"Hidden Agenda" Part II November, 2000 Stallions Gate, NM Al yawned and stretched, feeling ready to go back to bed, but knowing he wouldn't be able to sleep until he knew what Sam was there for. It was always that way; the most peaceful, harmless situations could turn into chaos at the drop of a hat and he'd never know until it was too late. It had happened various times in the past and he'd always shown up too late to do more than point out the obvious and watch as the plot unfolded before his eyes. He considered the blank computer screen, the neat stacks of completed paperwork, then picked up the phone and dialed a 3-digit number. "Hello," responded a sleepy voice on the other end. Al lifted and absently eyed one of the forms in front of him. "You're taking your sweet time getting to work," he scolded lightly. "Oh, and whose fault is that?" Tina groused. "I only just now got out of the shower." He laid the cigar in the ashtray. "Dressed yet?" he inquired innocently. "Al!" He could hear her blushing over the line. "You realize Ziggy'll take it upon herself to share this conversation with the entire complex." "Sorry, hon, I can't help myself. If I didn't have to work, I'd go back downstairs and we could continue this conversation in private." "I know, I know. I'll be up in just a minute," she replied. "Well, twenty minutes." Suddenly, the screen lit up in front of his eyes. "Make it snappy. I...oh, no..." "What?" "I gotta go see Sam." He hung up the phone and finished reading about October 6, 1998. His instincts had been right on the mark with this one. ~~~~~~ October, 1998 Hardesty, OK Thus far, to Sam's immense relief, Tabitha had been agreeable all day. There had been a moment when her lower lip protruded with professional ease when he told her she couldn't have just ice cream for lunch that he feared a tantrum, but then the moment passed and she was back to being a generally good-natured four year old. She spent a great deal of the day running around, or playing in Bernadette's garden, or asking him question after question about anything her mind could conceive of. It was mid-afternoon when everything had started to fall apart. She'd fallen asleep in the middle of the living room floor, surrounded by Legos, before it even occurred to Sam that she'd be taking naps in the afternoon. It couldn't have been the most comfortable location, but she looked satisfied, so he'd left her there. He was snooping through drawers looking for an appointment book when he heard her crying. He emerged into the room to see her sitting up, tears flowing freely down the side of her face. Awkwardly, he knelt down in front of her. "Tabby, what's wrong?" The Imaging Chamber Door opened to Sam's right and Al walked through, handlink in hand. "Sam, we need to - what's going on?" Sam put a hesitant hand on her shoulder. "I don't know, she was asleep and she just started crying." Al crouched down beside them and his voice automatically became smooth and soft; Sam wondered if he was even aware how well he did that. "What's wrong, sweetheart?" She sniffed and held out her arms to him and Sam saw Al's face fall. "No, honey, I can't..." He looked towards his friend. "Sam..." Sam nodded and picked her up off the floor, moving to sit against the couch. She seemed to accept the arrangement easily enough, placing one arm around Sam's neck, and Al breathed a sigh of relief. "What do you think's wrong?" Sam whispered over her head. "She misses her mother," Al said simply and Sam wondered if he was thinking about how he'd only been a few years older than her when his mother left, putting his baby sister somewhere around Tabitha's age. "Well...what do I do?" Al shrugged, still staring at her. "Wish I knew. Sam, we found out why you're here." Sam raised his eyebrows and Al gestured to Tabitha. Sam exhaled heavily. "Yeah. In less than a day." Tabitha sighed softly and Sam shifted to look at her face. Her eyelids were drooping, but she was maintaining a valiant fight to keep them open. Sam let her slide down as his arms began to tire so that she was sitting in his lap and resting against his chest. "How?" Al cleared his throat. "There's a small river near here: Clearwater Creek. She goes there to play a lot, according to the statement Bernadette made, but never without supervision. Tomorrow, for some reason, she goes there alone. She...falls in and..." Al swallowed, speaking more softly on the off chance that she was still listening. "They think she hit her head when she fell because there was a bruise on her right temple. That would explain how it happens because it's not a deep area where she goes. Bernadette...never forgave herself for letting it happen." "Well, I'll keep an eye on her and we'll make sure nothing happens." Al nodded curtly. "Good. Have you found out anything interesting here?" "Only that Bernadette seems to lead a pretty solitary life. Very few names in her address book and nobody's called or stopped by all day." "This area is kinda out in the middle of nowhere," Al agreed. "Which would have meant it would take that much longer to get an ambulance out here after she found Tabitha." Tabitha's body was now entirely slack against Sam and he grinned in spite of the grim situation before him. "I wish there was something I could do for her. Wish I coulda done something about her mother." Al exhaled cigar smoke. "You're not exactly in control of that, Sam, so don't even bother going to the world of guilt, okay?" "Oh, I know," Sam assured him, "but sometimes it's frustrating. I've been out here so long and sometimes it feels like I've barely made a dent." Al was silent; sometimes he felt the same way, but he couldn't let Sam know that. Besides, he had a constant network of familiar faces whenever he walked out of the Imaging Chamber. He slept in his own bed every night (assuming he actually got to bed - between Sam and Tina, it did tend to be an unusual occurrence). And, of course, when he looked in the mirror, the face was his own. Still, he was at a loss for what to say. Sam seemed to shake himself from his thoughts. "Anyhow... Just let me know if you find anything else out." "Right." He hesitated. "Sam...I know it seems hopeless at times, but you can't look into that little girl's face knowing that, because of you, she'll be alive tomorrow night, and not have that mean a lot. In the grand scheme of things, maybe not, but we don't live in the grand scheme. We live in one life, surrounded closely by half a dozen others. To those half dozen, it's everything." ~~~~~~ November, 2000 Stallions Gate, NM Al worried this leap might be just a bit too easy. He was sure it was silly to worry and even more sure that Sam would scold him for doing so, but, as far as he was concerned, it was his job to worry about these things. So many times a leap had seemed simple and straightforward and it would end in disaster. You'd think, after so many times, Ziggy would pick up on the pattern, too, but she had too big an ego to notice any errors on her part. He considered visiting Bernadette to try and find out any additional information. Maybe she was a bit too perfect herself. Mentally, he rejected the only theory that could be leading to; even if the woman _was_ directly or indirectly responsible for Tabitha's death, that would have changed when Sam leaped in. Then again, foreknowledge of the incident should have altered the odds as well, and it didn't seem to have done that. They were frozen at 97.3. "Admiral, Ms. Gray is on the phone for-" "What?" Al interrupted, breaking from his musings. Ziggy cleared her throat, an annoying habit she'd picked up over the past month, and Al was sure that, if she had eyes, she'd be rolling them heavenward. "Ms. Gray. She's holding on line 1." "For Sam," Al stated flatly. It had been 3 ½ hours since she last called - she sure was pushing something. "Yes, Admiral. Your powers of deduction astound me; are you sure you need me to read out odds for you?" "Don't tempt me," he warned, propping his feet up on an open drawer. "You don't want to convince me I can do this job without you." She sniffed. "You simply do not use me to my full capacity. Is there anything else I can get for you? Coffee, perhaps?" "Yeah. Black." He picked up before she could come up with another smart-alec response. Was it him or was she being more difficult than usual? Or maybe she was just being more difficult with him, which was entirely possible. "Ms. Gray. How nice of you to call again." "I was hoping to speak to Dr. Beckett," she informed him in the same crisp, cool tones. He reached for the cigar smoldering in the ashtray. This woman was going to give him a headache. "I'm sure you were. I'm sorry to say you just missed him." "I have no doubt," she replied, her voice beginning to frost over. "I don't suppose you could demonstrate some professionalism and have him call me." "Well, maybe if you could give me some _reason_ it'd be worth his while to return your call..." He hoped this would be the last time she called. He was becoming irritated at the song and dance routine they were developing. "That is a private matter between Dr. Beckett and I. Surely he can find five minutes in his schedule to call me." "Oh, you'd be surprised." "I don't think I would," she returned without even pause for thought. "I want to make something clear to you, Admiral. There is a lot riding on my speaking with Dr. Beckett and I'll keep calling as much as I have to." He lowered his feet to the floor and sat up straight. "Then let me be equally clear, Ms. Gray. The more you refuse to tell anyone what this is about, the more phone calls you're going to have to make. Consider me the security patrol on what gets to Dr. Beckett." The phone went dead and Al pulled it away in surprise. He glanced up. "Ziggy, did you cut the connection?" "No, Admiral," she answered in an unconvincing proclamation of innocence. "She's got a temper," he noted, unable to stop the smile that crept across his face. Maybe, with any luck, that would be the last of that.