Time to Run(3)

By: Marliss Melton

"Aw, Chief!" Hewitt protested with exaggerated grief.

But Chase was already halfway down the hallway. All he needed was for Commander Spenser, a JAG lawyer, to sign off on the document Chase carried, stating that he agreed to represent a petty officer third class in Chase's platoon who'd cracked a few skulls at the waterfront.

With a mutter of annoyance that his job at home port amounted to babysitting, Chase stalked into the lounge area outside the counselor's chambers. To his relief, only one other person, a woman, sat waiting. But then he noticed that the lawyers' offices were empty. Through the milky glass windows in the door across the hall, he could see that they'd come together in a meeting.

"Fuck me," Chase growled, throwing himself down into a hard, plastic lounge chair. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the woman's head come up sharply. "Sorry," he apologized glancing her way.

Their gazes locked in mutual surprise as they recognized each other.

She was Sara Garret, wife of the infamous prosecuting JAG from Lieutenant Renault's court-martial last year.

She'd intrigued him then. Her gray-green eyes had the same effect on him now as they moved over him, taking in his sun-streaked goatee, his jungle-camouflage BDUs, and his black, lace-up boots.

"Do you know how long they're going to be in there?" he asked, unsettled by her scrutiny.

"Um, I don't know," she admitted, biting her lower lip. "Maybe half an hour longer?"

He couldn't look away from her, just like at last year's court-martial. He'd tried to speak with her at the trial's end, only she'd darted into the restroom, frustrating his attempt. He could assuage his curiosity now. "Have we met before?" he asked, certain that they had. "Before the court-martial, I mean."

Her face took on a certain radiance. "Well, yes, actually. You were in San Diego about four years ago?"

How'd she know that?

"You jump-started my car in the library parking lot," she explained. "I'd left the lights on, and the battery was dead."

He didn't remember.

"Then a couple years later, I rammed my shopping cart into yours, right here at the local commissary."

Now that he kind of remembered. Her cart had upset the six-pack of canned soda he'd slung over the side of his. Two of the cans had plummeted to the floor, spraying carbonated soda all over his pant legs. The woman had been so shaken that he'd had to call for the mop to do the cleanup himself. "That was you?" he asked.

"Yes." Flushing with chagrin, she focused on the notebook in her lap, which was what she'd been doing when he walked in.

He let himself consider her. From her mousy brown hair to the shapeless beige dress she wore, she wasn't much to look at. She was nervous and tense, and she'd perfected the art of blending in, a skill detectable by one who hid for a living, a sniper like him. He'd wondered last year what she was hiding from. He was still wondering.

"My name's Chase," he volunteered. "Chase McCaffrey. Some folks call me Westy."

"Sara," she said, with a shy nod. She kept a firm grip on her pencil. No hand-shaking allowed.

"Whatcha workin' on?" he asked, wanting to put her at ease, to solve the riddle that she presented.

"Lesson plans," she admitted, scrunching up her shoulders as if doing that would help her disappear.

She reminded him of a wild animal, wary of humans. He'd tamed a number of wild animals when he was younger. All it took was time, gentleness, and patience. "You're a teacher?" he inquired. Aside from the bun confining her hair, she didn't look like a teacher.

"English tutor," she corrected him. She glanced at her watch, and a crease appeared between her slender eyebrows.

"Something wrong?" It wasn't in his nature to be nosy, but he could feel the tension building in her. Not because of him, he hoped.

"Oh, no. I'm . . . supposed to tutor at the Refugee Center in an hour, but..." She glanced toward the closed door where the lawyers convened, and frustration dimmed the clarity of her eyes.

"You don't drive," he guessed.

A flicker of anger came and went. "Not lately," she said, looking down at the notebook.

He wasn't making much headway. Some wild animals took months to tame.

"Could you use a ride?" he heard himself ask. Like he had time to drive her places with all the paperwork waiting for him.

That got her attention. "Excuse me?" she squeaked.

"I was offering you a ride," he explained, figuring he'd overstepped his bounds.

"To the Refugee Center," she clarified.

"Of course." Jesus, did she think he was picking her up? He wasn't that hard up to be chasing a JAG's wife, let alone one who dressed like a nun.