Terror Firma

Chapter 2

The tenement block was not in the best part of town, nor yet was it in the worst. It was sturdy and well maintained. The landlords cared enough to keep the paintwork looking fresh and graffiti free, the garbage disposals working and the locks unbroken. You could feel as safe there as anywhere in L.A., except perhaps for a penthouse in Beverley Hills.

Caitlin Donahue wouldn't have swapped her fifth storey home for one of those penthouse suites anyway. As long as she had her Bill and little Sean, she was in Paradise Towers. So what if the elevator broke down once in a while? It kept them fit. And the neighbors were all very friendly, from Juanita the Puerto-Rican in number 7, to the Cosbys next door.

The rooms may be small, but she preferred to think of them as cozy. She took pride in keeping them neat and clean, but still 'lived-in'. On the whole they were a happy family, and they seldom argued. Nothing you could call a real row. Which was all the more reason why this current exchange of words was tearing her apart.

"Please let it drop, Bill." She pleaded. "It's none of our business. Just do your job, get your pay, and come home and forget it. We don't want any trouble, especially now." She patted her swollen waistline in a conspiratorial way.

"But what if I'm right, Cat?" he persisted, "Think of the consequences. Think how many people could be affected. It's our duty to stop them.'

"Then go to the police." Caitlin begged, tears streaming down her face.

"And tell them what? I haven't any proof, Cat. I'd lose my job and probably achieve nothing. I could make things worse. I have to find out the truth."

"They're too powerful, love. You are getting mixed up in something way above our heads. I'm scared."

He lifted her chin so that her eyes met his.

"I promise, I'll be careful." He planted a kiss on her forehead; wiping her tears gently with his broad, square thumbs.

"Gotta go now, love. Chin up. Things will work out fine, you'll see." He bent down and picked up his son on one muscular arm, tousling his hair with the other. "You be a big little man and look after your Mom for me, now, do you hear, Sean?" he said. His son hugged him tightly and nodded, then giggled and said:

"Ride, Daddy, ride."

"Okay, sport. Just to the elevator, then." His father laughed. He lifted the boy on to his powerful shoulders and strode out of the apartment. At the elevator, he lowered the lad gently to the ground and watched until he'd slipped his hand tightly into his mothers.

Really, he was a very lucky man, he thought: A good job, a wonderful wife and son, and a baby on the way. He hoped it would be a girl this time, but didn't really mind, as long as it was healthy.

He had a comfortable home and good friends. Perhaps Cat was right; it was foolish to rock the boat when he couldn't even be sure his suspicions had any foundation in truth. Maybe it was just the product of an over-active imagination and too many late night cop shows. He put out his hand to stop the elevator. 'We shouldn't be fighting like this,' he mused, 'it isn't good for Cat in her condition. I'll go back and tell her that I'll forget the whole thing.'

But as his fingers were about to make contact with the button he hesitated again. How could he live with himself if it turned out that he was right? How would he feel if it were his kids mixed up with this sort of thing and he found out someone could have stopped it?

He let his hand drop to his side and the elevator continued to descend. 'I won't rush into anything yet.' He decided. 'Just see if I can find out a bit more.'

He wondered if he dared to confide in David Beckett. He had always been friendly, and more importantly he seemed like a man that Bill could trust. There weren't too many of those around at the moment.

So far he'd said nothing to anyone but Caitlin. He would test the water with David, see if he had noticed anything, and then take it from there. Probably Beckett would be able to convince him once and for all that he was talking nonsense – it was impossible – or if not, perhaps he could help Bill to get to the bottom of it. Either way, he would no longer have to carry the burden alone.

Having made his resolve, Bill felt better. He would have liked to share his decision with Caitlin, try to put her mind at ease, but if he went back now he would be late, and he didn't want to draw attention to himself.

Following Al's somewhat bizarre exit, Sam tried to ignore his mounting sense of foreboding and concentrate on getting into character. A more detailed examination of the equipment soon gave him a sound working knowledge of the system, enough for him to perform David's job competently.

He finished the report and set about trying to discover where it should be delivered. He found himself hoping that Ruggiero would be out chewing someone else's ear. That was one acquaintanceship that he was in no hurry to renew.

Sam made his way to the front of the complex and stepped outside into a bright, hot summer's day. He blinked as his eyes adjusted to the natural light. He paused to draw in a deep breath of fresh air. He hadn't fully realized just how stuffy it had been inside and there had been that faint aroma that he couldn't place, but he was sure didn't belong. It felt good to have the sun on his face, even if the sweat was starting to soak through his shirt.

Getting his bearings, he realized the need for the hard-hat and heavy boots. The building site itself was typical of the breed, with mud everywhere. He seemed to remember that the first '94 earthquake had been followed by major flooding and mudslides, particularly in the Malibu region. This seemed to be a smaller version of the same mess.

He couldn't fail to be impressed by the machinery out here. It was immense and powerful. Huge cranes, scaffolding and steel girders punctuated the skyline. The machinery was of such enormity that he felt positively Lilliputian by comparison. The cement mixer alone had an aperture easily one and a half meters in diameter, the bowl – hugely rounded as a brandy glass – was as capacious as a two-man mini-sub.

Each machine had been ingeniously set up to allow most of the construction to take place with the minimum of human supervision. He was enough of an engineer to admire the brains behind this set-up, although the humanitarian in him spared a thought for all those workers made redundant by the process.

Out here there were a couple more workers in hard hats. One was tinkering with spanners and screwdrivers, obviously completing the manual tests, which complemented his technical ones. He would have to tread carefully again now. He didn't know if David knew or liked these colleagues. One of them could even be William Donahue, the man he had Leaped in to protect, according to Ziggy. He deemed it safest at this point to let them make the first contact, if he could get away with it.

The second man was watching the first, and had the word 'Foreman' emblazoned on his hard hat. Sam was grateful as ever for any clues, subtle or not. The foreman was somewhere in his late forties or early fifties, thickset, with a square jaw covered with the rough stubble of about two days growth. The broad nose had been broken in at least two places. He looked as if he could have stepped straight out of a wrestling ring.

The man doing all the work was squat and paunchy, his ample beer gut spilling over the belt on his jeans. Yet his face was pleasant enough, the eyes bright with a hint of laughter. It was reassuring that not everyone in this place had the air of having come hot foot from an identity parade. Although if there was one lesson that Sam had learnt during the course of his Leaping, it was that you should never judge people solely by appearances. He'd faced enough prejudice in his time to be convinced of that. After all, he was never what he seemed at all!

Sam wondered again what David Beckett looked like. He had assumed many guises in the countless Leaps he had so far notched up – old men, pregnant women, Neanderthal frat boys, priests and hit men, people who were blind or disabled. The only element constant to all was the fact that they had a problem to solve, a wrong to be righted. Each one brought its own challenges and its own rewards, and with a few notable exceptions the physical appearance of Sam's host was relatively incidental. Only Sam was reminded of a line from a poet, something about 'the gift to give us – to see ourselves as others see us.' It seemed very pertinent to him somehow.

The foreman turned his attention from the overweight worker to Sam/David. He raised a huge hairy hand with short square fingers:

"You all done yet, Beckett?" he yelled, "If that takes you past your shift you won't get overtime you know."

'That figures.' Thought Sam, but what he said was:

"All done, Chief." And hoped it was the right sort of title to give the gorilla. He'd have to find out his name at some stage.

"Then don't keep Mr. Ruggiero waiting any longer." The big man snarled, pointing to an office block at the front of the site. Sam smiled in silent thanks; even an ape could be a mine of useful information.

"On my way." With a wave of his hand, David Beckett hurried to submit his report and end his shift. That particular piece of information had been both welcome and daunting to Sam. He was pleased because it meant that he would have the leisure to stand back and reflect, the freedom to discover more about his current assignment, unhindered by the need to perform tasks for which he was only generally qualified. Conversely, it was daunting to be leaving work, because it is hard to go home when you don't have the faintest idea where you live, or how you got to work that morning. Still, one thing at a time, he told himself. There was the report to deliver first.

He made his way across to the office block. It was tall and imposing, consisting largely of tinted glass panels. The huge doors opened in response to a sensor in the floor. Before he entered, however, he took an excessively long time to clean his mud-stained boots on the heavy-duty mat placed outside for the purpose. While thus occupied he took the opportunity to study his reflection, finally finding out what he looked like.

Somehow, the face that stared back at him was exactly as he had imagined it would be. David Beckett was in his mid-twenties, average height, and average build. The face was small and rounded, owlish if anything. The hair was mousy brown, cropped short and neat. He was clean-shaven, the expression was of a boyish grin, and it was possible to believe he had not needed to shave very long anyway. He was so ordinary as to be wholly unremarkable, a face that could get lost in a crowd of three. In fact, thought Sam, all it needed was to put him in a pair of thick-rimmed squarish glasses and he could pass for any mild-mannered American boy – Clark Kent type. Yeah, that was it, he was the mild-mannered computer buff now, but Sam would have bet his ticket home that before this Leap was over he would be expected to transform himself into SUPERMAN, staging some dramatic feat in the nick of time. It usually went something like that.

Having finished his introspection, he triggered the doors and went inside. The interior was just as grandiose as he would have expected. The plush wine colored carpet that adorned the foyer bore an elaborate gold logo with the initials RSC emblazoned on it. Sam felt it belonged in National Theatre in London, or in Stratford-upon-Avon, where the Royal Shakespeare Company would have displayed it with equal pride.

Facing him was a huge polished wooden desk, behind which sat a receptionist who asked him his business in dulcet tones. She was dressed smartly in a very demure cream-colored suit, which accentuated the rich auburn of her immaculately coiffured hair. Her make up flattered her all the more for being understated. She wore small pearl earrings and a matching string of pearls circled her lilywhite throat. Very striking, thought Sam, and she knows it. She was not his type, but he could well imagine Al's reaction. Was she David's type? Out of his league, Sam decided. She confirmed his theory with a smile - it was friendly, but strictly professional. There was definitely nothing personal in it. But then, why should there be? Sam reflected that David was not exactly Tom Cruise in the looks department. Then it occurred to him to wonder if David had a wife waiting for him at home. A surreptitious glance at his hand revealed the absence of a wedding band, but that in itself was inconclusive. It seemed unlikely, and he fervently hoped not. Dr Samuel Beckett was not the sort of man who condoned sleeping with other men's wives, especially when the lady in question was unaware of the infidelity. It was the worst violation he could imagine committing. He had faced this moral dilemma on a number of occasions before, his excuses often causing awkward complications. It was a situation to be avoided whenever possible.

The receptionist asked him again what he wanted. She obviously resented the intrusion of common laborers in muddy boots, so out of place in her elegant environment.

"Mr. Ruggiero wanted this report right away." Sam informed the girl, who according to the polished wooden triangular wedge on her desk should be referred to as Ms Krystal Fleischer. He expected her to extend a well-manicured finger to the intercom system and announce his presence, but instead she stretched her hand towards him and inclined her head.

"Mr. Ruggiero left instructions that you're to give it to me. He is in conference at the moment and not to be disturbed."

Sam offered up a silent prayer of thanks that he had been spared another audience with The Boss, as he handed over his report and took his leave.

Now all he had to do was find a home to go to.

At this stage, fate – or whatever – smiled on him as it sometimes did. The guy with the paunch met him at the gate and they hung up their hats and punched out together. Sam took the opportunity to sneak a glance at the man's card and get a name to go with the face – Frank Bannerman. Sam smiled and nodded, hoping to get the other man to start a conversation. It worked.

"Your old relic out of action again, David?" Frank made a sweeping gesture round the parking lot. He spoke with a Texan drawl. (First name terms then, noted Sam.)

"Guess so." Replied Sam, sincerely.

"Need a lift home?"

"That'd be great, Frank!" not too much enthusiasm, Sam warned himself. It wasn't supposed to be that big a deal. Probably happened quite often. Still, his two most immediate problems solved in one sentence was pretty neat going by any standards. Perhaps this wouldn't be such a bad Leap after all.

He lagged behind just a little, enough so that he could get to the right vehicle without arousing suspicion. Sam had, from necessity, learned to be quite devious- in order to elicit from others certain basic information, which he should, as whomever he was impersonating, know full well. Not that there were many alternatives in this case. The place was a marvel of automation, and robots don't drive cars. There were as many vacant spaces on the lot as there were gaps in Sam's memory.

Sam was not surprised when Frank unlocked the door to a beaten up old brown Dodge pick-up. Two tone brown, chocolate and rust. Sam clambered in beside him and buckled up.

Frank began chatting amiably, and Sam did his best to make non-committal replies, whilst trying to glean as much information as he could from his chauffeur. It was a boon that Frank obviously liked the sound of his own voice, and was not at all put out by his companion's preference for listening.

"Don't let the old Bull-frog get you down," he was saying.

'Who?' thought Sam.

Frank continued unabated "Or is he Bull-dozer among you technical types? Either way, he isn't so bad once you get used to him, if you can get him off the 'No Overtime' subject."

Sam was a brilliant mathematician. Even he knew that 2 + 2 made 4. The foreman's name must be Bull, and he wasn't particularly popular with his subordinates. No surprises there.

Frank was proving to be a very useful ally. He wondered if he could use him to find out anything about Donahue.

"Yeah, right," countered Sam, "I've known worse." He had too.

Without seeming to, he was paying close attention to the route they were traveling. From the direction of the sun and the time of day, he judged that they were headed roughly south. He wanted to be able to find his way to work again for his next shift. It was unlikely that he was there to get David on to the unemployment queue. He decided to impose.

"Say, any chance of a lift back in next shift?" he asked, "I think my car's gonna be off the road for a while yet." He hoped this sounded convincing and not too out of character. He was surprised to find he recognized that they were now traveling along the infamous Mulholland Drive.

"I'd like to oblige, David," replied Frank, and his tone suggested that he genuinely meant it, "but I'm not due in again until Monday. I thought you were supposed to be the golden boy at tomorrow's photo opportunity, basking in all the glory?"

'Goofed again' thought Sam, starting to miss Al again.

"Yeah, of course. One time they have to agree overtime, huh?" he risked, wondering if he were digging himself into a hole.

Frank laughed, a deep throated chuckle. He seemed willing to let the slip pass. Sam changed the subject and asked after Frank's family. He hadn't overlooked the plain gold ring on the man's stubby finger, and he wanted to get back onto safe territory.

"Oh, Mary's positively blossoming," Frank enthused, with obvious pride. "She's never looked or felt better. Little Frankie's really hoping for a brother of course, he can't wait."

Sam liked this guy. He was clearly a solid, dependable family man.

"…and naturally Jenny wants a sister. She keeps practicing on her dolls, bless her." He chortled heartily at the mental image he'd evidently conjured up for himself. He was really on a roll now.

"You know Cat, Bill Donahue's wife is expecting too? She's due in a couple of weeks. We've got a little bet going as to which rugrat's gonna come first. Some coincidence, huh?"

"Right." Put in Sam, good-naturedly. Now he was really getting somewhere. 'Frank, you are a gem,' he thought, 'and wait till I lay all this on Al. I'll show him!'

"When's Bill on again?" he ventured, "I promised to lend him a magazine." Surely that couldn't be too far out of line?

"You really have got your head in the clouds today, ain't you, boy?" remonstrated Frank, "He's on this afternoon, but he drew the lucky straw to be at the shindig tomorrow, too, remember? Some guys have all the luck. I envy you both. Its gonna be quite an occasion. You'll probably even get your faces on TV. Might have known old skinflint Bull wouldn't let us all have a piece of the action, though. Oh well, spare a thought for us poor Cinderella's who can't go to the Ball while you're supping champagne, won't you?"

"Sure thi--- LOOK OUT!"

Sam's lightening reflexes were in operation again. He spent his whole life expecting the unexpected. Now, suddenly, out of nowhere, he spotted a gleaming red Trans-Am careering towards them at break-neck speed, weaving all over the road.

Frank froze.

Sam leaned across and grabbed the wheel, struggling frantically for control, trying to pull the pick-up in to the side of the road, out of the path of the red demon, which was bearing down on them for a full head-on collision, its tapered hood looking like an arrow seeking out its target. He wasn't quite quick enough. As the vehicle responded and swung around, the monster caught it a glancing blow on the offside rear corner, sending it spinning around wildly, back across the road, heading for the northbound verge.

The Trans-Am, barely slowed at all by the impact, now hurtled straight towards a dark-blue Station Wagon, which had been following them.

Everything seemed to switch into slow motion then. Sam wrestled with the wheel; fighting to control the skidding of the truck, at the same time coaxing Frank to push down on the brake. It seemed to take an eternity, but eventually it slewed to a halt on the gravel at the side of the road, with a shattering of windshield glass. Sam instinctively folded his arms across his face to protect his eyes, simultaneously nudging Frank downwards. He dared to breathe again.

Their own immediate danger over, Sam's attention was drawn to the scene outside. The Trans-Am and the Station Wagon collided with a squeal of brakes, a blaring of horns, a sickening thud and the crunching of metal. The once sleek red sports car now bucked like a spooked horse and then rolled, coming to rest on its side, a crumpled heap. From where he sat, Sam couldn't make out the condition of the other vehicle, but he guessed that it must be pretty bad. Other traffic from both directions tried frantically to avoid the wreckage and everything was noise and confusion.

Sam switched to automatic pilot. A quick examination revealed that neither he nor Frank had sustained any injuries, beyond a couple of scratches. He told Frank to sit tight and wait. The older man stared at him, bewildered, and then nodded.

Sam kicked his door open and sprinted round the truck towards the carnage. From slow motion, events now flipped into fast forward. He didn't stop to think if David knew any first aid techniques. It didn't matter. Sam was a highly qualified, thoroughly trained, skilled doctor. He was here, and he had to help.

Above all the other noise a woman's shrill scream pierced the air. Not once, but over and over again. Scream; breath; scream; breath, scream…. It made Sam's blood run cold.

He took stock of the situation at a glance. Other cars had stopped, and people were standing around staring in shocked horror. The physician in Sam knew that nobody should be moved until their injuries were properly assessed. The physicist knew they didn't have that luxury. The smell of gasoline stung his nostrils and pricked his eyes, tinged with the unmistakable scent of electrical overheating. Those people were in a powder keg, just waiting for the spark. It was unlikely to keep them waiting long. Sam took charge.

"GET THEM OUT!" he ordered, with such a voice of authority that several of the spectators jolted into alertness and headed for the Station Wagon. They were all too scared to approach the up-ended Trans-Am. The fumes drove them back, along with their own sense of self-preservation.

Sam had no such compunction. He clambered up. The passenger door was swinging on one hinge. He ripped it aside, desperation lending him strength. Then he leant into the car, the woman's screams making his ears ring.

He slapped her.

Not brutally – Sam was no more capable of abusing a woman than he was of flunking an exam – but just hard enough to make her gasp and quieten.

She was hanging, limp as a rag doll, downwards towards the driver, suspended by her safety belt. A dark angry swelling had come up on the side of her face, obscuring her eye, marring her delicate features. Other than that, she was deathly pale.

Balancing his body on the sill of the car, he reached in. he spoke to her all the while, his voice calm, reassuring. He was trying to keep her from going deeper into shock, keep her with him, while his hands worked furiously at the catch that held her firm. The fumes were getting stronger by the second, burning in the back of his throat, making his eyes water. He fumbled one handed with her belt, supporting her with the other lest she fall deeper into the well when he released her. The jolt when it finally gave caused her to scream again, but it was a strangled cry this time, not so piercing. 'Keep talking,' Sam told himself, 'keep moving.' He bent further over her and shifted his right arm down to cradle her legs so that he could lift her out, trying hard to maintain his equilibrium so that he didn't topple in and squash her. His hand made contact with something hot and wet and sticky. She was bleeding copiously, and did not lift as easily as he had expected. She squealed in pain.

'Oh boy, has she ever got a set of lungs on her.' Thought Sam fleetingly.

"Sorry," he muttered, trying to assess the damage. It was bad - very bad. Somehow, the gearshift lever had shattered, and the broken shaft had impaled her leg.

"This is going to hurt," he apologized, aware of the monumental understatement, "but I have to get you out quickly, do you understand?"

She bit her lip till it bled, but nodded.

"Good girl, here goes."

'Faint heart never won fair lady.' Quoth Sam, whose shy nature had lost him many a date in his youth.

He took a deep breath.

He grasped her firmly and pulled, keeping her as level as possible to minimize further tissue damage. This time the scream had a name to it. Her hand pointed feebly back into the pit of the car and she yelled "Peter!"

Sam never stopped talking to her, soothingly. Now he promised her he would go back for Peter. At long last helping hands reached up to take her from him, as his efforts shamed others into pitching in.

"Gently does it." he warned them. He hoped that she didn't have spinal injuries. He could have crippled her for life, jerking her out like that.

He turned his attention now to the driver, slumped apparently unconscious at what was now the bottom of the car.

"Can you here me, Peter?" he asked, not really expecting a reply. "I'm going to get you out."

'Though the good Lord alone knows how.' He added, to himself.

It was a long way down. Sam tossed up whether to climb down inside or try to do it from the edge. There wasn't much room. He didn't think it would help anyone if he got himself stuck. There was a stench now of burning rubber and smoke. From the corner of his eye he saw the Station Wagon beginning to burn.

Time was running out.

He stretched in to release the second belt, gripping the roof of the car with one hand in an effort to steady himself. He ended up almost upside down, and found himself remembering that he had once leaped into a trapeze artist. That little nightmare suddenly seemed like's child's play compared to his current contortions, but it proved inspirational. He eased himself back out and grabbed the belt he'd already released from the woman. He used it now like a safety rope, twisting it around his ankle to anchor him in place, leaving both hands free to help Peter. Then he swung back down.

He somehow managed to maneuver himself so that he could get both arms behind the man, bringing them up under his armpits. He clasped his hands together firmly across Peter's chest and heaved. It was like hauling a sack of coals, but inch-by-inch Sam was raising him up, straining muscles protesting, and chest heaving with the effort.

Then came the point where his anchor became a fetter, and hindered him from backing out altogether. He jarred his ankle trying to work himself free from the strap and get them both away. Precious seconds ticked by.

Finally the helping hands were there again, untangling him, pulling them both clear. Cheers and applause from the crowd barely registered to Sam, who was aware only of the overpowering smell, the fumes that threatened to choke him. Strong hands took hold of Peter's legs, and between them they headed for the safety of the verge. Sam favored his left leg a little as he ran, but he was pretty sure that it was just badly twisted, not sprained.

They had almost made it when the fireball exploded.

The force of the blast knocked them off their feet. Sam could feel the hairs on the back of his neck being singed by the searing heat. Black smoke engulfed everyone and there was a lot of coughing and spluttering, as he staggered back to his feet. Sam's eyes were smarting, moisture blurring his vision. He blinked, and pressed the base of his thumbs across his eyelids to blot away the stinging tears. Then he got his second wind and was back to business.

Time returned to real time.

Peter was still unconscious. Sam felt for a pulse, but his hand was shaking and he couldn't be sure whether or not he'd found one. The man who had helped to carry him was shaken but unhurt.

"Can you do CPR?" Sam asked him.

A nod.

"Good." He gave the man a quick pat on the shoulder, in thanks and encouragement, "Go to it!"

Then he hurried over to the woman. She was calling to her… husband?… fiancé?… lover?… brother?… Peter, weakly and moaning in pain. Her pupils were dilated; she was slipping. People were standing around helplessly. One had propped her head up with a sports bag, trying to be kind.

"No, no, NO." complained Sam. "She's in shock. We've got to keep the head down, help the blood supply to the brain."

"I…. I ….I'm sorry, I didn't know." Came the abashed reply.

Sam regretted his harsh tone, but wished that people who 'didn't know' would leave well alone: The road to hell and all that. He carefully moved the bag, taking out a towel, which he rolled up and placed under her injured leg, which was still oozing blood, staining her floral dress.

Sam was talking to her again, trying to focus her mind, away from the pain, away from the horror and the fear. At the same time he was pulling off his shirt, ripping the buttons. He shredded it into strips and bound her leg in a tourniquet. Then he bunched another strip into a tight wad, which he rammed forcefully into the gaping wound. She yelled.

"Sorry, sorry," he soothed, yet still he pressed down heavily, "the pressure will help to staunch the bleeding." He explained, examining her gently for other injuries.

She whimpered.

"It's okay," he spoke reassuringly, "the worst is over now."

'Keep her talking,' Sam admonished himself, 'keep her with it.'

"What's your name? Mines – David."

"T-T-Trudi."

"That's a lovely name. My best friend's sister's called Trudi."

He was inordinately glad that he had been able to remember that.

She smiled a wan smile.

"That's it, hang in there, Trudi. You're doing fine." His voice was filled with compassion.

"Peter? Peter!" her eyes darted wildly from side to side, her voice rose to panic pitch. She tried to sit up but Sam held her down. Her resistance was short-lived.

"Calm down, it's all right, we got him out." Sam smoothed a stray lock of her naturally blond hair out of her eyes, clear blue eyes drowning in a pool of tears. He looked up at the man he had left working at resuscitating Peter. His companion shook his head slowly, the eyes lowered. Damn.

She would have to be told, of course - but not now, not yet. She wasn't strong enough. Sam hoped fervently that he wouldn't have to be the one to tell her.

"Where on earth are those paramedics?" he asked no one in particular. "Hasn't anyone called them?" this last incredulously.

"They're on their way." Said a voice in the crowd; a Texan voice. Sam looked up to see Frank's awe-struck face. He'd forgotten about Frank.

Trudi whimpered again.

"Hush now," crooned Sam, with the tone of a mother calming her child after a nightmare. He released his grip on her leg for a moment, was pleased to see the bleeding had slowed, but not stopped. He pressed down again. Keep her talking.

After countless eons, Sam eventually heard the wail of sirens. The whole incident had only lasted a matter of minutes, yet it seemed like a lifetime. Perhaps that was because Sam had been through many lifetimes in the past few years. Measuring time was not as straightforward for him as it was for most people. Perhaps it was just that moments of stress made time hard to measure.

Now the crowds were parting, letting the experts through. Capable hands moved him aside and strapped Trudi onto a gurney. Put in a saline drip, set up a bloodline - standard procedure. He watched in a daze. They were thanking him for a great job. He'd done all the right things…

He sighed and shrugged dismissively, watching as the pathetic little figure disappeared into the waiting ambulance.

Frank came and clasped his hand, slapping him on the back enthusiastically. He was gushing, but Sam didn't hear.

Suddenly the enormity of what had happened hit him like a jolt of lightening. Now that he no longer had anything urgent to occupy his mind, it struck him what he had done, how close they had come. He found he was shaking uncontrollably from head to foot.

Sam wrenched himself free from Frank's grip and turned aside. He bent forward, grasping his knees. Then he retched.

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