Special agent Charles Duncan awoke to find himself in a chair in a small square room with concrete walls and flooring. In front of him was a table upon which was placed laptop with a cable running into a wall, a sandwich and a bottle of water.
His head was pounding, so he took the bottle and started to gulp it when a soft, soothing voice said, “I wouldn’t waste it, Mr. Duncan, because that’s all you’re going to get.”
Charles spit some of it back into the bottle and coughed. He started to remember what happened.
He had gotten an anonymous tip as to the whereabouts of the Puzzle Bomber, the crazed genius who held the world hostage via sadistic games, whom he had been chasing for fourteen years. The Bomber had lain quiet since he hooked a game of snood up to a nuclear bomb in Los Angeles the spring before.
The tip, given by a distorted voice who he now knew was the Bomber himself, told him to go an abandoned toy factory on the outskirts of Baltimore. Although his colleagues had suggested back-up, he insisted to go alone. The Bomber was going to be his catch, and his alone. He was walking through an old assembly line when he was hit from behind and blacked out.
Maybe he should have accepted backup.
Charles looked around the room but saw nothing except a door and a small camera and speaker in one corner of the ceiling. He felt his coat pocket and found that his badge and gun were gone.
“Who are you?” Charles asked.
“You know who I am, Mr. Duncan.”
“The Puzzle Bomber?”
“The one and only,” The Bomber said.
Charles stood. “You’ve made a mistake revealing yourself.”
The bomber chuckled. “I have made many mistakes in my life, but when it comes to games, I don’t make mistakes.”
”You have crawled out of the shadows,” Charles called.
“Look around, Mr. Duncan. I’m not the one stuck in a room with only a little food and water and in order to leave, must solve the puzzle on the laptop. There is no time limit, no bombs if you fail. You can try as many times as you like, you just stay here till you do.”
Charles sat back down and clicked the laptop on. The screen showed a grid of nine squares divided into nine little squares. In a few of the little squares, there were numbers. He recognized it as a Sudoku puzzle, the latest fad in puzzles.
A book of Sudoku was on the bestsellers list. Every newspaper had one a day… Charles was also a fan of it. In order to win, in each large square, each little square must have one through nine, non-repeating. To complicate things, each column and row must have one through nine, non-repeating.
“The will be easy,” Charles said.
He cracked his knuckles and within ten minutes, the puzzle was solved. He heard the door unlock.
Charles laughed. “It was too easy.”
“I guess it was, Mr. Duncan,” the Bomber said.
Charles ate the sandwich, which was peanut butter and jelly, and finished the water. He brushed himself off and triumphantly strode through the door into the next room, where his heart sunk to his toes.
This room was much larger than last. On the floor was a Sudoku grid with some numbers filled in. Placed on the wall were nine sets of plastic ones through nines. There were two doors out of this room.
“You bastard,” Charles yelled. “You said I could leave!”
“I never said that you’d be done if you won, Mr. Duncan. I only said that you could leave that particular room. Now, solve this puzzle.”
He grumbled and started to walk over towards the wall of numbers, but he stopped. How many games would he have to play?
“Why are you doing this?” Charles ripped off his coat and flung it across the room.
“Because you wanted me to, Mr. Duncan.” Charles clenched his teeth and fists. “Why are you mad Mr. Duncan? I know you’ve wanted to have a showdown with me for years, man to man, a test of wits, just like in thrillers, Mr. Duncan.”
“Fuck you,” Charles muttered.
The Bomber laughed. “I’ve been watching you, Mr. Duncan. I’ve watched your life spiral downward as I’ve consumed your every waking moment. Your wife divorced you because you spent more time playing games than playing with her in bed. You do nothing else except train yourself to play my puzzles, beat me for the last time, but I’m always one step ahead of you. You live for the next puzzle I present and nothing else.
I remember the rage in you when your partner failed to triple-A Legend of the Max by one arrow and the Dance, Dance, Revolution machine exploded, taking him with it. I know that when that hick solved the game of Snood last spring, you weren’t satisfied because I was still at large.
So here we are: you and me in a giant game of Sudoku. This is what you wanted, have always wanted, so don’t be mad at me for giving you what you want, Mr. Duncan.”
Charles slowly looked up at the place the voice was coming from. “Who are you?” Charles yelled.
Despite the Bomber getting inside his head, Charles knew very little about who he actually was, other than being a very smart male. The Bomber always had always stayed hidden in plain sight, always placing his puzzles in public areas, but no one remembering to have seen him.
“Why does it matter, Mr. Duncan?” the Bomber replied. “To me, it’s not about recognition; otherwise, I’d have left little clues to my identity at the scenes. To me, this is about discovery the true nature of games and puzzles… You know, I’ve changed my mind, we’re not going to play this game.” A door to Charles’s left unlocked.
Charles turned and just looked at door dumbfounded. The Bomber has never shut off a puzzle in the middle of it.
“Go ahead, Mr. Duncan, go through. Don’t worry; there is a puzzle on the other side. However, I should say its different kind of puzzle.”
Charles muttered under his breath as he slowly walked through the unlocked doorway.
The next room was a small rectangle. In front of him were three doors, painted red, blue and green.
Charles flailed his arms around. “What the hell is this? You’ve lost your touch, Bomber.”
“Have I? I created this in the instance you didn’t want to play the giant Sudoku puzzle, which I figured you would have. A pity, really, because the other door was the exit. In fact that puzzle was even easier than the one you actually solved.” The Bomber had not lost his touch.
Charles turned around to see the he came in through slam shut and lock. He slowly turned back to the three doors.
The Bomber continued, “Here you have a choice, Mr. Duncan. One door leads to the exit. Another door leads to a game of minesweeper with real mines and the final door leads to where I am.” Charles scratched his head. “But to complicate things, I’ll tell you which door leads where. The red door leads to Minesweeper, the blue door is the exit and the green door leads to me. I don’t lie, so which one will you choose? Will you leave to face me another day? Will you play another one of my games? Or will you finally find out who I am? Choose wisely.”
Charles thought hard, this was not an easy choice. He loved the games and the trill, the Bomber was right, he decided. Charles was also tired and wanted to leave. The Puzzle Bomber, though, was there and just beyond the green door. Despite not having is didn’t have his gun, backup, or even handcuff, the green door beckoned. He would finally meet his rival.
Charles opened the green door and stepped through into a dusty stair case, the door locked as it shut. He slowly walked up and into a large room.
In the center of it was a chess table with two chairs. Shelves lined the walls filled with puzzles and games of various types. Sitting in back at a large computer console, was a short, stout, man in his late forties. He was wearing a lab coat with a flower in it and glasses. He spun around, stood and motioned to the chess table.
“Let us play,” the Bomber said.
Charles nodded and sat down across from the Bomber.
“You are white,” the Bomber said. “Begin.”
Charles said nothing and moved his King’s pawn out two squares.
After a few minutes of playing in silence, the Bomber spoke, “I love chess. I think it’s the perfect game.” He moved, Charles moved. “Two sides of equal pieces. The rules are simple, each piece moves in a particular way. The Knight moves in an L shape. The bishop moves diagonally. The pawn moves one or two spaces to start; then one space along the column; and diagonally to capture. But yet, with-in its simple elegance is an endless complexity that I love.” The Bomber moved.
Charles moved a knight, and then stared directly at the Bomber. “Why do you do this? How do you even get the money for to do the things you do?”
“My family owned this factory and made a fair bit of money when they sold out to a conglomerate. I was an only child and inherited millions. I have it invested well and it’s more than enough to pay for this hobby.” The bomber moved.
Charles slammed his fist down, the pieces jumped off the table. “How is this a hobby? How is holding people hostage, setting up sadistic games a hobby?”
The Bomber adjusted his glasses. “I’m sorry; to me this isn’t a hobby. But to most people games are a hobby, a diversion. I want to make people treat then as more than just a diversion. Oh, by the way, that last move was check mate.”
“What?” Charles looked down at the board. Check mate.
He screamed, knocked the table over, grabbed and started to choke the bomber. “I’ll kill you!”
“Go ahead,” the Bomber wheezed, “Kill me, and your life will be empty.” He kicked Charles in the balls. “You need me.”
Charles stumbled back. The Bomber’s flower squirted water into Charles’s eye and he tripped over his chair and was stunned.
The Bomber ran over to the shelf. “From now on, you will follow my rules or pay the consequences, Mr. Duncan. Good day.”
He pulled something and the shelf rotated around, and the Bomber was gone. Charles stood and flung stuff off the shelf, but nothing seemed to make it move.
The Bomber, who was in his grasp, had escaped. Charles found his gun and badge on a shelf, and pressed a button on the console that unlocked all the doors. He would bring agents over here to search this place completely tomorrow.
He walked out of the factory to his car to find another agent had arrived, a woman in a familiar black pants suit that he had not seen in months.
“Marlene?” Charles said. “I though you worked in Los Angeles.” Charles had worked with her on the Snood case.
“I did,” she said, “but I transferred out here last week. I didn’t have time to say hello. Some agents told me you went here alone, I decided to follow. Anyway, what happened in there? You look exhausted.”
He turned back around to look at the factory. “I faced down The Puzzle Bomber in his hideout. He’s as insane as you’d expect.”
“Where is he?” Marlene asked.
“I don’t know. He escaped.”
Marlene put her hands on her hips. “I didn’t see anyone drive out of here.”
“I’m sure he’s smart enough to figure out a way to get out unnoticed. He has many times before.”
“Well if you decide to go off to play his games again, take me with you.”
Charles closed his eyes and nodded. “Thanks, but I have enough information about him now to track him down myself. Besides, this is a game for me to play alone. I’ll keep playing till I win”
“That may be so,” Marlene smiled, “but it can’t hurt to cheat.”