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A TASTE OF HONEY

by Jane Leavell

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

Getting out of the air duct was even harder than Tamika expected, and she lost more skin than a snake at its seasonal shedding time. Eventually, after a lot of sweating and cursing, she managed to wrestle the screen loose and force herself out. It was some comfort that she was in the right place to scrounge up Bandaids and Bactine.

By grabbing a full-length lab coat, clipboard, and stethoscope, she made herself into a doctor, figuring that if she ran into one of the Bad Guys, her cover story would be an emergency run for a wounded staff person. She could say she was going for a magnetic stitch sealer.

Too bad Sickbay didn't have its own mini-armory. Wouldn't you think tranquilizer darts should be standard equipment for a clinic?

When she came to the elevator, she had a struggle with herself. What she really wanted to do was try a sneak attack on the fifth floor cafeteria. That would net her a pile of weapons, and she could set the rest of Security loose to give the ringers a hard time. But there were bound to be alert guards outside the cafeteria, and getting into a gun-battle wasn't part of her mission. Her orders were to get the Army inside.

Then they could free the rest of Security.

With that decided, Tamika boarded the elevator and sent it to the first floor. The trip gave her more time to worry.

The problem with her plan was that she would be admitting twitchy-fingered Army grunts who were armed with real ammo. With trank guns, mistakes wouldn't be fatal. Well, that wasn't her problem. She had her orders, and she would follow them.

Unlike the usual female staffer, she didn't wear pumps that clattered as she walked down the corridor; her walking shoes kept her passage quiet. Even so, the Puerto Rican on duty at the main entrance was too alert. He swung around with his gun raised.

Tamika cowered behind her clipboard. "Don't shoot! Please, don't shoot me!"

"Freeze!"

"I'm not moving! Oh, God, don't shoot me!"

"What are you doing here?"

She sniffled. "All the alarms went off, and the doors were locked down, and the phones don't work, and I was so scared!"

He let his eyes flicker from her tear-streaked face to the doorway, where he figured the real threat was lurking, and that instant was all she needed. Tammy dropped the clipboard and fired the trank gun she had hidden behind it, aiming for the neck, because a throat shot would take effect quicker.

Maybe if he had reacted right away, he could still have shot her, but the idiot dropped his own gun to claw at the dart quivering in his throat. His eyes crossed. Gagging, he collapsed to his knees, then slumped to the floor, face-first.

"Jerk," Tamika growled. Playing down to his sexist expectations worked, but the idea that because she was a woman she must not be a threat still rankled.

Shucking the lab coat, she stepped through the bullet-proof doors, waving the coat over her head like a white flag.

"Raise your arms!" a soldier barked.

"They're already raised."

"Come this way. Slowly."

Obediently, she drifted to her left until a small crowd of soldiers in camouflage sprang from the sand, surrounding her. "My name's Tamika Lopez. My I.D.'s clipped to my pocket. Keep your hands off my gun, buster. Where's Ironhorse?"

A lean, dark man threaded his way past the soldiers to stand practically at attention before her, his face expressionless. "I'm Colonel Ironhorse."

Tamika nodded to him. "Admiral Calavicci sent me."

He considered that, his face still a mask, then turned to his men. "Keep your eyes on that doorway." They promptly blended into the sand again. He looked at Tamika. "Come with me. What can you tell me about the situation in there?"

"There are probably ten intruders, tops," she said, following him to his temporary H.Q. No point in bringing up the Evil Leaper possibility, not when the Admiral nixed the idea. Besides, anybody not actively working on Quantum Leap would have trouble believing that Dr. Beckett could time-travel, let alone accepting that he might have an evil counterpart interfering in his do-good routine. Better keep it nice and simple. "They wanted Beckett and Calavicci, and they've got 'em. The Admiral's wounded, but they let Dr. Atobe take care of him, and he looks good. They've got a handful of hostages, plus they penned up most of Security in the cafeteria on the fifth floor."

"Do they seem to have prior knowledge of the base?"

She frowned. "I've been thinking about that. We don't have an employee turnover problem, but the first year, Abe Weitzman and the Foundation had a grip on the Project. The Admiral shook them off, and now he only answers to the Senate committee that funds us, but there were a lot of hard feelings on Weitzman's part when he left."

"Any evidence?"

"No, sir. That's just a guess."

Ironhorse stopped in front of a field telephone that was probably hooked up to the Project's system, and an orderly passed them each a cup of hot coffee. Until the steaming aroma hit her nose, she hadn't realized how hungry and thirsty she was. It was good coffee, too; none of that instant crud.

"You're Security, aren't you? Why aren't you locked up?"

She shrugged. "I knew that wasn't Dr. Beckett ordering us to turn in our arms and surrender. Besides, I figured I could do more good if I stayed loose."

"How did you get off the base?"

"Most of the base's sealed, but Security can over-ride the computer seal. Some staff are locked in different sections, but nobody's bothered them so far." She knew it wasn't proper--she had a duty to brief him on the situation back there--but she had to know. "Did any personnel make it out?"

"We estimate between one quarter and one half of the on-duty staff evacuated before the building was completely sealed. We set up tents for them a mile northwest of here, out of the way." He paused. "Of course, if there's a nuclear problem, that's too close."

Tamika shook her head firmly. "They're not ordinary terrorists, looking to blow things up. They're strictly cash-and-carry, hoping to sell two big names to the highest bidder. Sir...would you happen to know if the day care children made it out?"

He blinked, then something sparked in those somber brown eyes. "You wouldn't be Jessie's mother, would you? She told everyone not to worry, because her mother would whip those bastards' asses and kick them out. Her words, not mine. She made you sound like a cross between Rambo and Wonder Woman."

Her face felt hot. "She's all right, then."

"Yes, ma'am. When I last saw her, she was assigning older children to patrol the perimeter of the temporary nursery, in case my men didn't live up to your standards. I'll have you taken there when you finish briefing me."

"No. I have a job to do. I just wanted to be sure she's safe." Relieved, she let out her breath and got back to the matter at hand. "There was only one guard on the main entrance, and he'll be sleeping for the next few hours. We can walk right in, assuming they haven't tried to reach him on his radio since I came out. Once we get to the fifth floor, your men can arm themselves with our trank guns, so there's less chance of a civilian getting hurt by mistake."

"My first job is to secure Beckett, Calavicci, and the computer."

"With all due respect, sir, you're wrong. Your first job is to get techies inside to check out the boxes the intruders have put near the elevators on every floor." That surprised him, all right. "I thought they might be motion detectors, so they could monitor for sneak attacks, but no one noticed when I wandered by them. They could be bombs, they could be set to put out poison gas or anesthetics--they could be almost anything."

"Lt. McConnell, get Blackwood here, on the double."

"Yes, sir!"

Ironhorse met her gaze squarely. "I want to protect the base, but my primary orders are to make sure no outsiders gain privileged information."

"I understand, Colonel, but the Admiral told me that there's a tracking device hidden under his bandages." She skimmed her hand over the general area. "If the intruders take him off the base, you can follow him with that. Dr. Atobe can tell you what frequency to scan--he's in the cafeteria, with Security. And the head of Security, Major Corso, has clearance to lift the seals on the base, so you can evacuate personnel faster."

"Without the intruders finding out?"

"That would be our best bet, sir."

The telephone buzzed, and Ironhorse, grimacing, lifted the receiver. "No. Absolutely not. What? Admiral Calavicci? Can they hear me?" A scowl set in between his eyebrows. "I'm not trying to get you killed, but I can't give them what they want...Wait." He covered the receiver. "You're sure about that tracking device?"

"I saw it myself. They told the guards it was a magnetic stitch sealer."

He told the telephone, "Admiral, if I let them take you out, I've be violating my orders...All right. Tell them their chopper can land on the roof in fifteen minutes, and the bus they arrived on can leave, too. My men already have a bug on the bus. Good luck, Admiral."

He hung up the receiver, and ran a hand over his chin. "You heard what I told him. If you want to accompany me, I'm going to lead my `techies' inside to take a look at those boxes."

Tamika nodded, falling in place behind him. She had to admit, Ironhorse was more to her taste than Al: young, tall, dark, handsome, and all military. Besides, Jessica's papa had been a real flirt, like the Admiral, which kind of soured her on that type.

Walking close behind the colonel, she gave his backside an appraising study, and grinned.

He's got nice tight buns, too....

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

Alternately squinting at the map on the seat beside him and breaking the speed limit, Sam Beckett tried to make up for the extra time he had spent at Callahan's, cementing Honey's new relationship with her co-workers. Not even successfully finding her mother's house could cheer him up.

Upon not-so-sober reflection, it was surprising to him that he was so unhappy. After all, he had prevented the premature deaths of Honey and Matt, survived an unruly speaking engagement, and given Honey's brother ideas for one or more books. Any two such successes should have been enough to rocket him into another Leap, and he had topped it all by unifying Honey and her team-mates. So why was he still here?

One round of drinks had turned into two, and though Matt seemed uneasy the few times their eyes met, the rest of the guys had accepted `Honey' with the sort of gruff camaraderie that he vaguely remembered from the early days of the Project. Hadn't there been a wild baptismal party for Ziggy's first day on-line, ending with Sam riding a bucking bronco ride and Al and Tina getting involved in a fist-fight at a country western bar in town? Tina had a mean right hook. He seemed to remember that after the floor was littered with shattered bottles and broken furniture, all the combatants ended up with their arms around each other's shoulders, singing Willie Nelson songs and pledging eternal friendship. When the local police arrived to break up the riot, they were assured there had been no fight and all the broken glass and overturned tables were dismissed as "an accident. I tripped. We all tripped. It won't happen again." In fact, Sam recalled going back several times after that with--with who? The memory stopped short, eaten away by the Leap Effect. Anyway, the incident reminded him of his bonding with Honey's fellow officers, leaving a warm fuzzy feeling behind, not entirely caused by the alcohol.

But he still wasn't happy.

Pulling Honey's car into the line of vehicles that filled the curving gravel driveway and edged onto the lawn, he switched off the ignition and stared at the steering wheel.

"Why haven't I Leaped?"

That was his problem: oppressive uncertainty. What he wanted was to hear the Imaging Chamber door slide up, and see Al jauntily wave his cigar through the windshield, babbling data. Even when his conclusions were one hundred percent wrong, Al was reassuringly certain about them.

Knowing there would be no answer to his question, Sam slowly climbed out of the car and brushed stray flecks of talcum powder from Honey's blue skirt. There hadn't been time, after the second round of drinks, to hunt for her apartment and change. Her family would just have to accept him as he was.

The house was small but elegant, built of grey stone and sitting like a smug midget castle. A porch swing dominated the porch running the length of the front, and the walls were covered with ivy and rose trellises. On his right, a slender tower just three stories high and pencil-thin looked down on the other two floors. It, too, was ivy-covered. Two Siamese cats in the windowseat peered down at Sam critically, apparently hiding from the lights, soft music, and exuberant voices erupting from every other window. The window in the front door itself was made of stained glass and featured a rearing unicorn. Even from here, he could see that the backyard was an elaborate garden, complete with an ancient weeping willow and a small wishing well. Mama obviously took her Romance very seriously.

In other circumstances, he might have been amused. With the proper companion, it would have been romantic. But Sam wasn't in the mood for a party, and was tired of second-guessing Fate, trying to set Honey's life right without any clues about what went wrong. He had done as much as he could do alone.

How could he smile and socialize, knowing his best friend was suffering somewhere, in danger, needing his help? That bullet wound had looked bad, and the longer he went without contact from his own time, the worse memory painted the injury.

Sam gazed up, past the blue-tiled roof of the tower, at the uncaring sky. "I've been good. I've been very patient, all things considered. I've fixed Your mistakes, no matter how much effort or misery it cost me, and Al's been right there beside me all the way. You wouldn't let him escape from Vietnam. You wouldn't let him keep his first wife. You owe him."

"What?"

His jaw dropped, for he truly hadn't been expecting an answer. A moment later, Sam realized the question hadn't dropped from the heavens; there was someone standing at the front door. "What?" he echoed.

"Hey, Honey, you talking to yourself already? Mama hasn't even started getting on your nerves yet!"

"I, uh, guess I was anticipating trouble, and rehearsing what I'll say," Sam offered.

The man behind the screen door chortled as if he had made a joke. "Come on in and surprise everybody. Want a drink?"

"No, thanks."

"Well, I do." He drained his tumbler as Sam edged past him, set it down on a mahogany plant stand, and beamed. Though he was fatter than any of his siblings, his curly autumn red hair marked him as a Zimmerman. "I can't believe you're here already."

"Well, I know I'm a little late, but there was this car bomb--maybe you heard about it on TV--at Judge Webber's house--"

"This is the earliest you've ever been late," Honey's brother marveled, and walked back toward the noise. "Look who's here!"

Sam picked up the empty glass, rubbed with his palm at the water ring it left on the polish, and followed him.

Before he could focus on the living room crammed with people, he was pounced on by a short, chubby, buxom woman who hugged him fiercely. "Honey! Are you all right? You weren't hurt? We saw you on TV."

"I'm fine, uh, Mama." That seemed the most likely identity of this silver-haired woman in the black silk slacks, flowing white long-sleeved blouse, and black-and-rose embroidered vest.

"Thank heavens that nice young man saved you."

"Well, it wasn't exactly like that--"

"He's so handsome, too. Is he married?" She pulled back to look up at him, her green eyes brimming with hope. Though the eyes were set in laugh lines, they were incongruously young, adolescent eyes that had somehow become trapped in an old woman's face. "Why haven't you mentioned him before?"

"Mama, I--"

"Kim, where are the appetizers? Here, Honey, eat. You must be hungry. Don't worry, dinner's almost ready. I just have to check on the turkey, and then we can relax."

As quickly as that, she disappeared. Sam accepted a potato pancake from Kim, who looked to be about twenty and probably wasn't one of Honey's many relatives, since her face was distinctly Oriental. But she was too well-dressed to be a servant. An in-law, maybe?

"Here's your drink."

"But I don't want a drink."

"Sure you do." The fat redhead snatched his empty glass from Sam's left hand, dropped it on Kim's tray of appetizers, and pressed a fresh martini into the now empty hand. "Here's looking at you, kid."

"Shouldn't that be Bo's line?" a voice asked brightly.

"Very funny," someone else growled.

"Hey, Honey, any chance you'll get a reward for that car bomb thing? See, I got a great investment deal with lots of potential for growth. It's a time-share in a condo. Now, before you say no, remember, you're a single woman. You gotta think of your future."

"Errol, this is a family party, not a business meeting." A tall, black-haired man stubbed out his cigarette in Errol's glass. "Why don't you go help Ma with the turkey? Honey's supposed to meet Mary Lynn, not hand over money for you to play with."

Errol eased the full martini glass from Sam's limp grasp and wandered off.

Okay, that's my brother Errol, so this must be my brother Heathcliff. Are we having fun yet?

"Mary Lynn, this is my little sister, Honey. She's a cop, so watch yourself."

Mary Lynn butted up against his side, her blue eyes wide, her smile shy, as if she expected to be pounced on and handcuffed. With her right hand, she reached up as if about to shake hands, then apparently panicked and looped her chestnut hair behind one ear instead. "Hello, Honey. I've heard so much about you."

"That's the family hobby--gossiping about relatives when they aren't in the room," Cliff observed sourly.

She glanced up at him as if asking for permission to speak. "My brother's a police officer, too."

"Oh. Do I know him?"

"Yes, of course, he's--"

"Excuse me." Katie descended on Sam, a plump vision in a glittering silver-and-black gown. "Honey, can I see you a minute?" She tucked Sam's arm under hers and led him down the hallway, trailed by a silent bald man in a brown suit. Sam twisted around for a closer look, and the man smiled and waved, but Katie was already talking again. "Has Mama mentioned your surprise date yet? No? What are you going to do about it?"

"Actually, I think I--"

"Wait, I promised Rachel I'd bring you as soon as you got here. Rachel? Joshua? Your Aunt Honey's here."

Gently, she thrust Sam through an open door into a definitely masculine study, complete with roll-top desk, leather-covered furniture, and pipestand. Jimmy and two children were clustered around a computer, playing some sort of text game, with Jimmy in the leather wheeled chair and the children on their knees.

"Aunt Honey Bee!" The blonde girl hurled herself at Sam for a quick hard hug. "We saw you on TV!"

"Were you scared?" Josh asked, torn between the screen and his aunt.

"Of course she wasn't scared," Rachel said scathingly. "She's tough, like me."

"Well, I'd be scared."

"I was scared," Sam admitted.

"You wanna play with us?"

"Please?"

"We're fighting the Leather Goddesses of the Planet Phobos. It's awesome!"

Jimmy looked embarrassed. "It's, ah, the tame version, rated G. Honest."

The bald man picked up the instruction manual, which started with a black-and-white comic book called "The Adventures of Lane Mastodon: Lane Battles the Shameless Leather Goddesses." His eyebrows flew up. He read avidly.

Rachel was counting on her fingers. "So everybody's here, right? No, wait, Levi and Leo aren't here yet."

"Your cousins are with Uncle Bo's first wife, Betsy, this week, so they can't be here tonight." Both kids groaned. Katie patted their shoulders. "Don't worry, you know you'll see them on the Fourth, right? Is that the doorbell?"

"I didn't hear anything."

"I better go check. Jerry, put that down!"

She bustled out, still trailed by the amiable bald shadow. Sam knelt on the floor behind Jimmy's chair and squinted at the screen. Didn't Al haul this out one night when they stayed on the base instead of driving back to town, back when Ziggy was giving him headaches? Except that he seemed to remember the version Al played was a lot more lewd.

"I think you should pick up that whip. It might come in useful later."

Jimmy typed TAKE WHIP. "Now, do we go north or south?"

"North," Rachel decided.

"South," Josh disagreed.

"Um, can we take an inventory first, so I see what we're carrying?"

"Oh, no." Johnny came in, with a sheaf of paper haphazardly stuck together. "Come on, you guys, I need to use the word processor."

"No way. First come, first served."

"You guys have been in here for hours already. Be fair."

"Get real," Jimmy sneered. "Like you can't write in longhand. Did Shakespeare use a word processor?"

"I doubt it," Josh muttered.

"Besides, this is a party, not your office. Relax. Ask not what your family can do for you, but what you--"

"Excuse me." Sam definitely felt a headache coming on. "I, um, think I hear Mama calling me."

As he quickly walked to the door, he heard Josh asserting, "We still got you outnumbered, Uncle Jack. There's still three of us, and only one of you. So let's take a vote. I say we play this game. Rache?"

If that silent balding man was Katie's husband, her children must have inherited only Zuckerman genes. He was surrounded by extroverts, and beginning to feel smothered.

Rather than heading back toward the living room, Sam tiptoed to the rear of the house, away from the noise. If he had found stairs, he would have climbed to the tower window-seat to hide with the cats. Instead, he slipped out the back door into the garden.

Sunset had mantled the horizon with primrose, so that the evening sky blended with the garden, but there was still enough light to show him he wasn't the only one to flee the massed family. Cliff and Mary Lynn were sitting on one wall of the wishing well, her head resting on his shoulder, his arm clasping her waist.

Sam cleared his throat, to be sure they realized they weren't alone, then developed a strong interest in a plot of calla lilies, elaborately not noticing the couple. Those had been Al's first wife's favorite flowers, if he remembered correctly. Al would like this garden, and this castle; he'd probably call it "kicky."

For an instant, his missed his own family so passionately that his heart seemed to be suffering a hundred papercuts all at once. Family parties in Elk Ridge hadn't been as overwhelming as this, because his family was smaller, but they had been lively, too. Tom would be teasing Katie, and Dad chain-smoking and making jokes, while Mom piled the table with enough food to feed the Zuckermans twice over. There had been other parties, like the country-western one he remembered earlier, but the Leap Effect had temporarily erased most of them.

Had there been a time when he sat hugging a woman he loved? With his five marriages and assorted romances, Al seemed to thrive on change, but Sam was tired of loving and then losing women in all of the past four decades, leaving them forever in some other man's arms. He yearned for stability, for a relationship with one woman as fulfilling and as permanent as the the one between his parents had been. Only death had separated them. If he had left behind a lover, or a wife, in his own time, he couldn't even remember her now, let alone be with her.

Sam reached out tentatively, brushing one delicate lily with his forefinger.

""You're not gonna shred Ma's flowers for revenge, are you? Or are you just hiding out?"

Sam glanced up at Cliff with a surprised grin. "I'm not the only one."

Cliff shrugged, lighting a cigarette. "Had to give Mary Lynn a break."

"It's kind of overwhelming," she admitted wanly. "I mean, there were only two kids in our family, and no grandchildren yet, so I'm not used to this. I mean, it's fun and everything, but...well...noisy."

"I know exactly how you feel," Sam assured her.

Light spilled into the garden as the screen door creaked open, spotlighting them. "There you are! Get in here this minute, all of you. Dinner's almost ready."

"That's what you've been saying for the past hour, but we never see the food."

"Show some respect for once, Heathcliff Bronte! What will Mary Lynn think?"

"Whatever I tell her to think," he said grimly. "Go on, Honey. I want to finish this cigarette before Ma launches into her `tobacco killed your Papa' lecture."

Aha! Maybe this is the reason for my Leap. After all, I am a physician.

"Cliff, maybe Mama's right. Medical studies show--"

He broke off. Unlike the other Zuckermans, Heathcliff had sullen black eyes like miniature black holes, only instead of swallowing light, they sucked up Sam's lecture, leaving him speechless. "I won't take orders from Ma, so I'm damn sure not gonna take 'em from you. Don't you women do anything but nag?"

"Honey!" Mama caroled from the door, with impeccable timing.

Okay, so maybe my job is to get Mama off all our backs.

Mounting a strategic retreat, Sam re-entered the house and obediently followed Honey's mother back to the party. On the way, he decided that changing Mama had to be the point of this Leap, since saving Matt's life didn't make him Leap and since he was positive that if he couldn't stop Cliff from smoking, there was no way he could do something major like change James from a bisexual to a heterosexual. After all the years he'd spent with Al, he hadn't even been able to convince his best friend to try monogamy, and that was a much less difficult orientation to change. Besides, he had dealt with pushy mothers in other Leaps; it was something he could successfully handle.

Proving that Cliff's sarcasm was rooted in reality, his siblings clustered in the living room were deep in a discussion of Cliff's relationship with his new girlfriend.

"--so long 'cause she soured him on woman," Errol was pontificating, waving a martini glass, "but with Mary Lynn he finally found someone he could control--oops. Hi, Mama."

She seared him with a look. Errol quickly set his glass down and backed away, trying to shelter his larger bulk behind Katie. Having apparently lost the battle for the computer, John was sprawled in a rocking chair, one leg slung over an arm, taking left-handed notes on the conversation. His tongue poking from the corner of his mouth, he mumbled, "...could...control."

Mama sighed. "You had a wonderful father, and we both tried so hard. Where did we go wrong?"

"Should've stopped after the first two kids," Bo suggested. Sam had suspected the balding, twice-married Humphrey and Cliff were the two oldest of the siblings, and the remark confirmed it.

Mama ignored him. "Honey, I'd like you to meet Roger Thurman. Roger is a chiropractor. Isn't that nice?"

An unaccustomed silence fell over the Zuckermans present. From the corner of his eye, Sam noted that even James and the two grandchildren were in the hallway, waiting for his reaction. Didn't Katie say Honey arrested the last blind date set up for her? Well, this time they would all be surprised.

Somewhat nervously, Mama pulled Mr. Thurman from behind the door. Maybe someone had been telling him horror stories about how Honey was going to treat him, or maybe he always had that bloodless complexion. He was a medium-sized, thin, inoffensive man with hair so blond it was nearly white, barely one step away from being an albino.

"So nice to meet you," Sam said warmly, shaking his hand. "I hope you aren't feeling overpowered by all these Zuckermans. It takes awhile to get used to us."

Honey's siblings all wore identical stunned expressions. Johnny dropped his pen and tumbled out of the rocking chair when he bent to retrieve it.

"Don't move!" Roger darted to his side. "Bone alignment is very tricky. You could be hurt. I'm a professional--I know what I'm doing."

"I'm fine. Get away from me, man."

Sounding flustered, Mama announced, "Dinner's ready. Let's all sit down."

This triggered a rush for the dining room, which Sam understood once he saw how crowded seating was going to be. The grandchildren volunteered to eat in the study, with their unfinished computer game, but that still meant the overflow had to dine in the kitchen. As the excuse for the party, Cliff and Mary Lynn had guaranteed seats on Mama's right, while Sam found himself on her left, next to the blinking chiropractor. The other seats were assigned without fistfights, but it was a close call. In the end, Jimmy, Johnny, a very pregnant brunette in an artist's smock--John's wife?--and the silent bald man were consigned to the kitchen.

As Roger passed the gravy down the line, the front doorbell chimed musically. Surely that wasn't the opening to Dr. Zhivago's "Lara's Theme"? Sam shot to his feet. "I'll get it."

"Who could that be?" Mama fretted, following him.

Knowing full well who it would be, Sam threw open the front door and stepped aside so Mama would have a clear view of the tall, gawky man in the doorway. His dingy brindle hair was brushed, but his hyperactive blue eyes were still restless in that round doughy face. In an evident attempt to dress up, he was wearing loafers, clean blue jeans, a "Nuke the Whales" sweatshirt, and a plaid polyester sports jacket a size too small for him.

Sam ushered him inside with a smile, announcing, "Mama, everybody, meet Elmo--my fiance."


Enter the Accelerator and Leap to Chapters Seventeen & Eighteen.

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