Early Leap
by Peter B. Steiger

Author's Comments:
It's funny that someone posted a gripe on a.t.q-l last month about EE being a "ripoff" of QL.  As it happens, I like both shows, and suddenly I got to wondering just how similar the two are.  The result is the following fanfic.

The whole concept of fanfic is somewhat alien to me.  As a "purist", I only accept those scripts which are canonical, and only scripts written by the original creative team can ever be part of the canon.  This means that movies and spinoffs are suspect, and fanfic and outright ripoffs by other networks leave me hollering in outrage, "That's not what REALLY happened!"

So I have no idea what possessed me to write my own fanfic, particularly the oft-reviled "crossover episode" that usually earns the derision it gets.  Most of my writing is humorous non-fiction; at least my friends and family can usually attest that the goofy things I write about really did happen to me.

That said, I'd love to hear feedback about this piece, good and bad and ugly.  If you're the owner of a fan site devoted to either show and your taste is poor enough that you want to post it to your site, take it with my blessings; I only ask that you let me know where to find it and make sure I get full blame in the credits.

The fine print:
Early Edition, its characters and situations belong to CBS and Tristar pictures.

Quantum Leap, its characters and situations belong to Belisarius Productions/Universal Studios.

The characters have been used without permission for personal entertainment only.  Bring back the shows we love, guys, so we don't have to write 'em for you any more!

Enough babbling.  For no particular reason at all, I present...
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Early Leap
by Peter B. Steiger

Leap Date: April 3, 1995

The familiar pull of his entire body's atoms being yanked in different directions subsided and Sam saw through the diminishing shimmer a man in a camouflage jacket walking away from him in a dark, dirty alley. It was hard enough to see the man, but the action was made more difficult by the fact that his view was partly blocked by his own arm, stretched out in front of him and pointing a police revolver directly at the receding man. His finger was already tightening on the trigger, and the shock of leaping in startled him into finishing the squeeze on the trigger.  With horror he realized that he was leaping into the act of murdering someone, but that thought never fully materialized because even as the gun went off in his hand, his body was bowled aside by what felt like a freight train hurling him into the side of the building; the shot went wild and buried itself into a pile of discarded wooden pallets a few yards away.

Sam, even more disoriented than before, looked up at a short man gasping for breath as he reached to help Sam up.  "Sorry, Officer," the man was saying, "I tripped over that garbage can while I was, uh, trying to catch a taxi and I completely lost control.  Are you all right?"

No doubt the clumsy pedestrian was equally confused by Sam's first reply as he blurted out, "Oh boy..."

Gary helped the police officer to his feet and while the officer was still a little dazed, Gary took the opportunity to pull the newspaper out of his back pocket and glance at the headlines he had folded to the top.  Even as he watched, the article changed from "Unidentified man found shot in alley" to "Girl, 8, Missing From Front Yard".

"That's just great," Gary muttered to himself as the policeman regained his balance and seemed to be checking the name on his own badge, "I fixed that one and now you give me this.  Don't I ever get to take a break?"

"What was that?" the police officer asked.

"Ah, I just said don't you ever get to take a break?"

"Break?" echoed the officer in disbelief.  "Can't you see I was in pursuit of... of... uh..."

"Sir," Gary cut in, "Are you sure you were chasing the right man?"

A look of doubt crossed the officer's mind, but he covered it quickly by asking "Do you know who that was?"

"N-n-not exactly," Gary stammered, "I just, uh, read so much about accidental shootings, even by our fine police force, that I, uh, didn't know if you meant to be... I mean, you looked like you were..."

"Are you saying you deliberately ran into me?" demanded the policeman.

"No!  Not at all!  I was just trying to catch the bus -- cab, I mean -- and, well, I'm sure I don't know what I thought I saw... it all happened so fast, I'm sure it was just my mistake.  Listen, I'm really sorry about that."

A door opened up in the air behind Gary, but only Sam saw Al step through the bright light into the imaging chamber.  Sam breathed a sigh of relief and asked the hologram, "Why am I here?"

Gary was losing patience with the cop.  He felt bad about interfering with a pursuit, but the paper said the victim had no identification; he was sure he had prevented a mistake.  And now he had to hurry up and find out more about this child abduction case, so he had to humor the cop and get out of here.  "Well, to protect and serve, of course."

At the same time, Al, unheard by Gary, replied "You're Daniel Davidson, officer with the Chicago Police Department, and it's April 3, 1995.  Hey, you're almost back in the right time!  Come on and help us get Project Quantum Leap started."

"Would you get on with it?" demanded Sam.

"Well, I mean you have to stop criminals," Gary hastily added.

"Oh, right.  Ziggy thinks it has something to do with that man that you were shooting.  Apparently, he's a dangerous psychopath and he was supposed to die, but something went wrong in history and he got away. You're here to make sure he doesn't get  away."

That was the last thing Sam wanted to hear.  "I don't want to kill. It isn't right."

Why was this stubborn police officer looking over Gary's shoulder when he spoke?  And what on earth was he talking about?  Gary felt like it was time to put some distance between himself and this nutcase before the guy started taking shots at Gary next.  "Of course it isn't, sir. You're just doing your job, and sometimes there's no other way to stop a dangerous felon.  Now, if you've recovered from our accident I really need to get going.  I was already late for work when this started, and now I'm in a bigger hurry."

"Sam," Al interrupted, whacking the side of the handlink. "Ziggy says there's a 94.27% chance this guy is involved in the case.  You've got to find out more about him."

"You can't just run off like that," Sam demanded.  "What's your name, and where can I find you?"

"Oh, uh, I'm Gary Hobson, and I own McGinty's bar.  It's about six miles that way, at Illinois and Franklin."

"Gary Hobson," Al muttered.  "OK, I'll see what we can find out.  Why don't you try to pump him for more information on the guy that ran off?"  With that, the chamber door opened up behind Gary again and Al stepped in, closing the door and  disappearing from view.

"Listen," Sam said, "Why don't I drive you?"  If he was a cop, he figured there should be a police car around somewhere.  He started off down the alley in the direction the suspect had taken.

"Isn't that your car?" Gary said, pointing in the opposite direction. Sure enough, there was the police car, turned to block the other end of the alley.  Gary wasn't sure he wanted to be near this unstable person any longer, so he added "That's OK.  I'll just..."  But by that time the cop was grabbing him by the wrist and striding towards the car, having apparently arrived at a decision.

"No, I insist," Sam said, taking control of the situation and herding the other man into the front passenger seat.  "I have a few more questions for you."

He started the car and continued, backing it unsteadily out of its sideways position in the narrow alley.  "For starters, what were you doing in this neighborhood?"

Gary had been through this so often, he could handle the rest of the conversation on autopilot.  "I was visiting a friend in those apartments."

Sam pulled out of the alley to make a turn onto Illinois, but a blaring horn sent him back to wait for a better chance.  He hated this kind of traffic after four years in the New Mexico desert.  Although he had driven in Albuquerque traffic a few times, it was nothing like this constant wall of cars bearing down on you.

"What made you decide to come through the alley?" he asked to cover his hesitation.

"I thought I heard a noise."

"You said you were trying to catch a taxi.  Which is it?"

"Well, uh, both.  I was running to catch the taxi, and the noise distracted me, I guess I thought somebody was in trouble, so I turned into the alley while I was running and I guess that's why I lost control."

Suddenly Sam remembered he was in a police car.  He could make those other cars stop for him!  If only he could figure out which control turned on the siren.  He started poking buttons at random.  First a spray of water doused the windshield, then the air conditioner came on (which was a relief)... he knew he was getting close when he saw the alternating red and blue lights reflecting off the hood of the car. Another flick and he was rewarded with a whoop of police siren, and the oncoming traffic came to a gradual halt.  Pleased with himself, Sam pulled out onto Illinois and turned off the siren.

"Sir?"  Gary interrupted the police officer, obviously a rookie. "Franklin is the other way."

"Oh, right," Sam muttered, looking for a place to turn around.  "Tell me, do you always go running into dark alleys when you hear a sound?"

"I'm just trying to be a good citizen, I guess.  I don't like to see defenseless people get hurt.  This can be a dangerous town at times. There it is on the left."

He wasn't kidding about dangerous, Sam thought as he faced the prospect of making a left turn across the busy street.  He was just about to make the best of an opening and gunned the engine when the car was flooded with light from the imaging chamber as Al returned. Sam abruptly slammed on the brakes, shaking himself and his passenger up and causing the oncoming traffic stream to swerve around the front of his car with more horns blaring angrily at him.

"Sam," Al began immediately, "wait 'til you hear this.  This Hobson character shows up constantly in the Chicago papers, right up through our own time.  Apparently he's some kind of self-appointed good samaritan with a knack for being in the right place at the right time to prevent some tragedy or another.  There are files on him with the Chicago PD *and* the FBI with enough information to choke an elephant."

While Al was talking, Sam flipped on the siren again and made an illegal U-turn to park by the curb in front of McGinty's.  His passenger fairly hurled himself out of the seat. "Thanks for the ride, officer.  Now I really do need to get to work, unless you have any more questions?"  Gary fervently hoped there weren't any.

"No," Sam decided, "but I'll be in touch.  I'll, uh, have to ask you not to leave town until my investigation is over."

Gary didn't like the sound of that.  Was the cop going to keep trying to kill an innocent man?  What if the man wasn't innocent?  He needed to get inside and check the paper again.  "Yes, sir," he agreed and hurried into the bar.

"Well, Al, what do we do now?" Sam wanted to know now that he could have a private conversation.

"Ziggy's looking into it.  We're using our special clearance to open up the Chicago PD databases to look for cases you, that is Officer Davidson, were working on in 1995."

"How am I supposed to find that guy again?  Chicago is the third largest city in the country!  There are nearly eight million people here, and he could be anywhere by now!"  A pedestrian walking past stopped and did a double-take when he saw Sam talking to an empty passenger seat, waving his arms as though in a fierce debate with an invisible opponent.

Before Al could answer, the radio crackled and a faint voice muttered something.  The volume control must have been one of the buttons Sam hit trying to turn on the siren.  "Better get that, Sam," Al suggested, "It might be about the case you're pursuing."

Sam twisted the volume knob on his radio and heard "Unit 82007, please respond."  Al stuck his head through the roof of the car and looked around. "That's you, Sam, 82007."

Sam keyed the mike connected to the dash radio and replied "82007 here.  Sorry, I was, uh, escorting a pedestrian home from a bad neighborhood." Which was more or less true.

The radio responded, "We have a 10-50 at Illinois and Wabash..."

Al pressed a few keys on the handlink and quickly added "That's back in the direction you came from... almost exactly where you came out of the alley.  And a 10-50 is a traffic accident."

The radio continued, "... and tracking indicates that you're the nearest unit.  Can you respond?"

Sam didn't want to complicate things by getting in trouble at the station, so he replied "I sure c... I mean, 10-4.  Bye... uh, 82007 out."  He put the car in gear and managed to find an opening in traffic that let him get moving quickly.

Back at McGinty's, Gary was poring over the paper to look for signs that the man he saved was still going to be unharmed.  The good news was that there was no mention of the stranger, but the bad news was there were now two more child disappearances in addition to the first. What was going on here?  He made a mental note of the place the first victim had been last seen and grabbed his keys while running out of his room; he took the stairs in huge leaps four at a time and nearly knocked Marissa down on his way out the door.

Sam was trying to sound official as he took down the names of the accident victims and heard their explanation.  "Some lunatic in a police car... no disrespect to you, sir, but sometimes I think that some policemen just use their sirens to clear traffic for personal use... turned on his siren and came roaring out of that alley so suddenly that the traffic on that street came to a sudden halt, blocking the intersection.  The light had just turned green on my street and I braked when I saw the cars blocking the intersection, but I guess the line behind me didn't have time to stop as quickly.  He hit me from behind - " she indicated an angry-looking man who apparently belonged to the bottled-water delivery truck with the crumpled grill - "and I skidded into her car."  She pointed at a battered gray Escort with a huge dent in the driver's side door.

"Is the police department going to pay for this damage?" the delivery truck driver demanded.  "This could cost me my job.  I can't afford no more insurance."

"What about my car?" demanded the owner of the Escort.  "It was in perfect condition before this happened."  Sam doubted her claim; the car was at least six years old and looked like it had been through a war.  The battered door was the least of its problems.

The one who had started the report confirmed his suspicions when she said "Sir, I barely touched her car.  *MY* brakes are good," she added with a pointed gaze at the Escort.  Her own car, a new model Accord, didn't appear to have any marks on it apart from a cracked tail light where the delivery truck had hit her.  "Of course, I hope this neck pain goes away soon."  As  soon as she said that, both the truck driver and the Escort owner started rubbing their necks and wincing as though in extreme pain.

"Listen," Sam said, "I can't do anything about that.  All I can do is take down your names and insurance information, and file a report. Are your vehicles all drivable?"

The three all admitted that they didn't need towing services, so Sam took down all the information he could think of and dismissed them so he could get back to his own car and get out of the intersection before someone ran over him.  Drivers in Chicago did not seem to like stopping for much of anything.

Al appeared outside Sam's window and said "No luck on tracking down cases this Davidson guy was working on, so now we're looking up all crimes reported in the city on this day in history.  So far every crime matches up with a different police team or a suspect that's obviously not the man we're looking for, but... wait, Ziggy has something strange to report.  In the original history, there weren't any child abductions today, but the changed history shows three disappearances that never got solved.  No, four!  Sam, it's going up. We've got to stop this guy!"

"Stop what guy," Sam started to ask, but just then luck was with him for a change.  Stuck in traffic waiting to get around the accident was a dingy white van, and the driver was wearing a camouflage jacket.

"That's him, Sam," Al exclaimed, "the guy you're supposed to stop. Now's your chance!"

Traffic started to clear and the van squeezed into an opening in the right lane where it made a quick turn down a side street and out of view.  Sam turned on the siren again and gunned the engine, but just as he started his pursuit a van with the McGinty's logo on the side came barrelling through the intersection, blocking his path.  Gary saw the police car pulling out and slammed on his brakes, and Sam also slammed on his brakes, and the two vehicles avoided collision by a fraction of an inch.

Sam stormed over to Gary's van.  "You again!  I suppose you thought you were preventing me from making another mistake?"

Al followed Sam, shouting "What are you doing?  He's getting away!"

Gary was frantic to get out of here.  "I didn't see you there, honestly.  But this is an emergency and I don't have time to explain." He gunned the engine and the van veered around the stopped police car, disappearing down a side street.

Sam didn't have time to worry about Gary; he had to find that other van. He took off in the direction the white van had gone, and Al reappeared outside the car again, keeping pace with it as the car sped through the streets.

"Sam, we ran a make on the plates from that van.  We have a name, Steve Dodd, but it's meaningless.  The guy changes aliases more often than I change wives.  Ziggy is 99.17% sure he's responsible for all the kidnappings today plus an untold number of previous unsolved disappearances.  You have to stop him!"

Sam was doing his best, but he had lost sight of the van during his run-in with Gary Hobson.  "Help me out, Al," he said, "Which way did he go?"

Al punched a few more buttons on the handlink and whacked the side for good measure, and announced "He must have seen you following him.  He stopped in an alley three blocks back and now he's headed north."

While Sam turned around and looked for a chance to turn north, Al continued, "Now he's in a freightyard... turn here and head across the freeway.  The freightyard is on Canal Street."

Gary reached the address and parked the van across the street from the house, praying he wasn't too late.  A squeal caught his attention and he looked up to see a young girl run around the corner of the house, chased by a border collie.  She threw the yellow ball she was carrying and the dog gleefully chased it.  He looked at the headline and saw that it had changed again.  Now it read "Unidentified Man Found Drowned in Canal."  The basic description of the man in his camouflage jacket convinced Gary that it was the same man he had rescued this morning, so he started the van and headed north to the freight yard where the man had drowned (was going to drown?) in the canal.

Sam wandered cautiously through the freight yard, looking in and under open railroad cars and into the shadows between storage buildings.  He was nervous, and Al wasn't helping.  He made it through the last row of buildings to the canal edge, and finally saw his target.  There was the now-familiar jacket, walking alongside the canal.

"Found him, Sam," Al announced.  "He's walking alongside the canal right... oh, I see you already know that.  Look!"

Just as Sam was about to call the man to stop, three young people wearing identical sports jackets came out of the shadows between two buildings and headed towards the camouflaged man.  They arranged themselves to block his path and cut off his escape, and from the body language it was clear that they were holding him up.  His hand came out of his jacket, but it wasn't holding a wallet - it was holding a knife.  As Sam watched, the gang member behind the camouflaged man cracked him on the side of the head while the two in front knocked his knife away.  He tried to fight back, but the three of them were too much and they knocked him to the ground.  Two held him down while one went through his pockets and retrieved a handgun. He fiddled with the gun, apparently releasing the safety, and started to point it at the man Sam was supposed to stop.

"This is great, Sam," Al cheered.  "He gets killed by the muggers, you don't have to do the job yourself, the children are saved, and you can leap outta here."

His victory was short-lived, however, for just at that moment another dark figure ran out of the shadows towards the melee.  "Stop! Police!" he shouted, and the three scattered before they could finish their deadly job.  Their victim, who had recovered from his blow to the head, also got up and ran off between the buildings before his rescuer could reach the scene.

Sam was furious.  "Not again!  Are you sure Ziggy wants that man stopped?"  He ran over to where the rescuer was walking back in the direction he came, reading a newspaper he carried with him as though he didn't have a care in the world.

When Sam caught up, somehow he wasn't surprised to find that it was the same person who had foiled the shooting he had leaped into in the first place.  "What is wrong with you?" he demanded.  "Don't you have anything else to do besides interfere with police business?"

"Interfere with---" Gary sputtered.  "The man was about to be killed by a gang of muggers!  Why didn't you do anything to stop them?"  Now he was on the offensive.  "You know what I think?  I don't think you're really a policeman at all.  You don't know how to operate your own equipment, you abuse your power right and left, and you're clearly stalking that man in an attempt to kill him.  I bet you arranged that mugging just so someone else could do your dirty work," he accused.

"What gives you the right to make that kind of accusation?" Sam demanded.

"OK, what's your badge number?  Quick, without looking."

"It's, uh,"

"432-78-5555," Al supplied, but it was too late.  "Hah!  I ought to turn you in, you fraud!"  Gary crowed.

"What about you?" Sam asked.  "You show up out of nowhere interfering with police work all the time, it looks like you're protecting a suspected criminal... why can't you mind your own business?"

"I told you, protecting the helpless IS my business," Gary retorted.

Al started frantically waving his arms to get Sam's attention.  "Sam, forget this.  We managed to correlate all the aliases this guy has been known to use, and he's a seriously twisted sicko.  Most of the unsolved child disappearances never even turned up the bodies of the victims, and the few that were found had been tortured horribly before they were killed.  Forget this Hobson character and stop that psycho!"

Sam whirled back in the direction of his car.  "I don't have time for this, he shouted.  I have a killer to stop, and you need to go back to your bar and stay out of my way!"  He jumped into the police car and roared off, although he had no idea where to go next.

Gary stared at the retreating police car in disbelief.  Who was this nut that kept trying to kill someone, and what did it all have to do with the death of the man in the camouflage jacket who kept appearing and disappearing from the headlines?  He pulled the paper out of his pocket and read the headlines.

Another kidnapping!  This one was just a few miles north in a rundown subdivision by the railroad tracks.  He ran back to the van and took off in what he hoped was the direction of the kidnapping.

Al appeared next to Sam again and said "We got a fix on him, Sam. He's hiding out in an empty house by the tracks up ahead.  Step on it!"

Sam followed the road alongside the tracks until he came to a small street leading into a mobile home park.  Before entering the subdivision, he parked the car and walked in, taking his gun out of the holster as he crept forward.  Suddenly he heard a child's cry that was cut off as quickly as it began, and he ran with all his remaining strength in the direction of the cry.

The man in the jacket heard Sam coming and tried once more to drag the child away from the swing he was gripping for dear life, then as Sam pulled out his revolver the man gave up and ran between two houses. Sam gave chase as the kidnapper jumped a back yard fence and ran towards the railroad tracks. Desperately Sam climbed the fence and continued to give chase, but he was losing ground and couldn't run any farther without stopping to catch his breath.  Suddenly the kidnapper stopped on the tracks and looked down, struggling with his arms to pull his leg free.

Al was ecstatic.  "You got him, Sam!  Catch up to him now and... uh-oh. There's a train coming!"  Sure enough, the ominous whistle of an approaching train echoed into the evening air.  Sam put down his revolver and waited for the inevitable.

Gary heard the train as he stopped the car at the entrance to the neighborhood, and emitted a cry of frustration when he saw the police cruiser on the side of the road.  "I knew that so-called cop was up to no good!" he growled as he took the paper out and checked.  Once again, the kidnapping story was gone.  Once again, a story about an unidentified man being killed had taken the kidnapping story's place. Gary was not surprised to read that the body was found near the tracks right outside this neighborhood, apparently struck by a train.  He wheeled the van around and raced back up the street, where he saw the same man struggling to free himself from where he had gotten a foot stuck in the tracks.  There were only seconds to spare, but Gary was nearly upon the man and the train was still a few blocks away.

Sam watched with grim determination, waiting for the train to finish what he had not been able to accomplish himself.  Suddenly there was a squeal of brakes and the familiar McGinty's van slid to a stop next to the man on the tracks. "Not again!"  groaned Sam as he watched Gary leap out of the van and help the struggling kidnapper pull free just before the train roared past them both.  Sam hurried to try and stop his quarry, but once again the man took advantage of the situation to make a fast getaway.

"That does it!" Sam bellowed as he grabbed Gary and hauled him up by the collar.  "I'm taking you in to the station where you won't be able to interfere with me any more!"

"You can't do that," Gary shot back, "You're not a real cop."

"Don't you understand that this is the third time you have helped a kidnapper get away?"

That got Gary's attention.  "What do you know about a kidnapper?" he asked warily.

"I know that if I don't stop that psycho in the camouflage jacket, as many as three children will never be seen again.  And I know that you are protecting him for some reason."

"How do you know he's a kidnapper?"

"How do you know he's not?"

"I... I just... "  Gary realized that each time he went to stop a kidnapping, the same two people were present.  One of them was this Davidson character, but the other was always that man in the camouflage jacket.  Obviously one or the other of these two was the guilty party, and Gary decided it was time to find out once and for all which was which.  Since he already had one of them, he wasn't about to let this one go until he had all the facts.

"I don't know for sure," he admitted.  "But I do know that you're a very dangerous individual who has already impersonated a police officer and ran around the city shooting off that gun like it's a toy, so maybe you'd better tell me what you think you're doing before I haul YOU off to jail."

Al interjected, "Sam, we're running out of time.  Ziggy says he's still going to take another kid tonight if we don't stop him soon.  I think you should tell Gary here the truth."

Sam sighed and said "All right.  You're right, I'm not who I appear to be. I don't belong here... I don't even belong in 1995."

Gary looked even more confused.  "What, now you're telling me you're a time traveller?"

"Yes, I'm from four years in the future.  I'm part of a project called Quantum Leap... in fact, here in 1995, it's just getting started in our lab in New Mexico."

"Very funny, pal.  Just how stupid do you think I am?"

"Look, I can prove it.  What day is it, the third?  Al, any significant events of April third, 1995... no, the fourth... that I can tell him to prove I'm from the future?"

"Al?  Who is Al?  Who are you talking to?"

"He's also part of the project, but he's not really here.  He's projecting a hologram from our lab in 1999 to help me know what past problems in history I'm supposed to fix."

"Projecting... a hologram?"

"That's right.  Anything yet, Al?"

Al was tapping his handlink and shaking it, obviously not having much success.  He frowned and said "Not much, except for the election tomorrow.  Daley got elected mayor, of course, but..."

Sam didn't wait to hear the rest.  "OK, I've got it.  There's an election tomorrow, right?  Daley will be elected mayor, I guarantee it.  How's that?"

"You really do think I'm stupid, don't you?  Of course he's going to win! He's won every election since 1989, his father was one of the best loved mayors of the city for 20 years, and his opponent has all but given up already.  Try another one, Future Boy."

Al had more.  "Here's the market, Sam.  He can't accuse you of guessing these numbers: Dow Jones closed at 4157.69, Standard & Poor at 500.71, and NASDAQ at 817.21."

Sam recited the numbers, and Gary pulled the paper out of his back pocket, opening it to the financial section he rarely read.  With unpracticed eye he fumbled through the pages looking for the data, and every few seconds his eyes widened in amazement.

"Maybe we'd better compare notes.  I'm not saying you're a psychotic killer, and I'm not saying you're from the future, but I think we should go back to my place and straighten this all out."

Sam wanted to go back to hunting for their suspect, but Al suggested "Maybe he's right, Sam.  Right now he's the only lead we've got until Ziggy can locate our man again."

"All right," Sam conceded, "but I don't see what this is going to accomplish."

Gary still couldn't figure out why this wacko kept looking off in another direction and speaking to thin air, but at least he was being cooperative. Maybe Marissa could keep the nut occupied while he ran down the other loose cannon in this mystery.  The two of them walked back to their cars, each worrying about what a problem the other had become, and they drove together back to McGinty's.

Inside, the Monday dinner crowd was just picking up and the staff were all busy.  Gary led Sam upstairs and into his apartment, almost closing the door on the cat who decided to join in the party.

Sam saw the orange tabby push past and reached out a hand to pet him, but the cat raced to the middle of the room where Al was and started sniffing curiously where Al reached down with amusement.  "Hello, kitty," he crooned, "I guess you think it's strange that you can see and hear me but you can't touch or smell me.  I wish I could scratch you behind your ears, but..." As he was saying this, he wiggled his fingers over the cat's ears and the cat responded as though it could feel the touch.  It started purring and flopped down on the floor at Al's feet, obviously begging for more attention.

"What's gotten into you, cat?" Gary wondered as he saw the cat contentedly playing with absolutely nothing in the middle of the floor.  The cat was purring like crazy and arching its back the way it did when buttering up a stranger who could be coaxed into petting it. The whole scene made no sense at all.

"He can see my friend Al, but I have to admit I don't know why he's acting like he can feel the petting.  Al is just a hologram projection; he can't touch the cat at all."

"There you go about your imaginary friend again.  Buddy, you are truly certifiable."

"No, really, he can see Al.  What, do you think the cat and I are both crazy?  Hey, Al, see if you can get the cat to stand up on its hind legs or walk in a circle or something."

"I'll try, Sam, but I don't know what he's responding to... unless maybe my image is generating static electricity that he can feel like a touch.  Hey, Gooshie, throw me that spool of twine in the supply closet.  No, I don't care what color, just... thanks."  A spool of packing twine appeared in Al's hands as he caught it, and he unrolled a bit and dangled it over the cat's head.  "Here, kitty, you want to play?"

The cat needed no other invitation.  It jumped on its hind legs and batted at the twine, but of course each swipe of the claws went right through the hologram.  Confused, the cat jumped higher while Gary watched with baffled amazement.  Then Al ran the string along the floor in a circle, causing the cat to chase after it.

Gary wasn't sure what to think.  "OK, there's definitely something different about you.  Somehow you made my cat do exactly what you said it would do, and you know tomorrow's stock averages down to the hundredth of a point.  Are you really from the future, or just a terrific con artist?  And why can the cat see your imaginary friend but I can't?

"He's not an imaginary friend, I told you he's projecting a hologram of himself from our lab where I left in 1999.  He's tuned to my brain waves so only I can see or hear the image, but for some reason he's also visible to animals, very small children, and the mentally absent."

"Mentally absent?"

"That's Al's term for people who aren't quite right in their heads - senile, mentally disabled, insane... even extremely drunk people can see him sometimes."

"Why are you here?"

"It's a long story.  Originally the project was designed to allow me to go back in time within my own life.  We're not sure what we could have done with that ability once we perfected it, but we never got the chance to find out because something went wrong.  Now I leap from one point in time to another, replacing a person so that I appear to be that person whose place I took.  We think the process is guided by some intelligent, supernatural force... call it God, Time, Fate, or whatever... because each life I take over requires me to make some change for the better before I can leap out and go someplace else."

"What happens to the people you take over?"

"They're projected into the future where they stay in a waiting room until I leap out of their body and into another one.  But now it's my turn to ask:  How do you know I'm right about the stocks?"

It was also Gary's turn to feel uncomfortable about answering.  "Well, uh, I don't know if I can explain that."

"I just told you a wild tale about leaping through time into other people's bodies and you think I can't accept any explanation you have?"

"It's not that, it's just... oh, all right.  It's the paper.  For some reason a few years ago I started getting the paper a day in advance."

"Come again?"

"Look at this paper.  See the date on it?"

"So the date is wrong.  What does that have to do with anything?"

"It's not just the date.  These are the articles that will be in tomorrow's paper... unless I change them."

"Why would you want to do that?"

"I can't look at tomorrow's headlines and see there is going to be a murder or a terrible accident, and not do anything to prevent that!"

"So that's why you keep stopping me from killing that guy.  Who put you up to this?"

"I... don't know that, either.  Maybe it's God, or Time, or Fate..." - Sam chuckled at this - "but it has something to do with that cat. He shows up with the paper every morning, and has been part of it ever since I started receiving it.  He and the paper even followed me when I moved here."

"I think I see what's going on here.  My guiding force has sent me back to kill a kidnapper, and your guiding force is sending you to save him!"

"Now I understand why the paper keeps changing.  One minute it says the guy was killed, the next minute the story changes, then it's back again... we keep undoing each other's work."

"Are you sure the paper wants you to save him?  Just because it reports that he died doesn't mean he isn't supposed to die, does it?"

"No, I guess not.  But the news story never said anything about him being a kidnapper.  He's always listed as 'Unidentified'."

"That's because he has been doing this for several years and changes names constantly.  He carries no identification with him.  What does the paper say about him now?"

Gary picked up the paper and discarded the financial section, flipping back to the front page headlines.  "Oh, no!"

"What?  What happened?"
Gary showed Sam the article.  "Another child... a four-year-old.  This one was found, mutilated beyond recognition and cut into small pieces. We've got to hurry!"

"Where?  Al can help us track him down."

"At Union Park, about three miles southwest of here.  Let's go!"

"I'll see what I can find out," added Al, and he punched some buttons on the handlink and disappeared.

He returned while they were getting in the squad car.  "He's snooping around an apartment building near the park," Al said, "But he doesn't have anyone yet."

"Gary, what does the paper say?"

"He's still going to take somebody.  Hey, can you call for help?"

"Great idea.  Uh, dispatch, this is unit... 82007.  I'm in pursuit of a suspected kidnapper, requesting assistance."

"10-4, 82007.  What's your 20?"

Sam looked confused for a minute, and Gary prompted "10-20 is CB talk for location."

"I'm heading south on Ogden, suspect is in or near Union Park."

"10-4, 82007.  Assistance is on the way."

"Let's just hope that's enough," Sam said to Gary as they raced down the street.  "Talk to me, Al."

"Hang on... there he is.  Sam, he's heading towards a girl who just crossed the street into the park."  Al was in hysterics.  "Get him, Sam!  Save that little girl!"  Ever since Vietnam, Al had been terrified of the thought of small children being in danger.

The park came into view and Al urged them on:  "The south side, among those trees."

As Sam's car came to a stop along the street near the trees, two more cars pulled up on the cross street and policemen ran across to the woods to meet Sam.  He didn't wait for them, though; he sprinted ahead to the other side of the trees where he saw his suspect dragging a small child into the woods, one hand covering her mouth and the other pulling her by her hair.  Sam ran towards them, shouting "Over here! He's got a girl!"

Sam and Gary broke through the trees into the sparse woods, but they didn't see anyone.  The four other officers came rushing through the other side, and Sam held a finger to his lips to indicate silence. The six men spread out cautiously, ready to give chase in any direction.  As Sam passed a thick bush, it quivered a little.  Sam paused, and waved his arms to get the attention of the other officers. Meanwhile Al's image moved into the bush, and a few moments later he emerged.

"It's not good, Sam," he warned.  "He's got her in there with a knife to her throat.  I told her help was on the way, but she must stay very still and quiet so the man won't get scared and hurt her.  If you go in there he'll kill her, Sam.  Please be careful."  Al's voice broke a little as he fought to keep from crying.

The stalemate was broken when a shrill cry came into the woods from the apartments across the street.  "Irene?  Where are you?"  A woman broke through the trees into the woods, her face lined with worry. She ran up to the waiting police officers, blurting out "Thank God you're here.  I'm missing my daughter.  She went out to play and didn't come back when I called her, and now I can't find her anywhere. Have you seen...?" by this time one of the officers had covered her mouth and taken her back out of the woods, but the damage had been done.  The bush had started shaking violently when the woman first called out, and Sam and Gary were close enough that they could hear a fierce whisper ordering "Shut up!  Do you want me to cut you again?"

At that last remark, Al's face twisted in rage.  "Sam, if you don't find a way to kill him without hurting the little girl, I will."

Just then a German Shepherd ran through the trees, followed closely by a jogger.  "Madonna!  No!" the jogger cried out, but Al had already taken advantage of the situation.  He moved around to the other side of the bushes and pointed down, yelling "Go get 'im, girl!  Sic 'im!"

The dog obeyed beautifully and plunged in snarling.  There was a cry of pain from the man, followed by a shriek of terror from the girl, and she came scurrying out of the bushes opposite the side the dog entered and straight into Sam's arms.

Al was dancing for joy.  "You did it, Sam!  Not only have you stopped all of today's kidnappings, but he takes them to where he still has one girl held alive and confesses to another 28 unsolved disappearances.  Also, Officer Davidson is awarded the police department's highest honors and accepts a job offer from the FBI, where he devotes the rest of his career to protecting and rescuing children in danger."

The mother was already running back towards them to reclaim Irene, who was snuggled against Sam's chest whimpering.  She had a small cut on her cheek and another on her arm, but she was otherwise unharmed. That was more than could be said for the kidnapper, who was screaming for help from the dog that was still trying to tear him limb from limb.

"Well, Gary, I guess this is goodbye.  What does your paper say now?"

"What do you know, Daley wins the election!"  Gary gave Sam a "told-you-so" look as Sam laughed and handed Irene back to her mother. While he still held the girl aloft, he felt the dizzy disorientation that meant another leap was starting, and in another flash he was gone.

Email the author: pbs@canada.com
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