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...And Throw Away the Key        Part 1

By Timer



A/N:  The information about the Museum holdings, building and location at the Academy is accurate. The Rogers Ship Model Collection is a jewel in the crown. Nothing about the security measures has any basis in reality.  It is interesting to note that the current Director of the US Naval Academy Museum (as of 1/06) is a Dr. J. Scott Harmon.  Tee hee.  Who says life doesn’t imitate art?

While it’s not at all necessary to have read my previous story “TV or Not TV, That Is The Question” to understand this yarn, if you have there’ll be a few more jokes in here.

Once again, timeline is midseason 7, after JAG-A-Thon and before Head To Toe, but forgive me a few scrambles along the way.

All characters are fictional.  The ones from JAG don’t belong to me, I just play with them occasionally.  No money is changing hands as a result of this little story.

Finally, please don’t think I’m poking fun at developmentally challenged people.  That character did exactly what he was asked to do, exactly as he was told to do it.  Gotta make you wonder who were the ‘challenged’ ones here, eh? And isn’t that my point?



Chapter 1:  Breaking and Entering

US Naval Academy Grounds
Annapolis, MD
2355 (local), Friday, Nov. 30, 2001

The black-clad team of six silently creeps in the shadows, slowly making its way around the perimeter of the open parade ground.  Using only hand signals to communicate, the invaders make their way to a secluded spot near the US Naval Academy Museum.  There they seemingly disappear into the ground, to patiently wait for the right moment to strike.


Mac’s apartment building hallway
Georgetown
2355 (local), Friday, Nov. 30, 2001

I’m tired and sorely in need of a shower, but instead of going to my loft I came here.  Like a moth to a flame I smile ruefully.  Can’t help myself.  I’ve been gone on an investigation for a week.  I have to see her.

But first I have to get past her damn door.

Ever since we started sleeping together almost every night we’re both in town, Mac’s insomnia has miraculously disappeared.  My nightmares, too.  I consider both to be signs from the cosmic powers that we should never sleep apart again.  Who am I to argue with them?

So, given what she told me on the phone earlier today about her week, I’m thinking she might be asleep.  Hence my anger at the door situation.

I set down my sea bag, briefcase and cover and produce my key.  Right.  I should say the key that sometimes works and sometimes leaves me standing out in the hallway jiggling it for what seems like forever.

I can’t believe one of her neighbors hasn’t called the cops yet, certain that I’m trying to break in.  But then again, if they haven’t called them based on some of the noises we’ve made in the middle of the night over the last couple of months, maybe they’re all oblivious.

Or too embarrassed to lodge a complaint.

Who would’ve guessed Mac is a screamer?

Taking a deep breath, I petition the lock gods and insert the key.  Damn.  I can tell right away it’s gonna be one of those times.  I can resign myself to jiggling the key for the next five minutes, praying for the tumblers to fall or I can go to my backup plan.

It’s late.  I’m tired.  Backup plan it is.  But tomorrow, come hell or high water, I’m replacing this lock with one that works.  I don’t care that Mac never has a problem with it.  I’m getting one that opens reliably for both of us.

As I reach into my sea bag for my backup plan, I briefly wonder if Bugme put some sort of curse on the lock.  He did live in the outback and I’ve heard tales about some strange things going on out there.


US Naval Academy grounds
Annapolis, MD
0130 (local), Saturday, Dec. 1, 2001

The team leader signals his men.  Moving forward they reach their first significant challenge (getting by the gate guards was way too easy...they call this a military installation?).  Two stand watch, two reconnoiter the back of the building, two reach the doors and go to work.  A mere 30 seconds later the door team signals thumbs up.  The watch signals recon.  Recon returns.  The team silently verifies they’re all still synchronized.

With the watch staying in place, the recon and door teams enter the building.


Mac’s apartment hallway
Georgetown
0130 (local), Saturday, Dec. 1, 2001

This is my ‘gonna be the quick way in’ backup plan?  Damn.  I should’ve stuck with jiggling the key.  But now that I’ve been at this for half an hour my pride insists I do it this way.

I’m also convinced I need to talk to Mac about better security.  Hell, I’ve been working at her front door with lock picks in a brightly lit hall for a half an hour and no one’s said boo.

On the other hand, I haven’t been able to get in her door for the last half hour even though I have been working at it with lock picks.  OK, her security isn’t completely derelict.

I need to brush up my skills.  I used to be good at picking locks.  It’s just the last ten years or so I haven’t had much need to do it.  Even took me a while to remember where I had my trusty picks stored.

Trusty?  Who am I kidding?  Any minute now I’m gonna give in and call her on my cell.  Figure that’s a little less rude than pounding on the door.


US Naval Academy Museum
Interior
0132 (local), Saturday, Dec. 1, 2001

The mission is going perfectly.  They easily avoid what this Museum considers its security measures and quickly reach their prize:  The Rogers Ship Model Collection in all it’s glory, occupying pride of place on the first floor.

Grinning at one another for a moment, the team focuses on its next, and most important, challenge.  The one that, if they are successful, will secure their place in history.


Five minutes later

Mission complete, the team slithers out of the Museum, securing the door behind them.  They disappear into the night, as if they had never been there.


Mac’s apartment hallway
0132(local), Saturday, Dec. 1, 2001

Finally, I feel the tumblers fall.  My back has long ago given up on me bending over, so I’m on my knees when I open the door.

*Click*  The safety on a handgun has such a distinctive sound when it’s released.

You know, that’s just not the sound I wanted to hear right now.

“Mac, it’s me, Harm.”  Silence is also not what I want to hear right now.

“Mac???”  I’m on my knees, I’ve been trying to get in her door for the last half hour, I’m tired, I need a shower, I need to sleep with my arms around her and I know she’s gonna milk this for all she can.

OK.  I’m ready.

“Harm.”

“Yes, Mac?”  Well, at least I’m sure it’s her and she’s alright despite the lousy security in this place.

Whoops, I am the one on my knees and she is the one with the gun.  Probably not in a position to throw stones about that right now.

“Don’t quit your day job.”

“Hey, so I haven’t kept up my quals on picking locks.  I’ve been busy saving the free world, finding the truth, putting the bad guys away.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, Harm.  That’s what all the failed second story guys say.”

“Mac.  Would you put the safety back on and can I get up now?”

“Sure Harm.”

“Thanks.”

She turns on a lamp as I stand up and haul my stuff inside.  I close the door, giving the offending lock a swift slap.

“Mac, that lock goes.  Tomorrow.  I’m not risking getting arrested for home invasion.”

“OK Harm.  But it never gives me any trouble and from what I can tell, the most they could charge you with is attempted home invasion.”

The words say sarcasm.  The tone and body language say something else entirely.  She’s put her gun back behind the armoire and has her arms wrapped around my neck.  I get a brief whiff of gun oil mixed with her more familiar cinnamon and vanilla aroma.  You know you’re in love with a Marine when gun oil smells erotic.

“Technically, Mac, I don’t think home invasion would be the proper charge.”

“Oh really, Commander?  And what would you like to be ‘properly charged’ with?”  She’s kissing my neck as I back her towards the bedroom.

“Well, I think I’ve done the ‘breaking’ part.  I was wondering if you’d be an accomplice in the ‘entering’ phase?”

“Harm,” she whispers as we tumble onto her bed.  “You make a life of crime sound so exciting.”

Chapter 2:  The Game Is Afoot


Mac’s apartment
Georgetown
0730 (local), Saturday, Dec. 1, 2001

I vaguely hear an irritatingly creepy tune playing out on the fringes of my consciousness.  Oh yeah, that’s the ring tone Bud installed for me back in July.

What if I just ignore it?

What if I ever want to make Captain?

I grope around for my pants, find them, find the phone and squint at the caller ID readout.  Uh oh.  Chegwidden, from his home at 0730 on the morning of the Army/Navy game?  This must be really serious.

I hit the receive button as I clear my throat.  “Admiral, good morning.”

You know I think I said that just to hear him harumph.  He’s got such a great harumph.

“Hardly, Commander.  I tried your place earlier.  I know your transport got in late last night.  And you don’t sound like you’re out jogging.  In fact, you sound like you’re barely awake.”

“Yes sir, I did get in late last night from my investigation.”  Agree with what you can, ignore what you can.  Words to live by.

Mac sleepily turns over.  “Harm?” she mumbles.  I clamp my free hand across her mouth, shaking the phone as her eyes shoot open.  She gets it, nods, then proceeds to start nibbling on the fingers of what had been my free hand.

“Commander, I’m not going to ask you where you are.  I’m not going to comment that the sleepy female voice I just heard sounded a lot like Colonel MacKenzie, because I know these damn cell phones have terrible transmission sometimes.  But I am ordering you to meet me at my house ASAP for an urgent briefing, after which you will immediately head to Annapolis to begin an investigation.”

I hear him sigh.  Never a good sign.

“Before you say it, yes, I do know that today is the Army/Navy game.  I have no doubt that it figures into this....situation.”

Damn.  Must be bad if he’s calling it a ‘situation’.  That usually means heavy doses of politics and strangeness.

“Commander, do you have a presentable uniform with you?”

I glance at the wrinkled mess on the floor next to the bed.  Then I remember Mac’s excellent steamer and my spare shirt.

“Yes sir.  I’m good to go.”

“I’ll bet you are Commander, but nevertheless I need you at my house an hour ago.”

I hear him chuckling as he hangs up.  I turn to Mac, who’s graduated from nibbling to sucking and is rolling toward me with unmistakable intent.  “That was the Admiral.  We are so busted and I’ve gotta go right now.  Sorry.  Can you steam my uniform while I run through the shower?”

It’s funny.  I never thought of Mac as someone who would pout.  Yet she has a world-class lower lip when denied certain delights.  Then again, I think I pout about that too.

“It was?”  I nod.  “We are?”  I nod again.  “You do?”  That makes three.  “Yes.”

“Thanks, babe.  You’re the best.”  I jump out of bed and head for the showers.  “Something’s happened at the Academy.  I don’t know what, but I can tell you this:  if it merits getting the Admiral involved on the morning of the Army/Navy game, it must be big.”


Admiral Chegwidden’s home
McLean, VA
0825 (local), Saturday, Dec. 1, 2001

I stand at attention as he opens the door.

“At ease, Commander.  Come in.  Coffee?”

“Yes sir, haven’t had time for any yet this morning.”

“What, Mac didn’t have a travel mug she could lend you?”

“I wouldn’t know about that, sir.”  Answer what you can, avoid what you can.  Remember those words.

“You take cream, right?”

“Yes sir.”  Whatever went down at Annapolis it can’t be too terrible if AJ’s got time to make me uncomfortable about Mac and comfortable that he knows how I take my coffee in the same breath.

He comes back with two mugs, hands one to me and offers “have a seat, Commander.  You’re gonna love this one.”

That’s right up there with the sound of a safety being released in the ‘things I don’t like to hear’ category.

He settles back, takes a sip of coffee and I get the impression he’s going to tell a shaggy dog tale.

“Last night, someone, or a team of someones, evaded perimeter security and got on the grounds at the Academy.”

My look says it all....not good anytime.  Really bad in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.  His use of the term ‘team’ is not lost on me.

He takes another sip, regarding my response to the information.  “You’re familiar with the Academy Museum aren’t you?”

“Of course, sir.”

“Apparently these someones broke into it last night, or early this morning.”

“Oh no, sir.  What did they do?”  My mind reels thinking of the irreplaceable Navy artifacts.  Those bastards.  Killing innocent civilians isn’t enough?  They want to destroy our history as well?

AJ regards me even more carefully.  “Rabb, don’t jump to conclusions.”

“Yes sir.”

He samples his coffee yet again.  He’s deliberately dragging this out.

“Ever visit the Rogers Ship Model Collection at the Museum?  The one in the priceless display cases on the first floor?”

Oh how can he be complacent about this??  Those incredible miniatures, over 100 of them.  Exact replicas of sailing vessels of the British Navy, a few of early US Navy ships.  Delicate artistry portraying the strength of the men who have taken to the sea since the 17th century.  A horrible vision of smashed beauty forms in my head.

“Mr. Rabb, don’t jump to conclusions.”

“Yes sir.”

He must think that’s the best mug of coffee he’s ever had, given the way he’s nursing it.  And I thought I had to get to Annapolis ASAP.  Guess that’s the Chegwidden ASAP.

“This morning the three cases that house the US Navy models were found to have been, umhmm, tampered with.”  Over the top of his mug he gives me a look.

“Tampered with, sir?”

“Yes Mr. Rabb.  It seems someone took the trouble to break into the Museum, open three cases so carefully they were not damaged -- at least so far as we know -- and place Life Savers around the Navy models.”  He sits back with a sound I’d normally call a chuckle.  But under the circumstances, he can’t be laughing, can he?

“Life preservers, sir?”

“No Commander.  Life Savers, the candy.”

He looks at me.  I look at him.

“The Army/Navy game is today, sir.”

“Yes it is Mr. Rabb.”

“And nothing was damaged at the Museum, was it.”

“Correct again Mr. Rabb.”

“So it seems that Army pulled a prank that’s gonna go down in the books.”

“That’s the way I see it, Commander.  But you are heading to Annapolis with an unbiased frame of mind, to conduct an official JAG man investigation of this,” he snorts, “heinous crime.”

“Sir, shouldn’t Academy security be investigating.  Or NCIS?”

“Yes, yes, they should.  And the NCIS crime scene team has already been there.  You can check with them for their findings.  But you were personally requested for this assignment.”

“Me?  Personally?  By who?”  Not sure I want to know.

“The Academy Commandant, an Admiral Link, is related to the SecNav somehow.  I don’t know, brother-in-law of a cousin or something like that.  Link’s blowing a gasket about this, demanding ‘the best the Navy’s got to investigate this attack on our honor’.   Link called the SecNav, the SecNav called me, I called you.  The price of fame, Commander.”


Harm’s SUV
On the road to Annapolis
0850 (local), Saturday, Dec. 1, 2001

“Hey sailor, got it solved yet?”

“Oh Mac,” I say into my cell phone.  “I don’t think there’s any chance I’ll be back in time to watch the game with everybody.  Give them all my deepest regrets.”

“Oooo, it’s *that* bad?”

“Mac, let’s just say while you’re rooting for Navy, root for me too.”  I sigh.  “On the bright side, I think I’m gonna get another chapter for my memoirs out of this.”

“Can’t wait to hear.  Call if you have to stay over, OK?”

“I promise.”


US Naval Academy
Annapolis, MD
1030 (local), Saturday, Dec. 1, 2001

I turn in at the Maryland Gate to the Academy grounds.  The guards inspect my credentials, call ahead to the Museum and stop just shy of looking down my throat.

Where were you guys last night, eh?  If you’d done your job and caught the Army boys before they hit the Museum I’d still be in bed with Mac.  Or in the shower.  Either way, I’d still be with her rather than trying to figure out how I’m gonna keep a straight face investigating the felonious breaking in and leaving of hard candy.

Law school just doesn’t prepare you for some cases.

On my way to the Museum I call Commandant Link.  Military protocol would normally have me reporting to him first.  But I’m hoping he’s as eager as I am to get this investigation started and finished.

“Yes sir, thank you sir for your confidence.  I’ll certainly give this investigation my best effort.  Yes, sir, it is true I pushed a Tomcat by its tailhook.  Yes, I did land that Korean jetliner.  No sir.  I don’t think this investigation is going to be nearly as dangerous as those, but yes I’ll keep my eyes open sir.  Always good advice.  Thank you, sir.”

Good god, I think as I hang up.  This game has a two-star playing in left field.


Chapter 3: Unseen Of The Crime

Academy Museum
Director Mary Reilly’s office
1045 (local), Saturday, Dec. 1, 2001

“Dwayne Miller was the security man last night.  He says he didn’t see a thing out of place and he’s been with us for years.”

“So you’d rule him out as an accomplice in this prank?”

“Commander!  Breaking into a guarded facility and putting a priceless collection at risk hardly qualifies as a  ‘prank’.”

Should have counted on righteous indignation from the museum types.  Oh well, I guess I can sort of see their point.  But then again, haven’t they ever heard of the ‘no harm, no foul’ rule?

“The security cameras back him up.  They cover every inch of the gallery and nobody was in there other than Dwayne from closing ‘til we discovered...them.”

“Them?  I didn’t think anyone was caught.”

“The Life Savers, Commander.”

Oh, *them*.  “You’re sure Miller couldn’t have been part of this?  It’s got the earmarks of an inside job.”

“I’m absolutely confident Dwayne had nothing to do with this. He’s always had a, uhmm, special affection for the boat collection.  I swear he’d guard it with his life.”

Hold up a minute here.  I’m an art lover too, and a student of US Naval history but even I wouldn’t give my life for a miniature boat.  Methinks there is more to Dwayne’s story.

“Really?”  Sometimes when said with the right inflection, one word can elicit so much information.

Director Reilly turns toward me with an expression that blends honesty, compassion and the sincere desire to gossip.  “Dwayne came to the Museum almost 20 years ago, way before my time.  I understand he was originally placed as part of a community outreach program for young adults with...”

I see the polite hesitation and expect a politically correct description of whatever put Dwayne in this program.

“Developmental challenges,” the Director finishes.

Yep, got exactly what I expected.

“I see.  He must have worked out great to still be here 20 years later.  I mean, being a civilian in a Naval institution, charged with guarding a priceless museum collection.”  She’s kidding me, right?  Who handles oversight on this little backwater of the Navy?

“Oh yes, Commander.  Dwayne’s very good at his job.  Always on time, never misses a shift, as dependable as clockwork.  He follows his security checklist religiously.  Never deviates more than a minute from his scheduled rounds.”

She says this proudly???  Yeah, that’s exactly what you want in modern security:  precisely predictable intervals when security is not around.

“I’ll need to interview Dwayne; can you help arrange that for me as soon as possible?”

“Certainly, Commander.  I’ll give him a call and see how soon he can come in.  But remember, he works nights.  We should let him get his sleep so he’ll be fresh for his shift tonight.”

Of course.

“I’m sure you’ll want to talk to the collection curator.  He was the one who discovered the invasion this morning.”

‘Invasion’?  The grandiosity here is choking me.  “Yes, ma’am,” I say as she smoothly leads me out of her office.


Academy Museum
Curator Steven Brewer’s office
1100 (local), Saturday, Dec. 1, 2001

“Well, here we are.  Steven Brewer is the curator for the collection.  This is his office; he’s expecting you.”

She knocks and we hear a somewhat testy “come in”.  She opens the door and we’re greeted with the quintessential scholar’s office:  packed to the max with all manner of books, tools, mementos and whatnots yet able to exhibit a distinct tone of fastidiousness despite the apparent chaos.

I take one look at the dweeb sitting behind his desk sporting a confrontational condescending attitude and think ‘this guy sleeps in tweed pajamas’.

He stands up, I guess.  Boy, he’s really short, too.  I have a feeling this interview is gonna be less than pleasant.

Director Reilly introduces us.

Brewer pointedly ignores my offer of a handshake, crosses his arms across his chest and petulantly demands “How long is it going to take for you to apprehend the criminals responsible for this dastardly attack on the collection?”

OK, I’m amending my opinion.  He sleeps in tweed pjs in his mother’s house.

“Mr. Brewer, I’m here to conduct a JAGman investigation into the break-in.  Hopefully that will uncover the responsible parties, but I don’t have arrest powers.”

He snorts derisively.  “In that case, what good are you?”

“Well sir, I’m good enough that the Secretary of the Navy; Admiral Link, the Commandant of the Academy; and Admiral Chegwidden, the Judge Advocate General  of the Navy all specifically ordered me to personally handle this investigation.  Perhaps you’d like to call them and explain why they were mistaken to do so?”

Take that you sniveling snotty-nosed scholar!  (Sometimes my rebellious youth still peeks out.)

“Well, I think I’ll let you two get on with your interview in private,” the Director makes a strategic retreat.  Ah yes, the sure mark of a politician.  When the going gets tough, get going in the opposite direction.

As the door shuts a strained silence falls.  Brewer glares at me.  I gaze impassively at him.  Hey, I know who the alpha male is in this room.

Stepping forward toward the chair facing his desk, and thereby emphasizing my impressive height advantage over him, I sweep my arm slowly around his crowded office.  “Would you like to start here or is there someplace more accommodating we could go?”

Sputtering, Brewer hotly defends his cubbyhole. “I think this will accommodate us just fine.”

Nodding my head with a quirked eyebrow that screams ‘if you say so, little man’ I take a seat and pull out my notebook.

“Tell me all you can recall about the events of last night and this morning.”

I see him puff up with self-importance.  Boy, this is gonna be downright painful.

“There was nothing unusual about Friday.  Well, we did have a higher number of visitors than normal due to that silly football game.”

He works at the Naval Academy Museum and is calling the Army/Navy game ‘silly’?  Either he’s a closet black-belt or he never talks to the people he works for.

“I noticed your workroom,” that description earns me a withering scowl. “Laboratory.” His scowl deepens. “Whatever you call it.  The room where you clean and repair the boats.”

“Are you referring to the *workshop* where I meticulously maintain the ongoing process of model conservation?”

Workroom, workshop, what’s the difference?  Don’t know but it must be big enough in museum circles that I yanked his chain pretty hard calling it that.  Good.

“Yes, sir.  The one with the big window into the gallery so you can see the visitors.”

“Commander, there may be a window between the workshop and the gallery, but I assure you it is for the visitors to watch me, not the other way around.”

Oh yeah, I’m sure people up and down the eastern seaboard schedule their vacations around when they can watch this guy dust a model boat.

“I see.  So does that mean you don’t remember anything unusual about any of the visitors yesterday or Thursday?”

“My work requires my complete attention.  I hardly know the world outside of the shop exists when I’m in there.”

He says it with pride.  Just like the Director was proud of the rigid security schedule.  Jeez, I sure am glad I didn’t go into academia.

“If that’s the case, how do you know that visitor traffic was higher than normal?”

“I check traffic counts daily.  We have a little friendly competition going among the curators to see whose collection gets the most traffic.”  He leans forward a bit, “and it’s not just for bragging rights.”

Oh please.  Cutthroat competition and high stakes wagers no doubt.

“So, was the collection traffic unusually high Thursday or Friday?”

“Why yes, Commander.  I think the public is finally responding to the brilliant changes I have made over the last couple of years.”

It’s all I can do to not silently shake my head in disgust or loudly shake some sense into him.

“Or perhaps people were casing the museum, and the boat gallery in particular, in preparation for last night’s break-in.”

I can’t believe it.  He actually looks stunned.

“You mean you think it’s not because of the new labeling system?”

Nearly 20 years of military training lets me keep a straight face.

“Well Mr. Brewer, that’s the kind of thing I investigate.”

He looks so deflated I almost feel sorry for him.

“But you don’t know for sure, do you?  It *might* be the new labeling system.”

Nope, don’t feel sorry for him at all.

“Mr. Brewer, how ‘bout we go out to the gallery and you describe what you found this morning.”

I let him take the lead, cutting my usual stride in half to avoid plowing over him.  Much as I’d like to.

“It is my practice to inspect the collection first thing every morning.”

Yes, those are peacock feathers sprouting from his six.

“Imagine my horror when I discovered such wanton destruction.  Such senseless vandalism.  Whoever did this were philistines.  Brutes.”

“Mr. Brewer, it is my understanding that the collection wasn’t harmed.”

He spins toward me so fast I’m afraid he’ll hurt himself.  “Not harmed!?!  Their cases were violated.  Their surroundings were sullied.  The very air around them was compromised!”

Woah.  And Director Reilly thinks Dwayne has an unusual attachment to the collection?

“Could you describe in detail exactly what was done?”  This guy is waaay too high strung.  It’s probably a good thing he still lives at home with his mother (a supposition that I’ve just moved into the ‘fact’ category).

“The vandals broke into the cases...”

Philistines, brutes and vandals.  What’s next, visigoths?  OK, he does have a bit of a point.

I know these cases are every bit as valuable as the boats.  Most were built in the 17th Century specifically to display the original collection.  They’re fantastic examples of the William and Mary and Queen Anne periods of cabinetry.  In fact it’s the combination of the cases and the models that make this so collection so priceless (take that scholar-boy, I know a bit about your precious collection).

“Which cases?”

He leads me over to the three cases in question.  “They only attacked the models of US Navy ships.  Thankfully, they left the British ones alone.”

Yes, I was right earlier.  He never talks to anyone even remotely connected to the US Navy.

Although beautiful cases in their own right, I can tell at a glance these three are not among the original cabinets.  I bend down to examine around the locks.  “NCIS dusted for prints, didn’t they?”

“Yes, they spread that horrible stuff all around.  I got it cleaned up just before you arrived.”

“Mr. Brewer, did the crime scene team mention if they detected any damage to the cases?”  I sure can’t see any.

“One of them mentioned that whoever did this is a master lock-pick.”

“Because there was no damage...?”

“Sure there was damage!  The collection was violated!”

And I bet it’ll have nightmares about it.  Maybe Brewer can get a group rate on a good shrink and sit in on the sessions.

“Any physical damage to the cases?”

Sheepishly he admits, “well, none that we’ve found so far.”

If NCIS hasn’t found any, and this guy hasn’t found any, my money’s on the line saying there isn’t any.

“OK.  What about inside the cases, around the boats.  Exactly how were the Life Savers deployed?”  I couldn’t help myself.  I just had to say it.

“They were scattered along the boat’s edge closest to the front of the case.”

The boats had been removed earlier, prior to dusting for fingerprints (no nasty fingerprint powder allowed on their hulls!), their location marked on the bottom liner of each display shelf in the three cases.  Next to each boat model’s location are little circles denoting the placement of the Life Savers.

It’s a miniature crime scene, complete with chalk outlines.  But instead of bodies it’s hard candy.  Why me?

“Mr. Brewer, from these markings, it would appear that the closest Life Saver was at least 2 inches away from the boats.  No candy ever touched a model.  And, given that they were all placed toward the front of the display cases, it’s doubtful that the boats themselves were moved.”  Until of course he probably grabbed them and ran toward his workshop hugging them close to his chest.

“Your point being?”

“The physical evidence indicates whoever did this took care to not damage the collection; merely to poke fun at the Navy.”

“What about the damage to the shelf liners?”  Brewer has started whining. It’s bad enough when I do it; it really gets on my nerves when someone else does.

“Yes, it does look like those will need to be replaced.  Are they historically significant, or a display item that gets routinely replaced, sorta like the labels?”  I know this isn’t the most attractive trait of mine, my tendency to politely twist the knife when I reach maximum exasperation at stupidity.  But I’ve learned to live with it.

Brewer is aghast at my blatant insult to his ‘brilliant’ labeling system.

I just wait for his answer.

“They’re replaced annually.”

Aha.  “And they were next due to be replaced?”

“The end of the month.”

Damn.  Those Army boys had great intel.  You gotta admire a well-done prank.  And this is ranking very high in my book.  Well, not as good as any of the one’s Keeter and I pulled, but still it gets points for audaciousness and flawless execution.

I wonder if they knew how this would affect Brewer and Link?  One beside himself that his collection has been ‘violated’, despite the complete lack of damage.  The other hitting new record readings with his blood pressure because the Army has insinuated the Navy is a bunch of candy-asses who abandon ship.

I steal a look at my watch.  No chance now I’m gonna get to watch the whole game.  Boy, sure hope Navy wins, ‘cause though I don’t know what the middies may have pulled on Army, I doubt it’ll top this one.

I turn my attention back to Brewer, who is starring into the empty cases looking close to tears.

“Mr. Brewer, I’ll have the surveillance tapes examined by our best experts.  We may yet be able to bring whoever did this to...” I can’t say ‘justice’, “task.”

He shakes his head dejectedly.  My god, he seems a beaten man.  Woah, maybe I *should* recommend counseling.

“But look on the bright side.  The collection wasn’t damaged and a need for improving security has been revealed.”

He brightens a bit at that.  OK, I’m getting out of this while the getting's good.

“Thank you for your time, sir.  I’ll see myself back to Director Reilly so I can get those tapes.  I’m sure she’ll keep you apprised of our investigation’s results.”

He bobs his head silently.  Fine.  I’m outtahere!


US Naval Academy Museum
Director Reilly’s office
1140 (local), Saturday, Dec. 1, 2001

I’m ushered into her office to find a clearly nervous 40-something man in a security uniform waiting for me.  Let me guess.  Could this be Dwayne?

Power down, Rabb, I tell myself.  He can’t possibly be as unctuous as Brewer or as pompous as Admiral Link.

“Commander Rabb, this is Dwayne Miller.  Dwayne, this is the Commander I told you about.”

With that I see Reilly considers her participation complete.  “I have some matters to attend to, so feel free to use my office for your interview.”  And out the door she goes.

Poor Dwayne.  He’s literally wringing his hands.

“Nice to meet you Dwayne.  Why don’t we sit down?”  I adopt a tone of voice that is friendly, gentle and -- I hope -- not patronizing.

“I understand you’ve worked here at the Museum for a long time.”

“Yes sir.  Almost 20 years.”

“Gee Dwayne, that means you and I started at the Academy about the same time.  I was here almost 20 years ago as a middy.  Came to the Museum a couple of times.”

I see Dwayne screw up his face like he’s trying to remember me.  Or figure out if he should remember me.

“But I never did anything that would attract security’s attention,” I hasten to add.  Quickly I review my mental ‘Academy pranks’ file.  Yes, that was a true statement.  Whew.

“So tell me, Dwayne.  What can you remember about your shift last night?”

He launches into recounting a security routine most burglars only dream about.  Printed schedules on clipboards at the security desk.  Conveniently hung on the wall within reach or digital camera shot of anyone standing at the desk.  Rigid adherence to the schedule timetable.  In other words, a blueprint for exactly when and how long a skilled team would have to get in and get out undetected.

“Dwayne, were all the security cameras working last night?”  I’m not sure how I want this question answered.  I’m beginning to not just admire the Army boys who pulled this off; I’m beginning to think this Museum deserved it.  And hey, no harm, no foul, right?

“Yes, sir.  I have them right here for you.”  Dwayne pats a stack of VHS tapes sitting on the Director’s desk.

“Thank you, Dwayne.  I think that’s all for now.  Let’s go find Director Reilly.”



Harm’s SUV
Academy Museum parking lot
1225 (local), Saturday, Dec. 1, 2001

I punch the redial button on my cell phone with one finger while the others are crossed for good luck.

“Commandant Link’s office, Midshipman Getty speaking.”

“Midshipman, this is Commander Rabb calling for the Commandant.”

“Oh, yes sir.  He said to put you right through.”

“Link.”

“Commandant, I’ve interviewed the Director, the primary curator and the security personnel in charge last night.”  I wonder if I should cross my toes at the ‘in charge’ stretch.  Nahh.  Barreling on, “I’ve taken custody of the security camera tapes and feel I should get them to our experts ASAP.”

“Well of course you should, Commander.”  Great, he’s using that ‘what are you, an idiot?’ tone.  He just played into my hand.

“Well sir,  I’ve yet to make an appearance at your office.  Military protocol would dictate....”

“Screw military protocol man!  Don’t you realize there’s a more important issue at stake here?  The Army called us candy-asses!”

“Yes, sir.  When you put it like that, sir.”  I’m already out of the parking lot.  “I’ll stay right on this.”

“Good man.”

Link clicks off.  Whee!  With a little bit of traffic-luck, I might make the second half of the game at the Roberts’ house.


Roberts House
Rosalyn, VA
1400 (local), Saturday, Dec. 1, 2001

Harriet opens the door for me.  “Commander!  The Colonel said you weren’t gonna make it.”

“Men can move mountains when properly motivated, Harriet.”  I find Mac with my eyes and make sure she heard that.

“The Army/Navy game is always a great motivator, sir,” Harriet agrees.  Or at least she thinks she has.

I find a place on the floor in front of the chair Mac just happens to be sitting in.  “Among other things, Harriet.  How’s the game going anyway?”


On the road to Mac’s apartment
Georgetown
1815 (local), Saturday, Dec. 1, 2001

I’m tailing Mac after we finally escaped the football party.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love football parties.  Bud and Harriet are like family to me.  But I need to get my Marine alone for some special maneuvers.

I’ve read that it’s dangerous to talk on a cell phone while driving.  It’s even more dangerous to not report in to your CO.

“Chegwidden.”

“Admiral, Commander Rabb reporting.”

“Yes Rabb, I see you’re still on your cell phone.”

Man, what’s next?  He’s gonna implant a tracking device under my skin?

I see a road sign and realize I can say this with complete honesty:  “Just driving back into town sir.”  Tell ‘em what you can.

“If its any consolation, you didn’t miss much of a game.  We lost 26 to 17.”

“Sir, I don’t think the game is the only thing we lost today.”

“What do have for me Rabb?”

“I agree with your initial assessment, sir.  It appears that Army pulled one for the books.  Nothing was damaged.  Nothing.  Even the display case shelf liners that were marked by NCIS’ crime scene unit were scheduled to be replaced this month.  They had excellent intel and carried their mission out impeccably.  If I may speak freely, sir...”

“Yes.”

“They pulled off one hell of a prank.  The Commandant’s about to burst a blood vessel, the Museum curator in charge of the collection is a momma’s boy who I’d imagine right about now is curled up with his teddy bear, and the Museum Director is a political animal so clueless she thinks rigid timetables for security checks are a good thing.  Frankly, I think Army did us a favor to disclose gargantuan security lapses without hurting us.  Well, other than that ‘candy-ass has to abandon ship’ part.”

“No doubt, Commander.  No doubt.  I’ve had the opportunity to watch Commandant Klink in action.  His ship is seriously listing.”

“That’s ‘Link’ sir.”

“Are you sure?”  I love hearing the Admiral chuckle.  He tries so hard to hide it that when it does break through it’s sheer joy.

“I have the security tapes, sir.  I’ll review them tonight...”

“Mr. Rabb, I think those tapes can wait ‘til tomorrow.  As I recall you left someone rather abruptly this morning.  Maybe you should get back to that person.  Make amends, you know.”

Fortunately I was at a red light or I might have driven off the road.  Did the Admiral just suggest I ‘make amends’ for leaving Mac alone in bed this morning?  Holy shit!

“Commander?”

“Yes sir.  Good suggestion sir.  Will I be able to reach you tomorrow afternoon after I’ve viewed the tapes?”

“Yes.”

“Thank you, sir.”  I hear his phone disconnect.


Mac’s apartment hallway
Georgetown
1845 (local), Saturday, Dec. 1, 2001

I’m pounding on the door and I don’t care.  “Maaac, open up.  My key isn’t working again.”

I hear her quiet voice on the other side of the door.  “Is this the big bad wolf come to blow my house down?”

Red Riding Hood?  This is a new one on me.  OK, I’m game.

I drop my volume significantly.  I know the neighbors haven’t ratted us out yet, but you never know when they might reach their limit.

“Yes Little Red Riding Hood, I’m here to huff and puff and blow your house down.  Then I’m gonna...”

“Harm!  The wolf didn’t huff and puff for Red Riding Hood.  It was the Three Little Pigs!”

How is it that whenever we have these bizarre conversations through her door I’m always the one standing out in the hallway?

“You want to be a little pig???”

“Oh, Harm.”

Clearly I’m missing something again.  I’ve been reading the copy of Grimms Fairy Tales Mac gave me, but frankly they give me the willies.  Good lord.  People actually read those grisly stories to little kids then wonder why they have nightmares and phobias?

“What do you want, Mac?”

“I want you to build me a brick house so I’ll be safe from the wolf.”

Oh yes, that’s exactly what I want to do, too.  “Let me in Mac.  We can build one together.”


                              
                                                       
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