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A TASTE OF HONEY

by Jane Leavell

CHAPTER SIX

Having finally found the locker room in the basement of the police station, Sam made sure he was alone, then sagged against one wall.

"Why am I here? What's happening to Al?" he asked the ceiling. There was a bullet hole in one of the stained acoustic tiles there.

Of course, He didn't answer, whomever He was.

Always before, Sam was the one whose life was in danger, and Al was left nervously jittering on the sidelines, unable to physically help, forced to wait and watch and pray. This--this just wasn't right. Al was supposed to be safe, flirting with every woman on the Project and squabbling with Ziggy. He was supposed to be worrying about Sam, not the other way around.

Seeing his own body, outwardly so familiar yet moving with swift, somehow feminine grace, was a shock, but nothing compared to seeing the blood well up on Al's ribs, like a rose blossoming on his immaculate white uniform.

Sam clenched his fists. He's okay. He has to be. Just like I promised him, they'll take care of his bullet wound, because they have to know how valuable he is.

Once before, when Sam tried to handle a Leap without waiting for Al's input, and changed history so that Al died in the gas chamber, Time or Fate or God let Sam solve the mystery and change time yet again, so that Al survived. That had to mean Al was fated to live and help him with Quantum Leap, right? Whoever or whatever was running this show wouldn't let Al die now, either.

What Sam had to do now was fix whatever went wrong with Honey's life, as quickly as he possibly could, so that Time or Fate or God--whoever had taken over his Leaps--could Leap him into someone able to rescue Al.

Sam straightened up, closed his fingers around the key on the leather strap, and walked down rows of lockers until he found 238. The key fit perfectly, so he knew he had guessed right. Opening the dented door, he bent over to pick up a briefcase that might hold the public relations material, and swallowed hard. Nestled behind the briefcase was a square box with red digital numbers counting down from sixty seconds. It wasn't an ordinary clock.

"Oh, boy," he murmured, through lips that suddenly felt numb.

He was a certified genius, and he'd invented a super computer with an independent personality, so defusing a bomb should be a cinch, right? But with his Swiss-cheesed memory, he couldn't even recall Ziggy. One mistake, and both Sam and part of the police station could be blown to confetti.

Maybe this was the reason for his Leap into Honey Zuckerman.

Why hadn't he skimmed some of those manuals in her office? He had a photographic memory, so he could be using one for guidance now if he'd only bothered to pick one up and flip a few pages. He could refer to diagrams, explanations--

There was no time for this. There wasn't even time to sound an alarm and evacuate the building. It was all up to him.

With trembling fingers, Sam unfastened the back of the plastic box, hoping he would be able to disconnect the clock part. That would leave the bomb still activated, but with no trigger device, it wouldn't explode right away. There would be time to get other guys from the Bomb Squad to deal with it.

Then he ran out of time.

Evidently the back panel was booby-trapped. Removing it triggered the explosion. Strangely, it didn't actually hurt, though he was blinded. A cloud of white smoke and particulate matter swirled around him. Coughing, Sam staggered back.

Why doesn't it hurt? Am I dead?

Somehow, he had always thought dying would feel like Leaping, but this didn't fit. In his ears was a buzzing sound, and beyond that, raucous male laughter.

Now that's not right. Death isn't a comedy. Angels wouldn't be braying like donkeys because I died.

Sam rubbed at his eyes with both fists, and cleared off enough gunk to get a good look at the locker room. There had been no massive devastation. In fact, not even the bomb was injured, but everything in his immediate area, including his body, was thickly coated with talcum powder.

A small crowd of men emerged from behind the lockers, full of mirth.

"Whatsa matter, Red, forget to powder your nose this morning?"

"Glad we could help out, right, Ernie?"

"Thought you were the big bomb expert, Zuckerman. What happened?"

His heart was gradually resuming its normal rhythm, so he was probably not going to keel over with a heart attack, but his cheeks felt as if they were on fire. "Very funny," he said sourly. That just provoked more laughter.

One of the men stepped forward, holding up one hand, shushing his buddies. Tall, broad-shouldered, and in his mid-thirties, he was the personification of Yuppie men in cologne commercials: sleek, well-dressed, Byronic, and very much aware of it.

"Actually, Zuckerman, it's not funny. You're right. Because next time, Butterfingers, it could be the real thing, and all our lives hanging in the balance. This--" He gestured with one hand, encompassing the open locker and cloud of talcum. "--isn't a joke. You are."

How was he supposed to react to that? What he wanted to do at the moment was burst into tears, which wasn't a good idea. Maybe he just hadn't recovered from the shock yet. Without speaking, Sam turned and stalked out, sending up little puffs of white powder with every step.

He would have to put on make-up again, and he really loathed doing that. This would make him late for his lecture, too, and he didn't didn't even know what he was supposed to give a talk on. If her co-workers treated Honey like this all the time, it was no wonder if she had trouble being punctual.

Shock began to retreat before growing anger. No one deserved to be treated like this!

Seething, Sam entered the first public restroom he came to, hoping he could wash the powder off before anyone else spotted him. An outraged howl of protest from the men standing around the urinal drove him back into the hallway, thoroughly humiliated.

"Dumb feminist broad!" someone hollered.

"Ladies' Room," Sam reminded himself through gritted teeth. "You have to use the Ladies' Room."

When this Leap began, he had been relieved, believing it would be an easy one. He couldn't have been more wrong.

Casting a bitter scowl at the heavens, Sam stormed off in search of the womens' restroom.

%%%%%%%%%

Having guns pointed at you is a scary experience, let alone being shot. What really irked Al was that he couldn't give in to his own jitters, because everyone else in the Project was counting on him to see them through this.

Sam was the one who should be here now. He was the eternal optimist, always firing up his co-workers' jets and convincing them miracles do happen--hell, for Sam, miracles did happen. He was the born hero. For the past four years, that was all Sam had been doing, shuttling from year to year, saving lives. Basically, Al's experience was in personal survival, not mass heroics. He survived losing his parents, tough times on the streets every time he went AWOL from the orphanage, five years in North Vietnamese prison camps, and five marriages. None of those experiences qualified him to nurse hundreds of other people through danger. He didn't even have a clue how to start.

Okay, Hotshot, You get a kick out of ricocheting Sam around time, so why don't You bring him in here to help me out?

Nothing happened, of course. That was frustrating, too. Al and God hadn't been on a first-name basis since he was a little kid and God ignored his prayers to save his dad from dying of cancer, but you'd think after all the lives he and Sam had saved, he'd have earned at least a couple Brownie points.

He'd already managed to get himself shot up, and didn't even save Sam's body in the process. The Bad Guys were winning. Now what?

At the elevator, one of the nozzles escorting him gave him another thump on the shoulder, shoving him inside with so much force that Al nearly bounced against the back wall. The other one, Charles, didn't object. That was still another major irritation. Bad enough that the Project had been taken over by trigger-happy terrorists, that he'd been shot, and that Tina was probably cheating on him with that nerd again. On top of all that, they had to push him around just for the pleasure of being able to do it.

"First floor," he growled, and the elevator slid into action.

All this walking probably wasn't a good idea. At first his side had only hurt when he touched it, but now it was a dull general ache that was escalating to a burning sensation. Sam was probably right about him going into shock. Maybe if he concentrated real hard, he could hold it off. He didn't have time to go into shock, not with all this mess going on.

"First floor," the smarmy computer voice informed him, even though he could see that for himself, and the door slid open.

Sure enough, Turner started to push him again, but Al whipped around and snared his wrist with both hands. Turner jabbed a pistol in his ribs, luckily not on the side with the bullet already in it.

"Listen, the only people I like manhandling me are beautiful women. Frankly, you're not my type."

"You don't like being pushed? Try moving faster."

"Maybe you haven't noticed, but you guys shot me. A thing like that tends to slow a guy down."

"We didn't shoot you in the legs," Charles observed mildly.

Al smiled at him, eyes narrowing. "Go ahead. Do it. See if it speeds me up any."

After a moment, Charles nodded at Turner, who pulled back a step and raised both hands, elaborately innocent. Al left the elevator, fuming. Now they were humoring him. On the whole, he'd probably prefer being shoved.

There were two men in Navy uniforms at the entrance, one on his feet and one sprawled on his back, snoring. The one on his feet was staring outside, clutching an AK-47, and he had the swarthy complexion and broad features of someone at least part-Indian. That made two Hispanics on this team. Make it three--the snorer was a chubby version of Turner, with thinner hair. Was that significant?

"What happened to Wilson?" Charles demanded.

"Got shot by one of those Marines after the alarms went off."

The guy at the door didn't take his eyes off the desert outside, but the other two looked accusingly at Al. What did they expect, pussy security guards who'd surrender at the first sign of trouble? "Tranquilizer dart," he explained. "If you guys were smart enough to use 'em, I wouldn't be half-dead, and Rick probably wouldn't've killed your buddy Bruce."

This time he did take his eyes off the desert. "Rick killed Bruce?"

"Never mind, Ray. Everything's under control now."

"They turned back the chopper, and there's still guards roaming the building, and they can over-ride the sealed areas, where we can't!"

"Rick's taking care of it."

"The worst that can happen to you is that you'll take a little siesta," Al pointed out helpfully.

Turner grabbed him by the shoulder and propelled him into the daylight. Although the morning air was still chilly, he had to blink against the harsh sunlight. The effect was worsened because the sunlight was also reflecting off what seemed to be a small army clutching rifles, all pointed directly at him, since Turner was cowering behind him. Charles didn't even step outside, the coward.

"I can't stand out here all day!" Al shouted at the rifles. "This is Rear Admiral Albert Calavicci. Get whoever's in charge out here, pronto!"

It took a few minutes, while everyone else probably tried to talk him out of doing it, then an officer strode out past the half-circle of rifles. Al squinted, then grinned in relief. Paul Ironhorse. The man was all military, probably slept in full uniform at attention, but he was smart. He wasn't likely to pull some dumb grandstanding stunt like bombing Stallion's Gate to drive the bad guys out.

He stopped a few feet away, dark eyes flickering from Turner to the entrance, bronze features absolutely impassive. Behind his back, his men called him `Chief,' but no one ever mentioned his race to his face. "Admiral."

"Colonel."

"What can you tell me about the situation in there?"

"Some guy named Rick and at least six--ow!" This time Turner's muzzle dug into the bullet wound. It took him a minute to get his breath back. "Some people took over the Project. We thought it was Admiral Nelson's party at first."

"No. They were ambushed ten miles west of here. We found the bodies." He kept his eyes on Turner, who was too tall to stay completely hidden behind his hostage. "Admiral, you know I've got the best snipers in the service out there. You need medical treatment. I think you should come with me."

"He takes one more step, he dies," Turner snarled.

Ironhorse said, "Maybe. Maybe not."

Oh, boy. Don't start grandstanding on me now, guys. Aloud, Al told him, "These loonies'd start killing my staff for revenge. Besides, I can't run, not like this, so forget it."

"Admiral, it's my duty to see that they don't have you. You're the heart of this project."

"Bullshit. They can't get anything from Dr. Beckett--trust me, it's impossible--and the computer, which is the real heart of Quantum Leap, is the size of an apartment, so they can't take it with them. With just me, they've got nothing."

"According to my briefings, that's not true."

He made a face. "Whatever they eventually dig outta me will give 'em a lot of new technology, yeah, but without Sam and Ziggy, they'll never be able to duplicate the Project. Trust me on this."

"Admiral--"

"I don't want a bloodbath! There's secretaries and file clerks and Motor Pool jockeys in there, civilians who don't know any classified information and who don't deserve to get hurt over this. These nozzles are serious; they already offed one of their own team for screwing up."

Ironhorse was as unyielding as his name suggested. "They're outnumbered, and they've lost the element of surprise. We have the tactical advantage here, not them."

"Who knows what panicky terrorists might do? I figure they meant to breeze in here, find me and Beckett, stick guns in our backs, and get out again before anybody knew they were ringers, but now everything's blown up, and I'm telling you, they're desperate. Don't push it, Colonel."

"With all due respect to your rank--"

"I know, I know, I'm not Army, so I'm not your superior. But I am the co-director of this project, and I'm telling you, give 'em what they want."

He couldn't tell from Ironhorse's lean, immobile face what was going on inside that ultra-military mind. "What exactly do they want?"

Al opened his mouth, then went blank. "I dunno." He started to twist his head for a look at Turner, but gave it up when his side protested. "Hey, Turner, what do you guys want?"

"Ask Rick. He's the boss," the gunman said, sounding defensive.

He raised his eyebrows at the colonel. "You heard the man. You wanna come inside with us?"

"I don't intend to give them another hostage."

"They have plenty of those already. Don't forget that, Colonel."

This time he met Al's gaze. "I won't. My men have taken over the phone lines in and out. Tell this `Rick' to contact me; we're intercepting all calls, and we can open negotiations. I don't intend to attempt a physical assault. Not yet."

"Why am I not reassured?" he muttered.

Turner threw one arm around his throat and started dragging him back toward the entrance, cutting off both his words and his breath. This was no improvement over the shoving.

Leaving the desert light for dim fluorescent lighting was sort of depressing, probably because he was leaving behind his last chance for escape. Either these snakes would successfully kidnap him, or Ironhorse would get him killed trying to stop them; he couldn't see a third option, though he'd sure like to. If they did get him off the base, there was no doubt at all that he'd be broken and drained of information long before Sam, in Honey Zuckerman's body, came looking for him, even assuming Sam didn't Leap somewhen else between now and then, and also assuming his Swiss-cheesed memory let him remember where the base was located. The VC had been able to make him spill his guts, and interrogation techniques today were light-years beyond whippings, tiger cages, and shoulder dislocations.

Al tugged at Turner's arm and gasped, "Want me to pass out?"

Apparently the weasels didn't want to carry him, because the arm left his neck. Al sucked in a deep breath, and staggered when he got another love tap between his shoulder blades. When he turned around to lodge another complaint, his eyes widened. A Marine corporal had just Leaped from a cross corridor and was bracing his pistol with both hands.

Charles must've read something in his face, for he ducked, shouting a warning to Turner. The Puerto Rican jumped, and the tranquilizer dart thudded against the wall, narrowly missing him. Hiding behind Al, he rested his gun on Al's shoulder and fired the entire clip at the corporal, who had already sensibly started running back the way he came. Swearing, Turner drove him forward, once again clamping his arm around Al's neck.

At least I know some of Security's still on the loose and trying to do something, even if I can't breathe.

The lights overhead seemed to keep fading, probably because he was bleeding again. His side was throbbing the way his back and buttocks had after the four hundredth blow from strips of rubber off old truck tires, when he was screaming and begging them to stop.

Don't think about it, Stupid.

"Ten," he croaked to the elevator ceiling, because the computer wouldn't recognize his captors' voices.

As the elevator began its descent, Al forced himself to think of more pleasant matters. Like Perdita, that gorgeous Puerto Rican waitress he met in Albuquerque, and the piñata in her bedroom that, when smashed open, showered the bed with condoms and sex toys, some of which even he had never heard of. The memory brought a smile to his lips that not even another shove from Turner could kill.

His pace slowed down the nearer they got to the Control Room, and it wasn't just from blood loss. He was beginning to shiver. Fond memories of romps with Perdita were no longer enough to quell his nervousness.

I sure hope that dead body's stuffed out of sight somewhere.

Al squared his shoulders and set his palm in the electronic sensor pad beside the door, triggering its release.

I really, really don't like dead bodies.

CHAPTER SEVEN

Maybe the location of Chi-Chi's, on the edge of a sleazy neighborhood, should have warned Sam, but he still kept picturing himself facing an auditorium of freshly-scrubbed, eager faces, like the kids he'd gone to school with in Elk Ridge, Indiana. Sure, at assemblies there were the inevitable whispers, nudges, and giggles, but basically they sat and paid attention, outside of a few yawns and squirms.

From Chi-Chi's, the establishments he passed went rapidly downhill. Check-cashing places, stores welcoming good stamps, and bars proliferated like fleas on a farm dog. Sam didn't really pay attention. He was distracted by trying to navigate through a strange city, rehearse his speech, and avoid worrying about Al, all at the same time.

When he pulled into the parking lot, Sam started to pay more attention. Uniformed security guards stopped him, asked for his I.D., and checked his name on a clipboard before grudgingly admitting him, as if they suspected Honey of being a prostitute or drug dealer or something. What if he'd been an ordinary mother, here to check on her children?

Roosevelt Junior High proved to be a seedy, graffiti-painted, crumbling brick building that had probably been built in the era of Teddy, not Franklin. The first floor windows were either barred or covered with plywood. By the time Sam entered the front door through a pair of metal detectors, he half-expected to find the student hall monitors equipped with machine guns. When he mentioned that to the guard, the man didn't catch the reference to the Funky Winkerbean comic strip. Without cracking a smile, the white-haired guard said, "Not yet."

He sounded quite serious.

"Detective Zuckerman? Stephen Bodey. Glad you could make it."

Sam extended his right hand, and the principal of Roosevelt Jr. High hastily transferred his baseball bat from the left hand to the right to accept it. His grip was clammy, and he shook hands with a jerky, forceful movement.

"This is a junior high, isn't it? I mean, it's not a high school."

"Oh, no," Bodey agreed, with a nervous titter. "Only grades six, seven, and eight. You'll be speaking to the eighth graders today. We couldn't handle more than that at one time."

The statement provoked another pointless giggle from him. His brown eyes were sweeping the area, always in motion, like a rabbit checking for predators. When a bell rang, he twitched.

"Get against the wall! Class exchange!"

Even as the tubby principal shouted, doors smacked against the walls and a horde of young teenagers filled the immediate area. The babble of Spanish and English was much louder than it had been in Sam's day, but he could still pick out bits of familiar conversation: sports, gossip, complaints about homework, good-humored gibes and bursts of staccato laughter. Unlike the kids in his small farming community, these were an ethnic and racial mix, both sexes wore earrings, and Starter caps fought with headbands for supremacy, but the mad dash to lockers and classrooms was unchanged from the ones he remembered in his youth.

Sam flashed Bodey a smile, and was surprised to see the older man plastered against the wall with his bat upraised to make a wall between himself and the waves of yelling teens. He winced as locker doors clanged open and shut.

In three minutes, the hall was littered with bits of paper and a few slow-moving boys who were probably going to be late to class. Bodey released a shaky breath.

"I didn't realize we were so close to the bell."

"Nothing happened," Sam pointed out. "The kids were fine."

"This time. But you never know."

"I can see this is a bad neighborhood, but do you really need metal detectors? I mean, these are just kids: twelve, thirteen, fourteen--"

Bodey gaped at him as if he had just announced that the President was a space alien and Congress was staffed by clones of Mel Gibson. "I brought those when I transferred from the high school. We'd never have survived without them. It's a war-zone there."

"But these are younger children. You still have time to turn them around. Maybe, when you transferred here, you also transferred your old fears from the high school, where they were justified. You could be over-reacting."

"Chuck. Tell him some of the things you've found since they were installed."

The white-haired guard said flatly, "Brass knuckles. Switchblades. One gun."

"You see?" Bodey laughed again, without humor. "That's without mentioning the Crips, the Bloods, and the Jesse James Posse recruiting here. We have time for a quick cup of coffee in the teacher's lounge, if you want to discuss it. No children are allowed in there, ever, so it's peaceful."

Sam shook his head, unwilling to accept such a depressing viewpoint. "Mr. Bodey, maybe you should give up the coffee. The caffeine can create or worsen jitteriness. Milk is better for you, and it has a calming effect. I bet your stomach is touchy, too."

That provoked another chuckle. Sam suspected it was a nervous tic the principal didn't even notice, since the sound was forced and came at inappropriate moments. "You sound more like a doctor than a police officer."

"Well, in my line of work, it pays to have a sound grounding in medical issues. Can I have that cup of coffee later, after the talk? I'm a little nervous myself. Stage fright, I guess."

Bodey patted his hand. "I'll have two glasses of milk ready, one for each of us. Just follow me, and I'll get you to the auditorium. I'll have Coach Newton escort you back afterwards."

As they started up the hall, a shrill wolf whistle made Sam twisted his head to the left, but there was no one in that hallway, other than a skinny pre-adolescent boy with freckles and a buzzcut, apparently absorbed in fighting with a jammed locker door. Sam shrugged and kept walking.

Hadn't Al suggested the reason for this Leap might be to spot drug dealers or child abuse here? Maybe Al had been on the right track. Instead of helping Honey with her job or home life, he might be at Roosevelt Junior High to help Mr. Bodey and the youngsters here come to an understanding. When he was in elementary school, a science demonstration fired his imagination and started him on multiple science degrees. If he could do something similar here, he could lead potential troublemakers into law enforcement careers instead!

If that really was his mission this time, he needed Al's help more than ever. Where Sam came from a happy family on a small farm, Al had grown up on the streets, always running away from the orphanage, learning to pick locks and pick pockets until he also managed to pick up a Juvenile Court record and probation officer. Somewhere along the line, a nun or priest or probation officer made a difference in his life, steering him toward college and the Navy. Al would know what to say to these kids, and how to say it so they would listen.

Are You listening? If You'd fix things so Al could be my Project Observer, right now, I could do what You probably want.

The sounds of shuffling papers, squeaking chalk, and sighing students weren't promptly eliminated by the scraping sound of the Imaging Chamber door sliding up. No garishly dressed, curly-haired Italian bounded through a wall to startle him. Sam was still on his own. Whatever force was controlling his Leaps in time seemed to be immune to blackmail.

The least You could do is send me a sign that he's okay. How can I concentrate, not knowing if my partner is alive or dead?

Guilt didn't seem to affect It any more than it affected Ziggy, the hybrid computer that gave Al so much grief. What did he have to do to get a response, sacrifice a ram or his first-born child?

Would Ziggy count as his first-born child?

At least the `public relations' briefcase held a typed speech, as well as handouts photocopied on red, white, and blue paper. He wasn't going into this speech in utter ignorance. Apparently he was here to convince the kids that the police department, far from being racist or sexist, wanted to involve the community in fighting drugs and crime. "Dare to Be Great!" the handouts insisted.

The children rushed into the auditorium in a whooping chaotic stream, changing seats an average of three times each, usually simply by climbing over the back of the seat in front of them. Security guards and burly coaches stood blocking each exit, arms folded, but did nothing to stem the noise and movement, even when what appeared to be a gang-related fist fight broke out between kids in Chicago Bulls Starter jackets and those in Detroit Lions jackets. When the fight ended as quickly as it had begun, one of the coaches collared the two main offenders and hauled them out of the auditorium.

Sam tapped the microphone on the podium, and winced when an electronic whine came from every speaker. "Boys and girls--"

That produced catcalls, hoots, some lip-smacking noises, and a shouted request for a date. Same waited for the laughter to die down, then tried again.

"Good morning. My name is Detective Honey Zuckerman--"

"Oooh, baby, I just love the taste of honey!"

"Lick it up!"

"--and I work for the Bomb and Arson Squad of your local police force."

"Hey, Honey, you ever seen dead bodies? Was they burned up like French fries, or kinda exploded all over the place?"

Sam swallowed and looked at the nearest teacher for help, then blinked. There was no way that the man at the foot of the stage could be a teacher. No one else in this place was wearing black denim jeans, a flowing white Colonial style shirt, and an open black vest; nor was the School Board likely to approve of him wearing his long red hair in a ponytail tied back with a black velvet ribbon. The man unfolded his arms just long enough to give Sam a mocking salute, then resumed his vigilant stance. His picture, like those of Katie and Jimmy, had been in Honey's collection of family photos.

Don't tell me that another one of her brothers has a problem!

He was snapped back to his own current problem by a hailstorm of spitwads. "That's enough! Listen up!" To himself, he sounded like a tape of his old basketball coach. "Today I'm here to tell you that the police are your friends, and that working together--" Sam broke off, wrinkling his nose. "Is someone trying to set one of those seats on fire?"

One of the security guards in the rear closed in on a tiny spiral of smoke, provoking more laughter and jokes. Honey's brother's eyebrows flew up, then he dug a tiny notebook and pencil stub from his rear pocket and started writing something.

Although Sam didn't remember exactly what fields his six doctorates were in, he decided at that moment that none of his degrees were in education.

Once, explaining to Sam how he dealt with the Senate committee that controlled the Project's funding, Al told him a story about a farmer who always started plowing by bashing his mule in the head with a two-by-four because "first you have to get his attention." Irked beyond measure, Sam hiked up Honey's skirt to the accompaniment of shrill wolf whistles, pulled her service revolver from a thigh holster, and fired a single shot into the ceiling.

The chaos, so reminiscent of electrons bumping mindlessly into each other, abruptly stilled. Sam reholstered the gun and gripped the podium until his knuckles turned white.

"Now that I have your attention. . . ."

%%%%%%%%%%

Forty minutes later, as the last of the considerably more subdued eighth graders filed out of the auditorium, Sam plopped down on the edge of the stage with his legs dangling, exhausted. So much for his TO SIR WITH LOVE routine. If he had to save those juvenile delinquents in order to Leap, he was going to grow old in Honey Zuckerman's compact body.

Maybe if I hang on in this body another three years, I can stock up on weapons, go to the Project an hour or two before the ringers arrive, and stop them. Except I don't know what the date will be. Just because it's June in the past doesn't mean it's June in the present.

Sam groaned, just thinking about it. Honey's long-haired brother stepped up to the edge of the stage and patted `her' knee comfortingly.

"Gee, I'd heard police work was tough, but I never realized it was this dangerous."

Rubbing his face with both hands, Sam said, "What are you doing here?"

"Doing some in-field research for my latest Joan Kennedy contemporary romance." He dropped his hand and moved back adroitly, as if expecting to get slapped. "It's about a young female police officer who falls madly in love. Maybe with a chiropractor, or maybe with a fellow officer--what do you think?"

Sam spread his fingers to stare at him. "You write romances?"

"Yeah, right, like you've forgotten, after that interview you gave Sensuous Times about how your dear `sister' Joan was such a sweet, feminine, romantic girl. The editors know damned well I'm a man, and they've never let me forget it. They keep asking me about my slumber parties and my Precious Moments doll collection. Just try and tell me you don't owe me that book. Besides, it's a good story idea."

Would Honey appreciate being the subject of a steamy romance novel? Somehow he didn't think so. And what was so romantic about a chiropractor? Why not someone exciting and interesting, like--well--a quantum physicist or an astronaut or something?

"Can't you find something else to write about?" he asked.

"Any suggestions from the C student in high school English classes?"

He was too tired to think. "I don't know. Write about Mama--she's the big Romantic in the family, right?"

Honey's brother blinked once...twice...then yanked out the little notebook and pencil again. "A widow who keeps trying to marry off her daughters, but she ends up getting swept off her feet by...um...maybe the minister she tries to rope into her marriage schemes. Honey, I could kiss you! There's a growing market for the older woman romance, you know. Or--wait--maybe the true story of Mama and Papa meeting at the protest march, when he rescued her from those drunks. I love it! I could send Ma on the book tours to push the book. She'd eat it up. Or, no, maybe I can do both, break into the non-fiction market without losing the fiction income. . . ." His voice trailed off into an absorbed mumble as he tried to jot everything down.

Sam looked skyward expectantly, but this must not have been his reason for Leaping here, for he was still solidly entrenched in the Honey Zuckerman persona. Sighing, he stood up and began to look for her purse. He still had a luncheon date to keep.


Enter the Accelerator and Leap to Chapters Eight & Nine.

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

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