Sabine sits on a chair that’s too big for her. Her feet dangle a few inches off the ground. A nurse moves a stethoscope around her back and asks her to cough.
Chris paces impatiently in front of her.
“An accident, huh?” he says, accusingly.
“Obviously,” Jack offers, knowing instantly that this was not a helpful comment.
The ambulance idling outside the conference room’s propped-open emergency exit blares part of its siren before driving away. The sound makes Sabine jump.
“I mean besides the explosion and the roof coming down,” Chris says.
“I felt it, too,” Maya says. She sits in a chair next to Sabine. A blanket is slung over her back that tucks in the ends of her bushy hair.
“We have to figure out what that was,” Chris says. “Sabine, what do you remember?”
Sabine looks up at him like she’s going to cry.
“Hey,” Jack says, laying his hand gently on Chris’s shoulder. “Let’s give her a moment, huh?”
Chris resumes his pacing. “I don’t know. What if we’re still in danger? I do not have a good feeling about this. About any of this.”
Jack isn’t used to seeing Chris lose his cocksure attitude. He’s come to understand it isn’t just posturing. Chris is naturally confident, a take-charge guy. He hasn’t faced a lot of hardships in his life, and is clearly accustomed to things going his way, which Jack believes accounts for a lot of his natural confidence.
With a hollow squeak, the glass door to the conference room opens. The doctor, Jewel, and a few other officials come in.
The doctor looks at the four kids. “We were so all relieved to hear that no one had been seriously hurt.”
“No one was hurt at all, not even not-seriously,” Maya responds flatly.
The doctor nods to Jewel, who steps forward and puts his foot up on the arm of an empty chair.
“I need you kids to tell me exactly what happened,” he says, looking directly at Jack. He then scans the other kids’ faces, finding either reluctance or reticence. Jack scans them, too, and decides to speak for them.
“We already told the on-duty guard team everything,” he says.
“We spoke to them for, like, twenty hours,” Maya chimes in. In fact, it was only an hour or two.
“Can’t you just read their report or something?” Jack offers. He motions to Sabine, who still seems to be on the verge of crying. “Come on.”
“I’m not talking about what you told them. We know the facts of the incident, based on all of your accounts,” Jewel says in a measured voice. “I’m asking about what you didn’t tell them.”
“What do you mean, what we didn’t tell them?” Chris says. “Are you saying we held something back, or lied to them?”
Jack senses that Chris could explode and give Jewel a shove. The thought springs from his impression of Chris as someone with a driving need to always be in the right. The picture amuses him. Jewel is at least twice Chris’s size, and probably has hand-to-hand combat training that would make Chris’s weekend Tae Kwan Do classes in middle school seem like old-lady purse-slapping.
Jewel holds up his hand. “Nobody’s accusing anybody of anything. We’re trying to figure out some inconsistencies in the information we have.”
“What do you mean. We were almost killed and our stories aren’t completely straight? Big deal.” Jack says, hoping to lighten the mood in the room before Chris has a chance to respond reflexively. “I’m sure we all told you exactly what happened the way we saw it.”
Jewel looks to the doctor. The doctor nods and says, “Go ahead and tell them. It’s all right.”
“Tell us what? Are you not telling us something?” Chris says, getting increasingly aggravated. “Like maybe what this whole program is even about? Who’s withholding information from who here? I’m confused.”
Jack gives Chris a look to try to calm him and encourage him to listen to Jewel.
“First, how was none of you injured in the collapse? The room was totaled. Is it possible that something,” he has trouble finding the right word, “out of the ordinary happened to shield you from the debris from the ceiling?”
Chris chuckles. “Yeah, me.”
Jewel raises his eyebrows and looks at the doctor.
Chris bounces lightly on his feet. “Yeah. I grew up on the West Coast. I know what to do in an earthquake. You get yourself in a doorway on a support wall.”
“It’s true,” Jack says. “That’s why we didn’t get hurt. The ceiling seemed to collapse around us, but the doorway saved us. We just huddled under it.”
“Way to go, Chris,” Maya says. “Seriously, it was incredible how you took charge in the moment.”
It stings Jack to hear Maya give Chris so much credit, but he can’t deny it.
“Chris, I mean,” he corrects himself. “Chris saved us.”
Chris mock-bows, which doesn’t seem to release any steam from his simmering temper. Jack wonders if maybe that’s the effect Maya is trying to have.
“He saved all of us,” she adds, looking at him.
Jack puts his arm around Chris and gives him a pat.
“Okay. That explains that,” Jewel says. “We’ll examine the site to confirm what you’re saying, but it sounds plausible to me. Extremely lucky, but plausible.”
Then Jewel takes a deep breath and confusion seeps into his face. “The other thing we’re having trouble making sense of is, who was the man?”
Maya and Jack share a bewildered look. Chris throws his hands up.
“Man? There was no other man. Just the four of us,” he says. “Except the guards who dug us out.”
“No, before that,” Jewel says. “The other man who was there.”
Jack discerns that Chris is feeling minimized, that he feels Jewel is implying that Chris alone couldn’t have saved them all.
The nurse finishes with Sabine. Jewel moves aside to let her pass as she wraps up her stethoscope and walks out the door. Sabine straightens her shirt and stares forward blankly.
“That’s not what Sabine reported,” Jewel says.
“Sabine?” Chris cries. “She’s, like, eight.”
“Hey, hold on, Chris,” Jack says.
“Stop trying to hold me back, Jack.” Chris comes chest-to-chest to Jack. He’s boiling over. “We almost got killed tonight. We have a right to know what happened, and not get accused of lying because Sabine has a overactive imagination.”
“Okay, that’s enough,” the doctor says. “Chris, have a seat.”
Chris locks eyes on her, and paces, but with a shorter stride that before.
“Chris,” the doctor repeats quietly. “Take a seat, or some of Agent Klanmer’s men will gently place you in a chair.”
Chris puts up his hands. “Okay, okay. No reason to get all military on my ass.” He sits, barely contained.
“Thank you,” she says. “I understand you’re all upset. What happened tonight was a tragic accident. It could have been much worse. We need to have an open and constructive assessment of the facts.”
Jack notices that Sabine is now watching the conversation like a ping-pong match.
“Agent Klanmer, please continue,” the doctor motions to Jewel.
“Sabine told the guard captain that she was, quote, glad the man didn’t find you. Who was she talking about?”
“I don’t know,” Chris says, like it’s obvious.
Jack thinks for a moment. He still has no answers for what Sabine did when she asked them to be quiet during the collapse. He doesn’t know how to explain it, but he decides to try. “I didn’t think to mention it before,” he says. “I figured she was scared, or wanted to be able to listen for rescue teams coming.”
Jewel perks up. “Go on.”
“I don’t know. Maybe it was something else. I don’t know. But maybe.” Jack wonders if he made the right decision to mention it at all.
“Did any of you see anyone else there?” Jewel asks.
“No,” Chris says, “like we said. There was nobody but us.”
“Did you sense anyone there?” the doctor asks.
“What are you talking about?” Chris asks like it’s a ridiculous question.
Jack tries to salvage his earlier comment: “It’s possible. Look, if Sabine sensed something or felt something, maybe we should ask her.”
Sabine looks at the doctor.
The doctor steps up to Sabine. “Sabine, did you see someone other than the four of you in the room after the ceiling collapsed?” The doctor’s shadow looms over Sabine. She stares up at her, expressionless.
Chris gestures to Maya, tacitly asking her to facilitate. Jack interprets. “Yeah, Maya, you talk to her. No offense, doctor, but I think you might be scaring her a little bit there.”
The doctor gives Jack a slight look of reproach, and then steps away.
Maya leans in close to Sabine, puts her hand on her knee, and speaks quietly.
“It’s okay, sweetie,” Maya says. “It’s important that you tell us, so we can all figure out what happened. Was someone else there?”
“Try to use your words, honey,” Maya says. Jack enjoys listening to Maya speak so tenderly. “Tell us about the man.”
Sabine takes a big breath. “I didn’t want him to find us.”
“Who, Sabine?” Maya pushes. “Who?”
“The bad man. I didn’t want the bad man to find us.”
Jewel, the doctor, and the other men exchange grave looks.