"Lost Causes" Part VI April, 1992 Nambe, NM Sam pulled the car into one of the many vacant spaces and stepped out, considering the building. Surely this couldn't be it - it wasn't really...Al's style. Tucking his wallet into his back pocket and clipping his phone to his belt, he walked up to the front and knocked on the door. He could see a few people moving around inside, no doubt getting things cleaned and ready for later in the day when they would open. A short man, a little round about the middle, came to the door and unlocked it, looking skeptically, though not unkindly, at Sam. "Sir, it's a little early to be here, don't you think? We don't open for a long while, yet." "Oh, I'm not here to drink," Sam said quickly. He raised an eyebrow. "Even the pool sharks don't come in to practice until we're open," he remarked with a hint of humor. "Please, I won't take up too much of your time, but it's kind of important," Sam persisted. The man considered him a moment longer, then opened the door the rest of the way, making room for him to enter. "Thank you so much, sir." "Dan," he corrected. "What can I do for you?" Sam cleared his throat. "You called the city a few days ago to report an abandoned car out here in your parking lot, didn't you?" Dan narrowed his gaze slightly. "Yeah, that's right. It'd been here for over a week and-" "It was here for a week?" Sam interrupted. "Well, a little longer than that, actually. Eight days. I know because it was a Friday night and we were packed." Sam tried to control the anticipation rising within him. "Do you remember the man who owned it?" Dan laughed. "Not a chance - I can barely keep track of all the people who come in here, let alone what cars they drive. That was a nice, one, though and if I were a less honest person, I could've taken it. I mean, I had the keys." "What do you mean?" Dan leaned against the countertop and folded his hands. "After closing when everyone cleared out, I noticed the keys on the ground beside the car. They fit the lock - he must have dropped them. I just assumed that he took a cab home and that he'd come back for the car; happens all the time. But then a few days went by and he still hadn't come back and I really didn't have a whole lot of options but to get it removed." Sam crossed his arms and frowned. "I'd wonder if you remember him: about 5'7", dark, curly hair, brown eyes... It's important. He's been missing since last Friday." The bartender looked startled. "Missing? I'm sorry, mister, but I can't keep track of everyone who comes in and out of here, especially on a Friday night." Sam nodded, clearly disappointed. "Thanks anyhow." "You know," Dan commented as Sam turned to leave, "I don't know if this guy was your friend or not and, even if it was, I'm not sure if this'll help you at all, but there was someone who could have fit your description. He came in kinda early and stayed all night, just sat at the counter and kept ordering. Didn't talk much - ignored every woman who came over." He rubbed his chin. "Only reason I remember him was because of the look in his eyes. Kinda... I don't know how to put it. Desperate?" The scientist forced a deep breath in and out of his lungs. "Sounds like him. Do you know what happened to him?" "Naw. He drank until almost closing, then headed out. One of my girls, Sally, offered to call him a cab, but he just ignored her and left." Dan studied him briefly. "Sorry I can't be of more help - I hope you find him. Looked as if he wanted someone to." "Yeah, maybe." Sam pulled himself from his own thoughts and managed a small smile. "Thanks for all your help." He let himself out and walked briefly around the parking area, as if looking for some evidence that Al had been there, looking for some piece of his friend to cling to. "I'm sorry, Al," he murmured. "I told you not to come back and you listened - dammit, all the times you ignored my advice, why did you have to take it this time?" His phone rang, startling him, and he plucked it out, trying to control the irrational hope that it would be Al and everything would be over. "Hello?" "Sam, it's me. I got that credit card statement for you - do you want me to do anything in particular with it?" He unlocked his car and pulled out a pad and a pen and sat down in the driver's seat, one leg hanging out the open door. "Yeah. Read me the card number and the customer service number." Donna paused. "Sam, what are you doing?" "Just trust me on this one - it's important." Without further comment, she repeated both sets of numbers and then asked him, "Anything else you needed?" He hesitated. "No, I think I got it." In his mind, he recalled the last four digits of Al's social security number; sometimes, a photographic memory could be a life saver. "I'll be back tonight, okay?" "Okay. I don't think I want to know what you're up to, but be careful, okay?" she asked in a voice tense with worry. "No problem. I'll see you soon." He hung up, then dialed the customer service number, feeding both the recording, then the live person, all the information requested: card number, social security number, mother's maiden name (although he remembered from some random mention that he used Beth's), and Al's address. "How can I help you today, Mr. Calavicci?" the man asked cordially, mispronouncing the name. "Yes, my friend recently purchased a plane ticket using this account from Santa Fe to Las Vegas, correct?" "I show a record to that effect dated four days ago," he confirmed. "Okay, well, I'm trying to get hold of the people he was staying with when he made this purchase so can you just tell me which city it was made from?" There was a pause and Sam held his breath. "I show the travel agent's location to be in Pomona, Nebraska." *Nebraska?!* He was suddenly immensely glad he'd played that hunch. "Thank you for your help." Without waiting for the man to wish him a pleasant day, he started the ignition on his car and tore out of the parking lot, calling Donna one last time. "Hello?" "Donna, it's me again. I need you to do one more thing for me. I'm on my way home, but I need you to get a plane ticket for me to Pomona, Nebraska. Earliest possible flight." He waited for her muddled confirmation, then headed home. ~~~~~~ April, 1992 Pomona, NE "No." Sam's response was immediate and firm. The tall man inclined his head. "I understand. We can find someone else to-" "No!" Marcus grabbed Sam's arm, swinging him around. "It's double what we've already got," he hissed at Sam, too quiet for the entourage to hear. "I don't care - we can't let them kill him!" Sam, on the other hand, didn't seem perturbed with them overhearing what he had to say. "Are you nuts? What's gotten into you lately?" he demanded. "Is there a problem?" the woman asked coolly. "If you can't do the job, we'd be more than happy to find someone else to do it for us." Sam rounded on her. "Oh, you'd better believe it, lady. Not only are we not going to do the job, but if you-" "Sam!" Verbena warned quickly. "Sam, cool it! You let them think you're not going to do what they want and not only are they never going to trust you again, but you lose that much control over what happens to Al." The woman raised an eyebrow and smiled slightly. "If we what?" Marcus pushed his way into the center again. "Nothing, nothing. Of course we'll do it. My partner and I have had a few conflicts - he's eager to get onto another job, but I think he's not doing the math." He said the last between clenched teeth with a pointed glance at Sam. "There's no problem." Sam's adversaries were no idiots, though, and the man clicked his teeth together, then ran his bottom lip between them. "We'll get back to you on that, then. For now..." "Wait," Sam protested, trying not to sound desperate, "what about keeping him here?" "I believe we already discussed that. Gentlemen." He inclined his head and then turned to the man behind him. "Thames, if you please." Sam froze. He knew that name - remembered Al telling him that he was Zoe's hologram - but this was the first time he'd ever seen him. He started to lurch forward to...to do something to stop what was about to happen, but he heard Verbena's voice again, warning him. "Sam, don't. It's not time, yet." The scientist stood by helplessly as Thames let his jacket slide off and draped it over one arm. He opened the door to the small room Al was held in and smiled slightly. "Hey, sunshine. Time to go," he chirped merrily. Sam turned away, but not before he caught the pale man's disapproving look; apparently, Thames' character wasn't all that appreciated by everyone there. A minute later, Al emerged, Thames right behind him, one hand on his shoulder. He'd removed the ropes from his ankles, but had draped his jacket over Al's shoulders to hide his hands from anyone outside who might happen to be watching. Al stared intently at Sam, but Sam broke the connection, unable to face his friend knowing that he was letting this happen in front of him. The hologram from 2003 had said that he couldn't remember what happened, and what he could recall didn't seem to suggest anything particularly terrible, but reason and logic broke down in the face of Sam's fear for the admiral. "We'll let you know about the rest of the job," the man informed them, "but only if there's a unified front here. You two are partners and when partners disagree, it's not good business to trust them." Standing there, a foot away from his real partner, Sam bit back a sharp reply. "When should we expect you back?" he asked quietly, gazing at the wall past Marcus. "You shouldn't, baby," Thames cooed and the woman stepped forward before Sam could protest the implications of that statement. "Most likely before the end of the day," she informed them, "but...don't wait up." The instant they were all out of the building, Sam moved to the window and watched them lead Al out to the curb and into a car. Then they all piled in behind him and drove off down the road, as if they were some bizarre extended family out for a drive. Marcus only waited for the front door to close before he started his tirade. "What the hell are you trying to pull, here? We're taking that deal and that's that." "Fine," Sam said tightly, "on one condition." "Oh, yeah? What's that?" The leaper swallowed loudly. "You let me do it." Beside him, Verbena nodded, knowing what he was trying to do. "I'm going to go keep an eye on him, Sam. Get out to the car and start driving in that direction as soon as you can. I'll tell you where to go from there." "I beg your pardon?" Marcus was saying over the psychiatrist's last statement. Verbena punched out. "You are so adamant that nobody touch this guy and now you want to be the one to-" "I just need..." Sam bit his lip, then turned to Marcus, his face a fairly convincing expression of calm. "I just need to establish some measure of control over this situation. They're not telling us anything, we don't have all our money..." Sam wasn't sure he was buying it. "You can pull the trigger if you like, but I'm damn well going to be there when it happens to make sure you don't screw this up." Sam couldn't reply to that. "I'm going out for a drive," he said instead and pulled out his set of keys, then walked out the front entrance.