"Hidden Agenda" Part III November, 2000 Stallions Gate, NM "Al, you're impossible!" Verbena cried, sticking her head into his office doorway. He didn't even spare her a glance, but kept typing. "How's that?" "Ziggy tells me this is an easy leap, but you're as swamped with work as if he'd leaped into a stalker." "Don't you mean the target of a stalker?" He frowned, hit the delete key several times, then continued on. "Either or." As if relenting, she took several steps into the room. "What are you doing?" Finally, he looked up. "What?" She pointed to the screen. "That. What are you doing?" He squinted at her. "I'm trying to figure out why the odds don't make sense," he explained carefully. She stared at the screen for several long seconds, finally realizing he was running scenarios of his own designing. "What's wrong with them?" He tapped one finger on the screen. "Too high." "You've taken a liking to this little girl, huh?" She knew the answer; she remembered how many hours he'd spent in the Imaging Chamber with Teresa. It had been incredibly good for him and she'd hoped he'd be doing more of that this time around. He shrugged. "I like a lot of people Sam deals with." "Uh-huh." His response was all she needed. She waited. He turned to face her abruptly. "She's a _little_girl_, Verbena. And...these odds don't make sense." She nodded and sat down, willing to take the conversation in his direction. "Okay, what's the problem?" He seemed oddly reluctant to answer, then rested his chin on his fist and read off the facts to her. "She went to play in the river like she always does, fell, hit her head, and drowned. Only, this time, she went alone." "Does she usually go alone?" He actually looked vaguely surprised at the question, as if he couldn't imagine her doing so. "I don't believe so..." She leaned forward, resting her elbows against the desk. "What else is around the river? Why did she go alone?" He still looked uncertain. "Ziggy, do we have Bernadette's statement to the police, yet?" "Affirmative." "Pull it up." "Please," the computer prompted. "Now," Al countered. Sternly. He wasn't in the mood for this. Verbena tried unsuccessfully to hide her amusement. The screen went blank, then filled with text. "It says...that there's a 6-year old boy on the other side of the creek that Tabitha was friends with and they used to play together. Ziggy, call up a bio on that family," he added to the hybrid computer. "That night, Bernadette...fell. Tabitha ran to get help and when Bernadette finally realized no-one was coming, she made her way out to the creek and she was already dead." "Well, there you have it." "There I have what? Sam is not a 72-year old woman. If he falls, chances are it's not going to cripple him. Even assuming he trips over or falls on whatever hurts her, the odds should have gone down the instant he found out what he was there to do." "Maybe they'll go down when you tell him this," she pointed out reasonably. "Maybe," he agreed, pulling the keyboard on his lap and leaning back to stare at the screen. "But maybe not." "Or it could happen some other way," she suggested. "That's happened in Sam's leaps before - fate kinda-" "Fate? Please!" he snorted. "Of all the jobs in the world, this one should convince you that fate doesn't exist. Besides," he added, calling the scenarios back up, "I don't believe we all work so hard just to fulfill what's already set in stone." "Maybe you're right," she agreed, leaning back in the chair. "Yep, see, the odds are still...39?" He shook his head and tossed the keyboard onto his desk. "Ziggy, what the hell's going on?" "Introduction of new variables. Previously, all we had was an objective and no details. Now, because I am aware of the situation, I can project that Dr. Beckett will easily-" "Hogwash," he interrupted, actually only a little angry, but terribly annoyed. "What, precisely, do you use to wash a hog?" "Oh, just stop talking - please!" "Admiral," she continued despite his plea, "Ms. Gray is on line 3." "Perfect. I don't want to talk to her. Tell her Sam's dead - tell her _I'm_ dead, or, better yet, tell her I've threatened to kill her if she calls again. Whatever gets rid of her." He was well aware that he was now officially ranting, but he couldn't seem to help himself. "And which of those 3 options would you rather I choose?" Verbena choked and Al was certain she was covering a bout of laughter. "Tell her no-one's available, Ziggy," she suggested. "You want me to _lie_?" Ziggy exclaimed. Al opened the top drawer of his desk. "Right - that does it." He pulled out a tool kit. "Which system do I start with?" "You keep a wrench set in your _desk_?" she demanded, aghast. Al shot her a meaningful look. "Thought it might come in handy." "Admiral, I believe there are several phone conversations of yours with Alexa in the lower labs and Brenda in-" He was standing now. "Ziggy..." "That Tina would-" "I'm going to go see Sam," Al announced loudly. Verbena shot him a disapproving look and Ziggy fell (mercifully) silent. He nodded in satisfaction and marched out, positive he heard Verbena burst into giggles as he left. Reluctantly, he broke into a small grin, and then headed for the elevator. ~~~~~~ October, 1998 Hardesty, OK Al stepped through the Imaging Chamber Door to see a small wooden bridge linking the two grassy shores on either side of Clearwater Creek. He'd wanted to see the spot himself, to get a better idea of what would happen the following evening. It was twilight and hard to see, but he walked upstream from the path and saw what could only have been Tabitha's favorite spot. The water was very shallow - it couldn't have even been knee deep on her - and there were several large stones across from one side to the other. He couldn't see anything about the area that looked particularly dangerous, and he found himself wishing he could test the stepping stones himself to see if any were loose. In the distance, about a quarter of a mile off, was a large house and he glanced at the handlink to see that it was the Moyer home, the location of Daris, the 6 year old boy the report had mentioned. Satisfied that he'd seen all he could see here, he popped in on Sam, only to find his friend held captive in Bernadette's living room. At least, that was what the look in his eyes communicated. He was sitting across from another woman who was rocking slowly back and forth in an old-fashioned rocking chair and speaking without any apparent break in her words. Sam looked to Al in a silent plea for help, but Al shrugged - there certainly wasn't anything _he_ could do about it. "So I told her, I said that I knew Dr. Roberts and didn't she have an appointment with him the other day, and - you knew he was my doctor for three years, didn't you? Up until that unfortunate scenario with the corn. Anyhow..." She chattered on, not even seeming to notice that Sam was frantically scanning the room for a blunt object. Al took a drag on his cigar and smiled slightly. "Well, I see you've got company, so I'll just come back later." If looks could kill, Al would have been a cylinder of ashes. Actually, there would have been no need because the visitor would have been incinerated long before. Unfortunately, as she was launching into her exciting account of how shocked she was with the condition of a rest area 50 miles out of Dallas, Tabitha wandered in from outdoors where she'd probably been playing, or perhaps hiding. She looked at the woman, then Sam, and finally stared at Al. She giggled in delight - finally, someone to play with her. She ran towards him, all smiles. "Al!" Al reached out a hand reflexively as she reached him, the woman exclaimed, "Who?", and Sam laughed nervously. Al looked back and forth between Sam and...whoever, then knelt down next to the girl. "Let's go play in your room, sweetheart." "K," she agreed eagerly and followed him in. "You know kids and their imaginary friends," Sam was saying, his voice growing ever more faint as they walked down the small hallway and Tabitha shut the door behind them. They sat together for another ten minutes, Tabitha showing him every remote aspect of her room, before Sam finally came in, rolling his eyes in exasperation. "That woman is impossible," he managed. "I tried to get rid of her. Told her I needed to fix dinner, she said she hadn't eaten yet. Told her I had to go to the store to get some brown sugar, she said she had plenty to spare and could bring some over later. I finally told her I needed to make some phone calls. Of course, then she wanted to know who." He sighed and sat down on the floor with them. "You having fun playing?" he asked Tabitha. "Uh-huh." She sat on her heels and grinned. "Good," he replied wearily. Al raised an eyebrow. "Sam, who was that?" "I don't know! I talked to her for two hours and I haven't the slightest clue." "Mrs. Moyer," Tabitha supplied quietly and both men turned in surprise. "That was Mrs. Moyer?" Al confirmed. "Daris's mother?" She nodded, looking as if she was uncertain if she'd done something wrong. "She's nice. She - she makes cookies for me and Daris." Sam inched over to look at the handlink screen, but it was blank. "Who's Daris?" he asked. Two hours of getting more than he ever wanted to know about the people of Hardesty, and now that he wanted information, nobody would give it to him. "The Moyers live on the other side of that creek, Sam," Al informed him and, in short, to-the-point descriptions (for which Sam was unendingly grateful), gave him the details of what had happened that night, leaving room for interpretation should Tabitha be following him. "It happens around 1900 tomorrow night, so it's already dark by that point." "Al," Tabitha interjected impatiently. He turned dark eyes on her. "What is it, sweetheart?" "Aunt Bernie says I can ask friends to come spend the night - can you stay?" Sam bit back a grin. "I'll stay tonight," he compromised. She smiled and reached out to touch his arm. When her hand went through his image, it only seemed to tickle her more rather than frighten her and she laughed harder. "You can sleep on the end of my bed - like a pet!" she announced. It was Al's turn to glare at Sam as the leaper broke into such a violent fit of hysterics that he fell back onto the rug and was very nearly impaled by one of her toys. ~~~~~~ True to his word, Al spent the night at the house. She refused to let the matter rest until he had Gooshie bring in a mattress and laid it on the floor next to her bed. After surviving several threats by Sam to tuck him in and kiss him goodnight, he fell asleep, not really wondering why he'd agreed to this. Somewhere inside of him, even though she wasn't destined to die tonight, he felt like if he just stayed around her, he could stop it himself, maybe even protect her. The night would have been peaceful and perfect if Ziggy hadn't interrupted him at 4 A.M. to tell him that Celia was on the phone again. After threatening yet again to pull Ziggy's plug if she didn't just handle it, he laid in bed and an idea began to form in his mind.