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BLINDED BY THE LEAP

by Jane Leavell

When the dazzle and buzz of another quantum leap engulfed him, Dr. Sam Beckett was grateful. He didn't really mind being Marshal Sam McCloud--the man did have nice friends--but he was mighty tired of riding a horse through New York City rush hour traffic. Aside from the curses and honked horns, he was getting chapped thighs. It didn't help that his holographic partner, a die-hard environmentalist, kept urging him to clean up after the mess; curbing a horse is not easy to do. He was looking forward to a leap into another life, somewhere and somewhen else.

For once, Sam didn't open his eyes to find himself on stage at Carnegie Hall, or officiating at a bris, or in the middle of a heart transplant--as either victim or surgeon--or somewhere equally embarrassing and/or stressful. This time, he was lying comfortably stretched out in a car, staring at the back of a sheepskin-covered seat.

Cautiously, Sam sat up and stared into the rearview mirror, wondering who he would see this time. A child's face? A woman?

It never occurred to him that he might see a broad-muzzled, whiskered, fur-covered dog's face. For a long moment he gaped at the reflection, his mouth open, the tip of his tongue hanging out, then he whined in utter misery.

"Shit! What's that?" One of the two young men in the front of the car twisted around, looking almost as surprised as Sam. "Yo, Larry, we got us a passenger, man!"

"Huh?" The car swerved left and then right as the driver looked back. "You idiot! Whatchu think you doin', stealin' a car wit' a watch-dog in it?"

"He ain't no watch-dog. Din't even bark. Look, he's got one a' them harness-things on. Maybe he's worth money."

His partner gave him an exasperated glare. "Ri-i-ight. We gonna hold a dog for ransom." He reached out with his right hand to slap the other youth in the face. "What are you, Curly, some kinda maroon or somethin'? First you get this bright idea about robbin' that doctor's office for drugs when the damn office's still open, and now you think we're the YMCA."

Rubbing his reddened cheek, the bald thief muttered resentfully, "It's not the YMCA, it's the ASPCA."

"Oh, yeah? Wiseguy, eh?" The bushy-haired driver bopped his partner on top of the head with a closed fist, and squealed the car to a shuddering halt at the right curb. "Open the door, man, and get ridda that mutt. We ain't runnin' no dog taxi service here."

Grimacing and rubbing his shiny pate, the fat hood did as he was told. Sam still sat stiffly in the middle of the back seat, staring at his reflection. The kid snapped his fingers and whistled. When that got no response, he leaned in, grabbed the handle of the leather harness on the dog's back, and yanked it out of the car. As soon as the tubby kid squirmed back into the front seat, the car peeled back into traffic, leaving behind the stench of burning rubber.

Overwhelmed by the noise of people bustling along the sidewalk and horns honking angrily, Sam put his hands over his ears and howled, (Oh, boy!)

"Hey, lookit the dog beggin'."

Blinking, Sam tried to focus. There were men standing by the curb, dressed in work clothes and splattered with dirt and tar, some of the men clutching shovels. They gaped at him, frowning.

"Why's it got its paws over its ears like that?"

"Damn mutt's prob'ly rabid. Hey, you! Get outta here! Beat it!"

An empty glass Coca-Cola bottle banged into Sam's ribs, and he yelped. The road construction crew snickered.

Behind him, there was a sound rather like the whooshing of a car speeding by, but far more welcome. It seemed far louder than usual, but familiar. He didn't even have to turn his head to verify that the holographic `door' into the Imaging Chamber back at Project Quantum Leap had flickered into existence.

"Sam!" There was a pause, then his best friend's voice said carefully, "Well, there's good news and there's bad news, Sam. The good news is, you're a gorgeous blond. The bad news is, only another Labrador retriever would care."

//Very funny, Al.//

Al slowly walked all around him, frowning thoughtfully. "At least I can still understand you. Must be because our mesons and quarks and stuff are linked, like the way you can see me even though I'm not really here."

Sam gazed down at himself, and blushed. Bad enough that he had leaped into the body of a dog. From his point of view, he was a man standing stark naked in the middle of the sidewalk. Horribly embarrassed, he squeezed his thighs together and tried to cover himself with both hands.

Scratching his armpit, one of the road crew wondered, "If we get bit by a rabid mutt, do we get Workman's Comp?"

"I'm callin' my union rep. This is unsafe workin' conditions," declared another.

"Sam, you're calling too much attention to yourself." Coming from a short man wearing a leather vest over a flowing, French-cuffed white shirt and glittering brown, tight slacks that seemed to be covered with minute sequins, this was funny; Al, however, was being serious. "See how everyone's staring at you?"

//I can't help it!// Sam cried in anguish. //Al, I'm a dog!//

"Yeah, but not too many dogs stand on their hind legs all the time. You gotta get on all fours, Sam. Act more normal."

//Normal? You're telling me to get on my hands and knees in the middle of the city, and you want me to be normal?//

Al glanced quickly from his hand-held datalink to Sam to the road crew milling around the curb. "I'm telling you, Sam, wag your tail at those bozos, or they're liable to drill you with a jackhammer."

It was humiliating. It was degrading. It was probably only possible because Sam was still in shock...but he gritted his teeth, dropped to the pavement, and waggled his bare buttocks in the air. The road workers were still muttering, but at least they didn't throw any more bottles at him. Sam closed his eyes. //Al, you've gotta get me out of here!//

"According to that newspaper stand over there, today's August 29, 1953. You're in Brooklyn, Sam. Great city."

//Why am I a dog? What possible good can I do anyone as a dog?//

"Hold your head up, Sam, let me try and read your dog tags. Okay." Al squatted and pursed his lips as he tried to read the print-out on the tiny screen. "According to Ziggy, you're a Seeing Eye dog. You disappeared after the family car got stolen outside the doctor's office. Ziggy says your owner--a kid named Morris Howard--never recovered from it. See, he just went blind this year, after getting hit by a car, and he was just getting used to it when you vanished. Went into a major depression." He grimaced. "He killed himself on his sixteenth birthday. We gotta get you back to him, Sam."

//I'm in Brooklyn.// Sam shook his head in disbelief. //I'm in Brooklyn, and I'm naked, and I'm a dog, and I'm supposed to run around on my hands and knees--//

"And you've got a problem, Sam."

//No kidding. Tell me about it.//

"No, I'm serious. There's a dog warden heading this way, and he looks mean."

Sam brightened, sitting up straight again. //Al, this is my chance. He'll read my tags and take me back to my owner. Case closed.//

Al was scowling at the handlink. "I'm afraid not, Sam."

//Huh?//

"According to Ziggy, the guy driving that truck has himself a nice little money-making sideline. He peddles pooches to a company that tests cosmetics on 'em. Most of the dogs he picks up get sold, and he's making a delivery today. He won't get caught at this for another two years."

Sam's lips pulled back from his teeth in a silent snarl. As a scientist, he understood the need to test life-saving medications and procedures on animals before risking human lives, but as the current inhabitant of a dog's body, he had a strong aversion to the idea of donating his life for Revlon lipstick. //So what am I supposed to do? Bite him?//

"That...might not be a bad idea, in a pinch," Al agreed, glancing helplessly around the street. The construction crew were back to making desultory repair efforts on the road, and were more likely to help a dog warden than a stray--probably get a macho thrill out of bashing the poor mutt with a shovel. Most of the people on the street were in a hurry to get somewhere.

If this were a movie instead of real life, right about now they'd be playing the theme from Jaws. Al licked his lips. The balding dog warden reached in his truck for a rod that ended in a wire noose, then slipped it behind his back and began waddling across the sidewalk, holding a meaty bone out in his free hand. His smile wouldn't fool any self-respecting dog. No doubt he was already mentally counting his under-the-counter profits.

Desperately, Al spun on his heel, scanning the rest of the street, then his eyes widened. "Dio mio!"

//What?//

"Sam, turn around. See that kid over there? Run up to him. Look friendly. Wag your tail or something."

Sam squinted at the curly-haired teen leaning against a bus stop sign, one black curl falling over his forehead. From his scuffed boots and faded jeans to his worn plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled up, he looked like an early James Dean clone who couldn't get his hair to go straight. He appeared to be sixteen, maybe less; a short boy with a carefully-cultivated sullen expression.

//Why?// Sam asked, genuinely puzzled. What could this amateur-night hood possibly do for him?

Al was frantically typing something into his datalink. "Just do it, Sam!"

Awkwardly, he scuttled across the sidewalk on his hands and knees. The youth glanced down at him, made a face, edged away, and stared back down the street, no doubt looking for the bus. Sam tried to talk, but the words came out as a whimper.

"Make friends with him, Sam. He's your only chance!"

(Make friends with him. Right. If I were stuck inside a girl's body, the way my luck usually runs, I'd have no trouble at all. Except for being embarrassed, that is. But even that wouldn't be as embarrassing as this.) With a mental shrug, Sam nuzzled the boy's dangling hand with his nose. The kid jumped, but growled, "Beat it."

A rough hand snatched at the harness on Sam's back. Startled, he yelped. His eyes locked with the teenager's dark eyes, and something flickered there.

"Let 'im go."

The warden puffed, "I'm not gonna hurt the mutt, kid. This is a stray; it's my job to take care of him."

(Please,) Sam thought, still holding the boy's gaze.

"He's no stray." The kid gripped the other side of the leather handle. "He's mine."

His cheeks deflated, like a balloon losing air. Behind the sunglasses, his eyes narrowed. "Prove it."

The boy looked down at Sam, shrugged, and said, "Roll over."

//Oh, boy.//

"Do it, Sam!" Al commanded.

Grudgingly, Dr. Samuel Beckett, holder of six doctorates, stretched out on the sidewalk and rolled over, hoping the last dog to be walked down this street had been curbed. Otherwise, this could get really messy. Trying to roll over the leather harness almost broke his back, but by flailing wildly with all four limbs, he finally managed to flip over.

Gaining confidence, the teen ordered, "Sit up. Beg."

Well, at least sitting up was more comfortable. Sam held up both hands and smiled at the dog warden, who seemed to find the flash of teeth disconcerting.

"Shake hands with the nice man," the kid commanded, smirking.

Obediently, Sam extended his right hand. When the surprised dog catcher automatically reached for it, Sam leaned forward and spat on the lenses of his sunglasses, completely smearing them with saliva.

"Shit!"

The dog warden flailed blindly with both arms, slashing his noose through Al Calavicci's holographic image. Evading his snatches, Sam shielded himself behind the boy. //Can we get out of here now?//

Laughing, the youth tugged on his harness and began running up the street, dodging irritated family groups. Sam tried to hang back, but found himself dragged along and, with Al's exhortations ringing in his ears, he tried to run, too.

Strangely, it wasn't the agony he expected. He ran poised on his hands and toes, with his back arched, which should have been just about impossible. Maybe his arms were lengthened by Whomever or Whatever had taken over his leap through time and turned him into Mr. Fixit Physicist. Or was he physically a dog, regardless of the fact that his eyes and his brain told him he was Sam Beckett, buck naked? After all, Al had repeatedly told him that his real body was in the lab back home, and that Al and everyone else `saw' only the host body. Although when he looked down he saw `himself,' stark naked and covered with goosebumps, that could be his befuddled mind's desperate attempt to make sense of such a bizarre body change. If he had access to Ziggy, the Project computer, he could run a program that would search psychological theories on body-image and compare--

The boy stopped short, and Sam yelped as he bumped nose-first into the teenager's legs. Rubbing the sore appendage with one hand, Sam twisted around to be sure the warden wasn't hot on their trail. It was hard to be sure; he was now surrounded by a forest of legs. In fact, they seemed to be in the middle of a crowd of people dressed in polyester holiday clothes, milling aimlessly across the sidewalk. Some were sitting in lawn-chairs or on the curb, staring at the street, although there was nothing to be seen there. Even workday traffic seemed nonexistent.

His nose twitched. What was that delicious smell, at once tangy and spicy and somehow very Italian?

The teenager bent to ruffle his hair. "You're one smart dog," he said admiringly. "Un furbacchione. Bet you could use some grub, huh?"

Sam cocked his head to one side, smiling weakly. //Well, yeah, I guess so.//

Taking the whine for agreement, the boy dug some change from his jeans' pocket and tugged the dog to a booth near the curb. Sam stood up, resting his arms on the counter, agreeably surprised. So that was the smell! Fast food, Fifties style!

A burly, tanned man with a hairy tattoo of a cross on one muscular forearm, his once-white apron stained with grease, scowled darkly as he wrapped steaming food in a napkin. "Hey, youse, get offa da--oh. Sorry." When the youth tried to pay, the man held up both hands and backed away. "Nah. Keep it, kid. On the house."

Looking puzzled, the boy shrugged, broke the pastry in half, and shared it with Sam. Sam started to reach for it, but behind him, Al cleared his throat. "Uh-uh-uh!" Reluctantly, Sam stuck his face into it, doggie-style. Somehow, this was not the sort of life he had envisioned for himself when he won his Nobel Prize.

Al sighed nostalgically. "Calzone. Boy, I can almost smell it. The old neighborhood reeked of it, all summer long." He scratched his short black hair. "Maybe, when this leap is over, I'll see if Tina wants to hit Little Italy for some old-style cooking."

Around a steaming mouthful, Sam muttered, //Now what, Al? Who is this kid?//

Al quickly turned back to the hand link. "I need a name, Sam. Ziggy can't track him down without one, y'know. But don't worry; meanwhile, we'll stick together like Mutt and Jeff."

//Tell me you didn't say that.//

"Say what?" He was elaborately innocent. "Keep walking, Sam. I'll dog your every footstep."

Sam groaned and lowered his head. //I think I'm gonna be sick--//

"--as a dog?" Al finished helpfully, and hastily stepped back. "Good thing I'm only a hologram; a bite like that could really hurt a guy, you know."

Scowling, Sam tried again. //Look, can't you use Ziggy to dig up some useful information? This isn't funny, Al! You've gotta try to get me out of here.//

His partner tapped some of the multi-colored cubes that made up the body of the hand-link, studying the results with a somber expression. "Well, sure, if you think this'll help. According to Ziggy, you're two years old. You were born Minnie's Gold Marx--see, Morris changed your name to Shemp--in a kennel in Queens, and your parents weren't married--it was sort of a one-night stand--but according to your papers, they were--"

Sam put his head down on his arms and sighed. "Never mind."

Still chewing on the last of his calzone, the boy led Sam to the corner. Before they could cross, a buxom middle-aged lady in a black dress latched onto the teenager's other elbow. Sam promptly covered his genital region with one hand, leaving him limping on three limbs.

"Here, son, let me help you. You should be careful!"

"Huh?"

Startled, the teen let himself be officiously bustled across the street, glancing from her salt-and-pepper head to the harness on Sam's back. Sam met his gaze and lifted one eyebrow.

"Are you lost, sonny?" the woman asked solicitously when they successfully reached the opposite corner.

"Uh, no...."

Strolling absent-mindedly right into the middle of a street sign, Al glanced up at the words that seemed to be coming from the top of his head. "18th Street. Not good, Sam--you've got to get to 51st."

Under the woman's worried stare, the boy's downturned mouth began to quiver. He gazed up at her with soulful eyes, his shoulders slumping. In an instant, he seemed to drop three inches and at least three years. "I...lost my wallet," he confessed, his voice shaking. "And...and we've got a long walk ahead of us."

"Oh, you poor little thing!"

Sam twisted his head around to stare up at the boy's face in disbelief. Being a dog gave him a new perspective, but even he could tell the boy was looking straight ahead, unblinking, his eyes glazed.

"You come with me," the woman twittered. "I'll give you a ride to wherever you live. Or, wait, I'll find a policeman--"

"No!" His eyes widened with alarm, then the kid quickly assumed the deadpan expression he evidently believed went with blindness. "I'm supposed to be independent. You'll make it look like I can't take care of myself. Me and my dog have to get home on our own. That's the rules."

Clucking, she fumbled with her black string bag. "Take this. No, no, I insist."

"Kid's good," Al observed, leaning forward to count the bills clutched in her hand. "Got a real way with women, doesn't he?"

//This is wrong!// Sam growled, and straightened to his full height, grabbing at the proffered money.

"Dio mio!" She backed away, clutching at her heart.

The teenager snatched the bills and shoved them deep into his jeans' pocket. "My dog wants to thank you. See, he's trying to shake hands."

Sam snarled, //I am not!//

She smiled weakly, backing away again. "Oh, that's, uh, not necessary. Good luck, young man!"

The pair walked off stiffly, Sam bristling with anger and the teen trying to act blind. Sam yanked hard on his harness, trying to break away, but the boy clung to it like a limpet.

"Oh, no, you don't. You're too useful," he muttered. He scanned the street, his gaze narrowing on a woman a few years older than he seemed to be, wearing saddle shoes, white ankle socks, a white flared skirt, and a polka-dot top, her red hair bouncing in a long ponytail. "Oh, boy. Come to me, cara mia."

Sam tried to lag back as the youth speeded up in pursuit of the redhead. He couldn't face this all-American girl, not when he was completely naked. Why couldn't Whomever had taken over his leaps have at least provided him with a fur coat? His only hope of escaping total humiliation was to get this dog home, now, and leap into some other problem. Whatever it might be, it couldn't be worse than this. Struggling to hide his genitalia, Sam panted, //Al, how am I going to get this dog home? This--this junior con-man won't let me go!//

"Quit whining!" the boy muttered. "You'll queer my pitch."

"Yeah, Sam," Al agreed, re-materializing beside the redhead. He paused to lean over and admire her bust-line. "Give him a break. She's beautiful. Did I ever tell you my second wife was a redhead? I've always had a soft spot for--"

//Al! I'm a dog! If I don't get away from this rip-off artist, I'm going to be a dog for the rest of my life--and dogs don't live that long!"//

The rip-off artist in question stumbled clumsily against the redhead, then spewed out apologies, even managing to come up with a blush. His quarry was enchanted...with Sam.

"Oh, what a cute doggie!" Clasping her hands together, the young woman bent to ruffle Sam's fur. At least she couldn't see him blush. Unless she was a really twisted human being, she wouldn't even be interested in his private regions, but he couldn't help realizing he was completely nude. Didn't there used to be some sort of crazy morality group that advocated clothes for animals? In this position, it no longer sounded like a lunatic idea. "What's his name?"

The boy paused. "Uh...Saltatore."

Al choked, dropped his cigar, and began to laugh.

//What? What is it?//

Unable to speak, bent double with mirth, Al waved one hand at him, mouthed `Saltatore,' and erupted in laughter again. Sam gritted his teeth. To add to his woes, the redhead's excessively flowery perfume was giving him an overwhelming urge to sneeze, right in her face.

"Salty? Is he a good snoogum-woogums? What a sweetie-pie!" the girl crooned, practically swallowing Sam's muzzle. Misty-eyed with love, she looked up at the teenager. "Is he one of those Seeing Eye dogs or something?"

"Leaper," Al finally managed to gasp. He clutched at his ribs. "He named you `Leaper' in Italian, Sam. Smart kid, huh?"

Staring off into space, stiffening his spine, the kid in question helped her to her feet. "Uh, yeah. And he's the cat's meow, too."

"I just love dogs. I even have a poodle on my skirt."

"You do?"

Where he had shrunk and slumped with the middle-aged do-gooder, the boy straightened and aged with the bubblehead. In fact, Sam watched in disbelief as his hand fumbled all along the girl's curves, starting with the bosom, moving back and forth with excruciating slowness, until finally stroking the puffy poodle embroidered on her skirt. She giggled, not at all offended; after all, she obviously thought, he was a poor blind boy. He couldn't help it.

The thick curly black hair falling over his forehead probably didn't hurt, either.

Considering the matter judiciously, as befits an expert in romance, Al said, "You gotta admit, he has nice moves."

//He's a con-man!// Sam growled.

Al raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Who's he hurting? He didn't take enough from that other woman to hurt her pocketbook. In fact, he made her feel good about herself for helping a poor blind boy and his lost dog."

//He's keeping me from getting to the Howard house. Doesn't that worry you at all?//

"Nope." Al nodded to the street sign. "He's walking the same way you want to go, and you're already four blocks closer. Plus he's protection against that dogcatcher, or some sicko who gets his jollies from hurting animals. You gotta admit, Sam, he's a rough kid, but he doesn't hurt animals."

//So far,// Sam said darkly.

With a sweeping gesture, and with his voice pitcher lower than before, the kid was saying, "Rispettate il cane per il padrone."

She giggled again. "What's that mean?"

"Love me, love my dog."

Al beamed at Sam. "See?"

Oblivious to Sam's disapproval, the couple strolled to another booth, where the boy insisted on treating her to a spicy Italian sausage in a bun, and even shared one with the dog. Better yet, he set a cup of lemonade on the sidewalk for Sam. Both seemed impressed but a little taken aback by his response. Every time Sam tried to stick his face into the cup and lap up some lemonade, the cup skittered away, until finally, exasperated, he picked it up in both `paws' and drained it, closing his eyes to Al's horrified expression.

"Gee, I never saw a doggie do that before!"

"They, uh, teach 'em that in Seeing Eye School, I think. He's a real smart dog, anyway. Smarter than average, I mean."

"He's on the right track there," Al observed. "Sam, remember you're supposed to be a dog. If you act too weird, some sleazy carny operator's liable to try to dognap you and make you perform for dog bones."

Sam scratched his ear with one hand, as if brushing away an irritating fly.

"My name's Peggy," the young woman was saying shyly.

"Like Peggy Lee, the singer. You got a pretty voice, just like hers." The kid squeezed her hand. "You can call me Bert."

Sam eagerly turned to Al, who spread out both hands helplessly. "I need a last name, Sam. Ziggy's not a miracle-worker, you know." The hand-link squawked, and he slapped it automatically, without bothering to read the screen.

"Oh, look, the parade's starting! Oh!" She blushed. "I mean, don't look. I mean, with your eyes and all--"

"That's okay." Bert was all stiff-upper-lip and gallantry. "You can describe it to me."

Sam groaned, earning him a worried glance from Peggy. "Gee, do you think that sausage was maybe too spicy for him?"

"Nah, he'll be fine."

Some of the waiting crowd complained when the three of them squeezed through to the street, but the complaints always broke off in embarrassment when the speakers saw the `blind boy' staring rigidly at nothing. What Sam found almost unbearable was that what seemed like hundreds of people insisted on fondling, rubbing, and thumping him, sometimes in very private places. By the time they reached the street, he was sticky with lemonade and cotton candy from children's grubby hugs. At least one pun seemed to have eluded Al, who didn't mention Sam's resulting `dog-eared' appearance. How many more bad jokes was the other man going to inflict upon him before this leap ended?

Unperturbed and unnoticed by the crowd, Al simply walked right through them and sat down on the curb; back in the Imaging Chamber, he was probably squatting on the floor. Could the other Project Quantum Leap staff see Al there during a leap? Thanks to what Al called Sam's "Swiss-cheesed memory," he couldn't remember, even though Al kept assuring him that he'd personally designed the program.

Shaking out his abused limbs, Sam tried to distract himself with an effort to dredge up some memory of the operating system. Occasionally he remembered to tug on the harness, but Bert's grip never loosened enough for him to escape, no matter how interesting the flirtation with Peggy became.

From a dog's point of view, the parade was a disappointment. It seemed to be a combination of tremendous bursts of deafening noise and legs--thousands of legs, some of them out of step. Sam kept squirming, feeling pebbles and grit dig into his unclothed buttocks. Al sat beside him, absorbing it all, enthralled.

"This's called a living rosary, Sam. See? There's the guys carrying the beads, each one big as a bowling ball, only not as heavy, of course. And at the end is a crucifix, with an almost life-sized Jesus." Al smiled crookedly, his eyes glued to the solemn marchers as they passed. "I remember, when he was around, my dad used to be in a living rosary. When I was about eight, I took my sister Trudy to the parade. See, the Fourth of July's a big Catholic festival for Italians here. All the colors, and excitement, and the people--I'm telling you, Trudy loved it. Loved it." He gestured with his cigar, remembering. "'Course, I got a real whipping when we finally got home, and she got sick from eating too much, but it was worth it." The smile withered. "She didn't see parades and stuff much. Our mom didn't let Trudy out in public. I guess she was mbarrassed by the retardation thing."

Sam said quietly, //If I really was a dog, Al, I'd lick your hand.//

Al grinned at him. "Wouldn't do any good, since I'm just a hologram. But it's the thought that counts, so...thanks. I think."

After a moment, Sam sighed. //I owned a dog when I was a kid, back in Elk Ridge. I named him Planck, after Planck's constant, but Tom said it was the right name because he was as dumb as a plank. Every Fourth of July, he hid under my bed because he was afraid of the fireworks.//

"See? Something good is coming out of this leap already. You're remembering stuff about your past again."

Peggy nudged Bert. "Your dog is just so cute I could die. The way he keeps whining, he almost sounds like he's trying to talk, doesn't he?"

"Mmmm-hm." Not particularly interested, Bert edged closer to her. When the almost life-sized Jesus bobbed past, he leaned against her shoulder. As the Red Hook high school band marched their way down the thoroughfare, he finally slipped one arm around her waist. "This crowd keeps shoving," he explained, all innocence. "It's real hard to keep my balance."

She snuggled closer. "I don't mind." Sam made retching noises, and she jumped back. "Ooh! He's not going to spit up on my shoes, is he?"

The boy scowled at Sam. "He better not, if he wants any dog bones tonight. Quit it, Saltatore!"

"Come on, Sam, have a heart," Al agreed. "Young love. You know." He paused, cocking his head. "On the other hand, considering how shy you were as a kid, maybe you don't."

//In case you haven't noticed, Al, we're not exactly rushing toward 51st Street any more, now, are we?//

"Give him a break. With this parade, you aren't gonna get anywhere in a hurry." He cleared his throat, pretending a sudden deep interest in the hand-link. "Try not to be so...dogmatic about this, okay?"

Sam growled, deep in his throat.

"Peggy!"

Sam swung his head up, catching the bellow even over the blatt of passing tubas.

"Yo! PEGGY!"

"Uh-oh," Al said, closing his eyes.


A ripple was forming in the crowd as a crewcut head forced its way in their direction. Bert cleared his throat. "Someone you know?"

Peggy stood on tiptoe. "It's Marlon! Oh, my gosh, what time is it? I was supposed to meet Marlon at the garage. He was working on his motorcycle all morning."

"He looks--uh, he sounds mad."

She shrugged prettily. "Well, he's kind of a wild one. But he's really sweet. I met him in the candy store."

"I get the picture," Bert said, and straightened, squaring his slender shoulders, as the burly young man finally reached them. To do it, he had to shove aside a white-haired man with a cane, but Marlon seemed self-satisfied as he draped his arm across Peggy's shoulders. At any rate, he was smirking.

From his angle, Sam mostly got a close-up of Marlon's kneecaps. Despite the summer heat, he was wearing a black leather jacket with plenty of metal zippers, and he stank of oil and gasoline and Lava soap.

"Who's the punk?" he asked, nuzzling Peggy's neck.

She pushed his head away. "This is Bert." In a stage whisper that even Sam could hear over the tinny music for the politicians' float, she added, "He's blind."

"Huh." His smirk faded into a black scowl, Marlon pried Bert's fingers away from Peggy's waist. "Beat it, Weirdo. Make room for the big league."

"'Scuse me, did you say the 'big head'?"

Marlon's eyebrows lowered. "Run home to mama, small fry."

"Uh-oh," Al said again.

"Leave my mother out of this."

"Look, just drop it and get outta here, Shortie. You're askin' for trouble."

Al shook his head sadly. "Bad move, Marlon."

Bert bristled. "Who you callin' 'Shorty'?"

"You, midget. So which one are you--Sleepy, Grumpy, or Doc?"

It happened too swiftly for Sam to follow it all. Mostly, he saw Bert's fists moving rhythmically, seeming inexorably drawn to Marlon's cleft chin like magnets drawn to metal. The tough guy collapsed backward on top of a row of children perched on the curb.

Al stood up and leaned over to study the sprawled figure as squealing children wriggled free. "Looks like it was 'Grumpy,'" he mused, and shook his head again. "Too bad, Marlon, but you gotta remember--it's a dog-eat-dog world out there. Looks like you lost this dog-fight, right, Sam?"

Bert blew on his knuckles, like a gunman puffing smoke from the barrel of his revolver. "Golden Gloves champ two years ago, sucker."

"Marlon! Oh, honey, did that creep hurt you?"

Peggy knelt protectively beside the hood, dabbing at her hero's bleeding lip with her handkerchief. Bert stared at her blankly for a long moment, then snorted and pulled on Sam's harness.

"Come on, Salty. Looks like the parade's over, anyway."

The people who had been near enough to see the brief fight moved aside to let them pass. Once he got away from the crowd and started trudging along the sidewalk again, he sighed and shook his head.

"Women. You can't live with 'em, and you don't wanna live without 'em, right, Saltatore?"

//I guess so,// Sam said dubiously. Since he first stepped into the Accelerator, he didn't really remember any romantic liaisons from his past, unless you counted his crush on his former music teacher. Judging from his many enthusiastic discourses on Women, though, his partner Al would agree.

"You see, Sam?" Al pointed up as they crossed the next street. "We're heading for the right part of town."

//Can I stand up now? My back hurts.//

"Sam, how's that gonna look--a Labrador retriever marching down the street on its hind legs?"

Sam supposed he could take that for a solid no. For awhile he tried sightseeing, noting that the local movie theater was showing a double feature, GLEN OR GLENDA? paired with the latest Bowery Boys movie. But looking up that high made his neck hurt, so he ended up staring at feet again. Unfortunately, shoe styles in the Fifties weren't particularly interesting.

Soon the Italian restaurants, Mom-and-Pop drugstores, and Louis Dumbrowski's candy shop gave way to streets of 19th century rowhouses with steep stairs leading to the doors. Now Sam's hands and feet were beginning to get tired, too.

Al, however, was in his glory. "Good old Brooklyn! I was here the day the Brooklyn Dodgers became World Champs. October 4, 1955. It was the bottom of the ninth in the seventh game of the World Series. Johnny Podres shut out the Yankees, 2-0, and I got to first base with Mary Salvatorre in the bleachers."

//I don't think I want to hear this, Al.//

"You shoulda been there, Sam. The fans stormed the field after Elston Howard got thrown out at first by Pee Wee Reese. At first I thought they were all coming after me because of what me and Mary just did. All I could figure was, Father Angelo was right--"

//Al!//

Grinning, Al shrugged and studied the end of his cigar as if it were a part of his own anatomy.

Once, Bert almost tripped over Sam, spinning around to admire a passing woman melted into tight turquoise toreador pants, a jeweled white sweater, and heavy make-up, including bee-stung lips covered with pale, nearly white lipstick. Apparently his heart had not been broken by the fickle Peggy after all. Swaggering a little, Bert began to sing "That's Amore," somewhat off-key, under his breath.

Al hung back for a closer look, too, and even began to hum along with the teen, equally off-key.

As the blocks slowly passed, the heat began to wilt both Bert and Sam. Al was unaffected by it, since his body was actually strolling through the cavernous, air-conditioned Imaging Chamber back in Sam's present, which was up in the future. Whatever. Thinking about it made Sam's head hurt.

Finally, Bert threw himself down onto a low concrete wall around a raised lawn, and wiped his face on his sleeve. "Let's catch our breath, okay, Salty?"

Sam sat up, leaning his body against the wall. The cold concrete felt good against his bare skin, but Bert mistook his posture for begging, and rubbed Sam's head affectionately.

"Sorry, fella. I'm all outta treats."

//I'm not hungry, anyway,// Sam said generously.

Even Al sprawled out on the wall, chewing on his cigar, letting the hand-link to Ziggy rest in his lap. "Could be worse, you know; could be raining cats and dogs. Then you'd probably run off chasing the cats, and we'd have to chase after you."

Sam just snorted. Bert closed his eyes, his thin shoulders drooping. Tired and relaxed, with his defensive attitude on hold, he looked barely pubescent.

//We've only got about ten blocks to go,// Sam panted, wishing the lemonade wasn't only a distant memory. //Do you think Bert'll let me go when we get to the Howards' street?//

"Oh, yeah. Probably. Anyway, if he doesn't, you can always bite him. Have you had your rabies shot, Sam?"

//Very funny. Ask Ziggy, if you're worried.//

Forcing one eye open, Bert squinted down at Sam and chuckled. "Peggy was right. You really do sound almost like you're tryin' to talk."

Sam scratched his right ear. Funny; to himself, it sounded exactly as though he were speaking clearly and intelligibly.

Al stiffened, his head swiveling. "Did you see that car?"

//What car?//

"That powder-blue Kaiser four-door. I think that's what it was. Did you get a good look?" He was on his feet and at the curb lawn, scowling, before Sam could even turn his head.

//What's so important about this car?// Sam jumped to his feet as a horrible thought struck him. //Al, is there something you're not telling me? Did Ziggy say a four-door Kaiser was going to run me down or something?//

"No, no, nothing like that. I just. . .see, I seem to remember a car like that from when I was a kid. Not that I had the money for a car. Of course, a few times, when we ran away from the orphanage, we sorta borrowed a car, but it's not the same thing."

//Al! You stole cars?//

Al was hurt. "Of course not. We borrowed it. And we even washed it before we gave it back. It was in better shape than we found it."

He felt as though he should lecture the older man on morality, but Sam was too hot and tired to bother. What was the point? Sometimes he suspected Al made up a lot of stories just for entertainment value, and to see whether Sam had regained any of his memory and would contradict him. In all of those stories, Al liked to paint himself as a wild outlaw--after all, Jack Kerouac had been one of his heroes in the bland Fifties--but despite his Swiss-cheesed memory, Sam very clearly remembered Rear Admiral Albert Calavicci, the cool, efficient M.I.T. grad who brooked no stupidity from Project workers--who in turn never underestimated his intelligence twice.

On the other hand, he also knew for a fact that Al was a Navy jet pilot in the Cuban missile crisis, and an ex-astronaut, and a Vietnam P.O.W., with five wives and a mini-harem made up of virtually every attractive woman connected with Quantum Leap. Maybe the kernel of truth in those stories wasn't really puffed out. In fact, maybe 'outlaw' was an understatement....

Sliding down the cool wall until he was stretched out on the sidewalk in a patch of late-afternoon sunlight, Sam drifted into an incoherent dream. Al, with his short curly hair greased back, was putting on the dog and crooning "The Great Pretender" into a microphone, while Verbena Beeks and Tina threw popcorn at him. Sam himself was busy darting back and forth, catching all the popcorn in his mouth, when a cat dashed across the stage. Terribly excited, Sam ran after it. He woke with a start, his arms and legs twitching, to find the sunlight darkened by the shadow of a bulky man plopping himself on the wall beside Bert.

"Come on, kid," he said softly, enticingly. "I'll give ya a ride, wherever ya wanna go."

"Beat it," the boy said drowsily, not bothering to open his eyes.

The stranger edged closer, and one hand curled around Bert's slender shoulders; the other dropped to his crotch.

Sam blinked, half-believing he was still dreaming, but the man was smiling dreamily as he began to fondle the teen. With a howl of rage, Sam lunged to his feet and tackled the pervert, knocking him backward. The man started to struggle, but stopped when Sam bared his teeth in a savage growl.

//What kind of sick child molester would--//

"Let him go, Sam," Al said quietly.

//Let him go? Are you crazy? Did you see what he was--//

"I saw."

Bert grabbed at Sam's harness. "Maybe I oughtta let my dog teach you a lesson, buddy. He's crazy about sweetmeats."

"Look--I didn't--I was only--I wasn't gonna hurt ya, kid!"

"Try it with another kid like me, and you'll be a eunuch. Come on, Salty."

Reluctantly, Sam let himself be dragged away from the cowering man. He could feel Bert trembling through his grip on the harness as they walked away. It was no surprise; Sam was shaking, too.

//Can you believe that? That scum was going to molest a little blind boy!//

"Bert's not blind, Sam, remember? Besides, I thought you didn't like him. You called him a rip-off artist."

//That doesn't give some big hulking pedophile the right to--Al!// Sam stopped abruptly, almost tripping Bert. //Maybe Ziggy was wrong. Maybe this was my job--to protect Bert from a rapist!//

"Not a dog's chance. Okay, sorry, no more puns. Not a chance, Sam."

Sam bristled. //Why not?//

"If you weren't here, he'd've probably kicked the S.O.B. in the wazoo. He's a tough kid, Sam, and I've got a feeling he's older than he looks. He can take care of himself."

//But--//

"Think, Sam." Al tapped his left temple with one finger. "If you were just supposed to help Bert, you'd've leaped by now, right?"

/ /Oh. Right.//

Al consulted the hand-link. "Ziggy still thinks there's a 97.5% chance that you're gonna get Shemp home and then leap. So don't worry. It was an easy leap, for a change."

//Easy? I'm running around on all fours, barking, and you say it's EASY?//

Bert froze, nervously scanning the street. "What's wrong, boy? Did that creep follow us? Why are you growling?"

"Now see what you did? You're scaring the kid to death, Sam. Calm down. Your fur's standing on end."

//Great. How am I supposed to make my fur lie down?//

"I don't know. Try taking deep breaths. Close your eyes and say 'om' real slow." Al smiled nostalgically. "I used to date this meditation teacher, she'd have me sit naked with my fingers touching my thumbs, 'omming,' and then we'd--"

//Please, Al. I really don't want to know.//

Having reassured himself that no one was lurking behind any parked cars, Bert leaned over to thump Sam's ribs affectionately. "You're a good dog, Saltatore. We make a great team, huh?"

Sam firmly shook his head, then tried imitating a pointer, using one hand and his nose to indicate the sidewalk ahead of them. The boy hesitated, then made a face. "You wanna go home, don't you?"

He understood! Electrified, Sam nodded his head as rapidly as he could.

Bert sighed. "Yeah. Figures. Nobody ever wants to stay."

He didn't let go of the harness.

Sam glanced up at Al, disappointed. //Now what do we do?//

"Don't panic yet. We're still walking in the right direction, and we're practically there. Bert just needs a little time to get used to the idea of letting you go, that's all. All boys want a pet dog, sometime or other, and you gotta admit, you'd be even better'n Lassie or Rin Tin Tin. As dogs go, Sam, you're the World's Champ."

//I can't tell you how that makes me feel.//

Al shrugged. "Okay, okay, just trying to help."

(Just trying to distract me, more likely. Whenever he thinks I'm worrying too much, or coming too close to something he's trying to hide from me, he comes up with one of his stories, or somehow gets me distracted. Well, it's not going to work this time.)

Sam absently scratched his shoulder. "Al. You think I over-reacted, don't you?"

Al paused, reluctantly turning away from a shapely brunette with a wispy pixie haircut, just emerging from a boxy Fifties car. "Maybe a little. . .but let's face it, Sam, he really was a crud."

//It's just. . .I think I remember. . . .// His voice trailed off.

"Remember what?"

Slowly, staring at the sidewalk as he kept pace with Bert, he said, //I was just eight or nine, and in the Scouts. We were camping out in the woods, and one night my Scout Leader. . . .// He swallowed hard.

"Yeah. I know." Sam stopped again to stare up at his partner, provoking an exasperated curse from Bert. Al looked away. "Look, Sam, you know Dr. Beeks says I can't tell you anything like that; you have to remember it for yourself."

Bert dragged him a few feet, until Sam remembered to unlock his joints and start moving his arms and legs again. //Are there any other bombshells like that waiting for my memory to kick in?//

Al shrugged uncomfortably, still not looking at him. "Listen, I think I oughtta go back to the lab. You know the procedure--I'm supposed to check with Verbena, and help interview whoever's in your body in the Waiting Room, and--"

Sam barked, //In case you haven't noticed, Al, whoever is in my body is a dog. What's he supposed to do, woof once for yes and twice for no?//

Al grinned at that, finally glancing down at him, cocking one eyebrow. "What I wouldn't give to have been there when Verbena was trying to talk to him and getting no answer. Do you suppose she diagnosed it as acute psychotic reaction? Maybe he even leaned forward and gave her face a big sloppy lick or two." He paused, considering this. "Come to think of it, I wouldn't mind doing that myself. The next time she hauls me in for a session, I'll--" He broke off. "Sam, what are you doing?"

//Huh?// To his horror, Sam realized he was sniffing a fire hydrant. Blushing furiously, he edged around it. //I was just checking out the old-fashioned hydraulic system,// he explained, and scratched nervously at his neck.

"S-u-u-r-e you were, Sam. I believe it. Lots of guys at the Project wouldn't."

//If you so much as hint at this to Gooshie, I'll--!//

"You'll what?"

//I'll tell Tina about you and Denise and her idea of 'in-depth research' for your biography.//

Aghast, Al dropped his cigar, which promptly disappeared; only items Al was actually touching joined his holographic link to Sam. "You wouldn't!"

//You know what they say: every dog must have its day.//

The threat was enough to keep Al perfectly silent for over two blocks. That was a relief, for it gave Sam time to mull over the new memory. Mr. Moore had seemed so big, so intimidating--and he was The Boss, he was supposed to know what was right and what was wrong. Looking back, he could only think of the man's hands as slimy, but at the time they were warm and gentle, and he felt this unfathomable mix of fear and pleasure and guilt. Afterward, especially when the nightmares kept waking the rest of the family up, his mom kept asking why he wanted to drop out of Scouting, but he couldn't tell her, couldn't tell anyone. Only when his brother Tom kept pestering him could he manage to choke out, "Mr. Moore--he scares me," and then he burst into tears. Maybe it was the tears that warned Tom. Nobody said anything--you just didn't talk about sexual abuse in those days--but one week later, Mr. Moore resigned from the Scouts and left Elk Ridge. Sam joined the Little League, and kept a wide distance from his coach, just in case.

"It happened to me, too," Al said softly, popping up beside him in that irritating way of his. Even before he became a hologram to observe Sam's leaps, he'd had a habit of catfooting up behind people and taking them by surprise. Twitching, Sam glanced up at him. His jaw was set hard. "What do you expect when you cram a bunch of curious little boys together in an overcrowded orphanage? Not to mention all those times I was running away, a skinny little boy loose on the streets--I was fair game for all sorts of sickos. They love 'em small and helpless-looking."

//I didn't realize. . . .//

"No reason you should. It's not something we ever talked about." He shrugged. "Verbena says that's one of the reasons I, uh, womanize so much; I still feel guilty from being a victim. It's dumb, but every little kid thinks it's his fault those creeps picked on him, that maybe he was askin' for it. Don't make that mistake, Sam. You were a sweet little boy, and some pervert took advantage of that." With an effort, he flexed his jaw, and some of the familiar devilish gleam lit up his eyes again. "One thing I learned real fast was how to protect myself. There's guys in the world right now who'll never father children--which is a relief to the rest of the world--thanks to me."

//Right now in 1953, or in 1999?//

"1953. But I didn't like to do it unless I had to. You know me; I like to make love, not war."

//Which is how you got be in an admiral in the Navy? And won all those medals?//

"Hey, I've been lucky." A sly grin lit his face. "That, and I was doggedly loyal and persistent."

//Ha-ha.// There was an irritating crawling feeling on his ribs. Sam paused to scratch at it, then rubbed it against a scrawny maple tree. The rough bark felt good against his skin. //Where are you, Al?//

"Right here beside you, Sam."

//No, I mean now. In 1953.//

"Oh." Al squinted across the street at a somewhat rundown two-story house in need of several gallons of white paint and major landscaping. "On a work scholarship to M.I.T., doing maintenance work on the grounds to pay my way, and just thinking about eventually joining the Navy and applying to the Academy to become a flyer. Right now I think I'm hot stuff, God's gift to women and a combination of Popeye and Superman."

Something about this year was important, something Al had told him about on another leap. What was it? Frowning, Sam raised a hand to gnaw on a finger. //Your little sister. . . .//

"Trudy. She died."

That was it. //She got pneumonia and died in the institution in 1953.//

Al poked at the hand-link. "Listen, Sam, I really gotta go now."

For the first time, Sam realized they'd stopped walking, and Bert was staring at the same rundown house, his face drawn and pale, like a marathon runner with the finish line finally in sight. Sam followed his gaze, took a deep breath. //His name's Albert, isn't it?//

The glittering doorway to the Imaging Chamber solidified, and Al quickly moved toward it, but Sam stepped in front of him. Physically, he couldn't stop Al, but he froze his partner with a look.

//Don't you dare run away now, Al. That's you, isn't it?"

He swallowed and looked away. "Uh, yeah."

//You knew this was all going to happen!//

"No. Not exactly. There was no Seeing-Eye dog, but I remember coming to the asylum to get Trudy." He grimaced, his eyes dark. "I couldn't believe it, Sam. I finally got a chance to keep my promise and get her outta there, and it was too late. Nobody even bothered to call and tell me she'd. . .she was gone." His voice broke. "So after I. . .so anyway, then I caught the bus to Brooklyn and came home to say goodbye." Al coughed, painfully, and stared at the sidewalk as if it had suddenly developed seductive curves and red hair. "We only lived there a hot minute, before our dad got cancer, but it was the only home I had left, and I just couldn't say goodbye to her at the institution that let her die."

//I was sent here to change your life?//

He gestured with one hand, as if brushing away a fly. "No, of course not. You didn't change anything, Sam; I even met Peggy before, and the pervert picked me up when I was hitchhiking. This time, maybe he thought a blind kid would be even more fun, easier to control, but both times he found out different."

//Why didn't you tell me?//

"You didn't like me, Sam. You called me a junior con-artist. It was sorta embarrassing, actually." His lips tightened. "And I'll have you know I wasn't a junior con-artist; by then, I was a real professional at it!"

Sam scratched at his belly with one hand. Al was right; it was embarrassing. //I like Bert--you--it's just that I've been frustrated. It's really no fun being a dog, Al.//

"Yeah, you're leading a real dog's life, all right."

//Very funny. Would you stop with the puns, already?// Sam shook his head. //God, Al, I can't believe I didn't recognize Bingo.//

Al shrugged, managing a half-smile. "I looked a lot different before I got that military crewcut. And when I was Bingo, I was always trying to act older than I was, but out on the street, if you're kinda small and young-looking, you can get away with things easier."

Bert sat cross-legged on the curb lawn, his eyes still locked on the house. He shrank in on himself, looking like a forlorn sixteen-year-old locked out of the house instead of a college graduate. "We're brothers, you and me, Salty. We got no home, nobody to love." He slid his right arm around Sam and hugged him fiercely. "Just a coupla strays."

Blinking, Al turned away and pretended to be completely absorbed by the house-numbers behind them. Bert's lip began to quiver, and the dark soulful eyes welled with tears.

There was no way he could comfort Al. So many times since he took his first quantum leap into the past, Sam had wanted to hug his buddy, to thank him for his loyalty and encouragement, to soothe the aching heart he saw breaking when Al couldn't even touch his wife Beth as he said farewell one last time--but he couldn't touch a hologram, and words weren't enough. Now he could touch young Albert Calavicci, but that wasn't enough without the words to comfort him. No matter where or when he ended up, he just couldn't win.

Sam leaned over and gently kissed Bert on the forehead.

As if the kind gesture had loosed a dam, Bert buried his face on Sam's back and began to sob.

It seemed to take a long time for the waves of grief to pass, but then, from what Sam knew of Al's life, there was a lot of misery to cry out: a mother who abandoned him, his father's death by cancer, his sister's death from pneumonia--or neglect--in the asylum, life in the orphanage and on the run...and he was barely in college. Basically no more than an overgrown child.

"Hey, take it easy, kid," Al threw over one shoulder. "You had a great time at M.I.T. and learned a hell of a lot. Then you'll go to Pensacola, and you'll meet Lisa, and once you've climbed into a cockpit, you'll know what heaven is. You got nothing to cry about, Bingo. Trust me."

//He can't hear you, Al. I wish he could.//

"Doesn't matter." Al half-turned and briefly met his gaze. "At least this time he wasn't alone. I didn't know it, but I had the best friend a man can have with me. Thanks, Sam."

Bert sat up and roughly wiped his face on his arm. "This is really dumb, you know? This is somebody else's home now, not mine. It's time for you 'n' me to go home." Gently, he guided Sam toward the sidewalk, and released the harness. "Go on, Salty. You got some blind person down the street waitin' for you."

It was what he wanted, but Sam hesitated. The grown Al said sharply, "Go on, Sam."

//That's all the poor guy needs--one more abandonment.//

"Even when I was a snot-nosed kid, I wasn't low enough to steal some blind man's Seeing-Eye dog. He knew he'd have to give you up sooner or later. And the Howard kid's miserable without his pooch."

As if agreeing with him, Bert said angrily, "Go home, you mangy mutt! The last thing I need is some fleabitten dog taggin' along with me!"

//Fleabitten!// Sam was outraged. //Did you hear what he called me?//

Al cleared his throat. "Actually, Sam, I've been meaning to mention to you. . . ."

Glancing down, Sam realized he was automatically flicking at one hip with his right hand, and the meaning of that nasty crawling sensation sank in. //Oh, boy. I have fleas.//

"The sooner you get Shemp home, the sooner he can have a fleabath," Al pointed out. "So beat it, dogbreath."

Still Sam hesitated. Bert shoved his hands deep into his jeans' pockets. "It's okay, Saltatore. I've got a bus to catch. You go on home."

//Goodbye, Bert.//

The curly-haired young man nodded, as if he understood. Al stood beside him, a little taller, a lot older, but so much like his younger self that Sam felt a fool for not noticing sooner. After that one last look, he turned and began to run.

As his hands touched a lush green lawn, the door to the house opened. A voice cried, "Shemp! You're home!"

Sam jumped onto the first step leading to the front porch, and leaped into another life.

(-)(-)

When the buzzing and psychedelic rush of light finished sweeping him through time, Sam Beckett found himself standing on the lawn of a middle-class suburban neighborhood on a muggy summer afternoon. Up and down the street, children were jumping rope or pedalling bicycles. Here and there a dog barked, or vainly tried to capture a fleeing squirrel. He was relieved to feel no urge to join them.

A glance at the corner street sign told him he was on Mockingbird Lane. Judging from the bulky cars driving by, it was sometime in the Sixties; Al, the old car buff, could pinpoint the exact year at a glance if he were here. Sam looked down at the bag of groceries clasped in his arms, and then up at the house in front of him.

"Come on, Mommy!" a little blonde pixie on the porch cried impatiently. She looked to be about four years old.

(Oh, boy. I'm a woman again.)

Hesitantly, Sam followed the little girl into the house, but as he entered the door, his right ankle twisted and he stumbled, spilling the food all over the varnished floor. (You'd think I'd be used to walking in high heels by now, with all the cross-gender leaps I've made!)

Solemnly, the toddler put her right forefinger on her nose and wriggled it from side to side. Immediately, the Swanson frozen foods and bottles of catsup levitated past Sam's nose and floated in a silent, single-file parade into the kitchen.

Still on his hands and knees, he swung his head to gape at the toddler. "Tell me I didn't see that."

"Oops. I'm sorry, Mommy, I forgot."

"You forgot. . .?"

Like a T.V. being switched on, a woman sprang into full living color in front of him. He had a fleeting impression of flowing mauve gossamer robes, an imperial stance, upswept auburn hair, and a sneer. Sam scrambled to his feet, wobbling in the high heels and fighting an urge to bow, or at least curtsey. He reached out uncertainly and touched the older woman's shoulder, then jumped back, surprised.

"Samantha, what on earth are you doing?"

"I'm sorry. I, uh, thought you were a hologram."

Her eyes flared. "You what? The very idea! Either that idiot Durwood has driven you mad--which wouldn't surprise me in the least--or you're ill. Have you seen the doctor yet?"

"No. I don't think so."

The woman snapped over one shoulder, "Dr. Bombay!"

Immediately, a portly middle-aged man with curly brown hair and a toothbrush mustache popped into existence at Sam's elbow, making him twitch. The man was swathed in a parka, ski cap, and incredibly long scarf in Oxford colors.

"Oh, I say, Endora, must you call just when I was a short exhilarating climb from my tea appointment on the Himalayas with the High Lama?" he cried in robust British tones. "Blasted house calls! Couldn't you have made an appointment with my secretary?"

Sam closed his eyes. "Oh, boy. . . ."

Th-th-that's All, Folks!
Leap to the conclusion.

Gooshie, fire up the Accelerator and take me to Jane Leavell's Story Page, because I've got a hot date with Al Calavicci in another story.

I want to Leap to the main page to talk to the author or to check out the guestbook and links--maybe even buy QUANTUM LEAP books at a discount.

Copyright 2009-2013, Jane A. Leavell. All rights reserved.