VIRTUAL SEASONS EPISODES
May 21, 1970 Los Angeles, California
Sam leaps into Jeff Walker, a 29-year old Buddhist karate instructor at Chuck Norris' Karate Studio in 1970. He meets one of Jeff's students, 10 year old Benjamin Steussy, and senses that the boy is losing confidence in himself, his church and his family. Al and Ziggy report a dire future for the boy if Sam doesn't restore his faith in something soon. When a shocked Sam figures out why the boy's faith is wavering, he employs his friend and Observer to help him in a memorable ruse.
Written By: A. J. Burfield
Dr. Sam Beckett, barely cognizant of his senses, leaped backwards at the yell, instantly raised his arms to block an attack and dropped low into a horse stance for balance. His well-rehearsed defense was not needed when he focused his eyes and realized that his attacker was no more than seven years old. He became even more aware of his surroundings when he heard the tittering of stifled laughter, and noticed that he was standing in front of at least a dozen young boys dressed in traditional gis for martial arts.
"Did I scare ya, sensei? Did I?" The little boy in front of him could barely contain himself as he tried to stand at attention in front of Sam, prancing in place from excitement. From somewhere in the group Sam heard a low hiss of warning.
A look of embarrassment crossed the boyís face, and he collected himself enough to execute a stiff bow to Sam. Sam dropped his defenses and returned the bow awkwardly. "Oh, boy," he mumbled to himself, very aware of the eyes upon him as Sensei Sam.
May 21, 1970
Los Angeles, California
When the little boy stepped back in line an older boy in a purple belt stepped forward and faced the group and started to lead the boys through breathing exercises. Sam noted with fondness the belt levels of the boys. The beginners wore white, and progressed through yellow to purple. The boy leading the warm down was obviously the senior member of the group. A pleasant wave of nostalgia washed over Sam as he recalled going through the same progression. He just couldnít recall when that was, exactly.
Sam looked up to take in his surroundings and saw a viewing area just inside the front door. It was packed with mothers, some glancing annoyingly at their watches and others looking bored. Sam noted a wall clock by the door that read a little after six oíclock.
After the warm down the boys recited a closing chant. Sam moved his lips to look like he knew what he was saying, and tried to make out the words. When they were finished, they all bowed towards Sam, and the older boy stepped back in line. Sam returned the bow, unsure what to do next. The boys watched him expectantly, some shifting their weight and glancing towards their mothers. Class must be over, Sam concluded.
"Ah, you can go now," he said.
With a surprised look all the boys dashed to the door in barely controlled chaos. Sam awkwardly backed away to survey the scene. The women were dressed in bright colors and short skirts, with pale lipstick and hair either piled high or hanging straight. Some wore chokers. It reeked of the late 60ís, possibly the early 70ís and Sam felt his eyes roll upwards. "Please donít make me invent disco," he whispered to God, Time, Fate, or Whomever.
Turning around to inspect the dojo he came face to face with a wall of mirrors and the reflection of a well-toned man in a black gi. Sam fingered the brown belt and found himself to be very comfortable in this outfit. The man Sam had become appeared to be in this late 20ís with a classic fu-manchu mustache and hair pulled back in a tight ponytail. He was neat and clean and had dark, rich brown eyes that sparkled. Sam liked this guy.
He reached out to touch the face in the glass when a voice barked from the back room, "Sweep out the dressing area then youíre free to spar with us, Jeff." A short, very compact man with blond hair strode out from the back room, tightening his belt and looking right at Sam. Sam instantly felt he knew this person. It annoyed him that his memory was Swiss-cheesed, having great holes and gaps, so he couldnít pin a name on the man. By the way the man talked to the other guys following him from the back room, he was obviously the one in charge here.
Sam sidled over to the doorway to retreat to the back rooms, remembering to bow out of the dojo. Bowing out was a show of respect and an expected gesture; Sam was relieved to recall as he backed out of the room. Turning back around to see where heíd backed into Sam discovered he was in a hallway that had a half dozen curtained rooms and a regular door at the end that had "EXIT" stenciled on it in red. He began to systematically check each room for a broom to carry out his chore.
He had just pulled back the third curtain when he just about collided with a boy hurrying to leave the small room. Sam recognized him as one of the older boys in his class.
"ĎScuse me," the boy mumbled, ducking his head as he slid past Sam and out the back door. Sam watched him leave with a curious feeling in his gut.
ĎThat seemed odd,í he thought to himself. He turned back to the little room and saw that it contained several gym bags strewn about and a broom propped in the corner. Sam grabbed the broom and started sweeping.
Purposely working slowly Sam hoped Al would show up soon to tell him what to do. He could hear the grunts, thumps and laughter of good-natured sparring, and knew heíd done this before and actually looked forward to joining them. As he swept he could picture long, intricate routines of kicks, chops, grabs and releases, amazed at the detail of his memory. So why were other parts of his life impossible to remember? Would this Swiss cheese effect ever dissipate?
The sweeping was soon done and Sam had even tidied up the rest room in an effort to kill time. He couldnít go home; he had no idea where he lived, what his whole name was, or even where his clothes were! It had been almost an hour now, and even though he wasnít too anxious to enter the world of free love and hippies, he sure was ready to leave this back room.
The desire to join in the sparring was finally too much, and Sam slowly headed to the open doorway to the dojo, drawn by the sounds of the camaraderie. He stepped quietly onto the padded floor mats trying to slip into the group without being noticed. Watching two men spar with gusto, and two more off to the side trading comments and holds, Sam realized that the style they were using was Tae Kwan Do. He frowned to himself; did he know that or did Jeff know that? It seemed too familiar to be a mixing of the minds. Where was Al when he needed him?
"Hey, Jeff, come here," the short blond man said energetically, waving him over. "Stand here and block this."
Sam hesitated for just a second, and stepped up to the indicated spot. The room grew quiet. Sam felt himself automatically bow to his partner then drop into a defensive position. The man mirrored his motions, then instantly Sam found himself on his back with a throbbing pain in his chest. This guy was fast!
There was a burst of laughter. "OK," the man chuckled. "That probably wasnít fair. Letís try it again."
Sam caught his breath and stood up, prepared to do better. The punch and kick combination was a little slower this time and Sam successfully blocked both, obviously to the surprise of the group.
"Well!" a tall black man exclaimed. "Someoneís been practicing!"
Sam smiled and shrugged, but didnít take his eyes off his attacker as they circled slowly in ready positions. Sam managed to block another punch, then a kick, then struck out with a round kick, making brushing contact with his opponentís shoulder. There was a surprised gasp from the crowd, then the next thing Sam knew he was flat on his back next to the wall, gasping for breath, looking up at a plaque that read "1969 Fighter of the Year, Black Belt Magazine". The glare on the gold nameplate made it impossible for Sam to read the recipientís name, but it didnít take a quantum physicist to realize that it was probably the guy that put him down there.
There was scattered applause and laughter as the grinning winner stepped over and offered Sam a hand up. "Youíve come quite a ways, Jeff!" He laughed. "Thatís the longest youíve ever lasted and you even touched me! Thereís hope!"
Sam took the hand and lurched to his feet, noting that it hurt to breathe. He stretched out a bit, and took up an offer of some less strenuous sparring off to the side. As long as he was here, he might as well do something, he thought. It wasnít like he could go home.
He had been happily sparring with someone closer to his own level for several minutes when the swooshing sound of the imaging room door caught his attention. The sideways glance he gave the figure dressed in red and black was just enough of an opening for his opponent to sweep Samís feet out from under him. He landed with a solid thump on his back. Again. Al cringed.
"He got you there, Sam!" he commented helpfully.
"Thanks," Sam grumbled.
"Hey, anytime!" the brown belted opponent answered cheerily, still standing with his defenses up and ready.
Sam noticed, however, that he was just a tad too close. He rolled over to his hands and knees and launched a rear kick and sweep motion that landed his opponent on the floor with him, sporting a surprised look.
"Good one, Sam!" Al cheered.
Sam got to his feet, and then bowed to the sitting man.
The man chuckled. "You have several tricks up your sleeve tonight, Jeff! Where did you learn those?" He pushed himself to his feet and returned the bow.
"It just came to me," Sam offered lamely, bowing out of the dojo. "Itís been fun, but I have to go now."
Most of the group glance his ways and nodded, and a couple of farewells floated through the air. Just before Sam stepped back into the hallway, the compact blond man stepped out of the group.
"I signed up a private lesson for you tomorrow at 6:15, if you need the cash," the man offered. "Check the schedule on the wall back there and initial if you can do it."
As the man spoke Al casually glanced over in his direction then Sam saw his eyes about pop out of his head and his jaw hit his chest. "SAM! Do you know who that is?! Wow, this is great!"
Blinking at the distraction, Sam kept his cool as he replied. "Yeah, sure, Iíll be here. Tomorrow. Sir."
"Thatís Chuck Norris! Heís fantastic, Sam! Oh, this is great! Heís one of the best martial artists there is!"
"OK, then. Adios." Chuck did a quick bow and turned back to the group.
Returning the bow Sam then stepped back out of sight. Al was bouncing up and down like a kid a Christmas.
"Chuck Norris is fantastic! Oh, I canít wait to see him in action!" He gleefully bound into the dojo the way only a hologram could; by passing through the walls.
"Al!" Sam hissed an, "get back here!"
Sam could only hear Alís response. "Wow! Itís like being at the movies! Heís terrific!" The slapping sound of someone hitting the mat punctuated Alís remark.
Sam felt a twinge of a headache and pressed his fingertips to his temples as he shut his eyes and tried to calm down. He could hear the ohís and ahís of Alís admiration, and could picture him standing right next to his hero, shadowing the punches. Sometimes he felt like the mother of a two-year-old and frowned at that thought. Had he ever been that?
A sudden bang and rattling of the wall brought him back to attention just as Al bounced back into Samís line of vision. "WOW!" Al exclaimed. "He just threw that guy into the wall! This is great!!"
"AL!" Sam barked, annoyed. "Please! I have NO idea why Iím here!"
"But this is so neat!" Al was stopped by the pained expression Sam gave him. "OK, OK. Why youíre here...well, we donít know." Al glanced over his shoulder, the desire to go back out to the sounds of combat written all over his body language.
"What?!" Sam snapped, fighting to keep his voice down. "Iíve been over an hour!"
Al was inching towards the dojo wall again and Sam stepped in his path as if he could physically stop him. Maybe that wasnít so, but his glare did the trick. Al stopped, giving in, and grudgingly reached for the handlink in his pocket giving the direction of the noisy sparring a last, longing look. Then he sighed and started punching buttons.
"Ziggy has no clue why youíre here. Itís May 21, 1970, by the way. Youíre in Los Angeles County, California." Al continued to punch the keys, all business.
"1970. OK. Whatís my name? Jeff what?" Sam started running his time here through his mind. Usually there was some sort of clue as to the event he was to fix soon after he leaped in. Who had he seen? Then it occurred to him. What about the kid that heíd seen in the back room? He had seemed kind of jumpy to Sam. "Am I here to help a student?"
Al gave him an odd look. "We donít know, Sam. This Jeff Walker guy you just leaped into only started teaching here last month." Al continued to tap at the keys of the brightly flashing hand unit. He frowned. "Heís just got a cat... what?" Al slapped the handlink and it squealed in protest.
Sam looked exasperated. "A cat? Whatís that have to do..."
"Oh! No, not a cat... Katmandu! He just got back from Katmandu where he was..." he whacked the link again. "..probably contemplating his navel," Al mumbled as he shook the sputtering link.
"What? Doing what?" Sam was as confused as before.
"Where were you in the 60ís?" Al commented, distracted, then realized whom he was talking to. "Oh, yeah. On the farm, contemplating udders."
"What are you talking about?"
"I know you probably never actually saw anyone that did this, being from the farm and all," Al rolled his eyes as he spoke, "but you must recall the spiritual direction taken by a few weirdos in the 60ís. Gurus and stuff, holy visits to Nepal and Tibet, looking for something better than was here at the time." Al, seeming satisfied with what the link offered now, continued to read. "Draft dodgers, probably," he mumbled to himself.
"Do you think this Jeff guy was dodging the draft?" Sam whispered, eyes wide. "Is the war over?"
Al gave Sam a curious and patient look. "Not quite yet. It seems like itís never over." He turned back to the link, sparing Sam the details of where he himself had been at this point in time. Vietnam was difficult to forget; being a POW in Vietnam was impossible to forget. He suppressed a shudder and continued on, all business. "You, I mean Jeff, is a self proclaimed Buddhist and canít be inducted because of his religious beliefs. Huh." Al snorted.
"Well, I guess everyone was looking for some sort of explanation to the craziness of the times," Sam commented as he entered the room with all the bags. He was determined to find other clothes. "Maybe thatís why Iím here? To explain all this to someone?"
"Explain what? The Ď60ís?" Al gave a short laugh. "I still donít think that can be done," he mumbled half to himself. Then he suddenly perked up. "Who needs to explain hip huggers and going braless, if you catch my drift..." Alís leering tone made it very clear what he meant. "The more skin the better," he looked at Sam with a big grin. "Donít you think?"
Sam didnít even bother to answer. He just shook his head and continued his search. "I should have known."
"Are you looking for something to wear?" Al asked innocently.
"Yeah, but an address would be even better." Sam sounded annoyed as he rummaged through the bags. "Where do I go from here?"
"Why donít you try the closet there?" Al indicated a row of hooks in a small, curtained alcove.
Sam gave Al a sideways glance and stepped up to the curtain, pushing it aside. There was a pair of jeans and a T-shirt with ĎGood Karma, Good day, Good lifeí silk-screened across the back hanging together on a hook. A bulge in the jean pocket indicated a wallet, which Sam fished out and confirmed it belonged to Jeff Walker.
"What do we have on this Jeff guy?" Sam asked as he wormed his way into the clothes. Before putting on the shirt he studied the intricate flower design around the writing.
Al slipped the handlink in a pocket and removed an unwrapped cigar from another pocket, speaking all the while. "When he first leaped in he was in shock and wouldnít say anything. Then he sat up in that yoga pretzel-sit thing and started in on his mantra," Al rolled his eyes. "Beeks had a tough time breaking through that," he let out a short laugh recalling the incident. "He thought he was in another astral plane." His voice was heavy with sarcasm as he popped the cigar in his mouth and spoke around it. "Thatís why it took so long to get here. He had to examine his karma or some such thing."
Dressed, Sam gathered up his karate gi and headed out the back door, stopping to initial the sheet on the wall noting the private lesson he was to teach. He didnít want Al getting distracted again by the action in the dojo, so he quickly skimmed the note and moved on. Sam shook his head. Chuck Norris. No wonder he looked familiar. And again was momentarily vexed at this selective memory. "Whereís my house?" he asked Al, standing in the alleyway behind the building.
"Itís within walking distance." Al regarded the handlink. "About two blocks that way," and pointed.
Sam walked up the alley, noting how empty it was. It was early evening, and he expected more foot traffic. When he got to the end of the cross street, Al indicated a left then a sudden flash of insight made him pull out Ziggyís handlink and rapidly punch the buttons. "You know," Al said happily, "we havenít put in the Chuck Norris information yet. Maybe thatís significant."
Sam rolled his eyes and patiently walked along the sidewalk, listening to his friend as he studied the handlink. The sound of music spilled through an open window above one of the stores.
"Why do birds suddenly appear
Every time you are near?"
"I know that song!" Sam said brightly.
Al glanced at him. "Too bad," he shot in response.
"Just like me, they long to be close to you!"
Sam started humming and singing softly. Al grunted. "Sam," he said patiently, "You donít exactly look like the Karen Carpenter type, here," noting a surprised look from a rare passing pedestrian, and pointing at Samís reflection in a store window.
Looking at his fu-manchu and pony tailed reflection, a perplexed Sam said, "So, what type do I look like?"
"Well, letís see here..." Al sighed and tapped the link keys, "1970 brought us the Jackson 5, Sly, Neil Diamond, here ya go! You look like the George Harrison or maybe even the Led Zeppelin type. Now let me finish here...." Al got back to his inquiries to Ziggy as Sam tried to recall anything by the mentioned artists.
Coming up empty in his musical memories, Sam instead took the time to examine the neighborhood a little more closely. It seemed to be fairly quiet, as a few cars cruised slowly by and the small stores looked empty. The business area gave way to a residential district made up of small bungalows typical of southern California. Across the street he saw a tall church spire topped with a cross rising elegantly between the rooftops. The front of the church, which was set back from the sidewalk, came into view as Sam passed on the sidewalk. A small, engraved wooden sign stated "St. Michaelís" was sprouting from the well-manicured lawn. It seemed so peaceful, and so out of place for the self-centered Ďmeí decade of the 70ís that Sam could recall.
"Wow! It looks like Chuckís studio there does quite the Hollywood business! Steve McQueen works out there! Oh, Iíve got to see him," Al voice was animated with excitement. "That must be how Chuck gets into the movies."
Al continued to rattle on as Samís attention was drawn to a lone figure standing on the steps to the church. Distracted, Sam said, "I doubt Iím here for Chuck Norris or Steve McQueen, Al." He studied the figure on the steps, not really hearing his friendís response.
Then it hit him. The figure was the boy from the dojo, the one who left out the back door. It was starting to get dark, and the boy was just standing there, staring up at the cross on the spire, gripping the handrail flanking the steps. "I think heís why Iím here," he said softly, stopping Alís tirade.
"Who?" Al followed Samís gaze. ďHim?"
"Yeah. Him," and Sam started across the street, knowing his gut feeling was right. "I saw him at the dojo."
"Whatís his name so I can check him out?"
Sam glanced over to his holographic companion and grinned slightly, ducking his head as he spoke. "Donít know yet. Letís find out."
The boy looked to be about eleven years old with a smooth, round face and bulky body. His fair hair was straight and thin, just touching his collar in the long haired style of the times. When Sam crossed the street to the sidewalk at the base of the stairs he saw that the boyís grip was so tight on the rail that his knuckles were white. He had a far away look in his face and not aware of anything but the cross he stared at. The boy jumped as Sam spoke.
"Hey," Sam greeted, stopping at the base of the stairs. The boy hadnít heard him walk up.
His head jerked around, surprised, and then a look of confusion crossed his face. "Sensai," he said, "Uh, hi." He dropped his hand from the railing and stood awkwardly. The boy obviously wasnít too comfortable with Samís arrival.
Trying to get the boy to relax, Sam said casually, "This is your church? I mean, you go to this church?"
Looking back at the spire as if to confirm his location, he replied quietly, "Yeah."
Getting anything from this kid would be tough. "You looking for someone? Itís not Sunday," Sam had taken a guess and gave Al a sideways glance. The hologram nodded an affirmation.
His feet were suddenly very important as his eyes fell downward. The boy nervously began to twist his fingers together. "I, uh, have rehearsal," he stated quietly.
Rehearsal? "Maybe heís in the choir," Al guessed brightly.
"Choir practice?" Sam asked.
Very uncomfortable, the boy glanced up nervously at Sam before studying his feet again. "Uh, no." His voice dropped. "Iím an altar boy."
"Oh, I see," Sam said, smiling, as Al punched away on the handlink.
Just then the front doors of the church opened and another boy, a little older, stuck his head out. "Hey Benji! Iím not doiní all the work! Get in here!"
"OK!" Ben responded with a relieved glance at Sam. "Uh, gotta go," and he trotted up the steps and disappeared in the church.
Al meanwhile was tapping up a storm, and reading Ziggyís response. "Letís see, thereís a Benjamin Steussy listed as one of the altar boys from 1969 to 1972. Must be him. Letís see..." Ziggy continued to beep and blink and relay information. "When heís thirteen, thatís three years from now, he gets detained for missing..." Al frowned and whacked the link.
"Missing what? School?" Sam questioned, tilting his head and continuing to stare at the closed church doors.
"Not missing...misdemeanor. Detained for misdemeanor cruelty to animals and, oh, here it is, truancy." Al snorted. "I know what thatís like."
Sam looked at his friend with a confused expression, and finally turned from the steps. "You tortured animals, too? That doesnít seem..."
"No!" Al snapped, "Of course not!" He shook his head. "You should know me better than that, even with that Swiss-cheesed brain of yours."
Sam ducked his head. "Sorry, Al. I should know."
"I was talkiní about the truancy part. The only thing that lured me back to class was Becky Sullivan, the little minx," Alís one eyebrow raised above his twinkling eyes as the lurid memory crossed his mind. "I recall doing detention together with her once. I sure didnít consider detention punishment after that!"
Sam rolled his eyes in exasperation. "Stop that! Your deranged memories have nothing to do with Ben back there. Help me out here, Al!"
Al shook the memory out of his head, and continued to read. "You probably never missed a day of school. Perfect attendance, I wager," the hologram muttered as the information scrolled by on his screen. "Letís see... things get worse from there, theft and finally armed robbery when heís, wow! Sixteen! Turns into a real bad boy, Sam. Doesnít say why, though. His dad dies of a heart attack in about a year, and his mom sort of retreats after that. Bennie is an only child."
"Yeah. Rarely leaves the house. Goes to church everyday, though. Sheís still severely depressed to this day. Little Ben is currently serving life in prison for killing a security guard during a bank robbery. Some altar boy."
Rolling the information over in his head Sam was convinced Ben was the reason he was here. What happened to him? He didnít seem so bad now. Sam played a hunch. "Does Ziggy say if Ben quits karate anytime soon? He takes classes at Chuckís place."
"Hmmm," Al typed in the question, and squinted at the response. "Ziggy says he stops going shortly after his dad dies, according to his juvenile court record. He tried to use Ďattending karate classí as an alibi to a burglary, it didnít check out."
Sam had quietly entered the church. There was a reception area, then a set of double doors to the chapel. He peeked inside and saw Ben and the other boy standing together in the aisle. Ben was adjusting his gown, and an older man with a priestís collar was speaking to them. The other boy nodded his head, and walked up the aisle. The priest put his hand on Benís shoulder, and smiled down at him as he spoke. Ben seemed tense, and fidgeted with the hem of his robe. The priest raised his hand to Benís chin, and made the boy look him in the eye. Ben looked at him for a few seconds, then nodded, and the priest turned and walked up the aisle towards Sam. Ben stood there for a minute, looking down at the floor as the other boy set up candles on the altar. Sam saw Ben steal a glance at the priestís back, but was unable to read the expression. Sadness? Fear?
The priest turned just before the doors and moved out of Samís sight, and Ben joined the other boy at the altar. Sam retreated to the steps out side at Alís suggestion.
"I told you that Beeks isnít getting very far with this Jeff guy. Ziggy could pull everything she can find on this Ben kid and forward it to Beeks if you want. Maybe thereís something there..." The hologram stood patiently as his friend paced at the top of the steps.
"Yeah, do that. Meanwhile, Iíll try to talk to him a little more."
"Will do." Al punched some buttons and the Imaging Room door slid open. "See ya in a bit, buddy," he said as he stepped back into his time.
Sam settled down on the steps after his friend left, feeling a little abandoned. ĎSomeday,í he thought, looking the direction Al disappeared from. ĎIíll be there with you.í He tried to change his train of thought as a feeling of guilt trickled into his mind, then laughed shortly. Feeling guilty in front of a church. How appropriate.
It wasnít even a half an hour before the sound of a slamming door caught his attention. He turned his head to see the other altar boy trotting out and past Sam without a second look. Sam turned to the door, expecting to see Ben follow behind, but it was several minutes before the boy emerged. He had a downcast demeanor, and fiddled with the zipper to his windbreaker as he walked, almost running into Sam. The looks of surprise and embarrassment quickly passed over his face before his spoke.
"Wh .. what are you still doing here?" he stammered.
"Well, I was just enjoying the evening here waiting for you," Sam said pleasantly.
"I thought Iíd see if you wanted to come to lesson at the studio to, you know, sharpen your skills a bit."
Ben started fidgeting even more with his jacket. "Uh, well, I..."
"What level are you now?" Sam said, recalling the class in his head. Ben had lined up near the front of the group, which meant that he was a little more advanced. "Yellow belt?"
"Yeah," Ben replied quietly.
"So, you want to advance, right? Another class will help you along." Noting the boyís nervousness, Sam kept his distance and kept talking. "Come on, I have a small lesson tomorrow at 6:15. Why donít you join us?"
"OK," the boy finally agreed, seeing Sam wasnít going to leave until he answered.
"Great! Iíll see you there. 6:15 tomorrow. Need me to get you?"
Sam backed away, smiling. "OK, then. See you tomorrow!"
Ben waved a small wave, then darted down the steps. Sam decided to see where the boy lived, and followed him from a distance. It was just getting dark, so it wasnít difficult to keep an eye on him. Sam discovered that he lived only a couple blocks away from the church in an older home complete with a picket fence and tidy lawn. The lights were on inside, making it look safe and homey. Ben clomped up the wooden steps, and shortly after the screen door banged shut. Sam sighed when he thought about the boyís bleak future, and turned to try and find Jeff Walkerís street.
Sam awoke stiff and sore the next morning. He rolled off the lumpy futon mattress, which was directly on the floor, to his knees and stretched the kinks out of his back. He had wandered the street the previous night looking for the address on his driverís license, only to realize that the address was miles away in an adjoining city. When Sam couldnít find the first address, he remembered that Al said Jeff had come back from Katmandu recently, and searched the wallet again. Jeffís new address, heíd finally discovered, was on little white card stashed away in one of the pockets.
The address was to a cramped studio that only had the mattress, a low box for a table, a lava lamp, and a hot plate. His clothes were piled on the floor of the closet, since Jeff was also lacking hangers. Jeff Walker apparently had few material possessions, and had recently lived out of the well used backpack leaning in the corner.
"Finding himself," Sam said out loud with a laugh. He remembered the term, and the confusion it brought to his father. His father! Shocked, he ran the entire conversation through his head, like it was yesterday.
"What does Ďfinding yourselfí mean?" heíd asked while sharpening an ax blade in the barn. "Living up to your responsibilities is what defines you as a person."
"Well, Dad, maybe just being responsible isnít enough for some people," Sam had countered while pitching straw into the milking stall. "Maybe theyíre looking for happiness. You know, what makes them happy."
Sam could still hear his fatherís chuckle in response. "Happiness is earned, just like everything else. It isnít Ďfound.í" He was quiet for a moment, "In fact, the only thing I can think of that isnít earned in this life is faith. Faith is something that is just... well, itís just there or itís not." He held the blade up and tested it with his thumb. "And I couldnít imagine going through life without faith."
Sam ran that thought through his head as he stood. Faith. Is that what this leap was all about? Or was that just a stray thought? Heíd come to realize that his instincts and thoughts during a leap were usually right on target and shouldnít be ignored. He put the thought aside and scrounged the mini refrigerator for food. Not much there; soy milk, bean sprouts and tofu didn't fit his idea of breakfast. He rounded up the only two eggs and scrambled them in a small frying pan on the hot plate. There were a two slices of whole wheat bread to top off the meal. Sam was washing the pan in the bathroom sink when Al joined him. The hologramís laughing tipped off his arrival.
"A lava lamp! Thatís great! Wow, that might even be worth some money now."
He was typing away on the handlink when Sam stepped into the living area. "Eh, only worth about $150. But thatís not bad since he probably got it for about five bucks." He shrugged his shoulders, and popped an unlit cigar in his mouth.
"Are you through shopping?" Sam asked with exaggerated patience.
"Well," the hologram mumbled around the cigar. "Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed... er, floor. Jeeze, I havenít seen one of those since Vietnam!" Al pointed at the lumpy futon.
"Very funny," Sam replied, rubbing his back. "What have you found out about Ben?"
Al visibly settled down and became serious. As he spoke the held the unlit cigar between the fingers of one hand, and kept the other in his pants pocket as he rocked on his heels. "That kid is a mess. Kid. What am I saying? Heís an adult now, I mean, or will be..."
"I know what you mean. Whatís wrong with him?"
"Well, Beeks went through the court records and the required psyc testing he had as a result of his many arrests. She says all indications are of a traumatic childhood event, one he never really came forth with."
"You mean other than his father dying?"
"Yeah. He starts showing symptoms of bi-polar syndrome later this year, but no one knows what that is in this time. They just consider him difficult and high-strung. It really shows at school, according to the teacherís reports. Low grades Ďn stuff. But he doesnít test as bi-polar now, so something else was going on to disturb him. Something outside his control; thereís no physical reason for him being the way he is... I mean becomes... you know what I mean."
Sam looked thoughtful. "So, thereís something I should be looking for."
Al nodded. "After getting Beeks input, Ziggy now puts it at 89.34% that you are here for Ben, and 57.75% that youíre here to stop an event."
"Why so low for the event?"
Al sighed and rolled the cigar in his fingers. "Well, Zig couldnít figure out what kind of event to look for. There isnít any physical evidence or record of any kind of event of any magnitude. Everyone checks out clean. Well, except for little Ben. Ziggy blames us for not giving her enough input and is threatening to shut herself down until thereís more Ďcooperationí."
Sam looked amazingly at his friend, unable to believe what he just heard. "What was I thinking with that ego program?" he commented. "I should have gone less Streisand and more Mother Theresa."
"Itís a good thing she canít hear you," Al said in a sly tone. "Then weíll never get anything out of her."
Sam snorted and pulled on some jeans, noting the time. "I have until about six tonight to find something out before I see Ben today. What day is it? Friday?"
Al was antsy and distracted as Sam dressed. When Sam didnít get a response, he waved his arms in front of the hologram to get his attention. "Huh?" Al said, focusing on his friend. "What?" Samís exasperated expression answered his query. "OK, so Iím not entirely here." A lecherous grin erupted on his face "I have a lunch rendezvous with Beth, and I donít wanna be late, if you catch my drift."
Sam let out a sigh, and just waved his friend off. He would be worthless at this point anyway. "Gee, I hate to make you work, but could you get the location of Benís school before you go?"
Al happily complied, albeit rather hurriedly, and stepped through the Imaging Chamber door for his date. Sam shook his head, slipped on some sandals, and walked out into a beautiful May day. The air was crisp, and a bit damp from the night, which made walking pleasurable. Jeff Walker, it seemed, only had his feet to get around. Considering how close all the conveniences were, it wasnít really a problem and turned out to be rather calming to Sam.
He heard the school before he saw it. Following the sound of children playing he found the school was directly across from a public park. He took a seat in view of the playground, and studied the chain link enclosed school. No sooner had he taken his position the bell rang and the little kids on the playground dashed off to the buildings as the older kids took the field. ĎFifth graders, probably,í Sam thought, mentally calculating the number of them to be below a hundred somewhere.
Scanning the crowd, he realized that the chances of him seeing Ben were pretty slim. Just when he was about to give up he saw a lone student edging his way along a building to the grass, aiming for a lone tree. It was Ben.
Ben obviously wasnít fond of recess, and it soon became apparent why. He was trying to avoid the main crowd on the blacktop, but Sam saw two boys point at him. They started tossing a big, red ball back and forth, pulling three more boys into their circle as they moved in Benís direction. When they were fairly close, one boy wound up and heaved the ball as hard as he could at Benís back and he went down. Sam winced in sympathy, fighting to keep himself on the bench in the face of such cruelty.
The boys laughed loudly and surrounded Ben. Sam couldnít hear what they were saying, but the contempt for Ben was obvious. Bet got up, only to get pushed down again. The band was relentless in the few minutes they had before the sound of the bell sent them trotting back to class. Ben got up slowly, brushed himself off, and was the last off the playground as the yard duty yelled at him to hurry up.
When the playground was quiet, Sam stood up to go, very happy that heíd asked Ben to come to class tonight and hoped heíd show up.
The rest of the day went rather slowly, and Sam kept busy by investigating the man heíd leaped into. He knew he was here for Ben, but there had to be a reason why Jeff Walker was the man that had been selected as Samís target. He went back to the apartment via a small store, where he bought a little food. Playing Jeffís part, he got only fruits and vegetables, and was now snacking on a red apple as he perused the book collection in Jeffís closet. There wasnít a huge range of reading; it all had to do with Buddhism or methods of relaxation. A more careful check of the room revealed what must have been the manís feeble version of a Buddhist altar; a must to every Buddhist. There was no figurine of Buddha, probably because Jeff couldnít afford one, but an incense holder and offering dish were on the floor in front of a crude, yet colorful, sketch of Buddha tacked on the wall. There was a small chunk of a Hershey bar in the offering dish. Jeffís Buddha had a sense of humor.
Jeff Walker was very serious about his chosen religion. Sam found a diary in the old backpack where he had carefully written down his thoughts and revelations from his trip to Katmandu, a Buddhist Mecca. This man had an inner peace rare for one so young, and Sam came to respect him for that. Beeks and Al wouldnít be able to shake this manís resolve. But how was that supposed to help Ben? Was there something here to help Sam understand what was going on?
Sam tried a couple of the relaxation exercises described in the diary. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, he took a deep breath and closed his eyes. He felt his body relax and his mind focus. It was like being in a trance. Suddenly, there was a clear vision in his mindís eye; the images of Ben and the priest, Ben on the playground and Ben standing on the church steps played by in excruciating detail as Alís voice clearly whispered to him: "She says all indications are of a traumatic childhood event, one he never really came forth with."
Then he heard his fatherís voice: "In fact, the only thing I can think of that isnít earned in this life is faith."
"Sam? SAM!" Alís voice snapped him back to reality with such force that he fell backwards against the wall, bonking his head and scattering the books piled next to him. "Where have you been? Iíve been trying to get your attention for about ten minutes!" Al expression was a cross of relief and exasperation, and he waved the blinking handlink in front of Samís eyes to draw his line of sight.
Sam stared up at his friend, unblinking, as a realization dawned on him. How had they all missed it? "Ben is being molested by someone," he said stated clearly, taking all the details from his thoughts and adding them up. "All the signs are there! A loner type kid, unresponsive parents, difficulty in school, and disturbing behavior soon. Heís a classic victim."
Al, completely taken aback, looked like a fish out of water as his mouth opened and shut wordlessly. "Ah, well, what?"
"Ask Ziggy what the probability is for me being here to stop Ben being molested."
It took a few seconds for the answer. "That may be it; but Ziggy says itís only 62.5% that you are here to stop an abuse of some sort."
Sam reflected for a minute as he ran his fatherís voice through his head again. Then he asked in a softer tone. "Ask if Iím here to renew Benís faith in his Church."
The hand link squealed immediately after input. "Bingo, Sam! Ziggy says itís 99.62% youíre here to do both." There was a quiet hesitation. "How are you gonna do that?" The Observer was genuinely perplexed by the notion. "Itís gonna be hard enough to figure out whoís abusing him. Heís obviously not the chatty type."
Samís eyes glittered as he smiled broadly and stood, facing his friend. "Thatís what youíre here for, Al!"
Al squinted in suspicion. "OKÖ" he said carefully, looking down at the hand link, ready to type.
"You need to run all the adults in his life. His teachers, his parents, his karate instructors," Alís head snapped up on that one. "And his priest, and the older altar boys."
"So, Ziggyís looking for criminal history?"
"Not necessarily. It may be subtler than that. Transfers, doctorís reports, all that." Sam walked to the window and looked outside at the clouds. "My gut feeling tell me the spiritual part of this and the abuse part are connected somehow. The way the priest looked at himÖ Iím not sure. Iíd start there."
Al was typing and fidgeting, obviously uncomfortable with the direction this was going. His faith had been tested many times during Samís leaps, at times even renewed, and the thought of this happening at a church was very disturbing. But he knew what it was like to lose faith, and didnít want it to happen to Ben, so he took the information and called for the Imaging Room door.
"Iíll get on this pronto, Sam." He stepped through, a man on a mission. "See ya soon."
"OK," Sam responded, turning to gather his things for the evening karate class.
It was after 4:00 when he got to the dojo. A man sitting in a cramped office by the main entrance grunted at Samís greeting. Paperwork was piled high around him, but Sam recognized him as one of the men from the previous eveningís workout. The fact that there wasnít a computer on the desk seemed funny to Sam, and he shook his head to bring himself back to 1970.
He dumped his bag in the back room and dressed in his gi.
"Hey! Jeff!" he heard from the front office.
"Yeah?" Sam responded, tying his belt as he stepped onto the dojo mats.
"Danny will be late, so can you cover his 5:00 class tonight?"
"Uh, sure!" Sam answered, happy to keep busy. He took his time to warm up and his class started arriving a little before the hour. It was a mixed group, older kids and young adults, all intermediates. Sam led them through warm ups, evaluated their individual levels, and paired them off for what he called Ďshadow sparringí, no touching allowed.
Sam was thoroughly enjoying himself. As he met with each pair to correct their moves, the number of questions they asked about Buddhism amazed him. He was very glad he had looked over the books in Jeffís apartment, and for his photographic memory as well as Alís comment about people looking for ways to make sense of the past decade. It all tied together, and Sam wondered if any of this information would help him with Ben.
The hour went by very quickly, and the group was reluctant to disband. They enjoyed their time with Sam, and had learned a lot. The final student pushed the door open to leave, and let in Samís 6:15 lesson. Sam felt his jaw drop.
"Sensai Jeff? Youíre teaching me, right?"
Sam was unable to answer right away, and felt his hands grow clammy. This woman had on the tightest T-shirt he had ever seen with nothing under it, topping off the shortest shorts he had ever seen. And the tone of her voice and her smile made it clear that she wouldnít mind more than karate lesson. He groaned internally, trying to figure out how to teach her without touching her. He didnít need that kind of entanglement right now!
Of course, thatís when he heard the sound of the Imaging Room door.
"Iím Layla," the woman purred as she brushed very closely by Sam on her way to the dressing rooms.
"Of course you are!" Sam heard Al cheerily reply, a sound of glee in his voice.
"Iíll be dressing in the back," she said, looking up through her eyelashes as she oozed by, slipping into the back.
"Oh, Sam! This looks like fun!" Al bounced on his toes as he tried to sidle over to the back rooms.
"Oh, no you donít!" Sam hissed. "Come back here! I need that information now!" He pointed to the floor in front of him, indicating where Al should stand. "Al!"
Obviously torn, Al hesitated, glanced back at Sam, and finally came over to his friend, disappointed.
"Youíre about as fun as Sister Bertha at the orphanage," Al grumbled, taking the indicated position. He sighed. "What a wasteÖ"
"And besides, youíre married!" Sam snapped.
"Hey, just because Iím married doesnít mean Iím blind!" Al replied, resigned, pulling out the handlink.
"Do you have anything?"
"Yes, I do. Ziggy says that all Benís teachers are females that stay at that school for 15 more years. Nothing there. The karate teachers here also stay around for several more years with no complaints filed against them. His family, well you know about them. Sort of a religious zealot for a mom, dad dies next year. Beeks says dadís a possibility. And, oh," Al read the screen while giving the back hall way furtive glances. "The priest at the Church, Father Simon, is replaced in about two years."
"Why? Why was he replaced?"
Al sighed. "Doesnít say exactly. Thereís a small article in the local paper about it, welcoming the new priest, but it only says Father Simon was going to study overseas. Ziggyís trying to wade her way through the Vatican system now, but the filingís pretty bad. Not a lot of this kind of information was put into a computer base. She did find that he died about 15 years ago in Italy. Zigís trying to interface with the Italian systems now for a death certificate, but it doesnít look too Ö. YOWZA!"
Alís exclamation made Samís head snap up as Layla stepped into the dojo. The shirt she had worn was replaced by the required dojo T-shirt, but obviously it was a size or two too small. The gi was belted with a yellow belt, an advanced beginner level. Sam never knew that cleavage could be visible in gi, but Layla had managed to display hers nicely. Sam felt himself flush with embarrassment, and Al bounced like a kid in a candy store. Before she got too close Sam ordered her to warm up. She pouted and obeyed.
Al drooled. "Oh, Iíd love to help her stretch out! You lucky dog! Teaching her grabs and releases and ohhh, I wish I wasnít a hologram!"
"Go away," Sam muttered to Al.
"What? Sam! Why canít IÖ"
It was Alís turn to pout as he grudgingly did as he was told. "Youíre no fun at all."
"Get me more on Father Simon. Now."
With a backward glance aimed appreciatively at Layla, Al stepped through the Imaging Room door. "This is a waste of a perfect situation!" And the door slipped shut.
"You werenít talking to me were ya?" Layla breathed, fluttering her lashes as she stretched.
Sam shook his head, speechless, and spent the next hour watching the door for Ben as he avoided Laylaís grasp. He fished an idea from his memory called Ďwax on, wax offí, not recalling where it came from. He showed her the arm movements for deflecting punches, which were like the putting on and taking off of wax from a car. As if sheíd know what that was, he thought. He also had her do push ups, sit ups and kicks at the body bag. By the end of the hour Layla was tired, sweaty and pouty. Her coifed hair hung in her face as she panted, whining about her sore muscles.
There was no sign of Ben in the hour. As Layla walked to the exit, Chuck passed her as he entered and they exchanged greetings. Chuck had a grin on his face as the exit door swung shut. "Layla asked for you to teach her, you know," he chuckled. "I donít think she expected the work out you gave her!"
Sam blushed. "She had a lot of, uh, energyÖ" he stammered, making Chuck laugh louder.
"Straight as a Texas Ranger, just like she said!" he laughed.
Sam forced out a short laugh, embarrassed, then changed the subject. He asked if he could leave to find Ben.
"Sure," Chuck shrugged. "You covered for Danny, so he can cover for you tonight. No problem." Then he looked thoughtful. "I remember when Ben signed up," he said. "His mom wasnít too happy about it. She thought it went against Jesusí teaching of peace. His dad finally talked her into letting him enroll. I wouldnít be surprised if she didnít let him come tonight."
Sam thanked him for the information, and changed his clothes, leaving by the back door. He felt pushed by a sense of urgency that he couldnít pinpoint, and jogged down the alley. He had just turned down the street in the direction of Benís house when the sound of the Imaging Room door opening was simultaneous with Alís shout.
"Sam! Youíve changed history somehow!" Sam started to slow down and face him, but Al shooíd him away with his hands. "Go to the church! Ziggy says someone sets it on fire tonight, probably right now! Go, Sam!"
He didnít need any encouragement and darted down the street, the hologram centering on him at each turn. Sam smelled the smoke just as the church came in sight. It looked all right from the front.
"Go around the back! The arson report says it starts in a trash can in the back!"
As Sam rounded the corner to the back he crossed from late afternoon daylight into a shadowy alley. It took a few seconds for his eyes to adjust. The smoke smell was strong and a flame suddenly erupted upward from a silver trash can, licking the back of the church and fully capturing Samís attention. The paint on a wooden back door blistered as Sam sprinted to it, the wood underneath charring before his eyes. He snatched the lid from the ground and clamped it on the can, singing the hairs on his arms and face. The metal handle burned his hand as he dragged the container away from the building, letting go just as his hand started to blister.
"That was close! Half the building went up originally!" The hologramís head snapped around to the side. "Sam! Some one just went down that side of the building!"
His hand throbbing, Sam dashed around the corner, tackling the small shadow before it escaped to the street. He managed to put the figure into a control hold just as he heard voices and the sound of rushing footsteps in the front of the church. The church had been occupied!
"Seven oíclock mass is going on," Al noted. "Looks like everyone is OK, though. History is still changing as we speak, Sam. Canít tell you what happens to your friend there." Al pointed to the gasping figure Sam sat upon.
It was Ben. Sam wasnít surprised, and quickly stood, dragging the boy to his feet. "Come on," he said, pulling the boy to the front of the church. They managed to blend into the coughing crowd, and Sam maneuvered Ben around the edge of the group and down the sidewalk. They were several houses from the scene when they heard fire engines in the distance. Sam kept a grip on Benís shirt as he pulled him along. His other hand throbbed painfully, a scattering of blisters marking his palm. Neither one of them said a word until they were at his apartment.
"Oh, that looks painful." The Observer was the master of understatement.
"So," Sam started, running his hand in cold water while Ben caught his breath and stared at the lava lamp. "Are you going to tell me what happened?"
"Careful, Sam," Al said. "Heís obviously disturbed."
Ben was standing sideways to Sam, giving Sam the opportunity to observe the parade of emotions march across the boyís face. He finally got in control, and muttered those words so typical of an eleven-year-old. "I donít know." The bubbling lava then released him from its hypnotic grip, and Benís head dropped to study his shoes. "Whatís gonna happen now?" He asked quietly.
"Well," Sam replied, his mind racing. "It depends on you."
Ben gave him a sideways glance, a surprised look flashing across his face. He quickly replaced the expression with a well practiced, bland face. It was clear he hadnít expected that statement.
Carefully patting his throbbing hand dry, Sam tried to keep the conversation going. "Can you at least tell me why you did that? The fire, I mean?"
"Yeah!" Al added, looking at the boy.
"I donít know." No surprise there.
Sam clenched his teeth in frustration. He hunted around for a bandage of some sort, but the best he came up with was an elastic Ace bandage. Laying a couple of tissues on the blisters, he started to wrap the hand. "Can you help me here?" He asked the boy.
Ben came over and held the tissues and bandage end in place while Sam wrapped. "You know," Sam said casually, "My dad used to say that ĎI donít knowí was not an acceptable answer because it makes your brain stop thinking."
"Really?" Al said, surprised. "I thought that was Dr. Laura!"
Sam bit his lip to stop his comment to Al. Calmly, he said, "You had a reason to do what you did. And I could have you explain it to the police, but I want you to tell me first."
Benís head shot up at the sound of the word Ďpoliceí, his eyes wide. "Are you gonna tell the police?"
"Yeah, Sam, are you?" Al asked. He had no idea what was going through his friendís head.
Samís mind was going furiously. He was treading on very thin ice. Ben could clam up completely, or this could be a turning point. Any input from Beeks would be nice right now, he thought. Sam regarded the boy, and their eyes met for several seconds. "I donít know yet," he responded. "You were lucky no one was hurt. I canít make any promises about the police. Since you canít tell me what you were thinking, tell me how you felt."
"Oh, thatís good, Sam," said, inputting the question for Beeks to review. "Good approach."
Ben dropped his eyes again, and Sam saw him flush. "I was mad," he said.
"At who? The church?"
This flustered the boy, and he became very animated, pacing back and forth. "Yes. No. I donít know!"
Sam carefully kept his expression neutral as he rested the wrapped hand on the counter and watched him. ĎThis kid is really confused,í he thought.
"So, you were mad."
"What were you doing in the alley?"
Ben stopped pacing. "I was going to mass," he replied quietly, again looking at his toes. "Well, actually, I was at mass, and went to the bathroom."
"In the alley?"
"No. Inside. I sorta sneaked outside when I was done."
"Did you forget about working out at the dojo?" Sam asked gently.
"No." Ben started to twist his fingers. "Mom wouldnít let me go because of mass."
"Was she at mass?"
"Whoa, Sam, do you think he was trying to hurt her with the fire?" Alís fingers flew across the handlink.
Samís mind was racing again. "Ben, did you want to come to the dojo instead? Is that why you were mad?"
Benís looked longingly at the door and his finger twisting became painful looking. Sam was on a touchy subject.
"Mr. Norris told me your mom didnít want you to take karate. She said it went against your religious training?"
A look of anger took over Benís face. "She said it was against Godís will. She said God wouldnít like it. Dad finally had her ask Father Simon if it was all right, and he said Godís children should take care of their bodies and exercise, so it was all right. If it werenít for Father Simon, I wouldnít be able to go at all. And I want to go! I like it! But mom says that God is still first."
Sam quietly listened to the rush of words. Ben continued to squirm, the words spilling from his mouth.
"She is so happy that Iím an altar boy. Iím already at the church a thousand times a week for that and mass! I hate it!" The last words were spit out with such anger that Sam was sure he was getting somewhere. He heard the handlink squeal.
"Beeks says to be careful, Sam. If you push too hard, he wonít talk anymore."
"Well, Ben," Sam said slowly, "Sheís right about God being first."
The boy glanced at him, a look of disgust on his face. "What do you know about God? My mom says you donít believe in God."
Surprised, Sam replied. "What? Why would she say that?"
Ben swept his arm around the room. "You arenít Catholic, are you? Whatís all this stuff?" He pointed to the altar area.
"Iím a Buddhist," Sam stammered, trying to sound convincing.
Ben frowned. "So you believe in more than one God? Where do you sacrifice the goats?"
"Goats?" Sam replied, totally befuddled. "I donít sacrifice goats! Did your mom say that?"
Ben looked sheepish. "No. She said you were a heathen. I thought that what heathens did!"
Sam smiled, and fought back a laugh, not wanting to embarrass the boy. Al, on the other hand, laughed loudly, which made it difficult to type on the handlink. Sam glared at him, and Al got under control, wiping his eyes with his sleeve.
"OK, weíre getting off track here," Sam said, collecting his thoughts. "Let me just say that thereís more than one way to worship God. The same God, by the way. But tell me, do you like being an altar boy?"
Ben started squirming and twisting his fingers to the point that Sam thought he would rip them out of their sockets. "Sometimes," he answered evasively, glancing at the door.
"Sam, you gotta hurry it up. Theyíre looking for Ben at the church. His mom is goiní nuts." Al whacked the squealing link a few times.
Sam sighed. "OK. I wonít say anything to the police for now."
Ben looked relieved. Sam indicated the door. "Come on, Iíve got to get you back."
"Sam, Iím gonna run all this by Beeks. Iíll be right back."
Sam nodded as he opened the apartment door. He heard the Imaging Room door open and close as he stepped outside, and held the apartment door open for Ben. Ben stepped through, and Sam automatically put his hand on the boyís shoulder as he walked by.
The reaction to the touch was instantaneous. Ben shrank away from Samís hand, and sidestepped out of Samís reach. His head was bowed as he stared at the ground, and Sam saw him turn red and visibly stiffen.
"Whatís wrong, Ben?" Sam asked gently. He didnít attempt to approach the boy and tried to look as non-threatening as possible.
"IÖIÖ" he stammered quietly. "You just surprised me, thatís all." He started to walk off, but Sam stepped in front of him and knelt down so their eyes were level.
"Ben. Does someone touch you in a way you donít like?" Sam tried to catch his eye, but the boy looked everywhere but at Sam
"I," he started, then a short silence. "I donít know what youíre talking about." He looked like he was about to bolt, so Sam tried a different approach.
"Ben, is an adult making you keep a secret?" He asked gently, resisting the urge to reach out and hold the boyís shoulders.
Ben looked at him sharply, eyes wide. Sam could see him thinking about the question, and how he should answer. Something was weighing heavily on this boy, and Sam was afraid he knew what it was. Finally, Ben said carefully, "I canít tell you." He looked right at Sam as if he was hoping Sam could read his mind.
"Is your secret with Father Simon?"
Benís mouth opened and shut as he searched for an answer, and he nervously shifted his feet. Then he started to cry. "I canít tell you," he sobbed quietly.
Sam fought the overwhelming urge to hug the boy, and tried to keep the anger he felt from tinting his words. "Did Father Simon say you couldnít tell?"
"No," the boy cried, "My mom said I couldnít."
Shocked by the response, Sam simply stood and led the way back to the church, the sniffling boy following a step behind. Sam started getting the feeling that this was going to be more difficult than he imagined, especially if what he was thinking was true.
Samís mind was whirling as they walked back to the church. What was going on here? What secret was Ben keeping? There was something uncomfortable for the boy going on somewhere, and Samís suspicions about the Priest felt even stronger. He also suspected the mother knew. And if she did, how could she not take this to the police?
There were a couple of small groups of onlookers gathered on the lawn, and Sam could still smell smoke. There was only one fire engine left behind the church. Children gathered around, excitedly pointing out the action to each other. As Sam and the boy approached on the sidewalk, an elderly woman waved at Ben.
"Benjamin!" she called on a shaky voice. "Your motherís worried sick about you! Sheís inside with Father Simon, praying for your safety. Iíll tell the nice fireman that youíre back." She waddled across the lawn to the back of the church as Sam dropped back to let Ben go up the steps first. The odd looks from the church members didnít get by Sam; he knew the way Jeff Walker looked was quite an oddity to this crowd and tried to be low key. Right now his biggest concern was keeping his cool around Father Simon when what he really wanted to do was haul him off to a corner and brow beat the man for information.
When they entered the church Sam saw the Priest standing next to a woman sitting in the front pew. Ben and Samís footfalls caused the Priest to look up, smile, and lean over to speak to the woman. She twisted around and saw Ben, and what she did next surprised Sam. Instead of running to the boy, she got down on her knees and started praying as she cried. Ben brushed by the Priest and sat down on the pew, next to his mother.
Sam felt very awkward. He wanted to confront the Priest right here but knew it would be inappropriate. Instead, he turned and studied the man.
"Thank you, young man, for bringing Benjamin back," the Priest said with a smile, questions clearly showing in his eyes.
"Sure," Sam answered. "I burned myself putting out the fire, and Ben helped me home," he improvised.
"Did you see who did it?" Father Simon asked, appearing satisfied with the reply.
"Uh, no, I didnít. I just smelled the smoke." Sam saw Ben glance up at him, relief in his eyes, then look back at the floor. He sat quietly by his mother, unmoved by her tears. Sam turned his attention on the Priest over the sound of the murmuring woman. "Benís a good kid."
"Yes," the Priest nodded shortly. "He is. Now I think he should help his mother home. This has been a stressful day." And with that, he briefly lay his hand on the womanís shoulder and walked up the aisle.
Ben helped his mother up. They crossed themselves and turned to the aisle. Sam watched them both from a few steps back. She was a small woman who appeared older than the years Sam guessed her to be. She walked straight and proud, and gave Sam a quick up and down look as she passed. The scrutiny made Sam uncomfortable, like he was being judged and dismissed at the same time. She left without a word to him, Ben following close behind.
He had to talk to her, but not here. Making his way out of the church he struggled to come up with a plan. It was getting dark. As he passed the little houses of the community he noticed how cozy they seemed with lights on against the darkness. A home should feel like that, he thought. It should be sanctuary filled with trust. A boy like Ben should feel safe. Something had to change for him, and soon. Sam felt that this was a turning point for the boy, and continued on the path to his house.
When he got there, he stood on the sidewalk for a few minutes, building the courage to knock on the door. It was clear from the womanís inspection earlier that Sam could be in for a hostile confrontation. She did call Jeff a heathen, after all. He had a good idea where he stood with her.
He took a deep breath and climbed the few steps to the front porch. The creaking of the steps must have given him away, as the door opened only after one knock. Ben stood on the other side of the screen door.
"You canít come in because my Dadís not home yet," he said quietly. His eyes were wide with fear. He didnít question why Sam was there, though. Sam felt Ben knew what was on his mind. The boy didnít look afraid; he looked almost like he was pleading Sam to do something.
"I need to talk to your mom, Ben. Will she see me?"
"I donít knowÖ." He turned his head. She must have been listening all along. "She says no."
Sam had an idea. "Tell her I want her to tell me about her God. I want to learn."
Benís eyes got big as Sam heard a mumbled response from behind the door. Stepping back, the small woman stepped in front of her son and grabbed Samís eyes with hers.
"Youíre trying to trick my son into betraying his God," she stated. "And I will not have any doings with the Devilís messenger."
That sounded final to Sam, and he would have backed off to try another day except for the look on Benís face. The boyís eyes were locked on Sam, a look of desperation in his eyes. He was depending on him, and Sam felt he had to give it another try. How could he possibly bring up the subject that her Priest was possibly mistreating her son?
"Then, could we sit out here and talk about Ben?" he asked politely. "About his karate classes and how you feel about it?"
Sam could see the thoughts running through her head. Finally, she nodded and turned to Ben before she stepped out. "Benjamin, would you please brew some tea for us? Itís getting a little chilly."
Ben gave Sam one last look. "OK," he said, disappearing down the hall.
She pushed open the screen door with a squeak and came out to the porch. There were two wooden chairs at one end and she led the way to them, offering one to Sam.
"Thank you," he said nervously, pausing to make sure she sat first. "Mrs. Steussy, let me introduce myself first. Iím SaÖ.Jeff Walker."
"I know who you are," she said softly.
"I understand you didnít want Ben to take karate classes. Would you tell me why?"
Mrs. Steussy studied Sam for a moment. "I donít believe in violence, because Jesus didnít believe in violence."
"Neither do I," Sam replied. By the way her eyes widened, she was surprised by that comment. "But I do believe in taking care of my body. Being healthy is a gift that should be taken care of. But I also believe in free will, and sometimes my version of free will clashes with anotherís version, and I will protect mine."
She looked confused for a moment. "God gave us free will," she said slowly.
"I know," Sam agreed. "And donít you believe that you should protect what God has given us?"
This got her thinking. "You talk like a Christian," she said.
"I talk like a believer," Sam replied. "Donít you agree that some people use their free will poorly? Robbers, for instance."
"Yes," she said slowly, trying to figure out where this was going. Sam saw her tense up a bit, and took another direction.
"How long has Father Simon been at your church?"
She smiled and relaxed again. "Five years," she said, smiling. "Heís been wonderful. He says heís sure weíll make it to Heaven."
"Really?" Sam commented.
"Yes!" She became animated on this subject, her eyes sparkling. "He said the first sign was when He gave us Benjamin. I wasnít supposed to be able to have children, you know. But God provided. Father Simon says I am blessed, and if I followed his directions, I could insure Benjamin and his father would follow me in to Heaven. He has taken Benjamin under his wing to help me direct him." He eyes lost a little sparkle and she dropped her eyes. "It will be more difficult for William, though," she said quietly. Sam looked at her questioningly. "My husband, William. He stopped attending services. Father Simon says that if I pray everyday and do what he says, William will come back into the fold."
An uncomfortable feeling was creeping into Samís mind. How much control did Father Simon have over this woman? He decided to find out.
"Mrs. Steussy, has Ben told you about what Father Simon does with him?"
Sam saw the wall come back up in her eyes. Instantly, she was very formal again. "Father Simon instructs Benjamin in his duties as altar boy, and in how to lead a proper Christian life. William has abdicated that duty by his actions."
"What else did Ben tell you, Mrs. Steussy? Did he tell you why he doesnít like to go to church?"
She became very nervous at that point, and Sam felt that the only thing that kept the woman from fleeing was the fact that Ben just stepped out with a tray of steaming tea mugs. She picked one up with shaking hands and held it with two hands. Sam held his, hoping he was projecting a calmness he didnít feel inside. She knew. This woman knew their Priest was molesting her son. She was afraid to face it, fearing her family wouldnít make it to Heaven if she did. He felt his emotions flipping between disgust and pity.
"Did you tell her why you are uncomfortable going to church, Ben?" he asked softly.
Ben fingered the tray, eyes wide, and glanced at his mother. "Yes," he whispered.
"Benjamin!" she said in a weak voice, unable to continue.
"Mrs. Steussy," Sam pleaded. "Tell me what it would take to make you see that Father Simon is misleading you."
"No!" She cried, standing quickly and dropping the tea mug.
"Your faith is in the wrong place, donít you see?" Sam was talking quickly to prevent her from running in the house.
Ben started crying softly, and his mother gathered him in her arms. Her resolve came back as she did her best to protect her son. "My faith is in Father Simon and my God," she said, sounding like she was trying to convince herself. "It has to be!"
"Your faith should be in God, not Father Simon," Sam said. "How can I convince you?" Sam was desperate. This was going badly.
She looked at him fiercely over her sonís head. "I need a sign from God, not words from you," she answered.
Sam felt he had lost. How could he respond to that? His mind was working furiously as he heard the sound of the Imaging Room door behind him. He turned his head just enough to see the bright white rectangle of light that marked the doorís opening, expecting to see his friend at any moment. What he didnít expect was a reaction from Benís mother.
"Oh, sweet Jesus!" she breathed, her eyes wide over the top of Benís head. She instantly dropped to her knees, pulling Ben with her, and began to genuflect and murmur what must have been prayer.
Just as Al started to step from the doorway, Sam put his hand across the Observerís chest, indicating he should stop. Sam put his finger up to his lips as Al started to speak, motioning him to be quiet. Al quietly stood in the open door way, a dark figure surrounded by a glowing light.
Sam then focused his attention on her, ignoring Al. "Mrs. Steussy?" He asked gently. "Are you all right?" He squatted down in front of her, giving her a clear view of the hologram. He could picture Alís puzzled expression, and hoped he would pick up on what to do. "Mrs. Steussy? What do you see?"
"Itís a sign!" She breathed. "Donít you see it? Itís an angel!"
Sam had to keep from grinning. He could just see Alís jaw dropping.
"An angel?" Al questioned.
Ben looked up where his mother pointed, then at her. "I donít see anything, mom," he whispered, glancing back over Samís head.
Sam shot Al a glance. "An angel," Sam said forcefully, looking right at Al.
Al picked up on the statement. "Yeah, an angel," he said.
Mrs. Steussy couldnít take her eyes off Al, tears streaming down her face. "Youíre here to guide me, arenít you? I am truly blessed!"
Sam heard Alís feet shift uncomfortably. "Guide you?"
Sam nodded vigorously.
"Yeah, thatís what Iím here to do!" He glanced at the handlink briefly, then at Sam. Sam nodded his head in her direction, encouraging Al to talk to her. Al opened his mouth and looked baffled, then glanced at the handlink again.
"Ah, you must tell the church leaders about Father Simon," he started, looking at Sam, who nodded in agreement. "And take guidance in their counsel. Father Simon is lost, and must be helped by his leaders to get back into the, uhÖ" he looked desperately at Sam, who mouthed the word Ďfoldí. "Yeah. Fold. Father Simon needs guidance, too, and so do you and Ben. Jamin. Benjamin."
Sam rolled his eyes at Alís attempt to sound like an angel, then waved him off.
"Iím going now?" Al said questioningly as Sam nodded. "Remember what I said!"
He said as a parting statement. Again, Sam waved him off before the illusion would be ruined.
"Yes!" Benís mother whispered, "Iíll remember!"
Sam heard the Imaging Room door slam shut. Mrs. Steussy stayed on her knees, and after confirming that the Ďangelí had gone she gathered Ben up in her arms. "Iím sorry!Ē she whispered. "Iím so sorry! I was misguided, but I know what to do now. Will you forgive me?"
Ben returned the hug, and Sam felt it was time to go. He quietly retreated down the steps, leaving mother and son to heal. He shook his head and laughed softly at the unexpected solution. He was around the corner, out of sight of the house when he heard his friend return.
"Sam! What was all that? An angel? JeezeÖ the nuns at the orphanage would have a field day with that." He pulled an unwrapped and chewed cigar from the pocket of his teal and purple suit, bouncing on his toes as he lit it up.
"So, what did you find out? Father Simon was molesting Ben, wasnít he?"
Al puffed out smoke. "Looks like it, although I canít find that term in print anywhere. In the original history heís transferred to Rome in about two years for Ďstudyí. Now, he goes next week. I assume Ďstudyí means closely watched and monitored. He doesnít ever get another congregation. Something was going on, thatís for sure." He took another puff.
"What about the Steussys?" Sam inquired.
"They enter church counseling, and it really helps. I guess Benís dad had stopped going to services, but the counseling brings him back. He still dies next year, but Ben and his mom do fine this time because of their faith. Right now Benís a family counselor for the poor, has a wife and kids. Hey! Heís a black belt in Tai Kwan Do, too. Grandma there is quite happy and an active church volunteer. And you know what? Jeff has taught Beeks some relaxation techniques that she is sure will work with future visitors. And us! So, you should be leaping anytime, Sam. Rats. Jeff was kinda interesting to talk to, and I wanted to see Steve McQueen!"
Sam shook his head as he smiled, his verbal reply lost as he was enveloped in a blue halo.
Depending on the situation and the person I leap into, I never know when or in what condition I would be confronted with. Each leap is full of their own idiosyncrasies. But, Iím finding out that as the leaps become more difficult that more and more surprises seem to pop up.
Once the sensation of falling had receded and the tingling sensation ebbed away from his extremities, he found himself looking out of a massive mask. The mask was top heavy making the face of it sag if he didnít tilt his head back a little. From what he could see of the mask itself, it was poorly made; the stuffed lining inside the mask was peeling away from the mold. He wondered exactly what the mold was, and the thought of taking off the massive thing was on the edge of his mind.
The sounds around him caught his attention, and the thought of taking off the mask dissipated. Beaty music was being played over a loud speaker that was muffled inside the mask, but he was still aware of it being played. He felt as if he had on some kind of costume. Inside of the mask, Sam frowned. He was becoming increasingly aware of how hot he was becoming. He began to fan at himself knowing that fanning wasnít going to help much.
Wondering what was going on, he tilted his head back so that he could peer out of the massive mask through the hole at the end. He was beginning to wonder if it was Halloween but quickly put that aside when he saw at least a dozen girls in orange and white cheerleading outfits with the letters HMS stamped on their tops. Using a hand to aid him holding up the mask, he was able to ascertain that he was in a gymnasium. He quickly scanned the gymnasium risers, which were void of people at the moment. He quickly looked back at the girls, not aware of one of the cheerleading sponsors coming over to his side.
"Nova." The woman called to Sam. "Nova!" She yelled again and this time Samís head turned to see the woman standing before him. She was a very attractive woman. Her long auburn hair was swept back over her shoulders and Sam could see the warm caring look in her sky blue eyes. "Are you okay, Nova? You arenít practicing your routine."
"Routine?" Sam questioned, his words muffled from the mask.
"I know that you said that you didnít want to ice packs for the pep rallies, but are you sure? Arenít you hot, hon?"
Sam nodded, the massive mask making an obvious bounce as he nodded. "Getting there. Iíll be okay."
"Okay." She turned away from him and walked back in front of the girls and clapped her hands after she turned off the music. "All right girls, we need to work on one cheer and then the dance routine." Sam watched as the cheerleaders lined themselves up to get ready for the dance routine that they had practiced on. "Nova!" Sam looked back at the sponsor his eyes raised in curiosity. "Why donít you go and cool down for a moment while the girls finish before the pep rally?"
Sam nodded again letting the massive mask answer for him. Knowing that he needed air, he took the mask off of his head. It was now that he noticed that it was kept on his head by a cowboy hat inside the mask itself. He turned the mask around and saw the figure that he was suppose to be, just as the girls started the chant, clapping as they said it and moving their hips side to side at the appropriate times.
Samís face fell. "Oh boy." He took a deep breath and made a face as he looked up at the top of the gymnasium. He ran his hand over his face, wiping at the sweat that was beginning to accumulate there. He had leapt into many things in the past five years -- a priest, a boxer, and a chimpanzee for heavens sake, but now, now he was a Hippo.