Chapter One The brilliant cacophony of spectral colours reached a peak of brilliance, then slowly began to ebb. Sam knew what was happening. He had leaped again. With unswerving faith he hoped beyond hope that this time, as with all leaps, he would be in his own body. When the lights receded, he knew he was not home, not this time. Something's not right. He didn't feel like himself, not that he ever did. But he felt less like himself than during any other leap. Gathering all his forces for yet another magical mystery tour of his own, but not of his own making, Sam took in his surroundings. A series of long, non-descript curtains encircled him, hanging from overhead pipes painted black and forming a makeshift square of about three feet by three feet. They didn't quite reach all the way to the floor. A small but functional mirror hung from a unbent coat hanger suspended from one of the pipes. He could hear loud, thumping music with a muffled spoken word accompaniment coming from the distance. Not too far away, but far enough that it didn't hurt his eardrums. He really didn't like music when it was so loud you couldn't talk over it. "Might as well get it over with," he said, turning to face the mirror. He slowly moved into full facial view. A very beautiful, young, and heavily made up woman stared back, velvet black hair done in what he assumed was the latest style. "Aw, man. Not a woman again!" Taking a deep prepatory breath, he looked down at his attire ■ a long flowing sequenced black evening gown with matching bolero jacket and black silk stockings. His bare stockinged toes peeked out from under the hem of the elegant dress as he bent forward. Taking a step back, he nearly tripped over something. Turning around he spotted what. Black stiletto shoes. Bending to pick them up, he uttered what had become more like a mantra than a phrase of apprehension. "Oh, boy." "Come on, Kara, you're up!" The male voice came from outside the curtains. Kara? "I know you're in there, Kara. This is not the time to be petulant." Realizing he must be Kara, he took hold of either side of the curtain and opened it. Eyes widening, he took in sharp breath, and quickly closed the curtain around him. "Hurry up. You're holding up the show!" A pair of male hands opened the curtain, reached through and grabbed his wrist, leading him through the room of several beautiful, half-naked women. The other man seemed not to notice their various states of undress, but he certainly did. He could feel the blood rising in he cheeks as he was forcibly led through them. He attempted to shield his eyes from the sight of the other women changing with his free hand, holding the shoes as much over his eyes as possible without poking himself blind. The man dragging him finally stopped and let go of his wrist. Sam slowly looked up. Bright lights shone in his eyes, nearly blinding him. Letting his pupils adjust to the sudden trauma they had experienced, he slowly realized where he had been led; to the side entrance of a stage. His eyes finally adjusted, he saw a long, well-lit walkway protruding from the centre of the stage, people seated on either side of it, and more tall, beautiful women walking confidently along it, each in a different outfit. "Oh, god, I'm a fashion model!" A tension-filled whisper came from the man standing beside him, "Well, you're sure as hell not the Queen of bloody England. Now, move your fucking ass, or the next catwalk you'll see will be in a Wal-Mart in Siberia!" Tentatively, Sam put on the stilettos and began to precariously walk onstage. Following the lead of the other models was easy. They were all doing just about the same thing, only in different orders. Walk, twirl, stop and pose, slip jacket down arms, place hands on hips, walk more, stop and pose more. He noticed, though, that none were smiling. I guess they're enjoying this as much as I am. With the end of the humiliating experience in sight, Sam nearly ran for the curtained-off side opposite the one where he had entered. Controlling a nearly overwhelming desire to run, he walked slowly offstage, relieved that , at least he had managed not to fall over. Now, completely obscured from the view of the audience, he slipped off his shoes and rubbed his toes. "How do these women ..." He turned his head, forgetting the scantily-clad women, visible on both sides of the backstage area, and quickly turned back around. "Thirty seconds to the final walk, ladies. Everyone into position." The same male voice that had pulled him from the sanctity of the curtained-off changeroom spoke these words of terror. "Final walk? I have to go back out there?!" Before he could slink away, the parade of models started past him, women emerging from both sides. One model, who barely looked old enough to be out of her Keds, stopped in front of him, leaving an obvious gap in the procession. I guess this is where I go. Sam quickly slipped his shoes back on and continued in behind. Paying attention to his aching feet and not the woman in front of him, he nearly collided with her when she stopped. She then turned towards the centre of the runway and began applauding. Actually, everyone in the room was applauding, so he thought he had better as well. Are they applauding the fact that I didn't end up on my ass! A heavy-set man came out, taking bows and waving thanks to the audience. He must be the designer. Al sure would like this guy on his payroll, he commented to himself, taking stock of the man's fit. Purple pants with a gold stripe down the side of each leg, gold lamé shirt with bolero tie and purple velvet jacket. Al would definitely like this guy. The man stopped, bowed his thanks and kissed a few of the models. Before Sam realized what was happening, he'd gotten a wet one planted on him as well. Aw, man. Thank God Al didn't see that. The fashion show over, two lines of women followed the designer offstage. Sam had only removed one of his shoes when the small man who had dragged him onstage came running up to him. "Kara, just what the hell were you doing tonight? Trying to ruin Jean-Louis' biggest night ever!" His nostrils flared with puffed up anger. Sam started to back away, wanting to avoid getting whomever he was currently occupying into trouble. "Well, no, I, uh, ... got a run in my stockings and had to change them. Sorry." "You were wearing a full length gown. A run wouldn't have mattered!" Sam hesitated, trying to think of another strategy. None came. "It went right up the front of my foot. It would have shown." The little man backed down, seeming to take that into account. "Well, alright. But next time be more careful with your stockings." He turned and walked away and began picking on another model for some minor indiscretion. Sam slowly made his way back to his curtained sanctuary but a quick look inside the area told him that there were no other clothes for him to wear. He stepped back into the main area, searching for anything that might be labelled 'Kara'. "Missing something, Kara?" Sam's eyes followed a pair of booted feet to legs swathed in blue jeans. A loose-fitting white cotton blouse lead him to a young, very 'girl-nextdoor' face, clean of make-up and flash. She can't be old enough to drive, and she's a model! "Kara?" "Uh, I can't find my clothes," he said, embarrassed at asking a child for help. "Don't worry. Somebody probably just moved them." She turned and bent at the waist, looking through a pile of clothes and gym bags on the floor. Sam quickly turned in the opposite direction, away from the rather young posterior sticking in his face. "Here it is!", she cried, hoisting a duffle bag from the bottom of the pile. Sam turned back towards her, but still kept his face slightly turned. "Uh, thanks." He took the offered bag. "Are you working the Chicago show in a few weeks?" "I'm not sure. Maybe." Sam wished she would just leave. He hated having to answer questions when Al hadn't shown up with any information. "Well, I guess I'll see you there. I gotta run, my mom's waiting for me. Have a Merry Christmas!" She gave him a peck on the cheek, then ran towards the door marked "Exit". Watching her leave, Sam opened the bag and pulled out a pair of jeans, jacket, blouse, socks, sneakers, and a bra. "Man, I hate wearing these things," he groaned, stuffing everything back in the bag and turning towards the curtained area. A few minutes later, he stepped back out, having changed into Kara's clothes. He held the evening gown over one arm, not sure what he should do with it. Before he could ask, an older, grey-haired woman with a tape measure around her neck snatched the dress from his hand. "The, uh, shoes and stockings are in the ...," he said, watching the woman disappear with a wave over her shoulder, acknowledging that she had heard him. Where's Al? It's not like him to miss something like this. Looking around, Sam saw another model sitting at some make-up tables and, following her lead, began to remove the make-up from his face and brush out his hair. The reflection in the mirror of the scrubbed clean face and de-pouffed hair showed a pretty young woman of about 20 years old. Piercing blue eyes shone, the colour enhanced by the blackness of her hair, and the caramel hue of her skin. "Hey, Kara, nice job today. You really got Bobby Blue pissed." Looking up, he saw the reflections of two girls in the mirror. The seemed to be about Kara's age. They were laughing as if he'd missed out on some inside joke, which of course, he had. "Yeah, I guess I did." Sam turned around in his chair. Maybe these two could tell me something. "So, what do we do now?" They looked at him as if he had just asked them to explain quantum physics. "I mean, what's up?" "We thought we'd go to grab a burger, before heading back to the hotel. You game?" The one with the long blonde hair had replied. She seemed to be the leader between the two of them. The mention of food sent spasms through Sam's stomach. Leaped hungry again. "Sure, sounds great." "Let's go, before Bobby Blue finds something else to yell at us about." As the two turned, Sam reached down and grabbed the duffle bag. A small purse fell out. "Figures I'd have to carry a purse, too," he moaned. Picking up the purse, he slung it over his shoulder, then followed the two out a side door. It led directly to the parking lot, where, Sam discovered, several cars were parked. The ringleader turned. "Since you've got your car and I've got mine, why don't you follow us, Kara. Carnie can ride with me." Great. A dozen cars in the lot and I've got to figure out which one's ... . It was then he spotted the personalized plate, "KARA1". Thank god for vanity plates. "Sure, you lead," he said, walking towards the car. Al can catch up to me while I'm eating. Reaching for the driver's door, he realized he didn't have the keys in his hands. He looked inside the purse, nothing. Then, patting down Kara's jacket pockets, he found them there. Opening the door to the bright red sportscar, he threw the duffle bag and purse into the back seat. He settled himself behind the steering wheel, shoved the key into the ignition and revved the engine. At least she had great taste in cars, he thought. He put his foot on the clutch, threw the gear into reverse and began to back out. "I've always loved the sound of a powerful engine. Don't you?" He nearly jumped out of his skin. The voice didn't come from Al, but from a woman. His foot slipped off the clutch, stalling the car. "Thought we'd lost you there. You disappeared on us for a while."