Sam Beckett stirred as if from sleep and realized that he'd leaped.
And that he had, indeed, been asleep. He was in an ad-hoc bed on a mattress on the floor of a room. It was cold. There was a woman, or more a girl, asleep on another mattress next to him.
He shifted, cold air getting under the blanket. His face screwed up. It was suddenly very chilled and very wet around his crotch. He pulled his blanket off and screwed up his face again.
He was in a sleeping suit, with feet in it, yet. And it was very wet. So was the bed. He shifted again.
"Ohhh, yuck," he muttered and began undoing the studs down the front of the soft suit, until he reached the diaper and plastic pants.
"Ohhh, boy," he groaned.
Beckett slid out off the mattress bed as quietly as possible and went to the door. The girl still hadn't moved. She looked exhausted, and drawn. He slipped out and felt his way down the darkened corridor looking for a light. There wasn't one.
It appeared to be a tenement building. He decided that whoever, or whatever he was, he wasn't meant to be wandering alone. When he got back he breathed a sigh of relief to find his companion still sleeping. It also puzzled him. She was sleeping just a little too profoundly.
He finally found a bathroom of sorts, slid inside, closed the door and turned on the light. He looked in the mirror and saw...nothing.
"I'm an incontinent vampire," he muttered.
"No you're not a vampire, Sam," a voice said behind him.
He almost knocked the plastic toothbrush holder off the cupboard as he swung around, startled.
"Don't do that, Al! Why am I wearing a diaper? I'm not a chimp again, am I? I'm not walking around in chimp pee, am I?"
"No, Sam. Nothing like that," Al assured him, but the amusement in his voice annoyed Beckett.
"Oh, no, I didn't think--I'm not disabled, or sick, am I? Maybe I shouldn't have moved..?"
"No, no. You're perfectly healthy. Here," Al pointed. "Pull that potty chair over to the mirror and stand on it."
"Potty ch--?" Sam began, then swiftly dragged the plastic chair to the vanity and stood on it.
A small head of soft curls was just visible above the cupboard.
"I'm a...a baby?" Sam stammered, stunned.
"You got it," grinned Al. "Hey, this ain't working. Look in the drawers. Women always have some kind of hand mirror for doing their eyebrows and stuff."
It wasn't exactly a hand mirror. Sam found a rectangular piece of reflective glass, the kind usually found in the lid of women's make-up cases.
He was indeed a baby. A toddler of less than two if he was any judge, with red cheeks, creamy skin and wide green eyes almost exactly like his own, under honey gold curls.
"I'm a baby, Al. How can I help anyone like this? Babies this age can barely talk, they have no strength, they can't do anything for themselves. This is crazy!"
Al sighed. "Ziggy doesn't know yet. What we do know is that there is always a purpose in your leaps. Even when it's a chimpanzee," he reminded Beckett.
"I guess you're right," Sam conceded. "But could you tell Ziggy to hurry up, please? I'm wearing a wet diaper here. If I don't find some way to change it myself that girl out there is gonna want to do it for me!"
"What are you worried about, Sam? She can't see you. She can only see the baby. Course, I don't know what will happen if she tries to pick you up. Even when you were Bobo no-one picked you up."
"I don't know either, Al. I do know that my body is in this time-space, though," he said, looking at Al for confirmation.
Calavicci knew that for a fact. Samantha Fuller, working back at Quantum Leap, was proof enough of that...
"Yes, Ziggy can say with 100% certainty that you're definitely here, Sam. So I guess that even if she only sees the baby, it's still gonna be your body, sorta...kind of."
"Then I'll try not to let anyone pick me up. Find me some diapers, would you," he asked, unbuttoning the suit and pulling the top half off his shoulders. "I think I'm starting to chafe.
Al was gone a moment, then popped back in. "There's a cupboard outside this door. It has a couple of old towels, some face cloths and a stack of diapers in it, along with the silverfish and other goodies. What a dive."
"Where am I, Al?" Sam asked as he slipped out to get the diaper and then slipped back in again. "And what's wrong with the girl out there?"
Al consulted the handlink. "Michigan. Ah, she's your mother, Sam. Her name is Karen Mudge and she's seventeen years old. She's a runaway. She's from Dayton, Ohio. Ziggy ran the address and the room number, since you had no way of knowing your name and we couldn't ask junior there in the waiting room. It's 1978. As soon as Ziggy gets a handle on why you're here, now that she's found a name, I'll let you know."
Sam replaced the last pin in his new diaper and turned around.
Al shook his head. "It'll do. Put the new pilchers on. With these old cloth diapers you had to have plastic pants because otherwise there was nothing to stop the--"
Beckett was glaring at him.
"Oh, yeah. Well, if you were a baby, you'd need the plastic pants. That's what I meant, Sam. Besides, she's just gonna put some on you anyway."
The handlink made a noise.
"Ziggy says you better get out to Karen right away. She's arrested. Arrested? I didn't hear no police..."
Al hit the handlink again as Sam burst out of the bathroom.
"Sam, she's stopped breathing! Ziggy says her heart just stopped."
Beckett flew into action. "Find out what caused this, now!" he cried as he unbuttoned her shirt and hit her in the sternum with his fist. It took several attempts to get any response and a concerted effort at CPR to get the girl to breathe again.
"Damn it, where's that information, Al?"
"Coming, Sam. Coming. Ziggy's combing hospital and mortuary records now. Here it is."
"In the original history Karen was declared dead about five hours from now when someone gets sick of the baby crying and complains to the management. The Super eventually comes up here to yell at Karen and finds the body. The Coroner's report placed the time of death at about five minutes from now. Get this, Sam. The baby was gone. It was never found."
Sam sat back. Karen was breathing on her own. She wasn't conscious, but she wasn't dead, either.
"I gotta call an ambulance," Sam muttered.
"How? There's no phone in here. And if you did find a phone they'd only hear the baby. You think they're going to respond to a call by a baby?"
"What am I going to do? Wait a minute. I've got it, Al," he said. "If--if I cry enough, like the baby did, the Super will come up here and find Karen. He'll call an ambulance."
Al watched Sam try to sound like a howling baby, and put his hands over his ears, not helping his friend's concentration at all. After a considerable time, and the beginnings of a headache, Sam quit bellowing and checked Karen again.
"It's taking too long, Al. I have to go and try to get help. I'll knock on someone's door. If I leave this one open they'll know I came out of here, even if they don't understand me."
"You can try it, Sam, but be careful. Just remember they aren't going to understand what you're trying to tell them, no matter how hard you try."
Sam let himself out into the corridor, realized that the top of his suit was still down and shrugged back into it again. The legs were damp and uncomfortable.
The first door simply didn't open. The second produced a light underneath after the third knock.
Finally a middle-aged man in a singlet and his undershorts came to the door blinking sleep out of his eyes.
"Mister, my mom is sick," Sam told him.
"A baby?" The man muttered. "What are you doing out in the hall? Where's that useless mother of yours?"
Sam wanted to hit him. He pointed instead. "SICK!" He yelled.
"Go home," the man growled and started to close his door.
Sam lunged, locked his hand around the hairy wrist and pulled, not caring what the guy made of the toddler's strength. The man was too shocked to fight and was dragged by Sam the two doors to Karen's apartment.
"SICK!" Sam shouted again and pointed to the girl on the mattress before dragging the reluctant rescuer into the room.
Sam let go long enough to make a show of trying to wake Karen up, saying the word 'sick' over and over.
Finally the big man seemed to get the idea and tried to wake her himself. When he couldn't he swooped to try and pick Sam up, and Beckett only just managed to evade him.
"C'mon, kid, I have to get help for your mother. I don't want nobody dying in my building."
"No," Sam said and wrapped his arms around the leg of a dilapidated arm chair.
"All right. Stay here with your mother. I'm calling the Super."
Sam watched him go and wondered if he'd done the right thing. He still had three hours in which to somehow vanish forever.
He checked Karen's vital signs again. She needed medical attention, and fast. Her chances of making it to the hospital without immediate treatment were minimal at best.
He was about to close the door when a noise made him turn.
"Trouble, Sam," Al told him, pointing to the window.
Someone was on the fire-escape. Two men broke the window and came into the room. He was torn between sprinting for the bathroom to keep the baby safe, and protecting Karen. In the end the decision was made for him.
Beckett found himself between the two of them. They were talking to him in baby talk and trying to convince him to go with them. He spun and tried to connect a foot with the biggest one's head, but the man caught Sam's leg and turned him upside down.
"You oversized baboon!" Al yelled, helpless to do anything but watch.
"Put it down, Kaz, before the blood runs to it's head," the other one ordered.
Kaz compromised and slung Sam under his arm. Beckett decided that even if his body was in this time and this space, his mass was definitely redefined by the leap. The guy had no trouble carrying him under his arm, and no amount of struggling could get Sam out of the iron grip.
"Al!!" He yelled.
Sam found himself thrust into the back of a car. He lunged to try and get out as soon as the big man closed the door and went to get in the front, but a large hand came over the front seat and grabbed the back of his suit.
The car took off with a squeal of wheels just as Beckett got the door open. The big man leaned over and closed it again as they went around a corner, still holding him by the suit. He thrust the baby back against the back seat and told him to sit still.
Sam scowled. "Haven't you guys ever heard of car-seats?!" He yelled, but was ignored. He put on his seat belt and tried to memorize the route they were taking, but it was dark, even with the street lights. Not only that, but he found, through some quirk of physics, that he couldn't see much more out the window than the baby would have, anyway.
Eventually the car came to a halt outside a large house. They were out of the city. This had to be somewhere in the suburbs, somewhere in one of the most exclusive suburbs.
For the time being Sam submitted to the inevitable, and endured the ignominy of being carried up the steps of the house under the arm of the big guy.
A door opened and a very young man burst out with a woman who was probably the man's mother. Sam reflected that the young man looked an awful lot like the reflection of the baby he'd leaped into.
"He's beautiful!" The woman exclaimed.
"I want my mother," Sam replied, and when that seemed not to work: "Mommy!"
"Try a tantrum, Sam."
"Al, thank God. Where have you been? Who are these people?"
"Trying to find out who those goons are. We don't know who these two are yet, either, but that kid looks an awful lot like you...er, the baby, Sam."
"She's in the hospital. The Superintendent had the brains to call the paramedics quick. They had to revive her twice before they got to the hospital but they saved her."
"My, but you're a talkative one, aren't you?" The woman told Sam as they walked, or at least the goon walked, down the corridor. She then proceeded to drop into a mindless stream of baby talk.
Sam scowled. "Don't they understand what I'm saying?"
"Not really, Sam," Al replied, floating alongside him. "You're speech is coming out all jumbled to them and even when it makes sense it doesn't, if you know what I mean, because you're talking to me and I'm not here, so no one's taking any notice. Judging by their expressions the one word they did understand, and didn't like, was: 'mommy'."
"Here we are, Nicky. Here's your room. It's all yours, darling. You're home now, and grandmamma will take care of you."
Sam looked around the over-decorated and toy-laden room. There was a crib in the corner, a change table, a high-chair, a potty chair. None of which he had any inclination, or appeared to have any hope of fitting onto or into.
"Al," he said swiftly. "Grandmamma? Is this Karen's mother? Or is that kid the father? Does Ziggy know who the father is?"
"Ziggy?" The woman repeated indulgently. "Let's see. Here, this is Ziggy, and he's all for you, Nicky."
Sam took the exquisite, fluffy brown teddy bear and jammed it under his arm.
"Thanks," he muttered.
"You're a tired little boy, aren't you? Come on. Grandmamma will give you a wash before we put on a nice clean diaper and some lovely new pajamas."
Al cackled. "Go with the nice lady, Sammy. If you're good you might get a jelly bean."
"A-a-l," Sam growled as he was dragged along by the hand. "Go and find out who these people are. There has to be a birth certificate somewhere with the father's name on it."
He decided afterward that the most humiliating part was the chafing cream and the baby powder. The bath hadn't been half bad. It had been a long time since anyone had washed his back for him, and the fresh clothes were great. Anything, even flannelette pajamas, were better than jumpsuits with feet in them. And the disposable diaper beat the crap out of towelling and plastic pants.
When he was tucked in, with Ziggy the bear under his arm and a bottle of warm milk for the night, 'Grandmamma' kissed him goodnight and turned out the main light.
Sam decided to ignore the bizarre nature of the physics that allowed him to fit in the toddler's cot and concentrated on a plan of action to get out. His stomach growled in the mean time, reminding him that he hadn't eaten since he'd leaped in.
He tried the milk. It was real milk, with a touch of honey. Thank God he was old enough not to need formula. He was considering his options and working on the milk in the half-light of his baby night-light when the chamber door opened.
Al cackled. "You make a beautiful baby. Little Victoria's got nothing on you, Sam."
Sam thrust the bottle away and sat up.
"Did you have a nice bath?"
"Wonderful, thank you," Sam growled. "What have you found out?"
"First, Karen's out of danger. Second, her parents were divorced when she was three. Her mother still lives in Dayton, Ohio. Her father is unaccounted for. The birth certificate for Karen's baby son doesn't list the father's name. And for the record, your real name is Benjamin Todd Mudge."
"No Nicky," Al confirmed. "In the original history these people must have gotten away with the abduction and raised the child as Nicky or Nicholas something. If you could find out their family name Ziggy could check to see what happens to the baby."
"But I wouldn't be here if it wasn't to find a way to get Benjamin back to his real mother, right?" Sam insisted.
"Right," Al agreed tentatively. "But you still better find that name."
"All right," Sam agreed, "But I'll wait until you're sure everyone's in bed."
"One thing about it," Al pointed out, amused. "Even if you get caught--how much trouble can a seventeen-month old baby get into for snooping? I'm gonna go listen in on some conversations and see what I can find out. I'll be back when they're all asleep, Sam."
Al vanished and Sam lay back down on his pillow, then felt around under his back and extracted Ziggy the bear from between his shoulder blades. With Ziggy on one side and the bottle to finish, since he didn't look like getting anything decent to eat until morning at the earliest, Sam closed his eyes to concentrate on formulating a plan of action based on the part of the house he could visualize in his photographic mind. It occurred to him hazily that he could have unscrewed the top of the bottle to drink the milk, but by the time he'd decided to sit up and do exactly that he'd drifted off to sleep.
Beckett stirred, spitting the bottle and blinking as he looked up at Al.
"You went to sleep. I almost didn't wake you. You know, I never realized before how little we really change. When you were lying there asleep like that you really reminded me of Victoria when she's flat out asleep."
Sam half-smiled. It felt more than good to hear the warmth in Al's voice when he talked about Victoria, and to visualize the older man standing there, watching his grandchild sleep. Knowing what he did about Al's childhood, and early adulthood, it was wonderful to know he was now surrounded by family, by love.
"Did you hear anything interesting?" He asked gently.
"Ah, yeah. Those goons didn't half get paid for this job. Not only for the job, but for their silence as well. It wasn't exactly spelled out, but it seems like this might be a case of attempted murder, or at the very least, manslaughter, since they may have arranged for the hit that Karen Od'd on. They didn't say enough for me to be sure if they just wanted her strung out so they could steal the kid, or if they wanted her out of the way permanently."
"And they're all asleep now?"
"Yeah, they are. Your best bet is the study down the hall on this floor. It's the last door on the right."
Sam made his way quietly along the hall and slipped into the study with Al. Once the door was closed he found the light switch and turned it on. It didn't take long to work out from all the expensive personalized stationery and the correspondence in the in-tray on the desk that the family name was Montrose and that they were worth some considerable fortune in both real estate and mining. No wonder the house was so large and the baby's bedroom was so overdone...
Al consulted the handlink. A few moments later Ziggy posted the results.
"Here it is. Nicholas Tate Montrose. Ah, jeez. The kid grows up to be a monster brat. Everything he could possibly want is dumped in his lap. His father, Anthony Montrose, the kid we saw earlier, is virtually dumped by Eleanor Montrose--Grandmamma--when he chooses not to go to law school. Instead he goes to California to do an arts degree and cuts himself off completely from the Montrose family. That's not too long after Karen's death, actually. Maybe he didn't have anything to do with this. Maybe it was all the old lady's idea. Anyway, old lady Montrose raises Nicholas as if he was her son and heir. He has everything, and then some. Everything except real affection, discipline and guidance. He's in and out of schools from the age of about eight for disciplinary reasons, into alcohol and grass by the age of fourteen, fast women, fast drugs and fast cars by the age of seventeen. He's killed driving under the influence in a porsche, without a licence or a seat-belt, in 1995."
Sam closed his eyes. "Just for once I wish Ziggy would come up with a good outcome for somebody," he muttered.
"That's what you're here for, Sam," Al reminded him. "We better get you back to bed now. Tomorrow we have to figure out how to get you back to Karen."
"Yeah, right," Sam agreed, distracted. "Al, do you suppose you could show me where the kitchen is? I'm starved."
Sam had demolished a chicken salad sandwich and a small carton of orange juice and was about to start on a shiny red apple when main light in the kitchen came on.
"Nicky! What are you doing out of bed at this time of night?"
Anthony Montrose crossed the tiled floor swiftly. "Mother will kill both of us if she finds you down here. You better learn real quick that once the novelty value wears off your life is going to be hell, just like mine."
"Mommy," Sam said experimentally.
"Good idea, Sam," Al said, catching on quickly.
"Sorry about your mommy, kiddo. I wish I could tell her that too, but I don't seem to have been able to do anything right since I let her go. You really don't want to be a Montrose, kid. It's kinda like a preview of hell, really."
"Go home," Sam said, and bit into the apple.
"This is home, now," Montrose told him sadly.
"No," Beckett said, and took another bite.
"You've got the right idea, kid. I'm sorry you aren't going to get your way," the young man replied, bending to pick Sam up, then straightening when Sam prudently backed away. He took the baby's hand instead, removed the apple from Sam's annoyed grasp and put it in the waste bin, then took him back to bed.
"Well, now we know for sure Montrose isn't like his mother," Al said when Anthony closed the door. "Good idea drawing him like that, Sam. You get a good night's sleep and I'll get Ziggy to monitor Karen's progress. I'll see you in the morning."
Sam looked up. "Goodnight, Al," he said sleepily. "Say hello to Beth for me."
Al looked over his shoulder, affection in his eyes. "I will, Sam. Sleep well."
Sam did. The most peaceful sleep he'd had in a long time. He had, in point of fact, slept like a baby.
He woke to the sun streaming in his window. There was no clock in the room, but it had to be late. He blinked and sat up. There was no bathroom off this room either. A peek into the corridor revealed that it was deserted.
He crept along it until he found a bathroom. He spent the walk back to his room ruminating on the discovery that instant diapers had their drawbacks. One of them was a distinct reluctance to re-stick after someone--like Sam--had ripped the adhesive off in order to do what he'd gone to the john to do in the first place. It didn't take long to find a new one in the room. He hid the damaged one in the toy box.
He was sitting in the cot batting at the stupid nursery rhyme mobile out of boredom, when his grandmother came in.
"Well, we're finally awake are we?" She asked, a shade less indulgence in her voice already.
Sam nodded, just to annoy her.
"Cow," he added pointedly, scowling at her.
"Oh, very good Nicky. And there's a spoon, and a plate, a cat and a fiddle, oh, and the moon too," she enthused over the mobile.
"That wasn't what I meant," Sam muttered.
He was soon dressed in a green collared shirt, brown corduroy overalls and little yellow boots, after impressing his grandmother yet again, this time with his dry diaper.
Sam sighed and wondered how many more people were going to look in his diaper before he was done.
Breakfast only made Sam more glad he'd had the chicken sandwich during the night. The wheat cereal was fine, and he was allowed to feed himself, impressing everyone with his dexterity. It was just--well, there just wasn't enough of it. Baby serves were not enough for his man-sized body.
"I'm still hungry," He announced when he was finished.
"Did he say 'hungry?'" The cook asked as she brought more mouth watering bacon, eggs, mushrooms and hash-browns to the table.
Sam looked longingly at them and the basket of croissants in the middle of the table.
"Hungry," he repeated.
"What do you want, Nicky?" Anthony obligingly asked.
"That," Sam announced, pointing to the heated platter.
"Make him a little plate, so he can be like the big people," Eleanor Montrose told her son. He finished his cereal like a good boy, so he can play at being like the grown-ups for a treat."
Sam looked down at the plate that was put in front of him. A quarter of a hash brown cut into microscopic pieces, a sliver of bacon and most of an egg dissected into unidentifiable bits. He ate the lot with relish.
"He was hungry," Anthony observed and handed him a finger of toast.
"I feel like the family dog," Sam muttered, and munched away with a scowl on his angelic little face.
Somebody put a cup of juice on his tray. He drank it gratefully, reflecting that it was one thing to fit his size-eleven feet into a woman's size five shoe, but entirely another to fit his six-foot frame into a baby's high-chair. His scientific mind longed to be exploring the connotations, the beauty of the physics of that, instead of sitting there eating micro-portions of breakfast and sucking on a training cup of orange juice.
After breakfast Grandmamma promptly disappeared, leaving Anthony to entertain Sam.
After endless games with blocks, train sets and educational toys, Anthony Montrose finally called a halt.
"Finally," Sam muttered, batting one last spinning animal on the brightly colored multi-activity board.
"How about we go out into the grounds, Nick? Want to see the ponies?"
"Anything would be better than this," Sam told him pointedly.
Montrose smiled. "I wish I could understand what you're saying," he said and bent suddenly to pick Sam up.
Beckett failed to dodge quickly enough.
"You are one heavy little dude," he said, straining to lift him off the ground. He succeeded, just as the goon named Kaz had.
It seemed to Sam that some kind of shift or transference occurred when he was picked up. Independently he was his own mass and dimension, but in someone's arms, in his clothes, or in the various baby furniture he suddenly shifted to the baby's mass and size. Once again his mind itched to explore the physical claws that would govern such an action, the pure beauty of the mathematics involved. And once again it was foiled.
Instead he concentrated on the sensation of being carried in someone's arms for the first time since he was a small child, or at least since he'd sprained his ankle trying to get Aggie the cow out of a ditch. He was ten and Tom was sixteen. Tom had carried him all the way home.
There had been a warm, safe feeling about that. This felt just plain ridiculous. Sam decided that grown men weren't meant to be carried around on other men's hips, no matter what their mass.
Inside the stable door Montrose put him down again and took his hand. Sam felt almost as if he was being poured back into his yellow boots.
They visited each of the horses in turn, Sam listening to the one sided conversation Benjamin's father had struck up with him.
Anthony talked about his own childhood, the horses, a great deal about what a witch his mother was, even furnished some insight into Benjamin's conspicuously absent grandfather, who according to Anthony, had run screaming from the estate and more specifically, Anthony's mother, years ago, to make a new and vastly happier life for himself in New England somewhere.
"Your mother was the first real, beautiful thing to come into my life in a very long time," Montrose told Sam softly. "And I loved her so much. Then your grandmamma found out. Not only was I suddenly a criminal for ignoring all the eligible debutantes to be with a girl from 'the lower classes' I was an out and out monster for daring to date a homeless person, someone off the streets, no less. Mother was so wrong. Karen was the smartest, most beautiful person I ever knew." He tousled Sam's hair. "Next to you, little guy. I wish I knew what she called you."
"Ben," Sam told him.
"Yep, that's me. BEN," Sam confirmed.
"Well, assuming that you know your own name, that'll be our secret. You only got stuck with Nicky because your Uncle Nick was smart enough to crash his boat and get off this insane merry-go-round permanently," he muttered.
Sam looked up, surprised, and saw tears in the young man's eyes.
"You really loved him, didn't you?" He said softly.
Anthony looked down at his charge. "Yes I did," he said.
Sam did a double take. Montrose didn't seem to notice that he'd understood the baby's babble.
They spent a pleasant afternoon ambling around the estate. Sam enjoyed being out in the sun, even enjoyed listening to his companion's almost cathartic rambling about his family, his life, and most particularly, his time with Karen.
Montrose raided the kitchen at one point and they went up to the rose garden and ate lunch on the grass. It was a blessing for Beckett, because it was all finger food, and Montrose didn't seem to mind what he sampled.
Afterward they were both drowsy from the warmth of the afternoon sun. Montrose hooked an arm around Sam and lay flat on his back, the baby tucked into his side.
"Go to sleep, shorty. This is a lot better than consignment to your crib," he pointed out as Sam squirmed ill-temperedly.
The moment Beckett could tell he was asleep he extricated himself from the arm. The estate was large. Looking for likely exits turned out to be a bigger project than Sam anticipated. He reached the area where the garages and workshops were and slipped across the cobbled area to survey his chances of stealing a car at some future point, only to come face to face with a very large rottweiler with an extraordinarily bad attitude.
"Nice doggy," Sam told it, then realized that the dog could see him, not Benjamin. He considered his track record with strange dogs for about one second then turned and fled.
He retraced his memorized route back to Montrose's side at considerable speed, the sound of the dog's grunts as it galloped close behind him ringing in his ears.
Fear beat in Sam's ears. He'd seen what one wild dog could do on the farm. Adrenalin and terror gave his feet wings.
The animal was only a breath away from latching on to him when Montrose appeared out nowhere looking for his son.
"Nero! Down!" He yelled as Sam ran headlong at him, the dog literally breathing down his back.
"NERO!!" Montrose roared and caught Sam in his arms, his embrace tight and safe. Sam held on.
The dog subsided.
Montrose was holding his son so tightly that Sam could hear his heartbeat. Montrose had been as terrified as he was.
Beckett realized then that Anthony Montrose loved his child as much as he loved Karen Mudge.
And, that...if he closed his eyes for just a moment, he could go back to the farm and any number of times when Tom had rescued him from his own recklessness as a child.
By evening Sam found himself growing fond of Ben's new found parent, and wondering if he were there to reunite the small family, in spite of the 'wicked witch of the west.'
The pair sneaked inside to one of the bathrooms and Sam forbore Montrose to wash his face, his hands and, after a long sigh, to check his diaper before they went to greet 'Grandmamma' on her return.
As they approached the main sitting room Al returned and fell in alongside Sam.
"Have a good day?" He asked.
Sam thought about it a moment, the corner of his mouth lifting slightly.
"Yeah," he said eventually, smiling. "Yes, I did."
"Sam, Ziggy's been running scenarios on the situation here, and her best odds are on Tony here, getting back with Karen again. Ziggy gives Benjamin a seventy-three percent chance of a decent life with them, but the other scenarios, including you going back to Karen alone, all have less than a fifty percent chance of success.
"Why not with just Karen? There are a lot of successful single parents," Sam argued.
"Because Karen is basically a homeless person. Why do you think you were sleeping on mattresses on the floor in that apartment? She wasn't renting the place. For ten bucks a week, tax-free, the Super was making money on a place he couldn't afford to repair, and couldn't legally rent while it was in that condition. Welfare has been on her case for months. Besides, old lady Montrose isn't going to give up that easily even if you go back to Karen. And most importantly, the environment on the street is no place to give a kid a decent upbringing," Al finished passionately.
Sam hung his head, then raised it again as Anthony Montrose lifted him onto a couch.
"So, what have we been up to today?" Eleanor Montrose asked, the lines deep at the corners of her eyes despite the thick foundation covering her face.
"Oh we had a good time," Anthony told her. "Nicky played with all his new toys. He demonstrated a great aptitude for learning things on some of those educational toys you bought him. After that we went out in the sunshine. Your new heir toured his domain," he finished ironically.
"I see," she said. "And the incident with Nero?"
Anthony's expression turned to rage. "Who's been spying on me this time, mother? You should be careful. Push me too far and I may just decide that I've had all I can take of being a Montrose. How I envy Nick," he spat, and walked out.
After less than a beat, Sam got down and ran after his 'parent.' The last thing he wanted to do was spend time with his 'grandmamma'.
Eleanor Montrose sat rigidly in her chair watching the toddler's waddling gait as it hurtled up the corridor after her son. Her mouth was set in a flat, iron hard line and her eyes stared, unblinking into the past. By the time the baby was out of sight the first tears appeared, almost timidly, slipped over and trickled in orderly fashion down the make-up caked cheeks.
Al Calavicci found Anthony Montrose and Sam in the rose garden. Montrose was sitting with his knees drawn up staring broodily into thin air and Sam was standing to the right, and just behind him, not certain what to do next.
"Sam..?" Al said quietly.
Beckett turned, relief in his face, and walked over to the hologram.
"Let's walk," Al told him.
"So have you got anything new?" Sam asked.
"Not much," Al said. "The biggest problem we have right now is that Karen is in a lot of distress about the baby being missing. If you don't do something soon, Sam, she could crack up. She's been under a lot of pressure for a long time for someone her age. There is literally no-one to support her in this."
"I still don't know how to help, Al. I don't know how to make him realize that he still loves her."
"Run away," Al suggested. "It's all you've got left. You have to run away. The first, most obvious place for him to look is the hospital."
"Run away? Al, I'm seventeen months old. The first person who sees me on my own is going to grab me for my own safety."
"First of all you are not seventeen months old. Benjamin is. Second of all, you are smart enough and strong enough to avoid any well-meaning passer-by. You just have to be on your toes."
"Maybe," Beckett conceded.
"Well, this will help. Old lady Montrose goes into the city every day to work...well to sit on various boards and stuff anyway. So all you have to do to get that far at least, is to stow away in her car in the morning."
"So which car does she take?"
"Which one do you think? The most expensive of course. The middle garage has a mercedes in it. That's your ticket out of here. Her worship drives herself."
"I'll try, Al. It would help if you were around when I make my ah, getaway--"
"I'll be here," Al promised. "Is he gonna be all right?"
Sam frowned. "I don't know, Al. What does Ziggy know about Nicholas Montrose - the original Nicholas Montrose?"
Al consulted the handlink. "Lessee, Nicholas Tate Montrose. He was five years older than Anthony. They were photographed together a lot at speedboat races. You know, the kid brother in the pits, cheering on his idol, that sort of stuff. He had it all: money, women, plenty of trophies from the boat races, not to mention a fairly successful college football career until he decided boat racing was more exciting. His mother had his whole future planned. He was supposed to become the dynastic head of the Montrose clan his father failed to be. Only his mother's expectations must've been a lot heavier burden than anyone realized."
"What happened?" Sam asked softly, remembering the look in Anthony's eyes when he'd thrown Nicholas' death at his mother.
"The drinking and the drugs got worse and worse. He came home less and less. The coroner ruled it as an accidental death but the society gossip columns all hinted that he was in no frame of mind to be racing. Not only that but the results of blood tests done immediately after the accident were suppressed. Word was that he was pretty stoned even before he reached the course."
"So Eleanor replaces him with Benjamin and history repeats itself..." Sam said. "Why does she despise Anthony so much?"
"Because he's not Nick," Al said simply.
Sam looked at him then.
"Happens all the time, Sam. Eleanor idolized Nick. When he was alive Anthony was Nick's little brother. That meant something to her. Now that he's dead, Anthony's very existence makes her angry. Why should he be alive when Nick has been taken away from her? And everything Anthony does to thumb his nose at her and the Montrose family is taken as an affront to Nick's memory--which of course is crap, but grief gives people strange perceptions on things."
"What are you doing, Ben? Got an imaginary friend?"
Sam looked around. Montrose was coming toward him. He nodded his head.
Montrose smiled. "I wish I had one. What's his name?"
Sam shot a glance at Al. "Al," he said.
The other man laughed. "Sounds like a bookie."
"Oh ha-ha," Al retorted.
"And what does Al have to say for himself?"
"Mommy," Sam said deliberately.
The momentary amusement washed off Montrose's face. "You miss her don't you?"
Sam nodded his head vigorously.
"Mommy," he said again, because single words seemed to work better.
Montrose ruffled Sam's hair again. "I know it's not fair. It's not even right, but there isn't much I can do about it right now, kiddo. Even if you went back to your mommy, big bad grandmamma would only sue for custody on the grounds she's not a fit mother."
"He's right, Sam. And with her money and influence she'd win, too. The only way out is for him to realize how much he loves Karen, and to marry her. Neither Nicholas the first, or Anthony were completely dependent on the Montrose estate. Ziggy says that before he left, their father tied up a third of the estate's assets in trust for the boys, so that Lucretia Borgia there would never have complete control of their lives."
"Then that's it," Sam said quietly. "I have to run away tomorrow. It's the only hope we have of getting Anthony and Karen back together..."
Sam sat through an evening meal of mashed vegetables while the others ate filet mignon, resigning himself to the fact that he was going to be put down at seven o'clock. He drew the line, however, at being bathed and diapered by the dragon again.
His well-planned tantrum, however, was very short-lived. The display of foot-stamping and yelling came to an abrupt halt when grandmamma produced a pacifier and unceremoniously rammed it into Sam's mouth.
Fortunately for him, Anthony volunteered to relieve his mother of the bathing chore. The moment they were out of the room Sam ripped the pacifier from his mouth and hurled it down the corridor.
"Not into rubber, 'eh?" Anthony laughed. "Well, let's get this over with so you can go to bed. "You've probably got a wet diaper. If you don't have one by now we'll have to think about taking you to the doctor."
Sam hadn't thought of that. Without warning he pelted away from Anthony, pulling his overall bib undone and his shirt up as he went. He hurtled into the bathroom and straight to the sink, filled a hand under the tap and pulled the front of the diaper away from his body.
The water was cold and Sam gasped as it arrived at its destination, but he didn't have time for anything else.
When Montrose came in, obviously unhurried by his son's enthusiasm, he found Sam sitting on the floor in just the diaper, playing with a colorful plastic ark full of animals.
"You're a pretty smart kid," Anthony grinned. "C'mon, let's get this over with."
It was a much more civilized bath from Sam's point of view. He was put in a tub with technically far too much and too warm water for a toddler, given his toys and then left to play, while Montrose browsed through a boat magazine.
This time the crib didn't seem quite so inviting. Seven o'clock in the evening wasn't exactly Sam's idea of bedtime. As soon as he was left alone he extricated himself from it and pottered around the room looking for something to do.
The only part of the room not specifically dedicated to the needs of Benjamin Mudge was an antique bookcase. Sam opened a classic version of Call of The Wild. In childish hand the words: Nicholas T. Montrose were scrawled across the inside cover.
There were a great many classic adventure stories a boy might read, and an equal number a teenager reaching for adulthood might dabble into. From Wilbur Smith to Robert Heinlein, they stood, row after row.
Eventually Sam settled on A Tale of Two Cities, a story which for some reason he never got round to finishing at school. Of course between basketball, chores and his science projects, there wasn't a lot of time to dwell on boring literary assignments.
He fell asleep three pages before the end, the side of the cot still down, the main light still on and the book in his right hand. His bottle was untouched.
Which was how Al Calavicci found him early the next morning. Al grinned to himself. That was twice. It was a rare thing for him to find Sam sleeping during his leaps. Unconscious occasionally, but generally awake...
"Sam...Sam?" he called. "Wake up, Sam."
Beckett stirred. "Al?"
"C'mon, Sam. You gotta get dressed. In half an hour old lady Montrose is gonna get in her car and head for town.
Sam got himself out of bed. The problem now was to find clothes. The bureau seemed like the logical place to start. The top drawer held a bonus. Trainer pants. Real underwear. He found a t-shirt and a windbreaker. He hauled open the bottom drawer and Al saw his face split into an ear-to-ear grin. Among the pajamas, toddler overalls, short pants and jumpsuits were miniature jeans. Expensive, exact, beneton replicas of the real thing.
"I feel like a human being again, Al," he said when he was done.
"Yeah, well you've got fifteen minutes to get down to that car and get yourself hidden or you're not going to make it," Al told him impatiently.
Sam moved swiftly through the house and out the back door without being seen. Using the cover of the gardens he made his way just as quickly to the cobbled yard in front of the garages. With Nero foremost in his thoughts, he carefully slipped across and tried the garage door.
"Locked," he muttered.
"That's okay, Sam. There's a side access door from the other garage there. That one probably isn't locked because Ziggy says there's no car in there.
Al was right. What he forgot to mention was that it also happened to be Nero's sleeping quarters. Sam opened the roll-a-door only to come face to face with a very annoyed rottweiler.
"A-a-al!" He yelled, the sweat picked out on his brow, his heart rate soaring.
In an instant Calavicci transferred himself to a position directly in front of Sam, gestured to the dog then shifted to Sam's right, still gesticulating.
The dog was distracted enough for Sam to make a break for the access door.
Al lead the dog in the opposite direction.
Moments after Sam closed the door behind him Al reappeared next to the car.
"C'mon, c'mon, Sam. Get in the back."
Sam looked in the window. "She's gonna see me. There's no rug or anything in there."
"Well, find something. Look, over there, there's a coat. Somebody's rain coat. It's dark enough that she could miss it if she's distracted enough. And when you get a chance, do that shoe lace up, or you'll trip over yourself."
Sam crouched in the back on the floor of the car with the smelly rain coat pulled over him, expecting to be discovered any moment.
Moments later the roller door went up and he could hear the sound of Eleanor Montrose's voice deep in conversation with, or at least reeling off complaints to, the gardener. The driver's side door opened and closed, and an electric window wound down all without her tirade stopping. Sam exhaled with relief as the engine turned over and the car slid out of the garage.
The trip to town was cramped and uncomfortable but blessedly short. The car seemed turn and descend after a time. The temperature in the vehicle seemed to suddenly drop, as though they'd left the sunshine behind. Eventually the car turned again and halted. The door opened and after a moment or two Montrose got out and locked it.
"Okay, Sam, you can get out now," Al said.
Sam threw off the cover and hauled himself up.
"You were there all the time?" He demanded.
Al smiled. "Sure I was. I promised didn't I? I rode up front with her highness there."
"Great," Sam muttered, letting himself out of the car. "Just great. Okay, where do we go from here?"
"Okay, you're in an underground car park. You have to find a stairwell, because if people find you alone in an elevator there's no telling where you could end up."
Sam took the stairs by twos. They were three levels from the street.
"Which way?" He asked, sticking his head out the exit door.
"Now is the tricky part. You have to go left here, Sam, and make your way down three blocks to Macy street. Take another left there and follow that road until you get to the hospital gates."
Sam made a block and a half by attaching himself to oblivious women, walking close to, but just behind them. He'd just crossed a lane with his latest surrogate parent when she unexpectedly turned into a department store and left him stranded with people coming at him and no convenient female form to attach himself to. In a moment of panic he darted into the store after her, making his way between racks of clothes and many bodies toward the side entrance. He moved to dash across the open space to the doors and was cornered by an elderly lady who smelled of lavender water and mothballs.
"Have you lost your mommy, sweetheart?" She crooned.
"No, no. I' m fine," Sam assured her, back-pedalling furiously.
"Poor little thing," she said and bent to take his hand.
Sam seized the opportunity to dart around her and out the doors.
"I am not a poor little thing," he yelled at Al as they made their way down the street. "Remind me if I ever have kids to treat them as people and not puppies!"
"Got it," Al told him, amused. "Watch it now, Sam."
A youngish woman in a tight business skirt walked by them.
"Hey, she looks like the motherly type. Follow those buns for a while."
"Well, its that or explain to that nice policeman over there why you're out wandering the streets on your own."
"I'm following," Sam muttered.
The 'motherly' type got him to Macy street, where he had to turn while she continued onward.
Macy street was away from the main shopping area so there were less people for Sam to contend with, but it was also far more difficult to blend in. He opted for moving as quickly as possible, running in most instances, and darting into stores when anyone took too much of an interest.
Until the stores ran out. They soon gave way to doctor's offices, vacant lots, legal offices and other assorted professional premises. Sam began to run again.
"How far, Al?" He puffed. There were almost no people on the streets, but there was a constant flow of traffic.
"Look, up there, Sam. See that big, red-brick building. That's it. The gates are just up ahead, on the other side of the street."
"I gotta cross the road?"
"Yeah, Sam. You're a big boy. You can do it."
"Very funny, Al. It's one thing for a seventeen-month old to be on the footpath. Aren't people, even drivers, gonna get a little nuts about a baby crossing the road on its own?"
"You've got a point there," Al conceded. "Well, we'll just have to pick our time, here. Watch the traffic and be on the look out for somebody to follow across the road. Soon as you get a good break make a run for it."
It took some time to get a break in the traffic big enough for their purposes.
"Now, Sam!" Al yelled when a big gap yawned.
No one was crossing the road in their vicinity. Sam made a dash for it anyway. Half way across he managed to tread on the still-trailing shoe lace with his other sneaker and went sprawling on the road.
"No!!" A voice in the distance shouted.
"Get up Sam! Cars! A mother of a semi' is coming! You're gonna get squished! Get up!" Al shouted.
Sam started to get to his feet and found himself hauled up and carried to the kerb, blown and blustered by the roiling wake of a semi thundering through behind them.
"Ben, how did you get here? You could've been killed!" sobbed a familiar voice.
Sam found himself enveloped in a bear-hug from his over-wrought parent. He returned the embrace, the realization that he was a lot closer to being a road-kill than even he realized leaving him a little weak in the knees.
"Sam, you were nearly pizza!" Al said shakily. "Montrose must have discovered you were missing and came straight here. He must've thought Karen had someone kidnap you or something, to expect you to get here that fast."
Anthony Montrose let go of his baby son. "This is crazy. What were you doing out here on the street alone?" he demanded.
Sam looked into the troubled eyes, then up at the red brick building.
"Mommy," he said loudly.
Montrose reached out and brushed the curls from Benjamin's eyes.
"Ben..." he sighed. "You came so far. I don't know how, but you did, and if God or Fate or whatever wants that badly for you to get back to your mom, I'm not gonna stop you. Come on."
"Atta boy, Tony!" Al shouted jubilantly.
Sam braced himself to leap. Nothing happened. He found himself drawn along by the hand toward the entrance to the building.
It wasn't exactly visiting hours, but Montrose lied, identifying himself as husband and Sam as the son of Karen Mudge.
It was a large ward. Some of the women sharing it were asleep, or too ill to sit up, some were drinking coffee and others were occupying themselves with everything from knitting to magazines.
Karen was lying on her pillow staring into nothingness, her back to the entrance. Sam left Montrose's side without objection from him and moved swiftly to her bedside.
"Mommy," he said softly, reached out and touched her cheek.
"Ben," she whispered, as if afraid to believe he was real. "Ben?!"
"Me!" Sam announced in his best toddler voice.
Karen sat up, astonished, overjoyed, weeping, reached over and wrapped her arms around him. Sam hugged her back, hard. It was a long time before she let him go, and then only to look at him, to assure herself he was real.
Sam decided that it was time to make the next step. He pointed.
"Daddy," he said.
Karen followed his little fingers to Anthony, who was standing silently at the foot of the bed, tears in his eyes.
"You...you took my son?"
"Our son," he said. "No, not me. That was all the dragon's idea. I had nothing to do with it. She didn't even tell me until ten minutes before they brought him to the house."
"She can't have him," Karen told him. "He's mine. No matter what she does, how much money she spends. Ben is mine, not hers, not yours."
Sam watched Montrose's eyes grow bleak. He had to do something. He toddled back down to the foot of the bed and opened his arms to be picked up.
"Daddy," he said hopefully.
Anthony looked down at his child then across at the woman still loved.
"Daddy," he confirmed, picked Sam up, came to Karen's side and sat him on the bed next to her.
"Karen, I never stopped loving you. I was stupid enough and weak enough to let her make my decisions for me before, but I'm not Nicholas and she can't live my life for me any more."
Karen put out a hand and slid her fingers into his as he spoke.
"I'm sorry about everything. I'll probably never be able to make it up to you, but I don't want to lose you again," he told her passionately. "I want you, and I want my son. Will you marry me?"
"I dreamed of you saying those words, but I didn't think...up until a few moments ago I thought my life was over," she whispered, weeping. "Now you're both here. I never wanted anything more in my life than to be with you."
"How touching," a voice said behind them.
"Ahh, Sam, it's her. Lucretia Borgia. No wonder you didn't leap yet. Jeez," Al grumbled.
"Mother. Whatever you're going to say you can save it. You almost destroyed my life once, then you almost killed Karen and put Ben on the same road to destruction as Nick. But you aren't going to do it again. Karen and I will be married and we will be out of your life as soon as I can get her out of this hospital. Benjamin is my son, not yours."
"I'll sue you through every court in the land. No court is going to give a baby like Nicky to an unfit mother like her, or a...a child like you, when I can offer him everything."
"Everything but love and understanding. Everything but the truth, mother. You killed Nicky. This is Benjamin, not Nick. And there is only one unfit mother here."
Eleanor Montrose grew very still and very pale. Sam thought she might faint.
"Why must you hate me so, Tony?" She asked, her eyes glittering.
"Why must you love Nick so much that there isn't any room for me? And why must you hate yourself so much that you can't love any one or anything?" He retorted.
"Do I?" She whispered. "Is that what it is? Is that why I can't bear to look at you, at your eyes--your father's eyes? Is that why when you do the little things that he used to do I feel so much rage I just want to hurt you and hurt you? Why did your father have to go away?"
"He went because you drove him away, lady," Al muttered. "Ziggy says she's a controller. Somewhere in her life something made her believe that she could only be content if she was in control of everything around her, almost to the point of obsessiveness. Edward Montrose couldn't take it any more and he bailed out. Simple as that."
Sam pulled on Anthony's sleeve. Montrose looked down on his son.
Sam pointed at Eleanor Montrose, looked up at Al for a moment, saw him nodded his head in assent and then said in a loud voice:
"NO!" And shook his head violently. "NO!" He repeated.
Anthony looked at Karen, and then at his mother. "He's right," he said in a strong voice. "It's over, mother. You can't change. You proved that with dad and with Nick. We are getting married, and we are leaving this state. I suggest that you forget about trying to get custody of Benjamin, because if you do try you will never see any of us again, I swear to you. Whatever it takes, we will make certain you never lay eyes on either me or my son again."
Eleanor Montrose's color returned, heightened and then flushed scarlet before she turned on her heel and left without another word.
Al bashed at the handlink. "Sam, Sam you did it! She doesn't challenge for custody. These three go to California, but only after going to Dayton first to see Karen's mother and to show her the baby. Karen and her mother are reconciled. They have a good life, Sam."
"What about Benjamin?" Sam asked.
"Well, he's all but wrecked the waiting room. I tripped over some blocks in there this morning and almost broke my--"
"Al!!" Sam hissed.
"Oh. Okay." He hit some buttons. "Yeah, it's okay. Ben's gonna be just fine. He grows up to become a teacher, one of the best. He takes jobs nobody else wants. He's working in one of the toughest neighbourhoods in South Los Angeles as we speak. Here in 1999, that is. You know what I mean..."
"Yeah, Al, I know." Sam grinned and looked around to see his parents locked in an impassioned kiss. "Mushy stuff," he said happily.
The two parted and looked down at their progeny.
"I heard that, kiddo," Montrose smiled and ruffled his hair.
"Come here and give me a big hug," Karen told him.
Sam slid closer to her, put one arm around her neck and one arm around Anthony's, felt both their arms hug him close and grinned as he felt himself leaving.
His mouth and nose smarted from a sudden impact simultaneous with the moment of arrival. The street was dark. Few vehicles were about other than the rows of parked cars along the narrow road, and he was surrounded by six or seven young men reeking of a combination of cigarette smoke and drink and looking anything but friendly...
"Okay guys," he said carefully. "What's the problem here? Is there anything I can do for you?"