"Off the Beaten Path" pt. III May, 1988 Raleigh, NC Al followed Sam out to Daniel's car, eyeing the bulging suitcase speculatively. Sam certainly had taken his time packing, but that was nothing compared to the problem of finding Evelyn. "This could take a long time, Sam." "Nope," he responded, throwing the suitcase in with a surge of energy. "No?" Al's voice was hopeful. Sam turned to him and held up his hand, index and middle fingers extended. "Two days." Al looked skeptical. "How?" He shook his head and lowered his hand, fumbling for the right key to unlock the front door of the car. "Because that's all the time we have." Al sighed loudly. "Did Daniel ever find her?" The admiral frowned. "What?" "If we know where Daniel looked for her, then we don't have to look there. And if he found her, then...do we know where the body was found yet?" "Ah...let me see." Sam stood patiently by the car while he ferreted out the information. "All we know so far is she's still in North Carolina, towards the coast. And, yes, Daniel found her." "But we don't know _where_?" Sam demanded, faintly exasperated. "No..." Al's brow furrowed. "What?" "He found her, right before he was killed." ^----^----^----^----^ May, 1988 Nant, NC Eve sat on the corner of the bed in the hotel, fingering the cast on her wrist. Joseph had checked her in, and walked her upstairs before stating that he had to get going, but he wanted to treat her to breakfast the next morning before he went to work. "Where do you work?" she asked. "Behind a desk," he replied. *Don't talk very much, do you? Most of the people I've met here are really only looking for someone to listen,* she thought, but she knew better than to voice the thoughts aloud. Instead, she just rolled her eyes as if to say, "Where else?" "I have to go." She wondered if he was not quite as benign as he seemed. Nonetheless, she resolved not to make too much of it. Yet. As he gathered up his coat, she frowned at him, noticing the way he glanced anxiously at his watch. "You _do_ have a family," she accused, as if he had just committed a terrible wrong against her. Eve glanced at his left hand, but her view was blocked. She didn't know why this was so important to her - maybe it was just because she had the feeling they'd both turned their backs on something they shouldn't have. He stared at her and she suddenly felt very young. "It's not a family," he said tensely and she flinched. "I'll see you in the morning." She waited until he left to let out the breath she'd been holding. She slid his calling card out of her back pocket and dialed. The phone rang five times before the answering machine picked up. Her father hadn't changed the message, she noted with a mixture of regret and anger. Discouraged, she hung up and tried again. Same thing. This time, she dialed Susan's number. She was a friend of her father's and also his secretary. "Hello?" The familiar voice strengthened her resolve to go home. "Yes, I've been trying to reach Daniel Geller..." "He's taking some time off." Susan's voice sounded suspicious until she gasped out, "Eve? Is that you?" "Yes," she admitted. "Hon, he went off to find you! Do you need me to-" "I'll just call his cell phone. Thanks, Susan." "He's been missing you something fierce," she scolded. "Are you okay?" "I'm fine. I'll see you soon, okay?" As soon as she had shaken Susan, Eve called her father's cell phone. In the passing dusk, somewhere in the corner of Daniel's bedroom, the phone rang. Oblivious to it, Daniel Geller appeared to be leaning against his car out in front of the house, talking to thin air. ^----^----^----^----^ May, 1988 Raleigh, NC "How did he know where she was?" Sam demanded and Al shrugged. "Maybe he just got lucky or..." He shrugged again. Sam blew out a sigh. "How did he die?" "No data." It was becoming an old tune. "I just don't understand," he began, slowly and quietly, as if talking to a child, "why we're having such troubles with location." Al exhaled heavily. "Well, Sam, it's not as if _I'm_ keeping data from you. I give you what we've got the moment I get it." "Well, I know it's not _your_ fault, Al. But when I get home, Ziggy better have evolved locomotive capabilities." Al cocked his head. "Come again?" "Because I'm coming after her with an ax!" Sam exclaimed, lifting his arm in a call to battle. Al laughed. Sam glanced at him, straining to keep serious. "I hope you don't think I'm joking." "Never," Al pledged solemnly, holding up his right hand in a Boy Scout Salute. "Never." "Good. In the meantime, I'm heading East." "Sounds like a plan." "Maybe we'll get lucky," Sam muttered. "Yeah." Al picked up the thread enthusiastically. "You could stumble across her." "I _meant_ maybe Ziggy'll find the information I need." Al choked back a snicker. The entire situation would be completely hilarious were two lives not hanging in the balance. Sam climbed in, turned the ignition, and started the car. It roared to life, emitted a loud "klunk", and died. Al snorted and Sam groaned. "You know, my mother used to say," he started, motioning for Al to pay close attention, "that if you really want to make God laugh, all you have to do is make plans." He got out of the car and stared ruefully at it. "He must really be having a good chuckle." ^----^----^----^----^ June, 2000 Stallions Gate, NM Sleep...blissful, uninterrupted (he hoped) sleep. Sam had a car to fix and there was certainly no need for Al to hang around while he took care of it. While Sam had made jokes, Al seriously doubted he thought the situation funny. The jokes had contained a bitter edge to them and Al had strained to allow comments made at his own expense, if only to ease the tension. Truth be told, Sam probably wasn't as upset at everything that had been going wrong as Al was. He had four daughters, and he couldn't even imagine what he would have done in Daniel's position. Al took a deep breath and let it out slowly, using the sense of peace in the room to sort out his next move. He had been as amazed (and more than a little enraged) as Sam at Ziggy's selectiveness at not producing certain tidbits of data. Gooshie had assured him that, as soon as his nap was over, there would be some answers waiting for him. He closed his eyes and moved an inch or two closer to Beth, still fast asleep. A 12 hour difference...geez, sometimes it was just so hard to keep up the pace! Okay, so where to go next? Well, Sam would repair any damage to the car (provided it was minor enough), and then they would head East...and just shoot blindly until Ziggy could give him something useful. Just one complete report needed to come through: the report on his death, or hers. Either would do, because it had said they died at the same place. He was starting to think in circles, and he knew it. Finally, he let himself drift to sleep, trusting that some of these problems would untangle themselves in the next couple hours. Al jerked into wakefulness with an almost tangible jolt. He was at a loss as to what had woken him - perhaps Beth had shifted in her sleep, or maybe he just heard something. He had long been a very light sleeper. Unlike Beth, who could probably sleep through a hurricane. Except when the girls were young; he had never seen anything quite like it. For years, though naturally an early riser, it still took a 21 gun salute to rouse her before she was ready to get up. Then, after Marina had been born, one plaintive cry in the night and she was up with her robe on before he could register the difference between sleep and wakefulness. It was a trait she'd carried with her even after they all grew up and moved out. Now, even when he was restless, she'd wake up. If he screamed in her ear, she probably wouldn't budge, but one misplaced sigh, and... A glance at the clock told him he had only been asleep an hour and a half, but he really didn't feel like going back to sleep. And there was a queasy feeling in the pit of his stomach that refused to leave him alone. What had he eaten that so disagreed with him? "Al?" Damn. He'd woken Beth up with all his shifting around. He should've figured. "Go back to sleep. I'm just getting up." "What time is it?" "You've only been out for about five hours. Give yourself one decent night's sleep." She yawned and stretched. "No, I'm okay. If you're getting up, I might as well follow suit." She smiled as he hugged her to him. "You okay?" He loosed his hold slightly. "You're beating a dead horse, Beth." "What?" "We've been through this line of questioning. You ask if I'm okay, I make some flippant remark, you ask me again, I tell you I'm fine, you give me a discouraging look, and we do it all over in 10 minutes." There was a lengthy pause and then she said, quietly, in his ear, "So are you?" He groaned in amazement. "If I wasn't using this pillow, you'd regret that." "Look at that," she proclaimed. "Here I am, trying to be loving and concerned, and what do I get? Abuse." "You're right," he said decidedly. "It's beyond me, Beth, how you put up with me." "It's beyond me, too," she replied and he grinned. "Well," he said finally, "I suppose I'd better get up if I'm getting up." "Hmmm. What are you going to do?" "My best to intimidate Ziggy into giving us the information we need." She settled back into his arms. "Well, that sounds productive. I think I'll go bang my head against a brick wall." He sighed deeply. "Wanna trade?" She laughed lightly. "What are you gonna do?" "I dunno, I guess I'll see if Verbena needs any help with the visitor." "You know what?" he said. "It's so rare when I don't have to be someplace right away." "I know." "It seems such a shame to waste this time." "You say that now, but you know Ziggy's just itching for the 'perfect' time to call." He half-shrugged. "All the more reason. Maybe it'll finally produce results." "Al!" He cut off her laughter with a kiss. "Admiral?" Beth's laughter turned to hysterical giggles as Al released her. "What?" Ziggy sounded satisfied. "We have your location. Both the bodies of Evelyn and Daniel Geller were found in Nant, North Carolina at the-" "Is Sam done fixing the car?" "I projected the automotive problem to be-" "Is he done?" Al interrupted, waving at Beth for her to stop laughing at him. "I predict he will finish within two to three hours." "Thank you. Please call me then." He threw Beth a mock serious gaze which she barely caught in the lighting. Then, he made an imaginary mark on an invisible chalkboard with his index finger. "Score one point for me." "How many points to do I get?" Beth asked, eyeing him warily. "I'll let you know..."