CHAPTER 12 Sam woke with a start, not sure what had stirred him from sleep. For a long moment he lay absolutely still before slowly opening his eyes. Panic set in when he couldn't seem to open them, and it only receded when he brought a hand up to touch his face, his fingers hesitant on the puffy flesh around his eyes. The sharp flicker of pain the touch caused brought it all back to him -- where he was, what had happened. Early morning sunlight coming through the partially opened blinds over the window across from the couch striped the carpet. Even that small amount of light hurt Sam's eyes and he winced, shielding them with one hand as he stood up. Gasping as his stiff muscles protested being used, Sam moved toward the stairs leading to the second floor of the house; even the light exertion of climbing the stairs left him gasping softly. Going into the bathroom he turned on the hot water in the tub, tempering it with the cold until it was just short of scalding. After a moment's hesitation he picked up a peach-colored bottle of bubblebath foam from the counter by the sink and measured two capfuls into the water. Then, though he would have preferred not to, Sam went down the hall to check on Derek. Slowly and carefully he opened the bedroom door and padded quietly across to the bed. For a moment he stood looking down at Derek as he lay sleeping, curled on his left side and clad only in his shorts, his injured hand cradled against his chest. Studying the sleeping man, Sam had to admit that it was easy to see how a woman could be taken in by Derek's tanned, trim, muscular body and dark blond good looks. *You and a coral snake have something in common* Sam thought as he scanned Derek's sleep-gentled face. *Nice to look at, but if a woman crosses you, you're just as lethal.* The thought sent a shiver through him and Sam very quietly left the bedroom, drawing the door shut with excruitating care. Returning to the bathroom, he turned off the water, stripped and stepped into the tub and carefully lowered himself into the thick froth of floral scented bubbles. Leaning back in the tub, he rested his head on the small pink inflatable tub pillow shaped like a fleur -de-lis, and sighed audibly as the hot water closed over his body. In the next moment the Imaging Chamber door 'whooshed' open, and the look on Al's face when he saw his friend up to his neck in bubbles made Sam glad he had opted for the bubblebath. "Always such a lovely sight," Al teased with a devilishly grin. "A lady in her bubblebath. What are you using?" He grinned even wider when Sam glanced almost reflexively at the sink. Turning, he saw the the peach-colored bottle. Going over to it, the Observer leaned down a little and read from the label on the back of it. " 'Hawaiian Floral'." He glanced back at Sam who had sunk as low in the bubbles as he could without inhaling them, but didn't say anything, opting instead to turn back and read the rest of the label. "Put two capfuls in your bath and then relax and let the romantic scents of white ginger and jasmine whisk you away away to a lush Hawaiian garden and sooth away the cares of your busy day." Straightening up he went to stand by the tub, chuckling at the sight of Sam now eyelashes deep in the suds. Lifting his chin out of the suds Sam said defensively, "It's all she had and I figured you'd show up sooner or later..probably while I was in the tub, and...." He let the look in his eyes finish the thought. Yet in spite of the rougish twinkle in the Observer's eyes, he saw something else too. "You're here kind of early, aren't you?" Sam asked. Al caught the subtle change in Sam's voice and met his friend's eyes. "I figured it would give us a chance to talk without worrying about ‘Mister Congeniality’ interrupting us." He flicked a glance toward the closed bathroom door then back to Sam. "Where is he?" "Still sleeping," Sam said quietly as he slipped down a little deeper in the tub, sighing as the hot water lapped higher under his chin. "You can't believe how good this feels," he murmured. "After the beating you took yesterday, I don't doubt it," Al agreed, then couldn't help ribbing Sam a little more. "And your skin will be silky smooth to the touch, and the scent of ..." he stepped back to the counter to glance at the bottle of bubble bath, "...white ginger and jasmine will linger for hours." He just grinned when Sam flicked water and foam at him, watching as the froth passed through his image. "You didn't get here this early to just razz me about taking a bublebath," Sam said, changing the tone of the conversation abruptly as he sat up, careful to make sure that a thick layer of bubbles reached almost to his shoulders. "What have you got for me?" he asked, unaware of the anxious note in his voice as he looked up at Al. In the space of a few seconds Al considered just how much of the facts to tell Sam. Too much and he had a feeling that Sam's rejuvenated confidence could slip. Too little and the leaper might unintentionally ignore some clue or sign and wind up... Al slammed on the brakes of his thoughts, veering sharply away from that path of consideration. Highwire walkers in the circus had a long balance pole to help them maintain a straight, steady walk across a tautly stretched wire. Al, on the other hand, had only only about three or four ounces of highly specialized, lightweight metal and sophisticated computer chips, to help him walk the tightrope of figuring out how much information to give his best friend so he succeeded and survived this leap. Taking a breath, he pulled out the handlink. But Sam saw the fleeting speculation in the Observer's eyes. "Al?" he said, drawing his friend's attention to him by just the tone in his voice. "What is it? And don't blow smoke..." "How can I?" Al protested, shoving the handlink in his coat pocket and showing his hands to Sam. "See? No cigar"; but he'd been caught. Scanning his friend's bruised and battered face, and recalling how Tommie had looked when she'd arrived in the Waiting Room, Al knew he couldn't risk even the slightest undermining of Sam's confidence if he was caught trying to sugarcoat the information. "It's not good," he said, keeping his tone even as he drew the handlink from his pocket again. He didn't look at the colorful communications device as he moved closer to the tub, squatting on his haunches to be at eye level with his friend. "In fact, you've already changed history," he began. "But not for the better, right?" Sam asked, ignoring the uneasy flutters in his stomach. He didn't give Al any options other than... "Out with it, Al," he said firmly, watching the Observer closely. "Whatever it is, I can..." Al cut in abruptly, deciding that the best way to give Sam what he was asking for was hard, fast and straight. "Before he came rampaging in here last night, Derek killed another woman." He hesitated then added as he held Sam's wide-eyed stare, "I watched him do it. Her name was Allison Kent and..." "And what?" Al took a deep breath and let it out. "And she didn't die in the original history," he said quietly. He hated the look that brought to Sam's eyes. "Apparently when you stood up to him, over the phone, he took it out on his current girlfriend..." "He's married..." Sam started to protest, then stopped when Al gave him one of those looks. Then, "How did he kill her?" "He broke her neck," Al answered almost as fast as Sam asked. For a couple of minutes it was quiet in the bathroom; not even the handlink chirped to break the silence. Then Sam spoke again, his tone resolute as he once more looked into Al’s eyes. "Now give me all the information Ziggy came up with." He reinforced the last three words. "All of it." He watched as Al stood up and punched several buttons on the handlink. "According to what Ziggy’s found,"Al began. "Derek Floyd Emerson, is twenty-seven years old. He was born February 1, 1960 in Gainesville, Georgia with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth." Glancing at Sam he added, "He was the only child of David Francis and Ellen Glennforth Emerson, and the only grandchild of Mckenzie and Lavinia Emerson. Both his parents’ familes were part of the ‘old money’ from that area." He paused, pressing the keys on the handlink to continue the information flow. "Anyway, when Derek was six, his father died unexpectedly in automobile accident." Al paused to take a puff of his cigar then continued. "Eventually, Ellen, met and fell in love, but the guy was out of her social class..." he paused again when he saw the pensive expression on his friend’s face. "Sam, we don’t have to do this right now." "Yes, we do, Al," Sam said, his gaze steady as he looked up at the Observer. "I need every bit of information I can get and as fast as I can get it." He stopped short of telling Al that he had a feeling in the back of his mind, that 'something' was whispering to him that he was going to need it sooner rather than later. Much sooner. "Go on." Al searched Sam’s face for a moment before going on. "Like I was saying, Ellen married..." "Out of her social class," Sam prompted. "And?" "Well Ziggy found a couple of articles in one of the Gainesville newspapers. According to the ‘Who’s Who And What They’re Doing’ section...the gossip section for the upper crust...," Al said. "When she became engaged to the guy, Old man Glennforth and his wife threatened to cut not only Ellen out of not only their wills but also their lives. And that included their grandson." That bit of information took Sam by surprise. "Their own grandchild?" he said, shocked at the thought. The Observer just nodded. "Apparently the old man thought more of social standing than he did of his daughter’s happiness. But, Ellen turned out to have inherited more than money; she was also just as stubborn as her father. And," Al concluded, "The day after she married her second husband, her parents not only wrote a completely new will, cutting her and their grandson totally out of their will, denying Ellen her rightful inheritance which, in turn, would have been handed down to Derek, but they disowned her, too." "Where’s his mother now?" Sam asked. "Maybe I could call her. She might be able to tell me..." "Not possible," Al said. "Ellen Emerson Taylor died eight years ago." "What about her husband?" As he had given Sam the information about Derek’s family, the more he read, the more grateful Al became for his own childhood. "Derek and his step-father’s relationship, if you could call it that, was barely civil by the time Derek left for college." As the last bit of information scrolled across the handlink’s tiny screen, he said soberly, "They haven’t spoken since the day Ellen was buried." Sam lay in the hot, relaxing bath, silently comparing what he’d just heard to his own childhood, his family. To him, trying to understand why people would allow pride and social standing to destroy their family, was almost unfathomable. Sadly, one of the lessons brought home hard and cold to him in his years of leaping, was to experience firsthand the fact that life wasn’t fair. It seemed strange, in a sad way, that as he listened to Al reciting the few facts they had about Derek’s family, Sam found himself feeling sorry for the man. After a moment’s pause, and a couple more puffs of his cigar, Al finally told him about Allison Kent. Listening to the Observer’s recitation of the facts about Allison’s death however, didn’t have the effect on him that either man expected. By the time Al said, "And that’s the psycho’s life history, as much as we have, in a nut shell," Sam had a considering look on his face. As he put the handlink into his pocket again, the Observer couldn’t decide if Sam’s ‘genius at work’ expression was a good sign or not. But as he mentally review all information he’d just given Sam, he decided that he need to find out what was turning the cogs in his friend’s brain. "Okay, now it’s your turn," he said firmly, regaining the other’s attention. "Out with it. What’s just come up to a boil in that nimble noggin of yours?" Whatever it was, Sam was so focused on it that he didn’t realize that he hadn’t asked Al to turn around as he got out of the tub. But considering what they’d been talking about, Al simply turned his back when Sam stepped onto the bathmat and took a fluffy, yellow striped towel from the towel bar near him. "It’s so simple," Sam said in the most positive tone of voice he had used yet since leaping in, as he dried himself then wound the towel around his torso. "Stay here," he said, opening the bathroom door. "I’ll be right back." To Al’s puzzled look he said, "Clean clothes," and turned to leave then turned back again. "Does Tommie have to work today?" Checking the handlink, Al said, "Yeah. But you don’t have to be there until eighty thirty which gives you about an hour and forty- five minutes." As he waited, he wondered about Sam’s ‘it’s so simple’ comment. He looked up when his friend returned with clean feminine underwear in one hand and another light summer dress in the other. He shook his head at the dress. "Uh uh," he told Sam. "You have to wear your Sparkle & Shine uniform," he told him. "Not to worry," Al reassured him. "The uniform consists of a pair of light tan slacks and a light blue, short-sleeved polo shirt with the company name on the back of the shirt and your..uh, Tommie’s name embroidered over the left breast pocket...if there was a pocket," he grinned at the narrow stare he got for that little innuendo. "And white tennis shoes and socks." Unruffled by the look on Sam’s face, he said, "Check her dresser drawers." When Sam finally got back with the slacks and shirt and started to dress, Al waited just long enough for him to put on the underwear before turning back to face him. "Just put your pants on," he said slightly annoyed at the glare he got, "and tell me what’s got your fire lit." Stepping into the slacks, Sam pulled them up and fastened them. Then he pulled the light blue shirt over his head and said again, "It’s so simple, Al." "That’s about the third time you’ve said that, but I still haven’t been ‘wowwed’ with this great idea," Al pointed out. "But it is," Sam said, as he hung up the damp towel and straightened the bathroom before leaving it. Going into the bedroom for a pair of socks and Tommie’s tennis shoes, he noted that Derek had shifted onto his stomach. Going down stairs, Sam sat down on the couch as he put on his shoes and socks, filled Al in on the details of his idea. "Okay, Derek killed Allison last night," Sam began, keeping his voice low. "But news of her death didn’t show up in the newspaper until the tenth, two days from now. That means that her body isn’t found until probably sometime tomorrow." Tying his shoes, Sam got up and went into the kitchen. "Yeah," Al said, following Sam into the kitchen. "So?" He watched his friend pour a glass of milk instead of having hot tea and risking the tea kettle’s whistling waking Derek. "If there’s a wild alligator...." "Well there’s damn sure no such thing as a tame alligator," Al interjected. All he got for that was a, "Will you be quiet and listen, please?" "Okay, I’m shutting up." Al put his hands up in a placating gesture. "As I was about to say," Sam began again. "If I go to the police this morning and tell them what I suspect, maybe there’s still enough time for them to find Allison’s body today before that alligator gets to it. That way," he paused to take another swallow of milk. "There’s no way that Allison’s broken neck can be attributed to anything but murder." "That’s all well and good, Sam, but where’s the proof that Derek is the killer?" Al asked, easily falling into the role of devil’s advocate. "Without solid, irrefutable proof, he’s gonna get away with Allison’s murder, just like he has with all the others. And none of those investigations yielded even circumstantial evidence. Plenty of suspicion, but no solid proof." As he finished his thought, Al punched buttons on the handlink, entering Sam’s idea, and he didn’t the response. "I don’t think it’s such a good idea for you to go to the police, Sam," he said plainly. But, he recognized the stubborn set of Sam’s jaw that told him he was in for an argument, tried to head it off before his extremely logically-minded best friend could speak. "Sam," he began firmly. "Ziggy’s come up with some more information on Tommie. Mrs. Ellsine Daigle, one of Tommie and Derek’s neighbors down the street, called the cops on Tommie four months ago." That got Sam’s attention, and the Observer hurried on. "Tommie showed up on this woman’s front porch at the crack of dawn one morning, wearing baby doll pajamas. She was pounding and kicking the door, screaming accusations that she knew this Mrs. Daigle and Derek were having an affair." "Were they?" Al gave Sam another one of those looks. "Mrs. Daigle is seventy- three years old and blind in one eye. Not exactly ‘Mister GQ’s’ type. Anyway, her son, who lives in the other half of the double, called the cops, and Tommie was hauled off to jail for disturbing the peace. She got off with a stiff fine and two days time served." "What set her off?" Sam asked. Al's response didn't help his frame of mind. "Turns out she forgot to take her medicine for a couple of days." "And that’s it?" "Not exactly," Al replied. "The day after Tommie got back home, she was served with a permanent restraining order by Mrs. Daigle’s lawyer." "That doesn’t sound reasonable...." Sam began. "Maybe not to you, but it did to a seventy-three year old widow who didn’t want another pre-dawn.... or any other time....visit from a wild-eyed woman threatening her." Al glanced at the handlink then back to Sam. "Acording to the court records, Tommie can’t go near Mrs. Daigle’s house, except for walking past it, or get any closer than two hundred feet of her, anywhere. Now you tell me what’s gonna happen if you show up at the police station and start spouting off about knowing where a dead woman’s body is? Especially when that dead woman turns out to be the beautiful, wealthy young socialite, Allison Kent, whom your husband just happens to be doing the horizontal tango with. And those bruises could very easily be attributed to that woman fighting for her life, striking out at her assailant." Cocking his head to one side, the Observer waited for the penny to drop as he knew it would. It did. Sam’s agile mind sifted, sorted and almost instantaneously merged the information with logic and arrived at the answer Al already knew. "They’ll check Tommie’s background and find that incident..." "Yep," Al nodded. "And you might not make it to work today," Al finished for him. "Because there’s a better than eighty-seven point three percent chance that if they decide to check out your story, and they find Allison’s body, they’ll put two and two together and arrest you..Tommie for the murder." But the look in his friend’s eyes told him that ‘Don Quixote’ was on a quest, which meant that ‘Sancho’ had better be ready for anything. "What are you thinking now?" he asked, but a vague sound got his attention. "What was that?" An uneasiness seized Sam at Al’s words; it didn’t get any better when he moved past the hologram to go investigate. Moving slowly through the dining room, Sam’s gaze roved ceaselessly; even a smattering of dust motes revealed floating in the air in a narrow shaft of sunlight caught his eye; but it wasn’t dust motes he was afraid of finding lurking. Yet not even a search of the living room, the entry way and the closet there, nor the small den at the back of the house revealed anything or anyone. Sam went back and checked the front door. Locked. As he turned away from the door, his eyes glanced up the stairs. Licking his suddenly dry lips, Sam’s gaze flickered to Al who read the look easily. "I’ll check on him," he said quietly. "Ziggy, center me on Derek." A second later, Al stood at the foot of the bed where Derek lay sleeping. For a long moment he watched the figure on the bed closely, looking for any sign that he was ‘playing possum’. After another minute he was satisfied that the man was still out of it, and recentered on Sam. Yet because he was so intently focused on Derek, Al didn’t bother to look around the room as he might otherwise have done, and so failed to spot the bloodstains on the door knob. And because Derek was laying on his stomach, his injured hand pushed under a pillow, the Observer couldn’t see that hand clenched in a fist so tightly that drops of blood were seeping through the blood-soaked bandaging and staining sheet. But if Al had lingered a few seconds longer, what he would’ve seen would have made the hair on the back of his neck stand up, causing him to instantly order Sam to get out of the house as fast as he could. Carefully, slowly, Tommie Emerson’s husband opened his eyes, rolled onto his side and stared intently at the place where the Observer had stood just seconds before. Pushing himself upright with his uninjured hand, Derek swung his legs over the side of the bed and moved again to the bedroom door. He didn’t feel the pain that flared through his injured hand when he used it to once more ease the door open. Nor did he notice as several large drops of blood dripped from the bandaging and soaked into the carpet, his grip on the door knob steadily intensifying as suspicion became rage as he listened to his wife.. and another man... talking near the foot of the stairs.