Sam Beckett felt the mists of time subside and knew that he'd leaped again.
The noises of a city at night reverberated around him as he looked down at his hands. In one was a gun, and in the other a card. It was cold. It felt like snow weather.
He squinted to focus on the words. 'You have the right to remain silent...'
He looked up. The youth spreadeagled against the wall couldn't be more than sixteen. He wasn't yet cuffed, but he hadn't moved.
Sam looked down at his own clothes. He was a uniform cop. He fumbled for a wallet with gloved hands and drew it from a jacket pocket. He was in Chicago. His name was Bill Brannigan, and from the looks of the licence photo, somewhere in his forties.
"Is this going to take all night?" the youth finally asked. "I've got a living to make you know."
"Oh," Sam said, looking up. "I'm sorry. I seem to have forgotten--"
"Cut it out, Brannigan. If you're going to bust me, bust me, or let me go. No matter how much you hassle me I still gotta do what I gotta do, unless you're going to volunteer to adopt me for Christmas," he added sarcastically.
"And what..exactly is it you do?" Sam asked awkwardly.
The boy turned slowly, watching the weapon. "What's with...you, Brannigan?" A brief moment of genuine surprise vanished from the young face to be replaced by a cruel cynicism. "You sure you're all right?" he asked. "You look like you lost your mother or something."
"No..no..I'm fine. Just a little disoriented is all. What's your name?"
"For the record?" The boy drawled.
"For the record."
"Samuel Herbert Bateman. What is it with you tonight, Bill? I can't remember the last time you asked for the whole deal. Let's get it over with, huh? If I don't get back on the street quick, Dieter is going to give me hell. I haven't been turning much this week anyway and now you come along..."
"Turning..?" Sam repeated, a sick, sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.
Samuel Herbert Bateman tilted his head to one side, amusement in his eyes. "You're definitely sick. You just lost all the color from your face. Now unless you've got 200 bucks to spare, you either book me or let me go."
Sam cleared his throat. Somehow, he couldn't let the boy stay on the streets. "Wh..what you said before, about me taking you in...would you--how about you come home with me tonight, instead? We'll get a pizza and watch the game."
"Well, ah, yeah. There's always a game on somewhere, isn't there?"
Samuel Herbert Bateman laughed. "You aren't going to destroy my faith in the last of the good guys and put the hard word on me, are you, Bill?"
Beckett's eyes widened in horror. "Me? No way. I just don't want to leave you out on the streets...all I'm offering is free food, hot water and a bed to yourself. I swear--"
The youth laughed again. "You should see yourself, Brannigan. You look like you're going to swallow your tongue."
"Are you coming?" Sam asked, annoyed, yet desperate to get the boy, little more than a child, off the streets and away from the abuse he'd obviously been subjecting himself to.
"Not if I want to go on looking like this," Bateman replied pointedly.
Sam frowned. "That's not good enough. What if I promise to help you get a new start? You can't keep doing this..."
"I can't stop doing this," the boy replied in a haunted voice. "This is the real world, cowboy." He stopped to watch a figure approaching on the other side of the street, his eyes filling with fear.
"See you later, Bill," he said hastily and vanished before Sam could look back from studying the object of his fear.
The man approaching him was tall, lean and broadly muscular. He was dressed like a leather freak, five earings in his right ear, tatoos across his knuckles and the palest, hardest blue eyes Sam had ever seen.
"You hassling my boy again, Brannigan?" he demanded.
"What of it?" Sam shot back.
"This is the last time I'm gonna warn you to lay off him. You're making him nervous. When he's nervous he doesn't work. When he doesn't work I get nervous. You don't want me to be nervous, because that's when I start firing people."
"Which is exactly what you should do. The boy is still a minor!" Sam snarled.
The stranger smirked. "You wouldn't like the way I fire people, pig. Sammy is Hoffman property. Bother him again and I'll take it out of his hide."
Sam lunged at the white-haired, pony-tailed pimp.
Fortunately it was to no avail. The pimp side-stepped neatly and Beckett remembered the uniform in time to restrain himself from further attempts to assault a civilian.
"Don't push me," Sam warned, looking deep into the ice-cold eyes. Suddenly a dark chill went down his spine. And another when he identified the feeling as recognition. He shook himself.
He didn't know this sorry waste of skin from Adam...
Hoffman laughed. "Push you? That's the whole idea, you pathetic little man," he drawled, wheeled and sauntered off down the street.
Even as he gathered his wits and looked around, Sam still had a sense of terrible foreboding. A patrol car stood a little way down the kerb. He sighed with relief as it started to snow. Wheels.
He was saved from working out whether or not he needed to call in by a call on the police radio to Brannigan himself. The dispatcher used a call-sign and added: "Brannigan, you better answer this," for good measure.
He picked up the mike and pushed the button before realizing he didn't know the procedure.
"Ah...Brannigan," he said simply.
The dispatcher then launched into a heated roasting about procedure, not calling in and the folly of ignoring the dispatcher in general.
"You wanted me for something?" he reminded her when she was done.
"Your shift finished an hour ago, Brannigan. Bring the vehicle in and go home."
Sam agreed and signed off, only to realize that he didn't know how to get back to the station. It took three phone booths to find one that worked. Sam called the operator and asked for the address of the nearest police station to the booth. If the operator thought his request was strange she didn't say anything.
Taking the vehicle back was easy. Finding his way into the building, finding his desk and confronting the paperwork, they were the hard parts. Even then it took Sam twenty minutes of perusing old reports to work out the format and to transcribe from Brannigan's notebook the scrawled notes of the night's events.
Before he was able to finish and make a low-key exit someone spoke to him. He looked up reluctantly.
A long, lean, uniformed Latino cop was sitting on a nearby desk eating donuts.
"I said: you're late again, Brannigan. That's the third time this week. Anybody think you had a thing about working nights. And vice is starting to worry about you, hassling the fairies up on the avenue."
Sam swung around. "That's crap and you know it! I was just trying to get a kid off the street."
The other man held his hands up in mock surrender. "Pax," he laughed. "Of course I know, man. You're so intense all of a sudden. Did you miss me that much?" His eyes narrowed. "You're not in trouble are you, Bill?"
Sam shook his head. "I don't think so--" but he didn't know the man's name.
There was a picture on his desk with five men in it, including Brannigan, all in swimming costume or jeans, on a fishing boat. His companion was one of them.
"I'm just tired," Sam continued. "I hate what's going down out there."
"Amen," the other man said seriously for the first time and looked at his watch. "I should have been out of here an hour ago myself. Tonia is going to kill me."
Sam watched him go until he was out of sight then made a beeline for the other desk.
Sergeant Jack Chavez. Another name to remember.
It was time to go home...
Sam was almost disappointed to find that Brannigan lived alone. The dark apartment was cold and uninviting. He turned on as many lights as he could and found a small fan heater.
He was hoping he was a family man, and that he was there to see that Sam Bateman became a part of that family.
Brannigan was a divorcee. There was a photograph of woman in her late thirties with a boy and a girl in their early teens on his bedside table and assorted papers dealing with unpaid alimony, orthodontic and other bills laying on the writing desk in one corner of the bedroom.
He wished Al would show up. He felt in his gut already that he was there for Sam Bateman, but what if he were there for Brannigan? Or Jack Chavez? What if Jack were in danger right now?"
Beckett shook his head and began to strip for the shower. If there was one thing he should have learned by now, he told himself, it was that the big guy who was leaping him wouldn't let a leap be ruined that easily...
As he lay back in yet another strange bed, a comfortable king-sized one at that, Sam felt the first inkling of doubt about the leap. The first sense of real trouble. He closed his eyes and saw again that youthful, yet somehow familiar face.
Something about Samuel Herbert Bateman haunted him, something he couldn't quite grasp...
Where the hell was Al..?
But Al didn't show the next day, or the next.
The only saving grace for Sam was the discovery that the night of his arrival had been an aberration. He didn't have to work alone. Jack Chavez was his partner. A partner who'd been absent on assignment all the previous week...
Chavez was good company. He and Brannigan seemed to have an easy, yet close working relationship. Beckett enjoyed the sense of cameraderie, even though it was only borrowed, as they rode, ate and worked together each day.
Sam, however, hated every other moment of being a cop. Most of all he hated the domestic disputes. In just two days he'd been to the scene of three violent domestic disputes, one of them fatal.
Chavez put what was left of his latest donut on the dashboard and picked up the mike when yet another call came through.
Sam sighed heavily. It was late and they were off-duty in an hour. Was it ever going to be over?" He listened to the dispatcher with growing unease.
Chavez signed off and looked at Beckett as he turned the car into the next street on the left.
"You okay?" he asked quietly.
"Yeah, sure. Why?" Sam asked too quickly.
"Because you're going the wrong way."
"Bertrand street is that way," Chavez pointed out, his hand waving in the opposite direction to the one in which Sam was heading.
"Actually I am feeling kind of weird," Sam told him honestly. "Why don't you drive?"
Jack grinned ruefully. "I've driven every day this week so far. Why do I get the feeling that this is a set up?"
Sam smiled back. "It's good to have you back," he said. "After a week on my own it's good to have someone else at the wheel."
It worked. Chavez laughed and nodded his head. Sam pulled the car over and they changed places.
They arrived at the scene of the domestic dispute, this time between neighbors, just in time to see one man turn a hose on the lawnmower of his neighbor. The expensive machine quickly sputtered and died.
It took them some time to get a clear picture of the problem, only to discover that there was no clear picture, only an ongoing, unreasoning battle of wills and pride. Thereafter the main objective became trying to keep the pair from coming to blows over their respective statements.
And when Sam found himself sandwiched between the pair, his face squashed against a large, sweaty, hairy, singlet-covered chest while the other, smaller lawn-mower owner attempted to land a blow on on the big man's stubble-covered jaw, Chavez made no attempt to help.
Beckett was loathe to use undue force to pry them apart but he was beginning to think Chavez, whom he could see grinning out of the corner of his eye, was enjoying his predicament far too much.
"That's enough," he finally shouted. "If you don't desist now I will arrest both of you for assaulting a police officer!"
Both men jumped back as though bitten.
Sam straightened his uniform and his hair and stepped back to Chavez' side.
"Thanks a lot," he muttered, then shot a glance at his friend, certain he'd heard a chuckle.
"I thought you did just fine on your own," Chavez pointed out, his dark eyes twinkling with amusement.
"Look," Beckett told the other pair. "The police department really doesn't want to buy into your personal feuds, but if you continue to waste tax-payer's money with these public rows we'll have to consider charging you, you understand?"
Mister Sylvester and Mister Schmidt suddenly became model citizens, nodding agreement and withdrawing swiftly to their own yards.
Sam smiled. "That was the easiest one we've had in three days," he observed.
Chavez was watching the smaller man haul his dead lawn-mower back to its shed. "Maybe," he said cryptically. "Feel like going to Mike's for a beer after we call it a day?"
Sam considered the empty apartment for a moment. "Sure," he said. It was going to be pleasant to finish a shift in daylight, or at least dusk, for a change.
Mike's was a country-oriented, yuppie-frequented, bistro bar
where off-duty cops from the precinct tended to gather to talk and drink, relaxed in the knowledge that they were part of the furniture, an inconspicous part of the makeup of the place.
Sam payed for a couple of light beers and followed Chavez to a corner table as the strains of a Randy Travis ballad filtered through the noise of dozens of conversations, coughing, laughter and the tinkle of glasses and cutlery.
Chavez leaned back in his chair and regarded his friend. "I'm worried about you, Bill. You haven't been yourself these last few days. You gotta stop worrying so much about that kid. It's his life. You can't save 'em all."
For a moment Sam's eyes grew very bright, then he gathered himself.
"I'm not trying to save them all, just Sam," he said softly.
"Yeah, well if you keep badgering the kid that pimp of his might take it out of his hide. In any case you aren't doing your reputation around the precinct any good."
Sam considered Bill Brannigan's position on that before replying. "I think the boy's life is more important than my reputation."
"More important than your job?"
Beckett put his beer down. "No, but maybe just as important. I need the job for my kids' sake," he added, thinking of the pile of unpaid bills on Brannigan's desk. "That doesn't make Sam Bateman's life any less important."
"I didn't say that," Chavez replied reasonably. "Only you can't go on trying to help someone who doesn't want to be helped."
"Doesn't he?" Sam asked, remembering the fear in Bateman's eyes when he saw Hoffman approaching them. Then he sat back in his chair and picked up the beer again. "We've talked enough about me," he announced, attempting to change the subject. "How is Tonia?"
Chavez shrugged. "She's fine. She's due in about six weeks. The kids are looking forward to it."
Beckett's glance flicked to Chavez' face. But you aren't, he thought, surprised.
Two or three beers later both men decided it was time to call it a night.
The next day, and the next, were filled with a nightmare of one fatal call-out after another.
When he dragged himself into the apartment after his third full shift, Beckett wondered if the world had somehow gone haywire. Tomorrow he would ask Jack if it were normal for them to have such a run of awful call-outs. He would have nightmares tonight about them all. He'd been too late for every one of them. Too late for the little girl whose mother was strangled by her father, too late for the family of three somewhere in the twisted wreck of a family sedan half under the back of a garbage truck, too late for the three assault, two murder and the rape victim among the car thefts, break and enters, false alarms and assorted disturbances...
He went to the refrigerator and liberated a beer from the door. After the third, and with still no color in his cheeks, Sam went to shower.
The hot water ran over his body and kneaded the knotted muscles in his neck, but he didn't relax. He didn't feel good..he didn't feel anything. His fists clenched.
He turned the water on further, so that it pounded against him, but he still didn't feel any better. He didn't feel cleansed...
Where was Al..?!
They rolled early again the next morning. Beckett prayed for a quiet day. By seven-fifteen they'd stopped for coffee and donuts still without any calls to disturb their snack.
They were back on the road about ten minutes when Sam heard the call on the radio. A unit was wanted at a dispute and possible assault in a nearby hotel room between a hooker and a customer. The hooker was described as a caucasian youth, aged 16 years, five feet seven inches tall, slim build, light brown hair, brown eyes.
Chavez looked to Beckett immediately. He nodded and Jack turned the car around.
The hotel room was a mess. A middle-aged man in shorts was half-sitting, half-laying on the bed, his right eye swelling rapidly, blood trickling from his mouth and possibly his gums. He looked like he'd caught a boot in it.
On the floor, covered in pieces of a broken vase, was the unconscious, half-dressed body of Sam Bateman.
Beckett bent immediately to check his pulse while Chavez took the other man's statement. There was a large lump on the back of the boy's head and his hair was matted with blood. Sam checked his eyes and breathed a sigh of relief to find both pupils equal and reactive. Bateman's knuckles were skinned but there were no other wounds.
"What happened?" he demanded, repressing anger.
"This guy says the kid attacked him. He says the boy agreed to a transaction then changed his mind. When the customer objected the kid allegedly layed into him, fists, boots and all."
"I don't buy that," Sam muttered and went to get a wet towel. He sponged the boy's face until the youthful eyes flickered open.
"What happened?" he asked gently.
Bateman tried to sit up, winced and was caught by Beckett's strong arm before he fell back. Beckett did not miss the fear and revulsion in the boy's eyes when they lighted on the customer.
"What is it? What happened?" Sam asked him.
Bateman shook his head.
Sam looked at the pale, middle-aged customer with equal revulsion before helping the boy to his feet and guiding him to the bathroom. When the door was closed he turned to Bateman.
"Okay, give," he demanded. "What really happened? Off the record."
"Off the record," the boy repeated. "He wanted to cuff me. He didn't tell me he was into bondage. He had hold of my arm and he was going to cuff me to the bed. He was talking about what he was going to do. He's a sicko." The words spilled out of the trembling Bateman, delayed shock taking the little color left from his face and sapping his strength.
Sam looked down at the boy's wrists. A narrow bruise was forming across the inside of the right one.
"Stay here," he ordered and let himself back out of the bathroom.
It took little time for Beckett to find the cuffs on the floor near the bed, and a sports bag of items beneath it that only added to his already simmering rage. He threw both on the bed.
"You still want to press charges?" he demanded angrily. "There's a bruise on the boy's wrist. The agreement didn't include this...this..." Sam stopped, unable to contain his outrage.
Chavez took over. "It's obvious that you intended to go a great deal further than anything the boy agreed to, Mister Kesselman. If you press charges this is all bound to come out in court. His dark eyes moved to the wedding ring on the man's bony finger. "And I'm sure that isn't what you had in mind."
Kesselman's expression grew very ugly. "I paid for a service and I didn't get it."
"Has any money changed hands?" Sam asked.
Bateman shook his head. "He picked me up in the square. We agreed to a price and he drove us here. That's all."
"Why don't you search him?" Kesselman demanded.
"If he says he doesn't have your money--" Chavez began.
Beckett looked a question at Bateman, who nodded. Sam searched the boy's jeans and picked his shirt up off the chair. All he found were condoms, a pocket knife and a handful of quarters.
"Doesn't look like he was paid to me," Sam growled as Bateman put the shirt back on.
Kesselman subsided. "All right then," he said in an almost reasonable tone. I won't press charges. You can leave now. We'll work this out together."
"No," Sam objected, perhaps too quickly. "M..Maybe Mister Bateman wants to press charges against you."
"For what?" the other man spat. "He's nothing. A pro."
"Attempted rape." Sam looked down at the open sports bag. "Intent to cause grievous bodily harm--"
"No," Bateman interrupted. "No charges. Just get me out of here."
Beckett needed no second invitation.
On the footpath outside the hotel, however, Bateman wanted to part company as quickly as he'd requested it in the first place.
"No," Sam objected. "You need that wound looked at. You're lucky you don't have a concussion. There could still be problems with that degree of swelling."
"I'll be fine. I know where to find a doctor," the boy told him brusquely. "I just want to go home."
"Home?" Sam asked skeptically.
"I have a place," Bateman snapped defensively.
"Bill, you're making a scene," Chavez pointed out quietly. "Let him go."
Beckett's face screwed up in frustration, but he nodded. He could do little else. He watched Bateman move swiftly down the snow-covered street, his feet bare. In his haste to escape from Kesselman he'd left his shoes behind.
A moment later the crackle and splutter of the squad radio drew them away to another call.
The next day Beckett ran a make on Bateman and discovered that the name was either an alias or that the boy didn't exist beyond the lengthy file of previouses under the name Samuel Herbert Bateman.
There was, however, an address. When Chavez called in their lunch break Beckett went his own way to pay bills, as far as Jack was concerned, but in reality to investigate the address in the file. By the time Chavez picked him up again he knew exactly where to go to find Bateman and the layout of the apartment building itself.
The following day Beckett took a half-day.
The boy was blinking away sleep when he answered the door, dressed only in pajama bottoms.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded irritably, looking the older man, who was dressed in denim jeans, blue shirt and denim jacket, up and down.
Sam studied the bluish-purple bruises on his shoulder and abdomen, and knew they were from the day before. He showed no sign, however, of any after-effect from the blow to the head.
"I want to help," he said simply. "I just want to help."
"Why?" Bateman asked bitterly. "Tell me why you'd want to help me? Do I remind you of your kid? Do I remind you of yourself when you were in high school? When you were the all-state super-jock?" he demanded angrily. "I am what I am, Bill. You can't change that. All the do-gooding in the world isn't going to change that. All it's going to do is get me killed in the end."
He moved to shut the door, but Sam shouldered his way in.
"Not if you let me get you out," Sam told him. "I can get you out. I don't care if I have to drive you clear to Indiana, but I'll get you out."
The youth's eyes widened.
"You're serious aren't you? You really think you can beat Dieter? He won't give up, you know. He followed Julio all the way to Plano and wasted him in his own back yard. The kid goes home for the first time since he was twelve and he's dead within twenty-four hours."
"Julio who?" Sam demanded.
"Julio Garcia," Bateman told him.
"And that's his real name?"
"Sure," Bateman replied as he pulled on a shirt and some jeans.
"Just like Bateman is your name?"
The boy looked up then. "What are you up to, Bill? We've been through all this before..."
"I can't help you if you don't tell me the truth," Beckett told him.
He laughed bitterly. "The truth? Lord, the truth is something even I try not to remember. You want to know what the truth is? The truth is my mother left my father when I was five and married a jerk who only took me so he could have her. The truth is I got sick of the hate and the sneak beatings and the competition with him for her attention by the time I was twelve. The truth is the only thing I can remember about my real father..." he said, his eyes glistened with unshed tears, "...is how much he cried when my mother dragged me out the front door."
Beckett looked away. "Why Hoffman?"
"Dieter...Dieter is a consummate actor. He finds kids like me, girls, guys, and he becomes their best friend, their big brother, until they owe him big time. And then he collects. You can't get away. You either work or you disappear. And nobody gives a damn...nobody except you, the last of the good guys, that is."
"Do you have any kind of life at all? Girlfriend--Boyfriend?" Sam asked quietly.
"No," Bateman shook his head. "But if there was, it would be girlfriend, not boyfriend. Work is work--" he stopped dead and swallowed when Beckett faced him again.
"Nobody ever cried for me before," he said hoarsely.
"Let me help," Beckett pleaded.
"Because I care. Because it's what I'm here for..."
Bateman looked into Bill Brannigan's gentle brown eyes...and believed.
Knowing that he'd probably been seen going into Bateman's building, Beckett left alone, leaving the boy to pack and slip down to the basement carpark. In a very short time he returned with a borrowed vehicle, a battered stetson he'd found in Brannigan's closet pulled down over his eyes, and drove into the basement. With Bateman hidden on the floor in the back they left again a respectable time later.
The trip to back to Brannigan's place was uneventful.
Young Sam carried a back-pack filled with his few personal treasures, into the very average apartment. Beckett watched as he moved around like a cat, exploring every nook and cranny, lifting photographs, touching ornaments, and all the while trying to look completely disinterested.
Bateman turned. "Well, yeah. You did wake me up."
"Breakfast?" Beckett guessed.
He nodded. "Orange juice, coffee and toast."
"That's it?" Sam asked incredulously, remembering the breakfasts he and Tom used to get through on the farm.
"Gotta stay in shape," Bateman muttered bitterly, patting his flat stomach.
Beckett sighed, then proceeded to fix a breakfast his mother would have been proud of. When he emerged from the kitchen with the tray the boy was watching television.
Bateman turned at the sound of plates being shifted onto the hard wooden surface of the table.
"Something smells great. What are you having?" he asked.
Beckett shook his head. "This is all yours. I already ate breakfast, hours ago."
Bateman surveyed the scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, fruit juice, coffee and sliced fruit with a combination of greed and aggravation.
"I said coffee, juice and toast," he pointed out diffidently.
"I heard you," Beckett agreed and pointed to the table. "Eat," he said. It wasn't a request.
Bateman rolled his eyes. "You really think I'm going to eat this just because you ordered me to?"
Beckett looked at him calmly. "You'll eat it because you want to and because you're hungry," he said carefully.
The boy straddled a chair at the table and pointedly selected the juice and the toast first.
For a moment Beckett thought he was going to leave the rest, but he didn't stay to find out. Instead went back to the kitchen, giving Bateman some space while he made himself a pot of tea.
When he returned with the tea tray the entire breakfast had been demolished and Bateman was standing by a window looking out, tension in every sinew.
Sam took his tray to the table, sat down and poured himself some tea.
"Scared?" he asked.
"Damn right," the boy replied without turning. "You don't know what Dieter's like when he's mad. He's insane, you know. Scary insane. Like, he's perfectly normal in one breath and a raving psychopath the next."
Beckett's expression grew grim. "I won't let him hurt you," he promised.
Where the hell was Al?
"Bill, you couldn't stop Dieter with a cannon."
"Then why did you come with me?"
Bateman turned. "I don't know," he said softly. "I really don't know."
Sam swallowed. "Maybe you wanted this more than you realized. Maybe a part of you just wants to go home."
"Home?" Bateman snorted bitterly. "To Milwaukee and the open arms of my mother and her sleazebag?"
Sam watched him closely. There was still way too much anger there.
"Are you sure your mother is to blame? Have you ever considered her side of the issue? Considered why she might have left your father?"
Bateman looked Sam square in the eye. "She told me. She left him because she couldn't cope any more. She was sitting there on that stupid patchwork quilt that grandma gave her years ago, with the only photographs she has of us as a family, crying her eyes out. I was twelve. I told her I hated her and I demanded to know why she ran out. She said she married him because she loved him even though he wasn't the same after the war. She thought she could help him," Bateman went on mesmerically. "That if she could be with him, hold him, take care of him, he'd stop being angry, stop having nightmares, stop being so alone..."
"It didn't work?" Beckett guessed.
Bateman shook his head slowly. "She said that he was a good man. More than that, a wonderful man, who was destroyed by that stupid war. He estranged himself from Grandma, even Grandpa before he died. I don't remember any of his family. Mom says grandma blames him for grandpa's death. When he came home he was angry and withdrawn and he wouldn't talk to anyone. He either refused to talk at all or he shouted and yelled. Apparently he did a lot of shouting and yelling at grandpa when they talked at all."
Another dark chill went down Sam's spine. Then an idea came to him.
"Where's your grandmother now?" he asked.
Bateman sauntered over to the table, straddled a chair just as he had earlier and picked up a knife, as if contemplating the wisdom of divulging any personal detail.
"She's your grandmother. Dieter has no way of knowing about her, unless you've told him. It would be a perfect place for you to stay until he gives up searching for you."
Bateman laughed bitterly. "A great place," he agreed. "If you've got airline tickets for Hawaii."
"Hawaii?" Sam asked, bemused by conincidence. "My mother lives in Hawaii."
"Small world," Bateman drawled, then his eyes narrowed. "You told me once that your father was shot and killed on duty when you were fifteen and that your mother died of bowel cancer ten years ago."
Sam tensed. Where the hell was Al?
"I meant my mother-in-law. My ex-mother-in-law," he explained. "We never called her anything but mother. Hawaii is a great place for a mother-in-law to be when you're on the mainland," he finished lightly, praying that he'd retrieved the situation.
Bateman shook his head, an amused half-smile playing at his lips.
"We aren't that different, you and I," he observed thoughtfully. "We both have screwed up lives, screwed up family. Is your kid still doing grass or has the wife sorted him out?"
Sam swallowed again. He hated winging it. "Ah..not really. Teenagers have a habit of pushing back. The more you try to stop them from doing something the more attractive it seems to them to keep doing it."
Bateman laughed. "You're smarter than I thought, Bill. You should tell that to your wife."
Sam smiled back, hiding very real concern about Al's absence. He'd skated through several near disasters and the relief was palpable, but his luck couldn't last.
"I don't see how we can get you to Hawaii, but there must be someone else..? You could go to my wife if she was willing--"
"No way," Bateman interrupted. "I'm not going to be unloaded on a single woman with two kids. I may only be sixteen but I look twenty to most people--"
"Not to me," Sam said aloud.
"Well, I do to most people. They'd give her hell about having me in the house. These days people love to believe the worst. Not only that, but do you really want to put your family in Dieter's path?"
Sam closed his eyes. "No, I guess not," he admitted. "Are you certain your mother wouldn't help you?"
"She knows what I am now. She doesn't want me anywhere near the kid she had after I left. She thinks I'm diseased," Bateman said flatly. "And she's still with Eric the dork."
"What about your real father..?"
Bateman grew restless, rose and went back to the window, scanning the street below for trouble.
"He wouldn't even know me. I don't even know if he's still alive. Two years ago I called my mother's sister and asked if he was still around. I told her I was the son of one of his war buddies who was trying to organize a reunion. She didn't hold out any hope of getting him to any reunion. According to her he's drinking himself to death. He's got no friends. The only positive thing in his life is the farm. It's one of the best in the district."
"Maybe that's how he copes," Sam mused. "Maybe because he's so alone he's focused all his energy on the farm. It means he's not totally self-destructive, not yet."
Bateman closed his eyes. "I haven't seen him since I was five," he whispered.
Beckett could hear the vulnerability in his voice. "It would be a good place to hide, too. I take it Dieter doesn't know about him?"
The boy shook his head. "I never mentioned him by name or where he lives. I don't even use Eric's name. I just borrowed Bateman. I can't even remember where from." Suddenly he froze. "Brannigan, trouble," he warned. "I can see two crossing the street and one making his way to the lane next to the building on the east side."
"That leads to the back of this building," Sam said, thinking quickly. He reached for his service holster. "We have to get out of this apartment, but I don't think leaving the building is an option right now. Getting trapped in the stairs or the elevator is about the worst thing we could do."
He went to the phone and dialled a number. Jack Chavez answered, and listened to Sam's description of their predicament.
"You realize that this is going to look real bad if we call in the cavalry?" Chavez pointed out. "You have a known prostitute --a male prostitute--who also happens to be a minor, alone in your apartment. It'll finish you in the force, Bill. A couple of us know you well enough to know the real deal, but the rest..."
Sam closed his eyes in frustration. The last thing Bill Brannigan needed in his life was to lose his job. At the very least the kind of ostracism this would lead to would make staying in his job almost impossible.
"All right," he said, frustrated. "But what other options do I have? If I have to shoot any of these guys its going to have the same result in the end."
"I'm on my way," Chavez told him. "Go to ground somewhere in the building and wait for me. Don't do anything. They can't search the whole damned building."
"Okay," Sam agreed, that terrible, sickly sense of foreboding back again.
He took the boy up two more floors. There they arbitrarily chose a door and pounded on it. A large young woman in towelling robe and silk pajamas answered it.
Beckett showed his badge and shouldered his way in, Sam close behind.
"I'm sorry, ma'am," he said when the door was closed and her slide bolt, chain and deadlock were fastened. "We have a situation here. I live in this building two floors below you. Several dangerous men are headed up here trying to find this young man. We just need to hide here until back-up arrives."
The girl looked at him assessingly. "I've seen you around here. I saw you in uniform once."
"My name is Bill Brannigan, Sergeant William Brannigan," Sam told her, holding up his badge before gesturing towards Bateman, who'd already positioned himself at the window. "And that's Sam."
"My name is Linda," she said warily. "I'm going to get dressed now. Be warned that I have a licenced .38 in my bedroom. When I get back we'll discuss your invasion of my privacy and what your superiors are going to say about that."
Sam watched her go, painfully aware of the fear in her voice, despite her show of courage.
She was back within minutes, dressed in tailored loose-fitting olive slacks and a cream sweater. Despite her size she looked elegant in the expensive clothes, her hair braided expertly and her make up done in record time. She was carrying a .38 caliber revolver.
Beckett and Bateman were both at the window, but there was no sign of Hoffman's henchmen now.
Sam turned. "There isn't any sign of them now," he told her.
"I didn't think there would be," she said skeptically. "If this is some kind of prank--"
Beckett shook his head. "Oh, no. It's no game, believe me. Without back-up there's no way we could stay in my apartment without the risk of someone getting hurt."
Linda's eyes went to the weapon. "If you don't want anyone to get hurt, why are you carrying that?"
"Because if anyone has to get hurt I don't want it to be the boy, or any innocent bystanders. I suppose that's a perquisite of your job?" he added sarcastically, gesturing at her gun.
"I own a small boutique. It goes to work with me every morning and comes home with me every night," she retorted in kind.
Sam's expression changed. "Linda, I'm sorry if we've frightened you," he said gently. "I promise we'll be out of here as soon as possible."
Linda flicked her large, grey eyes to the boy, and back to him. "Would you like some coffee?" She asked unexpectedly.
Sam blinked. "That'd be great...If you have tea--"
She stopped and turned back. "I have tea," she told him. "I prefer tea. Do you like English breakfast?"
"That'll be fine."
He watched her go, sorry he'd forced his way in, sorry he'd gotten either of them, woman and boy, into the mess they were now in.
Long minutes passed with no sounds on their floor to alert them to trouble. As Sam and Linda drank the tea, Bateman periodically reported that the car was still there and that no one had re-emerged from the building.
Beckett was restacking the empty cups and the teapot onto the tray for Linda when Bateman jumped.
"There's another car," he said agitatedly. "I don't know--yes I do, its Chavez. He's armed, but he's alone."
Beckett moved. "I've gotta go help--"
"No!" Bateman cried. "Bill, you can't. Dieter is looking for you. If you show your face you'll get it blown off."
Sam punched his opposite palm in frustration. If he was seen he'd also be putting young Sam and Linda in danger.
"Shit!" Bateman said suddenly.
"What?" Sam demanded and ran to the window.
"There was another guy in Dieter's car. He's out now and he's following Chavez."
"I'm going," Sam reinterated. "Linda, check the hallway. If it's clear I should be able to get out without giving away where Sam is."
It was clear. Beckett slid along the pale green wall, his gun cocked and his heart pounding. There was no sound, no one at the elevator or the stairs. Which did he take?
He opted for the stairs, listening intently as he descended for any disturbances on the various floors. By the time he'd reached the third his mouth was dry and his palms were wet with fear. He leaned his ear against the exit door. There was only the sound of a muffled hi-fi playing country music and the filtered sound of soap-opera dialogue coming from a television in a room close to the stair-well. He cracked the door open and peeked out.
The visible hallway was clear. He turned and descended to the first floor, then the ground, afraid now that the Super-intendant might be in trouble or that Hoffman's henchmen were laying in wait for him there.
The more he thought about it, the more certain his instincts became. He climbed back up to the first floor, slipped out of the stairwell and made his way to the fire escape. The way seemed clear, this side of the building open to a street with a mild, but constant stream of traffic.
He reached the ground in a cold sweat and wiped his palms one at a time on his pants. Carefully, he made his way to the front of the building. There was no sign of Chavez or anyone else out front now. He couldn't go in the front way. That only left the janitor's exit and the fire exit.
Ultimately he decided that they were not likely to be looking for him to be sneaking in, rather they'd expect him to be either coming from above or through the front, oblivious to their presence.
He cracked open the ground floor fire escape door, his hands shaking with tension and fear. A thug in a yellow jacket and black leather pants, carrying an automatic weapon, turned at the creak of the door.
Beckett drew his head back, but left the door as it stood, his eardrums reverberating with the thump of his heartbeat. When Hoffman's henchman reached the door, he hurled himself into it and heard the smack and crunch as it impacted with the other man's head and body.
Sam had to push on the door to move the unconcious body enough to get through. He stepped over the yellow jacket satisfied that the dark avised creature wasn't going to die on the spot and prepared himself for the worst. Someone had to have heard that whack...
It was too quiet. Something was terribly wrong. They must have Jack. They probably had the Super. He made his way along the wall to the corridor in which the Super's apartment lay, weapon poised, and stole a glance along it. There were two men at the door.
He swallowed. How he was going to deal with them, keep Bill Brannigan's reputation in tact, and keep Jack and the Super alive, Beckett had no idea.
"They've got Chavez and the Super and his family tied up in there..."
Sam almost jumped out of his skin, physically falling against the wall as his nerves shattered into a million tiny pieces.
He straightened, still shaking.
"My God, Al, you're here," he whispered. "You scared me half to death, but boy am I glad to see you--"
Sam stopped. Calavicci had a black eye and his left arm was in plaster and a sling.
"What happened to you?" he demanded, sneaking another look around the corner.
"I had a small argument with a large cowboy in Vegas."
Sam looked back.
"He was puttin' the hard word on Tina and talking a little too much with his hands..."
"You hit him?"
"Well, actually, I took a more direct approach," Al explained, swinging a boot in a small arc and moving his pelvis backward meaningfully.
Sam rolled his eyes. "What am I going to do, Al? And who am I here for?"
"Ziggy's been trying to work that out. This kid she says you're with, doesn't seem to exist. And that psychopath whose nose you seem to have gotten up is going to the electric chair in about five years, after he moves to Florida and upsets the authorities down there by butchering a welfare worker with a razorblade."
Sam closed his eyes and leaned against the wall. "I must be here for Sam, Al. He needs my help, and Brannigan was already trying to help him before I got here."
"Yeah, well, Ziggy says there's also a 60 percent chance you're here to help Brannigan get his life back together. There's even a forty-two percent chance you're here to stop Chavez from making a move on this girl in Dispatch and destroying his marriage..."
"Al," Sam said impatiently. "Tell me about the guys in the Superintendant's office."
"Okay. There's two of them, and Hoffman. The henchmen are armed with semi-automatic weapons and automatic handguns. Hoffman doesn't appear to be armed. The Super is about forty-five. His wife is in shock. She's about forty. The kids are about fifteen and nine. They're closest to the door, tied with belts, robe ties, electrical tape and whatever else could be found. Jack is at the back of the living room tied to a chair with electrical cable and tape. The chair is rigged with a tripwire. You try to untie him and the chair moves... blooey...the whole apartment turns into a fireball. There's enough plastic on the underside of that chair to take out most of the rooms on this side."
"That could bring down the whole building!" Sam exclaimed in a hoarse whisper and looked around the corner again.
"Ziggy says there's only a nineteen percent chance of that. The way this thing is designed it'll stand, until the demolishers come in and knock it down."
Sam sighed. "What's Hoffman expecting me to do?"
Al shrugged. "Near as I can figure he's expecting you to come and rescue everyone. In your favor you have the fact that he's currently in the room, which means he won't be setting off that explosive any time soon, and the fact that you already took out one goon. By the way, you fractured his skull. He's going to live but he won't be moving for the rest of the day, or tomorrow, or--"
"All right," Sam hissed. "What next?"
"It's a shame there's no dogs or nothin' to create a diversion," Al mused, looking around. His eyes lighted on the fire alarm. He gestured towards it. "A diversion," he said gleefully.
"What if Hoffman panics and shoots--?"
"Hoffman doesn't panic," Al told him. "And he wont get any satisfaction out of killing them before he confronts you. It's afterward that you have to worry about."
The fire alarm shrieked in mind-rattling fashion creating havoc as the building disengorged itself of occupants, most of whom seemed to have forgotten that fire escapes were for leaving by in the event of a fire. Bodies hurtled themselves in all directions and in all states of dress and undress.
Beckett snatched a beat-up hat off an old head as the owner scurried by, jammed it down on his own and began to make his way through the throng of bodies to the Super's office. He managed to get close enough to the first thug's back to karate chop him in the neck. He fell as though pole-axed. When Sam looked down to make certain he was all right his heart jumped into his throat. He was almost sick on the spot. The thug's lifeless eyes stared up at him almost accusingly.
Dead. He was dead.
Trembling with reaction he pushed his way through to the other one, with whom an old woman carrying a bird cage had collided. Hoffman's henchman was abusing her in the most vile language.
Beckett picked up the bird cage, which was rolling around on its side, the canary inside doing its best to stay vertical in the melee. He handed it to the woman without raising his head, helping her on her way as he did so.
"Stupid old bitch," the hood continued, wiping at scratches on his arm from the wire of the cage.
Sam raised his head. "That's a matter of opinion," he growled and punched the man square in the jaw. Unfortunately he didn't go down. Beckett only just managed to grab the barrel of the weapon and force it up toward the ceiling before it was too late. However his opponent failed to withdraw his finger from the trigger.
It discharged, momentarily silencing everyone in the corridor.
Beckett lunged again, desperate to disarm him. A split second later the general panic and mayhem quadrupled as the automatic weapon continued to discharge and people tried frantically to get out of the exits, blocked by more people coming out of the lift and the stairwell.
Sam wrestled for his life, his arms trembling and his stomach threatening to heave up all over his opponent. He wrenched one last time at the weapon and finally wrested it from the other man's hand, the thug's finger dragging on the trigger as he relinquished it. It discharged again and Sam watched, horrified, as a dozen or more tennants fell, either wounded or dead from the spray of bullets.
"No!!" he screamed as the corridor finally started to clear.
He turned and hit the thug in the face with the butt of the gun and watched him fall unconscious to the floor.
He grabbed a terrified man and showed him his badge. "There's no fire," he shouted. "It was a diversion. I have a situation here. The Super and one of my colleagues is being held prisoner in the Super's apartment. Go to your home and call an ambulance for these people. And call the police. I need back up."
The balding, middle-aged man nodded and tightened the belt of his dressing gown importantly before sprinting towards the lift.
Sam flattened himself against the apartment door.
"Al, where are you?" he hissed.
"Right here," Al said by his ear. "I was keeping an eye on Hoffman and his friends. They know you're coming, Sam. If you go in there now they're going to blow you away."
Sam rested his head against the door, momentarily defeated. Then he straightened, a grim look on his face, trying to ignore the moans of the wounded and dying behind him.
He closed his eyes against the desire to go to them, and instead took the unconscious hood's gun from the man's belt and put it in the band of his own pants at the back, under his jacket. Then he holstered his police weapon and picked up one of the large semi-automatic weapons.
He knocked on the door.
"Sa-a-am," Al growled worriedly.
It opened, but with only Jack in the firing line.
Sam raised his hands, and the automatic weapon.
"Drop it," said a voice. "And your piece."
He dropped both, careful not to bend, so that his jacket didn't ride up.
The children were crying behind their taped mouths. Their mother was catatonic, their father terrified.
Jack stared at him, consigning his trust, his life to Beckett's hands.
Sam stood before Hoffman. "You wanted me?" he demanded.
"I want what is mine," Hoffman replied without raising his voice.
"I haven't got anything that belongs to you," Beckett retorted.
"The boy is missing. And you are beginning to annoy me. If he is in this building we will find him. However, to save ourselves a great deal of work, I'd like you to tell me," he drawled, taking an automatic weapon from one of his men and aiming it at the smallest child. "If you do I might consider letting the little fellow grow up. Be a shame to see something that pretty splattered all over the wall, wouldn't it?"
Sam wanted to scream. This wasn't a leap, it was a living nightmare..!
"Okay, okay," he said placatingly. "I'll tell you, only don't hurt the kids."
"Fine. Now tell me," Hoffman said coldly.
Beckett knew that Sam and Linda were in 50B if they were still there.
"Fifth floor, apartment 52A."
Hoffman grabbed him by the jacket and hauled him toward the door.
"You better be telling the truth, pig, or it'll be the last thing you ever say," he warned and gestured with the weapon to the others before slamming the door behind them. The alarm had been turned off. It was eerily quiet and deserted now but for the wounded and dead in the corridor.
Sam's heart squeezed, tears pricking his eyes as they passed the terrible carnage.
Suddenly the sound of automatic weapons fire rent the silence to shreds. On and on it went.
"N-O-O-O!!!" Beckett screamed, the echoes of Al's indentical scream ringing in his ears as his cry turned to a sob of anguish.
Calavicci re-appeared next to him, tears in his eyes, his hands shaking so hard that he couldn't even put a trembling finger to a key on the handlink.
"S-Sam..." he managed, but couldn't say any more. He stayed with them, floating alongside, rather than walking, for once, as Hoffman dragged Beckett to the elevator and selected the fifth floor.
It opened into a deserted corridor. As Hoffman marched along it, eyes fixed like a mad dog stalking its prey, Sam tried desperately to focus, to drag his nerves from the quagmire of grief and hysteria they were drowning in so that he could do something to save Linda and the boy.
The pistol was still in the back of his jeans. As they approached apartments forty six and forty eight Sam lunged, knocking the big weapon aside and head-butting Hoffman, who fell to the ground, dazed but not unconscious.
Sam dragged the semi-automatic weapon off him and threw it down the corridor, pulled the pistol out and cocked it, rage, outrage and grief in every nerve, every pore of his body.
As he aimed it at Hoffman's head his hand did not shake, his aim did not waiver.
The ice blue eyes looked up at him in dazed defiance. "Finish it," he said almost seductively. "Go on, finish it..."
Beckett's finger did more than caress the trigger.
"Sam, no..." a voice said softly beside him.
It somehow cut across all the hate, all the grief that fed Beckett's desire to blow the bastard's head off. He uncocked the weapon and pistol-whipped Hoffman unconscious without blinking an eye before turning.
"Al..." he said tremulously, tears blurring his vision. "What's going on? What's happening? What have I done?"
Calavicci was as shell-shocked as Beckett. "This is the first time since I came home after...that I've felt like..." he trailed off and began again in a jagged voice: "I don't know what's going on. Ziggy says that you changed history. None of them was supposed to die. The people in the corridor, that wasn't supposed to happen either. Now four of them are dead, two of them are permanently incapacitated, one is severely mentally scarred for life and the other five recover from their injuries but never from their fear. Even the thug you killed wasn't supposed to die. In the original history he turned State's evidence at the trial that got Hoffman the chair. Now Hoffman doesn't get convicted at all."
"Ohh...God," Beckett said tremulously and dragged a trembling hand through his hair. "I wish I knew what was going on. Could I really screw up this badly--would He really let things go so badly wrong?"
Al closed his eyes. "If I hadn't lost my temper in Vegas none of this would have happened. It's not your fault, Sam."
Sam looked at him with haunted eyes. "Does Ziggy have any suggestions about what I should do now?"
Calavicci nodded. "If you stay you'll be arrested along with the psycho here and his goon squad, what's left of them, and charged, eventually, with the manslaughter of all the people in the corridor, the murder of the thug at the stairwell and the murder of the Super's family and Jack Chavez. You'll be acquitted of the last charge but convicted of manslaughter on all the other charges. The boy is sent to juvenile hall, escapes again and contracts aids within the year," he recited grimly from the handlink.
"Then I have to get Sam away from here. If I can save him, at least I'll have salvaged something from this. Brannigan's career is finished, no matter what I do."
Beckett reached the apartment door and knocked on it.
"Brannigan has a property upstate," Al told him, punching buttons. "It's in his sister's name to keep it out of the divorce settlement, so the authorities aren't likely to follow you there. There are tennants in the main farm house, but there's a cabin at the other end of the property for your personal use only."
The door opened and Linda peeked out, chain still securely across it this time.
"Officer Brannigan. Finally. Sam was going to come after you. We didn't know where you were or what was going on. We heard the fire alarm but Sam thought it was probably something Hoffman would try. When we couldn't smell any smoke we decided to stay here."
"Y-you did well," Beckett said unsteadily. "There's been a lot of trouble. The...the Super-intendant and his family are dead. My friend is dead. Linda, I want you to go down the fire escape and mix into the crowd so no-one knows you were involved in this, you hear me? Wet your hair and if anyone challenges you, tell them you were in the shower and had to get dressed. You couldn't smell smoke so you figured you had time."
Linda ran to wet her hair, returned with her sweater spattered with water, smiled at Beckett, who smiled back, and headed down the corridor.
Sam turned back to face the boy.
"I was responsible for the deaths of all those people?" Bateman asked, his face pale, his body unnaturally still.
"No," Sam told him. "Hoffman was the cause of all this. He's the one who's responsible. Only we have to get out of here. If we stay they'll arrest me and I wont be able to help you any more. Hoffman isn't dead. I just knocked him unconscious."
Bateman's eyes widened. "You did? Where is he?"
"In the corridor," Sam replied, then lunged as Bateman grabbed Linda's .38 off the sideboard and sprinted out of the apartment.
Beckett sprinted after him, coming to a halt behind the boy as he stood over Hoffman's crumpled form and aimed the pistol at the gel-slicked, snow-white head.
"Sam," Beckett pleaded as Bateman toed the body.
The icicle eyes sprang open as if spring loaded. "Sammy," Hoffman hissed. "You've wanted this for a long time. Now's your chance..."
Bateman cocked the pistol and extended his arm.
"Sam, no. If you do this you'll be no better than him, or the scum who work for him. You aren't like him. Don't do this," Beckett begged.
The boy sobbed. "I want to. I want to kill him."
"Yes, kill me," Hoffman hissed. "You little queer. Kill me. I took the pitiful remnants of your pitiful life and I gave you a brand new hell to make them pale into insignificance didn't I? Poor little Sammy, all alone. No one loves you, no one cares about you except Dieter..." Hoffman laughed.
"No-o-o!" Bateman cried, turned and threw the pistol down the corridor. "You bastard! I'm not going to give you what you want."
"Kill me-e-e!" Hoffman screamed as they walked away.
Al looked over his shoulder and shuddered as the eyes slammed shut in the same manner as they'd opened.
Amidst the fire engines, ambulances, police cars and throngs of people, Sam Beckett and Sam Bateman walked close together. They had changed into the most innocuous sneakers and tracksuits they could find, wet their hair and put towels around their necks, so that they looked like just another family. Beckett wore a baseball cap pulled down hard over his eyes, and the collar of his tracksuit pulled up, hoping none of the cops would recognize him.
They'd already cordoned off the murder scene, but hadn't had a chance because of the fire engines and ambulances to close the streets.
By the time the pair had cleared the area they were both weak with relief.
"We don't have a car," Sam said, more to Al than to the boy.
"I know--" Al began.
"Sure we do," Bateman told him. "There's nothing to stop us getting my jeep from my apartment building now."
"Oh, that's good, Sam. Ziggy says that Hoffman doesn't say a word about the kid to the police. He just destroys Brannigan's life, is all. Get the jeep and get to that property. I'll go back and see what I can dig up about this kid."
The chamber door closed.
"It's a good car. It'll go anywhere," Bateman continued in true teenage fashion, ignoring the fact that he was too young to have a licence.
Unsurprised, Sam looked up to the heavens, his nerves shattered, his body numb with grief and shock.
"You're a little late," he told his Maker, wanting more than anything to cry.
But he didn't. He followed Bateman instead.
The trip to the cabin was uneventful, Al riding with them for much of the journey and filling Sam in on the details before departing to go and rest his broken bones.
The cabin was peaceful and secluded after the wall-to-wall noise and humanity of Chicago. Beckett had enjoyed the passing country side, the miles of sheep and wheat somehow soothing after the horrors they'd left behind.
"You own all this land?" Bateman asked as they walked down to the river.
Sam nodded. "About a hundred acres. There's a farmhouse way over that way somewhere. There are tennants who work the property, but this is just for me."
"Why did you buy it?"
"Dreams," Sam told him. "I wanted to raise a family in a place like this, but it wasn't to be. They went and I kept on working in Chicago."
"Why did you keep it?"
Sam stopped and threw a stick he'd picked up into the water. "Maybe I just needed something to hold onto, something to keep me from getting completely lost in other people's lives," he pondered hauntedly.
Bateman looked at him then. "Like mine?" he asked.
Sam met his gaze. "Kind of."
He focused on the present, on Bill Brannigan and Sam Bateman, whoever he was...Then he looked around at the property.
"Do you like it?"
Bateman looked around. "It's weird, but yeah, I think I do. When we were coming up here I couldn't think of anything worse than being this far from the city, this far away from the pulse. I don't know why, but this--" he gestured at the rolling fields, the stream, the trees. "This feels good."
"Maybe you're more like your father than you realized?"
Bateman looked across at him. "Maybe," he conceded. "But I'm no farm boy. Can you imagine a country town having to deal with me?" he pointed out, looking surprisingly young with his normally gelled hair loose and wild since they'd doused their heads with water. The grey Puma tracksuit was a little baggy on his lean frame, he'd removed his earings and there were no chains around his neck, all of which made him look, if anything, less than his sixteen years.
Sam smiled gently. "Sure I can," he said. "Anyone can start again. All it takes is the willingness to clean the slate and start over."
Bateman rolled his eyes and made a puking gesture. "Sometimes, Brannigan, you're so Roy Rogers its sickening."
In spite of the boy's antics Beckett could see in his eyes that the gesture had been appreciated.
"Fine," he retorted as they turned for the cabin. "Next time I'll try Hopalong Cassidy instead."
The days passed quietly, the boy growing more and more restless with each one and Beckett more and more impatient for Al's bulletins on the situation back in Chicago.
They were cooking lunch together out of sheer boredom, Bateman chopping vegetables and slicing meat while Sam attended to a pot of rice and a delicate chinese soup, when the chamber door opened and Al reappeared.
"Where did you get all that stuff?"
Beckett turned. "There's a freezer, and there was a green-grocer at the second gas stop. We stocked up."
Young Sam looked up from his pile of chopped onion, cabbage, carrot and broccoli.
"Who are you talking to?" he asked.
"I'm not. I mean I was thinking out loud. We're stocked up for now, but if we have to stay here any length of time I have to think about where we can get fresh food from."
"Don't get weird on me, Brannigan," he warned, amused.
"No..no, I won't," Sam stammered. "I have to go outside for a minute."
"Smooth, Sam," Al chuckled when they got outside. Then his eyes narrowed. "You look like hell," he observed. "Couldn't you sleep?"
Sam studied his boots. "No..n-not really. I'm okay, Al."
"No, you're not," Al told him. "You weren't to blame, Sam. It wasn't your fault."
Beckett looked up at him with hollow eyes. "I came here and I destroyed this leap. All those lives, Al. Jack had a family... Last time I screwed up a leap this badly I killed someone, but at least I saved my brother--"
"Sam, you've gotta help this kid. You haven't got the luxury of wallowing in self pity. Snap out of it."
Beckett turned on his friend, ready to launch into his own tirade and stopped. Al looked, if anything, worse than he did.
"What is it, Al?" he asked quietly.
"Hoffman is out. His lawyer couldn't get bail for him, so he did the next best thing. He escaped somewhere between the hearing and the prison."
Sam looked back at the house. "Have you found out any more about the boy yet?"
Al shook his head. "It's almost impossible for Ziggy without that surname.
"His mother is in Milwaukee," Sam remembered. "And her husband's name is Eric. There's another child. I have a feeling Samuel Herbert is his right name though," he added, and didn't see the strange look that fluttered momentarily across Al's face.
"Okay. I'll...I'll go and see what Ziggy can do with that. Meanwhile you be careful, Sam. Keep a watch for that slime. I have a feeling he ain't gonna give up until the both of you are blood slicks on a wall somewhere."
The chamber door slammed closed.
The meal was an extravagant affair which went some way toward lifting their spirits, if only for the evening. Between them they remembered enough about recipes and once-sampled chinese food to come up with a reasonable facimile of several well-known dishes.
Afterward Sam Bateman found some old games Brannigan's children had left behind. They fought over monopoly and laboured over trivial pursuit into the early hours of the morning.
Beckett watched the boy putting the games away, dressed now in his own jeans and a sleeveless T-shirt and wondered again what it was about the youth that tugged at his senses. He was sure it would come to him sooner or later. Just as sooner or later Al had to find the reason for his being there.
"Time I went to bed," he announced when Bateman rose with a pack of playing cards in hand.
"Just for another hour?"
Beckett looked into the youthful eyes. It wasn't a request, it was a plea.
"What is it, Sam?" he asked.
"Nothing," Bateman said diffidently. "I just want to play cards."
He threw the deck across the room. "I can't sleep, okay? I don't want to sleep."
The boy nodded moodily. "I can't help it. Normally I'd be working now. It's different sleeping in the day time. This is too weird. And the dreams they're...well, I don't want to go through them again. Dieter is in jail. That's all I need to remember."
Beckett looked away.
"What is it?" Bateman asked.
"I'm worried about Hoffman too. I'm not sure they can keep him in custody until the trial," he offered, hoping it would be enough.
Bateman seemed to cower a little. "I thought it was just me," he said plaintively. "Bill, I'm scared."
Sam wanted to say 'so am I.' Instead he pointed to the hall cupboard. "I found some sleeping bags in there the other day. Why don't you get a couple out and set them up here in the living room."
Surprisingly the boy did so without arguement.
He looked up at Beckett when he was done. "Aren't we supposed to do this outside, with a campfire?"
Sam smiled. "Well that's what I used to do when I was a kid, with torches for ghost stories, very bad facimilies of Indian lodges, marshmallows and mom calling from the house asking whether we wanted more food and spoiling everything," he chuckled.
Bateman was looking at him strangely. "Sometimes you seem like somebody else, Bill. You never talked about your childhood like that before."
"Yeah, well," Beckett mused, "maybe I never had a reason to before."
Sam shrugged. "At least you had one."
Beckett faced him squarely then. "Sam, you've been playing games with me about your past ever since...for a long time. I don't even know who you are. Why can't you level with me now? Is it so hard to trust?"
The boy looked down and swallowed. "I guess not," he said softly. "What you have to realize is that I've had to protect myself since I was twelve. And I've had to stay one step ahead of Dieter since I was fourteen. Never tell 'em anything, an old bum told me once. He said information was a person's biggest ally and their worst enemy. So I tell nobody nothing. Not even you."
"I just want to help," Beckett told him. "I'm no danger to you."
"Yeah, but Dieter is. And if you have information about me, Dieter can get it."
The older man curled his hands into fists in frustration. "Dieter won't get to me. I'm staying with you. If he finds us he'll have to kill me to get to you," he told the boy, and meant it.
"My name really is Sam. Samuel Herbert. Eric formally adopted me when he married my mother, so I guess my surname is officially Ashcroft. Samuel Herbert Ashcroft."
"And you have a brother or sister?" Beckett prompted gently.
"There's a kid. He's about three or four now. His name is Cary David. Whenever I call her all she talks about is Cary," he said sadly.
"And you've never talked to your dad? Not even a phone call?"
Sam shook his head. "Why would I do that? I don't know him. He doesn't know me. He never tried to find me."
"Maybe he didn't know where to look," Beckett suggested quietly.
Sam looked up at his friend. "You think that's possible?"
Beckett nodded. "If she went to Milwaukee without telling him, or if she asked her family and friends not to tell him, then maybe he had no way to trace you. Not with a new name and a new family...or it might be even simpler than that. If Eric adopted you, your dad may have had to relinquish his rights. Maybe your mother convinced him that would be for the best."
"He let me go completely?" Bateman whispered.
"No," Sam told him. "In cases like these when there's a custody battle it can tear the child to pieces. Maybe he loved you too much to hold on to you."
The boy rose and went to the cabin window. "Is this the Hopalong whassiname thing?" he asked, his voice trembling with emotion.
Sam chuckled silently. "I don't think so," he said gently. "I meant what I said. Sometimes when you only see it from one point of view you miss a whole hell of a lot in these kind of cases. Nobody tells you how they feel. Nobody tells you why things are happening the way they are..."
"You sound like you know all about it," Bateman told him, surprised.
Sam shook his head. "No, not really. I've just been in enough situations to be able to see things from both sides these days." He changed the subject. "Do you want some hot chocolate--?"
The boy nodded.
Beckett headed gratefully for the kitchen, and a chance to regroup.
"Bill..?" Bateman said in a small voice.
Young Sam met his gaze and shrugged. "Thanks," he said.
Beckett woke in darkness and cast around with his senses for the reason why.
Someone was calling out. Sam.
He leaned over and touched the boy's arm, only to have him jump as though electrocuted and shy away from him.
"It's all right," Beckett said soothingly. "It was just a dream. It's Sa--Bill. I'm here. Dieter Hoffman again?"
The boy shook his head in the moonlight threaded darkness.
"But it was a nightmare?"
Bateman cringed away a little more, his arms wrapped around his own torso.
"You're not alone, Sam. I'm here now. I'm here," Beckett said gently, as if to a small child.
"He was there," the boy whispered.
"Who? Who was there?"
"Eric was in your nightmare?"
"No. It was daddy. He was yelling and screaming at the cows. He cried and cried because the harvester broke down again. He was so mad at it, he was scary. He stood so still and his eyes went so wide and big and scary and he was all sort of shaking without moving."
"Sam, you were only five years old when you left your dad. It was only a dream," Beckett told him gently.
"No," the boy objected, more coherent now. "No, that was a memory. I know it. I recognized it. It wasn't a dream." Tears tracked down his cheeks. "It was the war wasn't it? Damn it, why wasn't there someone to help him before he came home? Why wasn't there any treatment?" he sobbed, shoulders beginning to shake.
"I don't know," Beckett whispered, drawing the boy into his arms and holding him like a child as he grieved. "I don't know."
A noise outside disturbed them. It was little more than the snapping of a twig, but it reverberated through the night like a nail down a blackboard.
In an instant both were on their feet, lunging for the big revolver and Brannigan's police special.
It was difficult to see anything clearly, even in the moonlight. Shadows from the trees were everywhere in the gossamer glow of the moon.
"Al!" Sam hissed. "Where are you when I need you?"
He motioned the boy to look out a back window and went to check the bedroom ones himself. He was certain they were locked, but he felt the need to check. If Al were there he could tell them straight away if there was anyone out there...
All the windows were locked. The two Sams came together at the front one to watch and wait, straining for another sound, even a whisper of a movement to tell them it wasn't their imagination.
They'd been waiting a full half hour without so much as an owl hoot to disturb the night when Al popped in. Once again Beckett jumped like a hot cat and scowled at his friend.
"He's out there, Sam. Ziggy's having trouble locking on to him but we know he's close to the house."
"How?" Sam demanded.
It was Al's turn to scowl. "Because you've changed history, Sam. You both die here, tonight, in this house. And its an ugly death. You have to do something before he does."
"Time?" Beckett demanded. Al, when?"
"In exactly forty-seven minutes and thirty seconds."
"In the house, I told you."
"Then if we try to make a run for the car, we'd be changing history?"
"Well, yeah, but I wouldn't recommend it."
"Because that's what he'll expect you to do."
"All right. Then we'll make a run for his car. Are the keys in it?"
"Nope," Al said none-too-helpfully.
"But--" Calavicci interrupted.
Sam snorted. "But..?" he asked irritably.
"But I'm an expert at hot-wiring cars, so--"
Sam opened his mouth to ask the question.
"Don't ask," Al told him. "Just listen. As soon as we get a lock on this bastard you go out the other door and I'll take you to his car. Then the two of you get as far away from here as possible. Preferably to the last place on the planet anyone would expect you to go."
"How did he find us, Al?"
"He has a contact inside the police department. They accessed Brannigan's records. He got the names of Brannigan's parents, family and his ex-wife and systematically checked every piece of real-estate they all owned. I guess he knew the kid wouldn't have any place to go."
"Perfect," Beckett said almost to himself.
"Perfect?" Al repeated.
"Never mind," Sam said distractedly. "Just tell Ziggy to hurry up and get a lock on this animal so we can get out of here."
Al popped out.
Sam slumped against the wall.
Bateman was staring at him. "What were you doing?" he asked nervously. "Are you losing it or something?"
"N..no," Sam said uncomfortably. "I just...I can't explain it, but I have a way out of here. You've gotta trust me. I'm not going nuts."
Bateman looked at him warily. "Why should I trust someone who holds conversations with thin air?"
Sam closed his eyes. He'd completely forgotten the boy in his relief at seeing Al again.
"Look, let's just say for now that I've got a connection that I can't explain at the moment. Later, I'll try, I promise. What I do know is that we can reach Hoffman's car from here. I can hotwire it and we can get away. We're going to your dad's place. Hoffman will never look for us there. He's only looking for my moves, not yours."
Bateman's eyes widened. Bill Brannigan had always been the most straight up and down, reliable, predicatable person in his life, even if it was just the monotonously regular bust to get him off the streets for twenty-four hours. Now Bill was behaving as though he was possessed, or one of those religious fundamentalists, talking to himself and holding conversations with angels or something...
"My dad? He doesn't know me from Adam. How can I go back there? I might just as well go to Cleveland as Elk Ridge--"
"Elk Ridge? Elk Ridge, Indiana?" Beckett asked, his surprise comprehensive.
"Sure. What other Elk Ridge is there? It's a pretty hokey name for a town."
Sam swallowed. This boy could be an offspring of someone he knew, someone he'd grown up with. Now it made sense. The sense of familiarity, the kind of deja-vu when he looked at him. Something else occured to him.
He was going home. Again.
The impact of that stayed with Beckett until Al suddenly popped in twenty minutes later.
"He's in the thicket over there, watching the kid's car and the front door. He's carrying a pistol, a machete and a razor sharp hunting knife. You go out the back door, and you be real careful, and I'll circle you around so you can go find his car," Calavicci told Beckett.
They slipped quietly out the back door and Sam followed Al's white-suited figure through the thick undergrowth, away from the house. They were some distance from it when the white suit suddenly wasn't there any more.
Beckett stopped, dumbfounded. Unless there was a glitch with Ziggy, or the imaging chamber, there was no way known that Al would just dump him like that without good reason. He wanted to call out, but he couldn't afford to make a noise.
They stood for several long moments until young Sam touched Beckett's arm.
In reply Beckett gestured in the general direction Al had been headed when he vanished. He was both worried and afraid. The hairs on the back of his neck prickled and his stomach fluttered as they wove their way through the wraithlike silhouettes of trees, bushes and ferns.
They came to a small clearing and stopped. Every nerve-ending in his body screamed trouble. He could almost taste it.
Then suddenly Hoffman was there, dressed entirely in black leather, even to the gloves.
"So good of you to come out and play," he drawled. "Wonderful night for it, don't you think?"
Beckett moved in front of the boy.
"How very heroic," Hoffman sneered. "Throw the weapon over here. Now!" he ordered.
Sam did, but stayed in front of the boy.
Bateman watched, frozen, as his nightmare spoke to Bill Brannigan again.
"You two have made a fool of me. That was very bad judgement on your part, Brannigan, and very disappointing on yours, boy. Get over here, now!" he ordered suddenly. "Or Brannigan goes to cowboy heaven right before your eyes."
Beckett had worked a hand millimeter by millimeter from his side to behind his back. Now he held it out to young Sam, palm up.
Bateman carefully and very slowly eased Linda's gun from under his own shirt and put it in Brannigan's hand.
"Don't move, Sam," Beckett ordered when he had hold of the gun. "He'll kill me anyway. The moment you're away from me he'll drop me like a flushed pheasant."
Hoffman grinned. "But if I kill you right now, the boy will have a technicolor view of your demise," he pointed out and aimed his automatic pistol at Sam's chest.
"Now!" Sam yelled and threw himself to one side, young Sam leaping simultaneously the other way. Beckett got his shot off before he hit the ground.
Hoffman swung around, hit. He staggered, grabbed at his thigh and tried to aim at Beckett before falling over, still clutching the leg.
The two Sams scrambled up and ran back toward the cabin and young Sam's car. The jeep started immediately and Beckett spun the wheels in his haste to put distance between them and Hoffman.
They drove in silence for fifteen or twenty minutes before either was willing to speak.
"What happened back there?" Bateman demanded when he found his voice. "We could have both been killed. You led us directly to him."
Beckett shook his head. "No, no I didn't. I was headed for his car. I don't know how he found us. He was out front in a thicket when we left the cabin."
"You saw him there?"
"Well, yeah, sort of," Sam lied.
"Where are we going?" the boy asked.
Beckett was silent a moment. "Indiana," he said finally, barely able to enunciate the word for the emotion it stirred in his throat. "We're going...home."
It was light when they finally stopped for gas. The gas station was just opening for the day. An old dog wandered around from the dwelling beside it looking for its owner, a grizzled old man in a John Deere cap and a sleeveless jacket over an old, grease-stained T-shirt.
The old man filled their tank, washed the windscreen and sold them drinks in silence. And when they asked for the key to the bathroom, showed them into his home and his bathroom. He was a man of few words but when Sam payed in cash and smiled at him, he finally smiled back.
"God bless," he said and touched the brim of his cap as they left.
Once they crossed the border Sam's anticipation grew. He began to recognize roads, towns, landmarks, began to look for things, as if each image could unlock another memory.
He was going home..!
It was well into the afternoon before Sam saw the first outline of Elk Ridge. He watched it grow with joy and expectation, a sense of wonder at this chance to go back, just once more. He was about to wake the boy and tell him when the weight of his father's absence rested itself on his heart. He was going home, but not truly home.
Dad was gone...
And Mom was probably in Hawaii with Katie...Still, the farm would be there. He'd saved it from that no-good at the bank. He wondered who might be farming it now...And Sibby and Herky did eventually come back to live in Elk Ridge. He smiled to himself. It would be good to see them, and home, again.
Elk Ridge in 1989 was not a great deal different to Elk Ridge in 1969 as far as Sam could see. A few more buildings, a couple of new facades, different model cars on the streets, otherwise most of the place was still easily identifiable.
He parked at a favorite haunt of his from the little of his teenage youth that was spent in Elk Ridge, and ordered cheeseburgers--hold the tomatoes, extra onion on his--fries, and cokes. The tallish blonde clerk taking his order at the car door laughed as she wrote it down.
"Something wrong?" Beckett asked.
"No," she told him pleasantly. "Your order--it's only the second time I can ever remember anyone asking for that exact order. I used to go to school with a boy who made a habit of ordering that every time we all came up here for a burger."
"Oh yeah?" Sam said conversationally, trying to place her. "Do I know you?"
She shrugged. "Irene Tillman. I used to be Irene Waters."
"Irene," Sam repeated. "You were a friend of Lisa's."
"You know Lisa Parsons? She married a boy she met in college. He's a surgeon now. They're real happy out in California, I hear."
"That's great," Sam grinned. It clicked. "Irene. Now I remember. You used to get straight As in everything. We all thought you were going to be a scientist or something."
She laughed. "So did I," she said ruefully, "but I spent way too much time with Artie Tillman and nature took care of the rest. I've got five kids now."
"Kids are great, but it's a real shame about you not making it to college."
She shrugged again. "Que sera, sera," she said self-depreciatingly. "At least one of us made it. Sam Beckett managed to make the cover of Time Magazine. Imagine Elk Ridge producing a Nobel Prize winner..?"
Sam smiled and flushed in spite of himself. "Yeah, imagine that," he agreed self-consciously and woke the boy.
"This is my...ward, Sam Bateman. Sam, this is Mrs Tillman."
"Irene," she interjected. "Enjoy your lunch boys, I've got some more customers waiting for me."
Sam watched her go and wondered what happened to the rest of them. What happened to all of them, the people who populated his childhood, his youth.
Bateman consumed his meal with gusto. Beckett ate his at a more placid pace but caught up by the time the boy had downed his coke. He was almost sorry to leave the place. It would have been very pleasant to listen to Irene talk about other classmates and peers, to find out what happened to the rest of them.
"Which way?" he asked as he prepared to back out.
"I'm not sure. I'll have to ask someone," Bateman said tentatively.
Sam put the jeep out of gear again. "Ask Irene. She seems to know about everyone."
When Irene reappeared with the new order and delivered it to a big chevy not far from them, Sam beckoned her back to the car.
"We we wondering if you could help us with some directions," he asked pleasantly.
Young Sam gathered himself. "I need to know the way to the Beckett farm," he asked with as much confidence as he could muster.
Alongside him his companion lost all color and actually saw grey, but saved himself from passing out by gripping the steering wheel hard.
He listened to Irene give clear directions to his beloved home, and to the boy's thanks before reversing the car out and heading down the main road.
"The B--Beckett farm?" he asked.
"That's right," young Sam confirmed, oblivious to his friend's distress. "If he's still there."
Beckett's voice was strained. "If wh--who is still there?"
"My father. Lieutenant Thomas Beckett: medal of valor, purple heart and all associated scars," Bateman said bitterly.
Oh God, his nephew. Sam was his nephew!
Beckett swallowed. Tom had named his son after his younger brother--and Herbert...Of course--Magic. How could their lives have gone so terribly wrong..? And why hadn't he done anything to stop it?
He turned at the crossroad that meant his home was less than ten miles away and stepped on the gas. They were there in a few minutes. Beckett found that his hands were shaking as they climbed out of the car.
The farm had changed radically since 1969. There were shiny new grain storage bins, new yards for a bigger dairy herd and the old place had been given a comprehensive facelift. An unwelcome facelift, in Sam's heart. It wasn't home anymore. Not really.
His brother would be forty-two now. It seemed almost incomprehensible to Sam that the brother he'd lost in the war could now come wandering out at any moment.
They walked to the porch of the house and knocked on the door. There was no answer. Beckett suggested they go around the back.
The back door was open, but they knocked again anyway. No answer.
Carefully, Sam Beckett ushered his nephew inside and picked his way through the refurbished kitchen to the living room.
The old couch was gone, and the antique sideboard that was Grandma Nettie's. On the new couch, however, lay sprawled a shell of a man. He was unconscious, a pile of cans and two bourbon bottles lying on the floor next to him.
Tom had let his hair grow long and there were black circles under the bags under his eyes. The lean, whipcord hard body Sam remembered was now slouched, a pot belly incongruously protruding from an otherwise withered form.
Beckett turned to the boy. "Sam, I want you to go back to the kitchen and wait for me there."
The boy's eyes were bitter and cold as they looked into his, but he nodded and went without question.
Sam knelt at his brother's side. "Tom," he said softly. "Tom..?"
Tom Beckett didn't stir. Carefully Sam put a hand on his forearm and shook it a little.
"Tom..? It's Sam. Wake up, Tom."
The older Beckett grunted and moved.
Sam shook his arm a little harder. "Tom--?"
His brother's eyes opened slowly and focused on him. He reeked of alcohol and it was obvious he hadn't bathed since he last finished working outside.
"Little brother?" he croaked almost plaintively.
Beckett swallowed the lump in his throat and fought hard against the ball of tears in the back of it.
"Tom, what happened?"
Tom blinked. "You're not my brother. Who the hell are you? What are you doing in my house?"
Sam's heart sank. He showed his badge. "Brannigan. Sergeant William Brannigan. Chicago police. I brought someone to see you. I'm sorry if we intruded, but the back door was open, and we've come a long way."
"You said you were Sam," Tom said accusingly, his dark eyes as sharp as ever, despite the drink.
For a moment all the younger Beckett could do was look away. Then he lied.
"No, you misunderstood," he said and turned toward the door. "Sam!" he called.
Samuel Herbert Ashcroft stepped back into the room.
"This is Sam."
Tom dragged himself into a sitting position, blinking his sunken eyes against the daylight, his already pale skin blanching even more if that were possible.
"Sam?" he whispered and stared for a long moment. "No..!"
He stood up and strode stiffly across the room, dragged open the front door and slammed it behind him.
Sam gestured to the boy to stay and went after his brother.
Tom was leaning against a tractor, desolated, alone. So alone.
Beckett's heart contracted.
"T--Mister Beckett," Sam said softly. "I'm sorry we couldn't have done that more gently. "I apologize for any distress--"
"Don't," Tom rasped. "Why did you bring him here? He doesn't need to see me like this. It's not right. After all this time, he has to come now?"
"I'm sorry," Sam repeated.
"What's he done? Why is he with a police officer? Is he in trouble?"
"In a way," Beckett told him uncomfortably. "I wanted to help him out of a bad situation. There's a man, a very bad man, hunting us down. We needed a place to go where Hoffman would never think of looking. Sam needs you, Mister Beckett. Now, more than he ever has. And he's needed you for a long, long time."
"No," Tom moaned and looked away. "I thought--I thought she'd give him a better life. She said..." he trailed off.
"It didn't work out that way," Sam said gently. "It's been hard, very hard for Sam for a long time, but he's never forgotten you. I think he still loves you, Mister Beckett. If you'd just give him a chance, I think you might--"
Tom wheeled around angrily. "Might love him too?" he snapped. "I never stopped loving him. I never stopped wanting to see him again," he raged. The rage turned to sobs. "And now its too late. Don't you understand? It's too damned late!!"
Sam wanted to go to him, to tell him he wasn't alone, to ease his pain. But he couldn't. Bill Brannigan couldn't.
"Why?" he asked instead, staring at Tom's pain-wracked body. The sun was shining on the older man's head, making the paper-thin skin seem even more fragile and the limp, lifeless hair seem even more unkempt and dull.
Suddenly Sam didn't want to hear the answer.
"Because I'm finished," Tom snarled. "That God-forsaken war took everything that was important to me except my life, and now it wants even that. The legal-eagles keep telling us we don't have a case...and we keep dying anyway.."
Sam closed his eyes. "You..you have cancer?" he asked, forgetting that Brannigan had no right to pry.
Tom's eyes narrowed. "Some kind of lymphoma, the doctor said. But they are not putting me in some hospital bed to rot."
"T..Tom," Sam whispered, then gathered himself. "I'm sorry," he said aloud. "But it is all the more reason for you to at least talk to Sam. He has no one, Mister Beckett. No one."
Tom stared at him. "He has you," he said flatly.
"It's not enough," Sam was moved to retort. "He's here. Give him something to remember, something to hold on to when it gets bad again."
"Gets bad? Just what kind of trouble is he in?"
Sam looked down. "I think I'd better let him tell you about that. And I think you should listen."
Tom stared at him again, as if searching his face for something, then he sighed roughly and marched toward the house, leaving Beckett in his wake.
Sam watched the painful gait, his soul aching with misery and grief.
What in God's name had happened to his family? What had he done, meddling in time, changing things, manipulating lives?
Inside the house Tom was at the refrigerator pulling the tab from another can of beer, his back rigid with tension.
When Beckett came into the kitchen Tom gestured toward the living area with the can. He followed Brannigan into the other room.
Young Sam looked up from the photograph album he'd found among a pile of periodicals and watched through narrowed eyes as his father came in.
Tom Beckett came to a halt in front of his son. For several long moments he searched the young face, or perhaps he was just absorbing the vision of his only child, absorbing the reality of him at last.
Finally, he spoke. "I'm sorry I wasn't there," he said softly.
Young Sam looked into his father's dark eyes. "It wasn't all your fault," he whispered, remembering the day his mother had taken him away. "But I wish you had been there."
Tom closed his eyes. "He says it's been bad for you--"
"Eric didn't want me," Sam said flatly. "She didn't know, mostly. I think she loved him too much to want to know. I...I ran away. I've been alone since I was twelve."
Tom opened his eyes again. "You ran away? What about school? How did you live? What--?"
Young Sam paled. "I..." He turned away. "You don't want to know," he said miserably. "Trust me, you don't want to know."
For a moment Tom's expression was puzzled. Then his face crumpled. "Oh Jesus, God, no," he whispered, breaking his brother's heart and making his son weep. He stepped towards the boy.
"Sam," he said softly. "Sam, I love you. I always have, and I always will."
Tom Beckett's younger brother drew in a jagged breath.
Dad...He sounded exactly like Dad...
The youth turned back. "Not if you knew--" he started.
Tom put up a hand. "It doesn't matter," he said gently. "Whatever it is," he added, shadows of war and death darkening his face, "I've done far worse..."
"You know, don't you?" young Sam asked tremulously.
His father blinked away tears and nodded silently. Then he opened his emaciated arms.
After a beat the boy went to him, wrapping his arms around the frail form and hanging on like a small child. Tom closed his arms around his son's shoulders for the first time in over a decade and wept softly for all the lost years.
Sam Beckett retreated to the kitchen and closed the door. With trembling hands he opened the refrigerator and found a can of beer. He downed half of it before the trembling grew so bad he had to put it down and hunker down, face buried in his folded arms.
"Sam!" a familiar voice exclaimed. "Get up! He's here. He found you. C'mon, you have to do something."
Beckett looked up, startled.
"Where the hell have you been?" he demanded angrily.
Al shrugged. "Ziggy had some kind of fit. I couldn't get back until Gooshie found the problem and fixed it. There was nothing I could do."
"We were almost killed!" Sam exclaimed. "You led us straight to Hoffman. We were lucky to get away with our lives! How the hell could he find us so quickly? It's not possible."
"I don't know. Maybe he followed you."
Sam shook his head. "No way. I kept watch all the way."
"Maybe he's just very good."
"He's shot," Sam growled. "I don't buy it, Al. Not unless..."
He stopped, then began again on a different tack. "Where is he?" he asked.
"About five miles down the road and closing..."
"Bill!" The boy's cry was an urgent, frightened one.
Beckett ran into the living room. Tom had collapsed in his son's arms.
"Tom!" Sam dropped to his knees at his brother's side.
The older man looked up at him and blinked. "Little brother... you came. After all this time, you finally came." He grasped Sam's hand and continued in a labored voice. "I think that borrowed time Doc Birch kept reminding me about just ran out." He tried to smile. "Did you see him? Did you see my boy?"
Sam smiled back through rising tears. "Sure. I saw him. He looks like you, Tom. Just like you," he said, his voice cracking.
Tom looked into his eyes, his own glazing over. "Magic," he whispered. "Magic, what do you think of him? Your God-son's all grown up," he chuckled, stopped and released a long breath.
"Tom..!" Sam choked. "Tom..!"
"No..!" The boy cried. "No, it's not fair. I just got him back! It's not fair. It's not right! God can't give like that and then just rip it away again. It isn't right!"
He tore out of the room into the yard.
"Al!" Sam yelled. "Al, go after him. Keep an eye on him."
Al popped out.
Trembling, Sam looked down at his brother and gently closed the once dancing eyes, tears wetting the hollow cheeks and sliding down the side of the still, unmoving face.
Finally, he rose and went to find the boy before Hoffman reached them.
If, indeed, Al had it right. It just didn't seem possible. It was as if they were carrying a homing device...
Beckett's skin went cold. He ran outside to the car to look for one, but there was no time for more than a cursory glance beneath it.
He couldn't see Al or the boy anywhere.
"Al!" he cried. An echoing, plaintive cry. "Al, where are you?"
Then, suddenly, Calavicci was there. "He's in the barn, Sam. They're both in the barn," he said urgently.
Sam sprinted inside for the weapons, and sprinted out again, circling around the big barn. When they were children he and Tom had designed and made their own entrance to the root cellar beneath the barn. It was little more than a hinged doorway in the floor of the barn itself, beneath the haystore where John Beckett wouldn't see it. Especially if Tom and Sam did their chores diligently and kept the haystore full.
He went in through the root-cellar doors as quietly as he could and prayed that Tom hadn't nailed that little hatchway up.
Al re-appeared alongside him.
"What are you doing?"
Sam flicked a glance at his friend as he climbed over all the stumps, coal and broken implements. "What does it look like I'm doing? Tell me exactly where they are in the barn!"
"Ah, up there, in the milking stalls."
Sam pictured it in his head. If the hatch was still there he might be able to come up under the hay and crawl along the back of the stalls, providing everything in the barn had remained the same.
"Al, go look up there and try memorize the whole layout. I want to know exactly what it looks like."
Al was gone for a number of minutes. When he returned he described the inside of the barn in minute detail, as if he was reporting after a reconnaissance mission.
Sam formed a mental picture as he looked for the hatch in the dull light of the underground room. He finally found it, clogged with grime and straw, the hinges rusted. He tested it, and found that it would only budge a fraction. It would need machine oil, or he would give himself away immediately.
He climbed down off the old feedbin he was standing on and wiped his hands on his pants.
"It's not gonna work," he said, frustrated.
"Oh yeah? What if I go create a diversion?" Al suggested.
"What kind of diversion?" Sam asked, curious.
"He's gonna get nervous if the cows out there start getting noisy all of a sudden, ain't he?"
Beckett frowned. "Maybe. Maybe not. I don't think Hoffman knows much about cows."
"I can try," Al told him. "You get something to batter that hatch open and I'll give you the word when to try."
Sam nodded, uncomfortable somehow, and watched Al pop out again.
He was back on the feedbin with an old adze with a broken handle when Al finally returned.
"He's out," he said urgently. "Now!"
Sam slammed the adze into the old hatch, remembering all the good times he and Tom had with it. It broke the timber but didn't move the hinges very far. He tried again, this time with a little more success and a lot more smashed timber. The third time the hinges gave way, disintegrating under the weight of time. He forced his way through, ignoring the ache in his heart, shoved the hay aside and got to his feet swiftly.
There was no sign of Hoffman. He slid along the back of the stalls, listening, watching, until he could look around the corner. Still no sign of Hoffman.
No sign of Sam either. Beckett's nerves began to prick, over-riding the weight of his sorrow. Something was very wrong. He checked each of the stalls. None of the straw appeared to be disturbed. Finally, in the last one he found evidence that someone had been sitting in one corner. The hay was all crushed down and scattered. There were also fresh droplets and spatters of blood amongst it.
Sam drew a sharp breath and clenched his fists. It wasn't much in terms of an injury, but it was a bad sign, nevertheless.
He carefully made his way to the door of the barn and stole a glance around the yard outside. No sign of anyone. His heart rate rose. It was almost eerie.
He checked the whole barn over again, wondering where Al was, and hoping he was checking on Hoffman's whereabouts. There was no sign of either the boy or Dieter Hoffman.
When Al didn't return Beckett decided that the only thing for it was to climb up to the loft and look out of the loft windows.
Memories of his childhood flooded back so powerfully that he almost choked on them. Memories that he'd not even had access to for five years...
As he climbed the rungs of the ladder each step became a sob, memories of Tom blurring into images of the carnage in the apartment building, of his nephew's sad life, of Jack Chavez's eyes and the whimpers of the Superintendant's children. Most of all the bright memories wove themselves around the lifeless body laying alone on the floor of what was once the most treasured place in Sam's heart...
The loft had changed little. There was plenty of hay, bags of feed and piles of discarded equipment and tarps in the corners.
Beckett checked two of the windows, only the yards and the storage bins to be seen. The cattle seemed to have settled again. The last window was the farthest from the ladder. As he
reached it he noticed the pile of junk nearest it included a sneaker. The sneaker had a foot in it.
"N-o-o..." Beckett sobbed and dropped to his knees alongside the crumpled body, pushed the canvas and hay off it, turned it over gently and sobbed again when he saw the boy's bloodless face. There was nothing left of the young life he'd tried so hard to put right. Nothing had been put right on this leap.
There was a wound on one pale temple, as though the boy had struggled and struck it on something as Hoffman systematically strangled him with the cow halter still tangled around his neck.
Beckett took it off with shaking hands and threw it away, lifted the body and carried his nephew in his arms. At the ladder he was forced to change to a fireman's carry, working hard to keep his footing with the extra weight as he decended, only one arm free to hold onto the rails.
At the bottom he laid the boy gently in one one of the stalls. Then he drew Linda's big .38 revolver from his belt and cocked it.
His mind was numb. His insides ached with grief and his throat hurt from holding back sobs. There was nowhere else to go, nothing left of this leap. He'd failed at every turn, destroyed everything, destroyed his family, yet he was still here, alone.
Even God had deserted him...
No! Sam corrected mentally. No...if he was still here there must be something still to be done...
He looked down at the weapon, hatred burning through the grief and flaring into a firestorm of rage. He marched out of the barn, no longer caring where Hoffman lay in wait, knowing only that he would find him.
"Hoffman!" He roared as he came into the middle of the yard.
He turned and looked up to where the old basketball hoop used to be and checked another sob, consumed suddenly by the images of his brother's ravaged body still laying, lifeless, on the floor of their childhood home and his nephew, crumpled and broken in the barn.
"Hoffman!!" He screamed out again and turned back to scan the yard.
The imaging chamber door opened. "Sam, Sam, thank God!"
Beckett didn't turn.
"Sam, I'm sorry it took so long. Ziggy went kablooey after I left you at the cabin. Gooshie had a hell of a time getting the imaging chamber back on line," he huffed.
Beckett walked forward without answering, his weapon swinging back and forth in a dangerous arc.
"Sam? Answer me, Sam. What the hell is going on? Ziggy still isn't a hundred percent. Sam!"
But Beckett had seen a movement near the house. When he stepped up onto the porch Hoffman appeared from nowhere, laughing hysterically.
"I don't like this," Al muttered, having popped across from the yard to the front door of the house.
"How does it feel, Brannigan? I told you I'd make you suffer."
"You didn't have to kill the boy!" cried Sam in a half roar, half wail.
"Yes I did," Hoffman replied, his pale blue eyes glittering with madness and hate. "I did it just for you. Do you want to kill me now? Or do you need to think about it through a few more deaths?"
Beckett spread his feet, raised the .38 and extended his arms, bracing the already cocked weapon, misery, hate, and rage burning in the normally gentle green eyes.
"You bastard! You're insane, Hoffman!" he shouted tremulously. "You're evil. You don't deserve to live."
Hoffman drew the machete from his belt and threw it onto the porch. Then he unslung the semi-automatic weapon from his shoulder and did the same with it.
"I'm yours," he said. "I told you once that after the first it gets easier. Every one is easier than the last. Haven't you noticed?"
Sam blinked, then re-braced the weapon and tightened his finger on the trigger.
Al watched, mesmerized, like a deer caught in a car's headlights.
Then, without warning, Hoffman made a break. Beckett swung the weapon around and squeezed the trigger, the weapon aimed perfectly at Hoffman's heart.
But he couldn't fire. His arms were trembling and tears of frustration streamed down his face.
But he couldn't kill for the sake of killing. Not even for Tom and Sam...
Hoffman turned. "What's wrong with you?!" he raged. "You useless do-gooding meddler! Why didn't you kill me?!"
Beckett watched him dazedly, dropping the weapon to his side.
"Kill me, you stupid son-of-a-bitch! Kill me-e-e! Don't you love your brother, your nephew? Don't their deaths mean anything to you? Don't any of their deaths mean anything to you?!"
Sam straightened then, and threw the weapon onto the veranda. It skidded to a halt at Al's feet.
"They mean too much to me to soil their memories with your blood," Sam shouted tremulously.
"You have to kill me!" Hoffman roared, then transmuted somehow so that an image of Al Calavicci stood roaring at them, red eyes glowing in rage.
The real Al fell to the chamber floor gasping for breath. Sam lunged for him, but there was nothing to catch. There was nothing he could do. His friend was turning blue, his eyes bulging, spittle trickling down the side of his mouth.
Sam shook his head violently. "No!" he cried. "Stop it. Stop it now!"
He sobbed for breath and tried again to touch his friend. Then he swung around and faced the screaming effigy of Al.
"No!" Beckett roared. "I will not kill for you..!"
The adversary screamed.
And Beckett leaped...
Moments later Sam was shaking himself, trying to focus on his new reality, to come to grips with what just happened. He shuddered, not just with the frigid cold of the afternoon.
Then he remembered. But how..?
"Sam?" said a voice behind him.
He wheeled, overjoyed. "Al?! You're alive?"
"Yeah, well, I don't know what happened. One minute my life is flashing before my eyes, next I'm standing here looking at your back. All I know for certain is Ziggy went on the fritz and I couldn't get back to you after I told you Hoffman was out of jail at the cabin. I was crazy with worry. We don't even know what Ziggy's problem was." Calavicci paused for a moment then looked his friend in the eye.
"Sam, did you kill him?" he asked softly.
Beckett shook his head. "No," he said softly. "I wanted to. But I couldn't." He took a deep, jagged breath. "Al, you were there. You helped us escape from the cabin...only you disappeared and Hoffman appeared...and then you were in the barn--"
Al was shaking his head. "Impossible," he said.
"Al, Tom is dead. And so is Sam."
Calavicci's eyes widened in disbelief. "Tom? Tom came home, Sam," he said, confused.
"He had cancer. He died in Sam's arms just before I leaped." Beckett's voice trembled. "And Hoffman k--killed Sam."
"I don't understand," Al protested. "I don't even need Ziggy to tell you that Tom is fine. The first thing I did after you leaped out of Vietnam is run a complete check on him. He came home to your parents and originally stayed in the military. Then later, when you saved the farm in the Walters leap, I checked again. Things changed slightly. Tom stayed after your father died, married a local girl and is still running the farm today."
Sam looked around properly. "Al, this is the farm, but everything's different again. Look, the basketball hoop is still there--it's all the way it should be. And the house is just the same as it was in '69. I don't understand," he said, hurt, confused and pale. He started for the front door. "I leaped, but I'm still here, but...but a different here--"
The door wasn't locked. There was an old Christmas record playing somewhere and he could smell dinner cooking. A big roast dinner if he wasn't mistaken. Christmas decorations were hung everywhere and there was a big tree.
His battered soul shook with memories and renewed grief. Whatever was happening wasn't fair. It wasn't fair to play with him, to torment him, to amplify his grief. He stepped inside and closed the door. And blinked. And blinked again.
"Sam," a woman's voice said warmly. "You said you'd get some more wood for the fire. Day-dreaming again?"
Sam stood rivetted to the spot.
"Mom..?" He whispered, in shock. It was Thelma Beckett, twenty odd years older than the last time he'd seen her, but it was her.
His mother. Here. Now.
"Samuel Beckett, you'll never change," she laughed and called out toward the kitchen. "Tom, your brother's forgotten the wood. You'll have to send one of the kids down to the barn."
Sam backpedalled in shock, blood draining from his already pale face. He swayed.
The kitchen door opened and a middle-aged Tom Beckett emerged, an affectionate arm draped around the shoulders of a small, beaming woman. He laughed, just as Sam had always remembered his laugh, his eyes glowing and his smile wide.
"Sam! John!" he called. "Your uncle's been day-dreaming over that Nobel prize again. Go get some wood for your Uncle Sam, huh? It looks like it could finally snow out there, and it's sure starting to feel like it in here."
Two teenage boys, one about fourteen and dark haired, and the other older, painfully fair and familiar, came thundering down the stairs.
Samuel Herbert Beckett shook his head at his shell-shocked uncle. "Uncle Sam, if you weren't so smart we'd have to hire someone to look after you."
Sam..! Oh God, Sam...
Beckett watched the boys race each other to the front door, unable to stop the tears from trickling down his cheeks.
He followed them out and stood on the porch watching them cross the yard.
"Al," he whispered. "What's going on? Am I dreaming?"
Calavicci tapped the handlink. "No, Sam. This is real. You--you've leaped into yourself, at home, in Indiana, in 1989. It's December 24th and your brother and his wife organized this family reunion a long time ago. Katie and her husband are in Elk Ridge doing some last minute shopping for their kids. You took a leave of absence near the end of Starbright so you could go."
Al thanked God and whomever else he could think of that Donna had been too far behind in her own research project to leave it to go with Sam that year.
"That's right. I remember the application--" Sam began. "But I don't remember being here, damn it." He tried to brush away the moisture with his sleeve, but it would not be stopped.
"God, Al, they're not dead..." he said softly.
"Obviously," Al retorted.
"Al, Before--Tom and Sam were dead," Beckett whispered.
"I know. You told me earlier, remember?" Al punched something into the handlink. "This is real spooky, Sam. According to Ziggy history is back to exactly the way I remember it: Tom came home from his second tour as healthy as when he left, and since you saved the farm when you leaped in here as Willie Walters, he took it over after your father died rather than pursue a military career. He married, had two sons and a little girl. Young Sam never ran away from home so he never had to...you know," he finished awkwardly.
"What about the others?'
"Jack. The Caretaker. The people at the apartment building..."
"Oh. Well, the Caretaker died a couple of years ago..that is, he dies in 1997, of natural causes. The rest of the family are leading fairly average lives..." Al tapped the handlink again. "Oh, and here, Jack left his wife and family for the girl in Dispatch but it didn't work out. Six months later he was reconciled with Tonia and everything worked out pretty much okay for them." Al paused to punch in rest of the information Sam had requested. A moment later he read Ziggy's response and looked up at Sam. "Ziggy said it'll take too long to check everyone who was wounded or killed in the apartment building. Sufficed to say that there is no longer any record of any shootings at that address," he reported with relief. "I can tell you though that Hoffman went to the chair in Florida in 1994.
"Everything's really...okay? I'm me...and I'm home?"
"For the time being," Al said carefully. "I don't understand what's going on here, Sam."
Sam's fists suddenly clenched. Then a somber look of comprehension gradually came over his's face.
"I...I think I do, now," he told Calavicci. "I knew him, Al. I knew Hoffman. I didn't know how, or where, but I recognized him. Do you remember when I leaped into Joshua Raye?"
"Yeah," Al said uncomfortably. "You were only there for a couple of minutes. You knocked yourself out. When you woke up you saved the old guy and then you leaped."
"No, there was more," Sam said, working hard to remember exactly. "There were two of you and one of you was trying to kill me. He said he was the devil."
"Now that I recall, you did say something like that when you woke up. I thought it must've been a nightmare from the bump on the head."
Beckett shook his head. "It all happened, somehow. That's how I knew about Tully..."
"Oh," Al said soberly.
"I ah..I had a lot of dreams for a while after that leap. At least that's what I thought they were. That's why I never said anything to anyone. This guy...with my face...was trying to kill you. You were spinning and spinning...yin and yang he said...good and bad..."
"God and...the devil," Sam finished.
"And you think Hoffman--?
"I think so," Sam replied. "I think the whole thing was some kind of test, or trial. And I think he lost."
"You mean you won, and this is your reward?"
Sam shook his head. "I think Someone Else won. I'm not even sure any more that it really happened, except maybe to you and me."
The door opened and Tom came out onto the porch, walking clean through a scowling Al.
"What's wrong, little brother?" he asked, smiling again. "You look like you've seen a ghost and you're talking to yourself."
Sam swallowed hard. "N-nothing. I was remembering a nightmare I had last night."
Tom crossed the short distance between them, serious now. "Are you sure you're okay, Sam? It must have been a bad one."
Sam looked into his brother's mature, healthy, features and then behind him at the door and swallowed again. "The worst I can ever remember," he said, his vision blurring once more. "But it looks like its going to have a happy ending."
Tom nodded, then looked around momentarily, stepped toward the door and reached for the ever-present basketball lying next to it. He came back and bonked Sam on the head with it.
"You are still weird sometimes, little brother. What you need is a challenge. We'll rescue the boys from the root-cellar and play a little two on two."
He was so alive, so vibrant, so dear that the moisture in Sam's troubled green eyes spilled over again, only this time they were tears of joy.
"Sam what is it? They overworking you at that Project of yours?" Tom demanded.
Sam shook his head silently, too overwhelmed to speak. Instead he embraced his older brother much as he had twenty years before on the high school basketball court.
"I just can't believe you're alive, that's all," he managed after a few moments and drew back. "Let's go shoot some baskets."
Tom put his hands on his brother's shoulders. "Of course I'm alive." he laughed but Sam didn't smile back. "What is it?" he demanded. Sam, what's wrong? Last time you were this weird I was going to war--"
Samuel Beckett took a deep breath. "N...nothing, Tom. Nothing. I guess it was the nightmare. Started me thinking about Vietnam again," he explained tremulously.
"Oh," Tom said softly, remembering his kid brother's passionate attempt to keep him home. "Well, at least that intuition of yours proved wrong in the end." He grinned. "Now let's go play some basketball."
Sam finally grinned back. "Okay," he croaked, suddenly overwhelmed with relief, and even more with the joy of being home. Mom was in the kitchen. Tom and Sam were alive. Everyone was home...and home was still home...
A moment later he grabbed the ball, yelled 'Hooyah!' at the top of his lungs and sprinted off the porch followed closely by his laughing older brother.
Al watched them go and smiled to himself.
"Merry Christmas, Sam..." he said softly.
Then he looked skywards. "And thanks..." he added, blinking when the sun suddenly emerged for a moment from behind snow-laden clouds.
"You're welcome," he grinned, tapped the handlink and stepped out of the imaging chamber.