Colonel Bryan Kelly, his huge figure blocking off the light that filtered down the narrow corridor behind him, leaned for a moment against the locked door in agony of anxiety and helpless rage. The small Oriental guard sorted through a ring of keys, searching for the one that would open the door. Colonel Kelly listened to the voices inside the room.
“Sarge, they wouldn’t dare do anything to Americans, would they?” The voice was youthful, unsure. “I mean, there’d be hell to pay if they hurt “
“Shut up. Want to wake up Kelly’s kids and have them hear you running off at the mouth that way?” The voice was gruff, tired.
“They’ll turn us loose pretty quick, whaddya bet, Sarge?” insisted the young voice.
“Oh, sure, kid, they love Americans around here. That’s probably what they wanted to talk to Kelly about, and they’re packing the beer and ham sandwiches into box lunches for us right now. All that’s holding things up is they don’t know how many with mustard, how many without. How d’ya want yours?”
“I’d just like to “ “Shut up.” “Okay, I’d just “ “Shut up.”
“I’d just like to know what’s going on, is all.” The young corporal coughed.
“Pipe down and pass the butt along,” said a third voice irritably. “There’s ten good puffs left in it. Don’t hog the whole thing, kid.” A few other voices muttered in agreement.
Colonel Kelly opened and closed his hands nervously, wondering how he could tell the fifteen human beings behind the door about the interview with Pi Ying and the lunatic ordeal they were going to have to endure. Pi Ying said that their fight against death would be no different, philosophically, from what all of them, except Kelly’s wife and children, had known in battle. In a cold way, it was true no different, philosophically. But Colonel Kelly was more shaken than he had ever been in battle.
Colonel Kelly and the fifteen on the other side of the door had crashlanded two days before on the Asiatic mainland, after they had been blown off course by a sudden storm and their radio had gone dead. Colonel Kelly had been on his way, with his family, to a post as military attaché in India. On board the Army transport plane with them had been a group of enlisted men, technical specialists needed in the Middle East. The plane had come to earth in territory held by a Communist guerrilla chief, Pi Ying.
All had survived the crash Kelly, his wife Margaret, his tenyearold twin sons, the pilot and copilot, and the ten enlisted men. A dozen of Pi Ying’s ragged riflemen had been waiting for them when they climbed from the plane. Unable to communicate with their captors, the Americans had been marched for a day through rice fields and nearjungle to come at sunset to a decaying palace. There they had been locked in a subterranean room, with no idea of what their fates might be.
Now, Colonel Kelly was returning from an interview with Pi Ying, who had told him what was to become of the sixteen American prisoners. Sixteen Kelly shook his head as the number repeated itself in his thoughts. The guard prodded him to one side with his pistol and thrust the key into the lock, and the door swung open. Kelly stood silently in the doorway.
A cigarette was being passed from hand to hand. It cast its glow for an instant on each expectant face in turn. Now it lighted the ruddy face of the talkative young corporal from Minneapolis, now cast rugged shadows over the eye sockets and heavy brows of the pilot from Salt Lake, now bloomed red at the thin lips of the sergeant. Kelly looked from the men to what seemed in the twilight to be a small hillock by the door. There his wife Margaret sat, with the blond heads of her sleeping sons cradled in her lap. She smiled up at him, her face misty white. “Darling you’re all right?” Margaret asked quietly.
“Yes, I’m all right.” “Sarge,” said the corporal, “ask him what Pi Ying said.” “Shut up.” The sergeant paused. “What about it, sir good news or bad?”
Kelly stroked his wife’s shoulder, trying to make the right words come words to carry courage he wasn’t sure he had. “Bad news,” he said at last. “Rotten news.”
“Well, let’s have it,” said the transport pilot loudly. Kelly supposed he was trying to reassure himself with the boom of his own voice, with brusqueness. “The worst he can do is kill us. Is that it?” He stood and dug his hands into his pockets.
“He wouldn’t dare!” said the young corporal in a threatening voice as though he could bring the wraths of the United States Army to bear on Pi Ying with a snap of his fingers.
Colonel Kelly looked at the youngster with curiosity and dejection. “Let’s face it. The little man upstairs has all the trumps.” An expression borrowed from another game, he thought irrelevantly. “He’s an outlaw. He hasn’t got a thing to lose by getting the United States sore at him.”
“If he’s going to kill us, say so!” the pilot said explosively. “So he’s got us cold! What’s he going to do?” “He considers us prisoners of war,” said Kelly, trying to keep his voice even. “He’d like to shoot us all.”
He shrugged. “I haven’t been trying to keep you in suspense, I’ve been looking for the right words and there aren’t any. Pi Ying wants more entertainment out of us than shooting us would provide. He’d like to prove that he’s smarter than we are in the bargain.”
“How?” asked Margaret. Her eyes were wide. The two children were waking up.
“In a little while, Pi Ying and I are going to play chess for your lives.” He closed his fist over his wife’s limp hand. “And for my four lives. It’s the only chance Pi Ying will give us.” He shrugged, and smiled wryly. “I play a betterthanaverage game a little better than average.”
“Is he nuts?” said the sergeant.
“You’ll all see for yourselves,” said Colonel Kelly simply. “You’ll see him when the game begins Pi Ying and his friend, Major Barzov. He raised his eyebrows. “The major claims to be sorry that, in his capacity as a military observer for the Russian army, he is powerless to intervene in our behalf. He also says we have his sympathy. I suspect he’s a damn liar on both counts. Pi Ying is scared stiff of him.”
“We get to watch the game?” whispered the corporal tensely. “The sixteen of us, soldier, are the chessmen I’ll be playing with.” The door swung open.
“Can you see the whole board from down there, White King?” called Pi Ying cheerfully from a balcony overlooking the azuredomed chamber. He was smiling down at Colonel Bryan Kelly, his family, and his men. “You must be the White King, you know. Otherwise, we couldn’t be sure that you’d be with us for the whole game.” The guerrilla chief’s face was flushed. His smile was one of mock solicitousness. “Delighted to see all of you!”
To Pi Ying’s right, indistinct in the shadows, stood Major Barzov, the taciturn Russian military observer. He acknowledged Kelly’s stare with a slow nod. Kelly continued to stare fixedly. The arrogant, bristlehaired major became restless, folding and unfolding his arms, repeatedly rocking back and forth in his black boots. “I wish I could help you,” he said at last. It wasn’t an amenity but a contemptuous jest. “I am only an observer here.” Barzov said it heavily. “I wish you luck, Colonel,” he added, and turned his back.
Seated on Pi Ying’s left was a delicate young Oriental woman. She gazed expressionlessly at the wall over the Americans’ heads. She and Barzov had been present when Pi Ying had first told Colonel Kelly of the game he wanted to play. When Kelly had begged Pi Ying to leave his wife and children out of it, he had thought he saw a spark of pity on her eyes. As he looked up at the motionless, ornamental girl now, he knew he must have been mistaken.
“This room was a whim of my predecessors, who for generations held the people in slavery,” said Pi Ying sententiously. “It served nicely as a throne room. But the floor is inlaid with squares, sixtyfour of them a chessboard, you see? The former tenants had those handsome, mansized chessmen before you built so that they and their friends could sit up here and order servants to move them about.” He twisted a ring on his finger. “Imaginative as that was, it remained for us to hit upon this new twist. Today, of course, we will use only the black chessmen, my pieces.” He turned to the restive Major Barzov. “The Americans have furnished their own chessmen.
Fascinating idea.” His smile faded when he saw that Barzov wasn’t smiling with him. Pi Ying seemed eager to please the Russian. Barzov, in turn, appeared to regard Pi Ying as hardly worth listening to.
The twelve American soldiers stood against a wall under heavy guard. Instinctively, they bunched together and glared sullenly at their patronizing host. “Take it easy,’ said colonel Kelly, “or we’ll lose the one chance we’ve got.” He looked quickly at his twin sons, Jerry and Paul, who gazed about the room, unruffled, uninterested, blinking sleepily at the side of their stunned mother. Kelly wondered why he felt so little as he watched his family in the face of death. The fear he had felt while they were waiting in their dark prison was gone. Now he recognized the eerie calm an old wartime friend that left only the cold machinery of his wits and senses alive. It was the narcotic of generalship. It was the essence of war.
“Now, my friends, your attention,” said Pi Ying importantly. He stood. “The rules of the game are easy to remember. You are all to behave as Colonel Kelly tells you. Those of you who are so unfortunate as to be taken by one of my chessmen will be killed quickly, painlessly, promptly.” Major Barzov looked at the ceiling as though he were inwardly criticizing everything Pi Ying said.
The corporal suddenly released a half selfpity. The sergeant clapped his hand over the youngster’s mouth. Pi Ying leaned over the balustrade and pointed a finger at the struggling soldier. “For those who run from the board or make an outcry, a special form of death can be arranged,” he said sharply. “Colonel Kelly and I must have complete silence in which to concentrate. If the colonel is clever enough to win, then all of you who are still with us when I am checkmated will get safe transport out of my territory. If he loses ” Pi Ying shrugged. He settled back on a mound of cushions. “Now, you must all be good sports,” he said briskly. “Americans are noted for that, I believe. As Colonel Kelly can tell you, a chess game can very rarely be won any more than a battle can be won without sacrifices. Isn’t that so, Colonel?”
Colonel Kelly nodded mechanically. He was recalling what Pi Ying had said earlier that the game he was about to play was no different, philosophically, from what he had known in war. “How can you do this to children!” cried Margaret suddenly, twisting free of a guard and striding across the squares to stand directly below Pi Ying’s balcony. “For the love of God ” she began.
Pi Ying interrupted angrily: “Is it for the love of God that Americans make bombs and jet planes and tanks?” He waved her away impatiently. “Drag her back.” He covered his eyes. “Where was I?” We were talking about sacrifices, weren’t we? I was going to ask you who you had chosen to be your king’s pawn,” said Pi Ying. “If you haven’t chosen one, Colonel, I’d like to recommend the noisy young man down there the one the sergeant is holding. A delicate position, the king’s pawn.”
The corporal began to kick and twist with new fury. The sergeant tightened his arms about him. “The kid’ll calm down in a minute,” he said under his breath. He turned his head toward Colonel Kelly. “Whatever the hell the king’s pawn is, that’s me. Where do I stand, sir?” The youngster relaxed and the sergeant freed him. Kelly pointed to the fourth square in the second row of the huge chessboard. The sergeant strode to the square and hunched his broad shoulders. The corporal mumbled something incoherent, and took his place in the square next to the sergeant a second dependable pawn. The rest still hung back. “Colonel, you tell us where to go,” said a lanky T4 uncertainly. “What do we know about chess? You put us where you want us.” His Adam’s apple bobbed. “Save the soft spots for your wife and kids. They’re the ones that count. You tell us what to do.”
“There are no soft spots,” said the pilot sardonically, “no soft spots for anybody. Pick a square, any square.” He stepped onto a board. “What does this square make me?”
“You’re a bishop, Lieutenant, the king’s bishop,” said Kelly.
He found himself thinking of the lieutenant in those terms no longer human, but a piece capable of moving diagonally across the board; capable, when attacking with the queen, of terrible damage to the black men across the board.
“And me in church only twice in my life. Hey, Pi Ying,” called the pilot insolently, “what’s a bishop worth?” Pi Ying was amused. “A knight and a pawn, my boy; a knight and a pawn.”
Thank God for the lieutenant, thought Kelly. One of the American soldiers grinned. They had been sticking close together, backed against the wall. Now they began to talk among themselves like a baseball team warming up. At Kelly’s direction, seeming almost unconscious of the meaning of their actions, they moved out onto the board to fill out the ranks.
Pi Ying was speaking again. “All of your pieces are in place now, except your knights and your queen, Colonel. And you, of course, are the king. Come, come. The game must be over before suppertime.”
Gently, shepherding them with his long arms, Kelly led his wife and Jerry and Paul to their proper squares. He detested himself for the calm, the detachment with which he did it. He saw the fear and reproach in Margaret’s eyes. She couldn’t understand that he had to be this way that in his coldness was their only hope for survival. He looked away from Margaret.
Pi Ying clapped his hands for silence. “There, god; now we can begin.” He tugged at his ear reflectively. “I think this is an excellent way of bringing together the Eastern and Western minds, don’t you, Colonel? Here we indulge the American’s love for gambling with our appreciation of profound drama and philosophy.” Major Barzov whispered impatiently to him. “Oh, yes,” said Pi Ying, “two more rules: We are allowed ten minutes a move, and this goes without saying no moves may be taken back. Very well,” he said, pressing the button on a stop watch and setting it on the balustrade, “the honor of the first move belongs to the white men.” He grinned. “An ancient tradition.”
“Sergeant,” said Colonel Kelly, his throat tight, “move two squares forward.” He looked down at his hands. They were starting to tremble.
“I believe I’ll be slightly unconventional,” said Pi Ying, half turning his head toward the young girl, as though to make sure that she was sharing his enjoyment. “Move my queen’s pawn forward two squares,” he instructed a servant.
Colonel Kelly watched the servant slide the massive carving forward to a point threatening the sergeant. The sergeant looked quizzically at Kelly. “Everything okay, sir?” He smiled faintly.
“I hope so,” said Kelly. “Here’s your protection Soldier,” he ordered the young corporal, “step forward one square.” There it was all he could do. Now there was no advantage in Pi Ying’s taking the pawn he threatened the sergeant. Tactically it would be a pointless trade, pawn for pawn. No advantage so far as good chess went.
“This is very bad form, I know,” said Pi Ying blandly. He paused. “Well, then again, I’m not so sure I’d be wise to trade. With so brilliant an opponent, perhaps I’d better play flawless chess, and forget the many temptations.” Major Barzov murmured something to him. “But it would get us into the spirit of the game right off, wouldn’t it?”
“What’s he talking about, sir?” asked the sergeant apprehensively. Before Kelly could order his thoughts, Pi Ying gave the order. “Take his king’s pawn.”
“Colonel! What’d you do?” cried the sergeant. Two guards pulled him from the board and out of the room. A studded door banged shut behind them.
“Kill me!” shouted Kelly, starting off his square after them. A halfdozen bayonets hemmed him in. Impassively, the servant slid Pi Ying’s wooden pawn onto the square where the sergeant had stood. A shot reverberated on the other side of the thick door, and the guards reappeared. Pi Ying was no longer smiling. “Your move, Colonel. Come, come four minutes have gone already.”
Kelly’s calm was shattered, and with it the illusion of the game. The pieces in his power were human beings again. The precious, brutal stuff of command was gone from Colonel Kelly. He was no more fit to make decisions of life and death than the rawest recruit. Giddily, he realized that Pi Ying’s object was not to win the game quickly, but to thin out the Americans in harrowing, pointless forays. Another two minutes crept by as he struggled to force himself to be rational. “I can’t do it,” he whispered at last. He slouched now.
“You wish me to have all of you shot right now?” asked Pi Ying. “I must say that I find you a rather pathetic colonel. Do all American officers give in so easily?”
“Pin his ears back, Colonel,” said the pilot. “Let’s go. Sharpen up. Let’s go!” “You’re in no danger now,” said Kelly to the corporal. “Take his pawn.” “How do I know you’re not lying?” said the youngster bitterly. “Now I’m going to get it!” “Get over there!” said the transport pilot sharply. “No!”
The sergeant’s two executioners pinned the corporal’s arms to his sides. They looked up expectantly at Pi Ying.
“Young man,” said Pi Ying solicitously, “would you enjoy being tortured to death, or would you rather do as Colonel Kelly tells you?”
The corporal spun suddenly and set both guards sprawling. He stepped onto the square occupied by the pawn that had taken the sergeant, kicked the piece over, and stood there with his feet apart. Major Barzov guffawed. “He’ll learn to be a pawn yet,” he roared. “It’s an Oriental skill American’s could do well to learn for the days ahead, eh?”
Pi Ying laughed with Barzov, and stroked the knee of the young girl, who had been sitting, expressionless, at his side. “Well, it’s been perfectly even so far a pawn for a pawn. Let’s begin our offensive in earnest.” He snapped his fingers for the attention of the servant. “King’s pawn to king three,” he commanded. “There! Now my queen and bishop are ready for an expedition into white man’s territory.” He pressed the button on the stop watch. “Your move, Colonel.” . . .
It was an old reflex that made Colonel Bryan Kelly look to his wife for compassion, courage. He looked away again Margaret was a frightening, heartbreaking sight, and there was nothing he could do for her but win. Nothing. Her stare was vacant, almost idiotic. She had taken refuge in deaf, blind, unfeeling shock.
Kelly counted the figures still surviving on the board. An hour had passed since the game’s beginning. Five pawns were still alive, among them the young corporal; one bishop, the nervy pilot; two rooks; two knights tenyearold frightened knights; Margaret, a rigid staring queen; and himself, the king. The missing four? Butchered butchered in senseless exchanges that had cost Pi Ying only blocks of wood. The other soldiers had fallen silent, sullen in their own separate worlds.
“I think it’s time for you to concede,” said Pi Ying. “It’s just about over, I’m afraid. Do you concede, Colonel?” Major Barzov frowned wisely at the chessmen, shook his head slowly, and yawned.
Colonel Kelly tried to bring his mind and eyes back into focus. He had the sensation of burrowing, burrowing, burrowing his way through a mountain of hot sand, of having to keep going on and on, digging, squirming, suffocated, blinded. “Go to hell,” he muttered. He concentrated on the pattern of the chessmen. As chess, the ghastly game had been absurd. Pi Ying had moved with no strategy other than to destroy white men. Kelly had moved to defend each of his chessmen at any cost, had risked none in offense. His powerful queen, knights, and rooks stood unused in the relative safety of the two rear rows of squares. He clenched and unclenched his fists in frustration. His opponent’s haphazard ranks were wide open. A checkmate of Pi Ying’s king would be possible, if only the black knight weren’t dominating the center of the board.
“Your move, Colonel. Two minutes.” coaxed Pi Ying.
And then Kelly saw it the price he would pay, that they all would pay, for the curse of conscience. Pi Ying had only to move his queen diagonally, three squares to the left, to put him in check. After that he needed to make one more move inevitable, irresistible and then checkmate, the end. And Pi Ying would move his queen. The game seemed to have lost its piquancy for him; he had the air of a man eager to busy himself elsewhere. The guerrilla chief was standing now, leaning over the balustrade. Major Barzov stood behind him, fitting a cigarette into an ornate ivory holder. “It’s a very distressing thing about chess,” said Barzov, admiring the holder,
turning it this way and that. “There isn’t a grain of luck in the game, you know. There’s no excuse for the loser.” His tone was pedantic, with the superciliousness of a teacher imparting profound truths to students too immature to understand.
Pi Ying shrugged. “Winning this game gives me very little satisfaction. Colonel Kelly has been a disappointment. By risking nothing, he has deprived the game of its subtlety and wit. I could expect more brilliance from my cook.”
The hot red of anger blazed over Kelly’s cheeks, inflamed his ears. The muscles of his belly knotted; his legs moved apart. Pi Ying must not move his queen. If Pi Ying moved his queen, Kelly would lose; if Pi Ying moved his knight from Kelly’s line of attack, Kelly would win. Only one thing might induce Pi Ying to move his knight a fresh, poignant opportunity for sadism.
“Concede, Colonel. My time is valuable,” said Pi Ying.
“Is it all over?” asked the young corporal querulously.
“Keep your mouth shut and stay where you are,” said Kelly. He stared through shrewd, narrowed eyes at Pi Ying’s knight, standing in the midst of the living chessmen. The horse’s carved neck arched. Its nostrils flared.
The pure geometry of the white chessmen’s fate burst upon Kelly’s consciousness. Its simplicity had the effect of a refreshing, chilling wind. A sacrifice had to be offered to Pi Ying’s knight. If Pi Ying accepted the sacrifice, the game would be Kelly’s The trap was perfect and deadly save for one detail bait. “One minute, Colonel,” said Pi Ying.
Kelly looked quickly from face to face, unmoved by the hostility or distrust or fear that he saw in each pair of eyes. One by one he eliminated the candidates for death. These four were vital to the sudden, crushing offense, and these must guard the king. Necessity, like a child counting eeny, meeny, miney, moe around a circle, pointed its finger at the one chessman who would be sacrificed. There was only one.
Kelly didn’t permit himself to think of the chessman as anything but a cipher in a rigid mathematical proposition: if x is dead, the rest shall live. He perceived the tragedy of his decision only as man who knew the definition of tragedy, not as one who felt it.
“Twenty seconds!” said Barzov. He had taken the stop watch from Pi Ying.
The cold resolve deserted Kelly for an instant, and he saw the utter pathos of his position as dilemma as old as mankind, as new as the struggle between East and West. When human beings are attacked, x, multiplied by hundreds and thousands, must die sent to death by those who love them most. Kelly’s profession was the choosing of x.
“Ten seconds,” said Barzov.
“Jerry,” said Kelly, his voice loud and sure, “move forward one square and two to your left.” Trustingly, his son stepped out of the back rank and into the shadow of the black knight. Awareness seemed to be filtering back into Margaret’s eyes. She turned her head when her husband spoke.
Pi Ying stared down at the board in bafflement. “Are you in your right mind, Colonel?” he asked at last. “Do you realize what you’ve just done?”
A faint smile crossed Barzov’s face. He bent forward as though to whisper to Pi Ying, but apparently thought better of it. He leaned back against a pillar to watch Kelly’s every move through a gauze of cigarette smoke.
Kelly pretended to be mystified by Pi Ying’s words. And then he buried his face in his hands and gave an agonized cry. “Oh, God, no!”
“An exquisite mistake, to be sure,” said Pi Ying. He excitedly explained the blunder to the young girl beside him. She turned away. He seemed infuriated by the gesture.
“You’ve got to let me take him back,” begged Kelly brokenly.
“Pi Ying rapped on the balustrade with his knuckles. “Without rules, my friend, games become nonsense. We agreed that all moves would be final, and so they are.” He motioned to a servant. “King’s knight to king’s bishop six!” The servant moved the piece onto the square where Jerry stood. The bait was taken, the game was Colonel Kelly’s from here on in.
“What is he talking about?” murmured Margaret.
“Why keep your wife in suspense, Colonel?” said Pi Ying. “Be a good husband and answer her question, or should I?”
“Your husband sacrificed a knight,” said Barzov, his voice overriding Pi Ying’s. “You’ve just lost your son.” His expression was that of an experimenter, keen, expectant, entranced.
Kelly heard the choking sound in Margaret’s throat, caught her as she fell. He rubbed her wrists. “Darling, please listen to me!” He shook her more roughly than he had intended. Her reaction was explosive. Words cascaded from her hysterical babble condemning him. Kelly locked her wrists together in his hands and listened dumbly to her broken abuse.
Pi Ying’s eyes bulged, transfixed by the fantastic drama below, oblivious of the tearful frenzy of the young girl behind him. She tugged at his blouse, pleading. He pushed her back without looking away from the board.
The tall T4 suddenly dived at the nearest guard, driving his shoulder into the man’s chest, his fist into his belly. Pi Ying’s soldiers converged, hammered him to the floor and dragged him back to the square.
In the midst of the bedlam, Jerry burst into tears and raced terrified to his father and mother. Kelly freed Margaret, who dropped to her knees to hug the quaking child. Paul, Jerry’s twin, held his ground, trembled, stared stolidly at the floor.
“Shall we get on with the game, Colonel?” asked Pi Ying, his voice high. Barzov turned his back to the board, unwilling to prevent the next step, apparently reluctant to watch it.
Kelly closed his eyes, and waited for Pi Ying to give the order to the executioners. He couldn’t bring himself to look at Margaret and Jerry. Pi Ying waved his hand for silence. “It is with deep regret ” he began. His lips closed. The menace suddenly went out of his face, leaving only surprise and stupidity. The small man slumped on the balustrade, slithered over to crash among his soldiers. Major Barzov struggled with the Chinese girl. In her small hand, still free of his grasp, was a slender knife. She drove it into her breast and fell against the major. Barzov let her fall. He strode to the balustrade. “Keep the prisoners where they are!” he shouted at the guards. “Is he alive?”
There was no anger in his voice, no sorrow only irritation, resentment of inconvenience. A servant looked up and shook his head.
Barzov ordered servants and soldiers to carry out the bodies of Pi Ying and the girl. It was more of the act of a scrupulous housekeeper than a pious mourner. No one questioned his brisk authority.
“So this is your party after all,” said Kelly.
“The peoples of Asia have lost a very great leader,” Barzov said severely. He smiled at Kelly oddly.
“Though he wasn’t without weakness, was he, Colonel?” He shrugged. “However, you’ve won only the initiative, not the game; and now you have me to reckon with instead of Pi Ying. Stay where you are, Colonel. I’ll be back shortly.”
He ground out his cigarette on the ornamented balustrade, returned the holder to his pocket with a flourish, and disappeared through the curtains.
“Is Jerry going to be all right?” whispered Margaret. It was a plea, not a question, as though mercy were Kelly’s to dole out or to withhold.
“Only Barzov knows,” he said. He was bursting to explain the moves to her, to make her understand why he had no choice; but he knew that an explanation would only make the tragedy infinitely more cruel for her. Death through a blunder she might be able to understand; but death as a product of cool reason, a step in logic, she could never accept. Rather than accept it, she would have had them all die.
“Only Barzov knows,” he repeated wearily. The bargain was still in force, the price of victory agreed to. Barzov apparently had yet to realize what it was that Kelly was buying with a life.
“How do we know Barzov will let us go if we do win?” said T4.
“We don’t, soldier. We don’t.” And then another doubt began to worm into his consciousness. Per haps he had won no more than a brief reprieve. . . .
Colonel Kelly had lost track of how long they’d waited there on the chessboard for Barzov’s return. His nerves were deadened by surge after surge of remorse and by the steady pressure of terrible responsibility. His consciousness had lapsed into twilight. Margaret slept in utter exhaustion, with Jerry, his life yet to be claimed, in her arms. Paul had curled up on his square, covered by the young corporal’s field jacket. On what had been Jerry’s square, the horse’s carved head snarling as though fire would burst from its nostrils, stood Pi Ying’s black knight.
Kelly barely heard the voice from the balcony mistook it for another jagged fragment in a nightmare. His mind attached no sense to the words, heard only their sound. And then he opened his eyes and saw Major Barzov’s lips moving. He saw the arrogant challenge in his eyes, understood the words. “Since so much blood has been shed in this game, it would be a pitiful waste to leave it unresolved.”
Barzov settled regally on Pi Ying’s cushions, his black boots crossed. “I propose to beat you, Colonel, and I will be surprised if you give me trouble. It would be very upsetting to have you win by the transparent ruse that fooled Pi Ying. It isn’t that easy any more. You’re playing me now, Colonel. You won the initiative for a moment. I’ll take it and the game now, without any more delay.”
Kelly rose to his feet, the great frame monumental above the white chessmen sitting on the squares about him. Major Barzov wasn’t above the kind of entertainment Pi Ying had found so diverting. But Kelly sensed the difference between the major’s demeanor and that of the guerrilla chief. The major was resuming the game, not because he liked hit, but because he wanted to prove that he was one hell of a bright fellow, and that the Americans were dirt. Apparently, he didn’t realize that Pi Ying had already lost the game. Either that, or Kelly had miscalculated.
In his mind, Kelly moved every piece on the board, driving his imagination to show him the flaw in his plan, if for nothing. In an ordinary game, with nothing at stake but bits of wood, he would have called upon his opponent to concede, and the game would have ended there. But now, playing for flesh and blood, an aching, ineradicable doubt overshadowed the cleancut logic of the outcome. Kelly dared not reveal that he planned to attack and win in three moves not until he had made the moves, not until Barzov had lost every chance to exploit the flaw, if there was one.
“What about Jerry?” cried Margaret.
“Jerry? Oh, of course, the little boy. Well, what about Jerry, Colonel?” asked Barzov. “I’ll make a special concession, if you like. Would you want to take the move back?” The major was urbane, a caricature of cheerful hospitality.
“Without rules, Major, games become nonsense,” said Kelly flatly. “I’d be the last to ask you to break them.”
Barzov’s expression became one of profound sympathy. “Your husband, madame, has made the decision, not I.” He pressed the button on the stop watch. “You may keep the boy with you until the Colonel has fumbled all of your lives away. Your move, Colonel. Ten minutes.”
“Take his pawn,” Kelly ordered Margaret. She didn’t move. “Margaret! Do you hear me?” “Help her, Colonel, help her,” chided Barzov.
Kelly took Margaret by the elbow, led her unresisting to the square where a black pawn stood. Jerry tagged along, keeping his mother between himself and Kelly. Kelly returned to his square, dug his hands into his pockets, and watched a servant take the black pawn from the board. “Check, Major. Your king is in check.”
Barzov raised an eyebrow. “Check, did you say? What shall I do about this annoyance? How shall I get you back to some of the more interesting problems on the board?” He gestured to a servant. “Move my king over one square to the left.”
“Move diagonally one square toward me, Lieutenant,” Kelly ordered the pilot. The pilot hesitated. “Move! Do you hear?”
“Yessir.” The tone was mocking. “Retreating, eh, sir?” The lieutenant slouched onto the square, slowly, insolently.
“Check again, Major,” Kelly said evenly. He motioned at the lieutenant. “Now my bishop has your king in check.” He closed his eyes and told himself again and again that he had made no miscalculation, that the sacrifice had won the game, that there could be no out for Barzov. This was it the last of the three moves.
“Well,” said Barzov, “is that the best you can do? I’ll simply move my queen in front of my king.” The servant moved the piece. “Now it will be a different story.”
“Take his queen,” said Kelly to his farthestadvanced pawn, the battered T4. Barzov jumped to his feet. “Wait!”
“You didn’t see it? You’d like to take it back?” taunted Kelly. Barzov paced back and forth on his balcony, breathing hard. “Of course I saw it!”
“It was the only thing you could do to save your king,” said Kelly. “You may take it back if you like, but you’ll find it’s the only move you can make.” “Take the queen and get on with the game,” shouted Barzov. “Take her!”
“Take her,” echoed Kelly, and the servant trundled the huge piece to the side lines. The T4 now stood blinking at Barzov’s king, inches away. Colonel Kelly said it very softly this time: “Check.”
Barzov exhaled in exasperation. “Check indeed.” His voice grew louder. “No credit to you, Colonel Kelly, but to the monumental stupidity of Pi Ying.” “And that’s the game, Major.”
T4 laughed idiotically, the corporal sat down, the lieutenant threw his arms around Colonel Kelly. The two children gave a cheer. Only Margaret stood fast, still rigid, frightened.
“The price of your victory, of course, has yet to be paid,” said Barzov acidly. “I presume you’re ready to pay now?”
Kelly whitened. “That was the understanding, if it would give you satisfaction to hold me to it.”
Barzov placed another cigarette in his ivory holder, taking a scowling minute to do it. When he spoke, it was in the tone of the pedant once more, the wielder of profundities. “No, I wont’ take the boy. I feel as Pi Ying felt about you that you, as Americans, are the enemy, whether an official state of war exists or not. I look upon you as prisoners of war.
“However, as long as there is no official state of war, I have no choice, as a representative of my government, but to see that all of you are conducted safely through the lines. This was my plan when I resumed the game where Pi Ying left off. Your being freed has nothing to do with my personal feelings, nor with the outcome of the game. My winning would have delighted me and taught you a valuable lesson. But it would have made no difference in your fates.” He lighted his cigarette and continued to look at them with severity.
“That’s very chivalrous of you, Major,” said Kelly.
“A matter of practical politics, I assure you. It wouldn’t do to precipitate an incident between our countries just now. For a Russian to be chivalrous with an American is a spiritual impossibility, a contradiction in terms. In a long and bitter history, we’ve learned and learned well to reserve our chivalry for Russians.” His expression became one of complete contempt. “Perhaps you’d like to play another game, Colonel plain chess with wooden chessmen, without Pi Ying’s refinement. I don’t like to have you leave here thinking you play a better game than I.”
“That’s nice of you, but not this evening.” “Well, then, some other time.” Major Barzov motioned for the guards to open the door of the throne room.
“Some other time,” he said again. “There will be others like Pi Ying eager to play with you live men, and I hope I will again be privileged to be an observer.” He smiled brightly. “When and where would you like it to be?”
“Unfortunately, the time and the place are up to you,” said Colonel Kelly wearily. “If you insist on arranging
another game, issue an invitation, Major, and I’ll be there.”