“What the hell are those two doing? You told me in the original history Ferne was killed a week from today. Now you say it’s tomorrow!”
“Dr. Elise has just ended the relationship between Ferne Marshall and Allan Gardener,” the computer replied with smug satisfaction.
“Would you stay engaged to someone who admitted he only wanted to marry you for your money?”
“Is that what happened?”
“Yes, Admiral. Surely Dr. Beckett would have done the same thing in such a position.”
“Well, that would be nice if her wish to save Ferne Marshall from a loveless marriage hadn’t increased her chances of getting killed!”
“The probability of Dr. Elise being killed has not increased any. Only the date has changed.”
“Well it’s changed to a *sooner* date, and in my opinion, that raises the probability!”
Behind him, the Imaging Chamber door hissed open. With a sigh, Al turned to face his wife. “How’s she doing?”
“About as well as can be expected. A little upset.”
“Yeah, finding out I might die tomorrow would get me a little upset too. Didn’t it occur to her that changing history could have some negative consequences too?”
“Al, that’s not fair.”
Al sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. His bleak mood contrasted sharply with his outfit, which was the same one he had met with Sam in. “I’m sorry, Beth. This is just really getting to me.”
Beth smiled gently at her husband and placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Tonight, if everything’s going well, do you want to…take a break?”
With one eyebrow raised, Al put his arms around his wife’s waist. “My kind of break?”
Beth kissed him. “Of course,” she whispered.
Al smiled. “I think I can handle that!”
“Would you like me to leave the room?” Ziggy commented, amused.
The Calaviccis both grinned. “Nice try, Ziggy. But I think *we’ll* do the leaving…later.”
Ziggy sighed with what sounded like disappointment. “Very well, Admiral.”
“I’m going to tell her, Al.” Beth’s unexpected comment brought Al back to the present.
“Tell who what?” he asked warily.
“I’m going to tell Donna about Sam. I have to.”
“You haven’t seen her, Al! It’s killing her that she can’t remember the most important person in her life, especially since all she *can* remember is how important he is!”
“Beth, I would have told you this before you guys pulled this crazy stunt, if you had bothered to ask me. After this Leap, chances are they’ll be separated again. Don’t you think it will be a lot harder on both of them to be separated after finally finding each other than to just go on not knowing?”
“So we just let them pass each other like a couple of ships in the night?”
“But what if they touch? What if they find out on their own?”
Al looked deeply into his wife’s eyes, where he saw his own concern for their friends mirrored. He sighed deeply with the world-weariness of a man who has been forced to watch helplessly from the sidelines as his best friend faced danger and heartache one too many times.
“Then I will consider that a sign from God, Time, Fate or WHOEVER…that he’s finally ready to let Sam come home.”
Upon Donna and Beth’s arrival at Ferne’s house, the housekeeper’s four-year-old daughter had demanded to know who the two new ladies were, much to her mother’s surprise and confusion. Beth had quickly told the little girl that she was Ferne’s guardian angel, so none of the grown-ups could see her, and that ‘Ferne’ had changed her appearance to be save from the bad man, which is why everyone else pretended she looked the same. Donna envied Beth’s blissful anonymity of being invisible to almost everyone. One little girl was much easier to handle than the myriad of other people waiting to greet Ferne Marshall at her home. After several hours, she finally managed to disentangle herself from the mob of reporters, bodyguards, servants and fans trying to claim her attention, and slipped away to Ferne’s bedroom to talk with Beth, who had been watching the scene with detatched amusement.
“What’s the latest scoop?” she asked, sitting on the edge of the bed.
“Well, according to Ziggy, Ferne still gets killed tomorrow night. She says there’s an eighty-one percent chance that Allan is the assassin, which is why your breaking up with him seems to have speeded things up.”
Donna sighed. “Great. Why couldn’t she have told me that before I did it?”
Beth smiled ironically. “Because she didn’t know it was him until you changed history.”
“Well, that does me a lot of good.”
“Because you’ll be better prepared than Ferne was.”
Donna fell back on the bed with a little sigh. “Even if I’m prepared, can I do anything to defend myself?”
“You have a black belt in Tae Kwan Do.”
The Leaper sat up again, startled. “I do?”
The Observer smiled. “Trust me, Donna. We don’t have damsels in distress in this business. If you couldn’t take care of yourself, you wouldn’t be here.”
Donna pondered for a moment. “There’s something I just don’t understand. First of all, why would Gardener have tried to kill Ferne at the premiere, when she had no intention of breaking up with him, and why would the fact that I did end their relationship cause him to try again sooner?”
“Crime of Passion?” Beth suggested.
“Or…” Donna’s mind reviewed what she could remember of her conversation with Gardener in the hospital. “What if he intended to kill her from the beginning…?” She snapped her fingers. “Beth, tell Ziggy to find Ferne’s will. Who inherits her fortune if she dies?”
Beth obligingly poked at the handlink.
“You see,” Donna explained. “Gardener said he had made an agreement with Ferne. If she would give him access to her money, he would get her out of the spotlight. What if he persuaded her to write him into his will…”
Understanding dawned on Beth’s face. “Then if she died, he would inherit everything. And the fact that you broke up with him meant he had to kill you before you could change the will and cut him out.”
The Observer quickly read the small screen of the handlink. “You’re right. Allan Gardener inherited everything. Two years later he married and moved to Acapulco with his wife. They haven’t been heard from since. Ferne hanged the will a couple of days before the first assassination attempt.”
“And he’s even keeping up his end of the bargain,” Donna commented wryly. “What better way to escape the pressures of fame than to die?”