Chapter XII DECEMBER 16, 1955 KEARNEY, NEW JERSEY ``Mrs. Grayson, what should we do about the sheep?'' One of his `stage hands' asked Sam. ``What's wrong with it?'' *Besides the fact it looks like is going bald and it's in desperate need of a bath?* ``Well, it won't stand. See? It keeps falling over.'' He demonstrated this, several times, for Sam's benefit. Sam closed his eyes. First, it was the collapsing manger, then nobody wanted to be a shepherd. Who could blame them, after they took one look at their prospective `flock'? The fake sheep reduced Eudora to fits of laughter when she first saw them. Sam could hear her behind him, trying to stifle her laughter. ``Mrs. Grayson?'' ``I'm thinking,'' he informed the stage hand. Of course, sheep that won't stand on their own didn't take the cake. Sam was also dealing with a pack of ‘stage mothers' that sprung up the moment the casting was completed. Sam opened his eyes and considered the rangy little prop. ``One of the shepherds will just have to kneel by it, with his arm around it.'' This satisfied the young man, and he went off with the prop under on arm. Once he was out of earshot, Eudora didn't hold back. Her laughter rang out, and Sam couldn't help grinning. He'd never imagine, after only knowing her a couple days, that she'd be amused by something as common as fake sheep. ``Oh, Eugenia, I'm so glad I decided to come with you tonight. I don't think I laughed so hard in months.'' Sam turned to look at her. ``Would you do me a favor?'' ``Anything.'' ``Would you help me the mothers?'' ``Of course, dear.'' It said a lot about Sam's state of mind when he realized, well into the rehearsals, that Dora Carmichael and her daughter were not present. With all that had gone on since getting home from church last night, he'd forgotten all about her. He gave the group a ten minute break and pulled Eudora to one side. ``Where's Dora?'' ``Oh, you hadn't heard? Dora caught Alice with Tony at the library, and she grounded Alice.'' Eudora informed him, keeping her voice low. ``She told me earlier she wanted to stay home with the children today.'' *More like, to keep an eye on Alice,* Sam thought. ``Oh. Well, I hope we see them tomorrow, at church.'' *If not sooner,* he added mentally. Sam turned back to his duties and noticed Al standing by the nativity and looking at it as if he couldn't decide what it was suppose to be. Fortunately for him, no children under six were present at the pageant. ``What's up?'' Sam asked his friend quietly, fussing with the straw. ``Sam, is this thing *safe*?'' he asked, waving his arms at the scene. Sam glanced sharply at him, wondering if there had been an accident involving the pageant. But if there had been, Al wouldn't be asking, he'd be telling. Still . . . ``Does someone get hurt?'' ``Huh? Oh. I don't think so. Remember, Ziggy told us she doesn't have anything on Christmas pageants and she hasn't run across any deaths involving mangers.'' He paused. ``Sam, what *is* that?'' Sam didn't have to look to know what he was pointing at. ``It's a sheep, Al.'' ``It looks like a cow to me,'' Al told him. The scientist looked at what Al was standing near. ``No, it's a sheep. The cows are wearing bells.'' Sam brushed his hands and lead the way to a quiet corner. ``So, your saying you don't have anything for me yet, right?'' ``Well, actually, Ziggy's got lots of possibilities,'' Al informed him, fishing the handlink out of his pocket. ``However, she said she needs more time to narrow it down.'' Al made a face. ``If you ask me, she seems like she slowed down. I had Tina run diagnostics. She's in perfect running order, yet is taking twice the time to check everything.'' ``Any estimates on how long it'll be before she'll know?'' ``No, and she won't tell me *why* it's taking her so long.'' ``Well, I think I might be able to help her. Have Ziggy check up on Alice Carmichael.'' Sam briefed Al on everything he knew about her, which wasn't much. ``So, you think she might have run off with this Tony?'' ``Yeah. I wish I had more to give you, Al.'' ``It should be enough,'' Al told him confidently, keying in the data. Sam looked around and noticed the others wandering back in for rehearsal. ``Give me a break!'' ``What?'' Sam asked, turning back to Al. ``Ziggy says can't research that for us right now,'' he replied, exasperated. Sam looked down at the handlink, incredulous. ``What?'' ``Mrs. Grayson?'' It was the same stage hand from earlier. ``Coming,'' he called out. He turned back to Al. ``Go back and talk some sense into --'' he paused when he saw the look on Al's face. ``Never mind. Can *you* look into it? Manually?'' ``Sure. It'll take time, since it's the holiday season, but I might get lucky with it.'' ``Thanks,'' he paused, studying Al's face. ``How are you holding up?'' There was a long pause, while Al keyed in the door code. ``I'm holding up okay. Claudine's here and, well, having her around has been a mixed blessing. On one hand, she was a trusted friend of . . .of Alberta's, but on the other hand, she helps me remember the good things on this time line.'' By this time, the stage hand was walking over to them, so Sam just nodded at his friend with an encouraging smile. Al returned it. ``Catch you later, kid.'' And he was gone. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * ``Ziggy!'' Donna jumped, as Al snapped at the computer. She glanced over at Verbena, who she confided in earlier. Verbena gave her an assuring look. ``What?'' the computer snapped back. ``What do you mean, you can't research it right now? It could be a matter of life and death!'' ``Yes, Admiral, I know,'' she replied cooly. ``So is the scenario I am currently running. But since Dr. Beckett asked about her specifically, I was check if she is still living.'' There was barely a second's pause before she continued. ``Records indicate that Alice Carmichael is currently alive and living in New Jersey.'' Al stared at the machine. ``You couldn't give me that information while I was with Sam?'' The computer refused to answer him. Instead, she said, ``I will do a more detailed inquiry into the life of Alice Carmichael after I finish with cases in which the individuals have died.'' Al seemed to calm down at bit. Years of doing this taught him that it was to their best advantage that Ziggy research the possibilities in a certain priority. ``Ziggy, *Sam* asked about her, and you know he's got instincts when it comes to this,'' he reasoned with the computer. ``I know that, Admiral Calavicci. However, I also know that he would be upset if he failed to save someone's life.'' ``Al,'' Verbena said, stepping up to him. ``I don't think you're going to change her mind about this one.'' Al made a disgusted look, but nodded in agreement. ``I guess I should place a few phone calls and start digging,'' he said tossing the handlink on the terminal. ``Whoa,'' Donna said grabbing his arm. ``Claudine made me promise that I would make sure you didn't run off and hide in your office for the Christmas party.'' ``But --'' ``You wouldn't want to disappoint Claudine, would you?'' Verbena said, taking his other arm. Obviously out numbered and out maneuvered, Al gave up. ``Oh, all right, I stick around for awhile, but I'm *not* singing any Christmas carols.'' ``We can live with that,'' Verbena said, teasing, as they exited the Control Room.