Jane A. Leavell
"I did it! I confess! I killed him, all right?"
Honey firmly closed her office door, cutting off the emotional howls. All three desks jammed into the broom closet-sized room were empty, so Matt and Ernie must still be at the coffeeshop. Good. That gave her time to get this birthday card addressed and stamped. If she didn't get it out in this morning's mail, she'd have to put up with more cracks about her unpunctuality from the rest of the family.
"Here's looking at you, kid," she scrawled inside the card, and grinned. She addressed the envelope in her clearest penmanship, careful to use his full name: Humphrey Bogart Zuckerman. Then she licked the envelope flap and slapped a picture of John F. Kennedy in the upper right corner. There.
The card would be mildly irritating, but she was really looking forward to the fireworks once he realized that he was going to receive another Humphrey Bogart videotape every single month for the rest of the year. Bo always irrationally blamed poor Bogie, a perfectly good actor, for his name, when the real culprit was Mama. As a cop, she knew giving your kids outrageous names wasn't technically a crime, but it ought to be. Mama was a seven time repeat offender. Even the death penalty was too mild for something like that.
Whose birthday was next? Errol's, wasn't it? As soon as his copy of Captain Blood arrived--in the original black-and-white, of course--the rest of her sibs would figure out that this year's theme was videotapes, so the surprise value would be lost, but they'd still be just as irked. It would make up for all those jars of honey and clothing decorated with bees that they dumped on her last year.
Ernie kicked the door open and strolled in, a hot cup of coffee in one hand and a half-eaten cinnamon apple fritter in the other. "Yo! How's it hangin', Honey?"
"It's hanging just fine, Ernie. You still got yours?" she inquired sweetly.
As usual, sarcasm rolled right off his back. Balancing the coffee cup on top of a zigzag tower of procedural manuals on the corner of his desk, he switched on his computer monitor. "Hey, don't forget your lecture to the kiddies this morning."
"That's tomorrow, isn't it?" The erasable calendar posted on the east wall was too far away, so she scrabbled through the piles of loose papers cluttering her desktop until she found her appointment book. There it was, scrawled in red ink: 10 a.m., Roosevelt Junior High. Honey groaned, provoking a chuckle from Ernie. Rubbing her temple, she said sourly, "Go ahead, rub it in. Before I got assigned to the squad, you got to do these dorky speeches."
"Now, now." Trying to hit a comma, he drove his elbow into the tower of books, and barely caught the coffee cup before it toppled. "Public relations are an important tool in police work. The job can't be all thrills and excitement. They also serve who only stand and wait."
"Or sit and eat," she snapped, and flipped her appointment book shut.
As soon as the words left her mouth, she was sorry. Ernie was an okay guy, but he knew as well as she did that Honey was getting the shit work because the other guys wouldn't accept a woman as a serious police officer. Meter maids and traffic cops, maybe, but not as their equal on an important squad like this. As far as they were concerned, she was fine for public relations work, or typing reports, but nobody was going to trust her with their lives, and they made sure she knew it.
It was doubly frustrating because Honey knew damn well she wasn't just as good as any guy on the squad, she was better. None of them spent a year in D.C. studying with the best specialist in the Free World. After the in-depth, top-security training she got from Flynn, she could teach them all a life-saving technique or three, but instead she got stuck behind a desk all the time.
Maybe if she wasn't cursed with a name like `Honey Zuckerman,' they'd find it a little easier to take her seriously.
"Could you get that, Honey?"
Oh, right, the phone was ringing, and answering phones was one of the few jobs they were glad to slough off on her. In one of the inexplicable budgetary decisions of the department, they each had a computer terminal, but there was only one phone in the room, and it was hers--whether she wanted it or not.
Great. Just what she needed to make her day complete: a phone call from Mama. "Yeah, Ma, it's me."
"You're still in the office? I was afraid you'd be on one of those missions."
"No, Ma. This morning, I'm giving a talk at an elementary school."
"That's wonderful! It's such a relief." Then she sounded dubious. "It's not one of those awful inner-city schools, is it? A mother worries, you know."
"I think I can defend myself against any fifth grade psychopath attacks, Ma."
"You shouldn't have to. At your age, you should be settling down, raising a family. You're not getting any younger, you know."
No, I've aged six years during this phone call alone.
Honey gripped the receiver tighter and plastered a fake smile on her face, feeling Ernie looking back at her. "Ma, I've got work to do, okay?"
"Don't call me that, young lady. I've told you a hundred times, I'm your Mama, not some hillbilly `Ma' like Ma Barker or something."
"Anybody who'd name her son Heathcliff Bronte Zuckerman has no room to talk."
Mama said indignantly, "That book is a classic, and you know it! Any man would be proud to bear a name like that. Not to mention having Laurence Olivier play him in the movie."
Honey snorted. Just wait until Cliff got his birthday present, along with the note pointing out that Olivier had a love affair with Danny Kaye!
"Anyway, it so happens, I'm calling about Cliff. I want you to come to dinner tonight to meet his new girlfriend, Mary Lynn. Such a sweet girl! I just know you're going to love her."
"I won't take no for an answer, Honey. Do you want to hurt her feelings? She's expecting to see you all there. It's just a little family dinner. What could it hurt?"
"First of all, there are seven of us, plus the spouses and kids. Secondly, the last little family dinner you threw, for Jimmy's fiance, you had waiters in white gloves serving Oysters Rockefeller."
"There's nothing wrong with maintaining good appearances, is there?" her mother asked indignantly. "Anyway, I promised Cliff, no caterers, just a home-cooked meal with the whole family together. It's important to him, and it's important to me. He waited so long, I'd just about given up hope that he'd ever find a woman to love, and I'm not going to have you ruin it."
"If their relationship is so shaky that she'd break up with him because one of his sisters didn't show up for dinner, he's better off without her." There was a long, long silence on the other end of the line. Finally, Honey sighed and surrendered. "Okay, okay, I'll be there."
"Dress nice. Wear those pearls your father got you when you turned eighteen. And be on time, for a change. It's a wonder to me how you don't get fired, running late all the time."
"I'll be there as soon as I can. Police work doesn't always run on a schedule, you know."
Mama offered hopefully, "I think my hairdresser could squeeze you in this afternoon."
"If Cliff's girlfriend doesn't like us the way we are, she can find another boyfriend. Now I really have to get to work, Mama. I'll see you tonight."
As she hung up the receiver, Honey felt a strange tearing sensation, as if she was a piece of tape being peeled off something. The room around her turned pale blue and faded. Was this one of those out-of-the-body experiences they talked about on T.V.?
Instead of rushing down a long dark tunnel toward a bright light and seeing her Papa waiting there, she found herself in a big round room, in a bed, hooked to I.V.s. Honey swallowed hard.
"Ohmigawd, I've had a heart attack!"
Admiral Albert Calavicci, USN, felt like a life-size G.I. Joe doll, and wasn't sure if that was a good or a bad thing. In his tailored dress whites, sporting campaign ribbons and painstakingly polished medals, he garnered plenty of respectful salutes, and women did seem to want to clutch him to their collective bosoms, a move he would never forestall. But he frankly preferred his own fashion taste to the Navy's. The minute he wrapped up this VIP tour of Project Quantum Leap for a group of Pentagon brass, he was changing into his cherry red silk peasant top and black velvet trousers, so he'd be ready if Sam finished Leaping into a new body. Seeing him in full regalia always made Sam nervous.
"Al? Al, sweetie, wait up!"
Tina's familiar nasal cry made him swivel, and he grinned as he watched her try to run down the corridor, handicapped by her tight leather skirt and stilt heels. "You really miss me, eh?"
"No. I mean, sure. But Gooshie sent me to tell you something." She sucked in a lungful of air, and he had to admire the way her cowl-necked red angora sweater swelled as she did so. Tina had a great pair of lungs. "Sam Leaped already, and Dr. Beeks is with his body now, and Gooshie, he wants to lock onto Sam through your link, so you gotta come now."
"Oh. Too bad." He glanced at his watch. "I thought I'd have more time. Listen, give me a minute to pick up our visitors, and then you can babysit 'em while I take care of the Leapee. Hunt up Logan Murphy from Research & Development to help you--he can baffle 'em with fancy terms so they'll think they're learning something, okay?"
"Okay," she said obediently. "But I won't enjoy it. He's not cute, like you, and besides, he smells like Old Spice and mustard."
"Yeah? What do I smell like?"
She shrugged, flicking back her blonde hair and nearly knocking off one of the electronic earrings that flashed red and green, like traffic lights. "It's been so long since we've had any time together, who can remember?"
"Aw, baby, don't be like that. You know I've been tied up--"
"Not in my bedroom," she pointed out tartly, walking away.
Even though he was on a tight deadline, Al lingered to watch that pert, well-formed ass finish twitching down the hall and around the corner, filling him with nostalgia. Tina was right. It had been--what?--all of a month since he last had his hands on more curves than a West Virginia road, warm and--
No time for that. If he dawdled, God and Mary knew what sort of mess Sam would get himself into. The last Leap had been safe enough, which probably meant they were overdue for some real trouble.
Heaving a wistful sigh, he dismissed thoughts of Tina, pulling out the multi-colored little plastic hand-link that kept him in touch with Ziggy, the miracle parallel hybrid computer that was the heart of Project Quantum Leap. He'd worked up some notes on the Project yesterday to amaze the tourists, with statistics guaranteed to knock their socks off, or at least start their medals rattling. Because of the top security restrictions, he couldn't reveal the actual work done here. Not even Vice Admiral Harriman Nelson knew that Dr. Samuel Beckett, holder of six doctorates, was Leaping into other people in his past and changing their lives for the better, or that Al himself tagged along in the form of a hologram, observing and passing on helpful data from Ziggy. Too bad, really; word was that Nelson, who'd designed the first nuclear-powered submarine in the Fleet, had a career jam-packed with bizarre adventures, and it would've been fun comparing notes.
Well, even skirting the real point of this mission, there'd be plenty to talk about. He'd stress Sam's high I.Q., bring up the cover story in Time and the Nobel Prize, then spring the numbers routine on them: the $2.4 billion yearly budget, the incredible number of employees and work-hours put into this base, the tons of paperwork yielded yearly--the sort of razzle-dazzle that fluffed Naval officers' sails. They'd eat it up. Climax the tour with a close-up view of the nuclear core at the heart of the mountain, and close with dinner and drinks and talk about the Good Old Days, and he could count this tour a success.
This sort of duty reminded him of his teenage years in summer stock. He almost felt like he should get a union card with Actors Equity, considering the performances he had to put on.
Al entered the elevator and told it, "Entrance," then spent the next ten floors reviewing the statistics. When the polite computer voice assured him he was on the right floor, he tapped the blue block on the hand-link, freezing the screen, and stepped into the corridor.
The sooner he could slough the Navy brass off on Tina and Logan, the better. At least they were on time; he spotted a covey of white uniforms clustered around the guards, signing in.
"Bruce, leave our things here with Ray and come with me," the Vice Admiral ordered, peering down a long nose at his subordinates.
"Yes, sir!" One of the lieutenants fired off a salute.
Al promptly wheeled around, dodging down the nearest cross corridor and moving at a brisk pace. Straight ahead, O'Toole, one of his Security boys, was lounging against the wall, chatting with a female tech from the Library. Spotting the approaching uniform, O'Toole lunged to attention, his face turning first milky, then pink.
"Admiral! I was just, er, escorting Ms. Stampfli with today's files."
"Is that what they're calling it these days?" He lowered his eyebrows at Stampfli, who winked back cheerfully but resumed wheeling her laden cart down the hall. "O'Toole, I'm pretty sure the VIP party at the front door are ringers."
"My feelings exactly. They're already inside, so let's work on damage control. See how many of the guys you can round up before they realize we're onto them. Call for outside back-up. Seal off the rest of the building as soon as you can, so at least some levels are safe--make the core your first priority. If they sabotage that, we're history, along with most of New Mexico."
"You're going out the emergency exit?"
"No. I'm going after Sam."
"Admiral, the regs state that you are too valuable to--"
"O'Toole. You have your orders." Al clapped the stocky L'il Abner clone on the back. "Good luck, son."
He took off at a brisk trot, before the kid could decide his real duty was to protect the Project's co-director. O'Toole was a good man, he just had a problem with getting into creative mischief, so he kept getting busted down to ensign. Having had the same problem, Al could sympathize. If he hadn't become a war hero, he'd have probably spent his entire Naval career ricocheting between lieutenant and ensign.
The next elevator he came to was busy, and Al thumped the control panel, frustrated, until the car finally came back. "Tenth floor," he snapped, and the elevator made a jerky descent, as if irritated by his treatment.
Too bad he couldn't spare a few minutes to shuck this outfit; it made him stand out like the sole vanilla ice-cream in a dozen cones of chocolate. On second thought, even if he had the time, it wouldn't be a good idea to go near his office or base apartment. Whether they were here to destroy the Project, or to snatch info and personnel, he and Sam were liable to be their top priority. What the hey; at least he was in white, so maybe he'd blend in with all the white lab coats around here, at least at first glance. He'd just have to keep moving so fast that nobody got a second look.
He slipped out of the elevator before the door was all the way open. Did he hear gunfire somewhere?
If they were packing those new Swiss plastic guns, that would explain why they didn't set off the metal detectors, but, dammit, Ahern should've run a retinal scan before letting the group on base; it was standard procedure. Maybe that was his fault; he'd spent most of the week telling everybody to treat Nelson with kid gloves. If the fake Admiral Nelson threw a fit about it, Ahern might've thought it was better to give in meekly. After all, the group was expected, and the base had never been invaded before.
Well, if he survived this, he was gonna have to kick some butt in Security.
Behind him, electronic doors snapped shut. Good. O'Toole had listened to him, and those nozzles were denied access to the lowest floors of the base, including the nuclear chambers. Depending on how fast they moved, they might still be able to reach the Waiting Room, Imaging Chamber, and Control Room. Unfortunately, that was the heart of the project, but at least most of the personnel were reasonably safe in the rest of the building, and you had to count that a plus. Besides, from up here, they couldn't trigger a nuclear meltdown.
An alarm started wailing as he reached the Waiting Room, and he almost got shot by the armed guards outside the door. Marden and Lopez, one short and dark, one tall and dark, and you were risking your life if you made a crack about Mutt and Jeff.
It was great that they were quick to protect Sam's body, but he was grateful Lopez and Marden weren't trigger-happy, even though he'd had the sense to replace their regulation ammo with tranquilizer darts. Once before, a psychotic serial killer who'd traded places with Sam had managed to escape the Waiting Room, and an over-zealous corporal nearly shot him, which would have trapped Sam in the past in the psycho's body; that wasn't a risk Al intended to take again. As a result, if Marden and Lopez shot him, he'd be snoozing for the next six hours instead of dead, but that would leave the Project without a head, so he held up both hands placatingly.
"It's me, okay? The intruders are dressed up like Navy officers. You guys try to set up a diversion and buy me a few minutes to get Sam outta here."
"But Dr. Beckett--"
"--is my problem. Go."
You didn't get to be an admiral without knowing how to give orders. They went. At the intersection, Lopez hesitated, but Al stared her down and pointed sternly, and she obediently followed Marden, drawing her side-arm.
If you stood outside the Waiting Room and pushed the right button, one entire wall magically turned transparent, as if you were standing at a picture window. From the inside, whoever had switched places with Sam would only see a solid, curved wall. The room itself had beds and medical equipment that could slide in and out of the wall, as needed; according to the read-out, right now the bed was extended, which made sense, because Sam's body had only just come to life. Al never, ever, came here between Leaps, because it made him feel sick to see his partner lying in a coma, hooked to IVs, with med techs exercising his arms and legs for him. He reached for the button, then stopped.
Forget the window. We're running out of time.
Al punched in the code to make the electric door slide up, and entered. Inside the Waiting Room, Verbena Beeks, the Project Psychiatrist, was sitting with her arm around Sam Beckett's shoulders. Sam was drinking water, both hands wrapped around the plastic cup, shaking so badly that he spilled as much water as he drank. His face was streaked with tears. Al winced. It always hurt to see his best friend like that, even though he knew it was only Sam's body, inhabited by a stranger. In fact, if he squinted hard and really concentrated, over time he'd learned how to make Sam's familiar features blur and fade. Like now: he could see a woman with green eyes, a sprinkling of freckles around a pug nose, and curly red hair. The effort made his forehead ache right between the eyes, so he blinked, letting her image fade.
They'd dressed Sam in the usual unisex white jumpsuit, showing no imagination at all. Beeks absolutely refused to let Al pick out any outfits for Sam, even though he thought Sam would look great in designer outfits, studded with jewels. All that pristine white was depressing and clinical. What was wrong with a little color? Oh, well, at least this way he wouldn't stand out. Everybody else around here was wearing white lab coats of varying lengths.
"Who are you?" the redhead whispered, in Sam's voice.
"You can call me Al, honey."
"What is this place? Did I--am I having a nervous breakdown?"
"No. I know this is frightening, but it's real," Dr. Beeks assured her. Verbena had a strong, calm voice that gave you comfort and reassurance, as if her self-confidence was infectious. "You have nothing to fear."
Al cleared his throat at that, and she glanced at him, alarm flooding those wise topaz eyes. "Well, actually, things are a little...unusual...today. Verbena, most of the building's sealed. See if you can find a place to hide out for awhile."
"See if what?"
"This place. . .your uniform. . ." The Leapee floundered, Sam's face twisting as if struggling to hold in terror. "I'm a man!"
"I know, honey, but we don't have time to figure this out--it's real complicated--trust me. We have to sneak from here to somewhere safe, and we don't have much time." That just frightened her more, so he said quickly, "What's your name? I can't keep calling you `honey'--Dr. Beeks here already thinks I'm a sexist pig."
The woman in Sam's body hesitated, bit her lips, then raised one eyebrow weakly. "Actually, my name's Honey Zuckerman."
"You're kidding." She shook her head solemnly. He gave her the smile that Verbena called his little-boy-getting-into-mischief grin. "How about that? I've always been kinda psychic about lovely ladies."
Verbena rolled her eyes. "Al--Admiral--what's happened? What do you mean, `hide'?"
He shot her a quick glance. "The VIP tour group turned out to be ringers."
She considered that for a moment, her dark features impassive. One of the classes for psych majors must be in how to stay deadpan, no matter what. In fact, when he first started sessions with Dr. Beeks, he looked up all the Rorschach cards and cobbled together the most psychopathic responses in psychiatric literature to spout at her during tests, just to see what she'd do, and she never even twitched, just arched one eyebrow and suggested he change his reading matter. "You're sure?"
"They weren't real Navy. Besides, Harriman Nelson is a white-haired old geezer, and this `admiral' moved like a younger man."
She stood up, brushing down her dress and setting her shoulders. "I'm coming with you."
"No, you're not. I want the command staff scattered. Besides, me and Sam--Ms. Zuckerman--are targets. It's not safe with us." She gave him one of those steely-eyed disbelieving stares, so he tilted his head to one side, gave her the worried-puppy-dog look, and gestured helplessly. "Come on, 'Bena, I've got enough to worry about now. Promise me you'll hide. Please."
"Thanks. Come on, Honey." If he acted like it was a done deal, maybe he could get away before Verbena got her breath back. He held out his hand. After a moment, Honey clasped it, her grip cold and clammy. He patted her hand, and opened the door. "Good. Listen, I gotta tell you, you're taking this real well. You wouldn't believe how many people get hysterical and curl up in a ball. I don't know how we'd escape if I had to roll you all the way across the Control Room."
She didn't quite summon up a smile, but she did seem a little less stiff. There wasn't time enough to really reassure her; he could definitely hear gunfire bursts over the alarms now. He didn't have to look back to know that Verbena was about to grab his arm and tell him to stop, so he hauled Zuckerman out and started sneaking.
At first the woman hung back, her expression still dazed, but when he yanked her against the wall, she reacted quickly, pressing herself flat and not making a sound. She was a good sneak, too, mastering a strange body--one that was bigger and more muscular--in record time. Al wondered what she did for a living, but didn't waste time asking. By now those yahoos probably knew he and Sam weren't in their offices; that left the Control Room, the very place he was heading.
Years of going AWOL from the orphanage had taught Al that either you should stroll out as if you were on official business--which wouldn't work with him dressed like an admiral instead of a computer nerd--or you should stay below eye level. The only problem was that crawling or crouching drastically cut your speed. Well, he had no choice. Al crouched down. Honey obediently crouched behind him, still clutching his hand tight, and followed him so closely that you'd think they were Super-Glued together, which would've been fun to think about under other circumstances.
The blue-tinged Control Room lights were flashing in time with the alarms. What appeared to be Gooshie's stubby legs scurried to the entrance to confront some white trousers; he'd better take advantage of the distraction to break across the room for the Imaging Chamber, before it was too late.
Thank God Sam's wife Donna stayed home today, when Ziggy predicted he wouldn't Leap in until tomorrow. That was one less worry to deal with. What about Sammie Jo? If she was in the Library when the alarm went off, waiting to feed Ziggy data on whatever year Sam Leaped into, she might have escaped. Either way, she should be safe. There was absolutely no way these nozzles could suspect she was Sam's illegitimate child, sired during a Leap to the 1960's--not even Donna knew that. Still, he'd feel a lot better if he knew for sure where she was now.
Twisting around, he caught Ms. Zuckerman's eye and pointed to the octagonal-shaped entrance to the Imaging Chamber area. She looked that way, bit her lip, and nodded, sitting back on her heels. He smiled encouragingly, squeezing her hand. Together, they rose and darted across the room.
"Hey, you! Stop, or I'll shoot!"
Al shoved her hard, hanging back to cover her rear but zigzagging just in case. That turned out to be a smart move, because the bullet socked him in the ribs instead of the spine. It didn't hurt, not yet, but it hurled him into the IC as if he'd been physically pushed.
"Ziggy, lock it down, and link me with Sam!" he yelled.
One of the fake Navy commanders hit the floor and tried to roll under the descending electronic door, but it dropped like a guillotine, and he slammed into the metal instead.
We made it! All right!
Al peeled Honey's damp fingers loose and leaned against the nearest wall. He had a bad, bad feeling about this. Wincing in anticipation, he probed his left side, getting his fingers all wet, and a lightning bolt fried him right up to his neck.
Enter the Accelerator and Leap to Chapters Two and Three.
Colonel Paul Ironhorse orders you to report to Jane Leavell's Fan Fiction Page for a little more quantum exposure.
Verbena Beeks thinks you should show emotional support for the author with a little feedback.
You may not catch Gooshie & Tina in a clinch, but you could see links by going here.