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A TASTE OF HONEY

by Jane Leavell

CHAPTER NINETEEN

Whatever Gomez had dripped into his veins was giving Al a good buzz, but climbing to the roof pretty well exhausted him, and not even the speed could still the quivers in his belly.

He really hated this. When he was a baby hero, a hotshot Navy pilot zipping around the highlands in `Nam in his Skyhawk, he had a lot more stamina, plus he had the advantage of being new to captivity. Neither the orphanage nor his long-suffering P.O. had ever been able to hold him. He didn't realize, when he was first shot down, what it was like to be completely at an enemy's mercy--especially when that enemy had no mercy--or how mind-numbing long imprisonment could be. This time he knew damn well, and it scared him to death. Having Verbena and Honey to protect made it worse. They didn't deserve this, either one of them.

How long would Honey be able to carry off impersonating Sam Beckett, a man she'd never even really seen in action? What would happen if Sam eventually Leaped, and some other slob took up residence in that body while in Rick's custody? At least Honey was a tough babe with plenty of smarts, and had some idea what had happened to her. He wouldn't have a chance to explain things to a new Leapee.

Worse yet, the only reason that sleazeball would haul Tina--or Verbena--along was to have someone expendable he could hurt to make a point, like convincing Al to give out Project data. Maybe he could pick a fight with her, try to make Rick think hurting her wouldn't bother him? Probably wouldn't work. He'd better try to come up with a way to convince that elephant-nosed piss-drinker that 'Bena was too valuable to hurt.

She can pretend to be able to cure `Sam,' for one thing. Maybe we can say she uses hypnosis to treat me, then she can fake hypnotizing me and I can give 'em a load of bull about how Quantum Leap works. That should waste some time. Good thing 'Bena's so bright and quick on the uptake, 'cause we won't have a chance to talk this out ahead of time.

With one part of his mind, he watched Honey react to her first--and probably only--glimpse of the Project.

"It's awesome," she breathed.

"Sure is."

Rick started gloating about his devious plans, and he concentrated on that, because the Navy had taught him the way to escape was to evaluate the enemy, isolate his weakness, and attack. So far, no luck.

Wind from the approaching chopper almost bowled him over, but Sam's body was strong enough to brace him. He'd learned that more than once in the early days, when he'd gotten falling-down drunk and the kid had picked him up.

Once Honey dropped her bombshell--no pun intended--about this Leap, there was no danger of him sagging, because the shock left him as rigid as a flagpole. A bomb? Honey was here to defuse a bomb? When did she find time to do that? Worse yet, what if she hadn't done it yet, and the bomb was still going to wipe out the Project unless he got Honey back in time?

Numbly, Al let himself be pulled aboard the Sikorsky, hoping that once the doors shut he could hear well enough to quiz Zuckerman.

Behind him, Rick turned to take the computer print-outs from Turner and throw them on board, then shot Turner in the head. His associate tumbled off the ledge with an astonished expression on his knife-thin face.

Unperturbed, Rick climbed aboard, slammed the door, and explained to his equally astonished prisoners, "I really wasn't expecting this heavy print-out. We do have a weight limit, you know."

Verbena shuddered and looked away. Al gently squeezed her knee. Neither one of them was used to dealing with dead bodies; fly boys dropped bombs, but never saw the bodies, and psychiatrists rarely had to kill their patients. At least Honey seemed to take it in stride, maybe because of her job. Working with bombs, she must've come across at least one or two corpses.

The helicopter rose smoothly. Rick stroked his mustache, then called out, "Mr. Robinson. What took you so long in the surgery?"

He looked as if he expected to get the same treatment as Turner. "It wasn't my fault, Mr. Allenman. They said they had to get some kind of special machine."

"Really? Why?"

"I dunno, Turner went with the guy. Some kind of magnetic stitch sealer."

Verbena cut in, her voice a little too shrill. "I told you he's a bigot. He got rid of all the Puerto Ricans--killed 'em if he couldn't just shuck 'em off--and now he's starting on the nigger. He's just looking for an excuse to get rid of you, too."

"Bruce was neither Puerto Rican nor black," Rick said, sounding amused. Robinson licked his lips, one hand drifting toward his pocket. Rick didn't miss that; his voice sharpened. "You're very good, Doctor. Come now, Robinson, haven't you ever heard of the Stockholm Syndrome? No? The good doctor is doing her best to distract us both while trying to make friends with you, in the hope that, as her friend and fellow ethnic, you'll protect her. You're not going to fall for that. Though I do have to wonder just how gullible you are. Have you ever heard of a magnetic stitch sealer before?"

"No. But the place was full of high-tech gear," Robinson said defensively.

Rick shook his head, clucking his tongue. "Really, Admiral, you never give up, do you? Hand it over, please."

"Don't touch those bandages!" Dr. Beeks said quickly. "You'll start him bleeding again. If the stitches break--"

"They undoubtedly will, if I have to order one of my men to retrieve your little surprise. They have no medical training, and they tend to be impatient. It's your choice, Doctor. We're running out of time."

Seeing there was no point in arguing, Al rolled his shirt up. Her shoulders sagging, Verbena gently eased the top layer of bandages apart and lifted out the fingernail-sized bug. Their eyes met, and he shrugged, even though that made his side complain. "It was worth a try, anyway."

Rick took the device from Verbena, studied it with keen interest, then forced the door open an inch or two and flicked the bug into the wind. Al sighed, pulling his shirt back down. Too bad; he'd really been counting on Ironhorse trailing the bug's signal.

Looking pleased with himself, Rick purred, "Relax, all of you. I promise you're not going to be hurt. You're much too important to us. Bruce paid for his idiotic mistake, and the rest of us will treat you as a very valuable commodity."

"Why do I feel like pork rinds?" Al muttered, and got a brief smile from Honey. He always did like a woman with a sense of humor.

Rick steepled his fingers. "There was quite a busy bidding war over the rights, you know. It came down to the Chinese, and a conglomerate of American businessmen. Would you like to know who won?"

"I've always liked Chinese food."

"Don't jump to conclusions, Admiral. Besides, now that we have this computer data as an unexpected bonus, I may have to re-open the bidding."

What was with the gloating? Was this whacko maybe expecting them to applaud him? Glowering, Al decided that what he'd like to do was jump up and punch the smarmy s.o.b. right in that long nose of his.

Rick's smirk spread into a definite leer. "Just in case your friends somehow managed to plant another tracking device, we've arranged to trade helicopters a few miles from here, and then the good Dr. Beeks and I will have some time to get...intimately acquainted."

Yup. I am definitely gonna have to punch him, Al decided. In fact, he started to do just that, but 'Bena dug her fingers into his knee, and Honey put one hand on his shoulder and pushed down hard, pinning him in place, so he settled for leaning forward and smiling at Rick.

"I thought you were smarter than that."

Rick raised one eyebrow. "You don't find her attractive?"

"That's not the problem. Your buyers are gonna be real ticked off when they find out Dr. Beckett isn't himself anymore, and I'm damaged goods. Verbena Beeks is the number three person in the Project, and the only one of us unmarked. You better keep her that way, and act like you picked her to make up for Sam's condition and to help nurse us both back to health, or they're gonna think you're a real screw-up."

Rage glittered in those dark eyes, but Al had read him right. No way was Rick going to risk looking foolish. Instead, like a baby denied a new toy, he had to throw a temper tantrum and make sure everyone else was as unhappy as he was. "Charles! Distribute complimentary bracelets for our guests."

The last thing he wanted was to be chained up. He'd spent five years as a prisoner in 'Nam, most of that time in a tiger cage, even sleeping with his wrists handcuffed and his feet locked in blocks, and although he got over the claustrophobia after he was repatriated, he never did get over his fear of being chained. Even last year, when that gorgeous brunette wanted to play bondage games and tried to tie his wrists to the bedposts with satin ribbons, he still freaked out. No way was he up to handcuffs now.

Locking eyes with Rick, he called up a sardonic grin. "What's the matter, Ricky? Scared of a wounded old man, a brain-damaged scientist, and a woman?"

Rick's upper lip curled, and his hand flew up. Figured. That grin used to make the nuns want to slap him, too. Al threw up one arm to block the blow. Beside him, simultaneously, Honey made a funny gulping noise, and he felt the hair on his arms stand on end as if lifted by an electrical field.

A Leap? Aw, no, not now!

"'Bena, catch Sam, he's gonna fall!"

But Sam didn't fall, and Rick's hand closed very gently over his wrist, the fingers twisting as if seeking a pulse. Wearing a concerned expression that didn't fit his face, he asked urgently, "Al, are you okay?"

Startled, Al looked from Rick to Sam's body, squinting hard, and his grin turned genuine as Sam's body screamed, "What the bloody hell has happened ?"

"I'm fine," Al said, with immense satisfaction. "Nice of you to ask, Rick." He stressed the name extra hard.

"Oh." Sam Beckett, in Rick's body, looked surprised, but not half as confused as his own body.

"That's my body!" it gibbered, pointing. "What have you done to me? How did I get in here?"

Catching on, Verbena opened her medical bag. "Dr. Beckett has these hysterical fits in stressful situations, ever since he experimented on himself. If you don't mind, I can tranquilize him."

"Mind? Oh, listen, it sounds like a great idea to me."

With a little Mona Lisa smile, Verbena jammed a hypodermic syringe into the man's throat. He tried to slug her, but Al belted him the groin, a convenient target from where he was seated. "Sorry about that, Sam," he said sincerely, looking up at Rick's face as it twisted in sympathetic pain.

Sam wrapped his arms around his own body and held on tight until the frenzied struggles weakened, slowed, and finally stopped. His body sagged, not really unconscious but too apathetic to do more than mutter aggrieved babble that only Al and Verbena could hear. Sam eased the other man into a seat.

"There. That's better."

Charles cleared his throat. "Are you feeling okay, um, Rick?"

"Sure. Of course I am."

"I see you lose your hoity-toity Brit accent under pressure," Al said hastily. "Guess that was just an act, huh? Like the way you fooled the rest of your men into thinking this was a blow for Puerto Rican freedom."

"Or maybe the Americanisms are an act," Sam suggested, in a valiant attempt at a `hoity-toity Brit accent.' Al winced; never having heard the real Rick, he was doing a bad imitation of Captain Hook. They really had to work out some sort of audio link for visitors to the Imaging Chamber, never mind the expense. "In my business, I don't want anyone, not even my associates, sure that they know the truth about my background."

He looked meaningfully at Charles, who swallowed it, though it took some effort. "Right. Do you still want I should cuff 'em?"

Sam gazed sternly at the prisoners. "No. I think they've learned their lesson, haven't you?" Verbena managed to look cowed and meek. Al concentrated on his cigar. "There, you see? Dr. Beeks, is your patient well enough to make it to our destination?"

"That depends. What is our destination?"

They looked hopefully at Charles, who didn't volunteer anything. Somewhat crestfallen, Sam could only proclaim, "That's for me to know and you to find out." Judging from the desperation in his borrowed eyes, he was hoping they'd do just that. Poor kid; this time there'd be no holographic buddy popping up with helpful suggestions from his parallel hybrid computer back home.

Al stubbed out his cigar. Boy, he was tired, and his side was throbbing like someone was using his rib cage for a xylophone. "I don't suppose you have any more tricks up your sleeve, like the one about Puerto Rico or the way you hide your real accent from Chuckie and the others?" Unobtrusively, he jerked his thumb down toward the floor of the helicopter.

"Tricks?" Sam started to sit down, but Al shook his head and jerked his thumb downward again. This time Sam figured it out. "As a matter of fact, I do. Charles, tell the pilot to take us down."

"That's crazy! The Army Special Forces team is down there!"

"Exactly. That's the trick."

Verbena said helpfully, "You don't mean that Colonel Ironhorse is one of your men, do you?"

"That's it exactly. He's my hole card," Sam said enthusiastically. "We're going to land right here and wait for him. He'll provide us with a new, secret escape route." When Charles just gaped at him, he roared, "Do it!"

Charles unbelted himself and moved to the cockpit, shaking his head. The other two surviving terrorists were close enough to stop any sudden moves on their part, but not close enough to hear much over the engine, if they kept their voices low.

"I think the hand-link is in one of these pockets," Verbena murmured, sticking her hand into one. Rick muttered obscenities and threats to kill them all, which she sensibly ignored. "Do you think we're out of range?"

Sam fumbled in his current body's pockets, pulling out one of the plastic guns with a grimace of distaste. "Try to look intimidated, Al, will you? Some of them are watching. Verbena, how is he really?"

"Here it is." She passed the hand-link to Al and frowned at him. "Right about now, I'd say he's feeling pretty drained, but he should be able to hold on for another hour. Probably."

"Don't talk about me like I'm not even here!" Al objected. "I'm in great shape, Sam. I could take on the Ferelli twins and Honey Zuckerman and still ask for more. Gomez dug the bullet out and stitched me up and gave me some uppers."

"Plus plasma extenders, electrolytes, and a blood transfusion," Verbena added.

"Whatever," Al shrugged, jabbing the hand-link with a forefinger. "And the good thing is, only one of our people got killed. Rick offed one of his own guys, but he deserved it for shooting me."

"Put that away! He's coming back!"

They fell silent when Charles returned. Al even rested his eyes for a couple minutes. It was a pain to be this close to Sam, physically able to actually hug him, yet have to act like they were enemies. This was the next best thing to having Sam actually Leap home, and he couldn't even enjoy it.

Without opening his eyes, he smiled. More than once in the past, when Sam couldn't accomplish his Leap, he'd jumped into someone else's body, so this wasn't completely mind-boggling, but it was a surprise. One thing was for sure, when the kid showed up, a happy ending was practically guaranteed. He was a winner all the way. If he'd just apply some of those smarts to the tables at Vegas, they wouldn't have to beg the government for funding.

When he felt the chopper drifting downward, Al opened his eyes. How had his hand gotten tangled with Verbena's? Maybe it was her way of keeping an eye on him.

"Now we wait for my employee to join us," Sam announced. "Charles, you and the others surround the helicopter and watch for him. I'll stay here to guard our prisoners." He waved the pistol loosely. "They won't dare give me any trouble."

"But--"

"Who is the boss here, Charles?" Sam drew himself erect, his borrowed face falling naturally into a supercilious expression, his gun pointing at Charles's belly.

"Let's go, guys."

He managed to wait until the last fake sailor, grumbling under his breath, had stepped into the desert, before slamming the door and demanding, "Who is Colonel Ironhorse and how is he going to find us out here in the middle of nowhere?"

"Used to head the Omega Squad. Special Forces. Nice guy, for an Army grunt. He was gonna find us because by now Gomez or Lopez would have explained about the tracker we hid in here." Al started to pat the bandages, then thought better of it. "But that nozzle tossed the bug out miles ago, so we gotta come up with a new plan. Help me into the cockpit, okay? I bet I can fly this baby."

"No!" the other two chorused.

"Aw...."

"Al, if we take off, they'll know I lied, and one good shot could blow up our gas tanks and us with it," Sam explained patiently. "We'll have to wait for them to find us."

Al wasn't in the mood to wait, especially if Verbena thought he was going to conk out pretty soon. "At least let me go up front and use the radio. Ironhorse can home in on that."

Sam hesitated. "Can I trust you not to do anything impulsive? You'll just use the radio?"

"Sa-am!" Despite his cry of outrage, they were both giving him squinty-eyed suspicious looks. Al crossed his heart. "Word of honor." He glanced down at the remains of his cigar. "Wait, drop this on the print-out."

"Setting a fire on a helicopter is not a good idea, Al."

"If they get away with that, they get away with the Project. It's the schematics for Ziggy's innards."

Verbena said dubiously, "Maybe I can start a very small fire, if I sit right here with a fire extinguisher."

Sam took his arm and levered him to his feet, then squeezed him close in a warm hug. They were both getting misty-eyed when Sam backed off and helped him to the cockpit. 'Bena must be right; he was starting to feel tired.

Once Al was safely behind the controls, Sam turned and held out his arms to Verbena for a quick hug. Both their faces were wet when she stepped back. While Al studied the controls and began flipping switches, the two of them lapsed into a technical blow-by-blow description of Al's operation. So what was the big deal? If Gomez had done the stitches in the shape of a heart, the way Al suggested, it might be worth talking about, and he'd even let Sam have a peek, but Verbena had nixed that idea. Sometimes she could be a real party-pooper.

Satisfied from the medical gobbledy-gook that his partner had been properly taken care of, Sam finally came forward and plopped into the seat next to him. "This Leap has been driving me crazy. All I could think about was you getting shot, and me stuck in the past unable to help. And I never did figure out what I was supposed to do for Honey Zuckerman. I tried making her co-workers a little more receptive to her, but that wasn't it, and I kept her partner from blowing them both up by accident, but I still didn't Leap, and then I tried getting her mother to stop nagging her to get married, but I don't think that was it, either. I'm not sure what I did to Leap in here."

"Nothing. According to Honey, she was here to fix our problem."

"What problem?"

"She does work on a Bomb Squad, Sam."

Rick's borrowed face went colorless. "The Project?"

Al nodded, pulling out the hand-link to Ziggy. "Either we're out of range, or Honey never got a chance to defuse it. My guess is we're outta range or the batteries are dead, 'cause she did get to Leap home. Nice of Him to send you after us in the nick of time, huh?"

"It would've been better if He'd sent me before you got shot."

"You know, maybe this is like penance. I've been getting banged around down here so when I die, I can skip Purgatory and walk right in, like you." He liked that idea a lot. "Won't Sister Mary Joseph shit a brick when she finds that out? Hey, don't look at me like that. I talk like this even when I'm not woozy. Which I'm not."

Sam looked more anxious than ever, obviously unconvinced. Luckily, Charles picked that moment to open the door and lean inside the chopper.

"Mr. Allenman? I can see the Army jeeps. Are you sure about this?"

"Absolutely," he said in that plummy voice. "Tell the men to lay down their arms, to avoid any foolish mistakes on their parts. The colonel is rather trigger-happy. Once he's sure everything is on the up-and-up, they can pick up the guns again. Oh, and then come back for Dr. Beckett. The poor man's hallucinating."

"...kill you...." the real Rick snarled, but without much energy.

Charles opened the door the rest of the way, revealing the drawn automatic pistol in his left hand. "This wasn't part of the plan. Something's wrong here. If we had an `in' with the Special Forces commander, why were we holed up in the base all that time?"

"Waiting for Admiral Calavicci's surgery to finish," Verbena suggested. "It wouldn't do you any good if he died before you even got him off the base."

"You stay out of this, lady."

"Col. Ironhorse couldn't blow his cover," Sam said quickly, stepping in front of Verbena. "He had to pretend to be above-aboard."

"And now he doesn't have to?" A lock of limp white hair slithered down his forehead, and Charles tossed it back. "I don't buy it. I'm your right-hand man, Rick, and I say something's up. You're not acting like yourself, so I'm taking over."

Gun hand extended, he started to climb aboard.

"No way am I in the mood for this," Al muttered, then smacked up some switches and yanked the stick to his chest, tighter than he last squeezed Tina.

The chopper bucked like a woman being goosed, flipping Charles back onto the sand. Sam, Rick, and 'Bena were hollering, sliding around the floor and bumping into seats, but he couldn't just set this baby down. Like Sam said before, ole Chuck and his buddies would start shooting.

"Hang on back there!" he yelled over his shoulder.

"Stop!" Sam shouted, and scrabbled after his body, catching Rick by the collar just before he slid right out of the open door. The charred remains of the computer print-out had already floated out over the desert.

Good. Sam was looking after things, so he could concentrate on flying.

Al spun the whirleybird in circles, and low, letting the blast from the propellers hurl fake sailors and pages of computer paper in all directions. Dressed all in white, the surviving invaders looked kinda like bowling pins falling over.

"Strike!" he crowed. "Did you see that?"

"Ow!"

Hold it! Was that scumbag Rick hurting 'Bena? A quick glance over his shoulder showed him that Verbena was sitting up and holding her head with a cross expression, but Rick, in Sam's body, was lolling on the floor like a rag doll, and Sam had gotten the door shut, so that was okay. She must've just gotten bumped around a little.

He would've headed straight back to the Project, but all the rapid turning must've made him dizzy, and he got his directions mixed up. Besides, Sam was still yelling at him. Sounded funny, Rick's baritone overlaid with the Hoosier twang Sam sometimes got under stress. So he swooped over the fake sailors one more time, stirring up clouds of dust until he couldn't see where he was going any more, then he brought her down a few hundred yards away.

Okay, so it was a real tooth-jarrer of a landing, but hey, he was on painkillers, and that screwed up his coordination, which, come to think of it, was probably why they didn't want you flying on drugs.

Sam had crawled through the cockpit entrance and was banging feebly on the back of his seat. "Stop!"

"I already did."

"Give me those keys."

"Hey, at least I stopped Charles from kidnapping us again," Al pointed out, pleased with himself.

Sam dabbed at his cut lip. "Just come out of the cockpit, Al, okay? It's safe now. Ironhorse's men are here."

Getting out of the seat was harder than he expected. The drugs must be wearing off. As soon as he ducked through the doorway, Verbena and Sam each grabbed an elbow, hauling Al upright. He tried to turn back for his cigar, but they hustled him out the door. Oh, well, Gomez had more. There were a couple in his jacket on the Imaging Chamber floor, too. Better smoke 'em before sending it to the laundry.

Maybe he was getting just a tad woozy.

When getting down to the sandy ground squeezed a pained grunt from him, Sam's grasp on his shoulders tightened comfortingly. It felt great to be able to hug Sam. Had he mentioned that?

"Uh-oh." Sam dropped the gun into the sand. "I just realized--when I Leap out, Rick's going to be back in this body, and he's pretty mad. Do you have a sedative handy?"

"Don't worry. I'll jab him right in his nasty-assed white buttocks," Verbena said, obviously relishing the idea.

Curses broke the still night air as Rick's henchmen, betrayed by their leader, were rounded up. While his soldiers efficiently handcuffed the unarmed kidnappers, Colonel Ironhorse strode toward the helicopter, his dark features puzzled but relieved. Was that Lopez striding behind him, gun in hand?

Sam stepped back, releasing his hold on his partner.

"Don't you dare step into the Imaging Chamber until Dr. Beeks approves, you hear me, Al?"

"Sam--"

His buddy smiled wistfully. "Goodbye, Al."

Behind them, Sam's body collapsed in Charles's arms as Rick and Sam Leaped, Rick to his own body, Sam to an unknown past.

Albert Calavicci collapsed a moment later.

EPILOGUE

After three days--okay, two-and-a-half--of lying in bed in Sickbay, Al Calavicci was going stir-crazy. The first day or so, he was pretty much out of it, blowing z's when he crashed from the drugs wearing off, but after that things got really boring.

It wouldn't be so bad if there were women coming in and out, bringing him presents and nursing him, but the only woman allowed in was Verbena, and sometimes she was too busy to humor him. No one would bring him any work, even though he pointed out that tackling a huge stack of overdue paperwork when he was released would probably trigger a relapse.

O'Toole, for once in his life following orders religiously, refused to let Al out or co-workers in. Ziggy blocked his access to any computer functions except reading, and he wasn't in the mood to re-read Shakespeare or Wuthering Heights on Thing's monitor. He hadn't even bothered to open the copies of the Joan Kennedy romances and Ruth Zuckerman biography Verbena left on the dressing table this morning. The tech who brought him breakfast offered him good odds on the latest in-house pool, which revolved around how soon Tamika Lopez would have her first date with Paul Ironhorse, but Al itched to be the bookmaker, not just one of the bettors. Gomez, threatened by Verbena with being forced to undergo a week of in-depth psychological testing if he let Al have any fun at all, wouldn't even let him have a cigar. All he could do was lie here and brood about his betrayal by Tina.

Women had cheated on him before. Given his own belief that sex was so great it should be freely shared, he hadn't been a paragon of monogamy himself. But this was the second time she'd sneaked off into Gooshie's bed, after he trusted and forgave her the first time. How could he not have realized? Was he going senile? Was he getting so old and decrepit that he couldn't hold a woman's interest anymore?

Sullenly, Al kicked the sheets off, then yanked a pillow from behind his head and pummeled it. This was almost as bad as being held prisoner by Rick Allenman and his greedy employers. Well, practically.

Heated voices in the hallway told him someone else was trying to get past O'Toole. Fat chance. Why couldn't Verbena have at least posted Tamika Lopez, that Amazon of a woman, outside his room?

Idly, he wondered who could be out there arguing with O'Toole this time. Janice? Pat? Ivy?

When the door finally opened, he found that it was none of the above. In fact, he didn't even recognize the woman in the skin-tight black slacks and the low-cut, sleeveless turquoise blouse. On second thought, when he let his eyes leave the body, the curly red hair, freckles, and cat-green eyes did start to seem vaguely familiar.

O'Toole said helplessly, "She threatened to arrest me, and that'd play hell with my Security check, you know?"

"Honey?"

"Do you realize I had to spend three whole years not knowing if you survived or if I told your computer enough to stop that bomb from blowing this all to Kingdom Come?" she demanded, as if it was his fault.

"What are you doing here? Didn't your memory get magnafoozled?"

"Well, yeah, for awhile, but I'm a cop, and I wasn't going to shrug off a case of amnesia, so I went to a hypnotist we use on the force, and eventually got most of it back, except I wasn't sure whether it was the 21st or the 22nd of this month."

"How did you know the date?"

"Ziggy told me," Honey said casually. "You can leave now, Ensign. Beat it." Pointedly, she stood there staring, with her fists on her hips, until O'Toole, blushing, backed out of the room, then she turned to study Al carefully. "You look better. At least you're not still on the I.V."

The whole thing still had him dazed. "How did you find us? This is a top-secret installation!"

She shrugged it off, beginning to rummage in her shoulderbag. "I'm a good cop. Besides, this strange long distance phone number showed up on the bill at the station for my office, and I didn't know anybody in Stallion's Gate, New Mexico. Oh, and listen, once I figured out what was going on, I read as much as I could about time-travel while I was looking, which is why I didn't hang around and shoot Rick before he got inside. I was afraid of setting up a paradox or something. Besides, I had the date a little wrong." The first thing she pulled out was her service revolver, which kind of worried him, but she set it down on the bedside table and rummaged some more. "I know what it's like in hospitals, and I figured I'd bring you some things they probably wouldn't let you have for awhile. Here."

"Cuban cigars! Honey, you're a lifesaver!"

She dimmed the lights, then sat on the edge of his bed. "No, you're the lifesaver. You took a bullet meant for me. Think I'd forget that?" Her smile lit up the room.

"If you hadn't told Ziggy how to block out those motion sensors, everybody on that base'd be dead."

"Well, your Dr. Beckett paid me back. He got Mama off our cases and set her up in a very successful career. She's happy, we're happy, her clients are happy--and married, most of 'em. Don't get me wrong; I coulda handled Matt and Ernie on my own. But handling Mama--well, that's a different story. We all owe him one for that."

"No problem. That's what Sam does. Help people."

"Enough about the saintly Dr. Beckett." Honey moved the bedside stand closer to him. "I also brought a bottle of Chianti and two glasses. I thought maybe we could get to know each other a little better."

Al smiled joyously at the heavens, and said, straight from the heart, "Thank you!"

%%%%%%

The starlit desert night was replaced all around Sam by a sunny afternoon in a tree-filled park when his Leap ended. He found himself sitting on a park bench, watching children frolic and office workers stroll on lunch breaks. Since there were no mirrors handy, he couldn't see what sort of body he was inhabited, but it appeared to be wearing a masculine business suit. Beside him on the bench was a leather briefcase. Maybe it would hold some I.D. or give him a clue to his purpose here. There was no point in waiting for Al, unless Whomever controlled these Leaps had helpfully stretched out the week or so between most Leaps to accommodate Al's recuperation. It wouldn't be the first time.

Curious, he opened the briefcase, and blinked when he saw that it held a reel-to-reel tape-recorder.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Phelps," the tape greeted him mellifluously. Good. Now he knew his name, at least. "Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to track down and assassinate Saddam Hussein. As always, should your mission fail, any connection between your team and the United States government will be denied. This tape will self-destruct in five seconds."

To Sam's horror, the tape began to hiss and smoke. Dumping the briefcase on the grass, he threw himself back, and the bench toppled over.

Lying on his back, with his feet in the air, Sam could only say in a tiny, panicked voice, "Oh, boy."

-----Thursday, June 25, 1992

Colonel Paul Ironhorse orders you to report to Jane Leavell's Fan Fiction Page for a little more quantum exposure.

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You may not catch Gooshie & Tina in a clinch, but you could see links by going here.

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