the later time, so they canceled. He thought the least he could do was use his lunch hour to help me keep my appointments.” Glancing at the menu, her stomach rumbling, Mac didn’t notice the extra arch to Harm’s brow.
“Do you think that’s wise?”
“Huh?” Mac glanced up, a little surprised at the look on Harm’s face.
“Do you think that’s wise?” he repeated.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Harm. Mattie’s just a kid, and Mike knows that. I was just glad I could get here in time to keep up with what’s happening. She’s going to call when she gets home.”
Reminding himself that Mac had been right before about Mike being good for Mattie’s therapy, he tried to not let himself worry. After all, they had something much bigger on their hands right now than the possible complications of a schoolgirl crush.
RAF Daws Hill
Later that afternoon
“I’m really sorry about lunch,” Meg held the door open to for Mac.
“I know it’s perfectly innocent, but obviously someone else doesn’t?” Mac looked down the hall and over at the Petty Officer seated at the desk, stopping herself from asking to speak with the Commander in charge of the base just in the nick of time, she stepped aside allowing Meg to speak. For a few minutes, Mac had forgotten she wasn’t ‘officially’ part of this investigation. Despite the lower rank, Meg was in charge, she needed to take the lead.
Having quickly introduced themselves to the Commander, and explained the situation, Meg got straight to the point.
“I’ve got eleven people here to look into. Any suggestions you might have to make our search any easier would be greatly appreciated.”
“As a matter of fact, housing has an admin here to help cut down on the frustration levels.”
“That bad?” Meg voiced.
“Sometimes. There’s always a shortage of housing, long waiting lists. If these guys don’t have to truck to Ruislip to have it out with someone, our days go much better. Anyhow, Petty Officer First Class Susan Bishop should be able to help considerably. She’s met or chatted personally with almost everyone stationed here and living in base housing. If anyone can help you cut to the chase, it’ll be her.”
Thanking the officer for his time and cooperation, Meg and Mac made their way down the hall to the small admin office for housing. Commander Baker had been right. Petty Officer Bishop was a wealth of information. In almost no time at all they were able to narrow their list down to only three people needing to be questioned.
“Where do you want to start?”
“The Petty Officer said Johanson was on duty now at the motor pool. It’s right over here.” Meg turned left outside the main door, pointing straight ahead.
Smiling to herself, Mac couldn’t deny Meg was a good partner. She could see where Harm and her would have worked really well together. It was also obvious why he didn’t mind the General couldn’t send Bud, Meg was sharp as a tack, and completely on her game.
“From here we’ll hit Ensign Smythe, Lieutenant Martinelli isn’t due back from leave till Tuesday,” Meg continued.
After interrogating the two sailors, Meg and Mac sat in the car for just a moment regrouping.
“How do you drive here?” Mac sighed, looking up at the roof of the car.
“I don’t know. It doesn’t bother me. I’ll admit those roundabouts took me a few days to get used to…” Meg let out a small chuckle.
“A few? I still close my eyes whenever we approach one. I don’t see what’s wrong with ordinary traffic lights. Every time we circle one of those things I expect to see Peter Sellers chasing me in an animal costume.”
“Tell me you’ve never scene the original Pink Panther movie.”
“Well, yes, but what does that have to do with a roundabout?”
“Nothing really, it just makes me feel like two gorillas in sports cars should show up any minute being chased by policemen dressed as a zebra.”
The two women laughed at the silliness.
Watching Meg pull into the city traffic, Mac shook her head amazed at the ease with which Meg drove on the left. “I’ll look over the rest of my files tonight. Then tomorrow we can start interviewing the next batch,” Mac offered.
“I’ll hit the office first thing and see what I can turn up on Ensign Smythe’s sister. I’ll pick you up at 0900 for the next set of interviews, and fill you in then on how tonight goes.”
“Works for me.” Mac dropped back against the headrest. She preferred not to watch Meg making her way through downtown traffic. Just the thought of tangling with black cabs made Mac nervous, never mind on the wrong side of the road.
Later that evening
Mac sat comfortably on the bed, piles of files scattered around her.
“Making any progress?” Harm asked coming through the doorway.
“Some. How’s Mattie doing?”
“You were right. Mike escorted her inside, made sure all was well, and then made a very gentlemanly exit.”
“Mike may be good looking, but all he sees in Mattie is a sweet kid. You didn’t really think he was going to do anything else, did you?”
“Not really. I just can’t help being a little concerned. I mean, Mattie’s a smart kid, but she’s a little vulnerable right now.”
“She’s had a tough time of it, Harm, but she’s not going to do anything that stupid.” Mac shook her head at her worrywart husband. Heaven help the men in Mattie’s life when she really does start dating.
Unbuttoning his shirt, “I’m going to take a quick shower to unwind a bit, and then I’ll help you sort through the files.”
“Thanks.” Mac nodded without looking up. If she allowed herself to be distracted by her husband disrobing, she’d never get to the rest of the files.
“Did you have…mruch luck…at … dawssshill?” Harm popped his head out the bathroom door while brushing his teeth.
Spitting in the sink, he leaned out the bathroom doorway again. “Did you find anything interesting at Daws Hill this afternoon?”
“Some. There’s a very helpful petty officer at the housing admin office.” Mac sneaked a peek as Harm toed off his shoes and began stripping out of his trousers.
“Good. We could use a break. Be out in just a minute.”
Watching his retreating form until she was staring at the closed wooden door, Mac couldn’t help but wonder what she’d been afraid of for all those years. Life didn’t get any better than this: a good man, and plenty of comfortable shoes.
The shower water was still running when the phone rang. Thankful Harm had finally installed a phone line in the bedroom, Mac picked up the cordless phone.
“Sorry to disturb you at home, ma’am, but I was having dinner with some friends and think we may have stumbled across something important. Is Captain Rabb available?”
“He’s indisposed at the moment. If you want to call back in about half an hour,” Mac suggested.
“No, ma’am. This could be important. I don’t think it should wait. Susan, that is Petty Officer Bishop and I are pretty good friends. Anyhow, we were talking about how nice you and Commander Austin are, I mean… well, anyway…We didn’t mean to discuss the case but somehow we realized you’re looking for someone with a broken engagement who was stationed in Iraq before London or perhaps a sibling.”
“It occurred to us that someone who’s fiancé decided to marry someone else while they were stuck here in London might also fit the bill.”
“It could.” Mac started shuffling through her files as the petty officer continued explaining her theory. Finding the file in question, she scanned through the available information, her jaw almost falling to the floor at what had been right in front of them all along.
Covering the mouthpiece with her hand, “HARM!” Mac called out as discretely, yet loudly as possible. Already out of bed and searching her drawers for something to wear. “Yes, Petty Officer. You did the right thing not waiting until morning. I will make sure the information is passed onto the Captain as soon as he’s available.”
Tossing the phone on the bed, Mac hurried to the bathroom door just as Harm came out wrapping himself in a towel.
“Is the house on fire?” Harm asked recognizing Mac’s urgent tone.
“It’s Meg. Hurry up and get dressed.” Mac stepped back by the bed and began changing out of her pajamas.
“What do you mean ‘it’s Meg’?” Harm followed behind her.
“Beth just called. It seems she and the petty officer from Daws Hill are pretty chummy and started comparing notes.”
“I’ll have to have a talk with her about that…”
“Never mind that. Look at this.” Mac grabbed the open file from the bed and shoved it at Harm. “I can’t believe none of us thought of it.”
Scanning the file, Harm looked up. “Wait a minute, Mac. Power down. I’ll put an MP on Meg’s hotel room, and we’ll follow through with this in the morning.”
“You may want to call more than one MP. Meg’s having dinner with that woman!”
“I’ll call Meg. Tell her to keep her eyes open. All the file says is that the woman’s brother was killed in Iraq. I don’t think that justifies sending in the Marines.”
“Did you see the blurb where she was ordered to see a psychiatrist?”
“Yes. At first she insisted her brother committed suicide after his girlfriend broke their engagement by deliberately walking into a firefight, but she eventually seemed to accept that it was a regular combat mission and he was just one of many casualties, and not sacrificing himself,” Harm rebutted.
“Here’s something that isn’t in that file. According to Beth, just before you arrived, her boyfriend broke off their relationship. He was a public relations officer on the Seahawk. Apparently he and the shipboard JAG found true love.”
“The stressor.” All color washed out of Harm’s face.
“Don’t just stand there. Call her!” Mac slipped on her shoes.
Harm threw on boxers and yanked up his pants, his cell phone juggling awkwardly on his shoulder.
“Damn. She’s not answering. Do you know where they were having dinner?” He tossed the phone aside, pulling a shirt over his head.
“I think Meg said something about meeting at her hotel.”
“I’ll try it.” Putting on his shoes, Harm dialed Bailey’s Millennium Hotel in Kensington.
Mac copied the address in Kensington from the open file onto a piece of paper.
Harm flipped his phone shut. “The hotel said Meg and another woman had dinner at the hotel, but left together about half an hour ago.”
“Did the hotel happen to say where they were headed?’
“The front desk checked with the doorman. He said he’d offered to hail a cab but they said they could walk.”
“Her apartment. She lives in Kensington.” Mac scooted past Harm out the bedroom door.
“How did we miss that?” More annoyed with himself than anything, Harm didn’t really expect an answer.
“I don’t know.” Mac was still shaking her head as she made her way down the hall.
Following quickly behind his wife, Harm stopped at Mattie’s door. “We have to go take care of something. Don’t stay up too late.”
“You’re going out at this hour?” Mattie asked before looking up to see the expression on Harm’s face.
“Yeah, it’s business.” He’d send MPs to both places and pray to God the only reason Meg hadn’t answered her phone was because she was soaking in a warm tub. Whatever the reason, he wished he could bring a gun with him, just in case.
“Good luck.” Mattie wasn’t sure what was up, but she could tell whatever it was, she had better start praying for a good outcome.
“Tube or cab?” Mac asked standing in the doorway.
“We’ll hail a cab. I don’t want to be making phone calls on the subway.” Harm rushed out to the main street, waving at the passing traffic, Mac close on his heels.
“Where to first?” Mac watched as a black taxi pulled up in front of them.
Ensign Brown’s flat
“Thank you for understanding, ma’am. I’d rather not be seen in public chatting with you or Mrs. Rabb anymore, especially if there’s a chance this lunatic is going to turn around and come after me for ratting on him.”
“Not a problem. I understand completely.” Meg walked over to look at some photos on the mantle. “Good looking man. Your boyfriend?” she called into the kitchen.
“Which one? The one in fatigues, or the one on the carrier?”
“That’s my brother Jim. He was killed in the line of duty in Iraq,” Ensign Kathy Brown said softly as she made her way beside Meg.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Meg responded instinctively.
“Yeah, he was a good guy. Growing up, he was my rock. Whenever kids gave me any trouble in school all I had to do was turn around and introduce them to my big brother James,” she chuckled at the memory. “It’s his fault I’m an officer. I was going to enlist out of high school like he did, but he said no. Benefits are more fun for the officers. Do your four years and then come in.” The whistling of the tea kettle dragged her back to the here and now, and of course, the kitchen.
“Sounds nice. I’d always wished I had an older brother growing up in Texas. I had to learn to handle the cowboys on my own.” Meg couldn’t help but smile at the memory of a boy or two she had to put in his place, and right quick too.
Meg continued looking at the photos until she heard the sound of jiggling porcelain behind her. Turning to see Kathy carrying a tray with teacups and biscuits, “Who’s the fellow on the carrier. He’s not bad looking either.”
Placing the tray on the footlocker she used as a coffee table. “That would be Brad. Lieutenant Bradley Birch. He had just arrived at the Seahawk when that photo was taken.”
“How long has he been stationed there?” Meg took a seat next to Kathy on the sofa.
“Seems like forever ago,” Kathy mused absentmindedly.
Meg watched as Kathy stood up and walked over to the fireplace. Picking up the photo of Brad with a woman and two other officers, she stared at it for the longest time before finally speaking again.
“He sent this photo when he first arrived. We were engaged back then.”
Meg looked up suddenly from her cup of tea.
“I should have realized something was up when his letters and emails became fewer and fewer, but I just chalked it up to being away and wanting to make a good impression. It was his first sea duty assignment.”
Placing the cup on the table in front of her, Meg studied the woman lost in her memories.
“Eventually the phone calls stopped coming too, and then one day, boom. I got the note that he and Elizabeth were getting married. She’d been with JAG, like you, assigned TAD, replacing someone who had been injured. She was only supposed to be there a few weeks. It stretched out to three months. I thought about finding a way to accuse them of fraternization, but it hurt too much to dwell on it. I’d thought he was the perfect guy.”
“That must have been very hard for you. I’m sorry.” Without looking away from her, Meg tried to nonchalantly find her cell phone in her purse.
“Jim had only been gone a month when I got the letter. Not even the courtesy of a phone call. I thought I wanted to die. I knew then that I was right and the psychiatrist was wrong. They insisted Jim was just a casualty of war. They almost had me believing it, but after the letter, I knew better. It was all Debbie’s fault.”
“Debbie?” Meg’s stomach was twisting in knots. The hairs on the back of her neck told her whatever was coming next would only sink the last nail in the coffin of what Meg was considering.
“She was Jim’s girl. They’d been high school sweethearts and everything. Then she up and broke it off with him just before he shipped out to Iraq. Said she couldn’t live with the uncertainty of being married to a soldier. That had always been his dream. It shouldn’t have been a surprise to her.” Kathy turned suddenly to look at Meg.
“No, you’re right. It shouldn’t have.” Meg froze, hoping Kathy wouldn’t notice the cell phone now clutched in her hand.
“Jim wasn’t the same after that. He wouldn’t say it, but I could hear it in his voice when he called. Mom and Dad passed on in a car accident right before I graduated from college. Jim was all I had left. When those two uniforms came to my door that morning, I knew what had happened. He didn’t want to live without her.”
Meg wasn’t sure if she dared ask, but she had to know. “When did Brad finally break it off?”
“April 21st,” Kathy replied without hesitation. The date was etched permanently in her mind. “Excuse me,” she called over her shoulder as she suddenly rushed towards the bathroom, tears in her eyes.
Holy Christmas, Meg thought. That would have been only a few days before Corporal Jenkins disappeared. It looked like she had found the stressor; a typical broken relationship. Meg wasn’t sure if Kathy was repeatedly murdering the lawyer who had stolen her boyfriend, or the girl back home who had dumped her brother, but at this point Meg didn’t really care. She needed to get a hold of Harm and fast.
Flipping her cell phone open the second Kathy left the room, Meg cursed the dead battery. Quickly, she scanned her surroundings, remembering how Harm had complained about phones only being in the kitchen, she darted for the other room.
Lifting the receiver to her ear and dialing the number, Meg froze at the light voice behind her before all went black.
“I don’t think so. MA’AM.”
“How far is Kensington, anyhow?” Mac asked, exasperated by the constant slowing of traffic. What in heaven’s name were all these cars doing on the road at this hour?
“Not very, but you know as well as I do how horrible London traffic can be. This is probably the theater crowd on their way home, or to dinner.” Harm had already ordered MPs to both Meg’s hotel and Kathy’s apartment. He could only hope one of them got there in time.
Still staring out the window, trying to focus on anything but what might be happening to Meg while they were stuck in traffic, Mac reached over and took hold of Harm’s free hand, squeezing it tightly. It would kill Harm to lose another staff member and friend. They had to get there in time. They just had to.
Ensign Brown’s flat
Kathy stood firmly in place, tightly pressing the chloroform-soaked cloth in Meg’s face until she dropped limply to the floor.
“You have a lot of nerve pretending to be sympathetic, especially with what you’re doing to Mrs. Rabb. Your husband stationed overseas too, fighting to keep you free to whore around.”
Kathy stared at the fallen body. Meg was a little taller than the other women had been, but Kathy was no featherweight. She stood over five foot eight and had plenty of muscle. In fact, she had always planned to join the Marines, like her brother had, until Brad talked her into the Navy instead.
Dragging the body as quietly as possible to the bathroom, Kathy thanked her lucky stars for the solid concrete construction of old London. None of that cardboard crap like in the US. As far as her neighbors were concerned, she was as quiet as a mouse.
“You’re not as smart as you think you are,” Kathy huffed as she tugged off Meg’s shoes and stockings. “That other JAG was much smarter. She even told me that the Ripper was probably a woman from a happy family. I knew then it wouldn’t be long before she’d figure it out.” Kathy paused after removing Meg’s slacks and panties and took a deep breath.
Sitting Meg up against the old claw foot tub, she began unbuttoning her shirt, talking idly as she worked. “I actually felt bad about having to take care of her until I saw her with that man. She was just like all the rest. Working relationship my foot. He took her home. She was just another whore. You all are. Can’t keep your legs closed, any of you.”
Stepping back, she picked up Meg’s clothes piece by piece, shoving them into a large plastic bag. It would all have to be disposed of in Whitechapel. Tying the bag tightly shut, Kathy considered Meg’s prone form.
“Hmm. You might be a tight fit,” Kathy spoke as if the unconscious body could hear her. Leaving Meg slumped naked by the tub, she returned to the living room. Removing the tea and tray from the coffee table as though nothing was wrong and she had all the time in the world, she placed the used dishes in the sink and returned to the living room with a tape measure.
Opening the lid of the footlocker that doubled as a coffee table, she measured the length and depth. “Yup, tight fit, but we can make it work. Can’t we, ma’am?” she grinned maliciously.
Taking the thick plastic lining into the bathroom, Kathy lifted Meg off the floor and dumped her into the large tub with an ease not usually expected from someone with such a lean frame.
“It won’t be long now, ma’am.” Kathy turned to the sink and shuffled through the medicine cabinet. “That’s right. I had to send that letter.” Remembering her hurry after the last lesson, she returned to the kitchen to retrieve the scalpel that was still in the dishwasher.
Quickly paying the cabbie, Harm turned around and glanced at the old brownstone. “No sign of the Marines yet.”
“No. What do we do now?” Mac looked around as well, desperately wishing she could carry a service weapon.
“Well, we certainly can’t just stand around. You wait here for backup, I’ll head upstairs.”
“NO. She doesn’t know you very well. Besides, if we’re right in our theories, she thinks you and Meg are having an affair. She’s not going to take kindly to you showing up on her doorstep. I should go.”
“I don’t really care if she takes kindly to me or not, so long as she doesn’t hurt Meg. And there’s no way I’m letting you go upstairs alone to face a serial killer.”
“Fine, then we’ll both go. At least that way we can cover each other.”
“With what?” Harm frowned as Mac stepped closer to the building.
Mac pulled her hands up, pretending to hold a gun.
“Hey, it worked in Ireland,” she huffed when Harm rolled his eyes. “We can fake it here, too.”
“Don’t remind me about Ireland now. We almost didn’t get out of that one.” He nudged his way up the front steps ahead of Mac.
“Yeah, well, ‘almost’ only counts in horseshoes.” Mac reached for Harm’s hand. “Ready, sailor?”
“Let’s go, Marine.” The two entered the building, thankful they didn’t need to announce their presence to get in the main door.
“Let’s pray this is a good sign,” Mac whispered under her breath.
“I’m way ahead of you.” Harm squeezed her hand as he started up the stairs, Mac closely behind him. “I don’t want to alert her with sounds of the elevator moving,” he whispered especially softly.
“She’s on the third floor. Apartment 302,” Mac whispered back just as quietly.
Finding the right door, Mac placed her ear against it, before turning back to Harm. “Someone’s home. I can hear rustling. Sounds like dishes maybe.”
“Go ahead and ring the bell.” Harm straightened by Mac’s side, still holding her hand tightly in his. He had no idea what they were going to say next, but hopefully inspiration would strike soon.
Closing the door to the dishwasher, Kathy was startled at the sound of the doorbell. Who the hell? Burying the scalpel under a dishtowel on the counter, she softly padded her way to the door and took a look through the peephole. “Damn it. What are they doing here?”
Turning around, she rushed back towards the footlocker, closed the lid and returned the few knickknacks she’d put on the floor back to their rightful places. Scanning quickly for any signs that Commander Austin had been there, she grabbed Meg’s purse and shoved it under the sofa. Passing by the kitchen, she flipped the switch to hide the remnants of their tea.
Just as the doorbell rang a second time, Kathy swung the front door open.
“Captain, Mrs. Rabb. What an unexpected surprise.” With incredible aplomb, she directed them into the living room with a sweeping gesture. “Sorry I was slow to answer. You caught me in the bathroom.”
Harm and Mac walked through the doorway to the living room, carefully taking in the small apartment as they took seats on the couch.
“I’m afraid I don’t usually get many visits from superior officers. I’m a little puzzled at what brings you here.”
Mac had to give the woman credit. Kathy was so calm it was completely disarming. If Mac’s every instinct didn’t tell her this woman was guilty, she’d be seriously reconsidering what she and Harm were doing here.
“Commander Austin mentioned to me that you might have some more information on possible suspects. As you know, I’ve been unofficially helping out with the investigation. Harm had a late meeting and we were hoping we could catch Meg still here to go over the new information together.” Mac shifted in her seat, feeling something hard pressing into her hip.
“I see. Well, I met the Commander at her Hotel. We discussed the Harris brothers some more over dinner.” Kathy noticed Mac’s hand moving along the seat cushion. “She wanted to walk off dinner so she accompanied me outside, but we parted ways at the corner.”
“So you haven’t seen Commander Austin since dinner?” Harm repeated.
“No, sir,” Kathy smiled politely, unsure what to make of their reactions. No wonder they were supposed to be great lawyers, they were probably good poker players too. She had absolutely no idea if they were buying her story or not. At least Mrs. Rabb had stopped fidgeting with the sofa.
“Would you mind repeating to us what you told Commander Austin?” Mac asked, buying them a little more time.
“Not at all. I was just about to take a bath when you arrived. Give me a minute to go shut off the water.” Kathy hurried through her room to the bathroom. She hadn’t expected this interruption. Checking the body, she made sure the Commander was still out cold. “Maybe a little extra chloroform wouldn’t hurt,” she mumbled out loud.
“Harm. Look what I sat on.” Mac pulled the tiny cell phone up into clear view and flipped it open. “It’s Meg’s!”
“So much for parting ways at the corner.” Harm ran his fingers roughly through his hair.
Standing up, they both began quickly checking around the cushions for any clues to help find Meg. It wasn’t long before Mac spotted a tiny leather strap sticking out from under the sofa skirt. Leaning down on all fours, she lifted the short piece of fabric and reached underneath, her arm reappearing with a small black bag in her hand.
“This is Meg’s too.” Mac looked up at Harm.
“You know, I really liked you Mrs. Rabb.” Kathy stood in the bedroom doorway pointing a nine-millimeter handgun at the two officers. “I won’t mind having to kill that cheating husband of yours. No offence, sir.” She stiffened her shoulders, nodding respectfully at Harm. “But, it’s a shame I’m going to have to kill you too.”
“Get up, slowly.” Kathy gestured at Mac. “Drop the purse on the sofa.”
Instinctively, Harm stepped forward in front of Mac.
“Protecting the little woman?” Kathy snipped sarcastically. “You should have thought of that before hooking up with Commander Homewrecker.”
Neither Harm nor Mac wanted to argue that point with her. There was no telling what could set her off further. Right now, they needed to figure a way out of this.
“Where is she?” he asked.
“Don’t worry. She’s going to get what’s coming to her.”
Harm smiled at Kathy, withholding his full flyboy charm. Feeling a little more confident that Meg was alive, wherever she was, he opted for a new approach. “Let’s everybody stay calm. You said it yourself; Mac is a good woman, and a good Marine. You don’t really want anything to happen to her. It’s the others who need to be taught a lesson.” Harm took one step closer to Kathy.
“You’re absolutely right,” he continued. “What happened to honor? Semper Fi? It’s bad enough we have immoral women roaming the streets. They shouldn’t be in the military as well.” Watching the wheels turning in Kathy’s mind as she weighed his words, Harm took still another step closer, holding his hands passively in the air.
Mac looked around almost frantically. She needed something she could use as a weapon, and a way to distract Kathy. Harm was mentally disarming her, but Mac wasn’t kidding herself. There was no way that woman would let Harm get close enough to take the gun. Still scanning the room, Mac’s eyes fell on a tall, narrow Moroccan teapot setting on the coffee table. It wasn’t much, but solid copper probably would make a good thud. Stepping back slightly, she waited for the right moment to pick up the pot.
“Someone has to protect our armed forces. They’re good men. Women like that don’t deserve them. They don’t deserve to live…”
“STOP. Step back!” Kathy shouted, suddenly snapped out of her thoughts. “You think you can use that grin on me to get what you want. Telling Commander Austin what she wanted to hear may have worked on her, but it’s not going to get you anywhere with me.”
Moving closer to the wall, Kathy waved her gun at Harm. “You heard me. Back up. Now.”
“Take it easy,” he offered, taking a small step backwards, trying to remain between Mac and the gun.
Mac had other ideas. Shifting slightly to Harm’s left, she dipped to pick up the teapot, hoping Kathy was too intent on Harm and wouldn’t notice. In the exact moment she grabbed the heavy pot, the doorbell rang.
“Military police. Open up, ma’am!” came a loud voice from the other side of the door.
Instinctively, Kathy turned her eyes from her target towards to the door.
Seizing the moment, “DUCK!” Mac screamed. Rolling over the hard table, she threw the copper pot at Kathy’s extended arm.
More startled by the sound of Mac’s voice than the pounding on the door, Kathy started firing blindly at the object flying in her direction.
Not knowing what Mac was planning, Harm could only react to her instructions. Diving at Kathy’s feet, hoping to knock her off balance, his heart almost stopped at the sound of the gun discharging. Knocking the woman to the ground, Harm heard the door crash open at the same moment the gun hit the floor.
“Mac!” Pinning the struggling woman to the floor, he tried to turn his head, aware only that Mac was no longer standing behind him.
“We’ll take it from here, sir.” Harm heard the shuffling footsteps, then felt a single heavy hand on his shoulder.
“Mac?” Harm called again, practically lunging over Kathy and the MPs in the direction Mac had been standing.
“Over here.” Mac was lying on her back between the sofa and coffee table. Slowly sitting up, her right hand gripping her other arm, blood dripped between her fingers, “The bitch had better aim than I thought,” she smiled.
“We need an ambulance!” Harm called over to the MPs, who had Kathy restrained in handcuffs and were taking her out the door.
“Never mind that. We’ve got to find Meg!” Mac stood up carefully, brushing the blood away from her arm. “It’s not that serious, just a scratch.” She pushed her well-meaning husband’s hand away.
“You sure?” he questioned shakily, his hand reaching for her arm once again.
“YES. Over there!” Mac pointed towards the door Kathy had come out of earlier.
Two steps ahead of Mac, Harm rushed through the bedroom, briefly scanning around the room before continuing to the bathroom. Spotting a fully naked Meg in the tub, he immediately turned his head. Closing his eyes and covering them with one hand for good measure, he called for help.
“Men, stay back. Mac, hurry.” Reaching the tub in one long stride, his eyes still closed, Harm bent down, searching carefully for Meg’s arm and a pulse. “She’s alive. Call that ambulance.”
“On its way, sir,” a voice announced from outside the doorway.
Catching sight of Harm hovering over Meg, his hand over his eyes, Mac momentarily forgot the seriousness of the situation and let out a small snort. Always the Boy Scout. Rushing back to the bedroom, she grabbed the linens and turned back, bumping into Harm who had returned to the bedroom, his eyes open again.
“I was just going to suggest that,” he said to his wife, glancing down at her still bleeding arm. He was worried, but knew better than to bring it up again. They needed to take care of Meg now.
“I’ll check on her.” Mac rushed past Harm into the bathroom. Placing the sheet over her body, Mac checked again for a pulse, then looked around the room. Spotting the bottle on the sink, she let out a huge sigh of relief. “She’s been knocked out with chloroform.”
Within a few minutes the place was crawling with MPs and paramedics. Meg was transported to the nearest hospital. Despite having had her arm cleaned and bandaged by a paramedic, Mac had finally agreed, since they were following Meg to the hospital anyway, to allow a doctor to check out her arm.
“Are you sure you’re not in any pain?” Harm asked for the umpteenth time as he crawled into bed.
“It doesn’t feel any worse than if I banged my arm into a filing cabinet.” Mac rolled her eyes for the umpteenth-and-one time.
“You bang into filing cabinets often?” Harm teased, rolling over and kissing her nose.
“That’s no way to treat a wounded hero.” Mac wrinkled her nose.
“Hero? Who dove at an armed woman?” Harm placed his hand flatly on his chest in mock indignation.
“Who distracted the armed woman in the first place?” Mac shrugged one shoulder, convinced she’d just won her point.
“It was my overpowering skills…”
“You mean my great aim…” Mac interrupted, leaning over him slightly, her fingers doodling on his chest.
“Well…” Harm paused at the look in Mac’s eyes. “I suppose the important thing is that Meg is well enough to be released in the morning and we caught Jack before she claimed her next victim.” Snuggling down under the covers a little further, he pulled Mac more closely against him.
“I still can’t believe she moved all those bodies from her apartment in a rolling footlocker and not a single neighbor ever noticed anything odd.” Mac placed a tiny kiss on his shoulder, her fingers still doodling.
“That’s why the bodies were always moved in the dead of night. She knew anyone important would be soundly asleep.” Harm kissed the top of her head lightly.
“I just wish we had figured it out sooner.” Mac burrowed her head into the crook of Harm’s shoulder.
“It was good working together again. It’s been a while since we were on the same side of the same case. It was kind of nice.” Harm tipped his chin further against his neck, peeking down at his beautiful wife.
“Yeah, it was. Even if the case was brutal,” Mac sighed softly.
“You want to try and do it more often? Maybe keep one eye on the lookout for an open billet at the embassy?” Harm was still staring down at her.
“No, sir. I have my appointment coming up on Monday with Dr. Hamilton. I’m reserve for a reason, remember? We’re supposed to be working on a little Rabb.” Mac grinned, shimmying up a little higher and placing a kiss on Harm’s chin.
“Well, if we’re supposed to get started on Monday, maybe we should get in a little extra practice.” Harm spun Mac onto her back and rolled around over her, placing feather light kisses on her chin.
“Mm… I’ve always believed practice makes perfect”
The end for now.
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