Author’s note: Happy birthday, Gail! Hope it’s a good one. This is set sometime in the middle of the tenth, after "The Four Percent Solution" but before "Heart of Darkness." This fic references some of the events in my Elemental serie, but I think you can get by without having read the earlier fics.
Rabb rubbed his leather gloved hands together as he paced back and forth in front of the Lincoln Memorial. The day was typical of February in Washington, D.C., -- heavy clouds overhead, slushy snow on the pavement and a biting cold wind. Temperatures lingering just below freezing had kept the usual gaggle of tourists away. Rabb stopped near the edge of the grass, keeping a wary eye on the passersby. Overhead a fighter plane roared and Rabb turned up to look at it. He could almost imagine himself at the controls, of taking the plane up into a seductive steep curve, climbing above the clouds.
"You miss it, don’t you?"
Startled, Rabb turned. "Well, it's about damn time."
Webb spread his hands out in a gesture of apology. "I didn’t mean to sneak up on you like that."
Rabb waved off the comment. "Once a spook, always a spook. How are things in Iowa? I heard about the deep freeze." He shook his head in amusement. "So much for coming out of the cold." It was a low blow, Rabb knew, but he couldn't resist. The last time he'd seen Webb was on the beach outside of Manderlay -- the Webb family home -- and Rabb had been astonished by Webb's lack of intensity. It'd been obvious then that Webb had lost his edge. Rabb had been sure Webb's days of far-flung globe-trotting were over, and he'd fully expected never to see the man again. Wryly, Rabb knew he had to concede the cliché: Never say never.
Webb scowled. "I didn’t come here to chit-chat."
Rabb couldn’t help the hint of frustration which slipped into his voice. "Well, I’m glad to hear it because it’s damn cold here and I’ve been waiting for nearly 20 minutes."
"Traffic," Webb said as a way of explanation and Rabb realized that that was the closest to an apology he was going to get. "And my plane got in late."
"Flying commercial these days?" Rabb couldn’t help smirking.
Webb scowled again. "I’m not sure why I bothered," he said, "because I came all the way out here to do *you* a favor."
"Like the favor you
did me in Singapore? Or the one you did for Mac in Paraguay?" Rabb scoffed.
"No thanks." He started walking, not bothering to shorten his stride
Webb could keep up easily; Rabb was secretly pleased when he heard Webb’s breath quicken.
"You’re not quick to forgive or forget, are you?" Webb asked.
"Not when the things I’m supposed to forgive or forget nearly got me or someone I care about killed."
Webb put his hand on Rabb’s forearm, applying a gentle pressure through the thick black wool of Rabb’s overcoat. The intimacy of the gesture stopped Rabb in his tracks.
"For what it’s worth, I’m really sorry about that," Webb said. "But I set up this meeting because I think we can help each other out."
Rabb scoffed. "Not likely."
"I need a pilot, Rabb."
"That’s what you said a year ago and you nearly got me killed." Rabb stared intently at Webb. "You’ve never struck me as the particularly dense type, but I’m sure we’ve gone over this point at least a dozen times already."
Webb’s expression betrayed nothing. "Are you done yet?"
Rabb shrugged. "So, tell me about this favor you want."
"There’s a pilot in Iowa, his name is Jack Baron, he works for a major airline, flying out Des Moines." The words tumbled out of Webb in a rush. "I’ve had his family under surveillance for the last five months."
In spite of himself, Rabb was interested. "For what?"
Webb’s eyes narrowed. "Espionage. We think he’s selling secrets to the Cubans."
"The Cubans. There’s a new one," Rabb said. "What kind of secrets?" He frowned. "It doesn’t seem likely an airline pilot would have wide ranging access to top secret documents."
"Before Baron joined the airline, he was a Navy pilot. In fact, he commanded his own squad. Just before he was discharged - dishonorably, I might add, as there were *some* questions about a Tomcat collision that occurred about a week before he resigned from the Navy - some documents regarding some proprietary guidance software went missing. A thorough investigation has suggested Baron might have been the one who took them."
"Hmm, if he was dishonorably discharged, it could go to motive," Rabb said. "He’d have a beef against the US Navy, in that case." He bent his head against a sudden uptick in the wind. "What about his discharge? Do you know the details?"
"Only that it involved a two-plane collision over the Persian Gulf about a year ago. I don’t pretend to understand what it takes to fly a Tomcat - that’s more your area of expertise - but there’s some question over whether he deliberately programmed a collision course for those two pilots."
Rabb nodded in realization. "I remember this case now. It happened when-" he smiled tightly "-I was running around South Asia with you. Apparently, the two pilots who died were his main competition for squad leader."
"Yes. It never went to court martial; he just took the discharge. Apparently his contract had just run out the month before, so he was under no obligation to remain."
Rabb frowned. "It seems odd there was no JAG man investigation?"
"Not that I can determine."
"Well, that’s something I can talk to Mac about. Maybe she plea bargained it."
At the mention of Mac’s name, a shadow fell across Webb’s face. "How is Sarah?"
Got into a car accident over Christmas, but in general, she’s fine."
Webb a wary look. "Are you going to contact her?"
Webb laughed bitterly. "Oh she made it very clear that she didn’t want anything to do with me," he said. "I respect a woman who knows exactly what she wants." He shook his head. "Ironic, given I’m not exactly sure she wanted me in the first place. You know-" he looked directly at Rabb "-it’s not easy being second choice."
"You make it hard for people to trust you, to want to be around you," Rabb said. "Though I admit, when I was at the CIA, there were times when I thought we made a good pair."
"Well, think about the Baron case," Webb said. "I need someone who can work at the airline - I can set up a job for you, no problem - and who can earn Baron’s trust enough to get him to talk about whether he did indeed turn that software over to the Cubans. I think it’s a good opportunity for you."
Rabb considered. Webb looked sincere, but Rabb also knew looks were deceiving. Nine years of knowing Clayton Webb had taught him at least that much. He rubbed his gloved hands together. "I don’t know whether Iowa is for me."
"Right, you have things - people - holding you back." The trace of bitterness in Webb’s voice was unmistakable.
"You did once too," Rabb said, his voice softening. "And you know, maybe that’s not such a bad thing. To have people who care for you."
Webb waved a hand impatiently. "I’m in DC until tomorrow afternoon. You have my cell number. Give me a call when you’ve decided." Webb took a step in Rabb’s direction. "I need to know before I leave whether you’re in or out."
"I can’t make a decision like this, not in that short time span."
"You know how these things work, Rabb. Wait too long and the trail goes cold."
"Then there’s the little problem of my cover having blown," Rabb said. "Remember? When I rescued the Libyan pilot and ZNN covered it? My position has been compromised."
"That was last year, old news," Webb said dismissively. "It’s not unusual for former military pilots to take jobs with commercial airlines; your cover story would be that you left JAG for the skies." With irony underlying his tone, Webb added, "Unless it comes up, I wouldn’t mention your brief stint in the CIA."
"If, hypothetically, I did come out to Iowa to take this assignment, how long do you think it would last?"
Webb shrugged. "A month, six months, a year? Who can tell? It really depends how quick you can get to Baron and earn his trust."
Rabb considered. "Why do I think there’s something you’re not telling me?"
Webb ignored the comment and went on. "You’ve been at JAG for how many years now, Harm? Ten? Don’t you think it’s time to move on? Try something new?"
"I tried the CIA already, I didn’t like it," Rabb said flatly. "Besides, I’ve seen what the CIA does to good agents who make a mistake." He didn’t bother to conceal the sneer in his voice.
"You’ve made plenty of mistakes yourself," Webb said. "But Chegwidden was always there to protect you. You think Cresswell is going to stick his neck out for you the next time you decide to fire an automatic weapon into the ceiling? Or crash a Tomcat?"
"I don’t think Cresswell is going to exile me to Iowa."
"How do you know?" Webb jabbed his finger in Rabb’s direction. "Think about it, Rabb. How long are you going to sit at JAG, going *nowhere*, waiting for someone who seems hell bent on *not* returning your affection?"
Rabb was startled. "What?"
"You’re a good officer, Harm," Webb said gently, "but you’re staying at JAG for all the wrong reasons."
"Well, that’s *my* decision to make, isn’t it?" Rabb snapped. He started walking, deliberately quickening his pace. Webb jogged to catch up. "It’s my career and I don’t recall asking you for advice on what my next move ought to be."
"It’s a pity you don’t," Webb said.
"You have a lot of nerve. After all the things you’ve done, you think you can show up here and make me think none of it ever happened. Well, you’re wrong," Rabb said. He held up his hands, palms facing Webb. "We’re done here." He started walking away briskly, the sidewalk slush splashing beneath his formerly shiny boots. He hunched slightly against the wind, and didn’t bother to look behind him. Whether Webb stayed or went was no concern of his, Rabb thought with some bitterness.
Still, some of Webb’s words did rankle with him. Ten years at JAG; a long time to be at one place. He hadn’t considered seriously moving on - he’d tried it twice before, when he returned to flight duty on the USS Coral Sea and then more recently, during his brief stint with the CIA.
Each time JAG - or was
it something else? - had pulled him back into the courtroom.
He neared the sidewalk and stepped near the curb to hail a cab. The truth was, Rabb realized, he’d spent the last eighteen months more focused on his personal life than his professional life. It was obvious his personal life was going nowhere. Mac had seemed to come around on Christmas Eve when he’d spent the night in her hospital room, but since then, she’d seemingly backed off. A string of dates with a variety of women had followed, but he had to admit, the attraction wasn’t there and there was no sign Mac would ever come around. Maybe, Rabb mused, as he got into the taxi, it was time to move on and in more ways than one.
~ the end
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