April 23, 1985
tugged at his green cuffs, making sure the bandages were well-hidden
beneath the fabric of his shirt.
look fine, Al,” Sam said.
you say so,” Al sighed, still fidgeting. He relaxed his shoulders and
then squared them again, staring at his reflection in the mirror.
He frowned and pawed at his hair, combing through it with his
fingers and smoothing it in attainment of some undefined level of
God for electric razors,’ Al thought, feeling his face for any
missed stubble. His still-shaking hands would probably have cut his own
throat, otherwise. After
several minutes of inspection, he took a deep breath and turned to face
he said, “I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.”
Sam felt any impatience, he didn’t show it.
go then,” he smiled, taking a suitcase in each hand.
wanting to appear helpless, Al threw the strap of a duffel bag over his
shoulder and hurried to open the door for Sam.
He whispered curses under his breath at his hands.
The shaking had begun to calm to some degree, but his hands were
still far from steady. Even so, he managed to get the door open and then locked
behind them. He hoped he’d
locked the voices away, too, but a niggling whisper at the back of his
shook his head and marched down the hall with Sam at his side, focusing
his attention on moving as steadily as possible.
With a little concentration, he felt more like a person and less
like a robot. Still, he
frowned as voices wafted down the hallway from the recreational lounge at
they all be at work now?” Al asked, gruffness in his voice, surprising
himself with the appearance of the administrator he’d thought buried
deeply beneath a layer of apathy and alcohol.
Or was it fear that voiced his thought?
way, Sam just shrugged. Al
glanced at the younger man, who apparently didn’t see any cause for
concern. Straightening his
own posture, Al surreptitiously tugged his cuffs down again, just in case.
scientists and military personnel in the hub stood around in small social
circles, hardly paying any mind to Sam and Al’s entrance.
At least until they caught sight of the suitcases.
on a trip, Sam? Captain?”
asked one of the scientists. Al
recognized him as Ian Markham.
trip, Ian,” Sam answered brightly.
“We’ll be back in a week.
Think you can hold down the labs without me?”
hardly miss ya,” Ian replied, chuckling.
“Have a safe flight.”
rest of the crowd added their good wishes as well, and Sam and Al exited
the building without incident. Al
let out a whoosh of relieved air, warring against an urge to turn around
and make sure the group hadn’t begun gossiping about him in his absence.
He thwarted the paranoia, and continued weaving through the parking
lot toward the waiting shuttle.
through the hike, Sam paused to give his cramping hands a rest from the
handles of the suitcases. Al,
who’d been trailing a few feet behind, caught up with him.
you sure you can’t handle my car?” he lightly panted, embarrassed at
how out of shape he’d let himself become.
sensitive as you said the controls are after your customization?”
Sam cocked an eyebrow at his friend.
“The shuttle will be just fine.”
say I didn’t try.” Al
spread his hands wide, mentally ordering them to remain still.
They obeyed with some rebellion.
grinned, and picked up the suitcases again, resuming their trek across the
hot pavement. Al was very
grateful when they finally reached the shuttle.
driver, a young Marine on transportation duty, hopped out of the
driver’s seat and quickly appropriated all the luggage, expertly stowing
it in the rear compartment while they climbed aboard.
you’re my only pickup, so you can sit wherever you’d like,” the
Marine called out.
took a seat on the right side of the small bus. Sam sat opposite him on the left side.
the airport, sirs?” The
young soldier had reboarded the bus and sat behind the wheel once more.
Private Simms,” Al said. “Thanks,
Simms straightened almost imperceptibly at the recognition.
Al doubted that Sam had noticed, but he well remembered the almost
instantaneous surge of pride when a superior recognized you--especially if
that superior wasn’t likely to--and he allowed himself a small grin.
seem to be feeling better,” Sam said in a low voice, noticing Al’s
shrugged, still smiling. “Relatively
'For now,’ came a deep cackle from the back of his head.
rubbed his temple to silence the voice, the smile fading from his face by
glanced at Simms then reached across the aisle to touch Al’s arm.
“You OK?” he whispered.
his eyes and taking a deep breath, Al leaned his head against the back of
the seat. “I will be.”
sure the private was focused on the road, Sam squeezed the older man’s
arm encouragingly and quickly let go.
Al opened his eyes and made contact with Sam for a moment.
he mouthed. He exchanged a
brief smile with Sam before turning to stare out the window.
mind ran on a free course as he watched the desert scenery passing before
his window. That he’d
survived Friday night and made it to the next week was still an amazement
to him. His cheeks burned and
Al adjusted his cuffs again. He
owed a lot to the kid, including the astounding miracle Sam had pulled
off. Al had figured the next time he’d be leaving the project,
it would be for good.
still might be. You’ve
still got to get through the hearing.’
cold hand of dread twisted Al’s stomach.
He reminded himself that it was still a week away.
‘I’ll be ready for it.
I hope.’ Al
probed his right wrist with the thumb of his left hand.
He had to disguise the wince that reflexively crossed his face.
The pain he felt was discouraging in its reminder of the slow road
of healing ahead. It also
resurrected a wave of guilt and shame over his own weakness.
And yet, the sharp biting sting was a reminder that he was alive.
Like so much other pain he’d experienced in his life, he would
overcome this as well.
only he felt as encouraged about the hearing.
His thoughts kept returning to that, keeping him from sharing in
the excitement Sam Beckett couldn’t fully hide.
Al knew the real purpose of their trip was for his own benefit, but
he also knew the young scientist well enough by now to know that even if
they could only devote ten minutes to his theories, Sam would be thrilled.
For the physicist’s sake, Al hoped that the worst was behind
honest, Calavicci, it’s not just for the kid’s sake.’ Al had
a deep-seated fear that his memories and hallucinations might begin to
take over again. As bad as
the voices had gotten in his drunken haze that night, he worried that
they’d get worse without the help of the booze to drown them out.
He rubbed his wrists again.
glanced at Sam, knowing that fresh-faced Beckett’s advice would be to
find another way to deal with it. While
he knew that was sound advice, he was doubtful of his ability to do so.
would be a problem he’d have to tackle later, though. Simms pulled up in the airport’s passenger zone and brought
the bus to a stop.
get your luggage, sirs,” Simms said, gesturing them off the bus.
Sam followed close behind Al, ready with an unobtrusive supporting
hand when Al wobbled on the bus stairs.
Al endured the grip until he was off the bus, quickly shaking off
the younger man.
Al grabbed both his duffel and a suitcase from Private Simms.
He thanked the Marine civilly enough, but as soon as Simms boarded
the bus and drove off, Al squared his jaw and shoulders and marched into
the airport, Sam close on his heels.
really shouldn’t overdo it,” cautioned Sam.
didn’t say a word. He
didn’t even release the relieved sigh he felt when they reached the
ticket counter and he could drop the bags.
were in luck. No one was in
the line in front of them, and the pleasant brunette behind the counter,
whose name tag read “Christina Shepherd,” smiled a welcome.
morning. How can I help
you?” Christina asked.
made a standby reservation yesterday.
It should be under the name of Beckett.”
‘T’ or two?” she asked, peering over her wire-frame glasses as she
typed on her computer terminal.
clatter of keystrokes. “Sam
Beckett?” At Sam’s nod,
she requested and entered some more information, but Al barely noticed.
he’d glanced around the bustling terminal, a familiar sight caught his
eye. A woman stood in the
next line at the airline’s ticket counter, her back to him.
Her dark hair was set in a style that tugged at his memory, the
line of her white uniform falling around her frame in a way he recognized.
After all the years, could it be?
“Beth?” He held
his breath as she turned.
sorry, were you talking to me?” she asked.
face fell. It wasn’t her.
Certainly attractive, this woman was too young, her skin too deeply
tanned to be Beth.
sorry, Lieutenant, I thought you were someone else,” he apologized.
smiled at him. “I’m sorry
I wasn’t who you hoped.” She
stuck her hand out in greeting. “Lieutenant
Ann Marie Paris.”
shook her hand, wishing his grip were stronger and steadier.
to meet you, Mr. Cala....” Her
brow crinkled slightly in thought. “Calavicci,
Calavicci? You flew on
Apollo! It’s an honor,
don’t know about that,’
Al started to say, but caught himself in time.
Instead, he just bowed his head in acknowledgment.
“Thank you, Lieutenant. Are
you on leave?”
Paris nodded, a smile lighting up her face.
“Yes, sir. I’m
visiting family.” The
ticket agent at her counter gently coughed to get her attention, tickets
in his hand. “Oh, my
tickets. I’ve got to run. I
hope you have a good trip, sir. Again,
it was an honor to meet you.”
you. You, too,” Al said.
He watched as she gathered her belongings and headed off toward the
terminals. He shook his head,
amazed at how his mind always managed to bring up a picture of Beth as she
was, when they were in love. By
all rights he should have identified the middle-aged woman three stations
over as Beth, not some fresh-faced girl just starting out on her career.
With a small sigh, he returned his attention to Sam and Christina.
had just finished calling up the last bit of information she needed.
“You’re in luck, Mr. Beckett, we do have two seats
available.” A twinkle
entered into her eye. “I’m
afraid all we have is in first class.
Do you mind an upgrade?”
like his old self for a moment, Al grinned and winked at the ticket agent.
“The only thing we could mind that your pretty face wouldn’t be
there.” He was gratified to
see her cheeks lightly blush in pleasure.
take it,” Sam affirmed.
good.” She tapped a series
of keys to print their tickets. “We
can go ahead and check your baggage here, and you’ll take these to your
boarding gate.” She handed
the tickets to Sam while Al set the suitcases on the scale.
Christina expertly attached the routing tags to the handles and
hefted the luggage onto the conveyor behind the counter.
“Thank you for choosing to fly with us.
Have a good trip, gentlemen.”
nodded a thanks to her and led the way to their terminal.
long of a wait do we have till the flight?” Al asked.
much of one, actually. In
fact, they should be starting to board when we reach the gate.” Sam grinned and handed Al his ticket.
tucked the ticket into his breast pocket.
“Good. I’m not big
on twiddling my thumbs in an airport, anyway.”
be in the air?”
know it.” Al adjusted the
strap of the duffel bag on his shoulder as they stepped up their pace a
bit in a thinning crowd. He
was looking forward to the thrill of take-off.
The building speed, the ever so gentle pressure forcing everyone to
the back of their seats, the angle of the plane, and then, the sensation
of absolute freedom as the plane left the ground and broke from the pull
of gravity--the brief moment of every weight in the world being lifted
from his shoulders as he soared into the clouds.
Yes, he would rather be in the air, leaving the past weekend and
all the problems of Project Starbright behind.
looked like he wouldn’t have to wait long.
Sam’s hunch was right and the boarding agents were announcing
first call on their flight as they reached the gate.
The first-class upgrade was paying off already, as they were to
board the plane first.
on board the plane, Al allowed Sam to finally take the duffel bag and stow
it in the overhead compartment. He
wasn’t going to take any chances on exposing his bandages, even to
complete strangers. As upbeat
as his thoughts had gotten a few moments before with the anticipation of
flying, even if he couldn’t be at the controls, the cursed bandages
began to drag him down again. Al
silently took the window seat and watched the ground crew prepping the
plane for take off.
I get you gentlemen something to drink?”
and Sam turned to see a dark-haired stewardess in the aisle.
Her name tag simply read “Pat.”
I’d like a Bloody Mary, please,” Al said.
the mix,” Sam quickly put in. “No
alcohol. And I’ll have the
coming right up,” Pat said, heading to the small kitchenette to prepare
the drinks for them.
lucky this is such a confined space,” Al said in a very low voice, fire
in his eyes.
just regarded him. “I know
that was force of habit that ordered that drink, Al.
You’ve come too far to go back to square one.”
flared his nostrils, but didn’t say anything.
He hated to admit it, but Sam was right. Years of habit were hard to break, and he really didn’t
want to have to start all over again, not when he was just beginning to
get a bit of a handle on the withdrawal symptoms.
returned with their drinks, and Al’s glower quickly evaporated to be
replaced by a winning smile for her benefit.
Rather than speaking with Sam, Al sipped the seasoned tomato juice
as the stewardess moved on to attend to the other passengers.
He twirled the wilting celery stalk in the red liquid, stirring his
temper down at the same time. Sam
nursed his drink as well, making a face at the flavor.
couldn’t help chuckling. “Next
time try to cover for me with something you actually like,” he said to
grinned, setting the glass down on his tray table. “I didn’t mean to embarrass you.”
waved off the apology. “I
know. Just forget about
it.” He stirred the celery
again before nibbling on the end of it.
coach passengers were allowed onto the plane as the final drinks for first
class were distributed. Al
caught sight of Ann Marie Paris behind a haggard mother with twins and he
smiled a greeting at her. Her
face lit up at the recognition, and she waved at him as best as the
crowded aisle would allow.
world,” she grinned as she maneuvered down the narrow aisle toward
she was gone, Sam turned to Al and raised a questioning brow.
just met her,” he explained. “She
was at the ticket window next to ours.”
certainly don’t waste any time, do you?
I guess that’s a good sign.”
shrugged, chewing on his celery stalk again and looking out the window
rather than explaining the circumstances to Sam.
“It looks like they’re getting ready to pull chocks,” he
enough, the stewardesses began working their way up and down the aisle,
latching the overhead compartments and picking up the mostly empty glasses
from the first class passengers. Sam
quickly and gratefully surrendered his.
Al laughed as he passed his own glass over.
head stewardess, a mature red-haired woman, soon took the cabin microphone
and introduced herself. “Good
morning, ladies and gentlemen. On
behalf of the flight crew, I’d like to welcome you aboard Flight 1893 to
Boston. My name is Freda, and
I and the other members of our crew are here to serve you.
Simply press the call button above your seat if you need
anything.” She proceeded to
identify all the safety features and procedures intended to give a sense
that something could actually be done if the plane suddenly plummeted from
if she’ll explain the kiss your butt goodbye position,” Al murmured in
mental picture that popped into Sam’s head was so funny he couldn’t
hold back a chortle. That
earned him a strange look from Freda, so he stifled it as best as he
could, clearing his throat to regain his composure.
Al had an innocent, seriously attentive expression on his face as
he listened to the rest of the safety directives.
must have been a joy to be in classes with,” Sam said when the safety
lecture was finished and the pilots began backing the plane toward the
runway. “How many of your
friends did you get in trouble?”
grinned. “About as many as
got me into trouble the same way. Didn’t
you cut up at school at all?” He
chuckled and shook his head. “What
am I thinking? You were
probably the teacher’s pet.”
weren’t any teacher’s pet?” Sam asked, answering Al’s assumption
by not answering it.
project, maybe. I went to
Catholic school. In the
Forties. Need I say more?” He smirked as Sam shook his head. “That’s what I thought.”
A barely perceptible rumble in the engines pricked his ears.
“We’re getting ready to take off.”
took the hint and settled back into his seat, letting Al have the moment
of take-off to focus on. Hopefully
the flight would have a comparable effect on Al as a passenger as he
claimed it did when he was a pilot. It
seemed as if it might. Al
closed his eyes and Sam could almost feel the former astronaut’s
concentration on each aspect of take-off.
A huge smile spread across Al’s face when the plane launched
itself forward, and he gestured a finger like a conductor a split second
before the aircraft lifted off the ground.
they were airborne, he opened his eyes, letting Sam share in the broad
smile splitting his face. “Take-offs
are such a kick in the butt!” he beamed.
just returned the smile weakly. He
was quite glad he didn’t have the window seat.
It was bad enough seeing the white puffs of cloud when he glanced
past Al, reminding him just how high they were.
But he certainly didn’t need to see the gradual climb as the
ground shrank away below.
captain looked out the window again and sighed in contentment.
“I sure miss flying. That’s
one of the drawbacks to getting promoted--you have to let all the up and
comers do the flying for you.”
you ever think about buying your own plane?”
of times!” Al laughed. “But
alimony four times over kind of gets in the way.”
A slight tinge of bitterness colored the laugh upon mentioning his
guess it might,” Sam said, trying to keep the conversation light.
If he’d learned one thing over the last few days, it was that
almost anything Al brought up about his past (which wasn’t much) could
very easily take the plummet toward despair, no matter how casually
mentioned. Trying to refocus
the conversation, Sam admitted, “I’m not too crazy about flying.
I’m actually pretty scared of heights.”
kidding me,” Al said, his eyes widening in amazement that the young man
didn’t share his enthusiasm.
I were. I wasn’t always
perked up Al’s ears. After
four days of having his weaknesses exposed, he was glad to deflect
attention off of himself.
happened? Did you fall?”
think it might have been easier if I’d fallen,” Sam said.
“My brother and I were playing Tarzan in the barn.
There was this rope tied to the upper rafter--the perfect vine, Tom
said. He swung down
first--made it look so easy. Then the rope loosened, and Tom sent me up to tighten the
knot. I shimmied up the rope
just fine, but when I reached the top, I froze.”
Sam’s eyes reflexively tightened at the memory, his fists
gripping the remembered rope, biceps clenched in aching terror. “It seemed like forever before they got me down.”
let out a low empathic whistle. “You
were just a kid, huh?”
nodded. Their conversation
was temporarily broken as the stewardesses began delivering the meal.
Both men dutifully lowered their tray tables to receive the plates.
This time, Al declined the alcoholic beverage, opting for a soda. Sam again followed suit in support, flight being one of the
few times he actually desired the numbing effects of alcohol.
preferable to the fare served in coach, the fettucine still left much to
be desired, and after a few attempts to devour the bland, pasty substance,
Sam and Al abandoned their silverware.
you’re afraid of all heights?” Al asked, returning to the subject of
kind of selective, I guess,” Sam answered.
“Like this mountain cabin we’re going to--it doesn’t bother
me. And I can go to the top
of the Empire State Building. But
an unrailed balcony or . . . flying.”
He shrugged. “Sounds
silly I suppose.”
shook his head. Sipping his
soda as if it were a bracer, he said in a voice almost too low for Sam to
hear, “No more than being afraid of something that happened twenty years
looked around the cabin before pursuing the avenue Al had just left
partially unguarded. The stewardesses were allowing the passengers time to
eat, and those who weren’t concentrating on their plates or seatmates
were taking advantage of the in-flight radio.
did happen over there?”
don’t want to know,” Al said, his hand drawing itself to his ribs and
the secret scar tracing his side.
made a clinical note of the habit. He tried another angle.
you ever talked about it with anyone?”
the VA shrinks.”
had a fair idea of the quality of treatment Al had received from the
woefully unprepared (through no fault of their own) Veterans
Administration hospital. But
his goal was not to discuss the VA.
cocked his head to the side. “Why
are you so interested in who I’ve talked to all of a sudden?”
His eyes narrowed, a wall beginning to rise up again, brick by
just can’t help thinking that maybe if you got some of it out, off your
chest, you wouldn’t have so much bottled up inside.
Maybe then you could stave off the memories on your own, without
was silent, staring at Sam as if the physicist had lost his marbles.
He shook his head somberly, a serious intensity burning in his
eyes. What he remembered
unbidden in the middle of the night was bad enough, and the heinous acts
he’d survived deserved to remain buried far below the surface.
He deserved to have them
stay in the depths--and he knew with a certainty that no matter how many
memories he purged, an equal number would remain, rising up to take their
place at the forefront of his mind.
kid, I pray you never have to see anything even remotely related to what
happened over there. Sometimes
I think the guys who died were the lucky ones.”
He shifted uneasily in his seat, unprepared for the sadness
suddenly misting over Sam’s eyes. “What?
What is it?” he asked. “Not
more pity, I hope,” he added, a sharp edge in his tone.
shook his head, a tear dropping from his eye with the movement.
“No, I, uh . . . .” He
cleared his throat. “My
brother Tom was killed in action in Vietnam.”
jaw dropped and he cursed his self-absorption.
“I’m sorry. I had
could you have known?” Sam
quickly scrubbed the tear away. He
cleared his throat again, coughing away the lump of pain rising in his
throat at the memory of his brother.
was saved having to respond by the appearance of a stewardess, who quickly
collected their plates and trash, asking if they needed anything before
retreating down the aisle again. He
chewed his lip and rubbed the back of his neck, taking a deep breath to
prepare himself for what he was about to say.
know what it’s like to lose a sibling, though.” Al patted his pocket, searching for the cigar he knew he
hadn’t stashed there so he wouldn’t have to face Sam.
He didn’t want to see the young scientist’s empathy and the
shocked sadness he knew would fill Sam’s eyes.
He looked out the window instead, picturing Trudy’s round face,
beautiful to him despite an appearance that had been described as
mongoloid. “My younger
sister died when she was sixteen.”
don’t ever think they’ll ever leave you when you’re growing up, do
you?” Sam quietly said.
thought about how he and Trudy had been separated for several years after
their father died. “Not
forever, anyway,” he said.
that, both men fell into their own private reveries. Al continued to stare out the window, while Sam fell into a
silent contemplation focused on the rear of the seat in front of him.
The stewardesses seemed to sense that the men needed this personal
time, and let them be for a good portion of the flight.
They remained in this quiet mode, and when they began conversing
again, it was most superficial and light.
set the suitcases down on the hardwood floor of the cabin’s living room.
Al shuffled inside the log cabin, shutting the door once the duffel
bag slung over his shoulder had cleared the jamb.
A small layer of dust lightly covered those furnishings not draped
with protective sheets, but all in all the cabin was in a rather good
state. The dark planks of the
floor were covered by woven Navajo style rugs scattered in some semblance
of a decorating attempt. Sam
took on the role of tour guide, urging Al to drop the duffel bag beside
shouldn’t take long to show you around,” Sam grinned. Al nodded, the drive from the airport and up the mountains
having relaxed him. The two
of them had exchanged nostalgic memories of their respective times at MIT,
Al’s being peppered with more “social” reminiscences than Sam’s. The jaunt down a more congenial memory lane had calmed Al’s
edginess, and he found himself enjoying being away from the project for
the first time.
were only a few rooms branched off from the central living room.
Directly to the right was the small kitchen and dining area.
The cupboards were sparsely stocked with nonperishables, and Sam
commented that they’d have to remember to make a trip into town for
replacement supplies. He led
the captain back through the living room to two smaller rooms, each marked
by a doorway on either side of the fireplace.
One was the bathroom, equipped with a utility shower stall.
The other was the bedroom, conveniently furnished with two twin
beds, one step above army cots. Sam
offered Al the choice of beds, and after a moment’s thought Al selected
the one nearest the small window.
you can find your way without getting lost?”
laughed as he followed Sam back to the living room to collect their
luggage. “I think I can
manage.” He grabbed his
suitcase and dragged it to the floor at the foot of his bed, kneeling
before it to open it and neatly arrange the clothes within.
hefted his luggage to the floor directly in front of his bed as well, but
didn’t feel the need to compulsively set everything in order.
After a moment of watching the captain, Sam left the bedroom and
headed into the kitchen to prepare an early supper from the few groceries
thing he hadn’t inherited from his mother was a good cooking sense.
Sam scratched his head in a stereotypical “absent-minded
professor” fashion as he regarded the contents of the cabinets.
A flash of memory of one of his mother’s casseroles told him that
he should be able to make something palatable from the cans of tuna and
green beans, but as he removed the cans and stood there with one in each
hand, he hadn’t a clue how to go about it.
Unfortunately, a photographic memory wasn’t much help when you
didn’t actually watch your mother preparing meals.
He had inherited enough of his father’s chauvinistic attitude
that he’d left kitchen matters to Katie for the most part.
turned, startled by Al’s sudden appearance in the kitchen doorway.
“I’m afraid anything higher than omelets on the food chain are
a bit beyond my capabilities. If you think about Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving dinner, you
should get a fair idea.”
you like some help?” Al asked, nearly consumed with laughter at the
young scientist’s predicament, and his description of it.
if you’d like to eat,” Sam countered, gladly surrendering control of
the kitchen. He left the cans
on the counter and stepped out of Al’s way.
perused the cupboards, rapidly selecting several cans and setting them on
the small table in order. A
small can of Ro-Tel tomatoes joined cans of hominy, beans, corn, and
tomato soup. Getting some
hint of what Al had in mind, Sam opened the cabinet he knew to contain the
pots and took hold of the largest stewpot.
Al nodded and smiled in approval as Sam set the pot on the stove.
you’ll open the cans, I’ll fix a chili,” Al said. The itching he was starting to feel in his wrists told him
that the healing had begun, but the soreness hadn’t abated enough to
allow him to abuse the damaged muscles and tissues by cranking a hand can
opener. Plus, his hands
hadn’t decided to give him a break from their mutinous betrayal of
swiftly identified the drawer where Dr. LoNigro stored the can opener and
began his attack on the aluminum cans.
As the sealed lid was removed from each can, Al dumped its contents
into the pot, adding a can full of water each time--to clean the can of
its contents as well as to thin the chili with a soup base.
Once Al raised the heat underneath the pot, the aroma began to fill
would be better with some ground meat,” Al commented, stirring his
gourmet concoction, “but it should be tolerable.”
can head into town for some meat tomorrow,” Sam said. “I’m really surprised Dr. LoNigro doesn’t have any in
not. I wouldn’t leave any
meat up here when I left at the end of deer season if it were my cabin.”
guess you’re right.”
stirred the chili for a few minutes before covering it and letting it
cook. He then took a seat at
the table with Sam.
Dr. LoNigro know we’re here?”
nodded. “I checked with him
Monday night while I was packing to make sure we could use the cabin.
He was more than glad to help out.”
beginning to narrow, Al tightened his lips and tugged at his cuffs.
“What did you tell him?”
that we needed someplace quiet to work on the string theory.”
Sam was taken aback by the question, and it showed in his voice.
all you told him?”
Sam assured Al that was all he’d said.
“Al, I’m not going to betray any secrets. Why can’t you trust me?”
of answering, Al started to get up to check the pot, but Sam grabbed his
forearm and held on. The
captain slowly sat back down, focusing on the aged vinyl of the
red-checkered tablecloth and avoiding Sam’s eyes as long as he could.
Sam loosened his grip but didn’t let go of Al’s right arm.
sighed and rubbed his forehead with his left hand. Finally, he looked into the young man’s face.
“You get burned enough, you learn not to trust anyone.”
why agree to come here with me?” Sam asked, pulling back, his eyes
displaying the hurt that after all he’d done, the captain still
couldn’t bring himself to trust him.
you’re different,” Al shrugged. He
continued talking as if to himself, suddenly rubbing his arms like a chill
had descended. “But I just
can’t take any chances.”
not?” demanded Sam. ‘Every
step we take forward, we seem to take two steps back.
What can I do to show him he can trust me?’
“You seemed to trust me this weekend.
This morning even.”
frowned, aware that his arguments weren’t making any sense.
He wanted to trust Sam
Beckett, wanted a friend. ‘But
we don’t always get what we want, do we?’ taunted the
reappearing voice. ‘Just remember Beth.’
jumped up from the table and stirred the chili again, shoving the voice
away as he did so. When he
felt that he’d regained control, he took a deep breath and faced Sam.
thought I could trust Bob Jansen, but he turned on me.
I thought I could trust my wife . . . all my wives, but we know how
all that ended. I thought I
could trust my mother . . . . .” He broke off before stiffly continuing, “And I found out
you can’t even trust God . . . . He’s not in charge at a POW camp.”
Al paused again. “So it’s a little hard to see how you can break a track record like that.”
chewed his lip. “If I was
going to turn on you, I had the perfect opportunity yesterday morning.
I was in Bob Jansen’s office, along with the other
did work a miracle,” admitted Al, without having to think long about it.
That’s not enough evidence that you can trust me?”
Sam didn’t even mention the night of Al’s suicide attempt.
He didn’t have to. Along
with the administration miracle, that night was foremost in Al’s
thoughts right now.
shifted uncomfortably and bounced on his heels. “I know I can
trust you, Sam. In my head I do, I really do.”
it’s something that’s going to take a while for me to get used to.”
He hesitated, feeling the strain of opening up to Sam, no matter
how slightly. “And I have
to ask you to bear with me.”
nodded, a little subdued by the captain’s revelation. His patience was really a small price to ask; Sam was sure
that the litany Al had shared was merely the tip of a giant glacier of
betrayals. He reminded
himself not to expect too much from Al right now, and not to push too
hard. He was lucky that Al
had opened up to him at all, instead of closing him away.
Perhaps he was making more headway than he knew.
a moment, Al returned his attention to the stove. “Chili’s done,” he announced.
He ladled it into the chipped stoneware bowls Sam held out.
They dined with battered silverware.
Sam tasted the chili and pronounced it a success.
Al’s face lit up with pride, but other than that, they ate
through their silent dinner, Al looked up at Sam. “Thank you,” he said.
Sam started to ask, but he knew what the captain meant.
He smiled at Al. “You’re
welcome,” was all he said.
was the right thing to say.
awoke Sam in the middle of the night.
It wasn’t a noise. The
night was much too peaceful. A
lone coyote howled mournfully in the distance while crickets chirped their
night music outside the cabin walls.
He lay there for a few moments, feeling at one with nature, and
then tried to discern what had awakened him.
Maybe it had been the silence.
sat up quietly in his bed, scanning the room through the weak moonlight
filtering through the window. He
didn’t want to wake Al, but a glance at the captain’s bed quickly made
that a moot concern. The bed
was empty, the sheets strewn as if whatever had roused Al required
immediate attention. Maybe it
had just been a midnight call of nature, but Sam wasn’t about to take
any chances. He tossed his own sheets aside and leapt from his bed,
crossing the small room in three steps and flinging open the door.
jumped in his seat on the lumpy couch at the sharp bang of the door
against the cabin wall. After
dinner, he and Sam had spent the evening getting LoNigro’s cabin in
order, unveiling all the furniture and making sure all the fuses were
working properly. Then,
exhausted, they’d imbibed steaming mugs of cocoa while they enjoyed the
results of their efforts. The
conversation had been light and free of all suspicion and concern.
Both had headed off to bed more relaxed than at any other moment in
the last five days. So
Sam’s sudden appearance startled and worried Al.
wrong?” they both asked at almost the same instant.
a beat, Sam answered first. “I
was worried about you. I woke
up and your bed was empty.”
you thought maybe I was stuck in a hallucination again,” Al finished for
him. He ran a hand through
his tousled hair and blew out a frustrated breath.
“I appreciate your concern, Sam.”
‘But I wish you didn’t
feel you had to watch me like a hawk.’
Al frowned at his own thoughts.
He was grateful for
Sam’s caution, and to some extent was glad Sam was so attentive.
He’d managed to defeat the hallucinations so far today, but the
night wasn’t over yet. Given
the last few days, the young man was probably right to be concerned.
To alleviate Sam’s fear, Al added, “I did have some disturbing
dreams, but that’s all they were.”
that why you got up?”
Al nodded. “Kinda hard to
go back to sleep after some of those.
I figured I’d wake you with my tossing and turning, so I came in
here.” He gestured at the
physics text in his lap. “Doesn’t
LoNigro read anything for fun?”
laughed. “That is fun for
Dr. LoNigro.” He glanced at
the title and took a seat in the small chair opposite the sofa.
“You know, I think that’s one of the books we used when we
worked on the string theory. I
can’t believe it’s still here.”
passed the book over, and Sam turned it in his hands as if it were a
priceless treasure. He
cracked the front cover and smiled at the title page.
“1973. This book was brand new, parts of it were considered
controversial.” He looked
up, “It was the perfect text for what we had in mind.”
smiled weakly. His own
memories of ‘73 weren’t so warm and fuzzy.
In fact, the only thing warm about it was the raging fever that had
tormented him for months at Cham Hoi.
He shook the memory off before it could take hold of him and
focused on Sam’s nostalgic monologue.
young scientist was completely transformed as he described his time with
Dr. LoNigro. The fits and
starts they’d had in getting the theory to a point where even they could
understand what they’d uncovered. The
moment of breakthrough when they realized that Einstein’s theory could
be unlocked. The exultation
of discovering that the final barrier could be broken . . . the barrier of
time. And then, the brick wall that suddenly barred the way.
How to put the theory into practice.
got my appointment to Starbright before we could figure that out.
We’d worked on that theory through all my degrees.”
Sam stopped, realizing that a number of years had passed.
why are you and Dr. LoNigro so sure that I can help? You two obviously worked on this for a long time.
What can I add that you two haven’t already considered?”
fresh perspective,” Sam suggested.
“You’ve got a background in engineering that neither of us
shrugged. “I haven’t had
to use it in years. It may
take a while for it to come back.”
If only his personal memories could be as fleeting as the things
he’d learned in school were.
will, though. It’s like
riding a bike,” Sam joked. He
stretched and yawned in the armchair.
stay up on my account,” said Al. “You’ve
already had a weekend full of vigils. Just because I can’t sleep doesn’t mean you should stay
fine,” Sam spoke around a yawn that betrayed him.
simply cocked an eyebrow at him. “Go
to bed, Sam. I think
everything will be fine,” he lied, trying to convince Sam of something
he didn’t really believe himself. “Dr.
Beckett’s patented de-tox program is beginning to pay off.”
He held out a steady hand. “See?”
He hoped the amount of concentration it took to keep his hand from
shivering was unnoticeable.
I really need is a cup of coffee,” Sam protested. He started to get up to go to the kitchen.
held up a hand to stop him. “You’re
determined to stay up with me, aren’t you?”
At Sam’s nod, he sighed. “You’re
liable to fall asleep sitting up. Okay,
you win. Put on some coffee
for us. I don’t suppose
there are any cards around here.”
that drawer.” Sam pointed
to the small table next to the couch as he rose and headed for the kitchen
to fix coffee for the two of them. Some
part of him couldn’t ignore the irony that in order to help Al’s
insomnia, they were going to drink caffeine.
He chuckled a bit as he filled the coffeepot and started the
grounds brewing. As the water
poured over the black powder, Sam wondered what sort of “disturbing
dreams” Al had had.
Al’s assurances that his nightmares had remained at the dream level, Sam
wasn’t convinced. He’d
witnessed too many of Al’s “nightmares” over the last few days, and
he knew that even when the visions didn’t make the transition into the
land of the living, they still had a vicious hold on him.
Sure enough, as he risked a surreptitious glance into the living
room, he saw Al rubbing his temples with both hands.
He’d rested his elbows on his knees and bowed over.
The tension in his shoulders was visible from across the room.
Sam withdrew just as quietly, certain that Al wanted, needed to be
left alone to deal with his personal demons right now.
He reasoned that he could hear Al, but until Sam’s presence was
required or requested, he’d stay put.
meanwhile, was trying to beat the nightmare into submission.
‘Why did I try to get Sam
to go to bed? Thank God he
didn’t listen.’ The moment Sam had left the room, the visions had flared up.
Sleep was definitely out of the question now.
The only hope for getting through the night was distraction.
Without his usual method for solving the problem, Al was going to
have to rely on coffee, company, and cards.
He only hoped it would be enough.
taunted the voice, back and strong after several hours of silence.
groaned under his breath, not ready to go into battle.
“Please,” he murmured, “please, just go away.”
you say something, Al?” called Sam from the kitchen.
just clearing my throat,” he quickly answered.
Don’t want Sam to think you’re going crazy, now do you?’
shook his head in response, beginning to have that thought himself.
He rummaged through the drawer Sam had pointed to in search of the
cards. His hand brushed a
squat, half-empty bottle of vodka. Al froze at the sight of it, snatching his hand back as if
he’d burned it.
me to shut up? There’s the
key . . . . . .’
almost wondered if his subconscious had known the booze was there. He
swallowed hard as he stared at the clear, potent liquid.
A decision grabbed him and he stuck his hand in the drawer and
withdrew it as fast as he could, prize in hand.
slammed the drawer shut, blocking the vodka from sight, and headed into
the kitchen with the pack of cards.
really think that’s going to help?’ But
the voice wasn’t as strong as it had been.
Al smiled at the tiny victory.
The war was far from over, but he’d won a very important battle.
Part of him felt he should tell Sam about the liquor and let him
dispose of it or lock it away in a secret place, but he didn’t want to
do that. If he could conquer
the temptation to take a drink, with the full knowledge that the first
step toward losing the tenuous hold he had on the wagon was within the
cabin, maybe he would actually stand a chance at beating his demons.
would have a fight on his hands, though, that much he knew.
A fight for his sanity, and maybe even for his life. . . again.
Al rubbed his wrists as a familiar cold chill ran down his spine. ‘But I am going to win,’ he thought with determination.
He squared his shoulders ever so slightly and walked into the
kiddo, I hope you know more games than ‘Go Fish’,” Al said with
forced brightness as he took a seat at the table.
turned from his search for the mugs in the best condition.
it’s not poker, but it’s a start.”
Al smirked and started shuffling the cards while Sam took the
recently located mugs, rinsed them, and then poured coffee.
take yours black, right?”
nodded. Sam doctored his own
coffee with cream and sugar, and then joined Al at the table.
sipped his coffee while the captain shuffled the cards one final time and
started dealing. Sam scooped
his hand up and studied Al from behind the small fan.
Al was regarding his own hand, but didn’t seem intent on the
game. He rubbed the back of
his neck every so often, rolling his head and shifting in his seat. Sam returned his attention to the cards in his hand before Al
felt the gaze and looked up.
first,” commented Al.
made his first play, dropping a jack onto the discard pile.
Al looked at the pile, then drew a card and promptly discarded it.
He closed his card fan and tapped it against the table.
Abruptly, he stopped making the repetitive noise and sat up
straighter in his chair.
wrong?” Sam asked the
question as casually as possible, making his next play at the same time.
Al said, too quickly. He drew
from the deck and discarded from his hand without even looking at the
is wrong.” Sam set his cards aside and folded his hands, making it quite
clear the game was put on hold. He
almost asked if Al wanted to talk about it, but knew that the answer would
be “no.” But no matter
what Al said, Sam was positive he needed
to talk about it if he was ever going to learn to conquer whatever was
resurrected in the middle of the night without trying to drown it out with
sighed when Sam put the cards down. One
of his distractions was now gone. “Why
do you say that?”
pointed at the discard pile. “You
just tossed away an ace instead of taking the rummy.” The ace sat on top of a jack, queen, and king of the same
Al frowned. He shook his
head. “So now what? Psychotherapy? No,
wait. Dream analysis,
about just talking it out?” Sam asked.
“Friend to friend. One
thing I’m not is a psychiatric expert.”
do it. Talking about it will
only make things worse. You
Brer Rabbit didn’t want to be thrown into the briar patch.’ Al
thought it over. The
nightmarish visions encroached on his consciousness, the sounds of the
woods being transformed into the hellish sounds of the Vietnamese jungles
at night. He was going to
have to deal with the nightmare whether he wanted to or not.
The painful memories were determined to make an appearance tonight.
And maybe, just maybe, Sam was right about talking.
this once. What the hell?’
“Don’t forget, I’ve tried to warn you that you don’t want
to know,” Al said.
nodded, speechless, almost afraid of what Al was about to unburden.
himself, Al tried to find the words to begin.
Irrationally, he silently argued with himself, unable to break the
silence he’d kept for years. Al
breathed in deeply and closed his eyes.
He blew out an explosive breath and shook his head, telling Sam,
“I can’t do this.”
rubbed the side of his ear and took a sip from his mug of coffee.
“Well, for one thing, I’ll probably just end up giving you
made an abortive gesture towards Al’s arm, refraining from contact at
the last moment. “I’ll
take the chance. Especially
if it helps you.”
few seconds passed before Al quietly yielded.
was remembering . . . dreaming about . . . the day I was captured by the
VC.” Al stared down at the
table, refusing to look at Sam, to see the shock and pity he knew even
those simple words would bring upon the young man’s face.
It was the only way he’d be able to talk about it at all--to
stare at the lifeless tablecloth. The
tablecloth simply was. It
couldn’t react to the painful memories he was drawing out.
were flying over the Annam Highlands at night.
That was the best time to run these sort of missions--at night.
Or so we thought anyway. Charlie
must have been ready for us, because we hadn’t even cleared the mountain
range when the shots started going up.
I don’t really know if any of us got away.”
He let out a hollow laugh. “Well, you know
shifted in his chair and clasped his hands around the warm mug, focusing
on the rising steam. As he
described the instant his plane was hit, the steam began to take on the
attributes of the smoke that had filled his cockpit after the missile
struck. Al briefly closed his
eyes to block out the sight, incapable of driving the vision of the actual
smoke from his mind’s eye.
tried to recover, but the plane was too damaged. I couldn’t get the hatch to pop for several precious
seconds, and I was going down fast. When
I was finally able to eject, I was almost too close to the ground.
As it was, the chute didn’t keep me from hitting stuff on the way
down. I broke some ribs, I
guess. Probably punctured a
lung. Definitely had a
concussion, but I was conscious long enough to see my plane explode into
the side of a mountain before I blacked out.”
wonder you have nightmares,” Sam whispered.
looked away from the red and white squares and risked meeting Sam’s
eyes. “Kid, I wish that was
the only thing I had nightmares about.”
He rubbed the back of his neck.
“I don’t think you want to know any more.”
Sam licked suddenly dry lips, “keep going.”
hard, Al nodded. His stomach
began to churn as he allowed the rest of the memory to come forward after
years of fighting it off. “I
woke up to hear voices shouting back and forth across the field. I was so out of it I actually called out for help, not
realizing they were speaking Vietnamese.”
He shut his eyes again and laughed darkly.
“It was pretty obvious that I wasn’t on their side. None of them spoke English, and they used that as an excuse
to start beating me when I didn’t answer their questions.
If I hadn’t punctured a lung on my way down, I had one by the
time they finished with me.”
tucked his arm against his side, as if still protecting the broken ribs
that had healed and been rebroken over the years of captivity.
He heard Sam suck in a strained breath, but he couldn’t look up,
not if he was going to finish what he’d just started.
To stop now, with the memory halfway out but not resolved, was to
invite despair--and the voices.
don’t know what happened after that because I blacked out again.
When I came to, I was in the corner of a dirty room.
They’d tossed me there when we got to what I soon found out was a
prison camp. My hands were tied together behind me and I was lying in a
puddle of blood and urine on the dirt floor.
I didn’t know how much of it was my own or what had been there
already. And I didn’t think
that I could feel any worse than I did.”
paused to take a sip of coffee. He
splashed a few drops on the tablecloth when his hands started shaking
again as he returned the cup to its place.
was wrong,” he quietly said.
face began to lose some of its color and he had to steady his own mug.
“Oh dear God,” he murmured.
wasn’t there,” Al said, steel in his voice.
“Just me and the Vietcong, and the deck wasn’t stacked in my
favor.” He rubbed his face.
“The soldiers in the field were just the welcome wagon.
The real party began when the VC sergeant came in to interrogate
me. He had his cronies yank me up by my hair and drag me to a
rickety chair. It was like a
scene from a bad movie. They
train you how to respond when captured.
Name, rank, serial number. Don’t
give away any secrets. All
that cloak and dagger stuff you think you’ll never have to use.
But they don’t--can’t prepare you for the torture.
He knew where each wound was and just how to aggravate it to cause
exquisite pain--things like ramming his boot into my broken ribs.
And that doesn’t even bring in the new wounds he caused.
I didn’t think there was any part of my body that hadn’t been
hurt out in the field, but he found new places to cause pain.”
rose in Sam’s throat as Al described his first interrogation session in
the prison camp. He
couldn’t imagine surviving even a few hours in such a place, and yet Al
had apparently made it through a number of years.
Years where the situation was probably not only duplicated, but
also intensified. Where the
young military officer had been patched up just enough to survive the next
rounds of torture and abuse, repeatedly paying for the so-called crimes
perpetrated by the very nature of warfare.
didn’t break, though,” Al said, some pride coming through.
“I couldn’t see from how swollen my eyes had gotten, I could
barely breathe, and I was more familiar with the taste of my own blood
than anyone should be. But I
didn’t break.” He
chuckled softly. “I think
that ticked off the sergeant more than anything else.
Too bad I was the one that paid for his temper.”
sat frozen across the table, swallowing a hot swig of coffee to burn away
the lump that had developed in his throat.
What was he supposed to say now that he had convinced Al to open
up? ‘What did you expect, a story about being lost in the jungles?
You saw Apocalypse
Now and The Deer Hunter,
did you think that was entirely fictional?’
I . . . I mean . . .
Oh, God.” Sam was
completely overwhelmed. It
seemed too trite to ask Al if he felt better now.
Sam was shamed for even having thought that merely talking about it
would solve Al’s problems. “Do you dream about that every night?” he solemnly asked.
I have a huge repertoire of sessions I could dream about.
That one just happened to be tonight’s selection.”
did you survive?” Sam asked. He
gasped at his own words and quickly apologized, trying to take them back.
gave a weak half-smile. “It’s
okay, Sam. I’ve wondered
that a lot myself lately, especially when I wake up from one of the
nightmares. I guess . . . I
just refused to give up. I .
. . dreamed about home . . . and my wife . . . and getting back to her.”
He sighed and picked at the bandage on his wrist.
did survive, though,” Sam affirmed, grasping at a fragile straw.
did,” agreed Al quietly. He
hid his hands beneath the table so he wouldn’t have to look at the
bandages again. Al closed his
eyes, but for once, the memory didn’t immediately flood his senses.
It wasn’t gone and he probably would never be able to exorcise
it, but at least it wasn’t at the forefront of his thoughts.
. . . I’m sorry I made you talk about it,” Sam was saying.
“I just thought that it might help.
I don’t know, I guess I thought it might make it less, I dunno,
don’t think anything can make it less real,” Al said, bitterness
creeping into his voice.
realize that now,” Sam apologized.
“I was just trying to help.”
know,” Al said. “You
don’t need to apologize.”
you were right. All I did was
make you relive it.”
was gonna relive it anyway. I
was reliving it when I woke
up.” Al hesitated. “I’m not saying you were right about talking about it.
I’m not saying it helped, and I’m not saying it didn’t.
But . . . I dunno . . . maybe talking about it did work a little
better than just trying to fight it off.”
you should think about seeing a therapist, then?” Sam offered.
“Someone you could talk about it with who’s trained to deal
Al took a calming breath. “I
don’t talk to shrinks anymore. In
fact, I don’t want to talk about my dreams with anyone, either.”
you just said getting it out might have helped a little.”
am not talking to a shrink.” Al
was firm, and he folded his arms for emphasis as he glared across the
table. “Dammit, Sam, why do
you keep pushing this?”
right. I’m sorry,” Sam
suddenly backed down. “I
just . . . you need some way to deal with such . . . painful stuff.”
way that doesn’t include booze,” Al put in, and sighed.
“Sam, you can’t make it all go away at once.
There’s no magic wand you can wave to make it all better.
They don’t make Band-Aids for wounds like this.”
nodded. He did wish that he
could strike upon some magic solution that would solve all of Al’s
problems, but it was ludicrous and pointless to count on that.
“But you need to find some way to cope, and if talking’s out .
not talking to a shrink,” Al repeated.
“And you. . . I told you you didn’t want to know.
I’m certainly not going to . . . traumatize you more.”
did warn me. And I
insisted,” Sam said, flushing at his inability to handle just a small
taste of what Al himself struggled with daily.
there’s no need to be giving you nightmares just so I can deal with
mine.” Al picked up the
cards he’d laid on the table and started shuffling them back and forth
within his hand.
stop saying you’re sorry!” Al shouted, throwing the cards down.
“I’m so sick of people telling me they’re sorry.
‘Sorry you had to go through that, Al.’
‘Sorry to have to tell you about your wife.’
‘Sorry I have to make you go through a hearing to keep your
job.’” He shoved himself
out of the chair and stalked to one of the small windows.
Al squeezed his upper arms as he stared outside into the blackness.
didn’t move from the table. “I
wish I knew what to say.”
snorted and turned to face the young scientist. “There isn’t anything you can say. That anyone can say, for that matter,” he shrugged.
He rolled his shoulders back and forth.
“I think I’m gonna try to get some sleep again, after all,”
Al finally said. He waved at
the table. “Do you mind if
I just leave all this for morning?”
take care of it,” Sam quietly answered.
then,” Al nodded. He turned
and swiftly marched out of the kitchen.
He kept his eyes set forward as he walked through the living room,
past the table with the liquor inside its drawer.
As if he were wearing blinders, Al continued into the bedroom,
closing the door behind him.
sat at the table, unmoving, after Al left.
He wasn’t really helping matters, and he only prayed he wasn’t
making things worse for Al in his attempts to help.
how did you help your
he silently asked his older brother.
‘It’s not enough to just take away the booze. I see that now. But
I don’t know what to do. I’m
so scared that I’m hurting him more than I’m helping.
I’m not qualified to do this.’
buried his head in his hands and thought back over the details of Al’s
nightmarish memory. ‘Be
honest, Sam, what he lived through.’
The later experiences had to have been so much worse, and just that
first day had been horrific in Sam’s eyes.
The lump returned to Sam’s throat.
sorry, Al,” he whispered to the empty room.
“I know you don’t want to hear that, but I really am sorry.”
closed his eyes and let the tears of empathy for Al’s pain and shame at
his own ineptitude streak down his cheeks.
he prayed. ‘I
don’t know what to do. Give
me the answers to help Al.’ Sam folded his arms on the table and
used them as a cushion for his head.
“Tom, how would you have handled this?
What do I do?”
sob suddenly rose up in his throat and Sam started crying in earnest. “I
wish you were here to help me, Tom. You’d
know what to say.”
do I do? What do I do?’
To Be Continued