Terror Firma

Chapter 8

Sunday 6th August

Sam went through David's closet to find his Sunday best. He discovered a crisp white shirt, a pair of smart black trousers. Black and grey silk tie, casual grey jacket; passable.

"You scrub up okay, Beckett." He said to himself as he surveyed the image in the mirror. He wasn't sure which Beckett he was talking to. Despite retaining an awareness of his true identity, separate and unique, it had been a very long time since his own face stared back at him: a long time, and a Swiss-cheesed memory. He was not at all sure he could remember what the real Doctor Samuel John Beckett looked like anymore. The Invisible Man, he thought ruefully. He never fully got used to shaving a strange face in the mornings, or worse yet, applying make up to one.

Still - never a dull moment. And Leaping did hold some pleasures. He found himself really looking forward to this meal, and not just because it was likely to reveal a way to achieve his purpose and so hasten his departure. For one thing, Leaping played havoc with his biorhythms and it was good to be able to take care of his physical needs. He literally never knew where (or when) his next meal was coming from. He could Leap out of one life just before lunch, into another during the middle of the night, months or years later, or earlier. Skipped meals were an occupational hazard. How did the nonsense song go? 'I haven't had an egg since Easter, and now it's half past three…'

Yeah, that just about summed it up. No wonder he sometimes felt he was in a permanent state of jet-lag.

For another thing, he always enjoyed home-cooked meals; anybody's home. They never failed to remind him of how great it was to sit around a table and share good food with people who cared about each other. How good it was to have a Home, even if he was only borrowing it.

Sam straightened his tie, combed his hair, and picked up the bunch of flowers he had purchased for his kind hostess. Locking the door to David's apartment, he headed for the T-bird with a spring in his step and a song in his heart.

By the time he was riding the elevator up to the Donahue's apartment, anticipation had sharpened his appetite still further. He really was going to enjoy this. The only cloud on the horizon was Bill's problem. Sam was pleased that Bill had made the first approach yesterday, and had hinted at a willingness to share some information. That willingness could make Sam's job easier, though not necessarily more pleasant.

When he reached the fifth floor, Bill was waiting outside the elevator, his wife by his side, his son on his broad muscular shoulders. They were all smiling in welcome, and made a touching, chocolate-box picture.

Sam thanked Mrs. Donahue for the invitation, and presented her with the bouquet. She was a petite woman, with thick brown hair neatly braided in a French plait. Her deep hazel eyes reflected her smile as she accepted the proffered gift, blushing profusely. She wore an emerald green maternity dress with a white lace collar, which accentuated the impending event in a most flattering way. A dainty gold cross and chain sat glinting at her throat. When she thanked him, her voice was soft, and had an almost musical lilt to it. She had a small round face and a button nose. She was very cute.

"You told me your wife is a good cook, Bill," Sam commented as he was introduced, "but you neglected to mention how lovely she is."

Caitlin blushed again:

"Why, Mr. Beckett, have you just sailed in from the old country? I swear you must've been kissing the Blarney Stone!"

Sam didn't know why he understood the allusion, but he did. He smiled and changed the subject:

"And this fine young man must be Master Sean."

He turned his attention to the boy. He was glad Al had taken so much trouble to fill him in on mundane details on Friday afternoon. It may have been a device on Al's part, an excuse not to leave him alone to brood, but it had also provided some useful pointers. Like the fact that Bill's son was called Sean, and was six years old. He would have had to decline this welcome invitation had Sean been any younger. For some reason, which his scrambled brain was unable to grasp, children under five (along with animals and lunatics) were able to see Sam as he really was. And that could (and had!) lead to all sorts of complications.

"Pleased to meet you, Sir." Sean responded politely.

The boy was in his Sunday best too, but he didn't seem to resent it. There was no sign of any fidgeting with the shirt collar or other indications of discomfort. They all went inside.

Caitlin headed straight for the kitchen, put the flowers in a cut glass vase, and brought them in to stand on the dresser, drinking in the scent of the summer blooms. She was accustomed to receiving flowers, but not from anyone other than her husband.

She was particularly flattered because she was acutely aware of the size of her waistline. As Sam had known she would be. The doctor in him recalled that pregnant women often feel dowdy and unattractive, particularly towards the end, and appreciated being reminded that they were still women. He was not flirting, of course. He found that skill evaded him at the best of times, and he was far too honorable to make advances to another man's wife, especially in front of him. He was just being polite, and thoughtful, and sensitive. He was being Sam Beckett.

Sean excused himself and went to wash his hands. Bill ushered 'David' to the table.

It was everything Sam expected it would be. Polished wooden chairs standing neatly to attention around an oval table; crisp linen tablecloth with embroidered border; floral centerpiece; best crystal glasses; gleaming stainless steel cutlery; neatly folded napkins. The aroma wafting in from the kitchen made his mouth water.

"I hope you haven't gone to a lot of trouble on my account, Mrs. Donahue?" Sam called to her, not adding, 'especially in your condition', but letting the implication hang in the air.

"Don't you fret now, its only stew, I'm afraid." She replied, humbly, "Now, sit yourself down, please."

Bill helped her to carry in the dishes – a rich Irish stew with small dumplings floating in a sea of gravy, a bowl of steaming green beans, and several others, all piping hot and full of good fare. Sean played his part, bringing in a wicker basket brim-full of bread rolls, fresh baked.

They all sat down, and clasped their hands together for prayers.

'Just like Home.' Thought Sam wistfully, 'Mom and Dad would have approved of these people.'

Bill and Cat noticed with relief that Sam had adopted the gesture naturally. They were not the sort of people to impose their beliefs on others and they were pleased that he obviously shared them. With or without guests, Sunday lunch was a special meal to them. Bill opened his mouth, about to offer up the prayer, when Caitlin stopped him:

"Perhaps our guest would care to lead the prayer?" she suggested, almost apologetically.

It was a possibility Sam had anticipated.

"I would be glad to." He replied, and began hesitantly, as if making it up as he went along.

"Lord, we thank Thee for Thy bounteous gifts; for good food and the generosity of friends, for the blessing of a new life soon to be welcomed amongst us. And we humbly ask for Thy guidance in our daily lives, that we may do Thy will in all things. Amen." It was a prayer from the soul.

"Amen." They echoed, in chorus.

Sam intercepted the look that passed between husband and wife, and dared to hope that his words had served to smooth his way. Caitlin thanked him sweetly, and piled his plate high with the piping hot food.

To say it was the best meal he'd had in years was a more literal truth than they could possibly have imagined, considering that the last meal he'd eaten that hadn't been microwaved straight from David's freezer had been in1957, and that one he'd cooked himself (or should that be 'herself'?). He savored every mouthful, and relaxed so much in the warmth and good company that he almost forgot his purpose.

They talked during the meal of many inconsequential things, such as Bill's hobby of photographing wildlife, evidence of which lined the walls. It was a hobby that he indulged at every opportunity, even at night:

"Cat bought me an Infra-red lens for my camera last Christmas, and I've managed to get some amazing shots."

From the examples around him, Sam knew it was not idle boasting on Bill's part.

"I'd love to see them all later, if I may." He was not just being courteous; Bill's enthusiasm for his subject was infectious.

It crossed Sam's mind to wonder if Bill's disappearance could be linked to a wild animal that objected to being captured on film.

Sam enquired politely how Sean was settling in at school, and heard how well he was reading and how he loved his music lessons. The boy's parents could not conceal their pride in him. Nor should they, Sam thought. He was a good boy, well-mannered, intelligent, but with a typical six-year olds sense of fun. He was a credit to them.

Sam asked about the progress of Caitlin's pregnancy. He wondered if she was suffering any problems such as swollen ankles, and whether or not the head had engaged yet, or if the baby was laying transverse or breech.

"Why, Mr. Beckett, you know a lot about the subject for a bachelor." She blushed. She would never dream of accusing him of having fathered a child of his own, but she was curious.

Sam said that he was sorry if he had caused her any embarrassment. He explained that he had a cousin who was a doctor, and he had picked up a lot from him. His 'cousin Sam' had come to his rescue many times when he had let his own knowledge or persona slip through.

He was really starting to feel at home. These were his sort of people, and this meal was so much like those he remembered back in Elk Ridge. When Caitlin served him a second helping of the delicious stew, he made no attempt to decline. He looked up and noticed Sean. The boy had almost finished his own meal, but his plate was still swimming in the rich brown gravy. They all had bread rolls on their side plates, and Sean picked his up and broke it, then started to lower it surreptitiously towards his plate. His hand froze mid-way as he caught a warning look from his mother, which clearly said:


Sam identified totally with the scene playing out before him. Bread and gravy was one of the greatest pleasures he could remember, but it was a luxury reserved strictly for 'at-home'. It was not for polite company. He could almost hear his own mother, Thelma, warning him about it, gently but firmly. He did not wish to offend his hosts, but the disappointment in Sean's crestfallen face made it impossible to resist the temptation. He picked up his own bread roll, broke it and wiped it around his plate, letting the gravy soak into the soft dough. With an exaggerated wink at Sean, he raised it as you would a glass in a toast, and took a huge bite, licking his lips as the gravy oozed from the corners of his mouth.

Sean's jaw dropped and he looked from their guest to his Dad, then to his Mom, and back again, his face saying to Sam:

"Oh boy, are you gonna get told off!"

Bill and Cat were stunned for a moment, unsure how to react. They caught the look between Sean and David, and then looked at each other.

They couldn't help it. They laughed.

Then, as one, they broke their own bread and copied Sam's gesture, nodding their permission to their son to do the same. Sam thought their laughter was the most marvelous sound he had heard in a long time.

Sean looked at him in amazement and wonder and gratitude:

"Awesome! Uncle Frank said you were a hero!" he pronounced, his voice full of adulation.

Their laughter erupted again, and Sam's echoed with it. Would that heroes were made so easily. Yet Bill's merriment was tinged with concern. He was afraid his son had touched a raw nerve, just as he had done himself the day before. Sam noticed his tension, and guessed at its source. It reminded him sharply why he was there. He decided that now was not the time for modesty, and borrowed his best theatrical gestures from one Ray Hutton, an actor he'd once Leaped into in Syracuse:

"Yeah, that's right," he commented light-heartedly, "a regular Don Quixote, that's me!" (He remembered telling Al at the time that Leaping made him feel like he was living a Quixotic life.) He knew his Cervantes, and calculated that it would serve his purpose, his cause, very well at this stage. He went on:

"Fair chatelaine, gentle knights," with a nod to Cat, then Bill and Sean in turn, "if there be any among you who require assistance, you have but to ask, and my good right arm is at your service!"

He now brandished a long bread roll like a sword. He was trying to appear as if he were only joking, yet at the same time if they took his entertainment to be allegorical, then so much the better. The serious look in Bill's eyes, contrasting markedly with the laughter lines around his mouth, suggested that Sam had indeed struck gold.

The meal concluded with fresh fruit, cheese and biscuits, and Irish coffee (Sean had milk). The barriers had been well and truly broken down. Sam was confident he had won their trust. He insisted that he must be allowed to help clear the table and do the dishes. Bill volunteered too, while Caitlin packed Sean off to the neighbors, saying that his friend Errol was expecting him to go next door and play. Here it comes, thought Sam, they've been preparing for the moment too. He thanked Sean for his company and the boy giggled. Sam guessed that David's unorthodox behavior would be the topic of the afternoon.

Sean shook his proffered hand in a very mature way, and without prompting told Sam that it had been a pleasure to meet him.

Sam conferred upon him his friendliest wink, and the boy trotted out happily.

Over the kitchen sink, Sam looked for a way to get Bill to the point at last. He didn't know for sure if Caitlin was in full possession of the facts, though she obviously knew something.

So, now he'd finally got the elusive man alone, he didn't intend to wait a moment longer to find out what on earth this Leap was all about. One thing was evident. William Donahue would never leave his family willingly at this time, nor ever. If he was going to disappear, it was going to be the result of some accident, or more probably foul play. Sam rejected utterly his earlier suggestion to Al that it could be anything like gambling debts. Bill just wasn't the type. It was time to get some answers. Something was bringing tension into this happy home, and Sam intended to find out what. He decided that he would have to try a direct approach.


"Yeah, what is it, David?"

"Tell me to mind my own business if I'm out of line, but is there something bugging you?"

Bill sighed audibly, his relief overwhelming. He'd been wondering how he was going to broach the subject. He had rehearsed it many times without finding a satisfactory opening. He had lain awake for most of the previous night imagining how the conversation would progress, trying to predict what David's reaction would be. Here at last was the moment they had prepared for, and David himself had given him so much encouragement it was almost as if he had read Bill's mind. He couldn't have hoped for better. Now it was all up to him. He took a deep breath, and let it out again, slowly.

"Since you mention it… It's probably nothing but –" oh brother, even now it was hard to put it into words. It sounded so outrageous, even to him.

"Go on. You know what they say about a problem shared."

"Right. I'm not at all sure if there is anything you or anyone can do though."

"Why don't you try me? Two heads are better than one and all that." Sam coaxed him. 'Come on.' He thought to himself, 'this is like getting blood out of a stone.'

"I don't know where to start." Bill confessed lamely.

'No kiddin', Sam refrained from retorting. If he hadn't come to know and like this family so much he might have let his frustration show. Might have grabbed Bill and shaken him in exasperation. He had frequently complained to Al that he was expected to right wrongs on a Leap before being in full possession of the facts; that he often ended up having to second guess himself; that he wished he'd had longer to assess the situation. But this was going to the other extreme. Sam was generally a very patient and even tempered man. It took a lot to provoke him. Yet some things would try the patience of a saint, and in his humble opinion, this situation could probably come close.

'Spit it out, man,' he thought, 'I'm getting older and greyer by the minute waiting for you. This looks like being the longest Leap in the history of Sam Beckett's History.'

Yet he was not going to get heavy with Bill. He would not risk destroying the confidence he had so carefully built up. He pretended to be absorbed in the task before him, examining the glass he had just washed for any traces of a stain, then placing it on the draining board with meticulous care.

"No problem, Bill. Take your time. Just start where you like and we'll fill in the gaps as we go, piece by piece. I'm very good at jigsaw puzzles."

"Since when?" Sam started visibly, almost dropping the plate he was in the middle of cleaning. He prayed Bill hadn't noticed. The voice had not been that of his host. Somehow, Sam had missed the whoosh of the door that usually announced the fact that his friend Al was joining the party. He was pleased to see him. Perhaps Al had some answers for him. But he gave his friend a withering stare. He thought he remembered being good at jigsaws.

"He still hasn't told you what this is all about yet, then?" Al observed.

"I wouldn't be having this much trouble if it was Frank I was talking to." Countered Sam, looking at Al, but Bill took the rebuke as if it were aimed at him. Why wouldn't he? He still thought they were alone.

"You're right," he replied, "Sorry." He twisted the tea towel in his huge hands nervously; he was chewing his bottom lip. Then he took the plunge.

"It all started by accident. I noticed something at work. Come to think of it, I'm surprised you've never spotted it for yourself."

Sam looked at Al with an expression that clearly asked:

"Is there something you should have told me?"

Al looked blank. He fiddled with his hand-link.

"Noticed what?"

"We-ell, you know none of us was involved in building the computer complex? It was already constructed by the time the gang was hired."

Bill was backtracking, trying to remember exactly how he'd come to make his discoveries.

"Go on…" Sam didn't want to say what he did or didn't know.

"Well, I was looking for the site plans one day when I came across the blue prints for the existing complex. They had been tampered with, bits were missing, but even so I could tell that the ground elevation didn't match up with the existing building. I know it was none of my business, and I wish to God I'd never seen them. I should have left well alone, like Cat said. But I was curious. I had another look at the complex, paced it out inside and out. Sure enough, it doesn't add up, David. The building is bigger outside than in, by a good 2-3 meters on the west side. That's what I thought you might have noticed, given that you work so much around that area, and you being so all-fire smart, but I guess it isn't so obvious if you're not looking for it."

Al started pounding buttons; commanding Ziggy to get hold of the plans, verify the information. He knew it could take a while, especially if someone didn't want the information found.

"I have to admit the possibility never occurred to me." Put in Sam, with total honesty. "Do you know why the discrepancy?" he was starting to get that uneasy feeling again. Like were they talking skeletons in closets, and was Bill destined to become one?

"I'm not sure. I told Cat about it, and she sort of convinced me I must have been imagining things. It does sound a bit unlikely, doesn't it?"

"Not necessarily." Answered Sam. 'In fact, not at all.' He added silently. He was looking at Al, raised eyebrows asking 'Well?'

"Nothing yet, Sam." Al informed him, unsurprisingly, "We're working on it."

Sam knew there had to be more to it than that.

"What happened next?" he asked.

"Well, like I said, I thought I'd imagined it, so I sort of forgot about it for a spell. Then I was round the back last week unloading bags of sand for the cement. One of them split open and I bent down to clean up the mess." As he talked he was wiping the same plate over and over, until Sam thought he would wipe the pattern off.

"Anyhow, just then the Brothers Grimm walked past, whispering to each other all secretive. I guess they hadn't seen me 'cos I was the other side of the stack."

Al sniggered at his description of the Ruggiero boys:

"That's a good one, Sam. I like the way this guy thinks."

"I wasn't snooping, honest." Continued Donahue, "It's just that I was so close I couldn't help hearing a bit of their conversation."

Bill had the look of a freshman who had been caught cheating on his midterms. He was blatantly distressed by the memory.

"Don't worry, Bill." Sam tried to placate him, "I'm sure you meant no harm. But it had to be real important to get you this riled up. What was it they said?"

"I - I can't recall exactly, that's part of the problem. I keep hoping I didn't hear right. I don't want to believe it, David."

"Believe what?" retorted Al and Sam almost together. They were both getting impatient again now. Neither could imagine where this was leading, but it seemed to be taking forever to get there.

"From what they were saying, it sounded as if they had…. something… hidden in the complex. It sounded like they were dealing in drugs, David. I was scared witless, I just freaked out. I didn't know what to do. I-I still don't."

He looked crestfallen. It was out. He'd said it. And he didn't feel any better. He'd hoped he would.

Sam and Al exchanged astonished looks. It was starting to add up, and neither of them liked the totals they were getting.

"Who else have you told?" Sam asked, alarm bells ringing. This knowledge could certainly make Bill a prime candidate for a sudden disappearance. And there was an old saying about careless talk costing lives.

"Nobody; only Cat, and now you." Bill was shaking visibly. His top lip was soaked in sweat. Sam led him from the kitchen back into the other room, the last vestiges of washing up forgotten.

Caitlin was sitting on the couch, her feet resting on a stool as both men had ordered. She looked far from relaxed, however. As they came in, she put down the white matinee jacket she had been knitting. Her anxiety was reflected in the exaggerated tension of the stitches. This creation was clearly not up to her normal high standard of handiwork.

Bill sat next to his wife and they embraced. Cat searched her husband's face for the signs of relief she had expected to find, and was dismayed not to see them there. She looked to David Beckett, questioningly. He gave her a reassuring smile, and sat opposite them, in an easy chair. He didn't seem in the least perturbed about being drawn into this dreadful situation. He leaned forward. "Have you thought about going to the police?"

"I haven't any proof. I could be wrong. I couldn't go to the cops; I was scared of losing my job." Bill's voice was tinged with desperation. "Oh, brother, you must think I'm a total wimp."

"No way." Sam hastily assured him. Far from contempt, Sam felt an even greater respect for the man. He understood perfectly how Bill's conscience would not allow him to ignore such a potential crime, how torn he was between his fear and his moral duty. Sam had been down that road many times himself.

Al had taken up a position behind the couch, his shirt – a riot of color, which resembled nothing so much as an explosion in a paint factory – contrasting sharply with the fine, precise embroidery on the cream linen antimacassars. He chose his spot carefully, giving Sam a chance to look at him without appearing to take his attention from his hosts. It was a skill born of long practice, and was by now almost instinctive.

He finally confirmed the fact that the computer building appeared to have a hidden compartment.

"I don't like the sound of this, Sam. If that area is stacked full of heroin or crack cocaine, or E, or whatever the craze was for at the time, the street value must be millions. This is major league stuff. I got a bad feeling, buddy. I hope you aren't getting out of your depth on this one."

Sam shot him a look.

"I'm sure we can sort this out, if we just keep calm and don't lose our heads." He chastised his friend.

"We have to do something, don't we, David?" Bill's question was largely rhetorical. He was trying to convince himself as much as his new found confidante.

"I'm scared." Caitlin frowned, "I told Bill it's not his responsibility. It's too risky for him to cross these people if they are mixed up with drugs. You hear such terrible things on the news. But I'm sure he's been planning something. We've never had secrets before. He just won't let go. Talk some sense into him, please, Mr. Beckett."

"Ziggy says its still 83 that he disappears, Sam. Do something."

"Have you been planning something?" Sam asked frankly, afraid he already knew the answer. He looked Bill straight in the eye, willing him to tell the truth.

Bill squirmed. He took his arm from Cat's shoulder and wrung his hands together. He looked at his hands, avoiding the gazes of his wife and his friend. He hadn't meant Cat to know about this. He wanted to spare her the worry. Now, David's tone was compelling, insistent. He saw no alternative but confession.

"Uh, sorry, honey. I was gonna tell you I was heading off tonight to get some shots of that owl's nest I discovered. Then I was planning on sneaking back to work with the camera, see if I could get into the secret room and get some proof of what they have in there. There'll be nobody around tonight, no night shift, cos the work's all done, ready for tomorrow. I figured if I could get something on film, the cops would be able to put a stop to it."

Caitlin gasped. She gripped Bill's arm.

"No! You can't Bill! Tell him he can't." She looked at Sam in supplication, her eyes streaming with tears, her face blanched and filled with alarm.

"Yeah, Sam; tell him." Al ordered, pointing his unlit cigar at Bill.

"I agree, Bill. It's too dangerous for you. Your place is here with your family. They need you now more than ever."

"Keep talking, Sam," said Al, as his com-link flashed and beeped. "Ziggy says the odds on Bill's vanishing are dropping steadily."

"But we can't just let them get away with it." Bill was confused. He still felt this was too important to give up on, but he couldn't stand the look in his wife's eyes.

"You mustn't go, Bill. Please." Caitlin was getting increasingly frantic. She was shaking, short of breath. Sam was getting worried about her and the effect on her unborn child.

"Listen to me, both of you." Sam reached forward, taking Caitlin's hand in both of his, in a gesture of reassurance that also just happened to allow him to slip a finger to her wrist and check her pulse rate. "I can't let you do this, Bill."

"You've nearly got him, Sam, but the odds have stuck at 19."

Al thumped Ziggy's hand-link as if trying to push the odds down by brute force.

Sam tried to put himself in Bill's place, to think of something, anything, to convince him. With a sinking feeling, he realized there was only one argument that Bill couldn't refute. He changed tack.

"Can you tell me exactly where this extra space is?" he asked Bill, or Al, it didn't matter which. He let go of Cat's hand; her heartbeat was beginning to return to normal.

"Sure thing." Bill reached for the pad and pen, which they kept by the telephone. He drew Sam a very clear plan.

"Where's this leading?" asked Al, hoping he didn't already know the answer.

"Would you trust me to borrow your camera?" Sam asked Bill, deliberately turning away from his spectral friend.

Ziggy squealed

For a moment, Al looked elated. He jogged up and down with excitement:

"You've done it, Sam! Bill's safe."

Then his face fell. The thick eyebrows knitted as he pored over the information being fed to him. This was precisely what he'd been afraid of. He gripped the instrument as if he would like to crush it.

"Uh-oh. No, Sa-am," Al's voice was positively dripping with warning, but Sam wasn't listening. He was pressing his point home.

"…. It's all settled." He announced firmly, to all three of them.

"I'll take the camera and go to the site at midnight tonight, get the proof we need. By dawn tomorrow, their sordid little operation will be over once and for all."

He sounded far more confident than he felt. The Donahue's were relieved, but still concerned. Caitlin was objecting:

"We can't ask you to do this, Mr. Beckett. You said yourself it could be dangerous."

But Sam couldn't back down now. He knew it with a certainty that knotted his gut.

"You haven't asked," he pointed out, as if semantics were the only vital issue at stake, "I volunteered, remember?"

Al was stammering, waving his cigar around; desperately trying to get Sam's attention. He walked through the couch and stood almost nose-to-nose with his friend.

"Sam. You gotta tell them you need to go to the can. We have to discuss this. Are you listening to me, Sam? SAM…."

But Sam was taking no more notice of the hologram than the Donahues were. He decided to resort to the theatrical again.

"I told you, I'm a regular Don Quixote. I must have my windmills to tilt at; my noble quest. And I can't think of any nobler cause than keeping this stuff off the streets, can you?"

Now he looked pointedly at Al, who stared back at him in disbelief. Three mouths opened to protest, but he didn't give any of them the chance. He was well versed in Leigh and Darion too. He launched into song:

"Hear me, heathens and wizards and serpents of sin

All your dastardly doings are past.

For a Holy endeavor is now to begin

And virtue shall triumph at last!"

"I sure hope so, Sam,"' Al finally managed to get out; "Because Ziggy says that now Bill doesn't disappear, but it's 96 that David does. You do, Sam. Be careful, buddy. Be very careful."

Where Caitlin had been amused before, she was now incredulous:

"How can you be so casual?"

"I'm with her." Came the aside from Al, who nodded at Cat, as if to say, 'Listen to her, she is talking more sense than you are.'

"Fear not, fair maiden." Again, he ignored his friend. Then he changed his tone, no longer theatrical, speaking from the heart:

"Seriously, don't worry, Mrs. Donahue." The reassurance was aimed at Al as well, but he was having none of it. He shook his head slowly.

"My father taught me that if you face every difficult situation in life with courage and Faith in the Lord, Someone will watch over you."

Sam's eyes met Al's in silent command.

"I'll be there, Sam." He promised.

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