All around him, Bogg heard murmurs of dismay, sensed movement even through the pitch-blackness that had descended on the Carson house. His own spine prickled with apprehension, even as he told himself he was being ridiculous: a grown man--a former pirate, no less--afraid of the dark!
"Phineas?" He felt Susan's hand touch his arm and fumbled to give her fingers a reassuring squeeze.
Then Bill's voice, sounding more resigned than alarmed, broke the uneasy silence. "Looks like we're having a blackout, folks."
Several people groaned at the announcement, but there was an almost palpable easing of tension in the room. Apparently, Bogg concluded, blackouts were not an unknown phenomenon.
"The joys of summer in New York," someone else remarked, in a similarly exasperated tone.
"Well, we've got candles and matches in the kitchen," Kathy chimed in, her own voice brisk and businesslike. "And a flashlight in the hall closet."
"I've got an extra flashlight in my glove compartment," Bill's college roommate, Gary, spoke up from the other side of the room.
"So do I," another disembodied voice contributed.
"Great," Bill acknowledged. "Let there be light."
And within a fairly short time, there was light, of a sort. While Gary and the other guest left the house to retrieve their flashlights, Kathy and Susan made their way to the kitchen and emerged with several candles and a box of matches. Bill fetched his own flashlight from the closet and several people produced cigarette lighters to help ignite the candlewicks.
"Hey, man, the house next door still has lights on," Gary reported, as he reentered their midst, preceded by his flashlight beam.
Bill, lighting one of the candles, glanced up at the news. "It does?"
"Yeah, and so does the one about two doors down. We might be the only one suffering an outage."
"Damn," Bill muttered under his breath. He raised his voice to address the room again. "Okay, everyone--looks like this might not be a blackout, after all. Sorry for the inconvenience. I guess this house still has some quirks I don't know about yet."
"Maybe a fuse blew," Gary suggested.
"That could be it," Bill replied. "I may just have to reset the circuit-breaker downstairs."
"Downstairs?" Bogg queried, experiencing an odd sinking feeling in his gut at the other man's words.
"Yeah, the control panel's in the basement."
Bogg liked the basement even less by night than by day. Nonetheless, he had instantly volunteered to accompany Bill, especially since he'd been down there with him earlier in the day. Gary brought up the rear. At least all of them had flashlights and made it down the stairs without mishap.
No moving shapes lurked in the shadows this time, but Bogg still couldn't shake his uneasiness. The basement felt as claustrophobic to him as the belowdecks of some ships he'd sailed on, during his seafaring days. And it was no use telling himself not to be ridiculous, that the basement was far more spacious than the cargo hold of a wooden-walled ship--the sense of oppressiveness was exactly the same.
Gary's voice recalled Bogg to the present.
"--faulty wiring?" the artist was asking.
Bill's shrug was just visible in the darkness. "Could be, I suppose. But if that were the case, I'd have thought Professor Carson would've told me before I moved in. Well, maybe he was so busy preparing for his trip that he forgot to mention it."
"If the wiring is faulty," Bogg began, "what's the safest thing to do?"
"Call an electrician," Bill replied, so wryly that neither of his companions needed to see his face. "But that'll have to wait until morning. For now, I can try turning off the circuit-breaker and then switching it on to a lower setting." He shone his flashlight beam towards the furthest wall. "Control panel's over there. Come on."
They made their way carefully over to the designated spot. Bill handed Gary his flashlight just before he opened the panel's hatch. "Here--can you hold this steady, so I can see what I'm doing?"
"Got it, man."
"And Phineas, you stand over here, on my other side."
"Sure thing." Bogg took up the position indicated.
Bill turned back to the panel. "So I'll just turn this off, and--"
It happened in the blink of an eye. One moment Bill was reaching for the switch, in the next, there was a flash of white light, a fizzing noise, and Jeffrey's father reeled backwards, crumpling to the floor without a sound.
"Jesus Christ!" Bogg didn't know whether he or Gary had spoken, but they both dropped to their knees beside the fallen man, rolling him over onto his back.
"Check if he's breathing," Bogg rapped out, feeling frantically for a pulse. For a few horrible seconds he feared he was too late, but then he detected one, weak and thready, just behind Bill's jaw.
Relief was short-lived, though as Gary's voice rose panic-stricken through the darkness. "He's not breathing--"
For a moment, Bogg experienced a similar panic. Then sanity returned, bringing with it a blessedly vivid memory: Jeffrey's eyes meeting his, over an unconscious Clara Barton. "I know what I'm doing . . . "
"Stand back," Bogg ordered, taking up a position behind Bill's shoulders, "and hold the flashlight steady. I gotta see what I'm doing." Feverishly, he leaned over and took hold of Bill's jaw, prying his mouth open.
Nothing blocking the airway, no other visible obstruction. Tilting Bill's head back, Bogg angled his jaw forward, pinched his nose shut, and set his own mouth over the other man's before blowing deeply into his lungs. One thousand--two thousand--again . . .
Damn it, Bill--breathe! he exhorted silently, willing the unconscious man to hear him. If you die, Kathy will never forgive you and your son will never forgive me!
Time ceased to have any meaning as he worked. He was only dimly aware of another figure appearing at the top of the stairs, of Gary's shouted injunction to call an ambulance. Nothing mattered but the rhythm of his breathing.
In, out, pause, repeat. Breathing for Bill, for Kathy, for Jeff. For himself too, lest he become light-headed and pass out before the job was done. Then, when he had almost given up hope, he heard it--the hiss of air escaping--and felt a faint breath against his cheek, followed by another. Heart in his mouth, he glanced at Gary, saw the relief plain on his face even in the wavering circle of light.
"His chest is moving!" Bill's roommate reported, voice cracking with emotion. "Hey, Bill--welcome back, man!"
On the floor, Jeffrey's father groaned and stirred feebly, trying to lift his head.
"Easy, Bill . . ." Bogg laid one hand over the other man's forehead. "Don't try to move yet. You've had a bad shock. It's Phineas--squeeze my hand if you can understand me."
There was a pause that seemed to last forever, then the Voyager felt the faint pressure of Bill's fingers closing over his.
Relief flooded through Bogg, leaving him feeling weak and shaky. Sinking back on his haunches, he laid reassuring hands on Bill's shoulders. "You're gonna be all right now," he told Jeffrey's father. "You're gonna be all right."
"Mr. Jones should make a full recovery," Dr. Foster reported to the waiting room crowded with Bill's anxious friends, all of whom practically sagged with relief at the good news. "Fortunately, he was not in contact with the electrical current beyond a second or two, and thanks to the quick thinking of these two gentlemen," he nodded towards Bogg and Gary, "his respiration was almost instantly restarted."
It had felt much longer than "instantly" to Bogg, but he knew just how subjective the passage of time could be in these circumstances, so he wasn't about to quibble. Susan, her eyes suspiciously moist, came to wrap her arms around his waist and he hugged her back, burying his face in her hair.
"Nonetheless," the doctor continued, "we wish to keep the patient here overnight, for observation."
Kathy, her face pale and strained from waiting, jumped up from the sofa. "May I see him? I'm his fiancée."
Dr. Foster hesitated, but only for a moment. "Very well. But just for a few minutes--and only one visitor at a time. Come with me."
As he led her away, the couple's friends broke into groups and began to talk quietly among themselves. Susan, her arms still circling Bogg's waist, looked up as a thought struck her. "The Omni?" she asked, sotto voce.
Bogg blinked at the reminder, then quickly turned aside to unhook the device from his belt. Flipping the lid open, he caught his breath: a green light, steady and serene, shone up at him. For the second time that night, he felt dizzy and light-headed with relief.
"Well?" Susan prompted.
Wordlessly, he showed her the result, saw her own eyes light up. It seemed the most natural thing in the world then, to pull her closer to him, and press his lips to hers. Far from objecting, Susan twined her arms about his neck and returned the salute with enthusiasm. Relief rather than passion was the driving force behind the kiss, Bogg knew, but all the same it was very sweet and by no means devoid of sparks. They surfaced at last, smiling foolishly at each other.
But even in the midst of his euphoria, Bogg felt something niggling at the back of his mind. Bill and Kathy were safe, his mission here had been completed successfully . . . but there were still so many unanswered questions.
"What a night," Susan sighed as they staggered into their apartment at long last and shut the door behind them. "I feel like I could outsleep Rip Van Winkle."
"Who?" Bogg asked woozily, struggling to keep his own eyes from closing.
"Never mind." Susan stifled a yawn behind one hand as she ventured further into the living room. Halfway across the threshold, she paused abruptly. "Phineas--I think someone's calling you."
Bogg's eyes snapped fully open when he saw the now-familiar rectangle of light in the middle of the room. "Bat's breath! What time is it back at HQ?"
"I'm not sure, but probably way past a certain young man's bedtime."
They traded rueful smiles. "Well, I can't say I blame him," Bogg remarked. "I'd been out of touch all day. And I've got a heck of a lot to tell him now." Striding over to the sofa, he picked up his HGT from the end table.
"Need me to help break the news?"
He shook his head. "No thanks, I can handle things from here. You go along to bed."
He activated the transmitter after he heard the bedroom door close. Jeffrey appeared almost immediately in the holographic corridor. Bogg was not in the least surprised to see that the boy was dressed for bed, nor that he was wide-awake.
"Still keeping night-owl hours, kid?" he inquired, without preamble. "At this rate, you're gonna end up with big black rings under your eyes, like a panda."
Jeffrey shrugged. "Hey, it's not like I've got anything better to do right now."
"You could try sleeping. You know, closing your eyes and actually getting some rest?"
"Maybe I can sleep when I'm dead," the kid offered flippantly.
"Jeffrey, that's not funny!"
The boy's eyes widened at his sharp tone.
"Sorry, kid." Bogg rubbed the back of his neck, easing the tension. "I didn't mean to bite your head off. It's just--been a long night."
"Something's happened, hasn't it?" Jeffrey leaned forward, his eyes intent on Bogg's face.
"Yeah, but I don't want you to worry," Bogg said hastily. "Everything's okay now--and the Omni's turned green too." Unclipping the device, he flipped back the lid and held it up so the boy could see for himself.
Jeffrey exhaled, the relief plain on his face. "So--what was it?"
"Well, there was a power outage at your parents' new house," Bogg began and continued from there. Jeffrey paled when he heard about his father's near-electrocution but by the time Bogg finished his account, the color was back in his face and his eyes were alight with gratitude.
"You did it, Bogg! You saved my dad."
"You saved him," Bogg corrected. "If you hadn't taught me how to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation . . . " He shook his head and repressed a shiver. "It was close, kid--way too close for comfort."
The boy's brows drew together contemplatively. "Think it was an accident?"
"What do you think?" Bogg countered, not wanting to commit himself as yet.
"I dunno. I guess it's possible. I grew up in New York, Bogg--blackouts happen, especially in the summer. And if this was a house my folks were just moving into, maybe there was something wrong with the wiring. But when I think of what you told me about Mom getting pushed in the street--"
"I know--I can't help wondering myself. Bill said he was going to call an electrician in the morning. I offered to be there at the house, since they might not discharge your dad until noon."
"And my dad's really gonna be okay?"
"Yeah, he's gonna be fine," Bogg assured the boy. Before leaving the hospital with Susan, he'd stopped briefly by Bill's cubicle. Jeffrey's father had looked pale and exhausted, but he'd managed to smile and thank Bogg for the quick thinking that had saved his life. As had Kathy, who had hugged the breath out of both Bogg and Susan when she next saw them. "He's looking forward to getting out of the hospital and marrying your mom this weekend."
"You gonna stick around for that?" Jeffrey asked, somewhat wistfully. "I know the Omni's green and all, but . . . "
"Well . . . " Bogg considered the matter. "I've already committed myself to being here tomorrow, so what's one or two more days? Might as well make sure the wedding goes off without a hitch."
The boy broke into a radiant smile. "Thanks, Bogg!"
"Sure thing, Jeff. " It was little enough, Bogg thought, to give his partner some peace of mind. Then it occurred to him that there was something else he had intended to ask. "Say, kid--what do you know about a guy named Tony Sorvino?"
"Uncle Tony? What about him?"
"Uncle Tony?" Bogg blinked at the boy.
"Well, okay, he wasn't really my uncle, but he was one of my mom's oldest friends and he got married the year after my folks did. To Sophia, another friend of Mom's. They had twins, Tony Junior and Bella--we all used to play together until the Sorvinos moved to California."
"Did you know that your Uncle Tony used to date your mom?"
It was Jeffrey's turn to blink. "He did?"
"Yup. According to Kathy, they were an item in high school, before she met your dad."
"First I've ever heard of it. But I guess it's not the kind of thing grown-ups talk about in front of kids."
"No. And I wouldn't have brought him up if I hadn't seen him trying to put the moves on your mom tonight, while they were dancing."
"Way," Bogg confirmed. "For a minute, I thought things were gonna get ugly but your dad kept his cool." Briefly, he described how Bill had defused the situation, saw Jeffrey's smile turn proud and fond.
"That's Dad. He used to tell me never to start a fight, but always to finish one. And that fists should be the last resort, not the first."
"Smart man, your dad. Unfortunately, there are other ways of fighting dirty besides using fists. Does your Uncle Tony know anything about electricity?"
Jeffrey's eyes widened again; he had always been quick. "You think he might have had something to do with Dad's accident?"
"I don't know, Jeff. But when the lights went out, I couldn't help wondering, especially considering the way your Uncle Tony left the party. "
"But he did leave--you saw that yourself."
"He could have snuck back in, though, couldn't he? At least long enough to rig the lights to give your dad a nasty shock."
The boy shook his head. "I don't know, Bogg, I still have a hard time imagining him wanting to hurt my parents."
"Jealousy can make people do bad things, kid. Things they regret later."
Jeffrey bit his lip, his eyes troubled. "Well . . . maybe he might want to get my dad out of the way. But why would he push Mom in front of a car if he wanted to get back together with her?"
"Good point. Still, we can't rule out that your mom's accident might have been genuine." Bogg raked a hand through his hair and sighed. "Look, Jeffrey--I don't want to worry you over nothing. There's no evidence to show one way or the other whether your folks were the victims of foul play--or just unlucky. As it is, I won't know anything more until tomorrow, after the electrician comes."
"Right." Jeffrey sighed in turn. "Well--thanks for taking care of my folks. It really helps to know you're watching over them."
"All in a day's work, kid. Speaking of 'watching over,' how're you and Olivia making out at HQ?"
"Fine," the boy assured him. "She's been great, Bogg--real supportive. She even took me on a tour of the campus today, to keep me from going stir-crazy in Mission Control. We had lunch down by the lake and fed the ducks too."
"Oh, yeah, I remember the lake. One of those ducks bit me once."
Jeffrey shook his head. "You sure have lousy luck with the animal kingdom, Bogg."
The older Voyager grinned. "Not with the female of the species, kid!" He chuckled when the boy rolled his eyes. "Hey, tell you what--when all this is over, I'll give you another tour, show you some of my old stomping grounds. I found some great places that no one else knew about--and I'd like to share them with you."
"Who else? Can't think of anyone I'd rather share 'em with."
"I'd like that." Jeffrey was relaxing now, his posture becoming less tense, his dark eyes growing heavy-lidded. "Something to look forward to."
"Exactly." Bogg's tone gentled. "Get some sleep, Jeff. You look about done-in."
"I am feeling kinda tired," the boy admitted. "You rest too, okay?"
"Okay. Sweet dreams, kid."
"Sweet dreams," his partner echoed, just before the hologram winked out.
In retrospect, Bogg wouldn't have described his dreams that night as "sweet"; "bizarre" might have been a more fitting term. He didn't remember them in their entirety, but there had been lights that flickered haphazardly on and off, and at one point a giant duck had been chasing him around the lake at the Academy. He was almost relieved to wake up and find himself alone on the lumpy sofa bed.
After a hasty breakfast assembled from the staples Susan had stocked in their refrigerator, the two Voyagers went their separate ways. Susan headed back to the hospital, to offer Kathy what assistance she could on the day before the wedding. Meanwhile, Bogg returned to the house in Queens, letting himself in with the key Bill had lent him.
He had arrived almost an hour before the electrician was due. With a growing sense of the inevitable, he armed himself with a flashlight and braved the basement once more.
The room seemed as dark, dank, and unwelcoming as ever. And it was doubly hard to remain, knowing that Jeffrey's father had almost died there the night before. Gritting his teeth, Bogg made his way over to the control panel nonetheless. The hatch door was still open, exposing the various switches and circuits, which Bogg avoided touching. Not that there was any danger at this point. After Bill had been revived, Gary had grabbed a wooden broom handle and switched the circuit-breaker to "off." The house was now effectively without power, but better that than a fire caused by faulty wiring.
Uneasily, Bogg swept his flashlight beam around the room, seeking . . . he hardly knew what. The beam traveled over discarded furniture and dusty boxes, over a spiderweb in a corner, an unidentified dark spot on the floor by the far wall. . .
Frowning, Bogg played the beam over the last item once again. Something long, black, and unmoving. He grimaced, hoping that the object was not and never had been alive. He couldn't imagine Bill or Kathy being pleased by the prospect of critters--whether mice, rats, or lizards--in their basement. Suppressing his squeamishness, he walked up to the object in question, hunkered down on his haunches to inspect it more closely.
He felt an initial surge of relief on discovering that it was not, in fact, an animal. And yet--there was something oddly familiar about it. Using his handkerchief, Bogg lifted the object gingerly from the floor, brought it into his direct line of vision . . . and felt his blood turn to ice, his hand start to shake, as his worst fears were realized.
Any last hope that Bill's brush with death had been an accident was extinguished--as surely as the cigar Bogg now held. A slim black cigar, of the type favored by dandies and fops. A cigar whose end had been carefully trimmed--with the surgical precision of a scalpel.