This is a Quantum Leap / Early Edition crossover. For Quantum Leap it takes place after "The Leap Home" and before the last episode, "Mirror Image." It takes place during the first season of Early Edition. (That's all that has been aired here so far.)
This story is not compatible with the crossover story, "And Then There Were Two," posted by Maryilee. But hers is a terrific story and if you haven't yet read it you should!
Maryilee has been kind enough to beta read this for me and she gave me a number of suggestions that made this story better, and maybe, a little more readable.
I also want to thank peregrin anna who answered endless questions for me about Early Edition and its characters.
Part 4 has possible spoilers for the Quantum Leap episode, "MIA." There are no real spoilers for Early Edition, but Part 7 has echos of conversations between Gary and Detective Crumb in "Christmas."
Quantum Leap, the characters and situations were created by Donald P. Bellisario and belong to MCA/Universal, who are not using them right now anyway.
Early Edition, the characters and situations belong to Tristar Pictures and to CBS Productions, who have been kind enough to sell rights for it to be broadcast on Israel Channel One.
No copyright infringement is intended.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
A Look in the Mirror
"You hear that? Whoever you are, whatever you
are, I'm not doing it anymore. I quit!"
Sam Beckett, Quantum-Leap: The Leap Home
"I don't want it anymore! You hear me? ... I don't
Gary Hobson, Early Edition: various episodes
The blue energy of leaping dissolved around Sam Beckett, leaving disappointment in it's wake. Each time the blue light faded, Sam hoped that *this* leap would be the one that brought him home. Once again, he found himself in a stranger's home instead.
Sam found himself advancing toward a door, his right hand stretched toward the handle to open it. Better try to get his bearings first, he thought and stopped for a quick look around him. He seemed to be alone in a large, cheap hotel room. It had an air of past glamour -- definitely past. Now the furniture, the small kitchen and bathroom were all the worse for wear. From the model of television on the dresser he guessed the year to be somewhere in the mid 1980s. Then he thought, no, the television could be old too.
A clock radio near the bed was tuned to a morning news report from Chicago. But Sam remembered picking up Chicago broadcasts from Elk Ridge, Indiana, where he grew up. This could be anywhere in the mid west, really. Had he caught the announcer saying that today was Wednesday morning? He wasn't sure, and besides, without a date or year it did him little good.
Sam's thoughts were interrupted by a loud meowing from out in the hall. He turned back to the door and, this time, opened it. An orange tabby cat sat on a newspaper just outside. The cat gave him a surprised look and slipped inside the room while Sam stooped to pick up the paper. Then Sam realized that he had opened the door, wearing only the boxer shorts and the tee shirt he must have slept in. "Oh boy." He dodged back into the room grateful that no one had seen him.
He tossed the paper on a table and hurriedly pulled on the jeans he found draped over a chair. He couldn't find a shirt until he glanced out one of the windows. On the roof outside, he saw shirts hanging on the clothesline. He climbed out the window, retrieved a shirt and put it on, too. Standing on the roof, Sam could see that his hotel was indeed in a large city that could well be Chicago. That was something to go on. He climbed back into the room and sat down at the table to take a look at the newspaper. Yes, Chicago. The paper was the Chicago Sun-Times and it was dated Thursday, November 7, 1996.
The paper was a stroke of luck, Sam thought. To know the location and the exact date of his leap before he met any people gave him an advantage. But Sam had no memory of the year 1996, not because of his swiss-cheesed brain, but because he had started leaping the year before. Reading the paper might fill in some gaps.
Before he could start reading, a knock on the door interrupted him.
"Hey, Gar, open up," a man's voice called from outside in the hall.
Sam went over, with the paper tucked under his arm, and opened the door to his visitor. The man appeared to be in his mid thirties, thin, with a sharp face, and a several inches shorter than Sam. Sam could see that he had his own copy of the Sun-Times sticking out of a jacket pocket. "Good morning, Gar. I see it came."
"What came?" asked Sam.
"The paper," replied his guest with an air of affected patience, as if they had been through this several times before. "Let me have the sports section this once, big guy? I promise I'll never ask you for anything again."
"You want my sports section? Why?" Sam asked, confused. "Doesn't your paper have sports?"
"All right, be that way, Gar. If you change your mind call me, okay? I'm late for work." Sam's visitor hurried away again.
Sam returned to the room, wondering what that was all about. He sat down again at the table to read.
But another knock sounded before he could so much as open the paper. "Gary!" A woman's voice this time. "It's Marissa. Remember, you invited me over for breakfast?"
Sam made his way back to the hallway door. This time he opened it to young African-American woman with a German shepherd dog.
"Anything special this morning?" the woman asked as she and her dog stepped into the room.
"Special?" Sam repeated, not understanding.
"In the paper," she explained.
Sam wanted to ask why everyone was so interested in his newspaper, but before he could get the words out the German shepherd barred his teeth at him and growled.
"What's got into you, Spike?" The woman scolded, "It's just Gary. Or is there someone here with you, Gary?"
"Uh, Sam, we need to talk." Al appeared suddenly in front of him. "Before you talk to her." He looked the woman over appreciatively. "Not that I'd mind talking to her, not a bit. But you and I need to talk first."
"Gary, is there someone with you?" the woman asked him again.
"I, unh, Marissa, " Sam faltered. At least she had been kind enough to give him her name. "I have to go." He started to hand her the paper. "Look, why don't you begin reading and I'll be out in a few min..." Sam wound to a halt as he noticed that Marissa's German shepherd wore the harness of a guide dog for the blind. As quietly as possible, he drew back his hand . "I, unh, -- I'm sorry, Marissa, I forgot."
"Forgot I'm blind?! Gary, tell me what's wrong!
"Just sit down at the table, please, Marissa.
I'll be with you in a couple of minutes." Sam took refuge in the bathroom,
shutting the door firmly behind him.
Al walked through the closed bathroom door to join Sam.
"Can't you find a better place to talk?" he grumbled.
Sam ignored this.
"Do you know why I'm here? I know my name's Gary and ..."
"Gary Hobson," Al read off his handlink, "former stockbroker, now unemployed, recently divorced from his wife, Marcia. You're in the city of ..."
"I'm in Chicago, Al," said Sam, pleased to have figured it out for himself.
"Oh, you recognized it. To be precise you're at the old Blackstone Hotel and the date is..."
"November 7th, 1996," Sam informed him in the same satisfied tone.
"Close, Sam, but it's November 6th."
"That's not possible. I saw the date in this morning's newspaper. The Chicago Sun-Times."
"You sure, Sam?"
Sam held out the paper, "Look for yourself."
Al did look and rechecked his handlink. "Ziggy's messing around with her calendar program again. Wait till I get my hands on that hybrid pile of microchips!" He checked the date on his own watch too. "Well, she has our date at the Project right. July 7th, 1999."
"Al, you had something important to tell me. Something about Marissa?" Sam prompted him.
"Yes, Marissa Clark," Al read from the handlink, "Psychology student and receptionist at Strauss and Associates, the stock brokerage where Gary used to work. Sam, she gets shot this evening on her way home from work. An escaped convict is going to shoot into a crowd of pedestrians."
"And I'm here to save her."
"No. She isn't killed. She arrives at Columbia General in critical condition, winds up staying there 3 months and has to repeat a year of studies. But, she's okay now. The thing is, in the original history, Gary sets out right before it happens. Like he knows what's going to happen and tries to stop it. He gets there just in time to catch a bullet in his head and, Sam -- Gary dies. Ziggy gives 87.3 per cent odds that you're here to keep Gary from going after Marissa."
"Al, if Marissa is seriously injured, I should try to stop her from getting shot."
"Didn't you hear me? Ziggy says you're here for Gary, not Marissa. Gary does try to help her and all that happens is he gets himself killed. It doesn't change what happens to Marissa."
"How does Gary know where to find her?"
"Well, that's something we don't understand. But Gary has an uncanny knack of predicting the future a few hours ahead."
Al shook his head. "Ziggy says he shows no sign of psychic abilities."
"Al, he's not a leaper is he?"
"Not a leaper, either, Sam. But there are police reports indicating he knew about bank robberies and other incidents before they happened. It's led to a number of confrontations with the police. So far, Ziggy says he's never been charged with anything."
"Ziggy has nothing on how he knew where and when Marissa would be shot?
Al shook his head again. "Maybe I'll know more after
I talk to him. Just don't leave this hotel room, Sam. Then Gary won't get
killed and you'll probably leap out by tonight." Al pressed the button to
the Imaging Chamber door and disappeared.
Gary Hobson looked around in confusion at the large blue room. He had been on his way to get the paper from the hallway, as usual, when suddenly he found himself here.
*On his way to get the paper.*
That must be it, he thought. This morning, whatever it was that brought the paper to him, had, instead, brought him to the place the paper came from, to Newspaper Land as Chuck called it. Well, good! Gary was ready to give a piece of his mind to whatever it was that brought him the paper.
A small, wiry man in a red sports jacket and string tie entered the room. He appeared to be in his late fifties and he looked at Gary as if getting ready to say something.
Gary wasted no time walking over to him.
"Excuse me, is this the future?"
The man's eyebrow shot up in surprise.
"How did you...?"
"Well, I don't want it anymore! You hear me? I quit!"
This time the man's jaw fell open. Then he seemed to recover a bit.
"Just hold on there, Mr. Hobson. Your brain must have merged with Sam's. I'll get Dr. Beeks to see you."
"Who's Sam?" Gary demanded.
But the man had already gone and returned with a psychiatrist. She placed electrodes on Gary's forehead to measure his brain waves, finding no trace of the merging that her colleague suspected.
The man shrugged at him apologetically. "I'm sorry, Mr. Hobson... Gary, isn't it? But you sounded so much like Sam that I... What is it you don't want anymore, Gary?"
"You should know. You're the ones who send it to me."
With Al gone, Sam took a few moments to look in the bathroom mirror. His eyes met those of a man, about his own height and perhaps a decade younger. Gary's reflection had thick dark hair and large eyes, darker than Sam's, but with the same soulful expression that Al sometimes complained about. "Don't give me those puppy dog eyes, Sam." Sam knew how to use the soulful look to his advantage when he needed to. It was a shame he couldn't try it on Marissa.
Still, it could not be put off any longer. Sam came out of the bathroom and went over to the table to face her.
"Gary, are you going to tell me what's going on!?"
"Gary, tell me!"
"I, unh, don't feel well this morning. It's my stomach. I think I'll go back to bed, Marissa."
It worked. Marissa became concerned and stopped demanding explanations that Sam couldn't give her. She felt for Sam's forehead to see if he had a fever. Sam thought she felt a bit more of his face than was necessary, as if she were trying to make certain that he really was Gary, and not an impostor.
Apparently, Marissa was satisfied with his face. "You don't have fever, Gary, but, the way you're behaving I think you *are* sick. I'm sorry I can't stay with you today."
"Stay here, Marissa. Please." Sam urged her, hoping it would be that easy. If he could get both Marissa and Gary to stay safely at the Blackstone all day, then neither one of them would meet up with the escaped convict's gun.
"I wish I could, but I have my developmental midterm this morning. It's a make up exam. I missed the first one because of the paper. And if I don't get to the firm this afternoon, I'm apt to be fired." In spite of her words Marissa seemed to be weighing the idea of putting both her job and her studies at risk in order to stay with him.
Sam supposed he didn't seem quite ill enough for her to do that. Instead she helped him get settled in bed and brought him a cup of tea. "I'll try to call when I get to work and I'll come here afterwards to check on you."
If he couldn't get her to stay with him, Sam thought, then he had better try something else. "Marissa?"
"Marissa, I was wondering what route you usually take, when you leave work."
Marissa seemed puzzled by the question. "I go down Michigan Avenue and then take the L."
"Well, why don't you go down a different street today, give yourself and Spike a change of scene?"
"Gary, is there something you aren't telling me? Something you read in the paper?"
"The paper, why?" Sam asked, baffled at the way people kept returning to the subject, "I haven't even had a chance to read it yet."
Marissa checked her Braille watch. "And *I* don't
have time to read it with you now. I'm late for my exam. But tonight I want
to hear exactly what this is all about." She called her dog and they left
the hotel room.
"You say this place is called the Waiting Room?" Gary asked the man who had come in to talk to him.
"And your name is Al?"
"And you're telling me this *is* the future, but you have nothing to do with the paper?"
Al smiled at the question, "We don't talk much about what we do. The Project is classified. But one thing we are *not* is a newspaper delivery service."
"It's not an ordinary newspaper."
"You told me. You get it a day early. What I didn't catch is why you insist you don't want it."
"Want to know why? I'll tell you why!" Gary pointed his finger for emphasis. "Because I'm shackled to it! It keeps me from having a normal life. I want a normal life, I want a wife and kids."
"You were divorced a few weeks ago," Al commented.
"I loved Marcia." Gary couldn't keep the hurt out of his voice.
"Well, I loved Beth," said Al.
"She kicked me out," said Gary, "She dumped my suitcase into the street."
"I was a prisoner of war in 'Nam," Al continued, "but I was listed MIA ..."
"I loved Marcia, Al, and she kicked me out on our anniversary."
"I loved Beth the way I've never loved any woman again. When I came home, she had gotten me declared dead so she could marry some nozzle of a lawyer."
"Marcia's a lawyer."
"Well, that figures. Lawyers!" Al spat out the word.
"I'm sorry, Al, you had it rough," Gary commiserated, "You should understand, then."
"Oh, I'm an expert on divorce," Al told him "Beth was only the first one." Gary heard the hint of bitterness and waited, but Al did not elaborate. "Weren't we talking about your newspaper?"
"You want to talk about the paper? Fine! You know what it's like? Knowing all the bad things that are gonna happen to people, and feeling you have to try to stop them."
"I think I can safely say that I do," said Al.
Gary looked at him.
"Let's just say I have a friend in that line of work."
"Well, I don't need this. I want my own life back."
"Know what I think?" said Al, "I think that you do have your own life."
"Tell me one thing. When you look in the mirror, do you see your see your own face or a stranger's?"
Gary wasn't following. "What do you mean?" he asked.
"My friend, Sam, has been leaping in time for four years now" Al explained, "I can talk to him, but only as a hologram. Sam's like you, has to fix every little thing that goes wrong or he can't live with himself. The difference is he looks like whoever he leaps into. Sam hasn't seen his own face in the mirror or had his own name in years. We're trying to bring him home and we aren't even sure that we can."
"Okay, your friend has it worse. I still don't want this."
"Well, Sam and I would love to be in your place. To be together, not just as holograms. I'd give anything if I could to pull Sam out of danger when I need to. Hell, I'd just like to high five without my hand going through his."
"But..." Gary fell into a pensive silence. It had never occurred to him that having his own face could be a privilege, or taking Marissa's arm, or Chuck giving him a clap on the shoulder.
He suddenly remembered the message from Lucius Snow. "Live your life." The message was not for someone like Al's friend. Sam had to live bits and pieces of other people's lives instead of his own. The message was for him, Gary.
"Hey, Al," he asked, "how did you know what to say?"
"Well, I have a lot of experience. Sam gets this way, too, sometimes. Uh, Gary?"
Gary waited for him to go on.
"I think you should know. Sam and I tried one time, but we couldn't change what happened with Beth, what she did to me. Gary, some things can't be changed, even if you know the future."
Gary didn't answer for a minute. "Yeah," he breathed out, finally, with a sigh.
Then Al was paged by someone called Gooshie and
he ran out, leaving Gary alone in the Waiting Room.
Sam's stomach ache was just a ruse, in fact, he had come through the leap feeling hungry. He waited a safe interval of time after Marissa's departure and then got out of bed again. He still hoped to save her from the shooting, but he had time to figure out how. Al had said it wouldn't happen until tonight.
He wandered into the kitchen to look for breakfast, almost tripping over the cat's bowls on the floor. The cat had slipped out again, but Sam filled the food and water bowls in case it should decide to come back. Then he fixed himself some coffee and cereal and took them to the table. The newspaper was still there. It looked as if he might finally have the chance to read it.
When he opened the paper, the national news caught Sam's attention first. It was nearly all about the 1996 elections. This was the first time Sam had heard of Clinton's re-election. It was the first real newspaper he had seen from the time after he started leaping, and he read it eagerly, just to catch up.
It wasn't until later that he turned his attention to local Chicago news. That was when he came upon the photo of Marissa. "Escaped Convict Shoots into Crowd," read the headline and under that, "Local Student in Critical Condition." It was strange, but Sam felt certain that the photo and article had not been there when he flipped quickly through the paper earlier. Sam was seldom mistaken about something like that. His memory was too good.
And how could the article about Marissa be in this morning's paper, anyway, when if wasn't supposed to happen until tonight? It couldn't have happened last evening, Sam thought. He had just seen Marissa and talked to her a few hours ago and, except for her suspicions about Sam's behavior, she was fine.
Sam tried to think it through. According to Ziggy, the date today should be November 6th, not the 7th as listed in the paper. It was possible that Ziggy had the date wrong, as Al suspected, but that didn't explain how the paper could report an event that had not yet happened. Could it be that it was the paper, not Ziggy, that had the wrong date?
It didn't seem possible and yet... there was the fact that Al said Gary had a knack for predicting the future even though he was not a psychic. In the original history, Gary had set out to try to help Marissa and he knew exactly where to go. Sam had to accept the possibility that, somehow, Gary received his newspaper a day early.
"Sam, there's something you need to know," Al appeared again, waving his handlink. "I found out how Gary predicts the future. You may not believe this, Sam, but..."
"That's all right, Al, I just figured it out."
"Oh? How did you guess?"
"The paper has a story about Marissa for one thing, And there was the problem of the date being a day off. Anyway, Al, that's how Gary knew where to find Marissa tonight."
"Now, Sam, remember that Gary got killed in the original history. If you try to save Marissa, Ziggy gives 84.2 percent odds that you're the one who's going to get killed.
"But, Al, why did Gary go after her in the first place? Why didn't he just call and warn her? Marissa would have believed him. I talked to her this morning and I'm sure she knows about the paper. I was the one who didn't know about it yet."
"I think maybe Gary was busy, Sam, and didn't see that article until later."
"Busy? Busy doing what?"
"Well, what would you be busy doing if you got tomorrow's paper, Sam?"
Sam considered it. "You mean that Gary reads through the paper and then tries to change things for the better, don't you? Like us, except he..."
"I know what you must be thinking, Sam. You're thinking how much easier Gary has it than you do."
"Well, all he has to do is collect the paper outside his own door. No leaping. No trying to figure out who he is or what year he's in. Gary does have it easier, Al."
Al didn't contradict him.
"But remember one thing, Sam. Gary didn't step into an accelerator before his experiment was ready. He did nothing. The paper just showed up at his door one morning and now..."
"I get the point, Al." Sam cut him off. "I guess I'd better read the paper again and pay careful attention this time. No, first I'm going to call Marissa."
Al's doubt showed on his face.
"Don't be too upset if that doesn't work, Sam." He fingered the buttons on his handlink, then thought better of it. "I know what you want to do, but remember, Ziggy is still giving high odds that you're here to keep Gary from getting killed. You're not here to save Marissa. Just don't leave this hotel, Sam!"
Al punched the buttons that made him disappear,
leaving Sam no chance to argue.
"Strauss and Associates," an unfamiliar receptionist picked up on the other end.
Sam asked to talk to Marissa.
"Ms. Clark will be in at 2:00, in about 15 minutes. Who shall I say is calling?
"Er, please tell her to call Gary, uh, Hobson," Sam answered.
"I'm sorry, sir, I can't do that. Mr. Pritchard is not allowing Ms. Clark or Mr. Fishman to accept any more calls from you. He says you're a disruptive influence on them."
"Ma'am, this is an emergency!" Sam shouted into the phone.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Hobson. This morning, Mr. Pritchard started monitoring all our phone calls." The receptionist hung up before Sam could get in another word.
Gary obviously had problems with his former boss, Sam thought, as he put down the phone. He had no idea why Gary had stopped working at the brokerage firm, but he didn't have time to think about it now. He had to find a way to warn Marissa.
He wondered if he ought to call the police. Al had said that Gary already had a number of confrontations with them. He didn't know whether he could get them to take him seriously. Probably not, but he thought he had better try.
Sam reached for the receiver, ready to call, when the phone rang and startled him. He answered it instead.
"Hey, Gar, how you doing? Marissa says you're not feeling well." It was the voice of Sam's first visitor of the morning, the man who stayed for only a few minutes before Marissa arrived. In the confusion that followed, Sam had forgotten to ask Al for his name.
"Uh, who is this?" he asked uncomfortably.
"It's me. Chuck." The caller sounded exasperated that Sam did not recognize his voice. "I call you on my break because Pritchard won't let us talk to you from the office and you have to ask who I am?"
"Chuck Fishman?" asked Sam, guessing the second name the receptionist had mentioned.
"Which other Chuck were you expecting, Gar?"
Sam thought back to their earlier conversation and remembered that Chuck had asked to borrow the sports section.
"You know about the paper, don't you, Chuck?" he blurted out before he thought how that would sound to Gary's friend.
"Jeez, Gar, what's with the old noggin? I'm the one who chased after the garbage truck with you the first day! No wonder Marissa says you're acting strange."
"I, uh, I'm sorry," said Sam, "But I think I need your help. Marissa is going to be shot this evening."
"That was in the paper?"
"Yes. Yes it was." Sam told him, glad to have Chuck believe the prediction.
"That why you flipped, because something's going to happen to Marissa?"
Sam accepted the excuse for his strange behavior. "She gets shot by an escaped convict at approximately 6:10 tonight on Michigan Avenue. I tried to call and warn her, but..."
"I hate to ask this, Gar, but have you talked to Crumb?"
"Crumb?" Sam repeated, hoping Chuck would give him some hint as to who that was.
"Okay, so he doesn't exactly get out the welcome mat when he sees you coming. He'd still be more help to you than I would."
Sam said nothing, still hoping for more information.
"Listen, Gar, I have to get back to work. I'll try to warn Marissa for you, but go see Crumb, okay?" Chuck hung up again.
Who in the world was Crumb, Sam wondered. Why wasn't Al around to tell him?
Sam tried looking at the paper again, hoping for a clue. There was no mention of anyone named Crumb. But since he knew about the paper this time, he read all the articles with a new understanding. It wasn't difficult to guess how Gary would have spent the day.
First, there was the high school honor student caught shoplifting. The girl would get probation, most likely, but Sam thought Gary would try to talk her out of it, to keep her from getting in trouble at all. It was the same with the $23.19 stolen from a drug store cash register, the same with the minor traffic accidents. Nothing life threatening, but enough to keep Gary busy for several hours. Especially if the story about the convict had not been in the paper when he first glanced through it that morning.
Sam had noticed that one or two of the other headlines changed without warning, too. If the article about the Marissa did not even appear until Gary was away on his other jobs, it explained why he didn't see it until too late to call for help. So in the original history, Gary himself had gone to try to save his friend and, as Al kept reminding him, Gary got killed.
If Sam had known about the paper earlier, he would have tried to help the other people too. But it was too late to do anything for them, now.
He turned his face upward. "Did you want me to know about the paper before it was too late or didn't you?" he asked whoever or whatever was controlling the leaps, "Well, no matter what Al and Ziggy say, I can't believe *you* don't want me to rescue Marissa."
When Sam looked down again, there was the orange cat, sitting on top of the newspaper on the table.
"That's funny I didn't see you come in," Sam reached down to stroke the cat, but it shied away from his hand. "It's okay, cat, I didn't move in here. I'm just taking your real person's place for a little while."
The cat meowed and batted its paw at the photo of Marissa.
It was already getting later, almost five o'clock. If he didn't act fast, it would be too late to help Marissa as well.
Remembering the poor success with his earlier attempts on the phone, Sam decided to disregard Al's exhortation. The police might take him more seriously in person.
He knew Al would be upset with him for leaving the
hotel -- if he found out about it. Well, it wouldn't be the first time. With
luck he could convince the police to recapture the convict and then he could
return to the Blackstone without further involvement. Sam located the nearest
police station by looking in the phone book. He hope he would think of something
plausible to say when he got there.
A short walk later, Sam turned and headed into the fourth district station of the Chicago Police Department. He had planned to talk to whoever was at the desk, but he changed his mind when he noticed the name, Detective Zeke Crumb, on a wall sign. It had to be the same person that Chuck wanted him to go see. He found the right door, knocked and entered the room.
"You again!" The heavy set, grey haired detective looked anything but delighted to see him. For the first time, Sam thought that perhaps Gary did not have it so much easier, after all. At least Sam always knew he would leap out once he had accomplished whatever it was that he was supposed to do. He didn't have to keep facing the same people who thought him crazy for predicting the future.
"So, what is it this time? Little green Martians?" the detective continued sarcastically.
Sam explained as best he could about the escaped convict who would shoot into the crowd on Michigan Avenue.
"And you know this because....?" Detective Crumb asked and then, as if he had thought better of it, continued, "No, you can't say because if you did I wouldn't believe you."
"No, I guess you wouldn't," Sam agreed, thinking that the detective had no idea just *how* difficult it would be to believe him.
"All right, let's go," ordered the detective.
"I'm afraid I don't understand," Sam faltered.
"Come on, we're taking a little trip to Michigan Avenue."
"I, uh, can't," said Sam, "I promised a friend I'd wait for him at the Blackstone Hotel."
"Who's that? Fishburger?"
"I think you mean Fishman," Sam corrected him.
"No, it's, uh, a different friend, you wouldn't have met him. But I have to get back to..."
"Now, you look here, Hobson. You're coming with me. Want to know why? You're coming with me so that if this `escaped convict' doesn't show, I can make sure you end up in a padded cell. Which happens to be where you belong!"
Sam found himself sympathizing more and more with Gary. Except for this one time, Gary was stuck here. He never got to leap out.
"You really never use the paper for personal gain?" Al had come into the Waiting Room again to talk with Gary.
"You sound like this friend of mine called Chuck," Gary answered, "It doesn't work that way."
"You don't even own a car? You go off to `save the world' using public transportation?"
"I take taxis when I need to."
"But couldn't you win just enough bets to buy yourself a car? Think how much quicker you could get to the scene of disaster."
"You try parking in Chicago lately, Al?"
Al had to admit that he hadn't.
"I'm telling you the paper doesn't work that way," Gary repeated.
Al excused himself to go bring a snack and returned a few minutes later with microwave popcorn and lite beer for both of them. He had somehow gotten the idea that this would make Gary feel better, though Gary didn't understand why.
But when they starting drinking the beer and nibbling popcorn, Gary was surprised to find that he did feel better. It was almost as if the Waiting Room interlude was a vacation from the cares and tension caused by the paper. It was a chance to just relax and talk.
"My fourth ... no, it was my third wife, Ruthie, had the best ... potato knishes," Al was reminising, "Great potato pancakes, too."
"Marcia used to make me blueberry pancakes," said Gary.
You're a good kid," Al commented, "I tell Sam that he has a lot of boy scout in him. I think you do too, Gary."
Gary smiled briefly. "Chuck calls me cub scout."
Al smiled too. "You're younger than Sam, you know. Here, want to see what Sam looks like?" he asked and showed Gary the mirrored surface of a table in the room.
Gary looked in the mirror. The man he saw was indeed a few years older, with a white streak in his hair, hazel eyes and a prominent chin. It was a pleasant enough face, but it wasn't Gary's. Looking at it gave him an unsettled feeling.
"Don't worry, kid," Al assured him, "you'll be going home to your own time soon. You'll have your proper reflection again."
With that, Al gave Gary a friendly tap on the shoulder and headed out of the Waiting Room.
"Hey, Al," Gary called afer him, "I hope your friend
gets home soon, too."
Detective Crumb and his men staked out their positions along the block on Michigan Avenue, the detective keeping a firm grip on Sam. They waited tensely for the convict to appear, but Sam could sense that the detective was not taking his prediction very seriously. He peered up and down the block himself, hoping he would be able to recognize the dangerous man and sound a warning before anyone got hurt.
"Sam! Duck! Now, Sam!" Al appeared suddenly, shouting to him frantically.
Sam pulled the detective down with him, and the shot wizzed over their heads. Detective Crumb let go his grip on Sam to chase after the criminal. His other men ran in from their positions to cover him.
As Sam backed away from the scene, the headline in the newspaper changed. Now it read, "Escaped Convict Apprehended by Police" and under that, "Possible Tragedy Avoided" Sam glanced at it, smiling to himself.
Then he turned to look for Al. "I'm sorry, Al," he began, "but I just couldn't stay at the Black..."
"It's okay, Sam, you did it." Al informed him, reading from the handlink. "Now Gary and Marissa don't get shot. No one does."
"Oh, I already know that, Al."
You know? How?"
"I read it in the paper," Sam replied and grinned at his friend.
At that moment the blue energy of leaping surrounded him. As always, Sam hoped that *this* time the leap would take him home.
"...Thursday morning here in Chicago..."
Gary woke up with only vague memories of everything that had happened the day before. Something about Marissa being in danger, and yet he knew it was okay, she wasn't hurt.
He had an inexplicable need to look at himself in the mirror. Gary got out of bed and went into the bathroom, unable to understand the comfort he felt at seeing his own face. For some reason the feeling of isolation didn't weigh on him today, the way it had since he started to get the paper. He didn't know why, but he no longer felt quite so alone.
The cat meowed and Gary knew it was time for him
to open the door.
Email the author: Rakefet