64 - Baghdad
SEVERAL YEARS AGO The tone of the voice completely threw me for a loop. Even worse, I thought that I recognized it from somewhere, although I couldn’t quite place it.
Still, I replied calmly enough. “Oh, well enough I suppose. I took a nice jaunt out into the city, managed to get shot a few times, ended up here. Speaking of which, where is here, after all?” It was really all I could do to keep from screaming at the madness of the whole situation.
The voice chuckled, dryly. Wherever I was, it had that strange sort of acoustics that made everything sound like it was coming from somewhere else. “You’re somewhere under the city. That’s all that I knew for certain.”
“Under…” What did that mean? Like all large cities, Baghdad was crisscrossed with all manner of tunnels, but this was the first that I’d heard of the opposing forces using them directly.
And that’s who I figured it had to be after all. Somehow after they’d shot me they’d chased off the other three men–I offered a quick prayer for them; either if they’d lived through the ambush or not, they were going to need it–And somehow after that, they’d kidnapped me and brought me here, to this light-less cell God only knew where.
But even as I was considering all of that, another question drifted to the forefront of my mind. “And who are you?”
“I think you know the answer to that question.”
Which of course I didn’t. His voice sounded maddeningly familiar, but if I’d known the answer why would I have asked?
I shook my head, only realizing after a few moments that the gesture was completely pointless in the darkness. “No. I don’t.”
“And after getting so close and all…”
“What?” Well that had suddenly taken a turn for the strange. Who had I gotten close with?
But whoever it was, they were still talking. “In a manner of speaking, I guess. I mean, there’s not much closer you can get than one many carrying another right at the moment of death.”
I froze. Everything had finally clicked into place. I finally knew where I’d heard that voice before.
There was a faint sound of clapping. “It took you long enough to catch on.”
“That’s because you’re dead.” There was no doubt about it. Just as I’d thought the first time, I’d seen the body being packed up. There was no way that he could have gotten up again after that.
“Sure. I guess that’s one way to look at it. But if I really were dead, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, now would we?” I shook my head. It was impossible. The whole thing was impossible.
“And I know that you saw me earlier.”
For the second time in as many minutes, I stopped dead–albeit not so literally as Private Jackson. I didn’t say a word though.
After a moment, he verified what I’d already expected. “When you were trying to save your Iraqi girl. I was there. You know it as well as I do.”
I wanted to deny it, to say that it had all been a trick of the light. But how could I? I had seen him. I was hearing him now. I couldn’t think of any other explanation. And as a wise man once said, when you’ve eliminated the impossible, whatever remains must be the truth.
Although it didn’t at all help that what was left was just as impossible as what had been eliminated…
“How?” I asked. I didn’t have to clarify. He had to knew full well what I meant.
But he never got a chance to answer. Just as I asked, there was the rattle of keys in a lock somewhere off to the side of me. A moment later, the door swung open, the light from the hallway spilling in, unnaturally bright after the complete darkness before it.