The dream was not what was bothering Santiago. There had probably been some of the drug left over in his system. It made him fall asleep again and he had dreamt about being on the island. Since he had been working on the lock when he fell asleep, his mind had simply worked the lock into his dream. In fact, he would have figured out that the wires were fiber optic wires while he had been awake if his mind had not been fogged up from the drug in his system. All of this seem perfectly logical to Santiago.
What was bothering him was the lock. Fiber optic wires were normally used to transmit information over long distances. There was no reason to use them for something as small and compact as a lock. Santiago could think of at least a dozen other ways to transport information though the lock, ranging from electrical signals to falling rocks, all of which would work just as well as fiber optic wires. In short the fiber optic wires were complete over kill.
Santiago sighed and started examining the circuitry of the lock again. In the end it did not matter how the lock worked. Santiago just had to unlock the door and then make a run to the entrance of the mines. With any luck, whoever had kidnapped him had assumed that he would be unable to escape and the tunnels outside his cell would be unguarded. Then all Santiago had to do was meet up with the rest of the ClueFinders and then get back to civilization. While the police investigated the mines, Santiago would be relaxing in the safety of his room, most likely trying to figure out why anyone would use fiber optic wires in a lock.
After a few minutes of working, Santiago stopped and yawned. Without thinking Santiago continued working. Less than a minute later Santiago felt to the urge to yawn again. Probably nothing, Santiago told himself. He had woken up barely ten minutes ago and he was just chasing away the last remnants of sleep. As Santiago was reassuring himself, his eye lids started feeling heavy. Santiago rubbed his eyes and tried to focus on the lock. The best way to stay awake was to stop thinking about sleep. Santiago tried to find the wire he had been looking, but he experienced the all too familiar sensation of seeing nothing but a blur of colors. Santiago had a feeling that something was very wrong, but he could not focus on what it was. The only thing he could think about was laying his head on the ground and closing his eyes.
At first, Santiago was lost in the emptiness. There was nothing, nothing that he could see or touch or smell or hear. There was just a never ending emptiness. The emptiness was so complete that Santiago felt as though he was neither lying in the emptiness nor as if he were falling or floating in the emptiness. Santiago could not even feel sensations from his body. The only thing in the emptiness that Santiago was aware of was his thoughts, and so Santiago began to think.
How did he get here? He thought but nothing came to him. When did he get here? He drew a blank again. Maybe he was going about this wrong. What was here? Emptiness. He still was not getting anywhere. How long was he going to be here? Hopefully not long, Santiago thought, at the rate he was going he was going to lose his mind from boredom soon.
Suddenly Santiago sensed something. Where was it? The sensation came from his nose. Santiago smelled dust mixed with car fumes and animal dung. Not a pleasant smell but it was something. Anything was better than this the total emptiness. Santiago focused on the smell and it became stronger.
Soon an image started to form in Santiago's mind. It was blurry at first but soon it became clearer. Santiago started to make out a dirt street and a few cars. As the background came into view, Santiago saw houses made of sun baked brick. He heard Joni, Owen, and Leslie's voices. There was also a fourth voice, one that Santiago was not familiar with. The voice was deep with a thick accent. Santiago remembered hearing this voice before when the ClueFinders had travelled to Egypt. Santiago realized that he must be seeing a street in the city of Cairo.
Suddenly Santiago came crashing back to reality.
"So what is it you want to know?" The man who asked the question was a middle age Muslim man with a long beard. He wore a cheap suit that barely fit over his bulging stomach.
"Where can we find Amr Moussa?" Joni said.
The man laughed, showing a mouthful of dark yellow teeth. "Moussa is a very important man. What business do a bunch of children have with him?"
"Of what concern is it of yours?" Joni asked. "We heard you do not care who you do business with." On cue, Owen pulled an envelope out of his pocket and held it up to the man.
The man smiled again and said "Normally I do not worry about who I do business with, but I also do not normally do business with such important people."
Santiago looked around at the group, and he saw that he was not the only one who was confused. Joni and Owen exchanged concerned looks. Suddenly a look of realization came to Leslie's face. "It's the last day of the Muslim holy month, Ramadan," she said.
"Correct," the man said, "and every able bodied Muslim should be on his way to the Mosque, but there are two men on the far side of the street. They have been watching you since you started talking to me. Thugs like them are easy to come by in this city but even the thugs do not disobey Allah. That is, not unless they are paid a very steep price. So who wants to…."
Before the man had finished his sentence Joni grabbed Santiago's shirt and had started running down the street. Santiago looked over his shoulder just long enough to see two men across the street begin running after them. The streets were crowded with citizens walking to Mosque and Owen had to push people out of the way to make a path. Ignoring yells of protests, the group ran frantically trying to lose the two men behind them. Santiago looked back and saw that the two thugs were gaining on them. Realizing that Owen could not push through the crowd of bystanders fast enough, Santiago yelled to the rest of the group to follow him. Santiago made an abrupt turn to the right. He crashed into a woman and she fell to the ground with a surprised scream.
Without stopping Santiago stepped off the sidewalk and into the street. The morning traffic was almost complete gridlock and Santiago jumped on the hood of a nearby car. As he jumped down to the other opposite side Santiago looked back to make sure his friends where behind him. Seeing Joni and Leslie following his led by jumping onto the hood of the car and that Owen was not far behind, Santiago turned and started running between the two lanes of traffic.
With a clear path, Santiago started taking long strides and moved quickly down the street. He looked over his shoulder again and saw his friends behind him. Behind them the two thugs were breathing heavily, but they were still gaining on the ClueFinders. Santiago started to slow his pace. Joni gave Santiago a concerned look but Santiago just pushed her past him and told her to keep running. Once Owen and Leslie had passed him, Santiago started running again. The thugs were now no more than five yards behind Santiago. Santiago heard one of the thugs swear at him and Santiago hoped that the thugs would run out of breath soon.
Instead of waiting to see if the thugs would fall behind on their own, Santiago reached out and grabbed onto the door of a car as he ran by. The driver had neglected to lock his door and Santiago used his momentum to pull the door open. The door slammed into the car in the next lane and Santiago's arm was nearly pulled out of its socket. The door was jammed open blocking the path between the two cars. Santiago let go of the door and started running again, just as one of the thugs collided with the open door. From what Santiago heard as he ran away he gathered that the man tried for several unsuccessful seconds to push or pull the door free before giving up to find another path through the traffic.
When Santiago reached his friends again he risked other look over his shoulder. He saw that the two thugs were at least fifty yards behind him. Santiago was smiling to himself thinking that their out of shape pursuers would never be able to close the gap, when he heard a loud bang and the tail light on a car next to him exploded. People walking on the streets and sitting in their cars screamed and began looking frantically for cover. It took Santiago's mind a few precious seconds to realize what had just happened. They were being shot at.
"Get down!" Joni yelled, as she pulled Santiago to the ground. The next instant the back window of another car shattered. Joni crawled across the ground and pulled herself underneath a car. As the rest of the ClueFinders followed Joni, Santiago looked around and saw looks of panic on his friends' faces. Whoever was chasing them did not want information from them or to scare them off the case they were on. They wanted them out of the way and did not seem to care if they were leaving witnesses. The thugs' boss had most likely paid off the local police so that his men could deal with the ClueFinders without interference.
Just as Santiago emerged from underneath the far side of the car, a third shot rang out and an instant later one of the car windows exploded sending glass raining down on Santiago's head. In a panic, the driver of the car jumped out of his car and ran towards an alleyway. Suddenly Santiago heard Leslie yell, "Santiago, help!" Leslie was still trying to pull herself out from underneath the car and it appeared that part of her outfit was stuck on the underside of the car. Santiago was about to reach underneath the car to try and free Leslie, when the car started to role forward. In his panic to escape the gunfire, the drive of the car had neglected to put the car in park. Without thinking, Santiago immediately grabbed on the underside of the car and tried to prevent the car from role onto Leslie. For an instant his efforts seemed to work and then Santiago's feet started to slip on the dusty street and the car started moving again. Realizing what was going on Owen jumped next to Santiago and tried to help him keep the car in place. With the two of them the car seem to come to a stopped but Santiago's hands were already in pain and he did not know how much longer he could prevent the car from rolling forward.
Just as his hands were starting to slip, Joni grabbed onto Leslie and pulled with all her strength. There was a loud rip and Leslie slid out from underneath the car. As Joni dragged her from underneath the car, Santiago saw that one of the straps of Leslie's backpack had been ripped in half. As soon as Leslie was clear, Santiago and Owen let go of the car allowing it to roll into the car in front of it.
Without stopping to see how much ground their pursuers had gained on them, the ClueFinders started running down the lanes of traffic. Santiago was just starting to think that the thugs had given up, when another bullet whizzed past him and buried itself into a nearby car. Knowing that it was only a matter of time before the thugs landed a lucky shot, Santiago began to look around frantically for a way to escape. After considering their limited options, Santiago grabbed Joni and pulled her towards the sidewalk. Hoping that Leslie and Owen were following him, Santiago charged through the door of a nearby house. Santiago heard screams of anger and surprise from the house's residents. Before anyone could get in his way, Santiago ran through the rooms of the house dodging furniture, until he found the back door of the house. Without slowing down, Santiago ran into the door, breaking the cheap lock holding the door shut.
As he crashed into the back alley behind the house, Santiago looked back into the house to ensure that his friends were behind them. When he saw all three emerge from the house, Santiago started running again. Taking frequent turns to throw off their pursuers, Santiago led the ClueFinders through the back alleys of Cairo. The alleyways were filled with garbage and rat droppings. The stench was made even worse by the afternoon heat. Despite the fact that his eyes and nose were burning from the smell and his lungs were starting to ache from exhaustion, Santiago could only think of finding a place to hide.
Finally, just as Santiago felt his legs were going to collapse underneath him, the group came to a junkyard. Before Santiago could weigh their options, he heard the thugs running down the alleyway behind them. Santiago looked at the exhausted faces of his friends. In a panic, Santiago and the rest of the group ran towards the junkyard. Joni jumped onto a dumpster and then pulled herself over the junkyard's fence. Santiago saw her land hard on the ground on the other side, but before he could ask if she was alright Joni jumped up and yell for the rest of the group to follow her lead.
Once over the fence, the ClueFinders sprinted towards a pile of rusted cars. One by one the ClueFinders worked their bodies through the window of an old car. Joni quickly led the group deeper into the maze of partially crushed cars. After a few minutes of crawling on hands and knees, Owen found an overturned pickup truck buried under several cars. All four ClueFinders pulled themselves into the bed of the ancient truck.
Suddenly Joni raised her finger and pressed it against her lips. Santiago heard voices around the edge of the junkyard. From the banging of car doors and sheet metal, Santiago knew the thugs were searching the junkyard. For several long minutes the group hid the darkness, forcing themselves to breathe as quietly as possible. Santiago willed his still racing heart to slow. Finally after what seemed like an eternity to Santiago, the banging stopped. Santiago whispered a short prayer under his breathe, begging God for the thugs had given up their search.
Then, in a voice loud enough to be heard a block away the two thugs began yelling to one another. Santiago felt his chest constricted with fear as he realized that the thugs were yelling not out of anger or frustration but instead as if they were joking with one another. Santiago turned towards the rest of the ClueFinders just in time to see Leslie nearly fly out of the bed of the pickup truck through the small opening they had crawling in through. Santiago leapt through the opening and started crawling after Leslie. In the dim light Santiago saw Leslie pulling herself through the backseat of a car towards sunlight. Santiago grabbed Leslie's leg and pulled her towards him.
"What is the matter with you?" Santiago whispered. It took all his self-control to keep himself from yelling. "You are going to lead them right to us."
As Leslie turned towards him, Santiago saw that Leslie was on the verge of tears. "You don't understand." Suddenly Santiago remembered Leslie on the plane ride to Egypt. The entire flight, she sat with headphones in her ears and read an English/Arabic dictionary.
"What did they say?" Santiago asked, feeling his chest tighten again.
Leslie inhaled and slowly said. "The first man said, 'Do you remember what father would do when a family of rats moved into the garbage pit?' The other man laughed and said 'But of course, he would burn the rats out.'"
As soon as Leslie finished speaking, Santiago heard the sound of a mechanical pump and seconds later he smelled the strong odor of gasoline. Santiago looked behind him to see Owen and Joni with concerned looks on their faces. "We have to get out of here now," Santiago said.
"But if we leave the thugs will see us," Joni said.
"Yeah we'll never make it out of here without those goons grabbing us," Owen adding.
"Just follow me," Santiago said. As soon as the words left his mouth, Santiago heard the whoosh of gasoline igniting. Resisting his eager to panic, Santiago started crawling through the maze of cars. He heard the sizzling of burning plastic and felt the heat from the burning cars, but instead of crawling away from the fire, Santiago moved towards the flames. His lungs began to burn as he inhaled the toxic smoke from burning gasoline and tires. Santiago started to cough uncontrollably and just hoped that his friends following him. Finally Santiago came to a car door and on the other side Santiago saw daylight. Looking behind his Santiago saw the soot stained faces of his friends as they look at him expectantly. Santiago forced his lungs to stop coughing and yelled over the sounds of the fire, "Ok as soon as I open the door we all run. With any luck the thugs are on the far side trying to catch us fleeing the flames."
Seeing his friends nod, Santiago grabbed the handle of the door and throw his weight against it. The door did not move. Santiago's mind raced. The door had to open. There was no time to find another way out. If the door had rusted shut then there was nothing they could do. Suddenly Santiago looked down at the lock on the car door. To his shock, he saw a lock with a keypad on it. For some reason Santiago new two things about this lock; that if he were to open it he would find it filled with fiber optic wires and that he was beginning to hate this lock.
For a split second Santiago consider trying to take the lock apart, and then he realized he had no time. In the thickening smoke, Santiago frantically felt around for anything to open the door with. Finally his fingers closed around a metal pole. As Santiago began to feel the heat from the flames on the back of his neck, Santiago jammed the pole into the space between the frame of the car and the door. As Santiago throw his weight against the pole, he yelled for Leslie, Owen, and Joni to help, but his shout instead became a violent cough. As the cough shook his body, Santiago lost his grip on the pole and slid to the floor of the car. Santiago began to push himself off the floor when flames flared behind the ClueFinders. Santiago heard Leslie scream and with a rush of adrenaline Santiago threw his weight again the pole again. For a second the door failed to move and then Santiago felt the inner workings of the lock begin to give way. With one final burst of strength, the lock gave way and Santiago fell onto the ground of the junkyard.
Finally in the open air, Santiago forced himself to his feet and turned to help his friend. Coughing and wheezing, Joni and Owen pulled themselves free of the junk pile and Santiago ran to help Leslie out. Santiago reached out to take Leslie by the arm but she fell forward onto the seat of the car. As she fell, Santiago saw that the back of Leslie's shirt had been reduced to blackened tatters and the skin underneath looked badly burned. Santiago grabbed Leslie by her arms and pulled her out of the burning car. With Owen's help, Santiago helped Leslie to her feet and they began moving as quickly as possible towards the entrance of the junkyard.
Joni ran ahead and found one of the few cars in the yard that would ever run again. Joni found that the door was unlocked and by the time Owen and Santiago had helped Leslie to the car, Joni had found the car's keys in the glove compartment. As the old car sputtered to life, Owen and Santiago helped Leslie into the backseat. Owen jumped into the passenger's seat as Santiago got into the back seat with Leslie.
Joni floored the gas and the car roared towards the exit of the yard. In the distance Santiago hear the thugs yell, this time in genuine anger and frustration. As the danger faded away into the distance, Santiago turned to Leslie. "Leslie how badly were you burned?" Santiago asked.
For an instant Leslie looked up at Santiago with empty eyes and then life started to turn to her eyes. "Santiago your concern is touching but unwarranted," she said. "The burns are not severe. My backpack ignited but I was able to disentangle myself before second or third degree burns were inflicted."
"Are you sure Leslie?"
Again Leslie's eyes changed. Instead of her normal controlled thoughtful look, Leslie's eyes were filled with affection. Leslie leaned close to Santiago and whispered into his ear. "Santiago you saved me. You saved us all. You're the only one who could. You're the only one who can." With Leslie's final sentence the world started to fade to black. The smell of the smoke, the bumping of the old car, even the feeling of Leslie's breath on his ear drifted into the distance. Then the dream was gone.
Santiago was back on the floor of the cave. The dream seemed to be just a blur of smoke and running, but one thing remain completely clear; Leslie's final sentence. "You're the only one who can."