Fade to Black
Part 20

All disclaimers and notes may be found in the introduction.

The smoke is billowing out from the left maintenance tunnel, and I glance
around nervously. Sam headed back towards the entrance to get an evidence
camera, and the bomb squad spread out, trying to figure out where a bomb
could do the most damage. I don't think that's the kind of bomb we're
looking for though. Unless he's got something nuclear planted down here,
he's not going to kill the President with a bomb in the subway. No, he
wants to play a game - a game with pretty damn high stakes, but a game

With one hand on the wall, hoping to avoid walking into things through
the smoke, I head a bit deeper into the tunnel. It's like some sort of
smoke bomb, and it's too thick to be from some homeless resident of the
tunnel. I'm guessing it's army issue, although one of those guys back
there would probably know. If he stayed down here to plant a smoke bomb
and light it, then he's probably still back here. I haven't seen any
other ways to get out of this passage other than the way I'm going. Okay,
that is not a comforting thought. Not one bit.

I'm also not comforted by the soft rustling noises which I'm going to
assume are rats. If they're snakes, I'm changing careers. I cannot handle
snakes. That part of the Indiana Jones movie with the snakes - Sam had to
hold me down to keep me from jumping up off the couch and hiding in the
bedroom. Having said that, I'm not too wild about the idea of rats
either. I lose my train of thought completely when I hear a metallic
scraping sound somewhere in front of me. Through the blackness and the
smoke I can't see where it's coming from, but I reach for where my gun
ought to be, and my palm closes around it. Once again, we're going to go
with the assumption that no one else knows I probably can't fire it.

The lights, the ones I don't think should be there, are dancing around
towards the ceiling, and I'm definitely having second thoughts about
being here. Here, meaning in this tunnel, in the city, in this country,
or on this planet - take your pick. I'm almost directly under the lights
now, and the smoke has cleared of significantly. Probably because it's
all out in the main tunnel by now, and I strain to hear the sound of the
rest of the guys following me. Nothing.

I can see the area clearly now. The burnt remains of a very large smoke
bomb lay in front of my feet, and by the size and color, I'm going to go
with the assumption of an army issue smoke bomb. There are Chinese
lanterns burning as they dangle from the ceiling, and I know those
shouldn't be there. More troubling is the small display below them. A
chess board, a wooden chess board, has been laid out with all the pieces.
One piece is missing though. The black knight. I bend down to examine the
set, and I realize the piece from the back of the taxi - it matches the
set perfectly. That thumping sound, like an old radiator firing up, it's
that same metallic noise I heard earlier, and I glance around for it's
source before realizing what truly scares me. This tunnel - this is a
dead end. He was here, he had to have been. So how did he get out?

I can hear my name now, being yelled around the tunnel, and I know
they're headed this way now. I walk the closed end of the tunnel with the
sinking feeling that I'm missing something. Shaking my head, I move back
to the chessboard and stare for a moment at the light and dark wood
patched together to form the grid. Yeah, the black knight from the cab -
it would match perfectly. Sam comes into view a second later, and I
realize he would have been the closest. Five or six others enter the
lighted alcove a moment later, and they glance around uncomfortably.

I grab the evidence camera from Sam's hands, and he looks down like he'd
forgotten he was carrying it. I shoot a few pictures from a couple
angles, and then I dig a couple of tissues out of my pocket. My stomach
is in my throat, because this scene, it's too simple for Mr. Chess-Man,
and the only place he might have hid something is under the board. Using
the tissues to pick up the board, I set it to the side and try
controlling my breathing, because that image is just staring up at me.
Maybe I shouldn't think of him as Mr. Chess-Man, maybe I should think of
him as the Photojournalist, because this guy, he's got a thing for


"There's a wiring duct. If you weren't looking for it, you would have
missed it." Okay, this is actually rather annoying. You're telling me
that there's a metal tunnel sunk into the wall, and it's easy to miss?
That I don't believe. I dropped the ball on that one - big time. Josh is
running around like a chicken with his head cut off..... wow.... I've
been hanging around Sam too much for odd lines like that to pop
out....... and he and Sam are playing detective. Hell, we're all playing
detective and we're not doing a great job. George sent someone to my
house, to check and see if my photo album's still in the attic, but I
think I already know the answer to that one. At least that explains one
of those annoying little details I've been missing out on.

"You were lucky down there, kid." One of the guys from the Bureau pats my
shoulder as he walks past, and I barely have time to think about how
condescending that "kid" line sounded when I start to feel a little
funny. Okay, more than a little funny. I turn around looking for Sam in
the crowd, but the edges of everything are starting to blur into the
background. "Sam." I wanted to shout, but it sounds like a whisper to my
ears. I can't focus, I can't pick him out of the crowd. This isn't..... I
shouldn't feel like this. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I know I
shouldn't feel like this, but I can't get a handle on those thoughts.
Sam, please, Sam, I need you. I don't know what's wrong, but I know I
need you.

Someone's calling my name, and it sounds like..... I don't know, I can't
place it right now. Sam's here now, and he's calling my name, but I can't
make myself answer him. His arms close around my waist, and I don't know
what's going on. I'm leaning into him, and trying to unscramble my brain.
I can't though, I just can't get a grip on what's happening, and Sam's
eyes, they look worried now. He's talking to me, but I can't hear what
he's saying. I can see his lips moving, but I can't hear what he's
saying. My knees buckle, and his arms close around me reflexively. I
don't know what's happening. I don't know what's wrong with me.

He's trying to steady me, but I know that's not going to work. My knees
won't lock in place, and it's all...... it's so fuzzy. I close my eyes,
trying to block out the sunlight that seems to be getting brighter by the
moment. His shirt feels soft and scratchy when I lean in to him,
and........ he's picking me up. I can feel his arms beneath my knees and
my shoulders, but I just, I can't...... it's all so fuzzy. He's trying to
talk to me, I can feel his breath against my cheek, but I can't make
sense of the sounds I hear over the pounding in my ears.

I'm scared, Sam. I'm really scared. I can feel other hands now, trying to
lift me out of Sam's arms, but I don't want to go. Sam, don't let me go.
I struggle to open my eyes and see who the other hands belong to, but
it's hard. It's really hard. It seems to take forever, but when I open
them, the light doesn't seem so bright any more. Everything's blurry
still, but Dad and Josh - they're pretty easy to pick out. Both of them
have their arms around me, but Josh isn't trying to lift me away, Dad is.
Josh is trying to help Sam. Thank you, Joshua. There's some lights
blinking, and I just can't see what....... It's an ambulance. It must be.

I can't keep my eyes open any longer, and I let them close again. It's
colder than it should be. It's never cold in August. I try to snuggle
closer to Sam, but I can't get warm, and I can't keep my eyes open, and I
don't know why. I don't know why. I just...... it doesn't hurt. It
doesn't hurt, so nothing's wrong. I can't be hurt and I can't be sick
because I'm not in any pain. Sam's letting go of me now, and this......
I want to go home, Sam.



Fade to Black - 21



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