Julian's door was open when Sister Dana arrived. The room was set as for a class, chairs placed at the table, chessboard out replete with pieces, though in a rather sparse configuration, and in whose midst there stood a piece of paper folded tent-like—a note that the nun, bending sideways, tried to read.

"Boo!"

"Oh! Oh, Melanie, it's you."

The girl's eyes scanned the tidy room, noting both the absence of the snapshots and their owner.

"Where is he?"

"I don't know. Not here."

"What's that?"

"A note, I think."

"For me?"

"I couldn't see."

Melanie plucked it up and read:

1. Jz2 JtelephonesQ

2. JxQ or QxJ

3. Jj2:15?
                ___________

1. Mj2 SDj2

White to move and mate in three

2. Mj2:15 SDxM

3. (MxJ rescheduled)

 

 

 

 

"What does all that mean?"

She looked back and forth from the paper to the board.

"It's chess notation. But the letters are funny."

She thought a moment longer.

"Oh."

"What?"

"I get it now."

"Well?"

"Julian went to Sister Zoe's at two o'clock to make a phone call."

"His mother, I'll bet."

"His mother?"

"When she heard he was missing she wanted to come. Sister advised her not to, but I guess she's coming anyway."

"Why isn't she here then?"

"The roads have been closed, remember?"

"Hm. Well, here he calls her the Queen."

She paused, wondering at the JxQ or QxJ.

"What? What?"

"Well, he may be back by 2:15. I'm supposed to work on this problem until then, and if he hasn't shown up, you and I can leave. He'll reschedule my class another time."

"You got all of that from that?"

Melanie smiled, self-satisfied, and tucked the note into a pocket of her jeans.

"Want to be Black?"

"What? Oh, no thank you. You know I can't play."

Melanie sat down at the board, and soon was lost to concentration, leaving Sister Dana free to inspect the room.

Orderliness reigned. The nun thought it phony. Julian did not live this way, she was sure of it. The neatness was a put-on, a mask like all his other masks, which hid, she was convinced, a cruel, conniving, sexually perverted male—a wolf in sheep's clothing. She smirked at the metaphor's aptness. If only there was a way, she very much would like to see him leave the sanitarium. For good. But, how? And did she have the right to plot against him? He was, after all, a patient who had come to them for aid. Sister Zoe had taken him in (though she believed the reverse was true, that he had taken in Sister Zoe—taken in everybody except herself). Why, really, had he come?

Since her avowed reform, the nun had asked herself, repeatedly, what the Lord intended via Julian. Was he a kind of test? He had certainly occasioned her to do some soul-searching. And perhaps, without his base example, she never would have seen the error of her ways. Perhaps God's plan was that she fall from grace temporarily, just so she could recognize, in Julian, the type of wickedness that threatened. In fact, how better forge a shield for Melanie?

There must be something here that would incriminate him, a lever she could work (if his mother failed to come). Yet the room, done up as it was, appeared almost unoccupied. She saw then that the bathroom door was closed. She opened it and slipped inside unnoticed—Melanie still intent on solving the chess problem.

But the bathroom, too, was immaculate. Laid out neatly on a towel were: a toothbrush, tube of toothpaste, can of shaving cream and a disposable razor, deodorant, tweezers, nail clippers, a brush with a nylon comb. On the rim of the tub was a bottle of shampoo. She checked the wastebasket. It was full of broken glass. Then she saw that the door of the medicine chest had jagged shards of mirror wedged along its frame. That explained his hand. She clicked it open: aspirin, a prescription, powder, eye drops, and a box of prophylactics. She checked to see if any of the tinfoil packets were missing. Too bad; all there.

"Sister Dana?"

"Just a minute."

She flushed the toilet, waited, then went out.

"Do you have a pen?"

She took one from her habit.

"Any paper?"

"No, not with me." She looked around. "Do you think there might be some in one of his dresser drawers?" She crossed to see.

Melanie panicked. Julian's photographs! What if they were there? She especially did not want the nun to see that nude one. She did not want anyone to see it, ever. She remembered the note.

"Never mind! I'll just use this."

Disappointed, the nun returned. Melanie tore off an unused portion of Julian's instructions.

"You solved it?"

"Uh huh. Nothing to it."

She lettered out the problem's answer, including variations, then added in the improvised notation:

1. Mm2:20 Jm?

2. MxJ JxM

thus expressing her idea of offering him a drawing as partial payment for the lessons. She propped her cryptic note between a pair of pawns.

"What should we do now?"

"I think I'll go back to my room. I have some makeup work to do in Math and English."

"Want some help?"

"No thanks. The Math is real easy. For English I have to write another boring composition."

"That's an odd assignment, 'write another boring composition.'"

Melanie smiled. The nun did, too. Closing his bedroom door, they took their leave.

 

He would simply...

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