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What's Bugging You    Part 1

By Timer:


Timeline note: This one’s in suspension. Every May since Season 3 ended with a cliffhanger. So I’m taking the Perils of Pauline away and replacing it with something else. Try to let your suspension of disbelief flow.

Oh yeah, all the stuff about bugs and insecticides is true.


Chapter 1: If You See One....

JAG Ops
Mac’s Office
0830 (local), Thursday before Memorial weekend

I’m watching Bud work his wonders on my computer. Of all the many regrets I have about my younger life, one of the biggest is that I was hanging out with the tough guys rather than the computer club geeks.

The men I pick.

Oh well.

Speaking of which, here comes one now. Harm stops at my door, looking a little worn for the wear.

“Morning, sir.” “Hi, Harm.”

He just looks at us. “I’m gonna get some coffee.”

What, he wants me to alert the media? What’s with him this morning?

Bud returns to clicking away at my keyboard. I watch the screen in awe. He’s tracked down that pesky bug in no time and ‘pouf’ it’s in the trash and outta my life.

“Thanks Bud. You’re a life saver. Could never have done that myself.”

“Done what, Mac?” Harm asks from my doorway, now fortified with a cup of coffee.

“Oh it was really nothing, sir,” Bud replies modestly. “I just got rid of a couple of bugs for the Colonel.”

“BUGS?”

Jeez, Harm looks almost panicked.

“Computer bugs, Harm. Not the spy kind.” I assure him. Man, he goes into super hero protector mode faster and faster these days.

“Oh, OK. Mac, do you have a minute?” Why does he have his little boy lost look on?

“Sure, Harm. But I’ve got court in half an hour.”

Bud stands up. “We’ll, if you’ll excuse me sir, ma’am.”

“Bud I owe you...let me take you to lunch?”

“Thanks, ma’am, but Harriet’s filling in on phones today and I promised I’d have lunch with her.”

“OK. But I still owe you,” I say to his retreating back, earning me that sweet Bud smile over his shoulder. What a nice man. Why couldn’t I have found a nice computer friendly guy in high school?

‘Maybe ‘cause you were too busy riding Harleys, stealing cars and planning your great escape from your father’ reminds the black leather clad she-devil sitting on my right shoulder.

Well, when you put it like that.

Harm’s still lurking at my door. I wave him in. “Sit down, Harm. What’s up?”

I watch him carefully close the door, scrutinize the activity in the bullpen, then, seeming satisfied with what he saw, he sits. He takes a deep breath in and blows it out. I get a glimpse of the miserable look that’s captured his face before he raises his hands and scrubs said baleful visage.

What ever’s going on, it’s got my flyboy by the wings and it looks like he’s afraid it’s gonna yank them off.

“Harm, talk to me. You look like you’ve barely slept.”

“I didn’t. Well, not after I woke up at 0100 this morning. All I wanted was a glass of milk.” He sounds so sad.

OK, we’ve got 25 minutes and 43 seconds before I have to be in court. If he’s gonna make me drag this out of him we’ll be cutting it close.

Prompting sometimes works. “So, you woke up and wanted a glass of milk...” Come on, Harm, fill in the blanks.

He fixes a resolute look on his face. He’s done a quick-change from sad little boy to determined military man. Leaning forward he sets his coffee mug down on the edge of my desk. Then, sitting up straight, squaring his shoulders he discloses what his body language is screaming is very important.

“I think I have bugs.”

Quickly I mentally review his current and recent cases. Although I haven’t been co- or opposing counsel on any of them, as Chief of Staff I’m familiar with the basics of all the cases that come through the office.

Humm. Terrorist cells? No, the closest Harm’s gotten to cells was a ring of enlisteds who were cloning cell phone numbers.

Spies? Not unless you count the middies who got caught sneaking into the visiting team’s locker room the night before a big rowing meet. (A heinous crime in my book but since it was when the locker room was empty, they were caught with lipstick and multiple rolls of toilet paper and confessed their plan to ‘graffiti and TP the showers’, they got off with letters of reprimand.)

Arms dealers? Well, there was that kinda strange group of women who were trying to lure sailors to a motel near Norfolk called The Manly Arms. But I saw them when they came in for the hearing. Once you got past the fishnets, stiletto heels and blue feather boas, they were nice middle-aged woman. Who just happened to have a thing about sailors. Gee, I can’t really blame them for that. I have a thing about sailors too, well, one sailor in particular. As I recall, we let them off, so why would they be bugging him now?”

“Harm, who do you think might be bugging you?”

He throws his hands up and sinks back in the chair. “How should I know, Mac?”

“Well, far as I know, your recent cases didn’t involve anyone who would bug you. Why do you think you have bugs?

“I saw them, Mac!” he’s nearly hissing in his struggle not to shout.

“OK Harm, that makes it easier. If you know where at least one is, we’ll get a team in to sweep your loft. They may be able to backtrack where the signal’s going to...”. I don’t get why he’s so unnerved by this. It’s not like we haven’t been bugged before.

“Not that kind of bug, Mac.” He puts either fist along side the top of his head, extends his forefingers and wiggles them. “*This* kind of bug.”

Fortunately my hands are in my lap and he can’t see me digging my fingernails into my palm.

“Like roaches?”

He jumps up and starts to pace. When Harm paces in my office the space seems to shrink. He covers it in two and a half of his ‘I’m agitated’ strides, thumps a fist onto the top of a filing cabinet and heads back across.

“Not the baby seal, Harm!”

He looks into the innocent face of that too cute baby seal picture on my wall and stops, spins back to me and says with the utmost gravity: “Mac, I don’t like bugs.”

I should have called the media at the coffee announcement; they’d be here already for this proclamation.

“Not many people do, Harm.” I know *I* don’t, but there’s no way I’m gonna be admitting that right now.

“Harm, sit down, relax, we can handle this. They’re bugs, we’re humans. Better than humans, we’re military lawyers. We can sue them for wrongful occupation. If that doesn’t work, we can go in with flame throwers.”

He’s not buying my attempt to lighten his mood. “Maac, this is my home we’re talking about.”

“Call the building owner. Isn’t it his responsibility to keep the building bug-free?”

“I tried. Got his answering machine. He’s gone for the holiday, won’t be back ‘til next Wednesday.”

“You sure you can’t catch him before he leaves? It’s still early,” but getting closer to my court time by the minute.

“Nahh, he’s already gone. That’s the message I got when I called last night.”

“You called him at 0100 this morning?”

“On his emergency number.” He looks at me so matter-of-factly. “It was an emergency.”

“OK Harm. Here’s what we’ll do. I have to get to court. No doubt you have work to do. After work we’ll go to my apartment to change clothes. You’ve got a sea bag in your car, right?” Please, Harm. Tell me you have finally gotten into this sensible Marine habit.

“Yes, Mac. After years of you and Gunny drilling it into my head, I’ve started keeping a sea bag in my trunk.”

“Good. So we’ll change, we’ll go by a hardware store and get some bug spray then will go wage war with the little guys. They don’t stand a chance.”

His eyes brighten. “Wow Mac, you’ll really help me battle bugs?”

“That’s what Marines are trained to do, sailor. Hey, are you sure these aren’t waterbugs instead of roaches?”

Good, that coaxes a smirk complete with not one but two raised eyebrows out of him.

I gather my files up as I stand. “Harm, I’ve gotta get to court, but don’t worry. Everything will be alright. We’ll smoke the bastards.”


Later that afternoon

Walking across the bullpen toward my office I notice Harm scowling at his computer. He types furiously, scowls again, hits a key and virtually runs to the central printer. I watch him hover over it like a mother hen. Or a football lineman who will rip the arms off anyone who tries to get close to it.

“Harm.” He jumps, turning around to me.

“Oh, hi Mac. How’d court go?”

“It went. What’cha doing?”

“Just printing some stuff.”

He’s got that ‘no, really, I’m not hiding anything, honest’ look going.

“Sensitive state secrets, Harm? You know you’re only supposed to print those on the secure printer in the vault.”

“No Mac.” Damn if he doesn’t almost shuffle his feet. “Some information for me, personally.”

His look is pleading with me to let this go, and I will. In just a bit.

“Harm, you know this is a military printer, filled with military paper, in a military facility and you,” I touch his right shoulder board, “are a military officer. Where does ‘personal business’ fit into that equation?”

The printer has stopped spitting out paper. He grabs what’s in the tray with his right hand and puts his left on the small of my back, firmly directing me towards our offices.

“Mac, could I have a word with you?” he asks for the benefit of the ears in the bullpen.

“Certainly, Harm.”

As soon as his door is shut he growls, “cute Marine, real cute.”

“Harm, you think I’m cute?”

“Sometimes; mostly I think you’re beautiful. But that’s not what I meant and you know it.”

He’s so worked up he doesn’t even realize what he’s said.

Whoops, there’s that Harm-in-the-headlights thing. Guess he realized what he said.

We stare at each other for a moment. Now what?

He runs his left hand through his hair as he shakes the stack of papers in his right at me. “Anyway, Mac, I did some research on bugs and bug sprays this morning while you were in court.”

OK, I’ll give him a pass on the ‘beautiful’ comment for the moment, but no way am I letting him act like Googling ‘insecticides’ is more important than my court appearance.

“Harm, I was defending an innocent man. His military career is on the line. I think that’s at least as important as you running after roaches on the Internet.”

“Oh yeah? What’s he charged with?”

Damn, he had to ask, didn’t he. “Misappropriation of government property.”

His eyes narrow. “What’d he steal, Mac?”

I press my lips together, trying valiantly not to laugh. “Ten flats of ready-to-be-planted pansies.”

“Pansies? You’re defending a pansy thief?”

“An enlisted man who *allegedly* misappropriated pansies. But they were for his mother’s garden, Harm. She’s sick and he couldn’t afford them and....”

“Save the mitigation for the judge, Mac. I still say he’s a pansy. And that makes my bug spray research every bit as important as your defending a sticky fingered gardener.”

“OK, Harm. Let’s agree that they were both equally important. But if I were you, as someone who couldn’t sleep last night after seeing a bug, I’d watch it with those ‘pansy’ remarks.”

Direct hit. Time to move on.

“So, what’d ya find that has you even more upset than you were this morning?”

He plops down in his chair. “Mac, the world of bugs is frightening. They’re far more resilient than us humans. Do you know roaches have been around since the dinosaurs? And they survived Hiroshima? They can live a week after their head is cut off! What chance do we have?”

I’m not sure exactly when Bud’s brain took over Harm’s body, but much as I was wishing earlier this morning I’d met someone like Bud when I was in high school, I’m not in high school now and I’d prefer Harm’s brain in Harm’s body.

“What did you learn about how to get rid of them?” Maybe forcing some analytical focus will reawaken the slumbering Harm inside this otherwise familiar body.

“Well, insecticides are roughly divided into organic and inorganic. A couple of organic types are interesting. There’s this one made out of tropical chrysanthemums. Another out of some kind of tree.”

“Harm, did Bud help you with this research?”

“No Mac. I did it all myself. You’re the only one I’ve told about this, uhm, problem. Except for leaving that message on the building owner’s answering machine. Ya know, Mac, it’s embarrassing. I’m afraid if people find out, they’ll think I live in a flophouse. Or I don’t keep my place clean.”

He really looks worried about that. I know what he means. One time in Okinawa scabies ran through the base like Sherman through Atlanta. I was *so* glad everyone else had it. If it’d just been me I’d been mortified.

“OK Harm. But I don’t think your local hardware store is gonna have a roach-killing tropical chrysanthemum potion in stock. So what’d you find out about regular insecticides. The ones we use here in America on good old American roaches?”

“Ah ha Mac. It’s obvious you don’t know your roaches!”

All of a sudden he’s gleeful?

“Most roaches aren’t American, well except that since they were born here they could claim citizenship status. But anyway, there are Asian roaches, Oriental roaches, German roaches, Cuban roaches...” his lecture dies away when he finally notices my look.

“Citizenship status Harm?”

“Hey Mac, the way these guys reproduce? Some female roaches only need to mate once and they reproduce continuously the rest of their life. Imagine, Mac. One roll in the hay and you’re knocked up forever.”

“Red light, Commander!” Good god, what a horrific thought. No wonder most women automatically jump back with a little scream when they see a roach.

“Oh, sorry Mac. It’s just that this stuff is scary. I mean I couldn’t sleep last night after seeing those bugs and I didn’t even know all this.”

“*Those* Harm? About how many did you see?”

He looks away. Not a good sign.

“A few.” He looks back at me; sees ‘no sale’. “Several.” I deploy eyebrows. “OK, a bunch Mac. I didn’t stop to count.”

“But you’ve never seen any before last night?” His head shake is so solemn it’d make the Chief Justice look giddy.

“OK, what’d you learn about stuff we might find in your hardware store. You know Harm, Raid, DeCon, Black Flag. Stuff like that.”

“I thought Black Flag was a punk rock band.”

Jeez Harm, stay on point. If it’s not Bud’s brain, the bugs have crawled in.

“Nationally available insecticides, Harm. What’s best?”

“Mac, they are biochemical agents! Remember that case a while back? Bug spray is just a dilute form of biochemical warfare. Are you suggesting we disregard the Geneva convention in my loft?”

He’s bouncing around so much I can’t keep track. Does he want to get rid of the roaches or help them petition INS for citizenship?

“The Convention does not apply to insects and yes, Harm, if you want to get rid of the roaches biochemical warfare is exactly what I’m suggesting.”

“Well,” I can see he’s considering options as he leafs through the pages of Internet roach information, “there are some solids that when they walk through it doesn’t kill them right away. Then when they die in the nest and the other roaches eat them -- did you know roaches were cannibalistic, Mac? -- they die too. Takes a little longer but at least we wouldn’t be deploying airborne agents.”

Cannibalistic eternally pregnant foreign bugs?!?

“Harm, did you get *any* work done this morning?”

“Mac, what do you call all of this?” he gestures to the various printouts, replete with highlighted paragraphs and notes in the margins.

“I meant JAG work. Case files, investigations, discovery, depositions, you remember. Lawyer stuff.”

“Uhmm, no, not exactly. Been kinda busy with this.”

“Harm. Put the roaches to rest for the time being and get to work. We’ll follow our original mission plan.” Sometimes I have to use that Marine command voice on him; it’s the only thing that gets through.

“OK Mac, I’ll just make a few phone calls to see if anyone in the area carries this stuff,” he waves a paper. “It disrupts their reproductive cycle.”

“NO HARM. We are not buying birth control pills for your roaches. We are buying the most potent chemical warfare legally sold. We are fumigating your loft. We will prevail. We will give no quarter. We will take no prisoners.”

I leave him sitting there, looking a bit dazed.

Sometimes that man really bugs me.

continued in Chapter 2: One Is Never Enough

Chapter 2: Once Is Never Enough

JAG Ops
1700 (local), Thursday before Memorial Day Weekend

He probably thinks I don’t know he’s out there. Lingering like a young tough on a street corner. Or, then again, just waiting like any other working stiff looking down the street for the next bus.

“Harm,” I call out. He’s at my doorway in an instant.

“Yeah Mac?”

“I take it you’ve secured for the night?” He’s not normally a clock watcher. But here it is not 30 seconds past 1700 and he’s standing in my doorway with briefcase in hand, cover tucked smartly under his left arm.

“Yeah Mac. I kinda wanted to get home before it got dark.”

Any other time I’d skewer him with that. Fearless flyboy, legal legend, lady killing hunk wants to get home before dark? But I think I understand.

“They come out at night, eh?”

He shifts his weight uneasily from side to side. “No, Mac. That’s a myth. But they do tend to stay away from the light when they’re living indoors.”

As opposed to when they’re camping out, mountain climbing or relaxing on their yacht? I’m not gonna take the bait on this one. “Just give me a minute.”

He nods and stands there waiting for me. Or should I say *shifts there* waiting for me? Normally Harm has an exceptional economy of movement. I think it’s a pilot thing. Control bleed-over to his gestures and body language. This shifting back and forth is truly out of character. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him do it before. Wow, those roaches are really eating at him.

Yuuck!!! Oh why did I have to conjure up that image??


Mac’s apartment
Georgetown
1745 (local), Thursday before Memorial Day Weekend

We’ve both changed into jeans, t-shirts and tennis shoes.

“Uhmm, Mac. Those aren’t your favorite jeans or tennies are they?”

A very tiny bell goes off in the back of my brain. I try to ignore it. No chance. Harm’s hiding something again.

“What if they are?”

“Then I’d tell you to change into something else.” He sees my ‘Marine’ look. “We’re gonna be working with pesticides. I don’t know if they bleach fabric or leave a smell that won’t wash out...” realizing he probably shouldn’t have added that last part, he shuts up.

“No Harm, these are not my favorite clothes. And I have a change with me so after we’re done I can get out of them.”

“That’s great Mac. I’d like you to get out of them when we’re done.”

We’re walking done my hallway as he says that. I stop dead in my tracks while he keeps blithely ambling along.

“Mac. You forget something?” He’s turned back waiting for me.

Me? No, Harm, you’re the one who’s apparently forgotten your brain today. Good god if he’s like this now, what’s he gonna be like after we inhale a little insecticide?

“No, Harm. Coming right up.”


Jack’s Restaurant Supply
North of Union Station
1825 (local) Thursday before Memorial Day Weekend

I pull in next to Harm’s Lexus. A restaurant supply place. Getting out of my ‘vette I see the sign on the door. ‘Restaurant sales only; no retail sales. Hours 7AM-6PM, Mon.-Sat.’

Harm sees me looking at the sign. “Don’t worry, Mac. I bought most of my kitchen stuff from Jack. We’re fine.”

“Harm, are you planning on baking your roaches or cooking them a special dinner?”

“Mac, come on. You don’t think restaurants have to battle roaches constantly? Not to mention mice and rats. Ants and...”

“That’s enough, Harm.” I may never eat out again.

“It’s almost as bad as grocery stores. They never win, they basically just fight a holding battle.”

“Stop Harm.” I beginning to think this is a plot to change my eating habits. To like never eating at all.

“Anyway, Mac. I talked to Jack today and he said he’s got some really good stuff.”

“I thought we wanted bad stuff.”

“Good for us. Bad for the roaches.”

He opens the door for me and we walk into a cavernous warehouse. Long rows of open shelving fill the space. Everything from measuring spoons to floor-standing dough mixers vie for attention. Good thing this isn’t a shoe store or I’d be in trouble. Then as Harm wanders off and picks up some gadget, virtually caressing it, I realize this is *his* shoe store.

Gotta nip this quick.

I take the gadget (heavens knows what it’s used for) gently out of his hand, firmly clasp my hands around his forearm and walk him away from the shelves and toward what looks like a service desk.

(‘Sir, step away from the kitchen ware. Sir, this is in your best interest. Step away from the kitchen ware. Sir, your family loves and needs you. Step away from the kitchen ware.’)

Seeing a bell, I tap it. Seems to break through Harm’s trance. It’s a good thing the local PBS doesn’t air old Julia Child’s anymore. Harm’d never make it to the office. I briefly wonder if there are private clinics for treating this kind of disorder.

A door in the wall behind the desk opens and out pops a small, middle-aged man. “Harm! Good to see ya!” he exclaims.

“Hey Jack, good to see you too. Hope you can help me out. This is my partner from the office, Lt. Colonel Sarah MacKenzie.”

I smile at the bantamweight. “Nice to meet you, Jack.”

“Harm! Now I know why you always say you put in long hours at work. If I were you I’d bring my work home with me!”

We both give him indulgent smiles. After so many years of cracks like that, unless it’s coming from a military type inappropriately, we just let ‘em go. Hey, if I was a woman looking at Harm, I’d say the same thing to me.

“About those insecticides we talked about.” Harm gamely tries to get the conversation back on track.

“Sure, sure. I’ve got just the thing for you. High tech, high kill ratio, fast acting, long lasting, yet broken down easily in the environment. It’s a suspo-emulsion. Really great stuff. And pretty easy for a do-it-yourselfer to use. But if you want to go with the old-school methods, I have a variety of sprays like your parents used.”

Why do I get the feeling we’re negotiating with an arms dealer here? Or maybe sitting in on a weapons treaty discussion.

Jack lowers his voice, and shifts his gaze, sweeping the area. “Or Harm, since you’re a good customer, and I know you want to get rid of these buggers as fast as you can, I have a limited supply of shall we say ‘special’ insecticides. Very effective. Not entirely kosher by current EPA standards.”

Oh good god. He *is* an arms dealer.

“Thanks Jack. But I think I’ll take the emulsion we talked about. I already got the other stuff we’ll need.”

“OK fine, Harm. Just remember what I told you about it. And if you need to come back, I’ll still have my ‘special supply’.” He goes through the door into the back.

“Harm, what ‘other stuff’ will we need and when did you get it?” Why am I feeling this mission is spinning out of my control?

“Oh, just some gloves, safety glasses, respirators, disposable coveralls and booties.”

What, no moon suits with self-contained life-support?

“Picked ‘em up this afternoon.” He sees my look. “They’re just precautions Mac. Like a smoke detector in your apartment.”

Right. I normally don’t wear my smoke detector. “Harm, did you get *any* work done today?”

Jack’s back and Harm’s paying him (in cash I notice).

“Sure, sure Mac. And I’ve got the long weekend to catch up.”

I knew it. He got absolutely no work done today.


Harm’s loft building
North of Union Station
1840 (local), Thursday before Memorial Day Weekend

Harm stops me just outside his door. “Why don’t we put on the coveralls, shoe covers and the rest of the stuff out here?”

“Why should we Harm? We haven’t even opened the containers yet. We can put them on inside.”

He does that funny shift thing again. “But Mac, the bugs are in there. I’d really rather be armed and ready before we walk into a free fire zone.”

I’ve got it. He doesn’t just ‘not like’ bugs. He’s scared of them; they give him the creeps. OK. Big pass for the flyboy on this one. Me too. But there is no way this Marine is gonna let him know that now. Or ever.

I set the gym bag with my change of clothes down. He sets the bag with our ammunition down (gently I notice), followed by another shopping bag. He dumps the contents of the second on the floor and in minutes we look like rejects from a low-budget sci-fi movie. Disposable coveralls and booties, safety goggles (not glasses, goggles which Harm made a point of cinching snug to my face), respirators, hair covers and heavy rubber gloves.

The things I do for this man. Following him to Russia starts to pale in comparison as I watch him carefully read the labels on what I’ve begun to think of as private stock Agent Orange.

He briefs me on the application method and our “target zone”. OK, we’re spraying in the kitchen, with special attention under cabinets and refrigerator.

Harm has turned into a Terminator-like morphed combination of GI Joe meets the Orkin Man. Using hand signals (hey, Harm, remember we can talk, the roaches can’t?) he moves us in.

He takes point, sweeping his sprayer like it’s an AK-47. He slowly approaches the kitchen island and signals ‘hold’. What I would give for a helmet-mounted camera right now. I could blackmail him for the rest of his life with footage of this.

He peers over the island, does a thorough recon scan. Signaling me forward, he indicates he’ll go right (the longer route, brave warrior that he is) and I should go left around the island to begin our strafing run.

OK, I know we’re not in airplanes, but if you factor in relative size and heights, roaches to the nozzles of our sprayers, I think the analogy holds up quite well, thank you.

As I attack under the refrigerator, I have this absurd impulse to do a Marine yell. (Hey, Harm may have taken the longer route around the island, but he left me with what is no doubt the more target rich environment.)

A few foot soldiers crawl out from under the fridge. That’s it. Full bore Parris Island mode now.

“Die you filthy scum!” I scream as I spy them.

“Arrgh!! Take that for invading my homeland, you bastards!” comes roaring out of Harm.

“I’m gonna rip out each one of your hairy legs and shove them down your throat!” Top that, squid.

The floor vibrates as I hear a loud thump. I look over to see Harm has obviously squashed a roach and is brandishing his sprayer over his head.

“I have not yet begun to fight!”

I wonder if these respirators are working?

I keep spraying; Harm resumes spraying. We meet in the middle of the cabinet run and exchange high-fives.

“Mission completed,” he says with a grin I can see despite the mask covering most of his lower face.

Oh, given the way things have turned out since our revered Commander In Chief used that phrase a couple of years ago (who’s idea was it for him to land on an aircraft carrier?), those were not the words I’d’ve picked. But, whatever.

“Hoo-rah!”

Leaving the kitchen area I’m half surprised to see Harm’s not doing it walking backwards. Whoops, thought too soon. He’s turned and made a final sweep.

“We’re outta here, Marine!”

Back in the hallway we strip off our protective clothing, gloves last as Harm loads the spent weapons and them into a bright orange bag that I notice has the universal biohazard symbol on it.

I’m not gonna think about this.

“Harm. Where can I change clothes?”

“Oh, use the elevator, Mac.”

The elevator?

“Just close the door. As long as the gate’s open, it won’t move.”

I don’t want to know what under what circumstances he’s become familiar with this routine. But it works as promised and he does the same.

“So, ya hungry? I’ve always heard a good fire fight makes Marines especially hungry.” We’re standing in the elevator, actually going down this time. He leans forward. “For a lot of things.”

My eyes say it all. I just wish I could have seen them so I knew what they said. ‘Back off’ or ‘Bring it on’?

He simply straightens up, puts his hand on the small of my back and says nonchalantly, “Or so I’ve heard.”


Wang’s House of Hunan
North of Union Station
2045 (local), Thursday before Memorial Day Weekend

Harm reaches over the table and puts his hand over mine. He looks at me with a sweetness I didn’t think was possible to live in a man his age, of his life experience.

“Mac, I don’t think there’s another woman on the planet like you.”

Ooooh. This is starting good. Keep going big guy.

“Brilliant lawyer, kick ass Marine, beautiful woman,” YES!!! HE SAID IT AGAIN!!! “loyal friend, dependable partner,” hold on there, this is starting to sound like Lassie’s resume. “And now you faced the roaches with me.”

With that he draws my hand up, turns it over and gently kisses my palm.

“I can never thank you enough, Mac.”

As soon as I catch my breath I’m gonna try to figure out what that message was.

“I have some of your favorite double-dutch chocolate cake back at my place. Don’t worry, it’s been in the fridge ever since I brought it home last evening and Jack assures me that *they* can’t get into refrigerators with good seals.”

“Gee Harm, what about all that spray? Won’t it smell?”

He waves a hand dismissively. “Nahh, that’s one of the things that’s so great about those suspo-emulsions.” Then, with a lower, huskier voice, “Come on Mac. Let me take you home.”

OK. Another perfectly mixed message. Does he want me to feast on chocolate cake because I helped him spread biochemical agents in his loft or does he want to feast on me...because?

I’m willing to find out.


Harm’s loft building elevator
North of Union Station
2100 (local), Thursday before Memorial Day Weekend

I’m standing at the back of the elevator. There’s nobody other than Harm in here with us, it’s just that I always stand at the back of the elevator, given a choice. He turns, stepping in front of me and puts his hands on the wall either side of my shoulders.

Leaning in he barely whispers, “Mac.”

YES, YES, YES!!!

“There’s something I want to tell you.” He grazes my forehead with his lips. He better tell me soon or be in good standing with his CPR certification ‘cause I’m not breathing.

He’s moved to my ear and his breath is like a warm summer breeze against it. Maybe he can breathe for both of us?

“I hope this doesn’t frighten you. I’d never want to scare you, Sarah.”

I’m at maximum meltdown. I can repeat by heart and replay in detail each time he’s called me by my given name. Thank god not many people live in this building ‘cause the elevator’s been at his floor for 45 seconds now. But who’s counting?

With another gossamer kiss, this time on my cheek, he pulls back to draw me into those impossibly-hued eyes of his.

“We may find a number of dead soldiers in there. Jack said they might crawl out after the initial attack. If you want to wait out here, I can go in and mop up.”

The breath I take in is great fuel for my instantaneous rage.

“YOU, A SQUID, ARE OFFERING TO ‘MOP UP’ A GROUND BATTLE???” Am I gonna leave it at that? Hell no! “You want me to call Mortuary Services as well, Harm?”

“Well, gee, no, Mac. I just thought I could clean up the dead bodies before you came in.”

No, I’m not letting him get away with this. It’s ‘third strike’ time...he got a pass on ‘beautiful’ and getting me ‘out of my clothes’. He doesn’t walk on this one. Go directly to Jail.

“And you felt you needed to tell me this while kissing me?”

No, Harmon Rabb, Jr. The little boy shuffle and grin is not gonna carry a spoonful of water this time.

“Well, no Mac. Not exactly. I just wanted to kiss you. And then I remembered I needed to warn you about the bodies.”

“So, you’re admitting you wanted to kiss me and used dead roaches as an excuse?”

As soon as I used the word ‘admitting’ I knew I’d made a major mistake. Harm the lawyer snaps to attention.

“No Mac. I’m not ‘admitting’ to anything other than a desire to kiss you that was rudely interrupted by my recalling that there might be a bunch of dead roaches inside my loft.”

He pulls me toward him. I resist for about a nanosecond (my clock stops at seconds) before resting against his chest. I feel his chin settle on the top of my head.

“OK?”

“OK, but you’re not going in alone sailor. We started this mission together, we finish this mission together.”

Brave words since I’m secretly creeped out thinking about a bunch of dead roaches. But I guess that’s better than a bunch of live roaches. Suck it up, Marine. You can handle this.

He gives me a little squeeze, then we part so he can open the elevator gate.

I notice we both get quiet and go on alert as he slowly opens his door. I also note that he leaves the door wide open as he silently enters his darkened loft. I’m right behind him, a little to his left. We both halt as we hear a noise. A scuffling sound.

We turn to each other and there is just enough street light coming in through his windows that I can see his eyes are showing more white than I’ve ever seen.

I motion for us to split up. Once again, he goes to the right of the island. But that means I will have to throw the light switch. When we’re both in position I give him the three finger count down and flip the overhead lights on zero.

The kitchen floor is alive with roaches. Not littered with dead roach bodies. Alive with roaches scurrying under cabinets.

“Acckkk!!” “Eeeck!!” We scramble far faster than the roaches out the door, down the stairs and onto the sidewalk.

We are both gasping for breath. I’m jumping up and down a bit. Harm’s kinda rocking his upper body back and forth. Guess we all have our coping mechanisms.

A minute goes by. Another starts. My heart rate has dropped below 100, I think, and I’m starting to get embarrassed. Jeez, they’re just bugs. I’m a Marine.

Time to go on the offensive.

“Harm. Did you do something to make Jack mad at you? Stiff him for a bill, bounce a check, promise him a ride in the plane then not follow through?”

“No, Mac. Why would you ask that?”

“’Cause it looks like we sprayed roach food in there Harm!”

“Maybe it takes little longer to work.”

“Not the way I heard it described today. I think your friendly neighborhood spider man sold you something guaranteed to rustle up business for his ‘special EPA-banned’ supply. At special rates too I’ll bet. And given the way you ran out of there, I’ll bet you’d pay just about anything right now, wouldn’t you?”

“The way *I* ran out of there? Might I point out to you that you beat me out the door?”

“I’m a Marine, Harm, I know when to effect a strategic retreat.”

“And then I guess that was the traditional Marine retreat ‘eeeck’ I heard?”

I turn around, jumping up and down a little bit. Harm does a few more upper body bobs.

We look at each other.

“OK Harm. I’ll come clean. Bugs give me the creeps.”

“Hey, I thought Marines learned how to live on bugs if they had to.”

“We do and I did. And I’m fine with bugs in the wild.”

“The wild, Mac? Like Borneo?”

“Outdoors Harm. Where they’re supposed to be. It’s just when they’re indoors....”

“They creep you out. Make your skin crawl. Trigger the flight response, jumping right over the fight part,” Harm adds.

I nod.

“Yeah, me too,” he says. “Always have.”

I figure this is a good time for a hug. He seems to think so too.

“Harm, did you by any chance shut your door as we retreated?”

“Um uhm.” His response is a little muffled by my hair seeing as though he’s got his face pretty much buried in it.

“And you’ve still got a sea bag in your car?”

“Um humm.”

This conversation’s going great so far: Harm’s holding me in his arms and agreeing to everything I say. What could be better? I know.

“Let’s go to my place. You can stay there tonight.”

“Um humm. Good idea, Mac. Thanks.”

Doesn’t get much better than this. (Well, except for the roaches part.)


continued in Chapter 3: Confessions


                                                       
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