A Game of the Mind
“Chess is the gymnasium of the mind.” ~ Blaise
In “Ceremony of Innocence,” Jacob goes to see
Paracelsus, having been all but summoned to do so. Father goes, knowing he is
walking into a trap, yet also knowing he has no real choice; that he has to
try and save Vincent from the forces that are overwhelming him. This is what
might have happened, on that fateful walk Above.
“Your ah… your black rook has fallen over. It will be difficult to start the game, I should think.”
Daniel looked up into the midmorning sun, to see a man just about his age. A white man, with salt and pepper hair, and a touch of an accent. He had a beard, and a walking stick, to go with his limp, and though it was decently clean, his grey suit looked decades old.
But he wasn’t sitting down next to a cart with everything he owned in the world in it. So at least there was that, Daniel mused, wondering if the other man was about to ask him if he’d accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior, or something else along those lines.
Sometimes that crowd hit the park early. Sometimes. And they often wore their nice clothes to do that in, even if the clothes (or the people in them) were old. But they often worked in pairs, or carried a Bible, or wore a cross, or some other religious symbol. Daniel’s quick glance revealed none of that.
Also, some of them were far more likely to ask for a donation as give one, and Daniel knew he didn’t look like the tithing type, right now.
The black man shifted his backside on the old cushion he used for a seat. Brickwork was hard. Life was harder. That was just the way it was on both counts, he figured.
He addressed the stranger’s comment. “Board got wet. Warped up. So it’s got a curl to the edge,” Daniel replied, glancing over at his chessboard.
Early morning park traffic went by them. Occasional couples walked hand in hand. A pair of Hispanic youths bounced by, chattering in excited Spanish, and sharing a bag of churros. A woman pushing a stroller rattled past.
It would be a decent day, if the weather held.
Or at least it would be, for one of them.
Daniel knew that if he put the rook back up, it would just fall over again. He let it lay. Sooner or later, all our castles fall down, he thought.
No, he didn’t see a cross around the man’s neck, or a bible in his hand, or a set of pamphlets telling him the address of a new church, or a soup kitchen, or anything like that. He thought the older white man would move on. Not many people stopped to talk to him, and of those who did, almost none stayed for longer than a stray comment or two.
“It must be very frustrating to try and have a match,” the old man replied. There was sympathy in his tone, and it made Daniel look up again. Even though the white man was looking down, he seemed to be blinking against the bright sun, as if it was a thing he didn’t see, regularly.
“My name is Fa-Jacob,” he added.
Daniel caught the slip, and wondered if “Jacob” was indeed this man’s real name. Not that he could think of many names that started with “Fa” other than “Father.” And that wasn’t a name. That was a title. A title of respect. Mostly. Depending on who your father was. Daniel knew he hadn’t drawn aces in that category, one way or the other. So it was nothing to him.
“Daniel,” he replied, assessing the older man who now stood over him, casting a long, mid-morning shadow. “And nah. It ain’t… frustrating,” he said, using Jacob’s word. “Game’s already over.” He adjusted the bill of his ball cap over hair that had at least as much grey in it as Jacob’s did.
“White won,” Daniel added. “The white knight took the black king in thirty-one moves.”
Jacob took the comment in, and pondered the cheap plastic set of chessmen. They were light, and that made the problems with the board that much more pronounced.
Then, he thought of his own set, back home - and wondered if he would ever see it again.
Daniel turned away and watched a pair of twins lick the same ice cream cone, as their mother shepherded them down the walkway. He was a bit surprised to see that his unexpected companion hadn’t moved on, not yet.
“A fast game, then,” Jacob observed. “Most games go to forty.”
Daniel smiled at the other man’s knowledge of chess, and turned back to face him once more. Yes, they did.
“Not everything takes that long to win. Or to lose. Sometimes you win fast. Sometimes you lose fast,” he replied, referring to his own life, as much as he was the game.
You have no idea, Jacob thought, agreeing wholeheartedly.
“That… is very true,” he stated.
Both men were aware that they were still talking about chess. And not talking about it.
“Kind of like a war,” Daniel said. “World War Two? Less than four years. Korea? Three years. Vietnam? Hell, I think that thing was never gonna be over.”
Jacob nodded at the truth of that. “They say chess is war, on a board,” he said, wondering how effectively that war could be waged, when the board was severely curled at the edges.
Daniel said nothing to that, and looked back down, tired of craning his neck to look up at Jacob. Normally, the gesture would have been taken as one of polite dismissal. It was meant as such, though it was not meant unkindly.
Jacob, however, kept his eyes trained on the damaged board and its collection of plastic pieces. “You’re set up for another match, then?” he asked, feeling the weight of the gun in his pocket. He knew why he was standing there, stalling. Because he didn’t want to go and do - what he very much feared he was going to have to go and do.
Daniel shook his head. “I only play once a day. I don’t move the pieces anywhere. Anywhere but in my head. I just set ‘em up… well, just because. Because it helps me think. Helps me remember, for some reason.” He scrubbed his hands on the pant legs of his ragged blue trousers, as he said it, but didn’t look back up.
Jacob took in the words, and struggled for understanding. “You mean… you mean you played the game in your head, without moving the pieces? And you kept track of thirty-one moves?”
Daniel looked up again, checking for Jacob’s expression. Jacob’s eyebrow had risen, and Daniel noted that the other man’s eyes were blue, and that he was holding his left hand a bit protectively, over his coat pocket, while the right one held his walking stick.
Must be where his wallet, is, Daniel thought. But he looked again, and realized that wasn’t true. Not unless a wallet was heavy on one side, and had a subtle curve. He shrugged his new knowledge away, and stuck to answering Jacob’s comment.
“It ain’t hard, once you get used to playing that way,” Daniel replied. “Opening move is mostly a pawn, anyhow.”
The pedestrian traffic thinned, and Jacob continued to stare down at the board, realizing how difficult it would be to keep track of the pieces for that many moves, yet how impossible it would be to play on a warped board, if you couldn’t perform such a feat. Such mental gymnastics would be… impressive, to say the least; Grand Master style impressive, Jacob knew. The eyebrow rose further.
“You don’t b’lieve me.” Daniel stated. It was said with simple acceptance, as if it was a thing to which Daniel had grown accustomed, over the years. The bill of Daniel’s ball cap cast his face in shadow, but Jacob could tell the lines that ran from his nose to his mouth were deep, and tightening, slightly. And though the tone was accepting, his jaw was set, like a man with a stubborn streak. One who was annoyed, and struggling to hide it.
He’s probably used to being called a liar, Jacob surmised.
He realized that the look in his blue eyes must have given away his amazement, but didn’t want that to be taken for disbelief. “I would never insult you by calling you a l --”
“Queen’s Pawn out, pawn counters,” Daniel interrupted, showing the moves on the shoddy board. “Then knight’s out, bishop’s pawn, knight moves here, bishop advances three places …”
In so rapid a fashion as to barely be discernible, the black man showed the white one the game he’d played in his mind that morning. How he’d used the advancing white knight to corner the black bishop, while the fallen-over rook had been set upright just long enough to take the opposing rook, but had then been removed by a sweeping white bishop. The move had set up as a trap for the black queen, who was then lost to the white knight, having been boxed by a pawn she couldn’t take without being taken, and couldn’t leap over, thanks to the rules of the game.
Jacob could barely keep up, and he forgot to count the moves. This was more than just a “speed game.” It was one man showing the other a foregone conclusion. The game was already over, in Daniel’s mind. He was just showing Jacob how he’d gotten there.
“White queen sweeps the black bishop, black tries to counter and loses one, two pawns. Other knight tries to defend, but is taken by a rook…”
The damaged board was stable in the center, and in under a minute the game was half done, and the remaining pieces were all moving in one direction: toward the black end of the board.
In the end, the black king was devoid of his crucial queen, and most of his pawns. He was cornered by the relentless white knight, a white pawn, and the fact that he’d run out of a way to go backwards, anymore. Checkmate.
It was all over, in roughly two minutes.
Jacob wanted to squat down, and ask to see the incredible performance again. But he knew if he did, he’d have trouble getting back up again.
“That was… amazing,” he complimented, leaning over his walking stick as far as he dared. Though he knew he’d seen it happen, he could scarcely believe it. He realized the game would have gone even faster, had Daniel not been explaining, as he’d moved.
Daniel simply denied the praise. “Nah. I was thinking about the game all through breakfast. Didn’t take that long.”
Jacob didn’t ask what “breakfast” was, or where it had been eaten. The cart told him most of what he needed to know, on that score.
Again, Daniel caught the flicker of Jacob’s eyes, as they passed over the black chess player’s worldly possessions.
“Don’t say it. Don’t think it.” Daniel’s tone was cautionary.
“Don’t think… what?” Jacob asked, clearly confused.
“Don’t ask ‘You can do that, how come you sittin’ out here?’ The one’s got nothin’ to do with the other.”
Jacob shifted his free hand so that both of them were on top of his walking stick, as he straightened. “I wasn’t about to ask anything of the sort,” he declared. “I know many people who are… gifted, in some way, yet who choose to live… differently.” He said it very carefully.
Daniel laughed at the delicately chosen words, and to Jacob the laugh had a rarely used, almost creaking sound. When it subsided, Daniel said, “You polite, I give you that. You here to save my soul, or somethin’?”
It was said without heat, and Jacob knew that he was probably the last man on earth who could save another’s soul, considering how thoroughly he was damning his own, right now. The gun was heavy. Heavier than just the weight of the steel.
“I promise I’m not,” he replied, looking at the still-trapped king.
“You opened with ‘Queen’s Gambit,’” Jacob observed. “But then changed your moves. It was so fast I couldn’t be sure, but… was that the ‘Berlin Defense’ you were using?” he asked.
The odd laugh began anew, and a black hand waved, before the creaking sound subsided. “No idea. I was twenty-five years old before I stopped calling them castles and horses.” He gestured toward the black rook and his knight. “In my head, that’s what I still call it,” he added, setting up the pawns, so they’d give the board some stability.
Once that was done, he went about setting up the other pieces. As he completed the back row closest to him, the black rook, the castle, fell over again, as it was destined to do. The edge of the board was too warped for it not to.
Jacob knew that the level of skill he’d seen in the lightning-fast game had been quite remarkable. “Did you ever play… professionally?” Jacob asked, wondering at this odd man. “Or perhaps in school?”
The laugh began again, more of a chuckle this time, but it had a rueful tinge to it. “A black boy in a chess tournament? In the thirties and forties?” The chuckle subsided. “Man, you got no idea. I teached myself to play with myself ‘coz there wasn’t nobody else to play with. You think they got a chess team in a all-black school in South Carolina? Pshaw. Didn’t nobody teach me nothin’.” He set his finger on top of the tall white king, seeming to like the contact. It clearly brought back a memory.
“I seen two white men in the park, one summer. Had to keep movin’ so’s they wouldn’t ask what I was starin’ at. Kept walkin’ on by, weather hot as blazes and I couldn’t use the fountain. ‘Whites Only,’” he explained, lifting his hand so he could remove the ball cap and wipe his brow, then return it to his head, again. It was as if the memory of being hot had caused him to feel it. As the ball cap came back down, it covered dark hair that was wired with silver.
Daniel picked up the fallen rook, and rolled it between his palms. “Made my first set from pieces of paper, set up on a drawn piece of cardboard,” he recalled. “They fluttered all over the damn place. Hard to keep track. So I had to learn how to remember the moves.”
Jacob realized that might have been the beginning of the man’s exceptional memory, regarding the game.
“Later on,” he continued, “I managed to scrounge up a old set from the garbage. Snuck it home in pockets full of holes, the board tucked under my shirt. I’d set it up and sit in a closet to play, so’s I wouldn’t get a whuppin’ for putting on airs.” The creaking laugh returned, and was full of old memories. As it faded away again, Daniel shook his greying head, as he set the rook down gently, on its side.
Jacob felt a deep regret that the color of a man’s skin often meant so much to his prospects in life, even unto whether or not he felt comfortable learning how to play a game of chess. It was a thing he’d not previously considered, when he thought about such things.
But he also knew he shouldn’t be here at all. He needed to go. Needed to go confront John Pater, and possibly kill him. This delay was unwise. Vincent was being pushed to the limit, Catherine was terrified for all of them, and… and he knew that it was up to him to set his world back to rights. He was Vincent’s only parent. This was his task.
Yet this chess player intrigued him, and the delay, though ill-advised, was very welcome. Jacob didn’t enjoy the idea of becoming a murderer, and he knew he was stalling here, to try and avoid it.
“Then I’m impressed all the more,” he returned, bowing his head a little, as he regarded the shabby board. “Black kings are sometimes… difficult to pin down,” he said, thinking of his nemesis.
The ball cap turned and Daniel considered the game he’d just played, again. “This one lost his queen early. Made it easier.”
Yes, and John lost his queen early. Since he killed her.
“So you ah… you decided the white knight was strong enough to win out?” He knew he was no white knight, himself. But he was hoping for a little mythic courage, right about now.
Obsidian eyes cut Jacob a glance. “Knights is tricky. The only piece that can jump over the others. The only one that can’t move on a straight line. They make a ‘L.’” Daniel said, telling something Jacob he already knew.
“Knights don’t move like other pieces do,” Daniel continued. “And if that gun in your pocket means what I think it does, you ain’t no Sir Galahad, yourself, old man,” Daniel said, echoing Jacob’s thought, and surprising them both, by saying it out loud.
Jacob straightened, startled. He looked around to make sure Daniel hadn’t been overheard. He hadn’t been. “How did you…”
Daniel tried to dodge the question, half-irritated with himself that he’d let his knowledge slip. Impulse. The kind that had cost him dearly, sometimes.
“I seen a lot of killin’. Most of it in the war. Some out here. Got no urge to see more.”
“Perhaps I’m just carrying it for protection. A man my age—“
“Is fixin’ to go kill another man your age.” The black shoulders shrugged. “Ain’t nothin’ to me. Ain’t none of my bidness.”
Jacob was positively intrigued. “How did you guess that I —“
Dark hands locked together in front of bony knees. “You ain’t the kind to kill a woman, no matter how wrong she done you. That only leaves a man. I don’t think you’d kill a young one. Polite men don’t do that. That ain’t you.”
No, no. That wasn’t him. But walking into a trap with a weapon secreted in his pocket obviously was.
“You’re… very perceptive,” Jacob allowed, still gathering his wits.
Daniel knew that he was. And in his long life, it was a thing that had brought him little joy. Including now. “Yeah. That’s me. Perceptive,” Daniel mimicked. Then he decided to explain, at least a little.
“When a young man means to kill, he walks by all hyped up, all wild. Breathin’ hard, arms swingin’, hands balled up into fists and eyes all… buggin’ out. Best get out of that young man’s way, because he’s out for blood.” Daniel shook his head as he gave his advice.
Jacob simply nodded, and waited.
“But when an old man does it…” The voice drifted away a bit, and the dark head shook some more, his close-cropped beard glinted with perspiration, in the sun. They were both starting to sweat, as the day turned warmer.
“Old men gets real quiet, and they eyes stay re-aal fixed.” He was looking a bit off to one side, yet Jacob knew what he was “seeing” wasn’t there.
He knows because he’s done this. Or he knows someone who has, Jacob thought.
“And they stop to talk to a stranger,” Daniel added. He flicked his assessing gaze over Jacob’s dapper form. “Just to make sure that’s what they want to do,” he tacked on.
Jacob took in the description, and knew that the words were heavy with meaning, for him. “It isn’t… what I want to do. But it may be what I need to do,” Jacob said. “We have a certain… history. Perhaps I can talk him into turning himself in. Or just… going away,” Jacob knew both were scant and pitiful hopes. But they were all he had for hope, so he clung to them.
Daniel’s reply was less than encouraging. “Yeah. We all got a history; all doin’ what we need to do.” He released his knees and rubbed a palm on the back of his neck. The shade from the nearby trees was starting to move. Soon, he would have to do that, too. Either that, or sit in the sun and bake.
“You aren’t going to… call the police?” Jacob asked, worried that he might be.
Daniel uncapped a bottle of warm tea and took a swig. “Me and the po-lice ain’t exactly friendly. Nope.”
“If I tell you that this is an evil man--”
Daniel capped his drink and set it back down. “Don’t care,” he replied, cutting Jacob off. “Don’t know him. Don’t hardly know you. That’s yo’ bidness,” he said, the South Carolina accent starting to become a bit more apparent.
Jacob stepped back, not sure if he was relieved at the pronouncement, or annoyed by it. New York was all but collapsing, thanks to that kind of indifference.
Jacob found himself in the bizarre position of trying to defend John. “So you’d just allow a man to die—”
“Mister, I done buried my fair share. The war… life. You live long enough, you get to go to a lot of funerals.”
Jacob’s heart fell at the truth in that. His voice dropped low, feeling the need to explain his actions. “I’m trying to avoid one more. My son’s.”
Daniel seemed to take that in, as the late morning continued to advance, all around them.
“A man’s got to do that, I suppose. I never had no kids of my own. I wouldn’t know.”
Jacob was curious. “Did you ever have… anyone, Daniel?” Father asked.
Daniel tipped his head farther back than he had before. The dark, tired eyes looked up again, and from beneath the brim of the ball cap, Jacob realized they were a touch jaundiced. Also that he was about to be told that he was asking about something which was none of his business.
“Ain’t your never mind if I did,” Daniel replied, right on cue.
Jacob accepted his censure, and let it go. “Your eyes are a bit yellow,” he stated. “You need to go to a hospital. Your… your liver is in distress.”
The laugh came again, a rusting door hinge in a sagging frame.
“Of the two of us, I’d say my chances of making it clear of this day are a mite better’n yours.”
Jacob couldn’t help but agree with the irony of that. And the doctor in him wouldn’t give up. “They can clear it up with an injection of gamma globulin, perhaps. Or… here. I’m a doctor. A friend of mine runs a small clinic. If you go there… he’ll know how to help you.”
Jacob produced a pen and a small tablet from his pocket, a holdover from the days when he used to carry a pen and a prescription pad. He tore off the address and gave it to Daniel.
Jacob knew he had a slip of paper with an address in his own pocket, as well. 666 Sutton Place. And instructions to come alone, or pictures of Vincent would become public.
He had no illusions which address was the kinder one.
“So you gonna be all Sir Galahad, huh?” Daniel asked, referring to both Jacob’s desire to save him, and the other mission he was on.
“More like a sacrificial pawn,” Jacob replied, knowing he was walking into a trap, and having very little choice but to go. He held out the paper with Peter Alcott’s clinic address on it, a little further.
Daniel seemed to feel some sense of sympathy for the idea of a sacrifice play. He knew a few things about those. Mostly, that they were risky, and they didn’t always turn out like you planned. Either in chess, or in life.
Daniel sighed. “The gun makes your pocket bulge. You can see the shape. You need to move it to the inside of the coat. Trade places with that pad and pen,” he advised, accepting the paper, even though he knew he’d probably throw it away, once Jacob was gone.
Jacob looked down and realized Daniel was right. He’d have to find a men’s room and make the adjustment. Or perhaps just an elevator. The shadows of the tunnels were bad at showing him what the daylight revealed.
“I… I need to go,” Jacob said, knowing it was true.
“I guess you do,” Daniel agreed, knowing better than to try and talk Jacob out of it. “Less you’re fixin’ to shoot me, and take all my… my worldly possessions,” he gestured toward the overstuffed cart.
The woman with the stroller came back by, having completed her circuit of the area. They both watched her amble past, talking to her baby, all the while.
To be so innocent, again. Both men thought it, almost at the same time, and in their own separate ways.
“Daniel,” Jacob asked carefully, knowing they were about to part. “How many… how many moves ahead can you plan, in your head? How far can you go? Do you know?”
Daniel, the man with a nearly perfect ability to remember every move on a chessboard, yet none for planning his own life, shrugged his shoulders.
“I done fifty-eight once. After that… I don’t know. It ain’t a question of planning, so much. More like… just reacting. Maybe that’s why I’m here. I never did have much of a plan.”
I think I have something else in common with you, then. Jacob thought.
“Reacting?” he asked.
“Reacting. Sure. One piece moves. Makes another piece move. Then another. It ain’t a plan. It’s like… a question, then an answer. Over and over, again.”
Yes. Yes it was. Chess was like a question, and an answer. Over and over. That might not help me with this. I’m not sure what… question I have, for John. Or what answer he has for me.
“How far ahead did you plan?” Daniel asked cannily.
Jacob realized that beyond loading the gun and starting out on the trip to where he knew John now was, he didn’t have much.
“Not very,” Jacob admitted.
“You gonna fail, then,” the black man predicted. “Maybe. Probably.” Daniel had no sympathy in his voice, but he had no censure, either. “Sorry. That’s just the way it is,” he added, trying to clarify his somber comment.
Jacob sighed, confessing internally that Daniel was probably right. John was more ruthless, and far craftier. He would kill without conscience, and he would take without guilt. Did that mean murdering him was justified? Jacob wasn’t sure what was right, anymore, and he desperately wanted a way out of the situation they were all in.
“If I… if I come back by this way, I’ll look for you,” Jacob said. “Take you to where there’s a hot meal. A comfortable bed.”
Jacob, the man who knew he was damned, was trying to save someone else; if not Daniel’s soul, at least some more wear and tear on his old body.
Daniel waved the offer away with his broad, dark hand. “I got me those things. Or I can get them. And I got a feeling I ain’t gonna be seein’ you,” Daniel replied. He dropped his hand and rolled the rook on the brickwork a little, with his forefinger.
“So you think I’m going to die, then?” Jacob asked.
The thin shoulders shrugged, again. “Maybe. Probably. Maybe not. But I think you need a white knight to take down a black king. And that just ain’t you.”
No. No, it wasn’t. But there wasn’t anyone else for this mission, either.
Jacob knew he was letting too much time slip by. “Take care, Daniel. And please go and see my friend. He can help you. Help you feel better.”
Daniel set the rook up on the sidewalk, and fingered the thin slip of paper he’d put in his chambray shirt pocket. Maybe I won’t throw it away after all.
The black man stood. It was time to move the cart, anyway, and find another place to sit. Someplace where there was some more shade.
“You take care,” Daniel said, surprising Jacob by offering his hand, for a handshake.
Jacob took it, and held it, a moment. “If I get through this… perhaps we might one day have a game. Maybe I’ll explain ‘Queen’s Gambit’ and ‘Berlin Defense’ to you, if you like. I… I think I’d like to show you where I live, if you’re willing.”
Daniel got the impression that the last sentence was the most important thing this older man, this white doctor man, had said to him. And considering that there was a gun in his pocket, that was saying something.
That of all the things he’d revealed, that this one was the most precious, and the most dear. That where he lived was different. That it wasn’t just an apartment, or a row house, or a brownstone, somewhere. That you couldn’t get there if you took the train to Queens, or a bus to Brooklyn, and travelled over the bridge. That the Staten Island ferry wouldn’t get you there, and even a midtown cab, if you had the scratch for it, couldn’t quite get you to this address, wherever it was.
Daniel guessed that much. It was part of the curse of being “perceptive.”
“I hope you find your way home, Jacob,” Daniel said, using his name for the first time. “I don’t think you’ve got enough moves to. I don’t think you’re the one to do what you think you’re about to. But I surely do hope that you get home. Somehow. Not for my sake. But for yours. And your son’s.”
Jacob accepted the offer of well-wishing. “Thank you. And I hope you find a worthy adversary for your chess game,” Jacob replied, letting go of the hand and shifting his walking stick, again. He was about to be off.
“Already did. I played against me. Best player I know,” Daniel replied. “Game of the mind. Every day the winner. Every day the loser. That’s me.”
He bent up to gather up the chess pieces and the warped board, knowing that the latter wouldn’t fold closed evenly; that the curled edges would remain curled, and that the damage to it made it all but unusable, for anyone else. He saw Jacob’s shadow move off, and heard the cane tapping against the pavement, as he went.
By the time he stood back up, the older gentleman was some distance away, his cane still hitting the pavement as he headed toward the nearest park exit, and whatever fate awaited him.
Jacob continued down the pathway, noticing that the pedestrian traffic was picking up, again. The park would be full, soon. By the time lunchtime came, most of the benches would be occupied, and the carriage rides would be doing a brisk trade. Daniel, and people like him, would be pushed to the margins, off the main thoroughfares and out of sight; squeezed out of the park and into the city’s alleyways, or the abandoned places.
And he, Jacob, would be across the city. Perhaps with blood on his hands. A friend’s blood. Or at least John had been that, once.
Jacob once again had time to think: If he succeeded in his plan, what would he become? And if he failed, what would become of Vincent? Of all of them?
He heard Daniel’s words, echoing in his mind, and knew they somehow seemed prescient.
Every day the winner. Every day the loser. That’s me.
“I’m afraid that is me, as well, my friend. That is me, as well,” Jacob muttered, emerging from the gated confines of the park and onto the even busier New York street. His cane tapped along the hard pavement of the sidewalk.
The sun grew warmer, and Jacob wondered if perhaps he was feeling that warmth for the last time. How rarely he’d felt it all, these last few years, considering. He’d left his hat at home on purpose, wanting to feel the sun’s bright heat. Colors, the ones he’d once told Vincent he feared he’d forgotten, blazed all around him, seeming to mock his slow, maybe-for-the-last-time passage.
Take it all in. You don’t know if you’ll ever see it again, he thought, continuing on.
A yellow taxi pulled up to the curb, and a lovely, well-dressed woman got out. Her clothes were tailored, and her age was… impenetrable. No, she wasn’t Margaret Chase, or anyone who seemed remotely like her. But that didn’t mean she wasn’t important, in her own right. Or that she wasn’t important to someone else.
Jacob felt an odd kind of kinship with her, as he did with nearly everyone around him, all of a sudden. They were all people. Good and bad, black and white, some rich, some not nearly so, all busily making their way down the street, going in and out of the buildings, all with a destination, a purpose in mind.
He knew that none of them had a purpose as dark as his was.
The cabbie got out, opened the trunk, and produced several shopping bags, which the woman eagerly took. “Neiman Marcus” was emblazoned on the front of the largest one.
Perhaps she’s got a touch of Margaret in her after all, Jacob mused, remembering that Margaret had fancied the store. Or perhaps, right now, everyone who isn’t me reminds me of something good.
Before Jacob could talk himself into striking up a conversation with her as well, he forced himself to walk on. He’d gone no more than half a block when his thoughts turned from the outward to the inward.
He knew he was about to confront a very dangerous man. He knew he had no choice in that. John’s instructions had been mercilessly clear. Jacob knew he had to go, even without them; that going back wasn’t even a vague option. For Vincent’s sake, and for Catherine’s, he had to see this through. Somehow.
John had been a master chess player. The set Jacob had used until Lou’s death had been given to him by John. Paracelsus was sly, and he was quick. He played an aggressive game, always; in chess as well as in life. And he always planned several moves ahead. In all their time together, all their games together, Jacob had beaten him only once.
He hoped he could do so again, today.
He knew that he’d need to find a men’s room, before he got to 666 Sutton Place. That he’d need to adjust the gun, and wipe the sweat from his brow. That the walk to John’s stronghold would be a long one, and that his knee would start to give him hell before he’d gone very far.
Sir Galahad needs a horse, he thought wryly.
He took the paper out of his pocket, the one with John’s address. Precise, squared-off capital letters moved before his eyes. John was a mechanic, in his way, and he wrote with a mechanic’s gift for straight lines, and precision.
Was Jacob moving on a straight line now, to his doom? He didn’t know, for sure. But he knew that’s what John hoped. Maybe. Probably.
He tucked the slip of paper back into his pocket, and continued down the increasingly busy street.
Is that why you chose this place, John? Because it’s far away from tunnel access, and you thought I wouldn’t try to reach you? That you’d just… destroy Vincent, publish those horrible photographs without me trying to stop you? That you’d somehow… beat me with that, later, when the time came? Jacob had to admit he wasn’t sure.
Or did you know that I would try, and you knew that this was the way to make it the most miserable for me?
Jacob couldn’t discount either the former or the latter view. So in the end, he had to admit that he simply didn’t know. Like so many other questions about John Pater, he knew he simply didn’t have the answers.
And he knew that the man who did have them was waiting for him. Probably with a weapon of his own.
Is that what you want, John? For me to sacrifice myself? Probably. Maybe. He used the words Daniel had. And again, Jacob had to admit he had no idea, and no ready answer to the question.
But he also knew that Paracelsus, brilliant, homicidal Paracelsus, was a driven man who always served his own motives, and who always planned many moves ahead; that all of this, to John, was some form of elaborate chess game. Jacob suspected that right now, he was moving just the way John wanted him to. That his old enemy would have both ideas and answers. And that Jacob probably wouldn’t like either of them.
His walking stick kept hitting the pavement, each sound of it heralding that Jacob Wells was farther from safety, and closer to harm. He knew it was true, yet the increasingly steady rhythm was soothing, somehow, and helped him to concentrate, as he walked.
I won one game off you, John. One game, out of dozens. Was that just luck? Or was it something else? He tried to recall the match, and wished he had Daniel’s gift for remembering a once-played game. He remembered that in that game, like in the one he’d just seen played, John had lost his queen early. He didn’t remember much else.
I’ll just have to hope I can beat him again. Jacob mused.
The strategist in him knew the odds were against him. Perhaps Catherine’s gun would help to equalize those odds. Perhaps John wasn’t expecting him to have one.
Perhaps many things. Perhaps nothing, Jacob thought. Every day the winner. Every day the loser. John is the last man in the world I want to go to war against. But I know I have to try and save Vincent, even though I have no clear idea what’s going to happen, when I try to.
He knew he would have to play a game of the mind with the Alchemist, and find out.
No matter where you are in your own fairy tale, I wish you love. ~ Cindy