Having worked at the same job, for not a whole lot more an hour

than when he was hired fifteen years ago, Howard Kirkwood knew the

twelve minute drive home in his sleep, and right now he was four

minutes from home.  Good thing tomorrow was pay day. Every Friday he

bought a carton of Schlitz in bottles plus one. The ancient air

conditioning unit in the area of the plant he'd worked in today had

conked out, and like everyone else in there, he had sighed with relief

when he was able to punch out at four thirty and step outside into the

more tolerable eighty degree August afternoon.  Now, turning the gray,

ten year old pickup truck onto Liberty Street, Howard was looking

forward to the last cold bottle of Schlitz he'd seen in the refrigerator 

that morning.  At least until he looked ahead and saw a familiar red

Chevy in the narrow driveway by his house.  Feeling the muscles of his

face tighten, the weary man's thoughts of a cold beer vanished as he

pulled up in front of 261 Liberty Street.

   Al stood to one side, watching Perry's father hurry to the car where 

Margie and her mother were helping Sam out of the back seat.

   "Let me," he said, and reached past them to put an arm around Sam's 

waist, then took Sam's other arm and put it over his shoulders, and

helped him stand. "Come on, son," he said tersely, "let's get you in

the house and into bed."

   Though it made the roar in his head louder, Sam jerked his head 

around, looking for Al.

   "It's okay, Sam, you can go with him" Al reassured him. "He's your 

father, Howard Kirkwood."

   "Thanks," Sam whispered, glancing at Al who stood with Margie and

her mother to one side, out of the way. All three nodded.

   "See you tomorrow," Margie smiled at Perry as he and his father


   "Hope you get to feeling better, Perry," Margie's mother said 


   They watched the Kirkwood men climb the front steps and go inside 

before leaving.

   Punching in a code on the handlink, Al ordered, "What? Tell Verbena 

I'll be there as soon as I can. I want to make sure Sam's okay, first."

   The next instant, the hologram disappeared from the postage stamp-

sized front yard, next finding himself in a small bedroom.  The room

was sparsely furnished with a bed, chest of drawers and a small desk

and chair. The main light source was a single covered light bulb on

the ceiling which, at the moment, was off.  The heavy, dark brown

floor-length drapes at the window were drawn, severely darkening

the room.

   In the dim light coming from the hall, Al stood quietly on the 

opposite side of the single bed.  He watched Perry's father turn down

the bedspread and sheet, then carefully undressed Sam down to his

underwear.  He noted the gentleness with which the big man helped his

son to stretch out on the bed, removing the pillow so that Sam lay 

completely flat.

   He stayed, watching as Howard brought a basin of ice and water, 

tirelessly wringing out washcloths in the water and placing the cold 

compresses on Sam's face and head.  He had even put a towel under

Sam's shoulders then folded two washcloths together and put the cold 

thickness under the back of his neck. Al kept his thoughts quiet as he 

watched Howard take Sam's head between his hands to keep him from

thrashing it from side to side and aggravate the pain. Howard's voice

was low and soothing as he helped his son and only child through

his agony.  It was obvious to the Observer that Perry's father had

been through this many times.

   After more than two hours, it seemed that the headache's grip had 

loosened, and Sam was finally able to fall into a fitful sleep.  Still

Al remained, keeping watch over his friend.

   Howard stood by his son's bed, looking down at him, a deep sadness 

growing in his heart at what he knew had to be done. He wanted to brush

the hair back off Perry's forehead, but knew from experience that even

the softest touch would wake him from the light, fitful sleep into which

he fallen.  Quietly he stepped out of the room, drawing the door closed

with excruciating care.

   Al moved closer to the bed. For several more minutes he watched the 

gentle rise and fall of Sam's chest as he slept. Then he punched in a

code and the Imaging Chamber door opened silently and he stepped inside.