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This morning in the Francisco's kitchen was quieter than usual. Susan walked over and joined Emily at the kitchen island.
"Have you seen your father this morning, Em?" she inquired of her daughter.
"Nope. Sounded to me like you guys were arguing last night."
"It was nothing serious. But it's not like him to leave in the morning without telling me."
Just then, George entered vigorously from the outside, dressed in a jogging suit, immediately leaping into a few deep knee bends and other warm down exercises. Emily and Susan looked at each other, confused.
"Good morning." Said George in his cheeriest voice.
"Jogging, George?" asked the puzzled Susan.
"Just a few laps around the track with the other kids, I left them in dust."
"I thought you were getting ready for work, have you lost track of time?"
George opened the refrigerator and, after searching, pulled out a jar. "There is plenty of time, Suse. I thought that this morning, I would whip up some breakfast and we could all sit down as family and..."
Susan interrupted him, "I'm sorry, George, but I have an early conference this morning."
George, a little taken aback, turned to his eldest daughter. "Well okay, just you and me, Em."
Emily gave a little half smile, "I don't think so. I was up half the night eating, since I wasn't allowed to go to bed."
"But you used to love it when I made breakfast."
"When I was a kid, Dad - I have a life now."
George was becoming dejected. "I suppose Buck's run off for the day as well."
Emily nodded, "Said he was going to school."
George didn't try too hard at not letting his disappoint show, "No one wants to eat with the old man, huh? There was a time around here when we ate breakfast together, talked and acted like a family."
"We're still a family, sometimes its just - different." counselled Susan.
"Fine. Fine. Then I'll just make breakfast for myself.", said George, starting to get into a childish huff. He looked closer at the jar that he held in his hand. "Suse, you know I like MARINATED arteries, better."
George strained to open the jar.
"I wanted something new for a change." Susan replied mildly.
Emily shot her mother a look. "What's with Dad, did he get into the sour milk last night - he seems pretty well hung this morning."
"The term is HUNG-OVER and no, I'm not. It's also very impolite to talk about someone while they're standing in the room - like I'm some kind of doddering old geyser who can't understand a word you're saying." George tersely corrected her.
Emily shared another look with Susan. She shrugged her shoulders, knowing she could not win. "I have to go."
This had not helped George's childish mood. "Fine, if you can't stand the meat then get out of the kitchen."
Emily grabbed her books, rolled her eyes and exited. George finally let out a frustrated grunt giving the jar lid all of his strength - it still wouldn't open.
"Celine!" He exclaimed, irked at the universe in general and the jar in particular. He angrily shoved the jar away. Susan grabbed the jar and opened it without a second thought.
George looked down at the open jar. "Well I loosened it."
Susan was becoming exasperated with her husband. "What's wrong with you?"
"Who knows? Maybe nothing, maybe something - maybe it's just that my 'hummer's askew.'"
Susan looked at him, her attitude softening. "George, if this is about last night..."
But George wouldn't let her finish, "Forget it, it's not important.", he left the kitchen, leaving Susan to wonder.
The morning sun was bright enough to make Sikes squint as he pulled up, alone in his car. The warehouse district had always been grimy, but the burnt out shell of the Ford added to the scene of abandonment. He got out of his car and walked over to join Bert, Lois and other departmental personnel at work behind the car's remains.
Sikes looked over to the car and with a thin smile said, "Little early for a Bar B Que, isn't it Lois?"
Lois indicated across the street, "If you ask me it's a little early for a sock hop."
Sikes looked over to where she was indicating and could barely believe his eyes. A jaunty George, wearing saddle oxfords, a polo sportshirt and a college letter sweater was flirtatiously questioning an attractive younger Newcomer women. Sikes crossed over to join George and pulled him aside. Sikes did not even attempt to keep the incredulity from his voice, "What are you doing?"
George, not understanding, said "Matthew, good morning. I got in early and caught a ride with Bert." He then winked to Sikes, "I'll be finishing my questioning of this witness now, detective."
Sikes shrugged, shot George a funny look and rejoined Lois and Bert.
Sikes looked as the remains of a badly charred body were bagged. "Who's the crispy critter?"
"Your buddy Walker." replayed Lois.
Sikes look at the charred remains of the body and winced. "Silly me, I shoulda recognised him."
Bert handed him a semi-charred wallet, and a bag with some singed twenties. "Found this on the body, smells so bad it would hairlip a dog - interesting though."
Sikes checked out the charred I.D. bracelet. "Walker's I.D. - what's left of it." He turned to Lois, "Need I ask cause of death?"
"I'll run the usual tests to be certain."
Sikes took the singed twenties. Bert nodded to confirm Sikes' unspoken question, "Part of the stash from the film vault. Serial numbers all match."
"Looks like Walker's buddy got greedy, took all the cash and left his partner to take the heat." responded Sikes.
Bert noticed the jaunty George finishing up with the girl.
Bert indicated to George, "Looks like your big man on campus got him a hot one too."
Sikes rolled his eyes again in disbelief at George's appearance. Eventually George rejoined his partner and they walked over to Sikes' car. Sikes got behind the wheel. George waved to the Newcomer girl he had been questioning as they pull away from the curb. Sikes shook his head.
George looked over at Sikes, "There's no reason I can't drive."
"The doc said you can't operate heavy machinery."
"This is a car, not a tractor."
Sikes ignored this and got down to business. "The witness see anything?"
"An attractive, energetic man." replied George, with a grin.
George's grin widened, "No. Me."
"Must be the clothes."
George looked down at his outfit, "Natty, aren't they? Rochele liked them."
"Yeah well, they're different. I'm missing something here. Last night you're Grumpy, but today you're acting like Happy and dressing like Dopey."
"I simply decided that there's no reason to walk around like an old stuffed flirt."
"SHIRT, George." Sikes corrected him. "Look, I know you're going through this menopause Gahsac thing but you're acting kinda stupid. This have anything to do with those two stages?"
"This has nothing to do with Gahsac or stages. The doctor was wrong Matthew, I'm as young as I ever was. Besides, Rochele didn't think I was acting stupid." George's grin returned, "Tell me, is she the kind of girl one would take to a drive-in?"
"George, she's half your age."
"Are you saying I'm old?" George asked, becoming defensive
"I'm saying you can run, but you can't hide. You're embarrassing yourself."
"Matthew, I appreciate your concern, but I want you to know, I am completely in control."
George relaxed back into the car's seat and stared through the wind shield. As he looked down the deserted two lane road they were on, away in the distance, a semi truck appeared - heading in the opposite direction they were, but in their lane. George swallowed, squinting, a sudden look of pain beginning to erase his previous good mood. Sikes, concentrating on driving, did not notice the change coming over George.
George gripped his seat. With growing panic, he looked over at Sikes for his reaction, but Sikes continued driving oblivious to all of this.
George looked back through the wind shield to see the truck barrelling down upon them. He rubbed his eye's, fighting the rising panic he felt. "Matthew, the truck!"
"What truck?" Matt asked in mild surprise. "The road's deserted. You okay, George?"
"Turn, Matthew, turn!" George said with growing fear.
George stared in horror. The truck was about to plough into them. In a flash, George grabbed hold of the steering wheel and jerked it sharply to the left.
"What the hell are you doing!", asked the shocked Sikes.
He wrestled for control of the steering wheel, trying to pull it back over to the right, but George's grip was intense. As they fought for control of the car it fishtailed, going into a 360 degree spin, smoke billowing from the burning tires, the noise of the screeching rubber deafening, until the car ended up smashing backward into a large billboard.
A shaken up George rubbed his head and Sikes groggily gathered his wits, a swelling knot forming on his head. He looked at George, pissed "What the hell's wrong with you!?"
"There was a truck, didn't you see it?"
"You almost got me killed!"
"I'm, I'm sorry, Matthew." replied the shaken George, starting to realise he was wrong.
"I know you're sorry, but when Grazer wants to know what happened out here, sorry just won't cut it."
George, dazed, not really all there, didn't respond.
"What am I supposed to tell him? 'No Captain, it wasn't the car that cracked up, it was George who cracked up playing chicken with a phantom semi.'"
George remained silent. Sikes, tired of this, tried to shake him out of it. "Damn it, George, I'm your partner, talk to me!"
With this George ripped off his letter sweater and tossed it away in anger.
"I don't know.", an edge of despair entering his voice, "I'm dressed like a fool and flirting with a child."
Sikes was still too shaken to be comforting. "Get a hold of yourself!"
"It is none of your concern." George then shouldered his door open and began climbing out.
Standing by the car he looked over at the smashed billboard. The well known picture was all but gone, but the large caption still remained. "Drink Longyear - Long life milk!"
George shook his head in disgust. "Ugh, I never could stand that Longyear stuff" he muttered to himself.
"Where you going?" asked the still angry Sikes.
George defiantly took off his saddle shoes and Argyll socks and tossed them away. Even being bare foot didn't help to ease the growing tension that he was feeling.
"My life - everything is - CHANGING."
"Well, you're not doing mine much good either, George."
"It's all - something's happening and I'm, I'm confused, scared - we have to - it's time..."
"For your Gahsac? C'mon George, George!"
Sikes tried to open the driver's door, but it was jammed shut. George turned and ran off, trying to flee his own personal demons. Sikes desperately smashed his window and climbed out, calling after him.
"Damn it George! Come back here! Don't run away from it!"
"Just leave me alone!" Was all George called back, over his shoulder.
Sikes was too bruised and confused to follow, he merely slammed his hand on the driver door and picked up the car radio.
Buck stood on the steps of the Elders hall, carrying a book-bag, The door slowly opened and Balbalbut looked out.
"You are late." He said without reproach.
"My parents made me go to school - human school."
"What did you learn?" The elder inquired.
"Nothing - just some stuff about a human named Custer. He was stupid, got all his men killed fighting a bunch of Native Americans." Replied the disgusted Buck.
"This Custer, he sounds interesting." The elders voice remain quite and mild.
"C'mon, his men never had a chance and he knew it." Buck was starting to become annoyed. This was not why he had come here.
"They just don't teach you anything at their school." Complained Buck.
"Maybe, but what did you learn?" asked Balbalbut.
"Learn?" Buck was confused.
"Nothing - He was just a human who let his pride be his ruin."
Balbalbut nodded to himself. "Perhaps - there is something to learn from these humans." He then closed the door and went back inside, leaving Buck to ponder these words.
Sikes entered the station purposefully, his clothes dishevelled, the knot on his head still very present. He moved to his desk, joining Zepeda. Zepeda looked at him, "Sikes, you all right?"
Sikes nodded, "You seen George?"
"He came in and picked up Vessna and left just as quick. He was acting spaced or something. Running into desks, mumbling, and he wasn't wearing any shoes."
"Did he say where he was goin'?"
Zepeda shrugged, "He was a silent movie." She changed the subject, "FYI, Grazer's been asking for your target reports for the new hand gun."
"I got his report and he can shove it and his new gun!"
Sikes tossed the new gun into his draw and picked his old one. Looking across the room Albert spotted Sikes and joined him.
"Detective Sikes, I'm concerned about George. He wasn't making much sense and he said something about his hallucination?"
"Yeah, a sixteen wheeler."
"Visions like that are a sign that he is approaching primary Gahsac. It may only be a matter of hours now." Stated the concerned Binnum.
"Albert, what's going to happen to George?"
Albert was down cast, "I wish I had more answers for you, Detective."
But Sikes' wheels were already turning. He was going to get the answers he needed one way or another.
Doctor Tari had been surprisingly ease to get to see, once Sikes had made it clear that he wouldn't take no for an answer. Once he had sat down, Sikes came straight to the point, "I'm here about..."
"Your friend George." The doctor finished for him.
"For many, the Gahsac is frightening. It's a point in one's life where he realises there's no going back - and what's ahead is still cloudy." Doc Tari picked up George's chart, "I would say tonight is George's night."
"For primary Gahsac?"
"Very good." said the Newcomer doctor, approving of this humans knowledge.
"Doc, is George gonna be George when this is all over?" Sikes asked, letting his biggest concern show through.
"He will look and feel the same. He will change somewhat innerly. But I don't want to lie to you. The actual Gahsac change will bring on temporary loss of vision and weakness, pain and - other side effects in George."
"But is he going to be all right?" Sikes pushed for an answer.
Doc Tari's face showed his concern, "There're usually no problems - but at George's early age, the Gahsac could be traumatic. Very traumatic."
If anything Sikes' was now more concerned than ever.
Gahsac Part 4