Al reappeared as Sam entered the hospital elevator. By this time, the uniform he wore on the rare occasions when he was in a serious mood had given way to a delightfully colorful outfit, one that Sam didn’t recognize. He was wearing a metallic-gold shirt with a purple pinstripe coat and matching pants, a metallic-gold and black leopard-print vest, a bolo tie with a purple stone set in it around his neck, silver shoes, a silver belt and a large gold pin in the shape of a question mark on the lapel of his coat.
“New outfit?” Sam asked.
“Well, maybe to you I guess. Beth got it for me for my birthday. The crazy thing is, she managed to find it in miniature too, for Samantha.” He grinned.
“I’m surprised Beth lets you get away with that kind of wardrobe, let alone supporting you in it,” the Leaper replied with a smile.
“Let alone encouraging the younger generation to inherit my bad habit, huh?” Al’s eyes twinkled, the old mischief and merriment back in full force, much to Sam’s relief. Al stuck another cigar in his mouth and inhaled deeply.
“Al, if you have kids now, you really should stop smoking. Second hand smoke–“
“Sam, you know better than to act like a doctor with me!” the hologram warned. “I tell Beth the same thing when she starts playing Nurse…”
Sam raised an eyebrow incredulously.
“Well, that kind of nurse,” Al relented with a lecherous grin.
The physicist laughed. “Who are you trying to fool, Al? You haven’t changed a bit!”
“OK, I confess. Let’s just say I’ve…narrowed my focus.”
“But what I was saying–“
“I know, Sam. I know about second hand smoke. D’you really think I would smoke around my girls? Besides.” He waved the cigar at his friend. “This thing ain’t even lighted.”
“Then why are you carrying it around?”
Al shrugged. “I was afraid you wouldn’t recognize me without it.”
The elevator stopped at the lobby and Sam got out. Al stepped out right behind him, but not before two young nurses had walked right through the hologram.
“Geez, I hate it when they do that!” the Observer complained. “It’s worse than having someone walk *past* you without noticing.”
“You were saying something about narrowed focus, Al?” Sam commented wryly.
“Yeah, but I’m not forbidden to scan the periphery. There’s a big difference between scanning and focus, y’know.”
Sam strode calmly over to a pay phone and picked up the reciever. “No comment.”
“You may not believe this, but Beth’s as big a flirt as I am.”
The Leaper regarded his friend skeptically.
“I’m serious!” Al insisted. “She didn’t use to be, I admit, but she finally decided to fight fire with fire, and found out she enjoyed it. Neither of us have ever been unfaithful though.”
For some reason, Sam felt a twinge of guilt at that statement. He leaned against the phone booth, puzzled. He wasn’t even married, let alone unfaithful…was he?
“I think I’ve figured out why I’m here, Al,” he said abruptly, changing the subject to pull his mind away from the uncomfortable uncertainties.
“What do you mean? I already told you what you’re here for.”
“I think I’m here to get Ferne Marshall and Jack Kemp together.”
Al looked startled. “Where did you get that idea, all of a sudden?”
“From talking to her. I don’t know…it just seems…right.”
“Now, hold it, Sam! Just because you may be falling for her doesn’t mean she’s supposed to end up with this guy! Ferne Marshall is *engaged* to a Mr. Allan Gardener…of the Chicago Gardeners…!”
“So? I think she and Jack Kemp were meant to be together but never met because he was too shy to go visit her in the hospital.”
Al shook his head. “You are an incurable romantic, just like…” Suddenly, he caught himself and quickly shut up.
“Just like who?”
“Uh, who…yeah. Um…Ziggy! Just like Ziggy. Not surprising, since you built–“
“Al.” There was no response. “You’re not talking about Ziggy. Who is it?”
“I can’t tell you, Sam.”
“Hey, it’s your rule!”
Sam glared at him, but Al wouldn’t budge and there was no way he could force him to.
“What makes you think I’ve fallen for her anyway?”
Al shrugged again, smiling to himself. “I know your type.”
“Since when are red-haired movie stars my type?”
“I don’t know, but I’m sure there are a few looking for Nobel prize winners out there. Besides, I wasn’t talking about that. I meant her personality.”
Sam’s face was thoughtful, and Al knew they were getting into dangerous waters.
“I meant what I said, though, Sam–about her fiance!”
“Should I recognize the name?”
“Well, let’s just say it was discovered in the eighties that the family business ain’t door-to-door sales.”
“They’re a family of professional assassins, Sam! I wouldn’t tangle with them!”
“Assassins…Al, that’s great!”
“Get Ziggy to look them up…see if she can find out if they had any connections to someone who might want to kill Ferne Marshall, and where Allan was the night of the assassination attempt.”
“Oh! I gotcha! That’s a good idea!”
“Well, make it fast. When does the second attempt take place?”
Al poked at the handlink. “Uh, oh. It’s tomorrow night!”
“She gets discharged from the hospital tonight, day after tomorrow her maid finds her body when she comes to work in the morning. There’s no fingerprints…nothing. No one is ever caught.”
“Except Jack Kemp gets charged with being an accomplice.”
“That’s about the size of it.”