What if most of these other Jasons are exactly like me? Decent men who want back what was taken from them. And if that’s the case, what right do I have to Daniela and Charlie over the rest of them?
This isn’t just a game of chess. It’s a game of chess against myself.
I don’t want to see it this way, but I can’t help it. The other Jasons want the thing in the world that is most precious to me—my family. That makes them my enemy. I ask myself what I would be willing to do to regain my life. Would I kill another version of me if it meant I could spend the rest of my days with Daniela? Would they?
I picture these other versions of me sitting in their lonely hotel rooms, or walking the snowy streets, or watching my brownstone, wrestling with this exact line of thinking.
Asking themselves these same questions.
Attempting to forecast their doppelgängers’ next moves.
There can be no sharing. It’s strictly competitive, a zero-sum game, where only one of us can win.
If anyone is reckless, if things get out of hand and Daniela or Charlie is injured or killed, then no one wins. That must be why things seemed normal when I looked inside the front window of my house several hours ago.
No one knows which move to make, so no one has made a play against Jason2.
It’s a classic setup, pure game theory.
A terrifying spin on the Prisoner’s Dilemma that asks, Is it possible to outthink yourself?
I’m not safe.
My family isn’t safe.
But what can I do?
If every possible move I think of is doomed to be anticipated or made before I even get a chance, where does that leave me?
I feel like crawling out of my skin.
The worst days in the box—volcanic ash raining down on my face, almost freezing to death, seeing Daniela in a world where she had never said my name—none of it compares to the storm that’s roiling inside of me in this moment.
I’ve never felt farther from home.
The phone rings, snapping me back into the present.
I walk over to the table, lift the receiver on the third ring.
No response, only soft breathing.
I hang up the phone.
Move to the window.
Part the curtains.
Four floors below, the street is empty, the snow still pouring down.
The phone rings again, but only once this time.
As I ease back down onto the bed, the phone call keeps needling me.
What if another version of me is trying to confirm that I’m in my room?
First, how the hell would he find me at this hotel?
The answer comes fast, and it’s terrifying.
At this very moment, there must be numerous versions of me in Logan Square doing exactly what he’s doing—calling every motel and hotel in my neighborhood to find other Jasons. It isn’t luck that he found me. It’s a statistical probability. Even a handful of Jasons, making a dozen phone calls each, could cover all the hotels within a few miles of my house.
But would the clerk give out my room number?
Maybe not intentionally, but it’s possible the man downstairs listening to the Bulls game and stuffing his face with Chinese food could be duped.
How would I dupe him?
If it were anyone other than me looking for me, the name I checked in under would probably keep me undetected. But all these other versions know my mother’s father’s name. I screwed that up. If using that name was my first impulse, it would have also been another Jason’s first impulse. So assuming I knew the name I might have checked in under, what would I do next?
The front desk wouldn’t just give out my room number.
I’d have to pretend to know that I was staying here.
I would call the hotel and ask to be connected to Jess McCrae’s room.
When I heard my voice pick up on the other end of the line, I would know I was here and hang up right away.
Then I would call back thirty seconds later and say to the clerk, “Sorry to bother you again, but I just called a second ago and was accidentally disconnected. Could you please reconnect me to…Oh shit, what room number was that?”
And if I got lucky, and the front-desk clerk was an absentminded idiot, there’d be a decent chance he would just blurt out my room number before reconnecting me.
Thus the first call to confirm it was me who answered.
Thus the second, where the caller hung up right after learning which room I’m staying in.
I rise from the bed.
The thought is absurd, but I can’t ignore it.
Am I coming up here right now to kill me?
I slide my arms into the sleeves of my wool coat and head for the door.
I feel dizzy with fear, even as I second-guess myself, thinking maybe I’m crazy. Maybe I’m rushing to some outlandish explanation of a mundane thing—the phone ringing twice in my room.
But after that chat room, nothing would surprise me.
What if I’m right and don’t listen to my gut?
I slowly open the door.
Step out into the hall.
Silent save for the low-register hum of the fluorescent lights above me.
Stairs or elevator?
At the far end of the hallway, the elevator dings.
I hear the doors begin to part, and then a man in a wet jacket steps out of the elevator car.
For a moment, I can’t move.
Can’t tear my eyes away.
It’s me walking toward me.
Our eyes meet.
He isn’t smiling.
Wears no emotion on his face but a chilling intensity.
He raises a gun, and I’m suddenly running in the opposite direction, sprinting down the hallway toward the door at the far end that I’m praying isn’t locked.
I crash through under the glowing Exit sign, glancing back as I enter the stairwell.
My doppelgänger runs toward me.
Down the steps, my hand sliding along the guardrail to steady my balance, thinking, Don’t fall, don’t fall, don’t fall.
As I reach the third-floor landing, I hear the door bang open above me, the echo of his footsteps filling the stairwell.
I keep descending.
Hit the second floor.
Then the first, where one door with a window in the center leads into the lobby and another without a window leads elsewhere.
I choose elsewhere, smashing through…
Into a wall of freezing, snow-filled air.