Chapter X APRIL 2, 1973, BALBOA NAVAL HOSPITAL, SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA Sam sank gratefully into a chair in the women's bathroom, resting for a minute or two. Detailed into the Records Section wasn't what he'd expected, but at least it kept him busy. He and Kelly had been assigned to make sure the work was done properly and pitch in where needed. By doing so, it sped up the process. Kelly hadn't spoken to him about anything other than work since he arrived. She did seem to keep a concerned eye on her friend. It made Sam wonder if he was entirely convincing as Beth. With the President's recent announcement, he didn't know if Kelly was expecting `Beth' to be more anxious or hopeful. Sam picked up Beth's canvas bag off the floor at his feet and headed into one of the stalls to change. Al hadn't shown up since that morning and Sam gathered that he was still wrestling with Ziggy for more information Michael and Kenny. Based on what Ziggy had given them so far, he imagined that they had to do some serious digging to find more useful information. Dressed in jeans and a pale green top, Sam set the bag down on the counter to reapply Beth's make-up and brush her hair. Kelly came in and Sam knew she'd been looking for him. "How are you doing, Beth?" "Oh, I'm fine, Kelly. Why do you ask?" "You seem . . . different today." The Imagining Chamber Door opened and Al stepped through. He was dressed in his uniform without the jacket, tie loosened and sleeves rolled up. Sam was right. Some serious digging was going on. Al looked tired and preoccupied. "Is that good or bad?" Sam asked Kelly curiously. "I dunno," she murmured. "How are you handling the news?" There was no reason for Kelly to be specific, and Sam knew he couldn't play dumb. "Well," Sam said, hedging, "Some days are harder than others." Kelly nodded slowly, studying him. "Well, you take care of yourself and I'll see you the day after tomorrow. Call me, if you . . . hear anything." Sam smiled. "I will." Kelly turned and left him alone with the Observer. Sam gathered up Beth's belongings and he and Al headed out of the car. "So, how'd it go in the Waiting Room?" Sam asked, putting the key in the ignition, and pulling away from the hospital. "Fine." Sam glanced over at his partner. Al seemed a little out of it, and still preoccupied. "What's wrong?" Al shrugged. "Nothing." "Al," Sam said, in his usual cajoling tone. "Don't you want to hear what we've got for you?" Sam gave up. For the moment. "Ok, let's hear it." "Ok. Most of what I have is background on Kenny, his brother. Sergeant Kenneth Murphy had been an All-Star quarterback in high school," Al said, reading what Ziggy had given him. "He had the prettiest cheerleader for a girlfriend and he was the most popular boy in the school. It looked as if things were perfect for him." Al paused. "But not for long." "What happened?" "About mid-season of his Senior year, Kenny broke his arm in several places. The injury benched him for the rest of the season. He lost his one chance at a football scholarship to one of the big schools in Texas." "How did it happen?" "Uh, it says here that it was caused by poor sportsmanship by a member of the other team." "So he didn't go to college?" "Well, he signed up for one of the money-for-college programs the Army was offering. His initial entry contract required intense schooling, so he wasn't shipped off to Vietnam right away. In fact, it delayed it for several years." Al sighed. "Ziggy says there's a 50% chance that Michael took his own life because of his brother's death. The kid was really closed to him, you know? Practically worshiped him." A lump formed in Sam's throat. Memories of the time Tom died flooded his mind. Instinctively, he knew these images belong to another time and were nothing more than a bad dream, but he couldn't help feeling the loss. Though Sam felt a certain kinship to Michael, he couldn't understand why he'd take his own life. Kenny, like Tom, wouldn't want his little brother to throw away his life like that. And what about their parents? Didn't Michael take into consideration what his death, added to Kenny's, would do to them? Did they have any siblings? Sam knew his own mother to be strong, but could she have handled the loss of two sons and her husband? "Are you okay, kid?" Al asked, concerned. Sam nodded. "Does Michael have any other siblings?" he asked, barely getting the words out. "Uh, no. It's just Kenny and Michael," Al replied, sadly. Carefully wiping the corner of his eyes, Sam asked, "Ziggy said only a 50% chance? Why so low?" "Well, she reviewed his academic history, and she says there's also a 50% chance that he commits suicide because of his grades. He's barely hanging onto his grade point average, Sam. He seems to be taking courses that are a little over his head." Al frowned, clearly displeased with something. "As if he took those courses to please someone else. His brother, probably." "Or his parents," Sam added. Al was silent for a moment, considering Sam's words. "You know, Beth and I never understood parents who pressured their kids into being something *they* wanted. We never pressed our girls. We never expected the younger ones to be as smart as Bertie. And as for Bertie, well, *she's* the one who wanted to go off to college so young. We just wanted them to be happy and be whatever they wanted to be." He paused. "I think we did a pretty good job at raising them." "No one's saying you didn't, Al," Sam replied. "They had a great mother," Sam added, glancing over with an amused look. "And Beth wasn't such a bad parent herself, either." "Very funny, Sam." He grinned. Turning serious, he said, "So basically, all I have to do is convince him that his brother would have wanted him to go on living, and would have wanted Michael to become whatever he wanted to be, for himself, right?" "Ziggy says yes," Al affirmed. "Does she have any hints about *how* I should accomplish this?" Al consulted the link and snorted. "She says it's *your* job to figure that part out for yourself." Sam just looked at the Observer. "You *did* ask." "Does she think I can do it tonight? Or will I have to be here awhile longer?" "Well, you can't say anything to him tonight, Sam. He doesn't even know yet and the odds are very low that he'd believe you anyway. Beth may be a class mate, but she doesn't exactly hang out with these kids, y' know." Sam sighed, remembering who he'd leaped into. "When does he kill himself?" "Tomorrow afternoon. Around three or so. Time of death was given in the approximate." "You said it was his father's gun he used. How did he get it?" "Let's see. According to the reports, he waited until his parents left the house and broke into the strong box." Sam frowned, his mind turning over the problem of his burrowed identity. "Al, do you think he'd listen to Beth? At all, I mean." Al shrugged. "I don't know. Ziggy isn't giving us any odds on that." He paused, slightly annoyed. "Is it my imagination, or are the leaps getting tougher?" It was Sam's turn not to comment, but he believed the leaps *were* getting tougher. The bartender had given him that impression. However, Sam leaped into Beth early enough, giving him some time to work the problem. She wasn't scheduled to work at all the next day and this gave him nearly a whole day to convince Michael not to take his life. Changing the subject, Sam asked. "How did Beth the younger react?" Al shrugged. "She accepted who I was and didn't fly all to pieces. Well, she cried and was scared, at first, but she didn't pass out or scream." Al briefed him on what transpired in the Waiting Room. "And how did the other Beth react to this?" "She wasn't there. She went back to our place." There was a hint of annoyance in his voice. "She didn't tell me she was going." "You two had an argument?" "It wasn't a fight, exactly. It was a discussion." "What a silly thing to fight over," Sam declared. "Married people argue over the silliest things, Sam. Beth and I had a stupid argument over a board game not long after Bertie was born." He paused. "And it was a discussion, not a fight." Sam chuckled. "That sounds like us, you know. We act like a married couple sometimes." Al shook his head. "I must be married to Ziggy then, too," Al muttered. "Al, am I married?" Sam asked suddenly. "I can't answer that, Sam," Al replied, hesitantly. Sam could almost feel the uneasiness the question had caused Al. "I want to know, Al," Sam replied, quietly. They were at a stoplight and Sam took the opportunity to look at the hologram. Al looked him in the eyes, solemnly. There was a look of unshakable determination in those dark eyes. "I can't answer you, Sam. Please don't ask me again." Sam was about to go on, but thought better of it. For some reason, he wasn't sure if he'd believe Al, regardless if he said yes or no. They rode on in silence, and Sam wondered what he'd do if he ever found out (or remembered) he was really married. Would he be able to continue leaping, knowing he was possibly hurting the woman he loved? Or would the knowledge of the truth bring him immediately home? And what if he really wasn't married? Was he a failure at love? Did he create the project to regain a lost love? With those thoughts, Sam pulled into the parking lot of the community college. "Is he here yet?" Sam asked, peering at the students milling around the front of the building. "Uh, let me see," Al said, consulting the handlink and then looking around. "No, he's not." Sam looked at Beth's watch. He was a bit early. "We'll wait here. Ok?" Al shrugged. "Fine with me." *************************************** Michael Murphy fingered the newspaper clipping dated March 29, 1973. It was the President's announcement concerning the American POWs. Michael had read it so many times, he could recite it verbatim. A week before Christmas of 1971, Kenny and his platoon went out one morning, and it was attacked. There were casualties, survivors, and confirmed POWs, whose captures were witnessed by fellow platoon mates. Kenny wasn't one of them. No one could vouch for his whereabouts and no body was discovered. Michael picked up the stack of letters Kenny had written while he was in Vietnam, and read through them. The last one was unopened. His last letter to his family arrived after they learned he was missing. It had been hard on their mother and Michael was glad he was the one who got the mail that day. *Kenny will be home soon. I just know it,* he thought decisively, turning the envelope over and staring at it. Michael was in awe of his brother. He'd always looked up to Kenny and wanted to be just like him. In an effort to be more like him, Michael had tried out for sports, but he soon discovered that he wasn't athletic enough. At the time, Kenny's advice to his disheartened brother was for him to try out for other things, until he found what he was good at. Kenny even suggested that Michael try out for drama, the school newspaper and the yearbook staff. Michael discovered he had a flair for words and the drama teacher had seen real potential in him. In one area that Michael still lacked in was with members of the opposite sex. Unlike Kenny, he never had a real girlfriend. That wasn't to say he didn't get along with the girls. There were several who had known him since kindergarten and were his friends, but they all had boyfriends of there own. Kenny told him not to worry too much about it. When the time was right, Kenny had said, the right girl would come along. Michael didn't want his big brother to be disappointed with him when he returned and was convinced that nothing could please Kenny more if he came home and found that Michael had a girlfriend. He was trying to get the nerve to ask Andrea Zimmer out on a date. Michael had known her since grade school and had a crush on her since. Andrea appeared not to notice him, but she didn't exactly ignore him either. Up until recently, he had the perfect excuse for not asking her out: she had a boyfriend. They broke up on Valentine's Day and she wasn't dating anyone else at the moment. Michael couldn't hold off forever and he'd have to bite the bullet and ask her out soon, if he wanted to claim her as his ‘girlfriend'. *I'll ask her tonight,* Michael thought, tucking the letters and clippings into the shoe box for safekeeping. It never once crossed Michael's mind that his brother might not be coming home alive.