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And Then There Were Two
"I didn't tell nobody! I swear! Maybe Derrick tol' someone." The teen scowled, gesturing angrily at the boy next to him, also a teen. Both were dressed similarly, in over-sized dark blue jackets, and baggy jeans. The requisite brand name high-tops, un-tied, adorned their feet--feet that now shifted nervously.
"No way, man. Don't be blamin me." Derrick denied. He glared at his accuser. "Marshall always be tellin stuff to his old lady."
The boys glowered at each other. Each sure that the fault must lie with the other.
An older man, well dressed, in a flashy sort of way, shook his head. "It doesn't matter now. This is the third time that you guys weren't able to carry off an assignment, and I want to know why." His voice was deceptively calm.
Derrick, at nineteen, a year older than the other boy tried to explain. "I as sittin in the car waitin. Marshall was getting real close to Antonio, almost close enough to shoot, when this guy came out of nowhere. He ran into Marshall, then swung a hockey stick at him. Antonio saw what was happenen', and started to come over, so Marshall, not wanting Antonio to see his face, just got up and ran to the car, and I took off as soon as he jumped in."
Marshall was nodding. "Yeah, and this dude, man, I swear he the same guy that warned Sanchez, too."
Derrick agreed, and added, "He might even a been the same one that was talking to Reyes right before we were gonna get him."
The older gentleman cocked his head to the side, "The same man? Are you sure?"
The boys glanced at each other, nodding. Derrick answered for them. "Yeah. He was a white guy, wearing a black leather coat."
The older man, clearly the leader, nodded. "Okay. Let me think
on this. I'll let you know in a few days what I want you to do."
The boys nodded, and left.
The blue light enveloped him, surrounding his body with the familiar glow Sam Beckett felt calm and peaceful here, time meaningless, but yet, it was also the reason for his being there. He didn't know how long he had floated in this nothingness. It didn't matter really. There was nothing he could do to alter it anyway. He could only hope, that when time stopped for him, it would be the right time, and the right place. Home. Though his mind was swiss-cheesed from the effects of the leap, that one singular thought always stayed with him from leap to leap, held tightly in the recesses of his mind, in a place somehow protected from the leap.
The blue aura faded. Sam blinked, looking around curiously. He found himself sitting at a bar with a pad of paper in front of him, and a pen in his left hand. Thankfully, no one else in the busy bar was paying any attention tohim. Sam sighed with relief. Hopefully, he would be able to figure out who, when, and where he was without making too many blunders. The pad of paper in front of him seemed to have a list of some sort on it.
Sam tilted his head to read, "1 Case of Jack, 12 of Miller, 1/Absolut.." Sam continued reading, his voice trailing off. Okay, he thought, either this guy is a major alcoholic, or he has something to do with running this place. Since a cup of coffee was sitting next to the pad of paper, Sam guessed; hoped, it was the latter. A sudden thought caused a brief panic as Sam took a quick look down at himself. "Yes!" he breathed softly, thankful that the clothing definitely looked masculine. He casually took out his wallet, and quickly thumbed through it.
"Charles Fishman" Sam murmured, reading the Illinois driver's license. The expiration of the license was in 1999. Sam blinked in surprise. Unless things had changed since he had started leaping, that would mean that it was no earlier than 1995, and possibly even as late as 1999. He couldn't remember if he had ever leaped this close to his real time. Maybe he was even past the time that he had first leaped.
Sam jumped, startled, and dropped the wallet on the floor, the contents spilling under his barstool. He quickly scrambled to pick everything up, stuffing it in hastily.
Another pair of hands appeared, and helped Sam to pick up the scattered papers and credit cards.
"Sorry, Chuck, didn't mean to scare you." Drawled a deep voice.
Sam glanced up, finding a dark-haired man kneeling next to him, holding out the credit cards that he had retrieved. 'Uh, no problem. I'll just...uh... get all this back in here." Sam stammered taking the proffered cards. The man stood, wincing slightly, Sam noted.
"Are you alright?" Sam asked.
The man grimaced, rubbing his knee. "Ah, I just fell earlier and bumped it is all." The man took a quick look around and pulled a newspaper out of his black leather jacket. "You know Chuck, I think something weird is going on." He said conspiratorily.
Sam swallowed hard, Oh boy, he thought, quickly trying to decide what he had done in so short a time, that had made the man suspicious. "Uh, w-what do you mean?"
"Well, it just seems to me, that every time I turn around the last few weeks, someone is about to get shot. I mean, even for Chicago, it seems like an awful lot." The man explained in a concerned voice.
Sam was shocked. What had he leaped into? He sat back down at the bar, and started fiddling with the pen, trying to think of a reply. "Um, well, maybe it just seems that way." Sam shrugged. Where the hell was Al?
The man sat down on the vacant barstool next to him. "Maybe, but I don't think so. It's never been this bad before" The man leaned his elbows on the bar and ran his hands through his hair, clearly troubled. Sam wished that he knew what to say to help him.
The bartender, a young woman with light brown, curly hair, approached the man and asked "Anything I can get you, Gary?"
Sam sighed; at least he knew the guy's name now. It wasn't much, but it was a start. Sam watched as Gary quickly covered the paper, and replied.
"Yeah, Robin, could you get me a Miller Lite?" Gary requested softly.
Robin returned shortly with the glass of beer, and then moved on to other customers. Gary took a sip of the beer, and sighed. "It's been a long day, Chuck." He opened the paper, and was quickly going through it, as though searching for something.
Sam cocked his head and leaned over trying to read the date off the paper. Just under the big blue Chicago Sun-Times logo, Sam read: Friday, November 7, 1997.
Okay, he thought, now he at least knew when he was, and was pretty sure that he was in or near Chicago. Now, if only he knew why he was there. Sam looked back down at the pad of paper, pretending to add to the list. He decided to take a walk around the bar, maybe there was something that give him a clue as to what he was doing here. Standing, Sam mumbled to Gary, "I'll be back in a moment."
Gary, engrossed in his newspaper, barely looked up, "Uh huh."
Sam examined the bar, which was also restaurant, with many tables full of people laughing and eating sandwiches and fries. The place had a very warm and welcoming atmosphere, with lots of polished wood and brass. He strolled around, trying to act casual. The door was a wonderful heavy wooden door, with an arched window at the top. Sam looked around, no one was paying him any mind, so he opened the door and took a peek out.
The bar was on a corner, and as Sam looked out, an elevated train rumbled by over the street to his right. Lifting his eyes, he made out the shape of buildings soaring towards the sky. One had the distinctive tapered silhouette and two tall antennas of the John Hancock center. So he had been right, he was in Chicago. Sam ducked back in, chilled from the cold damp air. As he turned around, he almost cried out, as he stumbled through Al's apparition.
"Hi Sam!" Admiral Al Calavicci growled cheerfully
Sam winced at the neon green jacket, and the orange day-glow silk shirt Al was wearing. Black trousers, a black tie, and a black fedora with a neon green hatband completed the ensemble. A cigar was clenched tightly in his teeth as he looked around, and waggled his eyebrows at a waitress who walked by.
"Hi Al. No, wait, don't tell me. Tina took you clothes shopping again." Sam said dryly, as he looked about for a place that he could go to talk to Al without others thinking he was talking to thin air.
Al held out his arms, looking down at admiringly at his jacket. "Yeah, she has such a sense of color, don't ya think?"
Sam tried to hide a smile, "Come on, I think there's a bathroom back there where we can talk." Sam said, as he followed the signs to the men's restroom.
Sam quickly checked to make sure that no one else was in the bathroom. Satisfied, he leaned against the sink and crossed his arms. "So what do you have for me, Al?"
Al took the cigar from his mouth, and grabbed his flashing, squealing handlink from his pocket. He punched some buttons on it. "Okay, your name is Charles Fishman, but everyone calls you Chuck."
Sam nodded impatiently, he knew that already. Al ignored him and continued.
"The guy in the waiting room is freaking out." Al chuckled, "He keeps asking where the cat is, and raving that he will never use the paper to gamble." Al shrugged, "We have no idea what he is talking about. We were barely able to get him to tell us his name."
Sam wrinkled his brow and shook his head slightly in confusion.
"Anyway," Al went on, "Ziggy is ninety-six percent sure that you are here to save a guy named Gary Hobson. He and Chuck run this bar together, and in two days, he's found shot in the back of the head."
Sam closed his eyes and sighed, wearily running his hand down his face. He stood up straight, and turned around, bracing his hands on the sink. He looked up, absently studying the face of the man he had leaped into. Light brown hair, receding. Blue eyes and a round face. He looked down, taking a deep breath. He was trying to get a grip on his emotions. Sam didn't know why, but in the very brief meeting he had had with Gary, he had felt a connection to him somehow. There had been a look in his eyes that seemed somehow familiar.
"You okay, Sam?" Al asked with concern.
Sam turned back around, nodding. "Yeah." He cleared his throat. "Yeah, I'm okay. Who kills him Al? Why?"
Al put the cigar back in his mouth, and punched some buttons on the handlink. He shook his head sadly. "Sorry Sam. No one was ever charged with the crime."
Frustrated, Sam started pacing within the small confines of the bathroom. "Doesn't Ziggy have any data on this?"
Al shrugged, "All we have is that at eleven thirty P.M. Saturday, Gary's body is found in an alley behind this bar." Al jabbed at the buttons, squinting to read the small display screen. "The police report lists it as a possible robbery, as his wallet was missing."
"Okay," Sam sighed, pausing in front of Al, "I guess I'll just have to somehow make sure that Gary doesn't go out into the alley Saturday night." Sam paused for a moment. Something wasn't right. "Wait a minute, Al. You said that in two nights Gary gets killed. That would make it Sunday, not Saturday."
Al double-checked his hand-link, his brow furrowed. "No, according to Ziggy today is Thursday, November 6th. So two days from now is Saturday."
"But that can't be right." Sam shook is head and continued his pacing. "I just saw the newspaper out there, and it had November 7th as the date."
The door to the bathroom opened, admitting a man who made a beeline for one of the stalls. Al grimaced, "Yuck! This is why I hate having these meetings in the john." His nose wrinkling at imaginary odors, Al continued, "Sam, I'm going to go see if Ziggy can dig up any more information and clear this up." He punched a button, opening a square of light. In second the square closed, and Al was gone.
Sam washed his hands, and left the bathroom. Head down, made his way back to the bar, barely noticing the jovial atmosphere anymore.
Suddenly, he was tripping over a dog. "Oomph!" Sam fell flat on his face. He scrambled up, feeling color creeping up his face, as several patrons laughed good-naturedly.
An attractive black woman had her hand on his arm. "Is that you, Chuck?" She asked. "Are you alright?"
Sam looked into her large, dark eyes, and realized with surprise, that the woman was blind. He glanced down at the dog he had tripped over, and felt doubly stupid. The large German Shepherd was a guide dog.
"Umm, yeah, I'm fine. Sorry."
The woman smiled, "That's okay." She reached down and stroked the dog. "Spike is fine. Aren't you boy?" She said sweetly to the dog.
"Do you know where Gary is?" The woman asked.
Sam looked around. Gary's barstool was now empty. He turned, searching the room, without luck. "He was just here a minute ago."
The woman shrugged, "I'll check the office."
Sam watched her go, then got an idea. "Hey, wait! I'll go with you." He hurried to catch up to her, ignoring her puzzled expression.
"Okay, Chuck. Whatever."
Sam followed her into an office off the kitchen. A couple of desks and filing cabinets were crammed into the small room. Papers were strewm across the top of the desk where they found Gary.
He was still searching the newspaper. He looked up as they entered, and smiled briefly. "Hey Marissa." Gary stood and closed the newspaper. He folded it and tucked it into his coat. Looking at Sam, he said, "I was just coming to get you. I need your help on this one." He hurried from around the desk, pulling Sam by the arm. He called over his shoulder, "Sorry, Marissa, gotta go."
"Be careful, Gary!" Marissa called after him.
Sam stumbled trying to keep up with Gary. He had no idea what 'this one' was, but apparently Gary was used to Chuck helping him. As they went through the bar, Gary snatched a brown leather coat from behind the bar, and flung it back at Sam. "Here's your coat. Got your keys?"
Sam hastily put the coat on, and patting his pockets, was relieved to hear the jingle of keys from within. "Uh, yeah...Gary."
Before Sam knew it, he was behind the wheel of a shiny red car, trying to recall the layout of the streets of Chicago. He had been here before, but his memory wasn't the best with all the leaping that he had been doing. Glancing at Gary, who was nervously drumming his fingers on the door handle, Sam ventured to ask. "Where am I going?"
"Oh. Sorry." Gary said sheepishly as he flipped through the newspaper.
Sam looked over curiously at the tabloid. Why was Gary so obsessed with it? Ever since he had leaped in, Gary had had his nose buried in that paper.
Evidently, finding the article he was looking for, Gary skimmed it with his finger. "We're going to Michael Jordan's restaurant."
Michael Jordan, that name sounded familiar, but Sam couldn't quite place it. "Okay. Where is it?"
Gary started to give Sam a sarcastic, ha-ha look, but it was replaced with a puzzled expression when he saw the Sam wasn't kidding.
Sam caught the look, and thought, uh-oh. Thinking quickly, he smiled,
"I mean, what would be the fastest way to get there."
Gary didn't look like he quite believed him, but proceeded to give Sam the directions to the LaSalle street restaurant.
The place was jam packed, Sam noted, as he slowly pulled to a stop in front of the building. Seeing the soaring figure of a basketball player on the front of the establishment, Sam quickly recalled who Michael Jordan was. A parking attendant was waving Sam away from the curb. Evidently, no one was allowed to park here. Sam started to pull away to find a parking spot, but before he could, Gary flung his door open, and glancing at his watch, bolted out of the car in what Sam could only describe as a panic.
Ignoring the parking attendant, Sam quickly jumped out of the car and raced after Gary. He pushed open the doors, and just caught a glimpse of him as Gary raced up to a table.
Sam watched in disbelief as a woman at that same table suddenly clutched her throat and stood up knocking her chair over. Recognizing the universal symbol for choking, he hurried towards her. Gary beat him to the victim, however, and wrapping his arms around her, performed the Heimlich Maneuver. A chunk of meat went sailing across the room.
Sam's jaw dropped in astonishment as he took in the scene. He rushed over pushing his way through the gathering crowd of waitresses and onlookers. Gary bent to right the chair, and quietly asked the woman if she was okay. Everyone in the restaurant was focused on the drama, and suddenly Gary noticed all the attention, and Sam could see his face turn beet red. Gary nodded to something the woman said, turned and fled, bumping into Sam on his way out.
"Come on, Chuck." Gary mumbled, as head down he hurried out. Ignoring the smiles and nods of acknowledgement from diners, he shouldered his way to the front door.
Sam rushed to follow him; still not grasping what had gone on back there. How had Gary known the woman was going to choke?
Outside the restaurant, Sam found Gary arguing with the parking attendant, as a tow truck was hitching Sam/Chuck's car up.
"You can't tow this car!" Gary insisted. "Look," he pleaded "we were only in there a minute."
"Sorry, mister, but those are the rules." The attendant shrugged. "You shouldn't have parked there."
Sam hurried over, making his own attempt at swaying the attendant. "Aw, come on. Gary just saved a woman from choking in there, and now you want to tow our car?"
The attendant just rolled his eyes. "Yeah. Right." And turned away.
Seeing the car about to be towed away, Gary rushed over to the tow truck driver to plead his case, but his appeal fell on deaf ears. In seconds, the car was being hauled away as Gary angrily aimed a kick at the tires of the truck.
Gary turned to Sam a dejected expression clouding his face, "Sorry Chuck. I'll pay for it."
Sam shrugged. The guy just saved a woman's life and he worried that Chuck would be upset about getting his car towed? "Don't worry about it, Gary. I'll think of it as money well spent." Sam grinned.
Gary did a double take, his eyes widening in surprise. "Huh?"
Sam awoke the next morning to the strains of "Reveille", and bolted upright. Had he leaped without knowing it? He looked about wildly, then caught a glimpse Al standing next to the bed, chuckling as he stabbed at the handlink. The music stopped, as Sam glared at Al.
"Al! What are you doing?" Sam grumbled as he flopped back, flinging his arm over his eyes.
"Morning, Sam. Aren't you chipper today." Al commented.
Sam threw a pillow at the hologram, muttering a curse under his breath as the pillow sailed harmlessly through Al.
"Jeez, what a grouch." Al said, shaking his head, unperturbed.
"You would be too, if you didn't get to sleep until two A.M. and then were awakened at..." Sam squinted at the bedside clock, his mouth set into a grim line as he saw the time, "six A.M."
"Two in the morning?" Al said, surprised. "What were you doing up so late?"
Sam groaned as he sat up, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed. "Well, by the time we got my car back," Sam paused, yawning.
"Where was your car?"
Sam stumbled to his feet, and slowly walked to the dresser. "It was towed, but that's not important." Sam said, waving his hand dismissively, digging through the drawers, pulling out jeans and a sweater. He plopped back down on the edge of the bed, clothes in his lap, and tiredly rubbed his eyes. His expression grew serious, as he remembered everything that he and Gary had done the evening before.
"Al, there is something really weird going on here."
Al shook his head, not comprehending what Sam was getting at.
Sam sighed. How to explain it? "Well, let's just say that Gary has a knack for turning up at the right place at the right time."
"I don't follow." Al said in confusion.
"Al, we spent all evening dashing from one part of town to the other. We stopped a mini-mart from being robbed." Sam started ticking off the incidents on his fingers. "We called the fire department and reported a fire in an apartment building. Gary pulled a drunk back onto the sidewalk, seconds before the guy would have been flattened by a truck. And, oh yeah," Sam finished, "all that was after Gary saved a woman from choking."
" Jeez, you're not kidding, Sam." Al shrugged. "Ziggy doesn't have anything on it. According to the data, this is just your average leap."
Sam stood, rubbing his forehead in thought. "Al, have Ziggy run a check on the fire. It was on West Ohio."
Al jabbed some buttons, wincing as the handlink squealed and screeched in protest. Al banged it on the side. "Okay, here it is. There was a report filed by the Chicago Fire department about a fire at that address that began in a sofa, as a result of careless smoking. There were no injuries, and the fire was contained to the single apartment."
"Al, I saw the paper yesterday, and it had that same address listed, except the facts were all different." Sam said slowly. "In the paper, it said that one person was killed, and five injured in that fire."
Al shook his head. "You must have read it wrong, Sam, because the fire happened last night. It couldn't have been in yesterday's paper. It must have been a different fire."
Sam nodded, that was a thought. "Al, run a check to see if there were any fires in the last couple of days that match that description."
Al punched in the request, but the handlink just beeped. Al cursed, and looked up. "Gooshie! What's wrong with this damn thing?" Al shook his head in disgust. "Sorry Sam, I'll be back as soon as I can. Ziggy has decided to put herself into a partial stand-by. Gooshie's checking on it now."
Sam sighed in frustration as Al disappeared through the imaging chamber door.
"...and traffic on the Kennedy is backed up from...". Gary slapped the snooze alarm, and rolled over covering his head with the comforter, hoping to catch a few more winks.
"Damn cat," Gary muttered as he wearily stumbled to his feet. "Can't ever let me sleep," he ranted. "Just one day, that's not asking too much."
Gary retrieved the paper, tossed it on the coffee table, and shuffled to the bathroom. He stood under the hot spray of the shower, trying to wake up. He was still exhausted from the night before, and wondered what time Chuck would come in today. He had seemed pretty beat too. Gary prayed for a quiet news day.
Skimming the paper as he put his socks and shoes on, Gary was relieved to see that there was nothing that needed immediate attention. At least he would get a decent breakfast for once.
Gary pushed through the doors to the kitchen, stopping in surprise when he saw Chuck already there, sipping a cup of coffee and reading a newspaper at the end of the island in the kitchen.
Chuck smiled, and looked up from his paper. "Morning, Gary. He nodded towards a steaming pot of coffee; "I made some coffee if you're interested."
"Uh, yeah, I think I could use some. Thanks." Gary helped himself to a cup, wondering what Chuck was up to. He didn't normally act so cheery in the morning. Especially not on mornings after Gary had dragged him around till late. Gary narrowed his eyes suspiciously.
"No! You can't have the finance pages." Gary blurted out. That had to be it. Chuck was always trying to wheedle the stock reports from him. Sometimes he felt like a broken record, repeating the same phrase over and over.
To Chuck's credit, he looked genuinely surprised at Gary's statement, and slightly puzzled. Gary felt instantly contrite.
"Sorry Chuck, I shouldn't have said that. I want to thank you for helping out last night. I really appreciate it." Gary pulled a stool alongside the counter.
"Uh, no problem." Chuck answered, still looking confused.
Gary opened the paper, sorting through the stories, deciding which ones needed his attention. He dismissed a three-car accident at Clark and Addison. There were only minor injuries involved.
A headline about a lost toddler at a shopping mall caught Gary's attention, but reading the accompanying article made him smile as he realized that he wasn't needed there either. It seems the toddler was found safely two hours after being reported missing. She was fast asleep in the middle of a circular rack of clothing.
He turned to the Metro section, and felt his stomach clench as a small headline on the bottom of the page leapt out at him.
"Long Time Community Activist Beaten"
"No, not again." Gary breathed, as he read the article. The article stated that Antonio Herrara was viciously beaten near his home around three P.M. Children on their way home from school found had the injured man in an alley. The victim was listed in critical condition at Cook County Hospital. At press time, police had no suspects in the crime.
It was the same man that Gary had saved the day before from being killed by the two teens. Gary knew it wasn't a random robbery, like he had at first suspected. Someone wanted Herrara dead, and Gary figured they would keep trying until they succeeded or were stopped.
Gary jumped off his stool and grabbed the phone book from a shelf. Maybe he could call and warn Herrara. A search in the phone book turned up over a hundred Herraras. Fifteen of them had either an A. initial, or Antonio listed as the first name. Trying to narrow it down further, Gary checked a map, and found that six of them lived in the vicinity of where the beating took place. He sighed in frustration. It could never be easy, could it?
"What's wrong, Gary?"
Gary looked up from the phone book. He had forgotten about Chuck.
"Oh, just the usual. The paper is trying to make me crazy." Gary answered bitterly.
Chuck seemed taken aback at the vehemence with which Gary had spoken. "What do you mean, the paper is making you crazy?"
Gary scowled, "I think the true purpose of the paper is to drive me nuts."
Chuck shook his head, a confused look on his face. "If it drives you crazy, just don't read it."
"Yeah, like I can just ignore it." Gary said sarcastically. "I wish I could, Chuck. You don't know how often I wish I could just pretend it didn't exist." His voice grew quieter-almost wistful. "You know what I wish, Chuck?" Not waiting for a reply, he continued. "I wish that the paper went to someone else."
He grew thoughtful then, thinking back on the things he had accomplished, the people that he had saved, and shook his head. "No, I don't really wish that, I guess. I have too many people counting on me. There must be a reason the paper comes to me, and I can't shirk my responsibilities." Gary glanced at Chuck, ready to apologize again for snapping at him, but the look on Chuck's face stilled him.
Chuck was standing in front of the paper that Gary had left lying open. He had his own paper spread out next to it. He was glancing back and forth between the two newspapers, an expression of shocked realization dawning on his face.
Gary was puzzled. Why was Chuck comparing the papers? He acted as though he had never seen Gary's paper before. Gary slowly walked over to the counter. He watched as Chuck checked the page numbers on his paper, to the page numbers on Gary's paper.
"What's wrong, Chuck?" Gary asked, concerned for his friend now.
Sam shook his head in disbelief as he double-checked the dates and stories yet again. He was sure of it. The paper that he had bought at the newstand today, was the same paper that Gary had been carrying around yesterday. There was even the same picture of on the front page. His mind might swiss-cheese between leaps, but during a leap, his photographic memory worked just fine.
He had been half-reading his paper, half tuned to Gary, when it had dawned on him that he had seen some of these stories before. While he hadn't read Gary's paper cover to cover yesterday; Gary had seemed strangely reluctant to share it with him, he had gotten enough glimpses of it during the day to be sure. While Gary had searched through the paper, holding it up in front of him, Sam had idly read the front page. It had been a story about President Clinton. The exact same story was on Sam's front page today.
Still unsure and wanting confirmation, Sam asked, "Gary, what's today's date?"
"What's the matter with you, Chuck?" Gary asked, giving Sam a dubious look. "The date is November, 7th."
Sam shook his head, "But, I thought yesterday was the seventh? That's what it said on your paper."
"Are you feelin' alright?" Gary asked, his brow furrowed in concern.
Frustrated at not getting a straight answer, Sam sighed, "Gary, it's veFrustrated at not getting a straight answer, Sam sighed, "Gary, it's very important that I know what the correct date is." He pointed to the two newspapers spread out before him, "Now, which of these paper's is today's?"
"What do you think? Your paper is today's." Gary replied, observing Sam with a wary look on his face; as though talking to someone a few cards short of a deck.
Now totally confused, Sam started pacing. What was going on here? He felt like he was in the Twilight Zone. He paused in his pacing, and rubbed his hands against his eyes. He needed Al here. Gesturing to Gary's paper, Sam demanded, "How come your paper has tomorrow's date?"
Gary narrowed his eyes. "Chuck, my paper always has tomorrow's date."
Sam could detect an underlying current of fear in Gary's voice, but he had to push on and get to the bottom of this. He started pacing again, unsure how to proceed.
The kitchen door swung open, admitting Marissa and Spike. Neither Gary nor Sam acknowledged her. They were too preoccupied. Gary was standing; his posture conveying his tenseness, Sam noted, as though he thought Sam might go crazy at any moment. Sam continued his pacing, thinking.
"Gary? Chuck?" Marissa said questioningly. "Is that you, Gary?"
"Yeah, Marissa, it's me." Gary answered, his gaze never leaving Sam.
"Who is with you?" Marissa asked apprehensively.
Sam started to answer, but Gary beat him to it.
"Don't worry, Marissa, it's just me and Chuck."
Marissa turned her head to the sound of Sam's pacing, her expression puzzled. "Chuck? Did you get new shoes or something? Your footsteps sound different."
Sam's head shot up, as he paused in his pacing. He glanced at his feet, he had no idea if these were new shoes or not. "Um, yes, I did, Marissa."
Gary's gaze dropped to Sam's feet, surprise in his eyes as he saw Sam's shoes.
Sam swallowed, apparently these weren't new shoes, and Gary knew it.
"Sam! We have to talk!"
Sam visibly jumped as Al appeared out of nowhere. He had been so preoccupied; he hadn't heard the Imaging Chamber door open.
Spike backpedaled suddenly, whining, causing Marissa to stumble. Gary rushed over and caught her elbow, steadying her.
"Spike, what's gotten in to you?" Marissa said in confusion, as Spike continued his whining and started growling at the hologram.
Al turned to Spike, and attempted to quiet him by talking softly. Sam watched, helpless. Between Marissa and Al, Spike finally settled down, though his attempt at sniffing Al's hand was almost comical, as his wet nose went right through Al's hand.
"Sam, we have to find a place to talk. I did a background check on Gary, and turned up some interesting data."
Sam glanced at Al, unable to answer him in front of Marissa and Gary. He nodded towards the bar area, and picked up his paper. "I...I'm just going to out there, and...um...just check on the stock behind the bar." Sam said weakly.
Gary nodded almost imperceptibly, a mixture of concern, fear and confusion on his face.
Sam pushed through the doors, relieved to find the bar area deserted at this time of day. He collapsed onto a barstool, his head in his hands.
Al looked at him in concern, "What's wrong, Sam? The tension in there was so thick," Al made a chopping motion with his hand, "you could almost cut it with a knife."
Sam sighed, "I'm not sure I understand it myself, Al. Remember the confusion with the dates?"
Al nodded, puffing on a cigar, eyes narrowed in concentration.
Sam turned to face Al. "I don't know how else to explain it, but Gary has tomorrow's paper in there."
Al cocked his head to the side, not quite following what Sam was saying. "Huh?"
Sam quickly shook his head side to side, "Oh no, Al, don't you start giving me those looks too!" Gesturing towards the kitchen, Sam continued defensively, "Gary's in there looking at me as though I've just sprouted horns, but do you know why, Al?" Not waiting for Al to answer, Sam rose from the barstool and began his agitated pacing again.
"It's not because I discovered that he has tomorrow's paper, it's because apparently Chuck already knows about the paper."
Al studied Sam skeptically, "How can he have tomorrow's paper, Sam?"
"I...don't...know!" Sam ground out between clenched teeth. "Ask Ziggy, maybe she knows. I mean, it makes about as much sense as me bouncing around in time, doesn't it?" Sam challenged. " All I know is what I saw. The paper I bought today, is the same one that Gary had yesterday. Yesterday, Al! How the hell could he have had today's paper yesterday, when most of the events in it didn't even happen till later in the day?"
"Hmmm, that could explain a few things, though." Al said thoughtfully.
Sam stopped his pacing suddenly; his gaze riveted on Al. "What do you mean?"
"Well, after we finally got Ziggy back on line, I did a more thorough background check on Gary Hobson. It seems he has been brought in by the police for questioning a time or two for mysteriously being in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"And?" Sam prodded.
"In most of the cases, it involved Gary predicting some event that then took place. Unfortunately, his predictions also made him the primary suspect in a few of the cases. However, nothing was ever proven, and no charges were ever filed. Which, by the way, is why nothing showed up on the preliminary check we did."
Sam turned and faced the closed door leading to the kitchen, lost in thought. Crazy as it seemed, if Gary did get the paper a day early, maybe that would explain the events of last night. All the running around, saving people in the nick of time; Gary knew what the outcomes of those incidents would have been. Comprehension dawned. Gary put right what once went wrong. Sam sank into a chair at a nearby table, his knees suddenly weak.
"Gary? What's going on?"
Gary shook his head in bewilderment, rubbing the back of his neck. His gaze was still fixed on the door by which Chuck had exited. "I...I...don't know, Marissa." Gary didn't know how to explain the eerie sensation he had had when Chuck had asked about the paper. He had felt like he had been talking to a stranger. Gary had noticed Chuck acting differently than normal last night, but had shrugged it off to fatigue. Gary absently folded his newspaper, tucking it into his back pocket. What if Chuck was losing it? Gary had always thought that he himself would be the first one driven nuts by the paper. It had never occurred to him that Chuck would crack under the pressure.
He hesitantly opened the door to the bar area, intending to straighten things out with Chuck. He abruptly stopped with the door only part way open, when he caught sight of Chuck pacing and talking to himself. Chuck's voice was too quiet for Gary to catch what he was saying, but from the way he was angrily gesturing towards the door that Gary was now hiding behind, he surmised that Chuck was talking about him...but to who? Gary quietly closed the door. He needed to think. Gary turned back towards the kitchen, slowly sinking onto a stool.
Marissa had poured herself a cup of coffee, and was seated at the counter, a troubled expression on her face. "Did you and Chuck argue?"
"No. Yeah. Well...not really." Gary struggled to understand just exactly what had happened, he sighed in frustration. "We didn't argue at all. Chuck was just acting very...strange."
Baffled, Marissa wrinkled her brow, "How do you mean? What did he do?"
Gary half-turned, checking the door to the bar, worried that Chuck would walk in and find them discussing him. "Marissa," he said in a low voice, "He asked about the date, and why my paper had tomorrow's date on it." Gary paused, "It was like he had no clue about tomorrow's paper."
Marissa rested elbows on the table, her chin propped on her hands, "That doesn't make sense, Gary."
"I know it doesn't make sense!" Gary barked, his voice louder than he had intended. "Sorry, Marissa, I didn't mean to snap at you." Gary said contritely.
Marissa gave Gary a forgiving smile, "I know, don't worry about it."
Gary glanced at his watch, it was already ten o'clock. If he was going to track down the correct Antonio Herrara in time, he had better get going. He had been planning on asking Chuck to help him, but now he wasn't so sure. Uncertainly, he approached the door to the other room, then hesitated. Maybe it would be better to go alone. He gave Marissa a quick look, "Hey Marissa, I...uh...I have to go. Could you, ah...could you sort of keep an eye on Chuck today?"
At Marissa's wide smile, Gary realized his blunder, and grinned sheepishly, "Well, you know what I mean."
Chuckling, Marissa answered, "Yes, Gary. I'll watch him like a hawk." She grew serious, "Don't worry Gary, I'm sure it's nothing. Probably just Chuck's idea of a joke."
Gary glanced at the door, and then quickly back to Marissa, "Yeah, well, I hope so." He grabbed his coat, and quickly exited through the back doors.
"You know what this means, Al?" Sam asked in wonder. "It means that I'm not the only one. God, Time, Fate or whatever is giving Gary the paper the same way as he is leaping me through time; for the same purpose."
"Whoa, Sam!" Al said, putting his hand up. "I think you're getting ahead of yourself. You don't know for sure what that he gets the paper a day early. I mean, how would that happen? You had to build the Accelerator to get started. How did Gary get started?" Al punched some buttons on his handlink, "See, look, Hobson used to be a stockbroker. Hardly what I would call a scientific mind." Al finished sarcastically.
Sam shot him a dirty look, but acknowledged that Al was probably right. He needed more proof. Wearily he nodded, "You're right." Suddenly, he thought of something, "Al, check to see if your data has changed regarding Gary getting shot." Sam hovered impatiently over Al as he entered the request into the handlink.
Sorrowfully, Al shook his head when the answer flashed on his screen. "Sorry Sam, he still gets murdered."
How can that be? Sam thought, rubbing his forehead, a dull throb beginning. He was sure about the paper, whether Al believed him or not, but if Gary had the next day's paper, then he should be able to avoid getting murdered.
"Al, what's the date of the paper that runs the article about Gary getting murdered?"
Al shrugged, but punched the buttons, "Ah, November tenth. That's next Monday."
Sam flinched at the news, he had been afraid of that. Gary had been...will be...murdered too late in the evening for it to make the next day's paper.
Gary stood on a corner, shivering. He was cold, and tired. He had been tramping through the neighborhood where the paper said that Herrara was going to be found beaten, for over three hours, and despite his efforts, was still no closer to finding the man and warning him. Everybody Gary asked seemed to know the guy, but either they didn't know, or were reluctant to tell a stranger where he could be found. Gary heaved a sigh and crossed the street. All he could do now, was try to find the alley where the schoolchildren were going to find Herrara. Maybe there was still some way to prevent the tragedy. Gary hoped so.
Suddenly, the sound of tumbling trash cans echoed out of an alley just ahead of Gary. He quickly but cautiously peeked around the corner of a building. Two men were confronting a third man. Gary swallowed hard. He had found Herrara.
He looked around for a weapon of some kind, and had to settle for an empty beer bottle. It wasn't much, but he was hoping that he wouldn't need it. He cursed under his breath when he heard a cry of pain come from within the alley.
Taking a deep breath, and saying a silent prayer, Gary rushed into the alley, shouting. "Hey! Leave him alone! I've called the police!" He bluffed.
The two attackers whirled to face him, forgetting their intended victim for the moment.
Gary recognized one of the men from the day before when he had tackled him and saved Herrara the first time. The men, hardly more than boys give each other a smirk. Gary stopped about five feet short of them, his gaze flicking to Herrara, who was curled into a protective ball, moaning. "Why don't you guys just run off, and leave him alone. Go on! Before the police get here!" Gary yelled.
He shifted nervously. It was apparent from the predatory gleam in their eyes, that his bluff wasn't working. Suddenly, both of them rushed him. Gary swung the beer bottle in self-defense, landing only a glancing blow on one of his attacker's shoulders.
"Oomph!" Gary hit the ground hard, one of his attackers landing heavily on top of him. He threw up his arms to protect his head, as blows started raining down on him. Rolling over to his side, Gary struggled to his feet, grunting in pain when a well-placed kick caught him in the ribs. Panting, he had almost made it to a standing position, when his coat was grabbed from behind. He was flung to the ground again, his knee skinning painfully on the rough pavement. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a foot pull back, aimed for his head. In panic, he scrambled to his hands and knees, bracing for the blow. Suddenly, his attacker was sent flying across the alley.
Gary looked up in surprise, as Chuck was wrestling with one of Gary's attackers. While Gary was gawking at Chuck's fighting prowess, the other attacker landed another kick to Gary's side. He collapsed, gasping in pain, and was dimly aware of hands rifling his pockets.
The paper! He thought foggily, they're trying to steal the paper! He stumbled to his feet, lashing out in anger. Gary's fist connected solidly with his attacker's jaw, sending him crashing to the ground. He stole a look at Chuck, shocked to see him chasing one of the boys part way down the alley. He turned his attention back to the boy he had punched just in time to see a blur of brown glass an instant before it connected with his head.
Stars burst in his vision, as he wobbled into a wall of a building on the side of the alley. Suddenly, his knees collapsed, and he sank to the ground, into oblivion.
Gasping, Sam turned towards the sound of breaking glass. "Gary!" He shouted, rushing back to help. Gary's attacker, seeing that his partner had fled, lost his courage and will to fight, and turning on his heels, dashed away.
Dropping to his knees next to Gary's still form, Sam angrily looked up at Al. "I thought you said he doesn't get killed till tomorrow night!"
Al bent over Gary in concern, and started furiously punching buttons on the handlink. "Ziggy says that he's only stunned, Sam." Al sighed in relief, running a finger across his forehead.
Grimly, Sam checked for himself, closing his eyes in a silent prayer of thanks as he felt a steady pulse in Gary's neck. A moan on the other side of the alley caught his attention, and he turned remembering the other man who had already been down when Sam had gotten there.
"Stay with him, Al." Sam directed as he hurried over to the other victim. At Sam's touch, the man flinched and opened his eyes. Sam winced at the sight of the man's left arm bent at an unnatural angle.
"It's okay." He reassured the frightened man. He quickly checked him over for any life-threatening injuries, and was satisfied that the arm was the worst injury. He didn't like the man's pale color or clammy skin, though, and quickly shrugged out of his coat, gently covering the injured man in an attempt to keep him warm and prevent shock.
Sam heard a small gasp, and looked up the stunned faces of two young boys. Not wanting to frighten them, he slowly raised his hand, "I need your help, okay?"
The boys shook their heads in confusion, not comprehending. They looked frightened and ready to bolt, when Sam switched to Spanish. Relaxing somewhat, they listened as Sam asked them to please go call nine-one-one. Nodding, the boys dashed away.
Sam wearily rubbed his eyes, wincing as he found a lump above his eyebrow.
"Sam! He's coming around." Al called.
"Hey Gary." Sam said softly, as Gary's eyes flickered, accompanied by a soft moan.
Gary struggled to sit up, his face contorting in pain. Sam gently but softly pushed him back down. "Lie still, Gary. An ambulance will be here soon." Sam arched a questioning eyebrow at Al. "Oh, yeah, it'll be here in two minutes, Sam." Al answered the unspoken question after a quick check of the handlink.
Holding the side of his head, Gary brushed Sam's restraining hand away and sat up against the wall. "I'm fine, Chuck." Gary's eyes closed tightly, obviously not 'fine'.
Opening his eyes, his gaze only slightly clouded now, Gary asked, "How is Mr. Herrara?"
Assuming correctly that Gary was referring to the other victim, Sam answered, "He has a badly broken arm, but other than that, he looks like he should be okay."
A look of relief washed over Gary's face.
Sam leaned over, examining Gary's head, his brow furrowing with concern noting the blood pouring from a gash on the left side, just above Gary's ear. Sam gently pulled the hair away to get a better look.
"Ow!" Gary winced, flashing Sam an annoyed look. "What are you doing?"
Sam sat back on his heels, satisfied that the cut wasn't too big, but like most head wounds, just bled a lot. "Hey, I just didn't want you to bleed to death on me." He replied, glad to see Gary acting normally. He could hear sirens in the distance, and looked towards the end of the alley to find a crowd starting to gather.
"Well, it looks like..." Sam started to say, glancing back at Gary, he stopped in mid-sentence when he found Gary regarding him with look Sam couldn't quite decipher. "What?"
"What's gotten into you lately?"
"What...what do you mean?" Sam stammered, nervously glancing at Al. The hologram just shrugged.
"Well, for starters, when did you learn to fight like that?" Gary asked.
Sam squirmed uncomfortably under Gary's scrutiny. "I guess I watched Rocky one too many times," he joked weakly.
Sam could see he wasn't buying it. Gary's head was slowly shaking back and forth, a bewildered look crossing his face.
"And how did you know where I was? I didn't even know exactly where the attack was going to take place until I stumbled upon it."
Sam dropped his gaze and rubbed his chin. He couldn't very tell Gary that Ziggy had tracked him down. The poor guy was already confused enough.
All morning, Marissa had asked Sam to do one inconsequential task after another. Then Spike's harness had suspiciously broken, and Sam had to spend over an hour repairing it. To make matters worse, Sam's repeated requests to Marissa about Gary's whereabouts, were met with vague answers. Sam then asked Al to track Gary down, but Ziggy had blown some circuits, and Al had left to get things straightened out.
After several hours of balancing books, and ordering stock, Sam had been totally frustrated and feeling useless. Just as he was ready to go crazy, Al had reappeared, in a panic.
At Al's news that Gary needed help, Sam had rushed from the office, and ignoring Marissa's questions, jumped into Chuck's car, and raced to the alley as fast as he could. Not fast enough to save Gary and Herrara from being hurt though, he thought regretfully.
Sam started to answer Gary's question, but was saved by the arrival of the police and EMTs. Chaos ensued for the next twenty minutes as the paramedics treated Mr.Herrara, and Gary, sending both to the hospital. Police briefly questioned both victims before they were transported, then thoroughly questioned Sam.
Unfortunately, Sam couldn't give them much to go on, as the attackers had been dressed in baggy clothes, hiding their build, and he hadn't gotten much of a glimpse of their faces.
Sam poked his head into the kitchen of McGinty's and spotted Robin,
"Hey Robin, have you seen Marissa?" Sam had tried to reach her from the hospital with no luck.
Robin shook her head, "She mentioned going to the library to study."
"Oh, well, could you make a sandwich for Gary?"
"Of course. How is he?" She asked, her face a mask of concern.
Sam sighed, "He's got some cuts and bruises, but the doctor said he's going to be fine." That is, Sam thought grimly, until tomorrow night, unless he could find a way to prevent it. It was discovered at the hospital that Gary's wallet had been stolen, which made Sam uneasy. Gary had shrugged it off, seemingly more relieved to discover that the paper was still in his pocket, though a little worse for the wear.
Sam came out of his reverie to find that Robin had asked him a question.
"I'm sorry, what did you say?"
"I just commented that Gary sure gets into his share of trouble, don't you think?" She chuckled. "It's almost like he goes looking for it."
"Uh yeah. I guess it must seem that way." Sam agreed hesitantly, unsure who knew about the paper, and who didn't.
"I mean," Robin continued, her hands busily stacking slices of turkey, lettuce and tomato on slices of wheat bread, "like when I first started. Remember when those men came in and trashed this place?"
Sam looked up sharply, "What men?"
Robin looked at him uncertainly, startled by Sam's tone, "You know, you were here. Those white supremacists. You know the guys who didn't like Gary trying to mess up their rally. Or whatever they called it." She shrugged, slicing the sandwiches in half. She added some sliced fruit to the plate, and a handful of pretzels. She finished her task by pouring a glass of flavored seltzer water into a tall glass.
"Here you go. Tell Gary that I hope he feels better tomorrow."
Taking the plate and glass, Sam nodded. "Thanks Robin. I'll tell him."
Sam carefully balanced the plate and glass, and opened the door to Gary's apartment above the bar. Gary was seated on the couch, his head back and eyes closed. Sam set the dishes down on the coffee table. "Here you go. Dinner is served."
Sam jumped as an orange cat leaped from behind the couch, landing next to Gary's leg. Sam smiled, and reached to pet him, but drew his hand back suddenly when the creature arched its back and hissed at him.
Gary lifted his head, giving Sam a tired smile. "You should know better by now."
Sam straightened, clearing his throat self-consciously. "Yeah, well, I
guess I forgot that your cat doesn't like me."
Gary laughed quietly, "Hey, he's not *my* cat." Gary sat forward, eyeing the sandwich dubiously. He picked it up, took a bite, washing it down with a sip of water.
Sam watched as Gary just picked at the fruit, and ignored the sandwich. "Hey, Gary, you have to eat." Sam urged, "I bet you haven't eaten all day."
Gary shrugged, pushing the plate away. "Sorry, I'm not very hungry." He absently stroked the cat, apparently lost in thought. Raising his head, he met Sam's gaze, his brown eyes troubled.
"So...Chuck," He began, hesitating, "you never answered the questions I asked earlier today."
Sam sighed, sinking into the easy chair next to the couch. He wearily dropped his face into his hands, massaging the bridge of his nose. Where to start? He wondered. How much should he reveal? Sam wrestled with the questions in his mind. If anyone deserved to hear the truth, it was Gary, he thought. Sam swallowed. He wanted to tell Gary the truth; but reluctantly admitted to himself that whether it was for Gary's sake or his own, he wasn't sure.
In the last few days, Sam had felt a bond between them. Or at least, felt that one could have developed if circumstances had been different. He knew what drove Gary, for didn't the same desire to help others drive himself? In another time, Sam felt they could have been best friends. He saw the weariness in Gary. As though the weight of the world was upon his shoulders. Sam was no stranger to that feeling. If anyone cou ld empathize with Gary, it was he. Taking a deep breath, he made his decision.
Sam raised his head. Gary was watching him uncertainly, as though he wished he could take back the questions. Pretend everything was normal.
"Well...Gary, you know how you've been saying that I've been acting...strange...lately?"
Gary nodded, looking slightly embarrassed. "Well, not strange, exactly, just a little differently."
"No Sam! You can't tell him!" Al commanded, rushing out of the Imaging Chamber door. "If you tell him, it could change history."
Sam shook his head ruefully. "What difference does it make, Al? He already changes history every day. How will we ever know if what changes is because of him or me?"
Gary cocked his head slightly to the side, his eyes slowly searching the room for who ever it was Sam was talking to. He looked frightened.
"Sam! I'm warning you!"
"The reason I'm acting differently, is because I'm not really Chuck." Sam blurted out, not exactly as gently as he had meant to break the news.
"Huh?" Gary asked, clearly not understanding.
Sam sighed, "My name is Sam Beckett. I'm part of a time-travel experiment that went a little...well it went a little 'ca-ca' as someone once told me." Sam slanted a glance at Al.
"Ha-ha, thanks a lot, Sam." Al said dryly.
"So, you're not really Chuck, you're someone named Sam Beckett." Gary stated, obviously believing his best friend had gone off the deep end. "And you're part of a time-travel experiment?" Gary laughed dryly. "Good joke, Chuck. How long did it take you to think that one up?"
"I know how it sounds, but it's true. I leap into other people's lives; sort of trade places with them." Sam insisted.
"And these other people, Chuck...er...Sam, they would go where?" Gary asked, leaning forward, his elbow on his knee, head in his hand. Skepticism practically oozed out of every pore.
"Well, they go to the waiting room." Sam tried to explain. "See, when I leap in, they leap out."
Al shook his head, "Sorry kid, but I warned ya! Now he thinks you're totally wacko."
Sam narrowed is eyes at Al; his 'Don't even start' look.
Gary rubbed the back of his neck, grimacing slightly. "Okay, say I believed you, that doesn't explain how come you look like Chuck."
"That's because you see the aura of Chuck. In fact, when I look in the mirror, that's what I see, the aura of the person that I've leaped into. I...I...haven't seen my own face in...Well, it's been a long time." Sam's voice trailed off.
"What's the point?"
At Sam's questioning look, Gary clarified, "Why do you leap? What's the purpose? Do you analyze the person in the waiting room or something? See how people way back in time behave?" Gary asked, slightly scornfully.
"No!" Sam denied loudly, "No, we would never hurt anyone in the waiting room." He finished, much more quietly. "Besides, we aren't that much in the future." Sam pulled his hand down over his face wearily. He gave a wry smile, "In fact, this is my future."
"Awww Sam. You're not supposed to reveal that stuff to anybody." Al quickly jabbed some buttons on the handlink, "I gotta go, Sam. That way I can pretend I don't know about all the rules you just broke. See ya later, kid."
Sam watched Al disappear, feeling suddenly lonely. He was beginning to think that he had made a mistake. He stood, walking over to the window, gazing out at the beautiful Chicago skyline. He dropped his head in dejection. He couldn't blame Gary. If someone who looked just like Al had come up to him claiming to be someone else, he sure as hell would be just as disbelieving. Sam sighed. The best thing to do would be to warn Gary what was going to happen tomorrow night, and hope that he would believe that at least.
Sam turned, shoulders slumped, "Okay, Gary. You don't have to believe anything else I've said, but there is one thing you do have to believe."
"Oh? What would that be?"
"So? Did you guys do what I ordered?"
Derrick hung his head glancing at Marshall, mumbling, "No, Mr. Franklin, but we hurt him pretty bad. I think he got the message."
The trio was standing behind a rundown apartment complex. Some of the windows had no glass, and were merely boarded over. Garbage was strewn throughout the muddy yard. Old tires were stacked haphazardly against a dilapidated shed.
Franklin shook his head in disgust. "I gave you guys a few simple jobs, for which I intended to pay you well. What do I get?" He reached out and smacked Darrell across the head. He leaned forward, his face only inches from Darrell's.
"You better have a damn good reason for botching it this time, or I'm going to put a hit out on you two."
Derrick and Marshall exchanged looks, fright in their eyes. They knew Franklin, and had no doubt that he would do what he threatened. Finally, Marshall spoke up, his voice defensive. "It was the same guy again, Mr.Franklin. Only this time, he brought a friend."
Derrick nodded, corroborating Marshall's version of what happened.
"Damn!" Franklin swore, "How does this guy know?" He cursed again. "I've got to do something. That prick Herrara isn't going to stop harassing me until he's dead. I'm going to lose a lot of money if the damn building inspectors are called in again." His rage building at the unfairness of it, he lashed out again at Derrick, catching him square in the jaw. "I want Herrara dead." He hissed. "If he reports anymore of my buildings to the city, I'm going to be fined thousands of dollars, and on top of that, be forced to make repairs on these fire traps to the tune of thousands more. That's not going to happen if I can help it. I didn't destroy these buildings. Careless tenants did, and I'll be damned if I'm going to spend one cent of my money fixing them up, just so you guys can tear them apart again."
John Franklin seethed. He had worked hard to buy these buildings, and no do-gooder going to spoil it for him. "Listen, and listen well." Franklin grabbed Marshall by the hair, dragging him close, "I want you to find out who this guy is who keeps saving Herrara and the others. I want him dead." He released Marshall and pushed him away.
Marshall rubbed his head, fear in his eyes. He reached into his jacket pocket and produced a wallet and handed to Franklin.
Franklin took it. "What's this?"
Marshall's chin came up a notch, a note of pride in his voice. "I took it from the guy."
A slow smile played across Franklin's face. He pulled out the driver's license. "Well, boys, it looks like you two are going to have to pay Mr. Gary Hobson a visit tomorrow night." His smile vanished, "And this time, if you screw it up, I'll kill you."
Gary eyed Chuck warily as his friend approached. He had never seen Chuck look so serious. Gary leaned back into the couch, putting a little distance between himself, and Chuck who was now sitting on the edge of the coffee table, his eyes boring into Gary's.
Gary shifted, uncomfortable under the intense scrutiny. If this was a gag to scare Gary, it was working he admitted. He had never felt afraid of Chuck in his entire life. Angry and annoyed, sure, plenty of times, but never this heart-pounding fear. But even as his heart hammered in his chest, Gary realized it wasn't that he was afraid that Chuck would physically attack him. In fact, it was more a fear for Chuck. Fear that his best friend had lost his mind.
"Gary, tomorrow night, someone is going to kill you. You have to stay out of the alley behind here. That's where your body is found."
Gary felt the hair on the back of his neck stand on end.
Then he became angry. Angrier than he had ever been in his life. He jumped up, ignoring the pain from his bruised ribs. "All right, Chuck, this has gone far enough! You're trying to scare me, right?" Gary strode to the door, holding it open. "Well, you've succeeded. Are you happy?"
Chuck rose, sadly shaking his head. "I'm not making this up, Gary."
Gary motioned Chuck out of his room; his mouth set in a firm line. He couldn't believe that Chuck would stoop this low. "Yeah, well, when you have proof that you're someone named Sam Beckett, then maybe we can talk about it."
Chuck slowly shuffled towards the door, stopping just inside the room, "I shouldn't have told you, I guess. If weren't in the middle of this mess, I wouldn't believe it myself. I guess I thought you of all people, might believe me."
"What do you mean, *me* 'of all people'?" Gary asked defensively.
Chuck shrugged. "I just thought that with the paper and all, that you would understand." Chuck paused, his eyes pleading.
Gary had to admit; he had never heard Chuck talk like this. There was a sadness in his eyes that never been there before. Gary blinked, for just a moment; Chuck's blue eyes had appeared green. Must have been that blow to his head he took earlier, Gary rationalized, giving his head a little shake. He felt the anger drain out of him.
Chuck walked through the door, turning to look back, looking as though he wanted to say something.
Gary raised his hand to stop him, "Chuck, I'm tired. I'm not thinking clearly, and I think it's just best if you left now."
Chuck raised his chin a notch, nodding. "Okay, I'll see you tomorrow."
Gary nodded, and slowly shut the door.
Morning arrived all too soon. Gary winced as he rolled out of bed, shuffling hunched over like an old man, to the door. His muscles had stiffened, and he felt every scrape and bruise. Before the he got the paper, before he had coffee, before he did anything else, he was going to take a long, hot shower.
Gary rolled his eyes. "I don't care what you say. I'm taking a hot shower, and I gonna stay in it 'til the water runs cold, got it?"
The cat meowed insistently.
"Fine. I'll take a quick look at the paper, but I'm telling you, I'm not gonna be any good today unless I can work out some of these kinks." Gary held his ribs and tried to straighten up, gritting his teeth against the soreness.
Not feeling up to leaning over to pick up the paper outside his door, Gary just used his foot to push the paper inside. He pushed it next to the chair, and glanced down at the front page. He grinned triumphantly at the cat. "Ha! See? There isn't anything on the front page-"
He glanced back at the paper when he felt a light wind rush across his feet. How did the cat always *do* that? The paper had fluttered open to the national news briefs.
A small article caught Gary's eye. The headline read, "Governor of New Mexico Fights Proposed Federal Budget Cuts."
Gary reached down, grimacing at the movement, and picked up the paper.
It seemed that the Governor of New Mexico wasn't happy about budget cuts aimed at federal projects based in New Mexico.
"New Mexico needs these projects. The people rely on the projects for jobs, and for the money that they generate through higher spending by the employees. A dozen years ago, Washington cut funding for the Star Bright Project. That project had brought many of the world's most brilliant scientists to our state, including Nobel Prize winner, Dr.Samuel Beckett. Our schools and the children benefited. Now that the project is gone, the town is practically deserted." The article went on, but Gary didn't notice.
"Dr. Samuel Beckett?" Gary whispered.
Gary glanced impatiently at his watch. It was nine o'clock. Why wasn't the damn library open yet? He cupped his hands on the doors, peeking in. *There!* A librarian leisurely sorting books. *Come on, lady! Yeah, yeah, that's it. Get the keys out. Yes, finally!*
Gary had his hand on the door handle before the librarian even had a chance to withdraw the key.
Gary hurried to the computers, typing in the name 'Samuel Beckett".
His fingers drummed on the table while waiting for the computer to compile its list. When it was complete, he printed it, and carried it to the information desk.
The woman behind the desk, glanced up, appearing faintly annoyed. Glasses hung precariously on the end of her nose. All she needed was her blond hair in a bun to complete the stereotypical picture of a librarian.
"Uh, excuse me. Ma'am? Hi, yeah, I was just wondering if you could help me find some of these books and periodicals." Gary gave her his sweetest smile.
Evidently, it did the trick, as the woman's face softened, and she took the list from Gary.
"Well, most of these periodicals are several years old. I'll have to get them from the storeroom. The books are over there in the science section." She pointed across the room.
"Thank you very much. I'll just go over there and search." Gary nodded towards the book stacks.
Two hours later, he emerged from the library, rubbing his eyes. At least he had some information now. Information he could use to trip up Chuck and call his bluff.
"Good morning, Chuck." Marissa smiled, then her face clouded over. "What happened yesterday?"
Sam recounted the events. He briefly described the fight, and assured her that Gary and he were okay. He glanced at the coffeepot, and grimaced. He had had too much coffee the last couple of days.
He started opening cabinets, missing Marissa's puzzled expression, and called over his shoulder, "Do you know if there is any tea here someplace?"
He turned when he heard a little choking sound, and found Marissa sputtering. He hurried over and patted her on the back, "Are you okay?"
"Tea?" she squeaked out. "Since when do you drink tea?" She coughed again, and seemed to get her breath back. "For that matter, since when did you learn how to fight?"
"Uh-well, I guess I've always liked tea," Sam replied feebly. He shrugged, "I really didn't do much fighting. I think the kids just got scared and ran away because I evened the odds a little bit, is all."
Marissa was silent; apparently willing to let Sam's weak explanations pass-- for the moment. Sam was thankful she couldn't see the nervous sweat that had broken out on his forehead. He swiped it away with the back of his hand, and turned back to searching for some tea. He spied a box of Earl Grey, and busied himself for the next few moments putting the teakettle on.
"Yeah?" Sam turned, stopping at Marissa's troubled look.
"I'm worried about Gary."
Sam swallowed, if only she knew. "What about?"
"He's been working too hard. He's exhausted, and taking chances he wouldn't ordinarily take. The paper just asks too much sometimes."
"Yeah, it does." Sam poured the steaming water over the tea bag. Apparently, Marissa was in on the paper. "Maybe I should take over for a day." Sam shrugged, "You know, give Gary a break."
Marissa laughed, almost choking again.
"What?" Sam asked, confused. It sounded like good idea to him. Share the responsibility, and all.
Marissa stopped laughing, and cocked her head to the side; "You're serious, aren't you?"
"Of course, I'm serious."
"Chuck, you know Gary would never let you anywhere near the paper."
"Chuck? Are you feeling okay? Did you hit your head yesterday too?"
Sam shook his head. "No, I didn't hit my head." He said sardonically.
"Sorry, but you know exactly what you would do with the paper. Even if your intentions were good, you know you wouldn't be able to help yourself."
"Help myself do what?"
"You are Chuck, right?" Marissa joked; sounding slightly confused.
Sam answered quickly, perhaps too quickly, "Yeah, of course I'm Chuck."
"Okay, then you know that you would take that paper, and use it to get rich."
"I would?" Sam asked. He cleared his throat, "I mean, I would-- normally, but seeing as how Gary is so tired and all, I think I could manage to control my impulses for one day."
Marissa snorted. "Yeah, right."
Sam took a sip of tea, and decided to change the subject. "Speaking of Gary, do you know where he is?"
"I'm right here." Gary answered for Marissa, pushing through the doors from the bar area.
"How are you feeling, Gary?" Marissa asked in concern.
"Fine, a little sore, but okay." Gary slanted a glance at Sam.
"Did Chuck tell you about the butt-kicking he gave that kid? Almost couldn't believe it was *really* Chuck."
"Well, he mentioned it," Marissa answered, "but he said that the kid ran away when he arrived because the odds were even. Right Chuck?"
Sam sank a little in his chair. Now he was going to have to endure teasing, and pitying looks for the rest of the leap. "Yeah, that's pretty much the way it happened."
Gary pulled a stool up to the counter. He produced a small notebook from his pocket, and flipped it open.
"Okay, Mr.Beckett, I've got a few questions for you." Gary challenged.
"Doctor." Sam replied, automatically, craning his neck to see what was in the notebook.
Gary's eyebrow arched in surprise. He pulled the notebook back, not allowing Sam to see what was written.
Marissa was silent; appearing totally baffled.
"Well, *Dr.* Beckett, can you explain the string theory to me?"
Sam cleared his throat, and sat up straight. Maybe Gary was starting to believe him. At least, it was obvious that he had done a little research. He glanced at Marissa. Maybe he should pretend to not know what Gary was talking about. He hesitated.
After all, the less people who knew who he really was, the less chance of cosmic disaster. Sam looked to Gary, who was waiting expectantly for Sam to answer. This might be his only chance to convince Gary, and thereby save him from being murdered later tonight. Sam decided he would have to take the chance that Marissa could be trusted, besides, he thought, Gary trusted her with the truth about the paper.
"Well, as you know, all matter is made up of small particles called atoms. And of course in the center of each atom is a nucleus consisting of protons and neutrons." Sam made a ball with his hands, demonstrating. "We think that there are even smaller particles, called neutrinos, and well, my theory is that the smallest particle, that makes up everything, is a string." Sam was sitting forward, he pretended to hold a string in his hand; "Your life is made up of a series of strings, which together, make a longer string."
Sam had grabbed a paper and pencil off a counter, and eagerly started drawing a picture of his theory. He was so intent on what he was explaining; he missed the emotions flitting across Gary's face; fear, astonishment, and finally, a dawning amazement.
"--and I theorized that if you could somehow ball this string up, pieces of the string would touch. Where it touched, the time intersected and a person could leap from time to time on that string."
Sam looked up from his drawing, "Of course, it wasn't quite that simple, and it took years to develop the accelerator, but that's the general..."
Sam's voice trailed off, as he realized his audience was no longer listening. Marissa had a totally stunned look on her face. Sam watched as Gary leaned against the wall, noticing the slight trembling of Gary's fingers as he raked them through his hair.
"Are you okay, Gary?"
Gary turned, his shoulders sagging, "Yeah, Sam, I'm fine."
Gary studied Sam; convinced now that the person who had talked so confidently about string theories, neutrons and protons, could not have been the science challenged Chuck. Gary stood in front of Sam. He was trying his hardest to see through the image of Chuck. He shook his head, unable to see Sam beyond the aura.
"So, Sam, when-" Gary fumbled for words "How?" He scratched his head, and looked down. How do you talk to someone, when that someone occupied the body of your best friend?
"Is Chuck ever coming back?" Gary asked, worried. Though Chuck was probably one of the world's most annoying people, Gary knew he would miss him if he never got to speak to him again. "Where is he?"
Sam nodded, "Yeah, he'll be back. He's a few years in the future is all."
Marissa, who had been sitting in quiet confusion, suddenly spoke out, her voice sounding frightened. "Gary, what's going on here?"
That's right, Gary thought, Marissa has no idea what has become of Chuck. He couldn't just blurt out 'Marissa, meet Sam, he's temporarily occupying Chuck's body.' That's just what he did though, when he couldn't think of any simpler way to break the news.
"Chuck is where?" Marissa asked incredulously.
"Chuck is the waiting room." Sam explained. "He'll be fine, and when he comes back, he probably won't remember what happened. Leaping has that effect. We call it the 'Swiss-cheese' effect." Sam said wryly.
"W-Who is 'we'?" Gary asked suspiciously, suddenly looking hard at Marissa, as though maybe she had also been replaced.
Sam, noting the expression on Gary's face, laughed. "Don't worry. I'm the only leaper. The 'we' I was referring to is Al."
"Who's Al?" Marissa asked, actually appearing to be intrigued with the whole aspect, now that she knew that Chuck was safe.
"Al is my friend, he is the observer on the project. He appears to me as a hologram, but he's only tuned into my brainwaves, so only I can see him."
Gary rubbed his temples. This was getting to be a little too far-fetched. All he wanted was for things to be back to normal. Well, as normal as possible.
"When will Chuck be back?"
Sam looked away for a moment, biting his lip, "Well, tonight or possibly tomorrow morning at the latest. It sort of depends on you."
"Me?" Gary asked, shaking his head in denial. "What do I have to do with it?"
"Remember what I told you last night? About the alley?"
Gary blanched. Truthfully, he hadn't really paid much attention to Sam's warning. At the time, he had been too angry. "Yes, I remember." He said in a low voice, his eyes suddenly haunted.
"What about the alley?" Marissa asked, her voice tense.
"Sam says that I get..." Gary fumbled for words, "That someone kills me tonight."
Marissa gasped, "What? How does he know? What about the paper? What does *it* say?"
Gary sighed, "There's nothing in the paper about it, because it doesn't happen until late tonight. That makes it too late for the story to make the next day's paper."
Marissa reached out and felt for Gary's hand, giving it a gentle squeeze. She smiled and shook her head. "Don't worry Gary. We won't let that happen, will we, Sam?"
Sam put a hand on Gary's shoulder, "Gary, you know better than anyone, that the future isn't set in stone. That it can be changed. That's what we're going to do. I think it's why I'm here."
Gary looked at Sam, questioning, "Why did you pick me? I mean, there must be hundreds of people that need help. Why me?"
Sam shook his head; "I'm not in control of the leaps. Someone or something controls my leaps. All I can do is try to find out what it is that went wrong, and try to fix it."
"And-um-and what if you *can't* fix it?" Gary asked.
Sam detected a note of fear in Gary's voice. He didn't blame him. "If I don't fix it, then the theory is that I won't leap."
"The 'theory'? That means that you have always been successful, right?" Gary said, hope in his voice. "If you hadn't, you wouldn't have been able to continue leaping."
Sam shook his head sadly, his gaze turned inward. "Most of the time, I've been able to put things right, but sometimes, it turned out that I wasn't there to do what I thought I was supposed to do." Sam shrugged slightly, looking down to hide the emotions that were just beneath the surface. "I...I've had to make some tough choices."
Sam thought back, bits and pieces of past leaps flickered through his mind. He shuddered as he remembered being strapped into an electric chair. Images of a young black man, shot right in front of Sam, sprang into his mind. He couldn't remember the man's name, but Sam knew that he had been close to whomever Sam had leaped into.
"I'm sure you did the best you could, Sam." Marissa said gently.
Sam's head came up slowly. He looked from Marissa to Gary, surprised to see understanding on their faces.
Gary was nodding, "Sometimes, you can only do so much."
"Listen to the kid, Sam." A gravelly voice piped in.
"Al!" Sam stood up, grinning. He had thought Al might not be back after he had told Gary who he really was.
"Well, it's good to see you too." Al answered, clearing his throat, and fiddling with the handlink, obviously slightly embarrassed.
Sam turned to Gary and Marissa, "Al's here." He announced. He saw Gary's look of uncertainty, "Remember, he's only tuned to my brainwaves. But..." Sam added, as he noticed Marissa trying to control an agitated Spike, "animals and small children can see him."
"I gather that Gary believes you now." Al stated, lighting a cigar.
"Yeah, I think so." Sam smiled, rubbing the back of his neck. "So tell me, Al, has anything changed now?" Sam said expectantly.
Al clenched the cigar in his teeth, jabbing at the handlink. His shoulders slumped as he read the answer on the display screen. "Sorry, Sam, nothing's changed."
Sam was stunned. "How can that be, Al?"
"What?" Gary asked, his eyes wide.
Sam sighed and turned to Gary. "Well, it seems that nothing's changed...yet. But don't worry, we'll figure this out."
Sam and Gary spent the remainder of the day trying to come up with different scenarios. Sam had Al run each one by Ziggy, but it seemed that no matter what they came up with, the end result was always the same. If Gary stayed in his apartment-he was murdered, if he went out-he was murdered. If he stayed at Chuck's-he was murdered, although not until the eleventh of November. No matter what they did, the only change was when Gary was murdered.
Gary rested his head in his hands. He was scared, but at least he wasn't alone on this one. He wasn't carrying the burden all by himself, and curiously, that made it easier to bear. He sighed, glancing over at Sam, who was busily arguing with Al over what would be the best thing for Gary to do. It was strange to see Chuck's body, which was behaving like Gary, towards an invisible man, who from every indication behaved somewhat like Chuck. Gary shook his head, rubbing his eyes; he was so confused.
Gary sat at the bar, an untouched beer in front of him.
Gary glanced down, and sighed. He was in no mood to play guessing games with the cat. The cat jumped onto the barstool, then up on to the bar.
"Hey, if the health department were to come in here right now, I'd be closed down." Gary groused as he picked the cat up under the belly, ready to toss him to the ground. Suddenly, the cat hissed and brought a hind leg forward and scratched Gary's hand.
"Ow! Damn Cat!" Gary exclaimed, dropping the cat back on the bar. He grabbed a napkin off the bar and dabbed at the blood from the scratch. The cat kept meowing, and walking around on top of the bar, right in front of Gary.
Gary glanced at the cat in irritation. "What is your problem?" He tried to snatch the cat once more, but the animal evaded him. The movement caused the Sun-Times to fall out of the inside of Gary's leather jacket onto the bar.
The cat meowed again, and sat on the paper. That was Gary's usual clue that something in the paper needed his attention.
Gary eyed the cat warily, as he nudged the feline off the paper. The animal was totally docile now and purring softly. Gary made a wry face, and smoothed out the pages of the paper. This was Sunday's paper, so it was bigger than normal, and had more sections than the weekly one. As Gary perused a section detailing the conversion of warehouses to trendy lofts, an adjacent article caught his eye. The headline read, "Slum Landlords Feeling the Squeeze." The article was about community activists speaking out and getting their neighborhoods cleaned up. What got Gary's attention was the name Herrara. There were some quotes from him saying how difficult a job it was to get the landlords to comply, but that eventually, if the community kept up the pressure, the landlords would have to give in.
"Hey Sam!" Gary called over his shoulder.
Sam hurried over, "Yeah? Have you come up with something?"
"Maybe. Tell me, exactly *what* does Ziggy say is going to happen?" Gary asked.
Sam glanced to the side, presumably at Al, "Okay, Ziggy says that your...your body is discovered outside in the alley behind McGinty's. Robbery was assumed to be the motive. No one was ever charged in your-"
"Why did the police think the motive was robbery?" Gary cut him off; not quite prepared to hear about his own murder.
Sam again glanced at the space occupied by Al. "Because your wallet was missing, the police assumed it was robbery."
Gary and Sam came to the same realization simultaneously.
"But my wallet was stolen yesterday!"
"Your wallet was already stolen!"
Gary's mind raced. "I vaguely remember one of the kids yesterday was going through my pockets." He glanced back at the newspaper article about the slum landlords. "The same kid that was trying to kill Herrera." Gary jabbed his finger at the paper.
He pushed the paper in front of Sam. "This is about the guy we saved yesterday. It was the second time I had to prevent him from being murdered." Gary said shaking his head. "I figured that Herrara was being targeted, but I didn't know what for."
Sam finished reading the article, and gave Gary a worried look. "It looks like you're the target now."
Gary wordlessly looked from the paper to Sam and back again. He carefully folded the paper, and tucked into his jacket. His mind was reeling. It was one thing to risk your life trying to save someone. He had done that a few times. But it was a risk he took, knowing that if he didn't help, the person was sure to die.
This was entirely different. Gary walked up to his apartment, leaving Sam alone at the bar. He needed time to think. It was un-nerving to know that there was someone out there, purposely looking to kill him. He glanced at his bedside clock, and swallowed, it was already nine o'clock P.M. There were only a few more hours to go until-. Gary took a deep breath and sank onto the sofa.
He took a survey of his apartment. He supposed to some people, it might not seem like much to show for thirty-odd years of life. Some furniture, a bike, a few models of planes and ships, but to Gary, it was everything, and he wasn't about to go down without a fight.
A knock at the door made him jump, but he sighed in relief when he realized that it was only Sam.
"Come in. Door's open."
Sam came in a shut the door behind him. "Al and I came up with some ideas." Sam sat on the edge of the coffee table. "We think we know who is responsible for wanting you dead."
Gary sat up. "Who?"
"Well, a year from now, a landlord by the name of Franklin is arrested and charged with murder for ordering hits on several Chicago community activists. The police tried to connect him to other unsolved murders of community activist, but were unable to. It seems that the suspected hit men were local gang members. Who," Sam continued with a sigh, "were unfortunately gunned down in a drive-by shooting shortly before Franklin's arrest."
Gary cocked his head, listening intently. "Okay, now we know who and why, but how does that help us stop them?"
"Well, it doesn't really, but at least we know that it wasn't a random act, so that means we can prepare for them." Sam pinched the bridge of his nose in concentration. "First, we call the police, and tell them about-" Sam broke off as Gary began shaking his head negatively. "What?"
Gary rubbed the back of his neck, "Um, the police and I-" Gary shrugged with a sheepish little smile, "Let's just say that they pretty much think I'm a lunatic. "
Sam appeared confused at Gary's statement, then his mouth dropped open as understanding dawned. He gave a slight chuckle, "I've been there. I always hate trying to explain how I know what I know."
Gary grinned, "Yeah, I *hate* when people roll their eyes at me. I think of it as the 'let's call the men in the white jackets' look."
Sam and Gary exchanged smiles. An even stronger bond forming at the recognition of similar events in both their lives.
Gary took a deep breath, getting back to the present. "Okay, how else can we prepare?"
Sam stood and started pacing. "We know approximately when the shooting occurs. Why don't we set a trap for them?"
Gary thought for a moment. "What? You mean like catch them breaking into McGinty's?"
Sam nodded. "Yes, we have to catch them so that they can be arrested. Otherwise, they will just keep trying to target you."
"Yeah, that's why all the scenarios you ran through Ziggy didn't work, right? 'Cause we didn't catch them." Gary said, slight hope creeping into his voice. "So, what do we do to catch them?"
Sam stopped his pacing momentarily, "Well, that's the hard part. I don't suppose you own a gun?"
Gary shook his head; "I've never needed one...until now, that is."
Sam nodded. "Well, Ziggy predicts that they will most likely enter through the back kitchen door."
Gary nodded. It made sense. The kitchen closed at nine, so all the help would be gone by then. "So, what do we do? Wait for them in there?"
"Yeah, I guess so."
Gary leaned against the wall next to the back door. He had had the bartender close the bar early tonight, with the made-up excuse that the plumbing was backed up. Some of the patrons had grumbled slightly, but without a bathroom available; there wasn't much point to drinking. Gary promised to make it up to them the next time they were at McGinty's, with a free drink.
Marissa was locked in the office, with instructions to call the police as soon as she heard the bad guys break in. Gary had wanted her to go home, where she would have been safe, but as usual, she was stubborn and had insisted on remaining.
Now, the lights were all turned off, and the only thing Gary could hear was his own breathing, and the ticking of his watch; both of which sounded deafening in the silence. He and Sam had scoured the bar for weapons, coming up with Gary's trusty hockey stick, several knives, a nice heavy bottle of whiskey and of all things, a rolling pin.
Gary clutched his hockey stick, nervously wiping a sweaty hand on his jeans. He eyes were becoming accustomed to the darkness, and he could make out the shadow of Sam's form on the other side of the doors. Their plan called for them to allow the gunman to enter and then Gary would use the hockey stick to trip him, while Sam brought the rolling pin down on gunman's head.
It wasn't much of a plan, Gary admitted to himself, but it was better than just waiting around to be shot. Just in case the plan didn't work, they each had a knife tucked into their waistbands, though Gary wasn't sure he could ever plunge a knife into another human being. He hoped he wouldn't have to find out if he could.
Gary's thoughts froze as he heard the faint scuffle of footsteps on the other side of the door. His eyes riveted on the door handle. He tried to control his ragged breathing, sure that it could be heard through the door. He gripped the hockey stick more tightly.
For the next several minutes, Gary and Sam listened to the sound of the lock being jimmied. Gary always thought the door had had a pretty decent lock, but he made a mental note, that if he survived this, he was going to put up armor plated doors, with the biggest deadbolts money could buy.
Gary almost jumped out of his skin when the lock suddenly gave way with a loud pop. Gary saw the door open slowly. His heart gave a flip-flop when he saw not one, but two people enter. Which one should he trip? What were the chances of tripping both of them? Gary decided that he would have to take the man closest to him, and hoped Sam would do the same on his side.
Gary waited until the men were about six feet from the back door, then he soundless stepped forward, and swung the hockey stick low and hard, right at both men's knees.
A howl of pain greeted the impact, but it wasn't enough to send either gunman to the ground. Gary immediately launched himself at the man closest to him. He saw Sam do the same with his man.
Gary's man had turned at the blow from the hockey stick. Gary's shoulder took him full in the chest. The whoosh of air being forced from the other man's lungs at the impact was like music to Gary's ears.
They both tumbled to the floor, with Gary on top. He heard the clatter of metal clatter across the floor. He hoped it was the gun. Gary tried to use his superior size to pin the man down, but the guy was as slippery as a snake as he wriggled out of Gary's grasp. Gary lunged at him again. He couldn't let the killer get to his gun. This time, the man's head snapped against the edge of the counter with a sickening crack. He fell limply to the ground.
Gary stared at the man in stunned surprise. It had all happened so quickly. The sound of grunting quickly snapped Gary out of his shock. He whirled to see Sam and the other man wrestling on the floor. Gary rushed to help.
He pulled the man off Sam, and threw him against the wall. The man
lay still, apparently stunned.
Gary bent over Sam, concerned at the man's silence. "Sam? Are you okay?" Gary was relieved as Sam nodded, rubbing his throat. Gary grinned in triumph. "We did it, Sam!"
Sam's eyes widened, and he croaked, "Look out!"
Gary whipped his head around. The second attacker was rushing him, a glint of metal in his hand. The gun!
Gary froze in fear. He watched, seemingly in slow motion, as the gun was raised and aimed at his chest. Gary flinched, closing his eyes at the loud report of the weapon.
His eyes flew open a second later. He wasn't hit! The gunman was on his knees, clutching his abdomen. Gary gaze shot to the left to find Sam still crouched with gun extended.
"...So, I shouted a warning to Gary, and rolled over to stand up. My hand came down on a gun. It must have belonged the guy that Gary knocked out." Sam explained to the police detective.
Gary was also giving his account of the events to a detective.
Sam's detective closed his notebook. "Well, it appears from the broken lock, and the long criminal history of these two kids, that the shooting was justifiable." He nodded at Gary's approach. "I was just telling your friend that if we need anymore information, we'll call."
Gary stuck out his hand, "Okay, thanks Detective."
They shook hands. The officer gathered his men, and within fifteen minutes, McGinty's was emptied of everyone but Sam and Gary.
Gary yawned, suddenly exhausted. He looked at the clock. It was almost one o'clock in the morning. An ambulance had taken both wounded suspects to the hospital. Both were expected to live. Gary was glad of that. Even though they had tried to kill him, he didn't want anyone to die.
Sam and Gary went into the bar area. Gary flipped on a few lights, and got a beer out holding it up questioningly to Sam.
"Yeah, it sounds good." Sam smiled.
Gary grabbed another for himself. He handed Sam his beer, and came around the bar to sit on a stool next to Sam.
They drank in silence for a few moments, both men thinking about the past few hours.
Gary set his bottle down, looking at Sam. "I want to thank you for everything. If you hadn't found that gun..." Gary's voice trailed off.
"Well, you can thank Al for that." Sam confessed, smiling to the space on the other side of him. Turning back to Gary, he explained. "I didn't really just happen to find the gun. Al found it, and told me where it was."
Gary's eye's widened in surprise. "He was there?"
Sam nodded. "Yeah. He's always watching my back for me."
Gary tipped his beer to the space that Sam had looked to. "Is he here now?"
Sam grinned. "Yes, Al's here."
Gary raised his bottle in a toast. "Thanks Al!" He took a swallow. Then he nodded to Sam, "Thanks for everything, Sam."
Sam nodded, and tapped his bottle to Gary's.
Gary watched as a look of confusion swept over Sam's face. Puzzled he watched as Sam looked at the beer in his hand as though he didn't know how it had gotten there. Sam looked at his watch, his eyes widening in surprise.
"Hey Gar! What the hell are we doing out here in the middle of the night?"
After a moment of surprise, Gary recovered, and laughed. He raised
his beer again in a toast. "Welcome back, Chuck."
Email the author: Maryilee