Sam Beckett became aware that he'd leaped again and looked around, disoriented as always. Only this time there was a breeze, spray and the roaring of surf.
The moment he realized he was sitting on a surfboard was the also the moment he realized what the roaring was. He looked behind him, then threw himself down on the long board and started paddling for the shore.
The giant wave bore down on him. Other surfers were rising across the face of it, masters of their short, pointed boards. Sam was thrashing through the water trying to look as though he was doing something right, and wondering how well he could swim.
The wave arrived, the malibu board accelerating rapidly as it was lifted by the vast volume of water. Frantically, he drew on his photographic memory for anything, any film, any picture he'd seen. He remembered one.
The mere fact that he made it to his feet exhilarated him beyond all reason. That he remained upright for more than a few seconds pleased him even more.
...Until the board slid sideways, and Sam didn't. Suddenly he was tumbling, rolling, spearing through the turbulent water, trying, struggling to get to the surface, and air. It seemed like forever. It almost was.
Finally, without knowing how, he broke the surface and gasped for breath. The board bobbed up nearby, tethered to his leg by a long cord.
In the distance he could see the next wave in the set coming fast. He dragged himself back on to the bright red fibreglass and began to paddle again. This time, he decided, he would stay down and body-board to the shore.
It worked. It wasn't very dignified, but it worked.
"What's the matter, Donnelly?" Yelled a youth whose sun- bleached locks trailed in the breeze. "Scared of the big bad waves?"
"Something like that," Sam muttered under his breath, dragging the big surfboard out through the shallows and dumping it on the sand. He had no idea what to do next. He didn't know which was his gear or where it could be. It occurred to him that he didn't even know what sex he was. He looked down and sighed with relief. Board shorts, and no top. "I'm a guy," he said happily, then frowned. That would depend on what year it was and which beach he was on. "I think," he added.
"Nice board, Sam."
Sam jumped, then turned slowly, a scowl on his face.
"How long have you been here?"
"Long enough to see you do a half-gainer into that beautiful wave. What a waste."
"Don't tell me you used to be a surfer, too," he muttered.
Al laughed. "Me? Nah. Some of the guys used to mess around with surfboards when I was doing my flight training. I used to mess around with the girls on the beach."
"Figures," Beckett growled. "Who am I, and where's my gear?"
"Ah, you're Finn Donnelly, and I don't think you don't have to worry about that, Sam. You're a bum, basically. This isn't even your board. It goes back to the hut you're currently crashing in. Up the beach there, across the grass, across the highway and down the road about a hundred yards."
"Where am I, Al? California or somewhere?"
"You don't know?" Calavicci asked, surprised. "Look around you, Sam. You don't get it like this on the mainland."
Sam frowned, then looked around again. "Mainland? Are you saying I've leaped into a surf bum in Hawaii?"
Al nodded. "It's 1994...Sam, that's the closest you've been yet to home," he added.
"1994," Sam said thoughtfully. "Al, my mother is here, in Hawaii. She lives with my sister and her husband in Honolulu."
"I know, kid. You're not in Honolulu, though. You're on the other side of the island."
"Then I am on Oahu?" he asked eagerly.
"Sam, it looks like you're here to help Finn Donnelly. We don't know how, yet, but that's what you have to think about. Everybody here sees Finn, not you."
Sam nodded moodily, shouldered the board and started up the beach.
"What do you know about this Finn guy?"
"He's twenty-two years old. He was born in Monterey, California. No family left. He lost his parents when he was fifteen and vanished before the authorities could place him in foster care. He's been on the road ever since. He works to feed himself and to get his next fare to wherever he wants to go. He got here by crewing on a yacht being delivered to Maui. By the time they realized that he didn't know anything about sailing he'd learned enough to be useful. Anyway, they didn't throw him overboard."
"Is this all I do? Surf?"
Al shook his head. "No. You have to go change before your ride gets here. What we do know is that today Finn Donnelly finally lands another job. You have three job interviews to go to on the other side of the island."
The house was a flop, and that was about all it was. It was also deserted. There were clothes, sand-covered body-boards, fins, wet towels, compact discs, clothes and sundry other mess scattered everywhere.
Sam stepped over a pile of shoes inside the doorway of one of the sleeping areas, saw the old standard mirror in one corner and went straight to it.
Finn was tall, broad-shouldered and muscular. He had a couple of day's growth on his chin, long sun-bleached hair and topaz-yellow eyes. He also wore a short chain at his throat with an old St. Christopher medal on it.
Beckett sighed. He was just a kid.
He hunted around until he found clothes that matched the size of his wet board shorts and took them to the bathroom. After a shower that was no more a trickle and a shave with a plastic throw-away safety razor Sam put on the shirt and jeans.
A little judicious snooping revealed a wallet, personal papers, money and sunglasses all stored in a very old, battered tin box with a hinged-lid.
Al re-appeared as Sam pushed his foot into the last boot.
"Well you look almost ready to go out and land a job," he said approvingly.
Calavicci pointed to the mirror. "Yeah, well, your--his hair looks like hell."
Beckett squinted at the mirror and made a face. He brushed at his hair until Finn's gold locks were smooth instead of wind-woollen, jammed on the sun-glasses and turned.
"When is this ride supposed to get here?"
A car horn beat Al to a reply. He waved his cigar in it's direction instead.
"Ask and ye shall be given."
Sam made a face. "Tell me which interview is supposed to be successful."
"The second one, but you still have to do them all, so that nothing changes. You're not here to get Finn a job. That's a given...or was."
"So, what exactly am I here for, Al?" he asked, looking at a hand-bill pinned haphazardly on the wall. It was an advertizement for a surfing competition. "To win a surfing contest or something?"
When Calavicci didn't answer immediately, Beckett swung around, genuine panic in his eyes.
Al guffawed. "No, Sam. Not even God would put an Indiana farm -boy on a surfboard in front of the pipeline."
He exhaled. "A-l-l," he muttered as the car-horn sounded again.
They stepped out onto the rickety porch.
"All we know for certain at this stage is that the kid over there in the moke is going to die in three day's time."
"Die?" Sam repeated, his heart sinking as it had many times before. He waved to the youth at the wheel of the car. "How?"
"Well unless you change history, she's found in a dumpster on a back street in Honolulu with her neck broken."
"Ride in the car with us," Beckett said through his teeth as they approached the car. "And tell me everything you know about her, starting with her name."
"Her name is Amanda Jane Cassidy. Since she hates all her names everyone calls her Cass. She's fifteen.
"Fi--!" Sam stopped himself, turned his head. "Fifteen?" He hissed. She looked twenty if she was a day.
"Fifteen," Al confirmed as he arrived at the passenger side of the vehicle. "And she's your girlfriend."
In spite of himself, Beckett wheeled again, looked at Al in a wild-eyed fashion, scowled and got into the vehicle, only to be immediately enveloped in Cass' waiting arms.
He extricated himself with difficulty from both her arms and her lips, holding on to her hands as gently as he dared.
"Cass..." he began uncomfortably.
She looked at him suspiciously, her long chestnut hair rumpled by both the breeze and wrestling with Beckett.
"So, why don't we get going? When I get a job, then we can celebrate," he improvised swiftly.
She relaxed, smiled and started the moke. "You're worried?"
"Yeah," Sam suddenly remembered. "About you driving without a licence. He climbed out and walked around to the driver's side.
"Move over," he ordered.
"Since when?" she demanded.
"Since you haven't even turned sixteen yet. I don't want to get arrested before I even get to the interviews."
She arched her back provocatively. "You could get arrested anyway," she reminded him.
Sam sighed. "Not if I can help it," he said through his teeth, put the little vehicle in gear and roared out of the driveway.
The first interview started out well.
How hard could it be for a Nobel prize winner to get a job as a janitor? Beckett mused as he watched his prospective employer peruse the pitiful resume Finn had prepared.
He pondered the question again as he came out of the big building and walked down to the kerb where Cass was waiting with the car.
"No luck?" she asked sympathetically.
He shook his head. He still hadn't worked out where it went wrong. Somewhere between 'have you ever done this before?' and not knowing his own social security number, he supposed.
"That's one," a voice said behind him.
Beckett looked around. "Al, I messed it up, badly."
"So did Finn. Don't worry about it. Finn hasn't got one single qualification. This next one is the important one. You charm the lady of the house, pretend you know a lot about flowers, trees and stuff like that and you're in."
Sam sighed. "How did I know there'd be a woman?" he muttered, turned and started the car.
"A woman?" Cass inquired.
"The..the next interview. I'll be seeing a woman. Maybe I'll have better luck this time."
Cass put her hand on his leg and trailed it up his thigh. "As long as you only use legitimate means of persuasion," she warned.
Sam took a hand off the wheel and trapped the wayward digits before they reached their apparent destination.
"Not while I'm driving, okay?"
Cass scowled. "What's with you today, Finn? You're no fun."
"I'm trying to get a job," Sam growled. "I told you we'd celebrate after." And when Cass didn't answer, continued. "Now, c'mon, cheer up."
Cass snorted. "God you're wet, Donnelly. I thought you were really cool.
"Yeah, Sam. Nobody could ever accuse you of being cool," Al chuckled.
Sam rolled his eyes. "What have you found out about the ah, limpet, here?"
Al ignored Cass' outraged gasp and the subsequent crack about Finn talking to himself.
"She's homeless, Sam. This moke, which by the way is stolen, is just about the only thing she has in the world."
"Right. She found it dumped at the gates of the city tip a while back and just...took it. She's good with mechanical stuff. She got it going good enough to be gone before business started for the day. The only data Ziggy has on her is in Homicide's files, the coroner's report and the records of the criminal investigation that followed her death."
"How did she...?"
"The autopsy showed that her neck was broken cleanly. There were no other serious injuries to the body, just a few abrasions, some bruises and stuff. They never found out who killed her. She was a street-kid so no-one really gave a damn when the investigation scaled down."
"Not even Finn?"
"Well, by then Finn was making time with the new employer at ...the...house." Al paused to roll his eyes at Sam's reaction.
Beckett scowled in disgust.
"...And he'd stopped seeing the jail-bait there. So there was no-one left to see that justice was done."
"So then, I'm...Finn isn't a suspect?"
"Ah..no. Actually, there were no suspects. People on the street are real close-mouthed and the police couldn't get much about her associates or anyone who might have been seen with her."
"How did she end up on the street, Al?" Beckett demanded, too angry to remember Cass was listening.
"Who exactly is 'Al'?" she drawled. "Are you pretending you're crazy so we'll call off the interview?"
Sam turned momentarily to look at her. "No...no," he said hastily. "When...ah...when I was on the mainland I...ah..I did some acting...small time stuff, you know. And..and I was remembering some of the dialogue. I really liked the feeling of being up there, on the stage, even if it was only a hack play nobody ever heard of.."
"That's brilliant, Sam," Calavicci told him admiringly. "I didn't know you had it in you. You can lie almost as well as me when you really have to."
Beckett shot him a look that could kill then scanned the road again.
"Oh," Cass said dryly. "Well don't let me stop you."
"Why, Al?" Sam reiterated.
"Oh, well, she had to leave home. Things were pretty bad there. She knew if she tried to get help the authorities would either put her in foster care or send her back, neither of which options appealed to her so she just...split."
"Thing's were bad?"
Al's face screwed up the way it always did when something bothered him badly.
"Ah, Sam, I don't really think you want to know how bad. Sufficed to say that if I had anything to do with it the mother's defacto would be singing soprano for the rest of his life..provided I let him live that long."
Beckett closed his eyes momentarily, his distress tempered by the need to watch the road.
"God, Al, why does there have to be so much pain, so much hurt?"
Calavicci shook his head. "I don't...I don't know, Sam. Some of us have pondered that question more than others, and nobody's ever come up with a good answer."
"Must've been a good play," Cass muttered, but the blue eyes held less contempt and even a touch of genuine admiration.
Sam half-laughed in spite of himself. "Kind of," he admitted and sobered quickly. "A girl about your age is going to be murdered, unless some of the other characters, including mine, can find a way to stop it."
"You mean Al?"
"What was your character's name?"
Sam smiled to himself. "Sam. Sam Beckett."
Cass laughed. "Somebody named Sam Beckett is going to stop a murder? I don't think this is such a hot play."
Sam shot her a look. "Why? You think only people with names like Schwarzeneggar or Eastwood can stop a crime?"
Cass made a face. "Well they at least sound imaginative, if nothing else. Sam Beckett sounds like someone who milks cows, not a hero."
"Yeah, well appearances, and names, can be deceiving," Sam told her touchily. "Listen, we're almost at this next address. I'll try not to be too long, and afterward we'll maybe take a break and get a cool drink somewhere."
"You'd better not be too long," she warned.
Carolyn Johnson was everything Sam feared she would be. Voluptuous, beautiful in a hard kind of way and obviously unhappy. From the moment she layed eyes on Finn it was equally obvious she liked what she saw.
She was, however, subtle enough to restrict her admiration to the visual and, occasionally, verbal kind.
Al was right. Sam's double talk about flowering plants, annuals, trees, fertilizers and growing seasons seemed to be more than enough to get him past the resume stage.
"Finn, I think you'll do fine. How do you feel about living in? There's a small handyman's residence on the grounds and we don't have a handyman right now. It's yours if you're interested."
"Take it, Sam," Al told him.
Sam flicked an annoyed glance at his friend.
"No, no, not for her," Al said long-sufferingly, used to his friend's suspicion of his motives. "For Cass. This is a lot closer to where she hangs out than where you're currently flopped."
Sam wasn't completely convinced that it was a good idea, but it was the best option available to him.
"Okay," he said. "When do I start?"
"How about right now?" She purred.
Sam's eyes widened. Al grinned.
She gestured toward the side tray. "I'd like vodka, on the rocks," she said.
"Establishing the ground rules," Al said gleefully as Sam rose to pour the drink.
A moment later Beckett felt a warm body fit itself to his back. He deliberately turned with the drink in his hand.
"Here's your drink," he said innocently. "I'll have to go home and get my stuff. I'll be back in a couple of hours."
This time he had neither the forewarning or the reflexes to stop what was coming.
"Ahhh!" he yowled as Carolyn's hand found it's mark, and spilt the vodka.
"Don't tell me you're a prude," she growled. "You look anything but, Finn."
"I ah...no I'm not. You just surprised me, that's all," Sam told her awkwardly.
"That's good, Sam. You shouldn't jeopardize this job until we know more about Amanda Cassidy's death. And...well, Finn certainly wasn't going to pass up a good thing."
Sam extricated himself, and started to back towards the door. "My car is sitting out front, so I'd better go and organize the move. Okay?"
Carolyn Johnson smiled. "Don't be long," she purred.
"Sam you're hopeless. Why couldn't you just enjoy yourself?"
"Enjoy?" Sam yelped as they walked down the driveway. "How could I enjoy being pawed, uninvited, like a piece of meat? That's not love. That's not even sex. That's a violation of my privacy."
Al scowled. "I never do anything uninvited," he muttered.
Sam snorted. "I never said you did. I'm just saying that your mind is stuck in a reverse double standard. In fact I don't think even you would enjoy being pawed by someone you didn't know or have any interest in knowing."
"You got a point there, Sam," he admitted uncomfortably, obviously running examples through his mind.
"Where to, now?" Beckett asked as they reached the gate.
"The last interview. Just a formality, though. It's for a box-boy job at a supermarket."
"Then why do I have to do it?"
"Because Ziggy doesn't know enough about it to let you off. She wouldn't have known about it at all, except the moke gets stolen while you're being interviewed, so it's in the police records. Lucky you forked out for registration otherwise Cass wouldn't have let you report it at all."
"Then Ziggy wants the moke to get stolen again?"
"Yeah, well, see, Ziggy says that there's too much we don't know about this leap and the more things you change, the less she can predict about what's going to happen. At least if the moke is stolen it's in the records."
Sam sighed. "Okay," he said, crossed the footpath and slid into the driver's side of the car.
"And?" Cass asked, uncurling herself from a doze in the passenger side.
"Got it," Sam told her, and immediately defended himself from the body throwing itself at him.
"Wait, wait. There's another interview. I may as well see it through, in case Mrs. Johnson changes her mind," he laughed.
"Spoilsport," muttered Cass, tossing back her sun-bleached locks and pouting.
Sam shook his head and put the car into gear.
The interview was mercifully short. The middle-aged female supervizor took one look at Finn and made up her mind even before the formalities had begun.
Sam settled Cass and excused himself to go to the bathroom, heading instead, straight for the exit. He found a convenient position close enough to where the moke was park and waited.
It was another ten minutes before the perpetrators skulked up to the vehicle, amateurishly furtive in their approach. They took an inordinate amount of time to hot wire the vehicle before backing it out of the slot. Sam's photographic memory had captured both of them from several angles and now, as he reviewed the images in his mind, he wondered.
Both young men were teenagers, both dressed in very expensive designer clothes and sneakers. Too expensive for thieves... One was caucasian, the other Hawaiian. Both were lean, with street-hardened faces, not the usual fifteen or sixteen year old types.
He took himself back to Cass and her milkshake. There was a diet pepsi waiting for him. He made it last, delaying the inevitable.
Eventually however, the pepsi ran out, and with it Cass' patience.
They walked out to the car-park where Sam made a good fist of being upset about the missing moke. Cass, however, was inconsolable, and frightened.
Sam held her as she wept and wondered if Al had overlooked something important.
"Cass," he said gently as her sobs subsided. "What's so important about that old hunk of junk?"
Her eyes narrowed. "Finn, don't play dumb on me. If you stole my stash I'll make sure you live to regret it."
"You know I was holding. I told you a long time ago about Dominic paying me to hold for him.
"Hold?" Sam asked, lost. He hoped Al would turn up soon.
Cass stamped her foot in frustration. "Holding a key of stuff while a sale is set up. I hold it because his set-up came close to being compromised a couple of times and he didn't find the rat. No one connects me with him, except you, and him. I can't believe you did this, Finn," she cried.
"Me? I didn't do anything," Sam objected. But he had. He'd watched it happen...
"Tell me something," he said, "do you know two boys about your age, one white, one Hawaiian, who wear real expensive basketball jackets, caps on backwards, brand-name basketball boots? One favors the Bulls, one the Nicks," he recalled.
Cass sniffed. "Sounds like Troy and Dino."
"Troy and Dino?"
Sam made a face. "I can tell that. Who are they?"
"They...ah...they're like me."
"And did they know you were holding?"
"Nobody knew," she whispered.
"Did they ever show any interest in your car before?"
She shook her head.
"Do they know Dominic?"
Cass thought for a long while on that. "They'd recognize him on the street. Hell, he used to be one of us. I don't ever remember seeing them with him after he started dealing, though."
"Do they do drugs?"
Cass scowled. "What kinda question is that?"
Sam grabbed her arm and pushed up her sleeve. It was clean. So was the other one. "Don't play with me, Cass. Do they, or do they not use?"
"Not really. If there's a hit going, they'll be in it. If there's any fun around, they're in, but they don't have habits--"
"Yet," Sam finished angrily. "Al!" he yelled impatiently.
Nothing happened. "Come on," he muttered and hauled her alongside him as he crossed the car park, Diamond Head looming in the background.
They had reached the taxi rank when Al finally reappeared.
"Al, what's going on? She says there were drugs in the car. You said--"
"Sam, you're not alone," Al reminded him. "Button up and listen while you ride," he advized and gestured them into a waiting cab.
"First, Ziggy didn't have any record of Amanda--er, Cass, being involved in anything to do with drugs. Second, Ziggy says she still gets killed, so letting the car get stolen means history is still on track."
"If the car didn't get stolen maybe she wouldn't get..." Sam began, then stifled himself.
"Yeah, well, now that you've told us about the drugs, Ziggy says that's an 89% probability.
"A little late now," Sam hissed.
"Sorry, Sam, but Ziggy can only work with the information she's got. At least she knows why the kid was killed now. You got any new names we can work on?"
"Dominic," Sam muttered.
"What about him?" Cass asked.
"I forgot his last name," Sam improvized.
"Who can forget a name like Romeo?" She drawled.
"That's probably exactly why I forgot it," Sam shot back.
"Dominic Romeo," Al repeated and punched it into the handlink. After a few minutes it came to life again. "Uh-oh, Sam. Trouble. Ziggy ran all the criminal files here from the last five years and Dominic Romeo is a big star. He's never been convicted but he's been under surveillance more times than Madonna's been photographed. He's a small time pusher who sometimes acts as a go-between for the big guys. They use him because he's never lost a gram of stuff during a deal and because he's had a charmed life as far as arrests go."
"Not any more," Sam drawled.
"No. How much stuff exactly was in that car?"
"A key," Sam mouthed.
"He's a dead man," Al announced. "And so is she. It's weird that her neck was broken though. Not your typical underworld execution. All right, Sam. I'll get Ziggy on this. She's gotta be able to cross reference all the police reports on Cass' death with the file on Dominic Romeo."
"Does Ziggy say that Romeo dies too?" Sam asked in a whisper as the cab pulled into the bus station.
Al punched the question in. "Well, yes and no, Sam. The last time Romeo is seen alive is Saturday afternoon. The word is he's shark-food, but nothing is ever found."
Sam sighed and paid the driver before sliding out of the car and following Cass.
Al stepped back through the chamber door.
The late afternoon ride across to the other side of the island was picturesque, but Sam's mind was elsewhere. He was supposed to be shifting to the Johnson's house and he no longer had transport. He was supposed to save Amanda Cassidy's life and he'd just sealed her death warrant.
...And somewhere, just beyond the edge of his memory and his grasp, was his mother and his sister, living somewhere on Oahu. He might actually get to see them for the first time in seven years...
Sam was thankful that the house was occupied when they arrived. He didn't want to spend any more time alone with Cass than he absolutely had to. Several young men in various states of un-dress were sprawled around the decrepit television set, beer cans, taco chip bags and pizza boxes scattered around them.
"Hi guys," he offered, as they walked in.
"Hey, Connelly, how'd it go? You gonna be slipping us groceries or supplying the toilet cleaner from now on?"
Sam grinned. "Neither," he told them. "I'm a gardener. And I'm moving over to my place of work as of tonight. Does anybody have any wheels?"
"What happened, Cass? Did the heap finally go wheels-up and die?"
"It was stolen today," Sam told them.
"Whoa, bummer, Cassidy," said the big guy on the floor, finally drawing his bulk to a sitting position.
"You can say that again," she muttered. "Oaf, Finn can borrow the board-hauler can't he? I'll bring it back, I promise."
Oaf nodded. "Keys are in the bread bin," he added and slowly reclined again, as if the effort to sit up was just too much.
Sam exhaled. "Thanks a lot...Oaf."
The board-hauler was a 65 station-wagon which seemed to be held together only by the board racks on the rusted-roof. The seats were cracked and torn and there was a hole in the floor on the driver's side, so that Sam could see the road between his knees as he drove.
Al reappeared in the back seat. "Sam, you didn't report the car theft to the police."
"Somehow," he said, "I don't think that's such a good idea now."
"Finn, I'm beginning to worry about you. And don't feed me that crap about acting. You're talking to yourself. It's spooky."
"Then it worked," Al said.
Sam looked at him quizzically. He gestured to Beckett to repeat the words.
"Then..then it worked," Sam repeated.
"I was wondering when you were going to get the creeps.."
Sam repeated the line.
Cass scowled at him. "That's not funny, Finn. I really thought you were losing it."
"Don't talk Sam. Just listen. You didn't report the car missing so history has changed somehow. I don't understand it, but now you can't report it missing. See, now, Romeo doesn't disappear. Ziggy says there's a 92% chance that there's someone on the inside, but she's not sure whose spy it is. See, according to Lolita over there, nobody knows about her connection to Romeo, except you and him, but someone had to have known about the set up for Romeo to get knocked off so soon after the car disappeared in the original history."
"But Lol--Cass is safe now?"
"Well, actually no, Sam. That's what I came to tell you. And don't talk in front of the kid. She's already half-convinced you must've been hit on the head by your surfboard."
Sam made a hurry up gesture.
"All right, all right. Cass still dies. And exactly the same way. But now Ziggy says that in this new history there's a 62% chance that her death had nothing to do with the drugs."
Sam ran a hand through his wind-blown hair and made a hand gesture for Al to continue.
"So, so you've gotta keep a close eye on the kid. You can't let her go back to the streets. You may have to let her stay with you."
Sam started shaking his head.
"Yes, yes, yes. You don't have a choice, Sam. You have to keep this job and you have to keep Cass alive. In the original history Finn keeps this job for a year, and in two he marries this Carolyn Johnson woman after she divorces her husband."
"Are they happy?"
"We-e-ll for five years they are. And that marriage taught Finn the value of relationships. It also gave him a taste of stability. He even finished high school. The point is that's what's supposed to happen. What'll happen if you louse it up and Finn keeps wandering the country, who knows?"
Sam made a noise of frustration. "All right," he growled.
Al nodded his head. "The other thing Ziggy has come up with, is that now that Romeo doesn't vanish there's a big chance he'll come after Cass, believing she knows something about the theft. Course, considering no corpse was found the first time he disappeared, he may've been a suspect then too. The cops never made the connection because no-one knew there was one."
"Cass, what do you think Dominic will do about the missing key? Will he try to hurt you?"
"What d'you think?" She shot back, fear in her eyes. "I can't even go back to the den."
"Oh, come on, Finn. Cut it out with the amnesia act. If you keep up this crazy act I'm gonna stay at the swamp with the guys until you sort yourself out."
Sam brightened and slid an inquiring look at Al, who shook his head squashingly.
"It's just a threat, Sam. If you don't take her in she's gonna go back to that den of hers and that'll be the last you'll see of her. Den is just a nickname for a cubby-hole she's made for herself in an old, abandoned building. It gets pulled down in two year's time. She found a way in and made a little place for herself in an office on the third floor. It's pretty safe for a squat, but the police report says her personal effects added up to two blankets, a pillow, a can of condensed milk, a tube of toothpaste, a bunch of shop-lifted clothes and shoes, three spark plugs and some tools, probably for working on the mini-moke."
"That's it?" Sam hissed.
"That's it," Al confirmed.
"Where's all the money she got for...y'know?" Beckett asked out of the corner of his mouth.
"For baby-sitting Romeo's stuff? Who knows? The kid had to eat. Gas for the car. And maybe some of those clothes weren't stolen. Or she might have been buying her own slice of joy off the streets."
"No," Sam rasped. "She doesn't have a habit." He turned to Cass. "I'm right, aren't I?" he asked her. "You don't use?"
Cass shook her head. "You wanna look at my arms again? My fingernails? I can show you my navel if you want--" she added sarcastically.
Sam shook his head. "Amphetamines?" he asked.
"Pills," she scoffed. "I like to eat. I like a beer. I wouldn't waste good money on a handful of beans...although, if anyone's handing stuff around--" she added pointedly.
Sam could see she meant it. "You must know you can only do that for so long before it sneaks up on you and then suddenly, you can't do without it?"
"You really are hopeless, Donnelly. I don't know what's gotten into you. You get a bad batch last time or something? Not that I'd know, seeing you never offered me anything."
"Well that's something to be thankful for," Sam muttered.
"Ah, yeah, Sam," Al said uncomfortably, punching something into the handlink. "Donnelly was a recreational user. He's got a record of two busts, both for being caught buying. Smack on the wrist both times, because the police were only interested in the heavies. By the way, I talked to Finn in the waiting room. He's finally snapped out of the 'I'm not talking til I get an explanation' stage. I told him enough to convince him he wasn't dead, or in a looney bin or a jail, which were his main theories."
"And?" Sam prompted, growing impatient at Al's frequent pauses.
"And he's still being real stubborn about answering questions. It's almost like he's got something to hide. I'm working on it, but he's infuriating. He'll talk about surfing, about his past, about Cass and about Mrs Johnson, but when I asked him if he knew anything about Romeo, or Cass' connection with the guy he shut up tighter than a clam."
"Then you'll have to tell him about his future," Sam replied, holding the moke smoothly through a sweeping bend as a massive produce-hauling semi-trailer over-took them. "About--" He nodded his head meaninglyfully at Cass. "If he cares about her at all he's gotta try and help."
"Finn, will you drop me at the center?"
"The Ala Moana, stupid," she said impatiently.
"Because I'm tired of listening to you talk to yourself. I get the message. You want to get rid of me so you can concentrate on your cosy new job, right?"
"No, no, that's not true," Sam objected, moved by the pain in her eyes, despite the wise-guy tone. "In fact, I was just working up to asking you if you want to come stay with me in the handyman's quarters for a while. I can tell Mrs Johnson you're my sister and you're just visiting."
Cass' hazel eyes lit up. "Cool," she told him. "Dominic will never think to look for me there, especially since you and I and Mrs Johnson are the only ones who know which job you got and where."
"I hope so," Sam said fervently and frowned the question at Al, who consulted the handlink.
"Sorry, Sam, but she still dies."
Sam hit the steering wheel hard.
"What?" Al and Cass demanded at the same time.
"You're still not safe," he snapped at Cass. "Do you have any other enemies besides Romeo?"
Cass shrugged. "I don't have enough friends to have enemies."
"What about whatsit and Troy?"
"They don't have anything against me. And they aren't my friends. They're just guys from the streets."
"I don't suppose you happen to know where these 'guys' hang out?"
Cass gave him a 'you're kidding' look.
"Then how about we go pay them a visit before I settle in up at the 'Head?"
Sam wasn't sure what he expected, but the dirty back-lot of a derelict warehouse wasn't quite it. There were several lean-tos and a couple of cardboard nests. A baseball diamond had been scratched in the dirt, flattened cardboard boxes substituting for bases. Other than that it was a dirty, grassless, cheerless place with weeds growing up the fence, broken glass and masonry rubble scattered across it. They got into it through a panel cut from the dilapidated fence. It looked like just another part of the general disrepair when pulled back in place.
There hadn't been any sign of the moke, so Sam wasn't expecting to see the boys either, but one of them was there, leaning against a building and smoking a cigarette.
The Hawaiian boy saw them. For a split second Sam thought he was going to run, but he stood his ground, his shoulders pulling back and his chin coming up in typical adolescent defiance.
"What'd you bring him here for?" he muttered when they stopped in front of him.
"It's still a free country, Troy. He can go where he likes, especially when he's forty pounds heavier than you are," Cass grinned.
"Where's Dino?" Sam asked.
"Out," Troy replied, hostility in his voice.
"You know, you went a long way out of your way this morning to steal Cass' car."
Troy's dark eyes widened, fear in them, but he remained calm.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"I saw you boost the car this morning," Sam told him. "You and Dino. What I don't understand is why."
Troy did try to run this time, but Sam was far too fast for him, pinning him against the building wall.
"I want to know who put you up to stealing Cass' car and I want to know now. If you don't tell me I'm going to take you down to the police station and file a formal complaint. Now, unless you want to spend the next few days in Juvenile hall
and then court, I suggest you tell me who paid you to steal that car."
Troy struggled, attempting to kick Sam in the shin, only to find himself turned around, his face ground into the wall, his arm up behind his back.
"Did Dominic Romeo put you up to this? If he did you're in danger and so is Dino. There's a lot more to it than just boosting the moke. And besides," Sam added menacingly. "If you don't tell me I'm going to break your arm." He exerted enough pressure to cause excruciating pain but no more. Troy's ligaments and muscles would be strained, but that would be all.
"Okay, okay. So it was Romeo. It was good money. And stuff to sell to make more money. It was a heap of garbage anyway, and she never had no licence."
"What did Romeo do with the car?"
"How do I know? He said only Dino was to bring it."
"Where?" Sam asked, alarmed.
"Dino said the only place he'd do it was the car-park at Pearl. He's not stupid," Troy muttered into the masonry.
Sam turned him around. "I'm sorry I had to hurt you, but I meant what I said. Romeo is dangerous and that car is big trouble. Didn't it seem crazy to you that a guy like him would want you to rip off Cass' car?"
Troy shrugged. "Money's money. That's his business."
Sam bit his lip in frustration.
Cass stepped up to the boy. "Troy, did you overhear anything? I mean why would Dominic rip off his own stuff?"
Cass rolled her eyes. "I was holding stuff for him. That's what he wanted. What I don't understand is why. He gives it to me, then has it stolen. It's weird."
"Does the name Tanake mean anything to you?" Troy asked.
Cass frowned. "Maybe. Why?"
"Dominic was talking to him on his mobile phone."
"It's a set up," a voice said behind Sam.
"A set up?" Beckett said without turning.
"Tanake wants someone to handle some big time distribution through here and Romeo wants to be it. So he staged the heist and told Tanake that his opposition was trying to make him look bad. In a few days the car will be found burnt out with the body of a nobody hood in it, executed gangland style before being thrown on the roast with the car. Shortly after that Romeo will present Tanake with the high-grade heroin Cass was holding. That and the apparent efficiency with which he got it back convinces Tanake that he can do the job."
"Dino gets his money right about...now. He thinks he's in the clear but some time tonight both these kids vanish off the face of the Earth. It takes weeks for anyone to report their disappearance to the police, for obvious reasons. The investigation found that the last person to see them alive was an old lady who lives in one of those lean-to's."
"A sort of mother-type?"
"Nah, she hated 'em. And they hated her. She had an argument with them at about 9.30 because they were pelting rocks at her lean-to again. Some time after that she heard voices, arguing and a scuffle, but she didn't come out until it was all quiet. The boys were never seen again.
Sam turned back to Troy. "Don't ask me how I know, but Dino is on his way back with the money. And tonight Romeo is going to kill you both."
"Kill us? Man, you watch too many movies."
"I'm not kidding," Sam retorted. "You two are the only witnesses to Romeo's scheme for getting control of distribution in this area."
"As far as he's concerned Cass doesn't know who stole the car. Right now we have concentrate on keeping you and Dino alive."
"Easy," Troy replied. "Get us a room at the Moana Surf-rider with a color TV and a bath. He ain't gonna find us there," he suggested facetiously.
Sam thought furiously. He had the advance Carolyn Johnson had given him.
"All right," he agreed, and looked to Al, who shrugged.
"According to Ziggy that keeps them alive tonight and tomorrow, but they're still found dead."
Sam swore. "Listen to me," he said. "I have a better idea. I'm going to take you to the other side of the island to stay with some buddies of mine. We'll wait for Dino and go together. If you make nice they might even teach you to surf. I want you to stay there until Cass and I come and get you."
Troy squared his shoulders again. "And what if we don't want to go? What if we don't like surf-geeks?"
"Then you die," Sam said darkly. "Don't be stupid. Besides, it's a free bed, free food and a nice long look at the other side of the island."
Troy shrugged. "For a few days," he agreed. "But only because we don't have anything better to do. Don't expect us to spend any of our money on those wax-head friends of yours."
"Fine," Sam agreed, looking at Al again.
Al looked up from the handlink. "You did it, Sam. Actually you did a lot more for Troy here. He and Oaf hit it off big time, and he actually does learn to surf. Now he becomes a champion surfer and by 1999 is living a good life on the circuit, making great money."
"In 1999? He's doing time for robbing a gas station. You can't win 'em all, Sam. At least he's still alive."
"Dino should be here in about an hour," Troy replied, oblivious of the hologram.
Dino was, but Dino didn't want to go to the other side of the island just when he had a pocketful of cash to spend and he especially didn't want to share living quarters with a bunch of surf bums.
Eventually Sam used a form of unsubtle blackmail to convince him it would be a good idea if he were to do as he was told, for a few days at least. And Dino decided it would be more prudent to let Sam hold his stash and to spend a few days at the beach rather than to go to the police station with Beckett.
By the time Beckett had delivered the boys to the hut and driven back across the island yet again a fiery red sunset had painted itself across the sky, the high strata clouds overhead glowing like rough red brushstrokes against the evening canopy.
Cass was tired, and Sam was beginning to feel the effects of a long day himself.
The handyman's quarters were built with either a single or a married man with no kids in mind. There was one double bed in a tiny bedroom, a kitchenette, a sitting area and a small bathroom, and that was all.
Sam sighed. He was going to have to sleep on the vinyl couch. He silently and sarcastically thanked Al for ensuring he'd be stuck with a fifteen year-old girl for the night.
He was surprised to find it wasn't difficult to convince Cass to go shower and freshen up. He hunted through the duffel he'd brought with him and gave her a cotton shirt and a pair of board shorts to use as improvised nightwear.
When the bathroom door had closed he sat down. It felt good, even on the hard vinyl lounge, to relax, at last. He put his face in his hands, yawned, rubbed his eyes and leaned back, looking up at the ceiling.
For the first time in hours he thought about Katie and his mother again.
Please, he begged silently. Please let me see them this time...
A tap on the front door made him jump. "Yes?" he called and dragged himself up off the sofa.
"It's Carolyn. I brought you a house-warming gift."
Sam rolled his eyes. It never rained in leaps, it snowed, it hailed... Hurricane Sam, he thought acidly.
He opened the door and made himself smile.
Carolyn brought her gift, a bottle of very expensive champagne, into the sitting area, turning her head at the sound of water running.
"Did I interrupt?"
Sam shook his head. "My sister is visiting for a little while. She was going to stay with me over at the bay, but since I moved, I asked her to come here instead."
She lost the sultry look. "Your sister?"
"Yeah. Her name's...Cassandra," Sam told her. That should avoid a few problems... "She's fifteen. She's all I've got now, since mom and dad..."
'Cassandra' emerged from the bathroom with the shirt half-buttoned, drying her hair with a towel.
"Cass, this is my new boss. Mrs. Johnson, my sister Cassandra," Sam said hastily before Cass could say anything.
"Hello," Cass said without warmth. "Sorry if I'm in the way," she added pointedly.
"Smart child," Carolyn purred. "How would you like to go up to the house and watch cable television? Or perhaps a swim in the pool?"
"Or maybe some decent food?" Cass drawled.
"Done," Johnson agreed and went to the intercom on the wall. "Doris, there's a young guest coming up to the house. She's hungry. Give her whatever she wants to eat." She let go of the button and looked at Cass.
"I'm gone," Cass drawled. "And Finn, don't yell too loud. This is a civilized area," she added as she opened the door.
Sam did a double-take and flushed. "Go eat, sis. And don't hurry back," he added for effect.
Carolyn smiled widely, unaware that she'd no sooner gotten rid of one cuckoo than another had arrived.
"Oh, this is nice, Sam," Al gloated as she crossed her legs, the split in her tight skirt parting all the way to the thigh.
"Can I get you some ah..coffee?" Sam offered.
"There's only one thing you can do for me, darling," Carolyn purred.
"My kinda girl," Al said gleefully. "I li-i-ike her, Sam."
Beckett made a face at the hologram and turned back to his guest. "Carolyn, why are you down here? You don't strike me as the kind of woman who has to hire companionship. You're genuinely beautiful, you have plenty of money. And you don't seem the type to play games. Not really."
"Jeez, Sam, why do you have to ruin everything?" Al muttered.
Johnson blinked. "It's simple," she told him. "My husband and I don't have a real marriage any more. He has too many 'distractions' to waste time on me. Now come over here and be my distraction, darling," she invited.
Sam's eyes narrowed. She was a great actress and a strong woman, but he'd spent a lot of years summing people up very quickly and if he'd learned anything from it, it was that the eyes never lie.
"Carolyn, you don't want a distraction," he said gently.
She swore and stood up. "And you obviously didn't really want this job," she said through her teeth.
Sam came to her and took her gently by the arms. "I want this job," he said forcefully, "but not if the cost is going to be your self-respect."
She blinked again. "What a strange boy you are, Finn. It's as if you're an old man in a boy's body."
"Ha! An old man. That's a good one, Sam," Al guffawed. "The geriatric boy scout."
Sam shot him a withering look and then looked at Carolyn again.
"Not really. It's just, well you're better than this," he told her.
She moved closer to him and put her arms around his neck. Al's eyes widened as she kissed him. And even more as Beckett kissed her back, lingeringly.
When he surfaced, Sam was breathing a little too quickly, his pupils a little too dilated. Al prepared to make a tactful exit as Beckett framed her face with his hands.
"Yes, you are very desirable, and yes I want you, but not like this," he said softly. Then he kissed her again, just as long and just as passionately. When he lifted his head he touched her face with his finger-tips.
"We have a lot of time to make this work. I'm not going to do this now, much as part of me wants to. I owe you that. I'll tend your garden and I'll work hard, but I can't let you do this."
Carolyn's lip trembled and she turned away from him. "You're the first one who's said no," she whispered. "Why do I feel like you're the only one who ever gave a damn?"
Sam turned her around and drew her into his arms as the tears started.
"Maybe it's because I'm the only one who listened to you, and not his hormones," he told her and heard Al mutter something under his breath before the chamber door opened and closed with a resounding clang.
Less than ten minutes later Al was back. Sam had set a kettle going and was preparing to make tea.
"Sam, trouble. For whatever reason, Amanda has left the grounds. She's gone down to town."
"But you said she doesn't die for another two days--"
"She doesn't--" Al paused to answer a squeal from the handlink.
"Ah...she didn't, in the original history. You've changed history, Sam. You forgot about Romeo. If you had kept her here with you she would still have died at 6.30am on Friday morning, unless you found a way to stop it. But now, n-o-o-w,
she dies tonight, in about two hours."
"Where is she, Al?" he asked, automatically shutting the kettle off when it began to whistle.
Al consulted the handlink. "In town, hanging out at a diner not far from the Sheraton Princess Kaiolani hotel."
"In board-shorts and my shirt?"
"Ah...well, she's about the same size as Mrs Robinson there, Sam. She might have ah...borrowed something from her wardrobe, especially if she was mad at you."
Sam stepped back into the living area where Carolyn was curled up in a chair, engrossed in her thoughts.
"If you don't mind I'd like to check on my sister," he said carefully. "Cass can get real jealous, and I could tell she wasn't happy about leaving us together."
"Help yourself," she told him, indicating the intercom.
An elderly female voice answered.
"Ah, yeah, this is Sa--Finn, the gardener. I was wondering how my sister was doing?"
"Quiet as a lamb sir. I haven't heard a peep from her since she took her meal in to watch Mrs Johnson's big T.V. set."
"Would you do me a favor and go have look please, Mrs ah..?"
"Beech," Carolyn filled in without looking up.
"..Mrs Beech. I'd appreciate it. She was kind of upset when she left here."
Mrs Beech agreed. Sam waited for agonizing minutes for the confirmation that she was gone.
"I can't find her anywhere," the old housekeeper exclaimed almost before she picked up the receiver again. "And I found her clothes in Mrs Johnson's room."
Carolyn Johnson had now risen and came to stand at Sam's side.
"Is anything missing, Beechy?"
"Just a pair of your jeans, and that skin-tight black top I could never stand," the housekeeper replied tersely.
"I know where she's gone," Sam said. "I have to go get her."
Johnson sighed. "I'll make my own cup of tea. I'm not buying into any family rows. Beechy, I'm coming up to the house shortly and I'm going to need a really good brandy."
Sam could hear the clucking on the other end, but there was no argument from the older woman before the intercom went dead.
He met Johnson's bemused gaze. "I'm sorry," he told her. "I have to go."
"Go, Sam," Al yelled. "Go, go, go!"
Sam hurtled the board-hauler down the main arterial road toward Waikiki beach praying that he wouldn't hear the yowl of a police siren before he hit town. He was lucky.
"Ah, take a turn here, Sam. If you come in this way you have a chance of parking this thing legally. You can't afford for it to get towed away."
Sam ditched the board-hauler two blocks from the diner in a legal parking space. He was breathing hard by the time he reached it. Al popped in alongside him.
"I found her, Sam. She's still in there, but you don't know any of the kids she's with. "
"Time I met them, don't you think?" Sam said dryly. "Where does Ziggy say she gets killed, and exactly what time?"
Al pounded at the handlink. "Time of death was put at 12.42am, Sam. Ziggy doesn't know where. The police find her body tomorrow morning dumped in a park, with a single bullet wound to the back of the head."
"Then, sometime in the next few hours someone is going to abduct and execute her..." Sam said darkly as he opened the door of the diner.
He was almost within touching distance of her before Cass realized he was there.
"How did you know--?" she exclaimed.
"Call it a sixth sense," Beckett said roughly. "You know you're putting yourself in danger doing this, so why do it?"
"Well you didn't seem to care earlier tonight," she retorted.
"You and Mrs Robinson," she added, unknowingly echoing Al.
"Mrs J--" Sam began, then stopped sheepishly and scowled. "For your information nothing happened."
"I mean it," Sam said severely. "Nothing happened. I let her send you away so that I'd have a chance to talk some sense into her. You were gone when we checked on you."
"I'm not going back there," she told him. "You've been so weird since you started talking to yourself. You aren't the same. I don't want to be with you, Finn. If you want to be a toy-boy it's okay with me."
"Well it's not okay with me," Sam retorted. "I can't leave you here while Dom--while certain people are still looking for you."
"That's my problem, not yours," she retorted.
"Amanda, he's going to kill you," Sam said bluntly.
"How do you know that?"
Sam bit his lip. "I can't exactly explain. You remember that play I was talking about?"
"Well you're the woman who gets killed. I'm not who you think I am. I have inside information that they will hit you tonight, not long after midnight."
Amanda Cassidy looked deep into Finn's golden eyes and found something there that made her pale and swallow hard.
"You really mean it, don't you?"
Sam closed his eyes for a moment and nodded. "Now will you come with me? I can look after you, keep you safe."
Cass got down off the stool she was sitting on and walked silently at Sam's side. Beckett slid Al a questioning glance.
"No change," he said flatly.
A moment later they were out in the balmy night air. A few seconds after that Sam heard the sound of a clip being checked and snapped back into place. A voice broke the silence.
"She's not going anywhere, pretty-boy. And neither are you."
"Sam, do something. Now Ziggy's saying there's an 82% chance you're both gonna die."
Sam snatched a surreptitious glance at the gunman, who was keeping the weapon close to his body to avoid scrutiny.
"Move," the gunman told them.
Sam motioned Cass to obey but walked slowly himself, allowing the gunman to close the gap between them.
"The dog, Al," he hissed.
Calavicci looked around. There was a old man with a labrador retriever walking up the footpath. He immediately set about getting the mutt's attention.
It didn't take much. The labrador came bounding down the path toward Al and chased him until the hologram ran clean through Sam's captor and the dog ran into a pair of very solid legs.
The distraction was enough for Sam to spin and land a solid kick to the head, grab the weapon and get a solid arm-lock on the gunman.
"Who are you?" he demanded, and tightened his grip and twisted when he got no answer. It made no difference.
"I don't think you've got the stomach to reach across his pain threshold, Sam. Give it up. Hey, check his wallet and I'll get Ziggy to run a cross-check on him."
Sam patted him down. The leather wallet was a fat one. Sam flipped through it looking for identification. It didn't take long to find a name on the credit cards.
"Reece Bredfeldt," he read, and continued to browse, only to stop, his mouth opening in silent surprise as he stared at the police badge staring back up at him.
"Make that Detective-Sergeant Reece Bredfeldt," Al said, looking up from the handlink to see the badge Sam was holding up bleakly.
"He's an undercover cop, Sam. Ziggy doesn't know if he's dirty or not, so keep the gun on him for now."
"I think you'd better move," Sam told him and waved the pistol. "Across the road and down to the beach. We have to talk."
He thought of something. A search of the man's belt produced handcuffs which Beckett swiftly used on his captive.
There were a few tourists on the beach, scattered in the moonlit darkness, some even in the water, but they had enough privacy for Sam to sit Bredfeldt down in the sand.
"All right, tell me why you had this gun on us," he demanded.
Bredfeldt looked up distastefully. "I've been baby-sitting that kid for weeks," he told Beckett in a harassed voice. "And when you marched in there and confronted her, then marched her out of the place I thought I had my connection."
"But you don't think so now?"
"Hell, no. If you were I'd be dead now, not sitting on a public beach as conspicuous as you like."
"I'm a friend of Cass-of Amanda's. She's in a lot of danger. I thought you were Romeo's man," Sam told him. "And I thought we were going to die."
Bredfeldt laughed. "Yeah right, like I'm going to execute someone with my service weapon."
Sam looked at the weapon in his hand, and before he could speak Al did.
"That's no police weapon, Sam. Watch this nozzle. Ziggy's cross checking as fast as she can but he smells as dirty as a three-day old road-kill."
"Maybe I should call the police?" Sam suggested.
"Not yet," Al said quickly. "He is the police, Sam. Do you think they'll believe you over him?"
"Who are you working for?" Sam demanded.
Bredfeldt snorted, but didn't answer.
Beckett wheeled. "I don't know what to do, Al."
"Well, for now, I'd take him somewhere private and handcuff him to something immovable until you get the facts," Al suggested.
They left their captive cuffed to a steel girder inside the building which housed Cass' small home.
"Sam," Calavicci said as he reappeared, making Beckett jump as they came back out onto the street.
"What?" He demanded irritably.
"Ziggy made Bredfeldt. He's a cop, but he's from vice, not narcotics. She suggests you go to the narcs and tell them what happened. If they know Bredfeldt's dirty, they'll take him off your hands."
"And if not?"
"Then you'll have some fancy explaining to do, because you can't tell them how she was involved," Al said, gesturing with his thumb.
Sam looked up at the ceiling. "Why?" He asked, harried.
The handlink chirruped.
"Ziggy's found something, Sam. This guy is dirty. In the original history he was suspended from the force in 1996 after being linked with Tanake's organization, and eventually did time for murder and extortion."
"Can Ziggy give me something that'll prove to the cops that he's dirty now?"
"Ehhh," Al grunted, punching at the control. "Oh, the gun. That gun was used to kill a cop about two months ago."
"Al, ballistics checks take time--"
"No, you don't understand, Sam. The gun belonged to the cop that was killed. They can identify it in about two minutes flat."
Beckett finally smiled.
As Sam recounted his abridged story to a weary senior narcotics detective his heart began to sink. The heavy-set officer, obviously the worse for his late shift, was playing with a paperweight, rarely looking at Beckett as he listened.
"...and I found out his name was Reece Bredfeldt. He's from vice."
The detective's tired blue eyes leaped up, fixing themselves on Sam's. "Bredfeldt? You're sure?"
"Absolutely," Sam told him, and produced the weapon and Bredfeldt's shoulder holster. "And this is the gun he held on us. I have him handcuffed to a steel beam. I...I had no way to know whether he was legitimate or not, and..and I couldn't go to vice, so I came here."
"You realize of course that your prints are on this too?" the detective pointed out.
Sam frowned. "Sure they are--on the barrel. I took it off him to stop him from killing us. But his must be all over it, and forensic should be able to find enough evidence to prove that Bredfeldt's been carrying it around with him."
The detective was staring at the gun.
"You seemed to know the name?" Sam prompted.
The blue eyes rolled upwards and looked piercingly into his.
"I don't like bent cops. And I especially don't like bent cops who get away with it."
"Well, maybe he doesn't have to get away with it any more," Sam proposed. "I'm betting that this gun has a record. Why..why don't you check the serial number? If I'm gonna hand this guy over to you I want to know he's not going to come after me in a couple of hours time through lack of evidence."
The detective snorted but hit the enter button on his computer anyway. A couple of minutes later he was looking up at Beckett in amazement.
"Who are you?" he demanded.
"Just a surfer with a lot of imagination," Sam offered. "One who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"One who might have caught us a cop-killer. You'd better tell me where Bredfeldt is. We have a lot of paperwork to do."
It was several hours before Sam finally escaped from the red tape. There was also the small matter of a routine check on Finn Donnelly before Beckett was allowed to go.
He'd just let himself back into his living quarters when Al returned.
"Where have you been?" Beckett demanded, flopping on the couch. "Al, I haven't leaped."
"Of course you haven't leaped. Cass still dies in a couple of days."
"But not because of Romeo?"
"No. As far as we know, not Romeo. He's going to ground--or the fishes--on Friday, remember? Or he may be going a lot sooner, when word gets out that Tanake's inside man is in custody."
"Damn," Sam cursed.
Surprisingly, Al half-laughed.
"What?" Beckett asked, tired and irritable.
"Well you seem in an awful hurry to get out of here all of a sudden," he pointed out dryly, then regretted it when the color ebbed from Sam's face.
"I could...I could have leaped without seeing them," he said in a half-whisper. "How could I have forgotten--?"
"You didn't forget, Sam. You just prioritized. That's why you got this job. Because--"
"Because I always do the right thing," he said bitterly, through his teeth.
"Get some sleep, Sam," Al said gently. "I'll see you tomorrow."
Beckett watch the chamber door close, his expression bleak, then roused himself and headed for a much needed shower.
Half an hour later Beckett emerged from the bathroom feeling human again and bracing himself for whatever Cass might throw at him.
Instead he smiled ruefully to himself.
She really was just a child, scrubbed and damp-haired, fast asleep in the double bed.
He collected blankets from the closet and the second pillow from the bed and headed for the couch.
Beckett spent all of Wednesday going over the grounds, especially up near the gates where weeds had overgrown several shrubs and had begun to weave their way through the wrought iron fence.
Carolyn was unsighted, and Cass slept late. By eleven o'clock Sam had shed his T-shirt and was covered in sweat and grime, but the majority of the weeding was done. He was staking a young tree when his young companion finally surfaced.
"This is where you got to," she muttered, blinking against the bright sunlight. "I'm hungry and there's no food in the place."
"There's coffee, fruit, and bread for toast."
Cass frowned. "Haven't you ever heard of eggs, bacon...pop-tarts?"
Beckett looked her up and down. "How do you keep your figure on a diet like that?"
Cass snorted. "I wouldn't, if I had a diet like that. You seem to forget I only eat when I acquire something, or I get paid. And I only get paid when I do a job for Dominic."
He reluctantly gathered his garden tools and carried them back to the shed next to his quarters.
"I'm supposed to be working," he muttered as he emerged from the shed.
"Even gardeners get breaks," she told him airily.
They were gone less than an hour. Beckett insisted on driving through a hamburger outlet rather than sitting down to eat. He left his companion in his quarters charging voraciously through a sack full of take-away food and headed back to the garden.
By late afternoon he'd made a visible mark on the state of the front third of the grounds. From the road, at least, the place looked tolerably well-cared for now. After familiarizing himself with the automatic watering systems he made his way back to the small home pleased with himself, but profoundly tired. Though it had no bearing on the leap, Sam felt somehow he'd fulfilled an obligation to Carolyn.
All he wanted was a long hot shower and an early night, preferably without any grief from Cass...
"Oh there you are," Al's voice said, announcing his arrival in the small bathroom in Finn's quarters. It was much later than Sam intended, having had to go out once again and forage for a meal that would satisfy his young guest.
Behind the glass shower-door Sam threw the soap angrily at the holder. "I'm taking a shower, all right? You could at least wait until I was finished."
"Well, I didn't know you were going to be splish-splashing, did I?" Al retorted. "I've been up at the house keeping Carolyn company."
"Figures. I take it something's wrong?" Beckett growled as he finished removing the dirt from his hands, his nails. In fact, most of him seemed to be covered in grime.
"Who said there's anything wrong? I figured you might be looking for me, so here I am."
The water shut off and the towel slid off the glass shower wall. Sam emerged with it around his waist, his head down as he took the robe off the back of the bathroom door.
"Al, I'm sorry. I didn't mean--"
Calavicci smiled then. "Forget it, kid. I know exactly what's eatin' you."
Beckett looked bleak. "No...I always take it out on you--it's not fair..."
"Not always. No," Al agreed. "But where does it say it's fair for you to be leaping through time, cut off from everyone and everything, with only your own identity to keep you from going nuts...?"
Sam looked at his friend as he tied the robe.
Al held the green gaze with his own.
"...None of that is fair either," Calavicci finished quietly. "Not one damn bit. So you get a little edgy. So what? Who the hell else is there to listen?"
Beckett turned away, his head down, tension in every sinew of his lean frame, and went into the living room.
Al followed. "I brought you something," he said, his voice deepened by emotion.
Sam faced him again.
"Get a pen."
Beckett frowned but did as he was told and sat on the couch, pen poised.
"Now, write this down. You don't have all that much time, you know." Al read out an address.
Sam was half-way through the zip-code when he realized that he knew what it was. He bit his lip to stop it from trembling.
Then he covered his face with his hands.
Al tensed his jaw, and watched silently for a few moments.
His dark eyes grew bright with the pain of his own, and the project's helplessness.
"I know, kid. I know," he said softly.
Finally Beckett managed to gather his wits. He drew hid hands roughly over his face, looked up and smiled.
"Thanks, Al," he said hoarsely.
Calavicci looked at him with hollow eyes. "For what? I'll see you tomorrow, Sam."
He was gone before Beckett could object. Sam stared after him for a long time, then slowly looked down at the address on the piece of paper.
The minutes slid by, but the dark, golden-brown head of Doctor Sam Beckett remained bowed, staring at the slip of paper.
Finally, in the lonely silence of the night, a drop of moisture fell on it, soaking in and blurring the first three letters of the street name...
Beckett jumped and then opened his eyes slowly, focusing on the face looking down at him.
"Sam," he said urgently. "It's Cass."
Sam sat up in his make-shift bed and squinted at his friend.
"What about Cass?"
"She's in trouble again."
"She's asleep in the other room."
"Ah, no Sam, she's not. Ziggy says she didn't exactly run off. She kinda got hungry and went out for something to eat about two in the morning."
"Where is she now? What time is it?"
"It's three thirty in the a.m. She went to one of her known haunts. One of Romeo's henchmen grabbed her. They must've been watching the place. Right now she's being driven to Romeo's mansion."
Sam slid out of bed and grabbed his pants, unselfconscious about his nudity for once, and dressed quickly.
"Does Ziggy know the address of this mansion?"
Al tapped the handlink.
"432 Oceanview drive."
The board-hauler was remarkably fast for its age. Al 'sat' in the passenger seat navigating as Sam drove at break-neck speed through the near-deserted back streets of Honolulu's suburbs.
"They've arrived," he announced, consulting the handlink yet again. "We're about forty minutes behind."
"What am I supposed to do when I get there?" Beckett demanded. "I don't have a gun. There's bound to be a security system."
"There's also me," Calavicci reminded him. The handlink beeped. "And Ziggy," he added. "In this day and age the firm that provided the security system should have the layout on their computer. And if its on file, Ziggy can find it. Don't worry."
"Don't worry, he says," Sam muttered as he turned into Ocean View drive. "Okay, so Ziggy finds the layout and I get onto the grounds. How is that going to help Cass? I want to save her life, not get her killed."
"We haven't figured that out yet," Al admitted reluctantly.
The security was indeed tight. Sam parked the 'hauler several houses down from the imposing gates. He stopped before he reached the high walls, looking up when Al pointed out the cameras panning up and down the footpath.
Al hit the handlink. "I'm going inside to do a little recon."
Sam watched him pop out and wondered for the umpteenth time how he could ever have made it this far without Al's help. A few minutes later Calavicci was back.
"Not good, Sam," he reported. "There are dogs on the grounds and a lot of cameras. The house is wired tighter than Fort Knox and the kid is in a room on the second floor. She's scared to death."
"They haven't hurt her?"
"Not yet. Turns out Romeo is out. He's on the town with a girlfriend, apparently. According to the gossip I was listening to in the kitchen, he may not come back until morning."
"Then we have to move before he gets back."
Al nodded. "Only your best chance is going to be from the front."
Al nodded again. "Up the cliff. No cameras, no dogs."
"Just a forty foot cliff in the dark," Sam shot back. Then his eyes widened and he visibly paled. "Oh, lord, I'm afraid of heights," he suddenly remembered.
Al shook his head. "Not any more, you ain't. Does the name Victor Panzini mean anything to you?"
Sam blinked. "P...yeah, I remember. You made me fly...I had to catch Victor's sister...I did it, but I'm still afraid of heights," he insisted.
"So, be scared up there instead of down here. You did it for the Panzinis, you can do it for Cass."
Sam made his way up the private beach bathed in moonlight. Were he not so consumed by dread of what lay ahead he might have noticed the shot silver spreading out across the expanse of shiny black ocean, the roar of the surf's endless pounding on the shore and the tang of the spray in the air.
He was within two houses of his target when Al reappeared.
"I checked the whole thing," Calavicci said enthusiastically. "It's gonna be a piece of cake. It ain't a sheer cliff, Sam. Hell, there's even a path part of the way up."
"What about security?" Sam demanded. "And why only part way?"
"It goes to a lookout about halfway up. After that you climb where I tell you to climb and before you know it, you're at the top."
"And once you get there all you have to do is get into the house without triggering the alarms."
Sam made an exasperated face.
"Don't be so negative, Sam. I checked it out. There's at least two balconies on this side with their doors open. And if the doors are open the alarm has to be disarmed in those areas."
Al was half-right about the cliff. The first half of the climb was a simple haul up the steps cut into the cliff. However, beyond the lookout there were only rocks, earth and a few hardy plants growing in sparse tufts, sometimes at impossible angles in almost sheer rock crevices.
While the rest of the cliff wasn't exactly sheer, it was no picnic either.
Sam gazed up at the second half of his climb, lit by both moonlight and the overflow of floodlights from the house, and wondered how he always managed to end up in these situations.
He should have rung the bell...
"It wouldn't have worked."
Sam jumped, then gasped, the combination of acrophobia and momentary fright when Al arrived causing the kind of panic attack he could well do without.
"What?" Al demand.
"I...I...you scared me, Al. I could have fallen!"
"No you couldn't. What were you going to do? Jump over the rail like a startled rabbit?"
Sam made a face. "How am I going to get up there? I don't have a rope, a grapple. I don't even have--"
"The guts," Al finished.
"Wha--?" Sam began, surprised.
"You heard me. Cass is up there, in trouble, and you're dithering like an old woman about climbing some rocks. Get on with it, Sam. She could be dead already, for all we know."
Sam turned away, breathed deeply and got on with it. But he didn't look back at Al.
Calavicci didn't mind. He knew Sam too well, knew that he just needed a shove in his phobia to get him moving. He'd done it before, and he could do it again.
Beckett moved slowly, testing each grip before putting his weight on it. Some rocks pulled loose, others were like anchors. None of the bushes held, all uprooting easily and falling gently back to earth at the bottom of the cliff. Sweat was picked out on Sam's forehead by the moonlight, despite the cool sea breeze.
About a third of the way up he struck an easy patch where large gouges in the hillside allowed him to rest for a few moments, catch his breath and re-group. He started to turn his head to see how far he'd come.
"Don't look down, Sam," a quiet voice said behind him.
"Al," Sam breathed. "How am I doing?"
"You're doing great, Sam. Like you always do. I checked on Cass. She's okay for the moment. That nozzle still hasn't come home. I think you'd better keep moving. You don't want to cool off--"
"You mean I don't want to panic again," Beckett retorted, looking sideways at the hovering hologram.
"Yeah, well, that too. Now c'mon, Sam. It's just a little bit further..."
A little bit further ended up being another slow, very difficult, twenty minutes of climbing, sometimes sideways looking for holds, sometimes straight up when the rocks held long enough.
When Sam finally hooked an elbow over the top and drew himself over the edge onto the precipice Al was there waiting for him, grinning like a cheshire cat.
Sam looked up, panting. "You're enjoying this. I hate it when you get smug," he growled and got up, brushing the dirt and bits of bushes from his clothes.
Al chuckled. "I told you that you could do it. See there, I told you, the side fences come right to the cliff, but they never bothered to fence the cliff itself off. Well, except for those safety rails, there. All you have to do is get to that window," he pointed to one on the first floor with a balcony. The double french doors were open, curtains fluttering in the breeze. "And get inside without being seen, or tripping any alarms--"
"Al, the if the doors are open, doesn't that mean the alarm is turned off in that room?"
"Well, kinda," Al said uncomfortably.
"The alarm that goes off if you try to open a window or a door is shut off. The floor-plan of the place, however, shows that all the doors and windows also have an infra-red beam...you know, like they have sometimes in drugstores: you break the beam and a buzzer sounds--"
"Yeah, I know," Sam muttered. "Can you show me where the beams are?"
Al nodded as Sam made his way up to the perimeter of the mansion. "Sure."
"And the camera?"
Beckett dived and rolled behind a tree.
"What?" he hissed.
"The camera just panned across this way, but you should be okay. You made it in time. Look up at the left hand corner of the building, where the rose trellis finishes, just below the first floor."
"Got it," Beckett told him and continued toward the building.
Calavicci watched Sam negotiate the trellis and get a leg onto the balcony before tapping the handlink.
Beckett struggled to pull his own weight over the balcony rail, and was still catching his breath when Al popped in next to him.
"Glad you could make it," he puffed. "Where are those beams, and whose room is this?"
"The housekeeper's. And there's a beam about a foot off the floor and another one at oh, about chest height, for you."
"Where's the housekeeper?"
"In the kitchen getting yelled at by the head honcho for not picking up the laundry or something."
"Yeah, a kind of personal valet. Only he looks more like a wrestler than a valet."
Sam stooped and carefully lifted his feet over the low beam. Once in the room he straightened and moved swiftly to the hall.
"Cass' room?" he demanded.
"Down the hall, third on the left, Sam."
There were no guards. They were obviously feeling secure.
"Al, make sure she's alone."
Calavicci was back in seconds. He nodded.
Sam turned the key, wondering why the room needed a lock at all and pushed open the door.
"Cass..?" he whispered.
"Finn!" she cried, and flew into his arms.
Beckett could feel her trembling. "We're getting out of here," he told her. "Can you climb?"
"Climb?" she repeated.
"Yes. Down the cliff," Sam explained. "We can escape up the beach."
"O-okay. Just get me out of here before Dominic gets b-back."
Beckett frowned and ushered her toward the balcony. "Did anybody hurt you?"
Cass shook her head silently. "But Anton was coming back."
"The butl--ah, valet, Sam," Al interjected. "Watch the beams."
"Duck your head and lift your feet about a foot. There are infra-red beams."
Beckett was at the bottom of the trellis, watching Cass make her way gingerly down to him when he heard it.
The click of a weapon being cocked.
He turned slowly.
A guard. A dog. A large, angry dog.
"Not another dog," he muttered.
"Perfect," Al announced and waltzed in front of Sam.
The moment the doberman pulled its handler off balance trying to get to Al, Sam launched himself, landing a another beautiful kick to the head.
"Wow!" Cass exclaimed as they sprinted for the cliff while Al lead the doberman a merry chase through the grounds.
They halted at the edge of the cliff. Cass looked over. "I can't," she announced and backed into Sam. "Finn, I just can't make it down there. I'll fall."
"No," Sam told her. "You won't. I climbed up here and I'm terrified of heights. If I can do it, you can."
"No," she repeated.
"Okay. We'll do this. I'll go first and you come next. That way if you slip at all, I'm right there behind you."
"Yeah, right. And I kill both of us instead of just me," she pointed out.
"No you won't," Sam retorted, losing patience. A look out of the corner of his eye told him the dog had lost interest in chasing Al. "Besides, it looks like its the cliffs, or the teeth over there."
Without waiting for her to reply he started his descent. He had to start. Before the dog appeared Beckett wasn't sure even he could face the cliff again.
"W-wait for me," Cass exclaimed as the dog bounded toward her, kicked off her sandals, got down and turned on her stomach to slide over the edge.
Sam had positioned himself so he could release one hand to guide her down far enough to escape the dog. He put her feet in solid holds and talked soothingly to her as she slithered down to his level.
"Okay, he can't get us now," he crooned as the doberman yowled and barked overhead. "Take your time. Catch your breath. From here on we go down together."
And they did. All three of them. Sam continued to encourage and calm Cass and Al helped Sam find footholds and maintain his own courage as they clinged to the rocks and the earth, half expecting shots to rain down on them from the cliff-top at any moment.
"Where are the bad guys?" Sam huffed eventually, the suspense getting the better of him.
"This ain't the movies, Sam. Anton the valet was the only heavy in the house. The rest of the domestic staff think they've been burgled. There's an ambulance on the way for the guard, by the way. He has a concussion."
"Good," Sam muttered. "How much further?"
Al looked down the several meters to the lookout. "Oh, not far now, Sam. Just don't look down. There's a good place to put your foot about six inches from your right boot, and about eight inches down."
By the time Beckett had reached the lookout he was breathing heavily, his heart was pounding and Cass was still about two and a half meters above him.
Al popped in alongside him. The handlink chirruped unexpectedly making both Beckett and Calavicci jump.
"Sam," Al said suddenly. "What time is it?"
Beckett squinted at his watch. "Six...twenty...um, nine, I think."
"Sam, this is when she dies!"
Beckett looked up as Cass missed her footing.
"No-o!" he exclaimed and started up after her as she began to slide.
He stopped her fall but was thrown backward by the impact, unable to maintain a grip. They fell the last couple of meters together, landing heavily on the wooden platform.
"Sam!" Al exclaimed, helpless to do anything for them. "Are you all right?"
A groan answered him. And another. And then a feeble female one.
Beckett untangled himself slowly and gingerly. Once he was able to get to his knees he swiftly checked all Cass' extremities for breaks.
"Don't move," he told her as she groaned again.
Al craned over both of them. "Check her neck, Sam. Her neck."
He did. "Her neck is fine, Al," Beckett pronounced a moment later.
"Thank God." Al checked the handlink. "You did it, Sam. She lives."
"Then I'm going to leap?" he asked, afraid suddenly. "Al, I can't leap yet!"
"Leap?" Cass asked dazedly.
"Yeah, that was some leap you took," Sam improvized. It seemed to pacify her. He looked up at Al with a 'so..?' expression on his face.
"Don't look at me," Calavicci retorted, but consulted the handlink anyway.
"Ziggy says she doesn't die now. Her body isn't found in the trash and her neck doesn't get broken. I don't know how you changed history either. Maybe Romeo brought her here after he stole the moke. If she escaped and tried to climb down here alone, maybe she broke her neck in a fall just like that one, or worse. Then...then, maybe Romeo's people discover the body and dispose of it so there's no connection to him. Then Romeo vanishes. Don't ask me why."
Sam frowned. "Al, ask Ziggy what happened to Dino and Troy in the original history."
"Who is Al?" asked Cass as she struggled to her feet.
Beyond motioning her to begin the descent of the steps before following her himself, Sam ignored her, in fact let her get a couple of yards in front of him.
Al consulted the handlink. "Ziggy says that before you changed anything they both became big time dealers. In the original history Dino died of a gunshot wound in 97 and Troy Od'd in November of the same year."
Sam shook his head. "They kept it," he said quietly. "When Finn reported the moke missing in the original history, the boys must have figured they'd take what they could find and dump the evidence before they got caught. That has to be it. They found the stash, dumped the car and told Romeo some cock-and-bull story. He probably thought Cass still had it--"
"And grabbed her. But she was accidentally killed before he found out that she didn't. He probably vanished in the traditional 'family' way when he couldn't produce the missing stuff," Al finished.
The handlink made a noise.
"Oh, hey, Ziggy says that scenario has an 87% probability of being correct," he reported. "But if Cass survived the fall, and Romeo has his drugs, what's the problem?"
"I don't know, Al," Sam said as they reached the sand. "But I'm not waiting around here to find out. Why doesn't Ziggy know?"
Al consulted the handlink again. "Oh," he muttered. "It's still the kid. She doesn't die now, but her life is still headed straight to nowhere."
"So what am I supposed to do now?" Beckett demanded as they trudged up the beach, coming abreast of Cass again.
"Find me a tylenol," she muttered. "Shouldn't we be running or something?"
"If they know we went down the cliff they'll be waiting for us anyway," Sam told her. "They've had plenty of time. Al, go check the car and see if there's any trouble ahead," he added in aside to Calavicci.
A few moments later Al was back. "No trouble," he confirmed. "The valet went out in a limo just now looking real mean, but he drove right by the board-hauler. I guess he just didn't expect you to mount a full scale rescue in a crate," he chuckled.
The drive back to Carolyn Johnson's place was a silent one. Cass appeared to have withdrawn into a brooding shell and Sam's thoughts were preoccupied by his failure to leap.
He looked at her as they pulled up at Johnson's security gate. She was hollow-eyed and silent and very much alone. Beckett touched her shoulder as the intercom crackled to life.
"Are you all right?" he asked gently.
Cass looked up at him in sidelong fashion. "What do you care?"
Sam was surprised. "Me? Of course I care. Didn't I come get you? Didn't I just risk my ass on that cliff for you?"
She stared at him for a moment, shook her head and looked down at her hands again.
Beckett identified himself to the intercom and watched the gates open before speaking again.
"Cass," he said gently as he parked the 'hauler in front of their quarters. "I'll always care. We were never really in love, you know. I'm not going to kid you. It's been fun, but now we both have to grow up."
She opened her door. "I grew up a long time ago," she told him quietly and slid out of the car.
Beckett followed, uncertain what to say, to do, yet knowing that he couldn't leave it there.
He found her sitting in the dry shower recess, fully clothed. "Cass," he said gently, "I'm sorry."
"I don't want to be alone," she whispered.
Sam swallowed a surge of empathy. "I know. But you don't have to be. I'll help you get back into school. You'll meet a lot of kids your age; kids who won't take you down with them--"
"Why are you doing this? You've got what you want. She's waiting up there, just for you. Why don't you just kick me out and get up there?"
"Because...because everyone else has let you down," Sam said with difficulty. "I don't want to be like them. I care a great deal about you, Amanda. I don't want to hurt you...and more than that, I don't want to use you. If you don't want to believe that, well, that's your prerogative. But, for what it's worth, its the truth."
He withdrew from the bathroom and was about to sit down heavily on the settee when he heard the water start in the shower. A vague memory sent a shiver down his spine. He rose again immediately.
Cass was soaked to the skin, curled up in the corner of the recess, sobbing silently behind the noise of the shower.
Heedless of the too-cold water, Sam leaned in and lifted her out, put his arms around her and held her saturated body close.
"I know," he whispered. "I know..."
When she was cried out he wrapped her in a towel, put another over his shoulder and carried her into her room.
When he'd dried her dripping hair and found some more of his dry clothes for her to change into, he moved to leave her alone to dress.
Cass caught his right hand. "Don't leave me," she begged. "I don't want to be alone tonight."
Sam resisted an urge to clear his throat. "I'll be here, in the house. All night," he promised. "I won't leave you alone. But you have to try to get some sleep. You're exhausted."
He stayed, back turned, while she changed.
Cass giggled at his sudden modesty, but there was no laughter in her eyes.
He turned, half expecting her to try something on, but she was over by the window, looking rumpled and lost in a large collared shirt with the sleeves rolled up.
"Cass, you can't go on living on the streets. Sooner or later something bad is going to happen. You could easily have been killed today. I want you to promise me that you won't go back to the den again. At least not without me."
She turned and searched his face with very young eyes. "If I couldn't see your face I'd swear you were someone else," she whispered. "Whoever you are, I need you. I don't want you to go away." She flew into his arms like small child. "Promise you won't leave me alone again?"
Sam closed his eyes and put his arms around her protectively. She was asking him, not Finn. And he couldn't stay, couldn't be there for her. God, he couldn't be there for anyone...
"Cass, I...I'm nineteen. I can be your friend, and I'll always be that, but I can't promise to be here forever. I'm not even in control of my own life at the moment," he added, all too truthfully.
She pulled away from him. "Then...where the hell do you think I'll go if I don't go back to the den?"
Sam swallowed. "I..I don't know that yet. I have no intention of leaving you alone before we work that out. It's just going to take a little time."
The chamber door opened. "Oh..ah, do you want me to come back later?" Al asked.
Sam shook his head infinitesimally. "Cass I have to go..er..to the bathroom."
Al made a face. He was sick of going to the head every time they needed to talk but he hit the link anyway and popped out.
Sam walked in a moment after he arrived.
"Okay. Well, ah, Sam, the only thing Ziggy was able to come up with to help you with the kid's future there, is an address for her mother."
"Didn't Ziggy come up with anything to help Cass build a real life?"
Al shook his head. "All she can come up with is that the kid showed a real talent for drawing before circumstances forced her out her family home. Oh, and Ziggy says that her mother is now living alone. The nozzle step-father slammed into a power-pole at high speed a year and a half ago while under the influence."
"Then, maybe, if Cass knew, she might go home?"
Al shrugged. "Depends on what her relationship with her mother was like before she left. The nozzle may not have been the only reason she went, just the main one."
"Well, where is her mother living now?"
Al gave him an address. "And her name is Julia Cassidy. She works in a cafe by day and a bar by night."
"And what am I supposed to do with that?"
"Well, first of all you could try telling her..." Al pointed out.
"Fine. I'll do that. Al?"
"I really do have to go."
Calavicci shook his head and tapped the handlink.
Sam chuckled as Al stepped out of the chamber and vanished, then turned and went to answer nature's call.
Beckett rose very early the following morning, unable to contain his anticipation. He shaved, showered and dressed before Cass stirred.
When she did finally appear she thought he was just being secretive.
"Are you going out with Carolyn today?" she asked suspiciously as he whistled over the stove.
Sam looked up from the pan of bacon and eggs he was over- seeing. "No. I told you it's not like that."
"Yeah, right," she muttered. "Nothing's going on, but you haven't even kissed me for two whole days."
"How many eggs do you want?" Beckett asked uncomfortably.
"See what I mean," she growled. "I can leave if I'm in the way, you know."
Sam put down the egg-slice and sighed before turning and coming to her. He put his hands on her shoulders for a moment.
"Look, you're under-age. I never thought about that before, but since I started looking for this job I've been thinking about things. And that includes you. I care about you. You deserve better than us. There's something you need to know. I did a little research and...and I found out that your stepfather...well, he died. Your mother is all alone now."
Cass searched his face for answers. "He's dead? How?"
"Good," she said without remorse.
"There's a number by the phone, and an address. I want you to think about the possibility of at least talking to your mom. I mean, she didn't know what was going on, did she?"
Cass' eyes narrowed. "I never told you--who have you been talking to?"
"I ah...actually, I just took it for granted. I mean, if she knew and didn't do anything then you'd hate her, a lot. And I never got that from you about her. Not really."
"No. She didn't know. Not until the end, when it was too late. I hated her anyway," Cass told him flatly.
"I don't think so," Sam ventured. "At least think about it while I'm out."
What's going on, Finn? Something's happened. I tried to tell you last night. You aren't you any more."
"I know," Sam said quietly. "It'll pass. Thing's are changing. I've got this job and I've been thinking about my future. I'm no kid any more, Cass. I have to do something with my life... Same as you have to do something about yours."
Amanda Cassidy's face dropped. "I liked you better as a big kid," she said tremulously. "I wish nobody had to worry about the future."
Sam frowned a little. "You're afraid?"
Cass' eyes widened.
"You're afraid of the future, of being left behind."
Cassidy turned away. "I do fine. I get by."
"But you aren't going anywhere. You'll still be on the streets in ten year's time--if you live that long--unless you take control of your own destiny."
"Destinies cost money," she said hollowly. "And nobody's going to give me a job."
"I was thinking more about school," Beckett pointed out. "Go back to high school and graduate. Then the rest is up to you."
"Money," she repeated.
Sam looked her square in the eye. "I know you have money, Cass. What have you done with the money from all the little jobs you've done for Romeo?"
"Spent it," she muttered.
"Not that much money. C'mon, it could buy you a future."
"Or it could buy you a lot of surfboards," she snapped.
"I don't need your money, Cass. I just want to see you off the streets."
"I can take care of myself. Let me worry about me. You just worry about your old lady up at there in her mansion."
Cass stormed into the small bedroom and closed the door.
Beckett served up the breakfast and put it on two plates, made toast and poured juice.
Then he sat down at the little table. "If you're finished sulking in there I'm waiting to eat breakfast," he yelled.
Something hit the wall with a dull thud.
Sam grinned. "C'mon, Cass, I'm hungry. I made all this greasy stuff especially for you."
A moment later she emerged from the room and came to the table.
They ate in silence. Finally, Sam wiped his mouth and looked at her.
"C'mon Cass, don't be angry at me for wanting something better for you. If I didn't care about you, I wouldn't give a damn what you did with your life."
Finally, she relented a little. "It's almost scary. Before you went for those job interviews the only things you ever thought about were waves and sex, not necessarily in that order. Now, all of a sudden, you're this over-grown boy-scout. What gives?"
Sam shrugged and downed the last of his orange juice. "Maybe almost wiping out permanently the other day made me think about things," he offered. "What are you going to do today?"
She made a face. "Watch television, eat. I'm going up to Carolyn's pool later for a swim. Why, are you planning on impressing her again with your gardening skills?"
Sam shook his head. "I have to go out for a while. There's something very important I have to do. If I'm going to be back late I'll give you a call. Just don't leave the place until we know what's going on with Romeo, okay?"
"And it's not Carolyn?"
"No," Sam growled, rising to go to the bathroom. "Nothing to do with Carolyn. She's probably not even up yet. You might even see her when you go up to the pool. Think about what I said about your mom."
In ten minutes he was in the board hauler. Less than twenty minutes after that he was pulling up at the address Al had given him. It had a high wall across the front much the same as all the other homes in the street, and two large iron gates. Only unlike most of them, the gates stood open.
Sam walked through them, and wondered why they were there in the first place, if they were going to be left open like that all the time.
He climbed the steps of the house, painfully conscious of the fact that he was trapped within the aura of Finn Donnelly. In his heart he was certain that he could convince them he was their Sam if needs be, but the fear was still there.
After several hesitant moments he rang the bell and waited for his sister, or her husband to answer it.
When the door finally opened a familiar face framed now by grey hair and soft, papery skin, peered out at him.
"Who is it?" She asked, without unlocking the screen door.
Sam cleared his throat, which had suddenly constricted and dried out.
"I--I'm Finn Donnelly. I have a message for you from your son. I wondered if I could talk to you--"
"From Tom? Why couldn't he call me, himself?" she asked sharply.
A pang shot through Sam's heart. She hadn't even thought of him.
"No," he said shakily. "Not Tom." Not Tom, mom! "Sam. Sam Beckett."
The old eyes seemed to look right through him then.
"I haven't seen Sam in a long while," she said softly. And then, for no reason Beckett could fathom, she let him in.
"Thank you, Mrs Beckett," he said, with great relief.
"You know who I am?" she asked as they sat in the parlor.
"Y--Yes ma'am," he said carefully.
"Tell me about Sam."
"Well, he's kinda working on some top-secret stuff for the government right about now. He's so engrossed in the challenge of what he's doing that everything else is kinda passing him by."
"Like his family," Thelma Beckett said quietly, the faintest trace of what? Bitterness? Sadness? in her voice.
Sam's eyes narrowed. "He never meant to be away when d..when Mister Beckett died. It hurt him more than you can know, that he wasn't there," he said defensively.
Thelma closed her eyes. "I know," she said. "I know my Sam, but he should have been there. He would have wanted to be there. I can't imagine what would have been so important that he couldn't at least have made it home for his father's last Thanksgiving. And then when John got so sick he wouldn't let me tell Sam, and Sam didn't call, didn't come home even to visit. And then later...later, afterward, the boy just closed up tighter than a clam about the whole issue. Wouldn't talk to me, or Tom...not to anybody..."
Tom...Sam thought hollowly. And I don't remember any of it...
She opened tear-filled eyes and for just a moment, saw green ones, bright with tears, looking back at her. In a blink they were topaz-yellow, but the tears were still there.
There was that strange feeling again. It took her a moment to place it. It was a flash of a memory, clear as if it was yesterday, of a sixteen year old Sam running to the barn to do chores instead of having peach cobbler with the family. That had been a strange time.
Thelma Beckett looked more closely at Finn. "You know a great deal about my son," she observed. "What did he want you to tell me?"
Sam wanted more than anything to put his arms around her, to tell her he loved her.
"He...he wanted me to tell you that he hasn't forgotten. He loves you, and he's sorry he's not here to tell you that himself," he said instead.
"Well thank you, Mr. Donnelly. It was good of you to come, but you know, nothing can replace my son."
"Mom?" A voice called from the kitchen. "Who's in there?"
"I have a visitor," Thelma called, "in the parlor."
Sam watched as his sister, a willowy grown woman who might have looked much younger for her age, but for the lines at the corners of her eyes put there by years of heartache and abuse before she met and married her current husband.
"Katie!" he exclaimed, before he could stop himself.
Katherine Beckett stopped, riveted to the spot.
"Hello," she said carefully. "Do I know you?"
"Yes-no, I mean, I know your brother--"
Sam's heart contracted again.
"Sam," he said in a voice thickened by sadness. "I know Sam. He asked me to tell your mom--your mother, something."
Katie sat next to her mother, a great deal more subdued than Sam expected she would be in the situation.
"And how is Sam? He finds time to send you here, and he can't call?" Immediately she said it, Katie regretted it. The stranger's eyes suddenly looked so hurt, so sad...
"Katie, don't be rude to Mr Donnelly," scolded their mother.
Sam chuckled and found them both looking at him strangely.
"Sorry. Reminded me of my own childhood," he explained clumsily. "Look, Sam was wrong not to stay in touch, not to be there when d..when Mister Beckett passed on, but he didn't know...and...and that hurt. And he had such big dreams, so many things he wanted to do, and somehow, he got lost in them. Somehow, he forgot what his priorities should have been..."
"Do you like the Beatles, Mister Donnelly?" Katie asked, for no reason.
Beckett roused from the painful memories.
"Sure I do," he replied, puzzled, his eyes suddenly caught up in hers.
"What's your favorite song?"
"Imagine," he replied automatically. "Wh--?"
"Would you like a cup of coffee?" she asked suddenly in a strange tone.
"Tea," he replied. "I like tea."
Thelma looked at him sharply then, but said nothing.
"Tea," Katie agreed and went to make some.
"Are you happy here, mo..Mrs Beckett?" Sam asked, and kicked himself for forgetting who he was supposed to be, yet again.
Thelma Beckett looked at him silently for a long second, as if deciding whether or not to answer his impertinence.
"Sometimes," she said finally. "I do miss the farm. But it wouldn't be fair to Tom and his wife, and it's so far from medical care. Here, at least I can see my grandchildren, and help my daughter."
"You miss Mister Beckett. I don't think you could find anything on the farm to replace him, that you don't already have here," Sam told her gently, aching inside.
"What is it about you, Finn? Why do I feel as if I know you, as if you--?" She shook her head.
Katie returned with a tray.
Sam picked up his tea and reached for a cookie. There were store-bought ones mixed in with ones only his mother could have made, butter cookies and pecan crunches. The boyhood Sam Beckett adored pecan crunches.
He was on his second one when he realized they were both watching him.
"Its all very...good," he said politely, and finished his tea.
"Finn, where did you meet my son?" Thelma asked unexpectedly.
"Ah..I..on Project Starbright," Sam stumbled, unable to come up with anything more imaginative and kicked himself because Finn was way too young to be anywhere near the project. In truth, he had no heart to lie to his mother, for any reason.
"Project Starbright? I don't think he ever mentioned it to us."
"No I ne..ah, I don't remember him saying he did," Sam scrambled.
"Nice save, Sam," a voice said behind him.
His head snapped around so fast the women thought someone must have come in.
"Sam, I know you can't talk right now but be careful. You could get Finn Donnelly committed if you're not careful. Remember what happened last time you told your family the truth."
"It's not fair!" Sam snapped, then realized he'd done it again. It didn't seem to matter how many times he'd slipped up over the years it still happened.
"Not fair?" Katie asked.
Sam turned back to the women. "I'm sorry," he said, and realized that there was absolutely no rational explanation for his behavior. That Al had just successfully enticed him into looking like a complete looney.
He put a hand over his face just as another car pulled up out front. He was about to make his apologies and withdraw, however miserably, when the front door opened and a large, broad-shouldered man of about fifty strode in.
For a moment Sam didn't recognize him. The last he remembered of Tom Beckett was the fresh, vibrant young face of a brother going to war. A brother who didn't come home. Now he was here, probably visiting his mother. And by the looks of their responses, he'd been in Hawaii for a while.
"Tom," Thelma said. "Meet a friend of Sam's. This is Finn Donnelly."
His eyes narrowed. "You don't know this man?"
"We do now," Katie said, still a remnant of the cheeky child of her youth in her voice.
Tom Beckett stepped forward then and sized up Finn Donnelly.
Sam realized suddenly that he wasn't the same Tom who'd gone to war. Something was gone. The sparkle was gone. There was none of the boundless warmth of his youth in the eyes that now studied him warily.
"How do you know my brother?"
"They worked together on something called Project Starbright," Thelma interjected.
"Project...? You don't look much like a scientist to me," Tom observed. "Besides, I've seen you, down a few streets, working in one of the big gardens. Yours?"
Sam looked down. "No. I work for the Johnsons," he admitted.
Tom snorted contemptuously. "A gardener who is a scientist in his spare time. Why are you here? And why have you been deceiving my family?"
Sam's head shot up. "Tom--I..." he began, then faltered. He couldn't keep it up. It may have been the right thing to do before, but it wasn't now.
"I had to come," he told them, turning to face his mother. "Mom, I had to come--"
Al closed his eyes. He could only see Sam getting hurt again.
Tom stepped forward aggressively, as if he intended to silence the intruder permanently.
"No," Thelma said quietly. "Let him speak, Tom."
"I tried to tell you once before, but you were so scared. I had to pretend I lied."
Katie's eyes widened. Thelma sat back in her chair.
Sam looked up desperately at Tom. "That day, in the corn, when I told you I could tell the future--just for a little while, you believed me. I would have done anything to stop you from going to Vietnam--"
Tom swallowed, memories springing, sharp and clear, into his mind.
"Sam could have told you about that," he pointed out.
"Why would I...I mean he?" Sam asked.
"I don't know," Tom snapped. "I only know that you're not making a lot of sense and that you could be playing some kind of sick joke at my mother's expense."
"No," Sam cried. "No, I would never--! You all just humored me that time. I couldn't make you believe. I couldn't stop dad--" He paused, brushed the moisture from his eyes. "I couldn't change anything. Then when I thought it was all lost, I leaped. Right after the basketball game--I leaped into Magic Williams."
Tom's eyes widened. His color ebbed. "What?" he demanded, but he was swallowing hard.
"I leaped right into an ambush," Sam remembered, grateful that this time that leap hadn't disappeared into a another cheese-hole. "Al thought I was there to save Deke at first, but when I raised the alarm about the sappers they didn't come in. I didn't realize until later that the chu hoy had used my radio while Maggie was out of the tent..." Sam stopped, the sudden memory of Maggie like a knife blade in his gut.
Tom was staring at him.
Al moved around to the window, racking his brains for some way to help Sam dig himself out of the irretrievable mess he'd gotten himself into.
Sam continued. "You wouldn't keep your promise. It was April eighth and you...you wouldn't keep your promise." He looked up. "The only way I could find out what happened, what went wrong the first time and got you killed, was to get Maggie on that mission. That way Ziggy--the computer who kinda guides me through my leaping--could find Maggie's newspaper articles and send the information to me, so I could work out how to change things."
"This is crazy," Tom finally found voice to say. "How can you know so much? Sam wasn't in Vietnam. And I didn't tell anyone..."
"Yes I was, Tom," Sam replied. "And I killed for you. Maggie died because of me, because I pushed for her to go on that mission. The Vietnamese waiting to ambush the platoon died because I made it in time to warn you. And that chu hoy died, because I shot her to death before she could kill you."
"Finn," Thelma Beckett said hoarsely. "Are you saying that you are my son?"
Al looked from one to the other, beginning to feel Sam's frustration. A thought occurred to him. He seemed to war with himself for a moment, then make a decision. He punched a long-shot question into the handlink.
After all, if Gooshie could...
"I'm saying that what you're seeing is the aura of Finn Donnelly, but that underneath, it's me. It's Sam. Same as it was me borrowing my own sixteen year old aura back at that Thanksgiving before Tom went away, the same as it was me who traded places for a little while with Magic Williams in Vietnam."
Another memory came back to Sam and overwhelmed him before he could control it. He choked on the tears that surged to his throat, struggled to force them back down.
"Mr Donnelly?" Thelma Beckett asked, concern in her voice.
"There was one other time," Sam told them hoarsely. "Willie Walters. I leaped into Willie Walters to help the boys get their farm back. In--In the original history Vernon foreclosed on a lot of farms. A shopping mall and car park was built on the properties and he got fat and rich."
"Are you saying you helped the Walters boys with that robbery?" Tom demanded.
Sam nodded. "I was Willie Walters."
Thelma sat forward, remembering. "I remember that robbery like it was yesterday. It saved the whole district. John was in town that day and he came home with the strangest story." She looked across at Tom and Katie. "He said that Willie Walters came running up to him on the street when it was all done. He said it was strange because--" Thelma's eyes suddenly searched Sam's again.
"--Because he'd have sworn he heard Willie call him dad. And then there was the boy's strange conversation. Willie said his mother wanted to wish John a Merry Christmas. And then he--he hugged your daddy."
Thelma rose and stepped towards Sam, reached out and touched his cheek before continuing.
"The moment stayed with him so strongly because he felt somehow, that he knew the boy. That somehow, for a moment, it wasn't Willie Walters. Then afterward when Willie pulled away, whatever he sensed was gone. Now, your father was not given to believing anything but his own eyes and ears, yet I never saw him so moved by anything before or after."
Thelma looked down when she felt moisture on her fingers.
"Please mom, this time, you have to believe me," Sam pleaded, blinking back more.
"But you're not my Sam, Finn," she said desperately. "You're not him--"
Sam cleared his throat again. "Dad's cigarettes. I burned them in the trash. He taught me to drive the tractor when I was ten. I chipped a tooth when I was seven. Millie the cow had twins when I was twelve. I helped pull the second one out."
The handlink squawked. Sam ignored it, but Al worked furiously to respond to the data thrown up on it.
"Stop it, all of you," Katie said suddenly. "I don't know what's going on here, but last time Sam talked about the future I was so scared about Tommy I didn't even think about his feelings. I remember how much it meant to him, how much he believed in what he was telling us. It was important to him. Then when I cried he took it all back...only he couldn't take it all back."
She came and sat next to Finn, took his hand in hers. "He played a song for me. A song that wouldn't be written for another three years. And he told me when the Beatles were going to break up."
She turned to look at the young man on the couch.
Sam faced her, looked into her eyes.
"Sam," she said quietly. "When we were down the cowshed, with dad--?"
He understood immediately. "I gave you the room. You wanted Tom's room and I said you could have it. Then I put you over my shoulder and carried you out of the shed," he said, hope rising again in his heart.
Katie laughed. "It's not possible," she said, throwing her arms around him. "My genius brother couldn't have gone that far."
Sam hugged her tightly. "He did, and further," he said against her hair. "You were an adorable kid, sis. I wish I could have changed things--I tried to tell you about Chuck..."
Katie drew back. "I know," she said. "Years later I remembered what you said, but I was just a kid then, and the Beatles seemed so much more important than some jerk named Chuck."
They both laughed.
Tom came around and sat on the other side of him. Sam looked at him.
"There was nobody there but me and Magic, when he shot that chu hoy."
"I know," Sam said softly. "I also know that if mom had seen what you did in your off-duty she would have had a cow," he observed, and smiled at his brother, despite the lingering doubt in the older man's eyes.
At that moment a clatter at the door heralded the arrival of Katie's children, home from school. The pair came in arguing, but stopped dead at the sight of all the adults gathered in the parlor.
Olivia was in a hockey uniform, loaded with books, bag, and stick, and Tommy was in his gym clothes, basketball under his arm.
They greeted their mother, uncle and grandmother. Katie was about to shoo them off to do their homework, when Sam interrupted.
"Can I borrow your basketball, son?" he asked, sounding more like his father than he could ever have known.
Tommy threw the ball to the uncle he hadn't seen since he was a toddler, and might never see again.
When the pair had vanished into the kitchen, Sam turned his brother again.
"Tom?" He said tentatively, turning the ball nervously in his hands.
"I don't know," Tom said, shaking his head.
Without hesitation Sam raised the basketball and bonked his stubborn brother on the head with it. "I learned to jump-hook for you," he said emotionally. "I changed history and won the stupid game for you, and you still didn't keep your promise."
"Sam...?" Tom said experimentally. "Sam?"
Thelma Beckett suddenly drew in a surprised breath. "Who--who are you?"
She appeared to be looking straight at Al.
"Al, what's going on?"
"You remember when Michael Blake saw me? And how a little bitty shift in my signal stopped him from seeing me? I asked Ziggy how difficult it would be, since they should be pretty close to you genetically, to tune your family, or at least your mom, in to me by shifting my signal again slightly."
"Then only mom--?"
"I don't know. Ziggy's been running variations. She says maybe all three of them, but--"
Sam turned to his siblings. "Katie, do you see Al standing over there? Tom?"
They nodded slowly.
A grin spread across Sam's face the size of the Grand Canyon.
Then suddenly Finn Donnelly wavered and reformed before a bewildered Thelma Beckett. She stared. It was her son, yet...
"Sam," she whispered. "It is you..."
Beckett swallowed, afraid to believe it was possible.
"Mom? Y--you can see me?"
Thelma Beckett nodded, damp-eyed. "Oh, Sam, I'm sorry."
Sam shook his head, overwhelmed. "Mom, it's me who should be sorry. I was so caught up in my work I forgot I had a life. If it wasn't for Al--"
"And Donna," Katie added, watching her mother's face.
"Who?" he asked, and didn't see Al's violent shake of the head directed at his sister.
"Oh, just an old flame," she evaded. "Sam you look good as a surfer. Very hip," she teased.
Al mouthed a thank you.
"Mom?" Tom said quietly.
"Can't you see your brother, Tom?"
He shook his head.
"I can see him, now. I can see Sam..." She turned back to Al. "Son, I think you should introduce your friend properly."
Beckett turned to Calavicci. "Everyone, meet Admiral Albert Calavicci, my friend and my Observer while I'm leaping."
Before either of them could say anything Tom stepped forward and automatically extended a hand of greeting.
"Ah, that won't quite work," Sam told his brother sheepishly.
Al obligingly extended his hand and Tom proceeded to try and shake it, his eyes widening when it went straight through.
"Al is a hologram. That is, he is in 1999, in a room where all this is being projected around him, and where his image is being projected to us, to our minds," Sam explained as simply as he could.
"Then...then you're forty five years old..." Thelma calculated.
"And..you created all this?" Katie asked incredulously.
"Yeah, I did," Sam admitted. "But I have to warn you, in all likelihood the kids and Jeff wont be able to see Al or me either. See, Al's signal has to be tuned to your brainwaves, or you see what you saw before. Finn Donnelly and no Al. Babies, animals, people who are dying and sometimes mentally impaired people can see us, but no one else--unless they're somehow tuned in, like you are. I'm not exactly sure why mom can see me now," he said, glancing at Calavicci.
Al shook his head in reply. "Ziggy doesn't know, either. Maybe your mother did it, herself. The mind is an amazing thing."
"Sam," Thelma said quietly. "I want to talk to you alone."
Tom and Katie instinctively rose to their mother's bidding, cleared the coffee things and went to the kitchen.
"Now son, you can tell me exactly what this is all about," she told him, sounding a great deal like her late husband. "Do you mean to tell me that the boy who sat at my dinner table for Thanks-giving in 1969, was actually you, just as you are right now?"
Sam nodded. "Well, maybe a couple of years younger. I can't control where I'm sent, mom. It just kinda happens. I fix things. I was supposed to help the Cougars win the opening game of the season. See, in the original history we lost--"
Sam nodded again. "But I changed that, by beating No-nose Pruitt and helping the team win. I wanted to help Katie, and Tom, and...and Dad," he said painfully. "But I just made you all miserable. Al thought telling you I made it up was for the best. You weren't going to change anything, anyway."
"How could you know that?" Thelma Beckett whispered.
"Mom, look at me. This is 1994. I'm from 1999. Al over there is in 1999. My computer, Ziggy, is in 1999. Now, Ziggy can look back and see how things happen after I change something--or don't happen," he explained carefully. "So Ziggy looked back from 1999 to what happened after 1969. I didn't change anything. Dad didn't stop smoking. Katie still ran away with Chuck."
"And Tom. You were so worried about Tom. Oh Sam," she said suddenly. "What Finn--you--said to Tom before, about Vietnam. It was all true..."
Sam nodded. "I went from despair when I leaped out of the basketball game, to hope when I leaped into that ambush with Tom."
"Ambush?" She repeated, alarmed. "Both my boys were in an ambush?"
"Nobody in the platoon died, mom. And as far as the world at large was concerned, I was a soldier called Magic--Herbert Williams, one of Tom's friends."
"Oh, I've met him," Thelma remembered. Her eyes widened and she looked at her son.
Sam knew exactly what she was thinking. "Mom, I've been a small boy, very old men. I've even been several women--"
"Sam!" She scolded.
"No really. I was a beauty queen in the fifties, a liberated housewife in the eighties, and I was even a pregnant teenager for a while."
Thelma shook her head. "It's not natural. Men cannot be pregnant." She said indignantly.
Sam laughed. "How many times did I say that? I can't explain the physics of it to you mom, but I was in labor, right up to the point of delivery."
Thelma Beckett shook her head again.
"It's true Mrs Beckett," Al said, making both of them jump. "Sam was in full labor. You should have heard him yelling."
She did chuckle then. "Admiral, I clean forgot you were standing over there. Come, sit with us."
Al carefully made his way to the vacant arm chair next to Thelma's without walking through anything.
"Thank you, Ma'am," he said good-naturedly. "And the name is Al. I leave the rank with the uniform."
"So, you've been with my Sam all through this...whatever it is ...that he's been doing?"
"Yes ma'am," Calavicci confirmed. "Since he first leaped out of Project Quantum Leap. Actually, since we worked on another project together, back in the eighties, to be exact."
"And how long has he been doing this--this leaping?"
Sam hung his head. Let Al handle that one.
"A long time now, Mrs Beckett. A lot of people need his help."
Sam looked up. It was somehow more than he expected Al to say, yet very little on the face of it. Unfortunately he looked up and directly into his mother's scrutinizing gaze. And Thelma Beckett always saw more than anyone.
She stood up suddenly. Sam rose with her.
"Mom, what is it?"
"I think that's for you to tell me," she said very quietly. "I see it in your eyes, Sam. You never could hide your hurts from your mother."
Sam swallowed and looked away, tears crowding his eyes, his throat again.
"M..Mom, I don't know if I'll ever see you again," he whispered.
"You can't get home, can you?" Thelma guessed. "A long time, you said..." she remembered. "Oh, Sam."
"Mrs Beckett," Al interrupted again. "You can't tell anyone about this. If you tell Sam about his future, a lot of good people he's helped might not be. If he doesn't make that first leap," Calavicci looked toward the kitchen door. "If Sam doesn't leap there won't be anyone to save Tom from that ambush."
Thelma Beckett looked deep into the older man's eyes. "How did you know?" she whispered.
His eyes slid to Sam's and both revealed deep pain as they met. "Because," he said softly, "temptation is a powerful thing."
Thelma watched them both. There were tears in Sam's now. Something very painful had passed between the two men.
"Mom," Sam said. "Al's right. You can't tell me about this. Tom will die in Vietnam if I don't leap. A-and, mom," he stammered, and looked at Al guiltily. "M-mom, I can't tell anyone else on God's green earth about this, but--"
"Sam, no," Al whispered, knowing exactly what was coming. Sammy Jo...
"Al, I carry her with me wherever I go. Why--?"
"No, Sam," Al said vehemently. "You can't. Trust me on this. Don't do it. Please. If you ever trusted me, trust me now," he pleaded in as serious a voice as he had ever used. His face was set, the strength of his feelings obvious.
Thelma looked from one to the other. "Has something happened to Donna?" She asked.
Al closed his eyes. "Don't tell him, Mrs Beckett," he said hollowly.
"Donna?" Sam asked again. "Who--?"
Thelma's glance flashed to Al, who had opened bleak eyes once again.
Sam was looking from one to the other, frowning. He shook his head violently.
"No," he said, anguished. "No..!"
"Sam, I--" Al began.
"No!" Sam got up and backed away from both of them. "It worked didn't it? I changed history, didn't I? You never told me. I have a life with Donna I don't even know about?"
Al looked away.
Sam leaned against a wall, his head slumped against his chest, visions of the girl Donna whom he'd once reconciled with her father, floating in his mind and mixing with images from the Starbright project, the failed wedding, Sammy Jo Fuller...
He drew a startled breath when another memory punched through the curtain of selective amnesia.
It's not fair! she'd cried. It's not fair, Sam!
Oh my God...Donna.
Calavicci watched his friend slide down the wall to his haunches, grief in every sinew. Anger grew in the older man's breast at his helplessness, his carelessness.
Sam was always so God-damned alone...
He looked up. Thelma Beckett was moving toward her son. He knew that Sam and Thelma Beckett had been mildly estranged for years. That she'd never completely forgiven him for not being there when his father died. Nothing had ever been the same between mother and son again. There were always subtle tensions. Sam had never come back to either Project from any trip home as happy as he was during that brief leap back to Thanksgiving on the farm in '69.
Thelma was at Sam's side now. "Sam, get up," she said firmly.
Instinctively he obeyed but did not look at her, his face desolate, his eyes blurred with moisture.
"Has it been so long?" she asked softly.
Sam looked up at the ceiling. "I don't remember her, mom. While I'm leaping around like this I don't remember anything. I have no memory of Tom after Vietnam. I have no memory of Donna after she jilted me at the altar--"
"But she didn't, Sam," Thelma objected.
"Yes she did," Sam said through tears. "But I changed that too. I broke all my own rules to do it. I love her, mom. The trouble is I have no memory of our marriage. I have no memory of our life together."
"Oh, Sam..." Thelma touched his face with her hand.
"Mom..." he whispered. "I'm sorry. I miss him so much, mom."
"I know, son," she told him tremulously. "I know."
"Mom..." Sam choked, as her arms went around him. He closed trembling arms around her and rested a brow tense with long-repressed grief on her shoulder.
Al Calavicci watched with moisture in his own eyes. After a moment or two he hit the handlink and stepped out of the imaging chamber.
Thelma Beckett stood watching her youngest son sleep. Sam had made a phone call, then stayed with them all long into the early hours of the morning, talking, catching up, reminiscing. She didn't understand Admiral Calavicci's taboo concerning any further mention of Donna, but they'd abided by his request.
And Sam had refused to enlarge upon the next five years, preferring, instead, to learn as much as he could about their lives in the last dozen or so.
They'd all finally gone to bed, but she hadn't been able to sleep, her mind too full of her son's brooding unhappiness.
And that was exactly what it was, she told herself. It had been many long years since she'd watched either of her boys sleeping. The eternally youthful face looked so painfully young in repose, yet there were traces of his long journey at the corners of his eyes, his mouth.
She longed to just hold him, as she had in the parlor, hours earlier, to take away that pain.
He began to move, his eyes darting wildly beneath their lids, his hands twitching and his legs restless.
Thelma stepped toward the bed.
"Al!" he called out, amid a stream of urgent babble.
"Al, help me!" he yelled again, followed by still more slurred, unintelligible muttering.
Thelma put her hand on his shoulder as he worked his way through the particularly active dream.
Just when she thought he was settling he sat up suddenly.
"No!" he cried. "No, Maggie--no!"
"Wake him, Mrs Beckett," a voice said behind her. "He doesn't need to go through that again.
Thelma looked over her shoulder, startled. "Admiral..?"
"Wake him," he repeated softly.
She touched his face. "Sam?" she said. "Wake up, Sam. It's time to get up."
Beckett opened his eyes slowly. "Mom...Where am I?"
"Same place you were last night. You were dreaming. The Admiral asked me to wake you."
Sam nodded slowly and blinked the sleep from his eyes. "Is something wrong--?" He looked up swiftly at Al. Cass--?"
Calavicci shook his head. "That's what I came to tell you, Sam. You did it. She called her mother. Now she goes home, for a couple of years at least, finishes school and eventually becomes a graphic design artist."
Sam smiled. "That's great, Al...it's great." A moment later the smile was gone. "No!" he cried. "Not yet, please Al. Not yet!"
Thelma looked from one to the other, saw the hurt in Calavicci's eyes for her boy.
"I'm sorry, Sam."
Beckett could hear his friend's pain, but it didn't lessen the terrible ache as he looked up at his mother for perhaps the last time.
Al looked away, his shoulders hunched.
Thelma Beckett didn't need to know any more. She took her son silently in her arms and held him as he wept.
"Goodbye, son," she whispered.