Quantum Backstep Part 3

By: Robin Margolin

 

 

Previously:

A double leap of a different kind finds Leaper Sam Beckett leaping into Chrononaut Frank Parker where they both realize they have the same goal: Keep Project Quantum Leap from being destroyed and find the person responsible.

 

 

 

CHAPTER 16

 

In the Imaging Chamber, Al had Sammy Jo bring him back inside the bar while he checked on Frank. The current performer was destroying a wonderful song by doing a truly awful rendition of it. Al touched Frank’s arm and pointed out the performer. “Sam will do a better job than that guy. So if you’re worried about your reputation, don’t.” the admiral said encouragingly.

Frank pulled himself together and checked out the performer. “He’s not so bad,” Frank said about the performer.

Misunderstanding who the comment was about, Al agreed, “He’s not so bad.”

The next group of singers was beginning the spiritual “Operator” as Frank began to check out the ‘scenery’ at the tables. Laughter brought his attention to a large table in the corner of the room. About a dozen people in their 20’s were partying together, the men outnumbered the women three to one. Frank brought Al’s attention to the table and they walked closer. The group seemed to be in a discussion about which one’s boss was the worst to work for. All the women at the table were lovely. The first one to catch Al’s eye was Asian or Polynesian with long dark hair, jet black eyes and a Marilyn Monroe figure. The second woman at the table was a tall African-American with short natural hair. Her deep creamy chocolate skin was set off perfectly by the pale yellow of her cotton top that stretched just so wonderfully across her bosom. 

“Are you sure they can’t see us?” Frank whispered to Al. 

“Or hear us either so you don’t have to whisper,” answered Al.  “That’s one of the perks of being a hologram.”

Wistfully Frank reach out to touch the long dark hair of the first woman. His hand passed right through her head. 

“And that is one of the problems.” Al added.

Both men laid eyes on the remaining woman at the table and gasped. Frank was practically eating the woman with his eyes from her long legs to her tiny waist and full breasts right up to the deep red curls on her head. While Al always appreciated beauty, he definitely didn’t like the way Parker was eyeing this woman. Then she lit a cigarette and Al realized that he had almost made the same mistake he had made a few years ago. This was not Tina, his Tina, but her sister, Delilah.

“Wow” Frank didn’t realize he had spoken aloud. Then a look of confusion crossed his face. “I’ve seen her somewhere before,” he said to Al.

Al gave a quick snorted laugh, “Yeah, in your dreams, kid.”

“No, Al. I’m serious. I’ve seen her somewhere before,” insisted Frank. “I just can’t place it right now, but I will.”

“Sure, whatever.” Al dismissed the thought.

Elvis the emcee was back to introduce the next performer, Nate Ramsey. Frank Parker spun around to face the stage so fast he almost knocked Admiral Calavicci over. 

“Someone you know?” Al asked.

Parker was grinning ear to ear. “This is going to be sweet,” Frank said. “I’ll be able to lord this over him for a month,” he gloated.

The music began, a 25-year-old country tune made famous by Mac Davis, and Nate began to sing. “Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way.” That was when Frank Parker lost it. Laughter overtook him so hard he lost physical contact with Al.  The bar disappeared and Frank found himself back in the Imaging Chamber at Stallion’s Gate, laughing his face off.

 

**************

 

 

Stallion’s Gate

 

Frank Parker had recovered from his giggle-fit, at least enough to walk, and was escorted by Dr. Sammy Jo Fuller back to the waiting room under his own power.   Just before shutting down the Imaging Chamber, Al Calavicci centered in on Sam and told him that he’d catch up with him later. As he went through the Control Center, Ziggy reminded the admiral that Chief Reed was still waiting to speak with him. Al checked Reed’s location and went directly there.

 

*******

 

Socorro, Backstep HQ

 

Having returned from making amends with his former student, Isaac Mentnor went back to work with Bradley Talmadge on a suspect list. No one was jumping off the computer screen and shouting, “I’m a bomber” at them. At 2200 they shelved the work until the morning.

 

 

Karaoke Bar

 

Sam noted the increase in size of the crowd as he came back in. The dining room had not one empty table and the bar was packed four deep. Surprisingly, John Ballard was in that four deep throng at the bar in the company of three blondes. John raised a glass to Sam as he walked past on his way back to the table.

“Where were you, Mr. Parker?” Olga inquired of Sam as he reclaimed his seat at the table.

“You missed my performance, Parker,” Nate complained.

“Ah, gee, Ramsey, I’m heartbroken,” Sam sarcastically replied. “I saw John found ‘other’ entertainment at the bar,” he added in a neutral tone.

“Par for the course,” Ramsey answered matter-of-factly.

A couple on stage was doing a very bad Sonny and Cher imitation. The crowd loved them anyway. The rapidly firing synapses in the genius mind of Sam Beckett were still working on picking a song to sing. The duet reminded him of another duet, one by Barbra and Neil that was on an album that Katie played over and over ad nauseum one summer when he was home on a break from school. There was another song on the album; a song Katie liked but said had been done better. Sam scanned the music menu again. ‘Good, it’s there’ he thought. Sam wrote down his selection and flagged a waitress to give it to.

After ‘Sonny and Cher’ left the stage, the parade of performers continued. A young man sang “Peggy Sue” reminding Sam of the gentle boy who worked at the Veterinary Clinic after school. Another man sang “Smoke gets in your Eyes” and after a few country tunes, a thirtyish man sang the King Thunder hit “Rock the Redhead”. Sam sorta remembered having sung both “Smoke” and “Redhead” but the memories were very blurry.

“… came from her table.” Nate Ramsey was saying.

“What?” Sam questioned.

“The rocker up there came from her table,” Nate repeated, the word ‘her’ dripping with disdain.

“Whose table?”

“The little tease from Quantum Leap, Dr. Martinez-O’Farrell. She’s sitting right over there with that group,” Ramsey indicated the large table in the right corner of the room.

“Now really, Nate.” Olga began to chide him. “I heard you practically dragged that woman off to ‘interrogate her’.”

“Salivating all the way I’m sure,” Sam added dryly. He was looking at the large group in the right corner. He recognized no faces at that table as being PQL personnel and neither of the two women at the table resembled Tina.

Time passed and more singers sang, some were actually quite good. Elvis appeared between performers doing intros and jokes. 

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I have been told that the next performer has changed her mind.” The crowd called out a huge “Aawwe”. Elvis put up his hands to stop them. “She has decided to do a more upbeat number.” The crowd cheered. Again Elvis put up his hands for quiet. “We just need a moment to cue the tape.” A beat of silence passed, then Elvis began his intro, “OK, let’s put our hands together and show a little ‘Respect’ for Bobbie Finklestein.”

 Instantly recognizable Motown music filled the room as the large nurse Sam had comforted outside took the stage. Sam was glad she had decided to do the song he suggested. She sang out strong and sure, picking faces out of the crowd to sing a phrase or two to. Although her pitch wasn’t always on, she strutted and shimmied commandingly on and off the stage. In the middle of the song, she shimmied up to Sam’s table. He smiled radiantly at her, conveying his pride in her courage. But she did not come over to him. Instead she put her ample bosom right in Nathan Ramsey’s face as she spelled it out for him. “R*E*S*P*E*C*T, find out what it means to me.” She turned away from his reddening face with a bump of her hip and flirted with the next man in her sight. The entire room was clapping along in rhythm.  When she returned to the stage and finished, she received a standing ovation, begun by Sam Beckett. During the ovation Nate made a beeline for the men’s room.

As they sat down Sam turned to Olga and asked, “What’s with Ramsey?”

She smiled brightly at him and said, “He’s probably embarrassed.” Sam questioned her with his eyes. “Earlier this evening, he made a comment about her … ah… appearance when she sang back up for a friend.”

“So he’s the jerk,” Sam replied under his breath. Olga caught the comment anyway and questioned him with her eyes. Sam chose to leave the question unanswered and directed Olga’s attention to the next performer on the stage.

As Nate made his way back to the table he ran in to John Ballard at the bar. Ballard commented about it being ‘pumpkin time’ for him and asked Nate to make his good-byes to Frank and Olga for him. Nate agreed and watched his coworker and friend wheel out the door with the three blondes. Shaking his head he returned to Parker and Vukovitch. 

“So, Parker, when is it your turn?” Nate said as he sat down.

“Whenever they call, I guess,” Sam answered with a shrug and another long draw from his beer.

Elvis was back. “Our next performer is a newcomer to our stage. Lets give it up for Frank Parker.”

“I guess it’s now,” Sam said as he stood and walked onto the stage.

Olga’s forehead began to tense as her body prepared for the assault her ears were expecting.   Frank Parker is a multitalented individual but singing is NOT one of his fortes.

The music began and violins filled the air. Soft sleigh bells began a faster tempo than Sam had remembered but he began to sing anyway. “I may not always love you, But long as there are stars above you, You never need to doubt it, I’ll make you so sure about it. God only knows what I’d be without you.”

Most of Olga Vukovitch’s fears melted away as she watched and listened to Frank sing. He had chosen a song written and recorded by her favorite group, the Beach Boys, and was doing it rather well. Whatever was going on with him, he was sending her a message that he would be all right.

 

CHAPTER 17

 

Stallion’s Gate

 

Sammy Jo Fuller walked with Frank Parker to the Waiting Room in silence.   She was always a bit cautious with Guests at first meeting. This Guest seemed to be in a world of his own, perhaps processing what had happened to him in the Imaging Chamber.

Frank Parker was racking his slightly swiss-cheesed brain trying to remember where he’d seen the redhead from the bar. The silence in the hallways was a welcome change from the noisy bar he’d just come from.

“Here we are,” Sammy Jo said as they approached to Waiting Room. She used her card key to open the door.

“Thanks.” Frank stepped into the room. When Sammy Jo didn’t follow him in he turned to her and asked, “Aren’t you going to tuck me in? Dr. Beeks always does.”

“No, I’ve got work to do with Ziggy yet tonight,” Sammy Jo stated.

“Ziggy?!” Frank exclaimed. “I thought that was the Admiral’s nickname for you.”

Sammy Jo was surprised. “Ziggy is our Hybrid-super-computer. I’m merely a Ph.D. Would you like to speak directly with Ziggy...?”

“No, no,” Frank cut her off. “I’ve had as much contact with self-aware computers as I want in this lifetime.” He shot Sammy Jo the ‘Parker smile’. “I’ll just say good night then Dr. Fuller.”

“Good night,” Sammy Jo said as she closed the door and locked the Waiting Room down for the night.

 

***************

Karaoke Bar

 

The Backstep trio at the Karaoke bar was calling it a night. Olga and Sam were heading out the door for some fresh air while Nate paid the bill with the company credit card. As they passed through the bar area Sam saw what he thought was Tina with one of the women from the table Nate had pointed out earlier. He had to stop himself from greeting her with open arms, the brilliant but ditzy redhead was always one of his favorite people at the Project, but she wouldn’t recognize him with Frank’s face.

The air outside was bracing, the desert having cooled down without the sun shining. A conversation drew their attention.

“I can’t believe it took you so long to get dressed. Honestly, Gooshie, it’s not like this is a date or anything,” Tina Martinez-O’Farrell whined at her companion.

“I . . . I did not have a whole lot of warning,” Irving Gershowitz shot back, equally whiny. “I’ve never met your sister. I want to make a good impression.”

Tina sighed. “Oh, Gooshie,” she said in her sweet breathy voice. “Don’t let her make you nervous. She’s just a woman.”

The geeky techie swallowed hard. “Thanks for the reminder.” he replied nervously as they walked past Olga and Sam into the bar.

Olga Vukovitch studied the expression on Frank Parker’s face. He had gone from happy to crestfallen to amused in a matter of seconds as they had passed the redheaded couple entering the bar. Olga was sure Frank had no idea how badly his poker face had slipped. She was not going to be the one to tell him.

Sam had gone from delighted to see Gooshie and Tina, to crestfallen that they would not know it was him, to amused at their conversation. ‘The more things change, the more they stay the same’ he thought. Then it dawned on him, he had just seen Tina inside the bar with someone and outside with Gooshie in less than a minute. He’d heard Al complain that they looked too much alike but until now, Sam Beckett had never realized how much Delilah Hobkirk resembled her sister, Christina Martinez-O’Farrell.

 

 

Wednesday, February 9th

Stallion’s Gate

Dawn

 

Verbena Beeks arrived in the level 1 cafeteria, poured herself a cup of coffee and claimed a table near the windows. Spending so much of her working day underground, she enjoyed looking out on the morning sun capturing the desert in its glow. This was the calm before the storm.

“Hey Girl,” Tina Martinez-O’Farrell greeted Verbena as she sat down at the table with her mug of herbal tea.

“Hey yourself,” Verbena greeted back. “How was the Karaoke? And Delilah?” she asked her friend.

Before Tina had the chance to respond Donna Elesee sat down at the table, her cup of hot chocolate in hand. “What report were you talking about last night?” she asked Verbena.

“A fabrication,” ‘Bena admitted, “I just wanted to put as much distance between you and Craig Donovan as I could as quickly as I could. You seemed quite upset last night and judging by the chocolate in your cup, you still are.” Dr. Beek’s job also included looking after the mental health of PQL staff.

“Speaking of Craig Donovan,” Tina chimed in, “How did the date go? Com’on, dish.”

Verbena looked at Donna. She watched the physicist take a long draw from her cup and nod in acquiescence before speaking. “He was cute, bright, funny and like a bulldog on the subject of the Guest. He just would not accept that I couldn’t tell him anything more than he already knew.”

“The whole date was just an elaborate interrogation?” Tina questioned in surprise.

“Yes.”

“What a shame!” Tina sounded more heartbroken than ‘Bena.

“It’s O.K.” ‘Bena consoled her friend, “What use would I have for an NSA agent in my life anyway?” As soon as the words were out of her mouth she glanced at Donna. “Sorry,” she added with a grimace.

“That’s all right.” Donna responded. “I was in Socorro last evening...”

“I thought you were in Alamagordo?” Tina interrupted.

“I was, earlier. I ran into your sister there, by the way,” Donna returned.

“In Socorro?”

“In Alamagordo.” Donna took a breath and a sip of cocoa, and then continued. “I went to the hotel last evening to get some answers from Isaac Mentnor.”

“And did you?” the psychiatrist prompted.

“Yes. He admitted being part of the NSA reconnaissance team. He said he volunteered to protect me, Sam and project personnel from undue suspicion,” Donna stated.

“And you believe him.” Verbena said. It was a question phrased as a statement.

“Yes, I believe him,” Donna assured her.

That topic exhausted, Tina changed the subject with a question to Donna. “How did Dee seem to you yesterday?”

“Who’s Dee? And can I join you?” Sammy Jo Fuller asked standing at the table, a glass of orange juice in hand.

“Sure, the more the merrier,” Tina answered. “Dee is my sister. She works for Congressman Martinelli.”

“She seemed a bit nervous yesterday,” Donna answered Tina’s question from before the younger physicist sat down. “She practically jumped out of her skin when the Congressman interrupted our conversation during the break. And when did she start using the nickname Lyla?”

“Lyla?!? That’s a new one on me,” Tina admitted with a laugh of surprise. “But nervous around Angelo might help explain why she got so wasted last night. She was so out of it that I brought her home with me,”

“Here?” Verbena questioned.

“I know it’s against the rules but I didn’t have much choice last night,” Tina defended herself. “I had Gooshie drive her car here so she would have it when she got up this morning.”

“So she’s gone now?” Donna questioned.

“Yes, she left by cab just before I came to breakfast.”

“By cab? Didn’t you say her car was here?” Sammy Jo asked, confused.

“Yeah, but she couldn’t get it started. Said she’d have it fixed later.” Tina explained. “I hope she can pull it all together by tonight. I was looking forward to partying with my sis.”

“Party?” Sammy Jo asked. “What party?”

“Oh, that’s right. You’ve been on vacation for the last two weeks,” ‘Bena reminded herself aloud. “You don’t know about the big formal party here tonight for the finance committee.”

“On vacation, lucky you,” Tina teased, then asked, “So how’s your mom?”

Verbena noted that Donna stiffened ever so slightly as Sammy Jo talked about her mother, Abigail Fuller. Dr. Beckett had leaped into Abigail’s life a couple of years ago. First as her father, then as her fiancée and finally as her lawyer. Although Donna had never said so, Verbena suspected that she knew what even Sammy Jo herself didn’t, that Sammy Jo Fuller is Sam Beckett’s daughter.

“So tell me more about what’s been happening around here,” requested Sammy Jo.

“It’s been a laugh a minute,” Donna replied dryly. “Along with all the congressional personnel to worry about we have the NSA breathing down out necks, a bomb threat to contend with and a psycho in the waiting room.”

“Oh, just another normal week at PQL,” Sammy Jo joked. After the laughter subsided she quickly asked, “What’s this about the Guest? I met him last night. He seemed rather nice.”

All three women began to answer her at once. “Nice?” “… escaped from the waiting room.” “… called the NSA ...” “ … Hanson Island ...”   “… had to Taser him...” “… by his name ...” “… in my quarters ...”

Dr. Fuller was just overwhelmed by all the information her coworkers were relating. She put up her hands in defense. “Whoa. Whoa! I got it. I think, I’ve got it,” she said as her tablemates quieted down. “So this Guest came from Hanson Island, escaped the Waiting Room, called an NSA agent by name from Tina’s rooms, started an investigation of us by the NSA and had to be Tasered by you?” She addressed the last phrase to Tina. “All in a matter of two days?” Three heads nodded in agreement. 

“You got it,” Tina said.

“More or less,” Donna added quickly.

“Lord have mercy,” Sammy Jo prayed. “Now about this formal party tonight?”

“Actually,” Verbena began, “I was going to ask you a favor, Sammy Jo. As Wednesday is Dr. Conrad’s usual day off, I was hoping you might see to the Guest this evening. I need to be at the party. I’ve been appointed NSA liaison and they’ll be there tonight.”

“Sure, no problem. I hate those things anyway,” Sammy Jo responded.

 

***************

 

HQ

0740

 

After a brief meeting to update everyone on the situation at Stallion’s Gate, the Backstep crew all went their separate ways in search of appropriate formal wear. Nate Ramsey left his formal wear to the discretion of Isaac Mentnor and left immediately after breakfast with a dozen men to begin security integration of Backstep and Quantum Leap personnel. Sam declined Olga and John’s offer of a side trip to White Sands opting, as Donovan did, to use a rental from the formal wear shop in town. Bradley and Isaac went to White Sands. Sam had been hoping for some time alone to make contact with Al and Ziggy but Craig appeared to be glued to him.

 

*******

 

Stallion’s Gate

0740

 

Admiral Calavicci was looking forward to a quiet breakfast. As he rounded the corner he heard the pleasant sound of feminine voices coming from the first level cafeteria. He stopped in the corridor enjoying the euphonious sounds within the room.

“And when did she start using the nickname Lyla?” he overheard Donna ask.

“Lyla?!? That’s a new one on me,” came Tina’s reply.

 ‘On me, too,’ Al thought to himself figuring that they must be speaking about Tina’s sister. He peeked in the door quickly. It was so gratifying to see the members of his staff enjoying each other’s company. Knowing that his presence would put a damper on a seemingly harmonious breakfast, the admiral opted to eat elsewhere in the compound.

 

CHAPTER 18

 

Socorro

1117

 

Sam had been unsuccessful in prying Donovan from his hip all morning.  He had even tried casual teasing insults aimed at Craig’s obvious failure with Verbena Beeks.  No dice. 

Craig Donovan’s suspicions had been raised when Frank turned down that trip to White Sands.  Frank never turned down a chance to get out and about.  Something had definitely changed about his friend after that last backstep and Craig was going to be there for Frank, no mater what.

It was late morning when Sam and Craig were in the formal wear shop getting fitted in their tuxes.  Craig had insisted that Frank be fitted first.  He wanted to observe his friend at a short distance.  He couldn’t be sure, but Frank even seemed to move differently lately.

Sam stared out the window of the shop letting his mind wander aimlessly while Craig was being fitted for his monkey suit. Across the street the health center had a mass exodus of workers in search of lunch.  Sam was beginning to lose hope in being able to touch base with Al before the affair this evening when he saw his deliverance.  Craig was pinned and chalked, unable to follow Sam as he made his escape from the store.

The nurse, Bobbie, was among the myriad of lunch goers.  Sam made his way to her just in case Donovan was watching him from the shop.  He reached out and touched her arm.

“Yes?” she said as she turned toward the touch.

“Hi, remember me, from last night at the bar?  I wanted to let you know how wonderful you were.  And to apologize again for my, well, coworker is probably the best word,” Sam said as he began to walk beside her.

“I can’t believe you were sitting with that jerk,” Bobbie almost snarled.

“I’m really sorry he said what he did.” Sam said apologetically.  “You really put him in his place.  Just think, I have to put up with him every day.”

She laughed.  “Oh, you poor baby.” she teased.

“Well, I just wanted to say again how great you were.  Bye now,” Sam concluded as he turned the corner.  He broke into a sprint and found a pay phone a few blocks away.  From there he called Al.

 

Stallion’s Gate

1200

 

Albert Calavicci had not risen to the rank of Admiral without taking part in his share of “pissing matches”, and winning most of them.  From the moment he met Nathan Ramsey Al knew he was in for another one.

“I want complete control over security for 24 hours: 1200 on 2/9 to 1200 on 2/10.” Ramsey demanded.  This didn’t surprise PQL Security Chief Jim Reed, in whose office they all were.

“You know I can’t allow that,” Calavicci countered.  “I’m not about to allow you to usurp Chief Reed’s authority.”   ‘If only to protect Sam and Frank’, Al thought.

“Admiral, if you had been here yesterday,” Ramsey began, “You would understand...”

“There is nothing about this situation that I don’t understand, Ramsey.” Al interrupted. ‘Including your attempted pick up of MY girl’ he added silently with a glare.  He turned his attention to his security chief.  “Reed, for the party only, let’s make Mr. Ramsey your #2 man.  Team his boys up with yours.  But I want you in charge,” Al finished.

Reed had worked with the admiral long enough to know what Al had in mind.  “Since the affair takes place on the top level only, with parking on levels 1 & 2, there’s no need to use any of Mr. Ramsey’s unit below level 3 of the complex,” he stated.

“Sounds good to me,” Al said as Nate started to complain, “Now just a cotton pickin’ minute.”

Jim Reed and Al Calavicci waited to see what was coming.  Nate Ramsey sized up the situation and relented, somewhat.  “For the sake of interdepartmental relations I accept your offer.  But be very clear on this, Admiral, if push comes to shove tonight, I take my orders from Bradley Talmadge, not you.”

He couldn’t be sure, but Nate thought he heard “Nozzle” as the admiral left the room.  

A few minutes later as Al settled down behind the desk in his office when his phone rang, not the usual ring but the one he had added for private calls.  He picked it up immediately.

“Calavicci”

“Al, it’s me.” Sam said from the phone booth in Socorro.

“Hi, you.” Al returned affectionately.

“Has Ramsey put all his security measures in place?”

“The NSA nozzle? Yeah, he’s here working with Jim Reed.”

“Good.  The man has the personality of a sandpaper but is an expert in his job.” Sam reassured his best friend.  “So where were you last night while Tina was making time with Gooshie?”

“Making time?” Al laughed. “I don’t think so.  Parker and I weren’t back from our ‘road trip’ and Tina was meeting someone in Socorro.  Gooshie went along for the ride.”

 “Tina was meeting Delilah, her sister, right?” Sam questioned.

“How did you know that?”

Now it was Sam’s turn to laugh.  “I saw her in the Karaoke Bar last night.  I mistook her for Tina at first, but then I saw Tina with Gooshie and realized it must have been Delilah I saw.”

Al’s eyes lit up.  “That’s really funny, Sam.  Frank swears he’s seen Dee before, too.”

“Speaking of Frank, has he remembered anything new?” Sam inquired.

“No, just Dee.”

In Socorro, Sam’s eyes searched the street for any sign of Craig Donovan as he conversed with his friend.  “I’ll see you tonight.  In the meantime, have Ziggy keep scanning the project for Plastik.  It has to show up sometime soon. Damn,” Sam softly swore into the phone.

“What?” Al wanted to know.

“Donovan just turned the corner.  Gotta go.” Sam hung up the receiver just as Craig Donovan spotted him and began to advance on the phone booth.

 

 

CHAPTER 19

 

Stallion’s Gate

1600

 

Al had been running bombing scenarios with Ziggy most of the afternoon.  Although he would never say so aloud, he was glad that NSA security was on the premises.  Both PQL personnel and the NSA group seem to be working under the assumption that the bomb will explode in the early morning, tomorrow.  Given this scenario, it’s most likely that the bomber will use the cover of the party to plant the explosive device at Stallion’s Gate.

Reed and Ramsey stopped by the Admiral’s office at 1600 to present their security arrangements for the evening’s festivities.  The plan was as tight as could possibly be; with NSA troops and PQL guards, paired, at the perimeter of the grounds and inside the facility.

After the two security chiefs left, Al realized that he hadn’t checked in on Parker for a while.  He made his way to the Waiting Room before beginning his personal preparations for the glad-handing ahead.

As Al entered the Waiting Room, Sammy Jo stood up in attention.  For all its informality, Project Quantum Leap was a military project Frank noted with both admiration and amusement.  

“Why don’t you take a break, Dr. Fuller?” the admiral suggested.

Sammy Jo smiled and said, “Thank you, Sir.  I’ll be back in ten.”

Just as soon as the door slid closed behind Sammy Jo, Frank began to fire questions at Al.  “Have you located the bomb yet?  What’s happening with the congressional dance?  Has Dr. Beckett ruined my life yet?”

“Slow down, kid, before you hurt something,” Al verbally restrained him.  Then he filled Parker in on the security arrangements for the dance tonight and the status of the search for the bomb.  He had barely finished the recap when the Waiting Room door slid open yet again.

“What is this, Grand Central Station?” the Admiral barked at the doorway before looking up to see who had entered.

Christina Martinez-O’Farrell’s face clouded over, two steps into the room.  “Excuse me, Admiral,” she said, “I didn’t realize you were in here.  I was looking for Dr. Fuller.”  Her voice was strained and over-polite.

“She’s on a break,” Frank supplied.

“Thank you,” said Tina and she left the room quickly.

Frank Parker turned his attention back to Admiral Calavicci.  “So how long have you been in bed with members of congressional committees?” he asked the older man pointedly.

“What?”  For a moment Al thought the NSA man was talking literally about his affair with Tina. 

Frank went on as if Al hadn’t said anything, “Why are congressional aides roaming freely in your halls, Admiral, and fraternizing with your physicists?  What is Lyla Hobkirk doing here?”

Warm relief flowed over Al as he realized that Frank had mistaken Tina for her sister.  “How do you know Lyla, Parker?” he asked.

“She’s the one person who survived,” Frank replied.

“Admiral?” a disembodied voice called out.

“Yes, Ziggy?”

“You are needed in the Control Center.  Dr. Fuller is on her way back to the Waiting Room.”

“Thank you,” Al spoke to the air.  Then he returned his attention to Frank.  “That wasn’t Lyla Hobkirk,” he said with a smile.  “That was Dr. Martinez-O’Farrell, one of our staff members.  You were in her quarters during your first escape attempt,” he finished.

“But she was in the bar...” Frank began.

Sammy Jo breezed into the room.  “I’ll take it from here, Sir,” she told Al.

Once again, confusion and frustration reigned in the mind of Frank Parker as he watched Admiral Calavicci stride out of the room.

 

CHAPTER 20

 

Wednesday, February 9, 2000

Stallion’s Gate

2000 Hours

 

The upper conference room at Project Quantum Leap had never looked so festive.  Small round cocktail tables were scattered around the perimeter of the large room, a jazz trio was playing in the far corner, and a small dance floor had been designated in the center of the room.  A buffet table was laid out along side the bandstand and the bartender was very busy fixing drinks at the other end of the buffet.

Although less than fifty people populated the room, Nate Ramsey had to look carefully if he was to locate any one person.   The four congressional members were there, each escorting or escorted by a member of their staff.  Admiral Calavicci, in full dress uniform, was escorting Dr. Martinez-O’Farrell.  She stood out most effectively in a flaming red tango dress.  The only other bright spot in the sea of black clothing was Olga Vukovitch in an electric blue metallic sheath so form fitting it appeared to be painted on. 

Nate watched the movement in the room.  Admiral Calavicci and Dr. Elesee separately worked the room, lobbying the congressionals for continued funding.  Craig Donovan was going out of his way to avoid Dr. Beeks and as usual, Frank Parker was at the bar.  He seemed unusually interested in the band.  They were doing all right for themselves seeing as they were all PQL staffers and not professional musicians.  Nate didn’t recognize all the band members but the bass player was none other than Dr. Gershowitz, the computer genius.

From his vantage point at the bar Sam could observe the whole room.  He watched with awe how Al schmoozed with the congressional brass and reminded himself how fortunate he was to have Admiral Calavicci as his partner and friend.  He just wished his partner would meander over to the bar so they could chat.  Then as if he heard the silent wish, Al came over to the bar.

“Welcome to Stallion’s Gate,” Al said as he offered his hand to Sam.

“Frank Parker, Admiral.  NSA,” said Sam reaching to shake the proffered hand, “Nice band.”

“Yeah, they’re all right,” Al agreed, “but you should hear them when Dr. Beckett adds his piano to the mix.  Then they really swing.” 

Sam and Al drifted out the side door of the room.  Al nodded clearance to the security on the outside of the door and the men found a quiet room in which to talk.

“Parker had a bizarre reaction to seeing Tina,” Al said.  “He wanted to know why Lyla was roaming the halls of Quantum Leap.  He said quote she was the one who survived unquote.”

“He must have confused Tina and Lyla,”  Sam interrupted.

“My thought exactly,” Al agreed.  “So I had Ziggy run some scenarios focused on Lyla.  I hate the thought but the one with the highest odds had...”

“Lyla as the bomber.” Sam finished Al’s sentence.  The older man stared incredulously at his partner.

“But,” Sam continued, “Why, what’s her motive?  Who’s her target?”

Each man considered for a moment.  Simultaneously they spoke.

Sam said, “Tina.”

Al said, “Angelo Martinelli.”

“Huh?” they questioned each other.

“Jealousy,” each responded.  They stared at each other.

“We’ve got to stop doing this,” Al finally said in exasperation.

“Why the congressman?” Sam asked.

“According to Tina, they’re lovers. Or at least they were.  Tina said they had some kind of huge fight lately.  He won’t leave his wife.  Maybe she figures if she can’t have him, no one else can either,” Al reasoned.  “Why Tina?”

“Sibling rivalry?” Sam fished.  “Tina is brilliant and beautiful.”  Al began to respond but Sam couldn’t resist a small dig at his friend, “And has an unmarried lover.”

“Cute, Sam, real cute,” Al complained.  “Our project is about to be blown to smithereens and you’re cracking jokes.”

“Sorry.”

“I’ll do some more searching,” Sam offered.

“You can’t.  NSA personnel don’t have free access and you’re wearing Parker’s face,” Al reminded Sam.  

“O.K. then you...” Sam began.

“I can’t either.  If I disappear from the party for too long it will be suspicious.”  After Sam nodded agreement Al continued, “I also can’t keep Lyla in sight.  If I pay too much attention to her...”

“Tina will castrate you,” Sam finished Al’s thought.

“That was her last threat,” Al said.

“Dr. Beckett? Admiral?” Ziggy’s voice softly said.  “I can do the search of the facility and grounds.  Captain Reed has already asked me to inspect everyone and everything that has arrived since 1800 hours.”

“Good.  That takes care of the search,” Al said, the relief in his voice plain.

“And I’ll keep an eye on Lyla,” Sam promised.

 

 

Downstairs in the Waiting Room, Frank was getting bored and itchy.  He checked the clock that Dr. Beeks had provided for him, 2250 it read.  Sammy Jo was running out of light conversation and the ever-present threat of explosion was weighing heavily on her.

“I wonder what’s happening upstairs,” Frank mused for the fourth time this hour. 

“Me, too,” intoned Sammy Jo, also for the fourth time.  She sat bolt upright, as if struck by inspiration.

“What?” Frank questioned.

“We can see what’s going on upstairs,” Sammy Jo replied.  A smile began on her face as she added, “Come with me.”     

Sammy Jo led Frank out of the Waiting Room and down the hall.  At the junction leading to the elevator they were met by nurse Ohara.

“Dr. Fuller, I really must protest...” he began to speak.

“Protest noted,” Sammy Jo responded.  “This is on my personal authority, nurse.  Back off.”  He stood aside and allowed the pair to pass.

“Level four?” Frank questioned as he watched her push the elevator button.

“Security main office.” Then seeing questions on the Visitors face Sammy Jo continued to speak, “Look Parker, do you trust me or not?”

The elevator glided to a stop.  The doors opened.  In answer to the question Frank Parker stepped over the threshold first.  Sammy Jo lead him a few doors to the left and into the office.

“Hola, Paulo,” Sammy Jo greeted the security officer behind the desk. 

The young Hispanic man greeted Sammy Jo with a broad grin.  “Hi yourself, Esjay.  What’s shakin’?”

“We’re bored.  Can we check out the party upstairs?” she asked.  Paulo hesitated.  “Please,” Sammy Jo implored.  “I’ll share my mom’s oatmeal cookies with you.”

Paulo’s eyes lit up.  “The ones with the raisins?” he questioned.  Sammy Jo nodded.  “O.K.,” he relented.  “Just for you, Esjay.”

He led them to a side room with a wall of monitors, each showing a different view of the compound.  Then he returned to his post.

“Ramsey’d wet himself to see this,” Frank said appreciatively.  Sammy Jo shot him a quizzical look.  “Just someone I work with,” Frank answered.

Sammy Jo began manipulating the controls on the table in front of them.  “Here, the conference room is on these three monitors.”

 

CHAPTER 21

 

2330 hours

Conference Room

 

True to his word, Sam Beckett had spent the last three hours watching Lyla Hobkirk.  It hadn’t been easy.  Lyla was a true social butterfly and flirt, dancing with every man in the room at least twice.  In addition, Lyla and Tina were wearing the same dress in different colors; Tina in red and Lyla in black.  Olga Vukovitch, who had been watching him watch Lyla, was intent on dancing with him as well.

 The other main distraction Sam was dealing with was Dr. Donna Elesee.  Despite being given the cold shoulder on Monday and the fact that she seemed to be going out of her way to avoid him, Sam found himself following her every movement around the room with his eyes.  It was as if Sam Beckett were a moth and Donna Elesee a flame. 

Isaac Mentnor spent much of the evening looking dignified and staying out of the center of attention.  Helene Mercer-Fuld, the senator from New Jersey, took notice that Isaac had arrived with Bradley Talmadge, and tried to pump him for information while they had a fox-trot.  Isaac was only too happy to let Olga cut in and steal him away from the inquisitive senator.

After the dance with Olga, Isaac found himself alongside the dance floor beside Admiral Calavicci.  “Lovely party, Admiral,” Isaac began the requisite small talk. 

“Thank you,” Al responded.  Offering his hand to shake Al asked, “You’re Dr. Isaac Mentnor, aren’t you?”

Isaac accepted Al’s hand, “Yes, I am.”

“I understand you’re working for the NSA...” Al continued.

“I’m more of a consultant and advisor,” Isaac cut him off, downplaying his roll in Project Backstep.

“You look too serious, honey,” Tina’s little girl voice softly berated Al as she and Verbena joined the men.  Al made the introductions.

“Isaac Mentnor?” Verbena questioned.  “Aren’t you Dr. Elesee’s professor?”

Isaac smiled.  “Guilty as charged, my dear.”

“Speaking of Donna,” Tina interjected, “have you noticed that guy who keeps staring at her?”

“Who?” Al questioned after a cursory look around the room.

“Him,” Tina nodded in the direction of the dance floor. “The dark haired one dancing with the ‘painted-on’ blue dress.”  The three other heads all turned in the direction of the dance floor to see whom Tina was talking about.

“Oh, them,” Isaac said when his eyes fell on Olga and her partner.  “The woman in the blue dress is my colleague, Dr. Olga Vukovitch.”

“Why would anyone look at Donna with her in his arms?” Al said lasciviously, looking Dr. Vukovitch from top to bottom.   Then said, “Ow!” as Tina punched him in the arm.

Verbena smiled at him as she taunted, “You deserved that.”  Turning her attention to Isaac she restated the question, “Who is that man?”

Al began to nervously shift from one foot to the other. 

Isaac had no choice but to respond to Verbena’s direct question.  “That is another of my colleagues.  His name is Frank Parker.”

 

**********

 

The music had slowed to a sensuous waltz.  Sam returned Olga to her seat and scanned the room for Lyla Hobkirk.  ‘There she is,’ he noted to himself as Lyla approached the bar.  Sam’s eyes continued to sweep the room.  Almost instantly they landed on Donna Elesee, chatting and smiling with Congressman Ho, across the room.  The urge to talk to her, dance with her, struck Sam again.  He didn’t try to analyze it; he couldn’t rationalize it away.  The allure of Donna Elesee was inescapable and he wouldn’t try to deny it again.  Determined, Sam Beckett began to make his way across the dance floor toward her.

Verbena Beeks almost choked on her white wine.  Coughing and sputtering she repeated Isaac’s words. “That ... is ... Frank ... Parker?” she questioned.

“Are you OK?” Tina began fussing over Bena. 

“Fine, fine.” Bena was more interesting in ‘Frank Parker’ than mopping up her dripped on dress.  She peered back over the dance floor.  Al and Isaac watched her gaze as it landed on ‘Frank’ making his way across the floor towards Donna.

“Uh-oh,” both men said softly.  Their eyes met and with a quick nod each realized instantly that the other knew exactly who ‘Frank Parker’ was.  Verbena was only half a second behind them.  The impending disaster was obvious to all three of them.

Verbena took action first.  She quickly crossed the floor and placed herself directly between Mr. and Mrs. Beckett.  Isaac followed less than half a second behind her.  He strode over to Donna and swept her on to the dance floor. 

“Mr. Parker?” Verbena asked the slightly dazed man in front of her.

“Huh? Yeah, I’m Frank Parker,” Sam said, shaking off his near trance.

“I’m Verbena Beeks.  Care to dance?”

“Ah ... yeah, sure,” Sam stammered as he started to waltz with the psychiatrist.  Bena took the opportunity to dance closer to Sam than she usually would a stranger.  As they placed some distance between themselves and the other couples on the floor, Sam took the chance to ask a question.  “Bena, is everything O.K. here?”

She leaned in closer still to whisper in his ear, “Yes, everything is fine, Sam.”  Then she put more space between them and more loudly added, “Despite what Craig Donovan told you.”

Sam Beckett felt a warm hand clasp his shoulder and a familiar voice ask,  “May I cut it, buddy?”  With Verbena’s nodded assent, Sam left Verbena in the care of Frank Parker’s best friend.

 

2345

Security Office

 

During the hour that they had been eavesdropping on the party Frank Parker continued to delicately pump Sammy Jo for information.  After mentioning the matching dresses, Sammy Jo passed along the fact that Lyla and Tina are sisters. 

“So which one of them did I see at the bar?  In the Imaging Chamber, I mean,” Frank questioned. 

“It could have been either,” Sammy Jo replied.  “They were both there.”  Sammy Jo then relayed the story about Lyla getting too drunk to drive, that Tina had brought her to Stallion’s Gate, and that Gooshie had driven Lyla's car to the Project.

As Frank listened to Sammy Jo a hole in his swiss-cheesed memory suddenly filled in.  From his pre-backstep briefing he remembered ‘the primary was in the parking deck’.  His eyes began to scan for the monitors showing the parking facility.  There were four of them, each doing the standard 90-degree sweep over a set area.  Frank was at a disadvantage, not knowing which cars belonged to PQL staff and which were visitors.  Then he spotted the Admiral’s T-bird and another hole filled in.

“Dr. Fuller,” he interjected, “I suppose Lyla took her car home in the morning?”

“No, it wouldn’t start.  She took a cab instead.”

“Then searching the cars arriving for the party won’t help,” Frank thought aloud.  “Which car is Lyla’s?”

“I don’t know,” came the reply.  “But I know how to find out,” Sammy Jo said with a sudden twinkle in her eye.  She went out to the anteroom and had a few words with Paulo, then after entering something into a computer workstation she returned to the monitoring room carrying a remote control device.

“Let’s go to the video tape?” Parker jokingly questioned, his hopes high.

“You got it, sports fan!” Fuller replied in kind.  She pointed the remote at the screen in the bottom left corner of the monitor bank and pushed a button.  The image on the screen blurred and was replaced with surveillance video stamped 2/8/00 2137 hours.  Frank watched as he and Al returned from Roswell and Al parked his vintage T-Bird in his designated spot.  The two spots to the left of his were empty as was the one on the right.  As the camera panned left, Frank noted that Drs. Beeks, Gershowitz and Elesee’s spaces were all empty. 

“Can we...”

“Speed it up a bit?” Sammy Jo finished for him.  “Sure.”  She hit the fast forward button.  Over the next several hours both Drs. Elesee and Beeks returned to the complex.  At 2/9/00 0137 two cars entered the garage and parked. Sammy Jo slowed the tape down again. A blue Saturn with rent-a-car tags parked in the spot closest to the door while a white Mazda Miata pulled into Gooshie’s spot.  Sammy Jo began a play-by-play for Frank.

“That’s Gooshie, um, I mean Dr. Gershowitz, getting out of the Saturn.  He’s going over to his Miata.  That’s Tina coming around to let Lyla out.  It takes both of them to get her inside.”

Sammy Jo fast-forwarded the tape again.  The next activity was noted at 1154 when Nate Ramsey pulled into the open space between the Saturn and T-Bird.

“That can’t be right,” Sammy Jo said.  “Lyla used a cab to leave in the morning because she said her car wouldn’t start, but she didn’t even try to start it.”

“Shit!  It’s been here all along!” Frank yelled.  He started to run for the door.  Sammy Jo grabbed his arm and he spun around to face her.  “Look, Fuller; do you trust me or not?!”

There was no hesitation in Sammy Jo Fuller’s response.  “Let’s go!”

 

 

February 10, 2000, 0002 hours

Parking area

 

Frank Parker peered over the hood of the Saturn, looking for security personnel.  He motioned to Sammy Jo to stay quiet and still.  Two members of Backstep’s Delta Team security force passed by.  Once they were out of sight Frank asked, “Have you ever stolen a car before?” 

Sammy Jo shook her head in the negative.

“First thing we need to do is jimmy the door lock.”  Frank said. 

Again Sammy Jo shook her head in the negative.  “The doors are unlocked,” she confidently stated.

‘Yeah right!’ Frank thought but he tried the driver’s door anyway.  It opened.  He climbed into the driver’s seat as Sammy Jo was settling herself into the front passenger seat.  He frowned at her but said nothing as he reached under the dash for the ignition wires.

“You’re planning to hot-wire this?” Sammy Jo asked.

“You got a better idea, sweet cheeks?” Frank didn’t bother to mask his annoyance at her.

“How about the key, stud?” Sammy Jo matched his tone of voice.

“Where...?” Frank began to ask when Sammy Jo handed him the Saturn key.

Sammy Jo smiled sweetly at him as she responded to the unfinished question.  “I noticed them at the edge of the floor mat when I got in.”  Frank heard an unspoken exasperated “Men!” in her voice.

Frank started the engine, threw the car into gear and raced toward the exit gate.

 

 

CHAPTER 22

 

February 10, 2000, 0002 hours

Conference Room

 

The calendar changed seemingly without notice in the conference room.  The music played, people danced, people drank and people laughed.  The uniformed Marine guards at each entryway stood still as Beefeaters at the palace gate.  Nate Ramsey was beginning to sweat.  He, and the rest of the Backstep team, were acutely aware that the primary bomb had gone off at 0006 in the original timeline.  His eyes scanned the room again.  Craig Donovan was dancing with Dr. Beeks, Drs. Ballard and Vukovitch were seated at a table sipping their beverages and Dr. Mentnor was dancing with Dr. Donna Elesee.  Frank Parker was holding up a corner of the bar with his hip as he sipped a beer.  Next to him, Admiral Calavicci was talking to his wrist.

TALKING TO HIS WRIST!  The thought screamed through Ramsey’s brain as a voice began speaking in his earpiece.  It was Chief Reed.

“Ramsey.  We have movement on parking level A.”

“On my way.”  Nate was turning toward the door as he spoke when a firm grasp stopped him.  He looked up at Bradley Talmadge’s eyes; his set jaw and hurried posture were all the communication they needed.  Bradley nodded and fell into step beside Nate as the two men rushed to the parking deck.

Sam Beckett was three steps behind Talmadge and Ramsey.  He had started to run as soon as he heard Ziggy report to Al that Frank and Sammy Jo had found the bomb in the rent-a-car in the parking deck.  He arrived, winded, just as the blue Saturn crashed through the single-arm gate and raced toward the desert.  From the corner of his eye he saw Nate Ramsey taking aim at the fleeing car.

“NO!” Sam screamed as he threw himself at Ramsey. 

“Parker!  What the...” Ramsey sputtered as they hit the ground.

“Can’t shoot ... the car ... bomb,” Sam managed to pant as Bradley gave both men a hand up.

“The bomb was in the car?” Talmadge questioned Sam.

“Yes.”

“We need to know who that car belongs to,” Nate said.  Reed and three of Nate’s ‘men in black’ arrived on the scene. 

“It’s Lyla Hobkirk’s,” Sam supplied to Talmadge as Ramsey was conferring with Reed about pursuit of the vehicle.

 

*******************

 

The Saturn raced through the desert at breakneck speed, Frank flooring the accelerator. His only goal now was to get the bomb as far away from Stallion’s Gate as he could before 0006.  He checked his watch, 0004, and he was just two miles away.

“We have about 90 seconds before this puppy goes up,” he turned and said to Sammy Jo.  “Get ready to bail out.”

“Um-hum,” Sammy Jo mumbled her comprehension.  She was feeling around for something under the seat.   “Got it!” she said triumphantly as she pulled a long handled snowbrush out.

Frank smiled broadly at her.  “To jam against the accelerator,” he stated, catching her drift.  “Good thinking.”  Frank positioned the snowbrush and checked his watch, 0005.  He scanned the desert for some kind of cover.  Pointing toward a small dune he asked,  “Ready?”

Sammy Jo nodded as she removed her seat belt.  “On three,” Frank continued.  “One ... two ... three!”

Doors flew open and two bodies fell from the speeding car.  They rolled and bumped along the sandy ground in opposite directions before stopping about 200 yards from each other.  Neither one moved.

Talmadge looked at Sam incredulously as Sam began to head back inside.  He was achy from throwing himself on Nate and tired from the stress of staying undercover.  As he passed through the entry door he asked the obvious question, “Is this place locked down?”

A disembodied contralto responded almost immediately.  “Yes, sir,” the female voice said, “as per Admiral Calavicci’s order.”

Talmadge gave Frank a sideways glance, noting how quickly Ziggy had responded to him.

Bradley and Sam continued on to the conference/party room in silence, the mind of each highly engaged in thought.  As they entered, they observed the party in full swing.  Only a small handful of partygoers appeared aware of what had happened.  Surprisingly, Olga, Isaac and John were huddled around a table quietly conversing with Al and Donna.  Craig and Verbena were still on the dance floor, as was Tina, who was dancing with Congressman Ho. 

Sam and Bradley approached the table of their coworkers, moving slowly so as not to alarm the rest of the party guests.  Nate Ramsey entered just as Bradley reached the table.  As soon as the doors closed behind Nate, the room shuddered violently as if a Mack truck had hit the building.  A deep rumble filled the air mixed with screams from frightened voices.

Admiral Calavicci immediately took control of the room when the shockwave from the explosion hit the building. The band's music ground to an immediate halt, and Gooshie made his way to Tina's side.  The once gay party was now as quiet as death, and everyone was moving cautiously in a surreal fashion.

Al had taken his place in front of the bandstand and made all the right calm reassuring noises that he was supposed to.  Sam looked for Lyla.  He had expected her to be either huddled together with the Aides or in Congressman Martinelli’s arms.  She was in neither place. 

Lyla Hobkirk had removed her 3-inch heels and was moving low and slow towards the side door of the room.  She had almost reached her goal when Sam Beckett spotted her and darted across the room in an effort to catch her.  Olga Vukovitch, however, was much closer and faster.  The Russian grabbed the Taser from a surprised Marine, aimed, and fired.

“DEE!” Tina screamed as she watched her sister crumple to the floor.

 

********

 

The loud blast and searing light of the exploding car were enough to rouse Frank Parker into consciousness.  His body was battered and bruised but nothing was broken.  He made his way to the crumpled heap that he assumed was Sammy Jo Fuller.  Cautiously, he turned her onto her back and wiped the sand filled hair off of her face. 

“Sammy Jo?” he anxiously called to her.  He did a quick injury inventory of the unconscious physicist.  Nothing was obviously broken and she was breathing.  Frank sighed with relief.  He brought his face close to hers. 

“Sammy Jo, wake up!” he called to her again.  This time she moaned in response.  Her eyes flickered open and attempted to focus.  A handsome man, about 30, with dark hair and worried eyes was hanging over her.  She closed her eyes in an attempt to focus.  When she reopened them the man with the concern on his face was in his late 40’s and had longer, lighter hair with a familiar streak of grey in front; Sam Beckett’s face.

“Are you all right?” he asked as he helped her to sit up.

She winced and stretched as she got up.  “Yeah, nothing a warm bath and some aspirin won’t fix,” she bluffed.  Her attention was pulled to the flaming remains of the car and she smiled.  “Mission accomplished,” she stated.

The unlikely pair turned their backs on the inferno that was the Saturn and began the walk back to Stallion’s Gate.  They walked in silence for a while.  Then Frank began a conversation.

“The security guy, Paulo, he called you ‘Esjay’.  What does that mean?”

Sammy Jo began to laugh.  “S.J.,” she replied.  “They’re my initials, S. J., like on my lab coat.”

 

CHAPTER 23

 

Thursday 2/11/00

Stallion’s Gate

0900

 

All of the department heads of Project Quantum Leap were gathered in the secondary conference room located on the fourth level of the facility.  That is, all except Sammy Jo Fuller, Tina Martinez-O’Farrell and Al Calavicci.  Sammy Jo was in the infirmary being monitored for a mild concussion along with other strains and bruises sustained in jumping from a speeding vehicle.  Tina being late was not unusual, especially after a late night; but the Admiral being late to a staff meeting he had called was unheard of. 

An eerie quiet filled the room while they waited.  Everyone had been at the party last night but no one wanted to start the conversation about it; it seemed a taboo subject.  The only sounds in the room were the tinkling of spoons in coffee cups punctuated by an occasional swallow.

At 0903, Admiral Albert Calavicci entered the room.  He was more comfortably dressed than last evening’s dress whites, wearing instead his favorite black chinos and matching cowboy style shirt accented by a Bolo tie with a silver clip.  He found his customary chair at the head of the table and sat down.  

“Thank you all for being here so early in the morning,” the admiral began.  “I just got off the phone with Dr. Martinez-O’Farrell.  Currently, she is at White Sands with her sister.  She has been granted a short leave to see that Delilah is settled in at the hospital.”  Al paused as a murmur passed through the room.

“The NSA has cleared everyone else on the bombing.  It seems that Dee was acting alone out of a twisted understanding of love.  She felt that Congressman Martinelli was too conflicted about which project to approve funding for, so she made the choice for him.  If Quantum Leap didn’t exist he wouldn’t have to chose.”

“And they were lovers,” Donna Elesee interjected.  It was not a question but Al responded to it as if it was.

“Yes, it seems that Miss Hobkirk and the congressman have been,” Al paused and cleared his throat, “paramours for quite some time now.  Anyway, the congressman has been cleared of any conspiracy in the matter.”

“It sure was nice to have the Guest’s unexpected help,” Jim Reed threw into the conversation.  “Parker was half supporting Dr. Fuller when my men picked them up in the desert after the explosion.”

Although she tried to hide it, Donna Elesee’s attention was grabbed by the name of the Guest.

“Their injuries aren’t severe,” Verbena Beeks interrupted Reed and began her report.  “Sammy Jo has a minor concussion, some contusions, abrasions and strained muscles.  She should be back to work in a few days.  I’m going to release her from the sickbay by lunchtime.”

“Good,” Gooshie said.  “With Tina on leave, I’m going to need Sammy Jo in Control.”

“As for our Guest,” Verbena continued, “his injuries are even more minor and he is being moved back to the Waiting Room as soon as I’m done here.” 

“So much for us.  What about Sam?  Is he doing alright in his leap?” Donna questioned.  She knew better than to accuse Al of abandoning her husband during a leap but quite frankly, everyone was so involved with the problem at hand that no one had mentioned the current leap at all.

Al read the concern on her face.  “I’m glad you brought that up, Donna,” Al said.  “I am planning on checking on Sam as soon as we’re done here.”  He looked around the room as he asked, “Are we done here?”  A chorus of  “Yes, Sir”s filled the room.  Al turned his gaze directly to the head programmer.  “Gooshie, fire up the Imaging Chamber.  Thank you everyone, for your continued grace under pressure and go back to work.”

Chairs squeaked as all assembled rose to go about their jobs.  Al caught Donna by the arm before she went out the door and requested her to stay.  They waited while everyone else filed out.  Then Al began to speak.

“You mentioned being hit on by one of the NSA people,” he began very casually.

“Yes,” Donna replied, hope growing in her mind.  “He was with Isaac again last night.”  She tried not to fidget as her mind put some pieces together.  “Funny, he has the same name as … our … Guest.”

“And you were wondering …”

“I was thinking …”

Al made sure he had Donna’s full attention before he spoke again.  “Frank Parker did not try to pick you up because he was in the Waiting Room.”

The emotional clouds that had been building in Donna’s mind suddenly broke, and she visibly straightened as she verbalized her thought, “That was Sam!  He gave me that same line at MIT.”

“Yes,” Al confirmed.  “He has no conscious memory of you.  But somewhere in that noggin of his, he knows.”

“It’s not in his head, Al, it’s in his heart,” Mrs. Beckett replied as a tear of joy rolled down her cheek.

After making sure that she would be all right, Admiral Calavicci made his way to the Imaging Chamber.

 

CHAPTER 24

 

Thursday 2/11/00

Never Neverland

0920

 

Sam Beckett threw the overstuffed gym bag that was impersonating a suitcase on to Frank Parker’s bed and began to unpack.  By the time the Backstep team had returned to the hotel in Socorro it was almost 2am and Sam acutely felt the lack of sleep.  He had just closed the bureau drawer when he heard the familiar metallic whoosh of the Imaging Chamber door.

“I hope you’re here to explain why I’m still here,” Sam pleaded with his Observer.

“Will that make you happy, Sam?  O.K., I’ll tell you.  You’re still here because we needed time to treat Parker’s injuries in the infirmary.  Beeks should have him back in the waiting room within the hour.”  Al Calavicci looked closely at his disheveled partner.  “You look like you pulled an all nighter.  Sam, did you improve international relations with that fabulous Russian?” he teased.

Sam looked aghast at the suggestion.  “No.  Lovely as Olga Vukovitch is, she is not the reason I look this way,” Sam explained.  “By the time we got back to Socorro it was 2am.  Then Bradley Talmadge decides we need to get back to,” Sam stopped himself and took a breath,  “our base this morning.  So we get up at 5am to fly back here to limit our exposure.” The last four words Sam placed within quotation marks with his fingers.

“The whole NSA team is gone, just like that?” Al questioned.

“Yes, no, all but Nathan Ramsey,” Sam replied.  “Ramsey personally escorted Delilah Hobkirk to the military holding site at White Sands.  He’ll be back later.”

The corners of Al’s mouth curled up just a bit.  “I’m sure I’ll hear all about it when Tina gets back.  She’s with Dee, too,” he informed Sam.

Sam finished stowing Frank’s gear by tossing the empty bag in the closet and turned back to his holographic friend.  “So, I’ll be out of here soon?” he questioned Al.

“Yeah, like I said, Verbena just needs to get him back to the Waiting Room,” Al repeated, “within the hour, Sam.”  The admiral watched as Sam exhaustedly hurled himself into the chair at Frank’s desk.  As much as he didn’t want to add to his friends worries, Al felt he had to warn him.

“Sam, there’s something I need to tell you.”

“About Verbena knowing who I was?” Sam asked.

“Not Verbena,” Al began, “Isaac Mentnor was acting hinkey last night. Suspicious, like he knew who you were.”

“Did he say anything ... ?”

“No, not specifically,” Al said and was then interrupted by a knock on Parker’s door.  “Hang in there, Sam.  You’ll be out of here in less than an hour,” the Admiral finished.  Then he keyed the handlink, opened the Imaging Room door and returned to New Mexico.

The knock came again, louder and more insistent.

“Don’t these people ever sleep?” Sam growled softly as he went to open the door.  Two M.P.s  were standing outside the door. 

*******

 

Several minutes later Sam Beckett found himself seated in front of Bradley Talmadge’s huge oak desk.  Bradley sat behind his desk.  His was not the face of a man about to celebrate a mission well done.  Quite the opposite, his face was full of questions and worries.

Isaac Mentnor was in the office as well, looking relaxed.  He was less concerned than Bradley but then again, he knew something that Bradley Talmadge didn’t.

“Listen, Frank,” Bradley began, “You know I’ve always given you a lot of leeway in how you act, particularly on missions.  Because you’re such a vital part of this project, I look the other way instead of coming down on you for things that would have someone else court-martialed.  That ends today.  I want explanations about your behavior in New Mexico, Frank.”  He looked into “Parker’s” face and was surprised to see anxiety in his eyes?

Sam squirmed, trying to come up with a response, but Bradley continued talking.

“I didn’t take Ramsey seriously enough when he complained about your erratic behavior. It has been odd, even for you.  I can see you ditching Craig at the formal wear shop.  Even singing Beach Boys songs to Olga.  But I have to ask, how did you get     Sam opened his mouth to respond.  He was cut off by Isaac who had been sitting quietly in the corner from the beginning.

“I think we need to look at what happened before Frank got to Stallion’s Gate,” Isaac said.  “He doesn’t often pass out following a Backstep.  If I didn’t know better, I would swear that he wasn’t Frank at all.”  Isaac’s eyes twinkled as he stared at Sam.

“There’s more.”  Bradley continued, “The artificial intelligence at Quantum Leap was way too familiar with the personnel at Project Backstep.  It mentioned knowing about several projects that Ballard, Isaac and I have been involved in and intimated that it knew about Backstep.  And, then that insufferable computer of theirs calls you, Sir, Frank.  I want to know why.”

Comprehension of the real question came to Sam in an instant.  “Now I see what has you so concerned.  I understand.  A breach of security in a project this important, especially by a computer with an ego the size of the World Trade Center …”

“Frank, cut the bull.” Bradley roared.  “How much does Ziggy know about us?”

“What does it matter as long as there is no reference to Project Backstep in Ziggy’s memory bank?  Sam asked.

“No reference to Backstep?   How do you know that, Frank?”  Bradley challenged.

Sam stole a glance at his former professor before answering.  “Frank Parker wouldn’t  ...”

“But Sam Beckett would,” Isaac finished. 

“Sam Beckett?” Talmadge questioned.  Now his face registered shock. 

“Yes, sir,” Sam replied.  “The integrity of Backstep has not been compromised.  Believe me, I know how to keep a secret.”  The familiar tingle of an impending leap began in the small of Sam’s back. as he stood  up from the chair.  Turning his attention to Isaac Sam said, “Apparently, so can you.  Thank you, Isaac.”

The professor smiled at his pupil.  “No, thank you, Sam!”  Isaac corrected as a blue light engulfed Sam, and he leaped. 

 

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