Chapter VIII FEBRUARY 1990 PENTAGON ARLINGTON, VA (F*L*A*S*H*B*A*C*K) "Hey! Long time, no see!" Startled, Al looked up from _The_Washington_Post_. Standing by the table, dressed in civilian attire, was a woman he hadn't seen in nearly ten years. In fact, since he married Janet. "Sabina!" Al stood up and hugged her warmly. "How did you know I was here?" "Oh, I have friends in high places, Al. I knew you worked at the Pentagon, even before you did." "Actually, I meant *here*," he explained, with a sweep of his arm, indicating the cafeteria. "I didn't," she smiled fondly at him. "I just decided I needed a change of scenery today and picked this eating establishment." Al chuckled. The Pentagon was a small city unto itself, with a fair number of possible places to grab a bite to eat. When you asked someone to meet you for lunch, you had to be very specific. "Remind me never to play cards with you, Sabina." "Funny. I always thought *you* were the lucky one, Al." She draped her jacket over the back of the chair across from him. "Excuse me a moment." Al watched her walk away, admiring. He caught himself, just a bit startled. Since Callie's death, Al had lived quietly. Well, comparatively, anyway. Helping Sam with his pet project kept his mind occupied and he was always busy. However, that didn't mean there hadn't been a woman in his life since he split from Janet. First, there had been Laura. They were together until Star Bright was shut down. She had wanted Al to retire and settle down in Norfolk with her. Al had wanted her to move up to D.C. with him. Then there had been Veronica. They met within the first week of Al's arrival at the Pentagon. She was smart, beautiful, adventurous, and had a wonderful sense of humor. Veronica also had a tremendous sense of style and had prompted Al to change his off-duty wardrobe. Gone were the boring suites and ties. *"You should wear more bright colors, Al. They made you stand out."* Al had been pretty serious about her. Then Sam's funding came through, and he asked Al to join his staff. That meant retiring and moving out to New Mexico. Once again, Al was faced with asking the woman in his life to follow him. There was a difference though. Laura didn't want to leave her family and friends to move a few hours north, and Veronica would have to leave behind a job she loved, and worked hard to get, and move clear across the country. This time, he approached the situation differently too. He simply told Veronica that he was offered a job in New Mexico. Two months ago, Veronica moved out of his place. The split was amicable and he'd see her several times since. It probably wasn't a good idea to start another relationship, giving the fact he'd be leaving the area in six months. He even questioned the wisdom of becoming involved with Sabina. There was nothing wrong with her, far from it. Al always thought of her more as a friend, and he was pretty certain that's how she saw it, too. "I leave you for a few minutes, and you space out on me," Sabina commented, taking her seat. "Sorry." "So, I hear you're finally retiring. I didn't think you'd leave voluntarily." Al gave her a brief smile. "Something I couldn't pass up came my way." "So I've heard. I think just about everyone I know raves about that wunderkind you hang around with. In fact," she said, leaning forward slightly and lowering her voice. "People are clamoring over one another, trying to work with him since he picked up that Nobel." Al made a face. "I know. They're the same people who wouldn't give the kid the time of day a few years back." "You know, when you nominated him for Star Bright, the committee vote came up tied. Nelson had to vote to break it. He asked my opinion." "What did you tell him?" "I told him, `Calavicci doesn't nominate duds.'" Al laughed. "So, the kid has you to thank for his big break." "No, Al, he still has you to thank for that. You pushed the nomination." They chatted about Claudine and people they knew. She never brought up the subject of Beth, Callie, or Janet, for which Al was grateful. Sabina had to run, but she didn't leave until she got a dinner date out of him, so they could spend more time catching up. ************************************* "Where are you going?" Sabina asked. "I'm planning a cross-country trip," Al replied absently, thumbing through the phonebook. "But I'm flying instead of driving." Sam was in town for Al's retirement, and he and Sabina were in Sam's hotel room, waiting for the scientist to get back with their dinner. Sam had insisted that dinner was on him and Al had wanted a piazza. However, Al only ordered piazzas from those delivery places as a last resort. Sam was obliged to go out and pick it up. Sabina had found it amusing that Al had sent Sam Beckett, Nobel prize winning scientist and quite possibly the smartest person on the planet, to fetch piazza. "Oh? Sounds fun. Do you have a particular plan mapped out, or you just winging it?" Al located the phone number he was looking for. "No, I have a plan." He really didn't want to talk to her about it. It had been hard enough telling Sam. "Do you want some company?" Al, in the process of dialing the number, looked over at Sabina, surprised. He put the phone down. "It's kinda personal." Sabina studied him a moment. She came over and sat on the bed, next to the desk. "Truth of the matter, Al, is Sam told me what you're doing." She held up a hand before he could say anything. "He's been worried about you for the last two weeks, Al. He wanted to go on this . . . trip with you, but he can't get away from the site. Sam asked me to look after you. He said it would ease his mind, knowing someone was there for you." Al was momentarily speechless. Sam had so much else to worry about and so many things needing his attention right now. Al was touched that he found time to even think about him. In other time and place, Al would have resented the implications of Sam's actions. Frankly, Al was almost relieved with the turn of events. This trip was something he needed to do, something that should be done. He was dreading the thought of doing it alone. The trip would start in Arlington National Cemetery. Al would visit Calista's grave for a little while, the last time for some time, and then catch a plane that evening or the next day. The next stop would be Georgia, where he'd visit Grace Townsend's grave. Beth's grandmother had died while Al was gone on the first tour in Vietnam. He planed to also drive through her old neighborhood. The next leg of the trip would be to Chicago. It had been decades since the last time he'd been to see Trudy's grave. That had been bothering him for some time now, and it was the initial reason for this trip. His final, and perhaps most painful, stop before heading out to New Mexico would be San Diego. Sabina was still waiting for some sort of reply. "There are no strings attached, Al. I'll be your traveling companion and chauffeur, if you need one." "You can just drop everything you're doing, and do this?" he asked her, quizzically. She nodded. "Just give me a time table and I'll do what needs to be done." Al gave her a small, grateful smile. "Sure. You can come along. Somebody's got to keep me out of trouble." ************************************* "Al?" Struggling with consciousness, Al was disoriented. It was definitely Sabina's voice, but he couldn't pinpoint where it was coming from. A cool hand brushed his forehead. "Al, honey, wake up." With the memories of their reunion still fresh in his mind, it amazed Al how he had managed to miss something, then, that had been blatantly obvious to everyone else, including Sam. Sabina loved him. Always had. And still did. Al realized that it wasn't Beeks who impounded his car and took the bottles. It was Sabina. He blinked rapidly, until she came into focus. A look of relief spread across her face. She was sitting on the edge of the bed, stroking his hair. "Sabina," he acknowledged, voice hoarse. "Al, Sam's landed." Al tried to sit up, but the room spun. Sabina gently pushed him back. "Where did he land?" he demanded. The significance of the question wasn't lost on Sabina. "We don't know yet." "Who's with the Visitor?" An odd look crossed her face. "Sammie Jo." *Sammie Jo!* Al tried to get up again. In his misery, he'd forgotten all about her. "No, Al, lie back. She's fine, Al. She doesn't remember the old past now." "What?" "It appears that, after one night of rest, Sammie Jo behaves as if she was never aware of another time." Al tried not to think about the possible reasons for her memory problems. Thinking about it made his head pound. "Do you know who Sam leaped into?" Sabina paused before answering. "Yes. We have a name. Well, a first name, anyway. And an occupation." Al's heart sank. By her tone and hesitancy, he already knew who *wasn't* in the Waiting Room. "Tell me." "Her name is Gena and she's a teacher." "A teacher?" A small ray of hope began to form. There was still a chance. He tried to get up again. "Al, you don't look good," Sabina gently commented. "Why don't you sleep it off?" "What if Sam needs me?" Al protested. It felt lame and he knew it wasn't the real reason he wanted out of bed. And Sabina knew it too. "We'll let you know when we get a lock, Al. Let Verbena and Sammie Jo work on the Visitor, and you get some rest." Al nodded. Ziggy didn't have enough information to establish a strong lock, and Al doubted he could survive one of those horrid searches. Once he was settled down, Sabina stood up. "I'll drop in later, to see if you're all right." She walked away. "Sabina," he called out, stopping her at the door. She turned to look at him. "I'm sorry I'm putting you through all this," he apologized, sincerely. "I know, Al," she said with a sad smile. "I know."