Chapter Eighteen By five o'clock Donna had passed through Phoenix and was well on her way to Flagstaff. Her long sleep the night before left her feeling fully rested and confident enough to continue for several more hours. She wouldn't get as far as she had hoped for, but since she wasn't on any specific schedule, it didn't really matter. Flagstaff may be her destination today. Maybe not. "I'll decide when I get there," she thought. Arriving in Flagstaff at around seven that night, she decided she could push it a little further. She consulted her map, and found that there were numerous small cities and towns along the eastbound I-40. "Great. I'll go a little further, then stop for the night." Two hours later, she pulled into a small motel in Pinta, Arizona. Something about the motel seemed ... familiar. I know I've never been here before. Why would it seem familiar? She didn't know, but somehow she knew it involved Sam. She checked in, requesting a 7:00 a.m. wake-up call. She didn't want to sleep late again. The motel didn't have much of a coffee shop; it was actually just a few vending machines, a delivered pizza from the local restaurant had to suffice. Sitting cross-legged on the bed, she watched a movie on tv while she ate. The motel didn't have cable tv or a satellite dish. The only station within signal distance was showing a movie about a man, a farmer, who goes back to college to play football. The film was at least ten years old. She didn't remember seeing it before, but then, she had been deeply involved in the implementation of the Project at the time. Not much free time for frivolities like movies. Her pizza, and the movie, finished, she pulled back the sheets and crawled in. Seven o'clock would come early, and she wanted to get through New Mexico and into Texas in one day. That would take about nine hours, give or take. Al stood outside the main building. He had nothing to do, again, and decided he needed to get some fresh air. No one else had slept for days, and if your men didn't sleep, then you didn't sleep. Military rules, whether official or not. Leaning against the rented van, he watched the desert wind pushing clouds through the night sky. Normally, the cigar he held between the fingers of his right hand would be lit. Tonight, however, he watched the sky smoke-free. "Beautiful, isn't it." Sam approached him, the rubber soles of Kara's sneakers barely making a sound on the gravel. "Yeah, it sure is. You forget just how beautiful until you're away from it for awhile." The Leaper leaned against the van next to his friend. "It's been ... far too long ... sine I've seen it." Do you remember your stars? Try me. Magrez. Magrez. Ursa Major. The faintest one in the bowl. You have great eyes. Are you talking about the way they look or my vision? Yes. "Far too long." "How'se it going down there?" Al's voice brought Sam back to the present. "Uh, pretty good. Ziggy predicted a thirty-two percent chance that Gushie would crosswire something." The Leaper grinned. "So he did. Made her voice go up another octave for a couple of minutes." The two chuckled, knowing Gushie would have done it on purpose. "Sounds like Ziggy's getting better by the minute. I'm glad, Sam." "But ..." "But what?" The Admiral couldn't make eye contact with his friend. "You tell me." All pushed away from the van, taking a few steps, then turned to face the young woman with Sam's soul inside her. "I don't have a good feeling about this whole thin." He fidgeted with the cigar, placing it between his teeth, then removing it again. Sam leaned against the van, arms crossed, waiting. "Something doesn't feel ... kosher about, whatshername. Monica." "I know. She bother me, too. But I don't have any other source. Ziggy can't help like she used to, not until she's completely functional, so we're dependent on Monica." "I don't like it." "Sam, Gushie needs a hand." Verbeena's voice interrupted them. "I'll be right there." He moved towards the door. "You coming?" "In a minute." "Sam stepped back into the building, leaving Al alone in the night-darkened compound. A coyote cried in the distance. A breeze blew a tumbleweed across the compound. And Al shivered. Not from the suddenly chilled breeze. From the feeling he couldn't shake. A feeling of ... dread. The phone rang next to the bed. It was 7:00 a.m. on New Year's Eve. Donna picked up the receiver and was greeted by a overly friendly front desk clerk. "Ms. Elesee, you requested a wake-up call this mornin'?" "Yes, thank you," she groggily replied, then placed the handset back onto it's cradle. Fighting the desire to roll over and go back to sleep, she forced herself up and out of the bed. She showered quickly, not wanting to waste any time. She would have to cover as much territory as possible today, then try to find a hotel that wasn't already booked for any number of New's Years Eve parties. She had already made her resolutions, the most important one being to start again. A new life, someplace back east, maybe, but definitely a new start. Clicking the suitcase shut, she opened the door, stepping out into the morning light. The sun rose in a blaze of cherry red. Red sky at night, sailor's delight. Red sky in morning, sailor take warning. That old saying ran through her mind. She didn't know why. She threw the suitcase into the trunk, slamming it shut with a determined thud. The motel provided a continental breakfast in the lobby =FE bad coffee and danishes that looked leftover from the day before. She passed, opting to stop at whatever restaurant chain she encountered first =FE a Stuckey's or Bob Evans' perhaps. The signs were nearly side-by-side. "Thank You for Visiting Arizona =FE Please, Come Back Soon" and "Welcome to New Mexico =FE Home of", the end of the second sign whizzed past before she could finish reading it. Donna chuckled, imagining it read "Home of Top Secret Project Quantum Leap and Several Alien Visitations". She felt she knew New Mexico like the back of her hand. Or at least part of New Mexico. Hadn't she spent fifteen years in the middle of the desert, living in tunnels that went deeper than some mines? A loud bang from somewhere under the hood startled her back to the here and now. The car lurched several times, making sounds like it was choking, then stopped completely. "Now what?" she exclaimed. The car was practically brand new. In fact, it was the most recent issue from Italy, a Prevalar. Reaching down along the side of the driver's seat, she released the hood latch before getting out of the car. Steam poured out from under the hood. She nearly burnt her fingers as she opened the hood entirely, fanning the steam from her face as she stepped back and coughed. Once the steam had dissipated, she leaned back in to take a look, not that she actually knew what she was looking for. The total sum of her education did not include one single course in auto mechanics. Quantum mechanics, yes. Auto mechanics, no. She looked up and down the highway. There were several vehicles on both sides, but none seemed willing to stop and help her. She had forgotten to take her cellular phone when she had left the house. Philip had purchased for her last summer, but she had never even used it =FE never needed it. Until now. A quick glance at her watch told her it was nearly eight in the morning. "There's never a towtruck when you need one," she said, sitting on the edge of the car, arms and legs crossed in frustration. It only took another ten minutes for her wish to come true. As the truck came to a stop on the shoulder in front of her, then backed up, she stood to greet her saviour. The driver jumped down. Apparently, he hadn't been out for very long. There weren't any telltale signs of him having done any work that morning =FE clean hands, fairly clean overalls and the scent of bathsoap. A cigarette hung loosely from his lips. She quickly slid on her sunglasses. "Need help?" The man sauntered towards her. No, you idiot. I always park in the middle of nowhere and look helpless. "Yes. It just made a loud clunk then stopped. A lot of steam came out. I don't know what's wrong." Throwing the cigarette aside, he stuck his head under the hood. He wiggled wires, pushed and pulled at various caps and rods. "Looks like you might have blown out the water pump," he said, standing up again. "See that trail of water comin' from under the car." He pointed to a rivulet that ran from under the car to the edge of the shoulder. "I'm not a hundred percent sure, though. Don't get to see too many of these newer models out here." He stuck his head back under the hood, but didn't do anything but look. Donna waited for him to say more, then realized he was more interested in the car itself than getting her back on the road. "Can you fix it?" "Not here. No. But I can tow you into Gallop. Someone there's bound to understand this new type." He stood again. "I'll hitch her up. Better stand back, ma'am." The man turned towards his truck, while Donna reached into the car to remove the keys and her purse. Within ten minutes, the car was hooked up to the back of the towtruck. Donna sat in the passenger seat, watching the landscape go by. By nine o'clock, they were pulling into a small garage. The sign on the road's edge read "Thompson's Garage =FE We Service All Makes and Models". I sure hope so, she thought. She thought her teeth were going to bounce out of her mouth as the truck came to a very bumpy stop just outside the service bay doors. The driver jumped down and headed back to unhitch her car. It took her a few moments to gather her senses and step down as well. By the time she walked back to her car, another, older man stood next to the towtruck driver. He, too, wore workworn overalls. "Whatcha got here, Jerry? Looks pretty fancy." "Hey, Bill. Found this lady stranded out near the border. Says the car just," he turned to Donna, "how'd you put it, ma'am?" "Well, it made a loud banging sound, then lurched to a stop. Steam was pouring out from under the hood." "I told her it looked like the water pump, but couldn't tell for sure. These newer cars really baffle me." "Uh, huh. Uh, huh." The mechanic, Bill, opened the driver's door, then pushed the button to open the hood. Jerry finished opening it as the two men leaned under the hood. Why do men always act like they know everything under a car hood, even if they don't? "Do you know what's wrong?" "Think Jerry's right. Looks like the water pump. Tell better once it's on the rack." Bill stood, reaching up to close the hood. "Help me push it in, will ya, Bill? Ma'am, if you wouldn't mind steerin' ...". They moved to the back of the car, not waiting for Donna to step to the driver's door. Between the three of them, they managed to manoeuvre the car into the service bay. Donna stepped out as the hydraulic arms came into position, lifting the car above their heads. "Gotta get back on the road. See 'yall later." Jerry turned and left the service bay. Donna could hear the shock absorbers, or at least what was left of the shock absorbers, squeak as the truck bounced back onto the road. Jerry stood under the car, his neck straining upward looking for whatever the problem may be. "Yeah. It's the water pump, alright. Never seen one positioned there, though. These damn newfangled cars put things in the most ridiculous places." He turned his head, spitting a stream of tobacco juice into the drainage hole in the middle of the floor. Donna tried to ignore his crude action. "Can you fix it?" "Sure can." She smiled. "Day after tomorrow." The smile faded quickly. "Ain't got the parts for this model on hand. Hafta be ordered from Phoenix today, then, with tomorrow bein' New Year's Day, won't get back to it 'til day after." Another dark stream left his lips, hitting the drainage hole. "Isn't there another way? Maybe someone in town, another garage, would have the parts?" I can't stay in this town. I've got to keep going. "Well, maybe. But doubtful. Best bet's to call the distributor in Phoenix and have them ship it out." He rubbed his bristle-covered chin, apparently in thought. "Unless ... I could get my grandson to fetch it for me. It'll cost extra, though. Travel time, there and back, plus gas and the parts ..." "Whatever it takes. I'll pay. I just really need to get back on the road today." "Gimme a second," Jerry said, stepping out from under the car and reaching for the telephone over the workstation against the wall. He dialled, then spoke quickly. Then dialled another number. Hanging up, he walked back to Donna. "Matthew's gonna run into Phoenix for ya. It'll take him about two hours there, then back, plus the time waitin' to get the part. I called the distributor and told them to hold onto the part for me. It's gonna cost about two hundred and fifty for the pump parts, plus installation time. That's take the longest. Never worked on one of these before. I'll figure out the cost for Matthew's time when he gets back. Probably around a hundred. I told him no foolin' 'round in town. Git there and back. That's all." Donna mentally calculated the total in her head, adding enough to cover the taxes and any "extras" that may occur. She figured she'd need at least seven hundred dollars. That was nearly everything she had in her wallet. "Meantime, I'll call the wife. You can't spend the entire day hangin' 'round here. Might as well be comfortable while you're waitin'." The mechanic stepped back to the phone. He kept looking towards her as he spoke, then returned to where he had left Donna standing. "Molly says to come straight over." He lead Donna back out into the morning sun. Raising his left arm, he pointed down the street. "It's the second house down on this side of the road. Blue shudders. Can't miss it." A stream of dark liquid hit the ground, causing a small cloud of dust to rise around it. I really wish he'd stop that. "I can't thank you enough, Mr. Thompson." She began to extend her hand, but upon seeing his were greased-stained, faked reaching up to scratch her head instead. He chuckled. "My name's not Thompson. It's Koznicki. Thompson's the guy who owned the garage before me. Everybody around her still calls it Thompson's Garage, so I just left the sign up." Well, thank you, Mr. Koznicki. I really appreciate your going out of your way to fix my car. I really do need to get back on the road as soon as possible." She didn't know why she said that. She didn't have a final destination in mind. At least not for today. I guess I just want to get as far away from Philip as possible. "Go on. Molly's waitin'. I call you when Matt's back with the part. I'll give you updates as the day goes by." The mechanic lover the car so she could retrieve a few things from her car. She then walked the short distance to Bill and Molly Koznicki's home. The woman made her feel at home. It was still too soon after breakfast and too early for lunch, so the two woman sat in a porchswing on the front porch, sipping coffee and watching the small town traffic, such as it was, pass. Although not pressuring for answers, Molly Koznicki tried in several ways to find out just who this lovely stranger was. But Donna only gave cursory answers, she even lied once or twice. She didn't need to leave a trail, just incase Philip was following her. But, she hoped, he was tending to his own problems =FE those involving his parents. Realizing she wasn't going to get any answers from Donna, the older woman stood and, declaring that the day wasn't getting any younger, and neither was she, that she had best get to her housework. Big neighbourhood New Year's Eve party that night, she told Donna, and plenty to do. Donna volunteered to help, but was graciously turned down. "Sometimes it's just easier to do it myself, no disrespect intended," Molly told her. Re-filling her coffeecup, Donna made her way to the backyard. A pristine white wooden fence surrounded the entire circumference. This was obviously a place of pride for Molly, and with good reason. A few flowers and shrubs dotted the area, no easy task considering the type of soil and time of year. There were signs of many, many fragrant species that grew in the warmer weather. Settling herself into an Adirondack-style chair, she opened the book she had found in the glove compartment.