As far as Al Calavicci was concerned, this leap was as good as over. He had stabilized the weird power surges in the handlink, upgraded Ziggy's search engine and memory, and tracked down the winning lottery numbers. All he had to do now was step through the Imagining Chamber door and give Sam the good news.
He was surprised to find himself surrounded by the outdoors. A tire swing was rhythmically bisecting him as it was buffeted by the wintery night air. He peered around as his eyes adjusted to the sudden darkness. There was movement about six feet in front of him, and he realized it must be Sam.
"What the hell are you doing?" he demanded, knowing that, on the off chance it wasn't Sam, no one else would hear him anyway.
"What does it look like I'm doing?" Sam hissed, barely looking up from his task.
"Well, it looks like you're digging through garbage," Al said, moving closer.
The moonlight was bright enough after all. Al could see that Sam, bundled in a scarf, coat, and mittens, was rooting through a metal trash can. Sam made a small sound of disgust as he flung what looked like coffee grounds and egg shells off his hand.
"What are you looking for?" Al asked quizzically. Then, momentarily distracted by Sam's lumpy knit cap, asked, "Are those curlers?"
"Yes, they're curlers," Sam snapped. "I'm a woman, remember? Women in the early Seventies still slept in curlers."
"Okay, okay," Al said in a placating tone, but couldn't resist adding, "don't get your panties in a bunch."
"My panties are just fine, thank you" Sam answered distractedly as he pitched a cereal box over his shoulder. "My curlers and panties are just fine."
"Then answer my other question: What are you looking for? I have the lottery numbers you need. Don't tell me you went and bought tickets without me, hit it big, and threw them away out of guilt. That would be just like you."
"No." Sam stood up straight and looked Al in the eye. "But I thought it over, and I don't want the winning numbers. It was a bad idea. And I never should've agreed to it. I don't know what we were thinking."
"What?" Al asked in mock indignation. "It was a great idea! This is just what they need to improve their situation. And it's not like Ziggy was coming up with anything else."
"It's cheating, Al," Sam said, bending into the can once again, "and you know it."
Sam cut him off, "Besides, what about the real winner of the Triple Crown Sweepstakes? We didn't stop to think about that."
"Well, Ziggy was having those glitchy spells." Al reminded Sam.
"So, what does Ziggy say now?" Sam asked. "Is his 'glitchy spell' over?"
"Yes. But he's still not coming up with anything useful— except for the lottery numbers. Come on, Sam. The original guy went through the money in less than a month."
Sam shrugged and went back to rifling through rubbish. "A lot of winners do that. That's his prerogative. A purchase he made could've saved a small business, or even a town."
"Who's to say this guy wouldn't make the same purchase? They live within ten miles of one another. Look, just take the numbers… Forty-two. Ten. Seven. Fifty-six."
"No," Sam said stubbornly, pawing through and then discarding what looked like a collection of newspapers and catalogs.
Al sighed. He looked down at the paper in his hand, wishing he could cram it into the baby blue bathrobe peaking out from beneath Sam's coat. "You still haven't answered my question."
"You know what I'm looking for," Sam mumbled.
"Oh, that!" Al crowed. "He'd have better luck with the lottery on his own. At least there's no in-your-face rejection."
Sam ignored him.
"Come on, Sam, even he thinks its crapola. Now, be reasonable and listen: Forty-two. Ten. Seven. Fifty-six…"
"My memory isn't what it used to be, Al. Even if I wrote those numbers down to humor you, it's not like you can twist my arm to buy a ticket."
Al frowned and shoved the paper into his own jacket pocket. He made some entries into the handlink. "Sam, that thing isn't going change their lives one bit— even if it sells."
"You don't know that." Sam insisted.
"He's still going to have…" Al gestured at the bottles Sam was setting down on the ground, "a bit of a drinking problem."
Sam ignored him, digging out a couple of milk cartons and tossing them over his shoulder. He stood upright for a moment and shivered, pulling the robe and coat tighter around him. With a frustrated sigh, he set the trash can aside and moved on to its mate.
Al watched Sam bend, doggedly returning to his task. He moved closer to his friend, whom he could never touch, neither to warm nor reassure him. He spoke more quietly, more kindly as he pointed out, "He still gets struck by a van and killed on June 19, 1999, Sam."
"Maybe this will be just enough to change that! Maybe, if we put him on the road to success... and recovery... maybe..." Sam balled up his fists inside his mittens and kicked the trash can as hard as he could with his fuzzy, black slipper, knocking it over and spilling its contents onto the lawn. "Damn it!"
"Shhh…" Al admonished him gently. "I think a light came on in the house."
They both froze. Sam motioned for Al to walk around the perimeter of the house to make sure no one had been roused. Al nodded, took a couple of steps through the trash, and then stopped.
"Would you keep your voice down," Sam whispered fiercely.
"No one can hear me," Al reminded him. "Look! I think this is it."
He pointed down at his feet where, shining in the moonlight, was a thick stack of white papers bound by at least half a dozen rubber bands.
"That's it!" Sam quickly shuffled over to his side and snatched up the parcel. "You'll see, Al. This'll turn their fortunes around more than any lottery."
Al shook his head, but smiled, watching Sam almost lovingly brush the potato chip crumbs and orange rinds off the manuscript.
"What was this modern American classic titled again?" he asked.
"Carrie." Sam grinned as the blue light engulfed him.