Welcome To The Harem

Room 666 by Scifinerdgrl
Summary: Summary: Skinner has an unusual experience in Room 666 of the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. Fortunately, his secretary Kim is there to save the day.

From: Scifinerdgrl
Date: 5 Jan 2003 17:44:45 -0800
Subject: NEW: Room 666 by Scifinerdgrl (1/1)
Source: atxc

Title: Room 666
Author: Scifinerdgrl
Rating: PG
Classification: TH (Adventure/Humor)
Spoilers: None
Keywords: Skinner, Kim, X-File
Summary: Skinner has an unusual experience in Room 666 of the
Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. Fortunately, his secretary Kim is
there to save the day.
Feedback: scifinerdgrl@hotmail.com or scifinerdgrl@earthlink.net

Disclaimer: I've stayed in this room and it's exactly as I
describe it. If you work for the Biltmore and you're offended,
you have only yourself to blame! So don't sue me! Come to think
of it, Fox owns the rights to these characters and to everything
on this messageboard, so you can sue them if you don't like this
story. And if you wrote "Amazon Women on the Moon," you are
correct in thinking that your movie inspired this fic. It's one
of my favorite movies of all time.

Assistant Director Walter S. Skinner cursed under his breath and
shoved the keycard into the lock of Room 666 for a third time.
Damn! You'd think the Biltmore Hotel would have the best of
everything, he thought. Indeed, it was his expectation of a
smooth check-in and good night's sleep that had sustained him
through a long day of flight delays, nauseating turbulence, and
crying babies. His speech needed one more revision, and he'd
hoped to do it on the plane. No such luck, and now he wouldn't
have time tonight, either. Damn! He muttered after trying the
keycard one more time.

"Want me to call the desk?" Kim, his secretary, offered. Her
sweet, tentative voice belied the strength of character that had
made it possible for her to endure her job with the surly
assistant director for nine years. She stood with one foot in
the hallway and the other propping open the door to her room, the
room next to his.

"No, that's okay, Kim," he answered, shoving the card into the
holder as if brute strength alone could solve this problem.

Kim went to his side and grabbed the keycard from his hand.
"Wait here," she ordered. "I'll get you another card."

"Get two, Kim," he ordered as she rushed down the hall. "Just in

"Men...," she sighed as she pushed the button. And that man in
particular. How could they be so smart about some things and so
stupid about others?

All day she had stood by watching her boss make his own day worse
and worse. It started when their cab driver asked in a thick
African accent if Skinner could repeat his destination. They
were running late already, thanks to yet another rant from Kersh
about the latest X-File report, and Skinner barked at the
unsuspecting cabbie then muttered, a little too loudly, about how
foreigners should learn English. On the way to the airport
Skinner was staring at his laptop and didn't notice the cab
driver's deliberately circuitous route, but Kim noticed. And
then, when they'd missed their connection and Skinner had scowled
at the airline employee, Kim noticed that the first class seats
that weren't availble for them were magically available for the
smiling couple that came after them. On the plane, she squeezed
herself to one side to make room for Skinner's long legs and
beefy arms, but his frequent sighs and constant fidgeting told
her it wasn't enough. They didn't usually speak on long flights,
and this time she was grateful for his surly silence. She buried
herself in her novel, reading about her heroine, Della Street,
the loyal and long-suffering secretary to the equally difficult
Perry Mason. Della Street was the true hero of these Erle
Stanley Gardner novels, in Kim's estimation. She took clients to
safehouses, gave Perry subtle indications in the courtroom, and
kept the gruff man from losing his focus. In the cab from LAX
she peered out the window, looking for locations mentioned in her
novel, and by the time they'd arrived at the Biltmore the spirit
of Della Street had suffused her with the strength to save Walter
Skinner from himself.

After laying the new key cards out on the registration desk, the
clerk said, "You're his secretary? Just a minute..." Kim
puzzled over the reason for the clerk's disappearance behind the
inner office door, but when the woman returned with an envelope
and shoved it across the counter, Kim understood. Comps, from
one suffering underling to another. It happened all the time.

"Thank you," she said as she took the two keycards and slipped
them into her suit pocket.

"Tell your boss I'm sorry about the room," the clerk said with a
wink. "It really was the last one available."

Back on the sixth floor, Kim found Skinner leaning against the
wall, his jaw clenching and shifting under his dark eyes. She
knew what this meant. Her first official duty here would be a
letter to the manager.

He grabbed a keycard from her and shoved it in the door, but the
door didn't unlock. "Damnit!" Skinner shouted.

Della, er, Kim, tried the second card, slowly inserting it then
removing it, and they immediately heard the tell-tale click of
the door unlocking. "Honestly," she said, grabbing his card and
giving him hers. "You'd think the world was coming to an end,
the way you have been carrying on."

Only Kim could speak to him that way, and he knew from her
bemused exasperation that he had indeed been over-reacting.
Chided, he blushed and said, "I'll take you to dinner. Give me
fifteen minutes."

She shot him a skeptical glance and said, "Give me twenty."

Kim unpacked with deliberate calmness as she heard Skinner
banging around and cursing next door. When she was finished she
flopped onto the bed and looked over her comps. Free breakfast,
free dinner, free massage... Ahhhh, she sighed. There is *some*
justice in the world.

After twenty minutes Kim knocked on the connecting door to
Skinner's room. She waited a moment then knocked again a little
louder. "A.D. Skinner? Are you ready for dinner?" She pressed
an ear to the door, listening for any sounds from her boss.
Hearing nothing, she pressed on the door, but it wouldn't give.
She pulled the spare key from her pocket and went into the
hallway. "A.D. Skinner? It's me," she said tentatively, her
mouth close to the door. She knocked again then repeated, "A.D.

She inserted the keycard and slowly pushed the door open. The
room was dark, except for the light coming from the slit between
the doors of the TV armoire. "Sir? A.D. Skinner?"

Stepping carefully, she pushed the bathroom door open, but a
creak worthy of a old B movie made her jump. Slowly, she snaked
her arm around the doorjamb then quickly flipped the light
switch. The bathroom fan came on with a rattle that sounded like
an old man clearing his throat, but otherwise the bathroom seemed
normal. Skinner's shaving kit sat on the counter, which was
scarred by several burn marks left from cigarettes. Kim hmphed
and thought, This was supposed to be a non-smoking floor. A drip
from the bathtub faucet echoed through the tiny bathroom, and she
let the door to swing to a creaky close.

Back in the room, she heard a faint tapping, as if someone were
rapping on glass. She flipped the light switch for the main room
but the room remained dark except for the tiny streak of light
from the TV that escaped between the armoire doors. Skinner's
suitcase lay on the closer bed, and the far bed seemed a bit
rumpled. She stooped to pick up the phone, which had fallen,
along with Skinner's briefcase, onto the floor between the beds.

Now spooked, Kim whispered, "Sir?" as she walked through the
room. She tried to follow the tapping sound, but it stopped.
Surely he wasn't on the outside trying to get back in? She
pulled back the drapes, but saw only the airshaft and the glow of
city lights over the building's roof. Enough light came in from
the window for her to see holes in the bedspreads and
pillowcases, and burn marks on the lamp shades. She stood in a
large open area then realized the furniture that should have been
there was gone. She clucked her tongue, remembering the clerk's
"apology." They must save this room for special guests, she
thought. She reached for the phone and tried dialing the front
desk but there was no dial tone. The faint clank of tapping
started again, this time accompanied by what sounded like
Skinner's voice, as if from a great distance, saying, "Help me!
Kim!!!! Help me!"

She followed the sound and came to the TV armoire. When she
opened the doors she saw her supervisor, clad only in his
underwear, tapping vigorously on the inside of the TV screen.

She stepped back, letting go of the armoire doors, which
immediately clattered shut.

"KIM!" she could hear through the doors. "Get me out of here!"

I must be dreaming, she thought. I must have fallen asleep when
I laid down to look at my comps... Skinner's voice broke through
her thoughts. "Quick! I don't have much time!"

She went to the armoire and opened the doors. Skinner was
looking anxiously over his shoulder as his fists pounded on the
glass. Behind him was a lush green forest, and Kim couldn't see
what was scaring him. "What can I do?" she asked. "How did you
get in there in the first place?"

"The remote!" Skinner yelled. "It controls this... this...
whatever this is."

Kim picked up the remote from the bed and held it lightly in her
hand. It looked like an ordinary remote control to her. "But
how?" she asked her now diminuitive supervisor.

At the sound of rustling leaves Skinner turned and backed up
against the glass. Kim could see very vague movements in the
foliage, reminding her of an X-File report she'd filed.
Something about a tree-man in Florida... As she pondered the
similarity to Mulder and Scully's description, she saw the
rustling approach closer to her boss. "Quick!" he yelled.

She pressed the ^ (next channel up) button, which made both
Skinner and the forest disappear.

The armoire doors clattered to a close, making Kim take a step
backwards, remote in hand. The unmistakable moan of a bass
clarinet seeped out of the armoire, carrying wtih it a misty
sense of dread. Kim ran to the armoire and threw open the doors,
but they slammed shut almost immediately. She opened the doors
again, and again they swung shut. "Damn," she muttered. Holding
them open, she shouted, "Sir? Sir? A.D. Skinner?" but all she
heard in response was the soulful sound of the bass clarinet.

She let go of one door and used her elbow to prop it open as she
tapped on the tube. She saw a misty fores, but no Skinner. She
pressed her face close to the set and called out, "Are you still
in there, sir?"

Suddenly the scene zoomed in, moving through the forest in bumpy
imitation of the Blair Witch Project. The screen settled on a
clearing where she saw a lone figure seated on a fallen log,
silhouetted by the greenish glow of a full moon. She recognized
her boss's muscular form instantly. "Hang on, Sir," she pleaded
as she tapped on the glass.

The door slammed shut when she turned to reach for the remote.
"Damn," she whispered, feeling on the bed for the remote control.
After glaring at the armoire doors for a long moment, she found
within herself the resourcefulness that all secretaries,
especially secretaries who were fans of Della Street, inevitably
possessed. She kicked off her shoes, yanked her pantyhose off,
and within minutes had hog-tied the doors open.

Feeling emboldened by her latest success, Kim grabbed the remote
and approached the TV. "A.D. Skinner?" she said, then turned the
TV to the side. She looked at the wiring but saw nothing
unusual. When she had righted the TV she saw her boss from the
front now, still in his underwear, his hands working the keys of
a bass clarinet and his mouth firmly planted on its mouthpiece.
"Sir, what are you doing?"

Skinner shrugged helplessly, his hands seeming to play the
instrument on their own. When he tried to pull his mouth off the
mouthpiece Kim heard an angry screech from unseen fiolins,
followed by droplet-like random sounds rising into the treetops.

Instinctively, Kim hit the "mute" button, killing all the sounds
and freeing Skinner. He set the clarinet on the ground then ran
toward Kim's point of view, shouting silently. Kim hit the
closed caption button then read the words, "Kim! Get the hotel

"The phone isn't working," Kim mouthed as she approached the set.

"What?" the text box read as Skinner cupped his ear.

After clicking the mute button, Kim repeated, "The phone isn't

"Why am I not surprised," he said in disgust. "Have you figured
out what's going on?"

"Just what you said, that this seems to control it," she said,
jiggling the remote. "But I don't see how..." She pointed it
toward her face and squinted at it.

"NO!" Skinner shouted. "Don't do that! That's how I got in
here!" After seeing that she seemed safe, he continued with his
story. "I remember now. I turned on the set, and the armoire
doors kept closing... then all that came on TV was some weird
science fiction show with spooky music. It was on every channel.
Fox, FX, TNT, SciFi... I couldn't get rid of it!"

Kim stood with her hands on her hips, her brow knit in thought.
"What else did you notice?" she asked.

Skinner stroked his chin as if consulting the ghost of a previous
beard. "Only the words, The Truth is Out There."

"Does that mean out *here* or in there?" Kim pondered.

"I don't think it means anything," he answered. "The only truth
I know is that it's getting damned cold in here." For emphasis,
he crossed his arms over his chest and stamped his feet. "Can't
you do something?"

Of course, Kim thought. As usual, expect the secretary to do the
impossible. Every time he got himself into something he couldn't
get out of, he called on her. But she hadn't failed him yet, and
she wouldn't fail him now. She was his protector more often than
anyone knew, despite his height, strength, training and gun, and
she would do her duty.

"Just a second," she said, turning her back on him. She pointed
the remote at his suitcase, and as she'd hoped, it disappeared.

"OW!" she heard from the TV. When she turned around she saw
Skinner hopping on one foot and rubbing the other. "You could
have warned me," he groaned.

Kim sighed. "Sorry," she said automatically, although she
wasn't. "Get dressed. I have an idea." As he got dressed she
rummaged through his coat pocket and came up with his cell phone,
hten went through the pre-programmed numbers until she came to
Agent Doggett's.

After the first ring she heard Doggett's voice saying, "John

"Agent Doggett, this is Kim, A.D. Skinner's secretary." From the
corner of her eye she could see Skinner motioning for her not to
say anything. She turned away from him and said, "Have you ever
heard of someone getting stuck in a TV?"

"Whaddaya mean, 'stuck?'" he asked.

"I mean, could someone get into a TV and appear on the screen as
if he were a character on a show...."

Before she could add more, Doggett said, "Just a second." Kim
could hear Doggett's muffled voice saying, "You gotta hear this."

"This is Agent Reyes," Monica Reyes' voice said with noncommital

Kim repeated the question, then Reyes asked, "Why do you ask?
Has something happened to A.D. Skinner?"

Kim forced a laugh. "No, of course not! It's just that we were
having dinner with another agent, and they told us this story..."

"Sounds like a funny story," Reyes interrupted. "But I think
it's either an urban legend or someone's pulling your leg."

"Thanks," Kim said. "I was just curious. But do you think
something like that *could* happen? And if it did, how would you
get the person out?"

"If it did happen," Reyes said slowly. "And we were on the

"Yes," Kim said enthusiastically. "How would you handle the

"Well," Reyes said, even more slowly. "If something like that
did happen, I would start by looking for an electrical problem.
TV signals are generated by electrical pulses that get
transferred to pulses in the air or a cable and are then
reconstructed by the TV. So if there were an electrical

"Like a short?" Kim asked.

"That's one kind, yes," Reyes answered.

Kim clasped the phone under her chin then spun the TV around to
see the back. She jiggled the cable and checked the power cord,
then returned it to its original position.

When she looked at the screen she saw Skinner lying on his side,
his trousers around his ankles, rocking from side to side with
his arms around his stomach. As he struggled to his feet he
grumbled, "Dammit Kim! What are you doing to me here? If this
is your idea of helping..."

Kim hit the mute button then mouthed, "Get dressed." She turned
her back to him and spoke into the phone. "Agent Reyes?"

"Still here," Reyes answered.

"What if it's not a short?" Kim asked. "Couldn't there be
another cause?"

"Could be," Reyes suggested. "If this were an X-File I'd also
consider a cosmic cause, or even spiritual. Maybe some kind of
punishment or reward, or maybe a reunion with a departed spirit.
But frankly, Kim, I've never heard of anything *remotely* like

"Thanks, anyway," Kim said with audible disappointment.

"You're welcome," Reyes said. "And if worse comes to worst, A.D.
Skinner can always deliver his speech on closed-circuit TV," she
added with barely concealed amusement. "Let me know how it


Kim ended her call to Agent Reyes, then turned to see Skinner
wearing pin-striped trousers and a starched white shirt,
unbuttoned at the collar. "Feeling better?" she asked.

"Yes," he said sheepishly.

Kim sat at the foot of the closer bed and put her hands on her
knees. "Now, we need to get you out of there. I'm all out of
ideas, and Agent Reyes wasn't much help."

Skinner sighed. "There *must* be a way out."

She picked up the hotel's channel listing and glanced over the
selections. "You say every channel had the same show?" Skinner
nodded, then Kim continued, "Let's see what the on-screen channel
guide says.." She clicked the numbers, then chuckled when she
saw her boss.

He was smaller now and he was squeezed into the top half of the
screen. In the bottom half the channel listings scrolled upward,
each channel showing the same thing: "To Be Announced." She
sighed and leaned backward slightly, supporting herself with
outstretched arms as she watched her supervisor's latest antics.

Skinner shouted hoarsely, "Hello, this is Walter Skinner. And
I'm here to tell you about the most amazing new product." As he
spoke his arm yanked upward against his will. He was holding a
blue plastic box with white letters that read "FBI." "Have you
ever been out on a case and wished you had your flashlight? How
about your lock pick? Doesn't it always seem like the one thing
you need for the job is the one thing you left at home? Well,
not anymore!" He set the case on the table, and the screen
zoomed in as he opened it.

"Now you can have everything you need, right at your fingertips,
with the amazing Case Case!" He grabbed his wrist and seemed to
be trying to pull himself away from the case, but he couldn't.
His hand pulled items out one by one as his voice shouted its
description. "You got your maglight, your lock pick, these
snappy latext gloves, evidence bags, your handy-dandy notebook,
and a whole lot more, all in this handy case, and all for one low
price. That's right! Everything you need to go out and get the
bad guys, right here in one place."

The scene moved out, and Kim could see Skinner helplessly
fighting his words and actions. "And... If you call within the
next twenty minutes we'll throw in this portable lie detector
abosolutely free! That's right! You get all this -- the case,
the tools of your trade *AND* your very own lie detector for only
three low payments of 29.95." Skinner's half of the screen split
in half, with pricing information showing on the left, and
Skinner flailing about on the right.

"But wait! There's more! The next fifty callers will receive,
absolutely FREE, this hilarious video, The Forensic Follies,
filmed live at Quantico!"

Another voice interrupted and spoke in a very fast patter,
"Filmed in Quantico, Mississippi. Not affiated with the FBI,
U.S. Marine Corps, the C.I.A. or any shadow government agency.
Shipping and handling extra."

Kim chuckled, then yelled at the TV, "Hang onto that case, Sir!
You might need it!" She clicked the ^ button on the remote. The
screen went blank for a moment, and the next thing Kim saw was
A.D. Skinner sitting on a couch in a very familiar setting.

Skinner held his Case case tightly in his lap as two sweet-faced
children looked up at him from either side.

"Who are you?" Bobby Brady demanded.

Skinner rolled his eyes then looked toward Kim. "Kim...?" he

Kim shrugged and sat waiting for the show to start. "At least
you're in a safe place, and nobody's controlling your voice," she

"Who'th Kim?" Cindy asked.

"I don't see anyone there," Bobby added, squinting in Kim's

"You don't?" the cross A.D. asked.

"Of courth not, thilly," Thindy thaid.

Skinner removed his glasses then pinched the bridge of his nose.
He shook his bowed head, sighed, then put his glasses back on.

Bobby looked askance at the shiny-headed man. "Are you okay,

"Yeah, I'm fine," he barked, annoyed by the solicitous looks on
the children's faces.

"You don't look tho good," Cindy said seriously.

"I told you, I'm fine!" he yelled.

Bobby pouted then said, "Gee, mister. We were just trying to

As Cindy and Bobby watched his face, waiting for an answer, they
realized Skinner was sitting stock still, staring at space. They
bent forward and looked at each other across his lap. Bobby
raised a hand and waved it in front of Skinner's face, but
Skinner continued staring. The two children jumped up and ran
into the kitchen screaming, "ALICE!!!!"

Kim's breath caught. What now? She looked down at her hands,
which had been holding the remote. Although there was only a TV
set in the room, the remote was set up to control both a TV and a
VCR. Could she have accidentally have pressed "pause?" Or was
something else happening?


Kim pressed the "pause" button and Skinner blinked, then looked
to his right and left, trying to see the children. "Kim?" he
asked cautiously. "What just happened?"

"I hit pause, sir. Sorry about that," she said. "But it gives
me an idea... I'll be back in a minute."

She turned toward the door to her room and heard him shout behind
her, "No! Don't leave me here!"

With an exasperated sigh she looked at him then said, "You're a
federal agent and you're afraid of a couple of children?"

A dark-haired woman wearing a worn apron approached him and said
with concern, "Who are you talking to?" Then she wrinkled her
brow and added, "And while we're at it who am I talking to?"

"I'm a little lost," Skinner said. "Just trying to get home."

"Gee, mister, is there anything we can do to help?" the woman
asked, wiping her hands on her apron.

After shooting Kim a pleading glance, Skinner turned to the
anxious housekeeper and smiled awkwardly. "Just show me the
door. I'll be fine."

He was disappointed when all he could see from the front door was
a brick wall. "Is there another exit?" he asked with some
irritation. The housekeeper showed him to the sliding glass
doors. Outside, he found a small yard covered in astroturf and a
driveway that didn't go anywhere. "Damn," he muttered.

"Hey," the housekeeper scolded. "Is that any way to talk?"

"Kim!" Skinner shouted, turning a 360-degree circle.

"Who is..." the housekeeper started to say, but before she could
finish, Kim took pity on her boss and hit the ^ button.

Skinner found himself standing in a clearing, surrounded by
blue-gray trees under a glowing bluish moon. A cloud passed over
the moon and the rustle of the wind in the trees louder, then
became an ominous symphonic ode. He held out his arm and looked
at his sleeve. Blue-gray. He was in a black-and-white movie.

"Kim?" he called out tentatively.

"Still here, sir," Kim answered. "Can you take care of yourself
for a few minutes? I think I know how to get you out of there."

"Sure," he said, checking his surroundings again. "But be quick.
I don't like the looks of this..."

"Oh, for Pete's sake," Kim chided. "You're a federal agent. You
can take care of yourself for a few minutes." She turned toward
the door again, then stopped when, as if on cue, the distant
sounds of an angry mob echoed through the woods. After a brief
but tense crescendo, Kim and Skinner could make out a few shouts
of "He went that way," and "Come on, let's get him!"

"Uh-oh," Kim whispered.

"Kim--" Skinner started, but Kim, ever the pseudo-psychic
secretary, had anticipated her boss's needs and had already hit
the ^ button.

This time, the screen blinked but remained on the same scene.

"Kim?" Skinner asked, aware that something had happened but not
sure exactly what. "Was that you?"

"Yes, sir. You should be somewhere else, but it didn't work.
Let me try again." She hit the ^ button again, and again the
same image returned. After another try, she sighed and said,
"This is what happened when you were out here, isn't it?"

"Try again!" Skinner barked as the mob sounds grew closer.

She dutifully hit the ^ button, then tried some numbers, but
nothing changed. After each blink of the screen, Skinner seemed
more and more agitated, and Kim was too. Kim rarely let herself
be bothered by his moods, but she was starting to lose her
patience now. "Dammit!" she yelled, punching the little buttons
with her index finger. "Dammit... damn -- [punch] -- it!!"

"Kim?!?!" Skinner whined.

Kim threw the remote on the bed and put her hands on her hips.
"I've done all I can for now. You're on your own."

"KIM!!!" Skinner shouted as she stomped to the door linking his
room to hers.

What a baby, Kim thought as she yanked the door open. Serves him
right! But despite her frustrations, she followed through on her
plan to call the concierge. Skinner may be a cranky sourpuss and
a big baby, but he was *her* big baby and she wouldn't rest until
she'd fixed this.

In the meadow, Skinner listened carefully, unsuccessfully trying
to gauge the mob's location, then thought "Of course! This is
the fifties. They don't have stereo yet!" But he soon got a
visual clue in the form of flickering torchlight coming from his
left. He started running toward the right, and had made his way
through several yards of forest when something caught his eye.
Light from the torches glanced over something shiny, and as he
approached it, he realized it was a window. A cottage window. A
dark, cottage window. An unoccupied cottage... He wasn't one
for breaking and entering, but under the circumstances he didn't
feel he had a choice. He dashed to the cottage and pulled on the
heavy iron handle. The door opened easily. Skinner jumped in
and slammed the door behind himself.

"Who's there?" a voice cried out.

Skinner saw a stone hearth and fireplace at one end of the
cottage, with a slight elderly man sitting on a stool nearby.
Not sure what to say, he shuffled his feet and said nothing.

The figure cocked his head. "Who are you?" the man's frail and
gravelly voice asked.

"I thought this house was empty. I'm sorry... But I'm being
chased..." Skinner panted.

The old man stared at the ceiling as he listened to Skinner's
voice, then said, "Who is chasing you?"

"I don't know, " Skinner panted. "I'm a stranger here..."

"Ah," sighed the old man knowingly. "That is often enough.
Here, let me have a look at you." He rose and held out his hand
as he approached Skinner.

As the old man's other hand grazed the surfaces of the chairs and
table separating them, Skinner realized his host was blind and he
stepped forward to meet him. Something about this seems
familiar, he thought...

One gnarled and wrinkly hand traced a path over Skinner's face,
pausing at his glasses, then gliding over his shiny pate. "You
have weak eyes?" he asked. Skinner nodded under his touch, then
the old man said, "And you're bald... Are you a monk?"

Skinner snorted. "No, hardly."

"Well, no mind," the old man said, lowering his hand. "You are
welcome to stay here, stranger." He patted the back of a
rough-hewn chair. "Please. Join me for some soup."

"Thanks, but I..." Skinner started to say, but was interrupted by
Kim's voice.

"Sir? I've called for help. It'll be here soon," she said

The old man cocked his head to one side and said, "Who was that?
Is there a lady with you?"

"You can hear her?" Skinner asked.

"You'd be surprised what an old man can hear when he pays
attention," he said enigmatically. "You should try it some

Skinner blinked then studied the old man's impassive expression
for a long moment. "Thanks," he said finally. "I think..."

Suddenly they heard the sound of crashing glass. Skinner turned
to see a fist-sized rock on the floor, surrounded by shards of
window glass. "Uh oh," was all he could say.

He peered carefully around the window frame, and saw dozens of
men, torches at the rear of the mob silhouetting the men in front
and casting an eerie blue glow on the trees behind the group.

An angry voice shouted, "Hiding with a blind man? Come out of
there, you coward!" Cheers from the mob followed this challenge,
along with shouts of "Yeah!" and "Let's get him!"

The old man sat placidly at the table, his unseeing eyes pointed
toward the ceiling. And even after angry fists began pounding on
the heavy door, he seemed unafraid.

"Kim?" Skinner pleaded.

Kim sighed. "If only TV weren't so violent..."

"TV?" the old man asked. "What's that?"

Skinner grinned in spite of himself. "Trust me. You don't want
to know."

Suddenly they heard the concerted efforts of several men whacking
their clubs against the door, and the door creaked under the
strain. "Mind if I move some furniture?" Skinner asked. The old
man nodded, and Skinner started pushing the heaviest pieces
against the door. Next, he pushed an armoire in front of the
smashed window and positioned himself where he could view the
crowd through the gap behind the armoire.

The mob was getting louder, and their efforts against the door
were growing more vigorous. "Kim?" Skinner called out. "Any

Kim held the remote lightly in her hand, waving it
absent-mindedly as she pondered her options. "There must be
something..." she said thoughtfully, mentally reviewing the
remote's functions when an idea came to her. "Hang on, sir!,"
she squealed. "I have an idea!"

She pressed the menu button on the remote, following the
instructions until she found the feature that she hoped could
save her boss.

Skinner and the old man blinked out of existence for the time Kim
was using the menu, and when they returned, Skinner was still
looking out the window.

But now, every time one of the mob raised his club to strike the
door he disappeared, then reappeared an instant later, his arm
lowered, looking around in confusion.

After the men closest to the house had disappeared and
reappeared, the men at the rear, most of whom carried torches
that lit their faces in vivid relief. They stared in wonder,
then in horror, as their comrades blinked out and back into the

"He's bewitched us!" one of the cried out.

"He has magic powers!" another hollared as he turned toward the

And as most mobs do, this one took its cue from the first man to
panic, and within minutes the clearing was empty.

"Kim, you're a genius!" Skinner beamed. "What did you do?"

Kim blushed and said simply, "I activated the V-chip."


From the next room they could hear the sound of a phone ringing.
"What's that?" the old man asked, his sightless eyes squinting in

"It's a door bell," Kim explained. "Sort of... Anyway, that'll
be the concierge," Kim said excitedly. "I'll be right ba--"

"Shhhh!" Skinner hissed. "Don't let on--"

Kim laughed. "Don't worry. Even if I wanted to tell him, I'm
not sure how I could."

She dashed to her room and picked up the phone. "We have what
you requested, Madam," the officious man said. "Would you like
someone to bring it up now or later?"

She glanced at the doorway as if merely thinking about her boss
could conjure his wishes. And, as always, it did. "No, that's
okay," she said. "I'll come and get it."

Back in Room 666, Kim said, "I'm going to the front desk. Will
you be alright there?"

Skinner looked at the frail old man, then glanced around the
cottage at the havoc his presence had caused there. "Yeah," he
said. "I should clean up here..."

"And join me for soup," the old man suggested. "It's been so
long since I've had any company..."

Skinner grinned. "Yes, I'll join you for soup. It's the least I
could do."

After Kim left, Skinner set to work, pushing the furniture back
where it belonged, sweeping up the broken glass, and nailing a
heavy tarp to the window frame. "I guess you aren't worried
about the view," Skinner chuckled after he had pounded the last

The old man laughed heartily. "No, I'm not! And I can tell
already there's less draft this way," he added, raising his soup
spoon as if he were offering a toast. "It always pays to be kind
to strangers.

Kind to strangers? Whatever happened to "No good deed goes
unpunished?" Skinner wondered. He sat down at his place, then
took a loud slurp from his soup to give himself an excuse not to

The old man slurped loudly in response, then moved his hand
around the table in search of something. When he'd found it, he
raised a plate of bread and waved it in Skinner's direction.
"Here, have some bread," he said.

"Thank you," said Skinner, taking a hearty piece and tearing it
with his teeth. He gnawed on the doughy mass, which tasted more
real than he'd expected.

"Those people who were chasing you? You don't have any idea
why?" the old man asked.

Skinner grunted a barely recognizable unh-huh and tore off
another bite of bread.

"Pity that," the old man said, a little too knowingly, then
returned his attention to his soup.

"Everything okay sir?" Kim's voice broke in. She was breathless,
and carried a large paper shopping bag that said "The Big Bag."

He swallowed then said, "Yes, Kim. I'm good."

The old man interjected, "You're right. You are."

Before Skinner could respond, Kim said hurriedly, "Hang on, sir.
I think I have the answer. But the next few minutes might be

The old man nodded placidly, giving Kim his silent permission.
She didn't know why, but the old man's nod gave her a sense of
well-being, and she felt comfortable leaving her boss with him.
This time Kim turned the TV around very carefully and slowly, so
she could see the back. She took some cables from the bag and
connected them to the TV, then she pulled a VCR from the bag,
connected it to the TV, and plugged it in.

She turned the TV around to the front and said, "I have a good
feeling about this. Are you ready?"

"Good luck, young man," the blind man said. "And remember what I

"Yes, I'm ready," Skinner answered, his brow wrinkled as he tried
to figure out what the old man meant.

Kim pressed the "video" button, and Skinner found himself
floating weightlessly in front of a blue screen.

"Almost there" Kim said nervously. Skinner nodded, then Kim
counted down... "Three, two... ONE!"

She pressed the "eject" button and the VCR emitted a
strange-sounding whirr. The screen turned to gray-and-white
snow, and Skinner was nowhere to be seen. Kim slumped her
shoulders, then heard the whirr of the VCR stop. At the same
time, a bright flash illuminated the room. She turned around to
see Skinner, hanging motionless in the air above the bed.

"What now?" Kim said in exasperation, then lowered the remote and
hit the power button on the VCR. Its tiny lights blinked out,
and Skinner landed with a thud and a slight bounce on the hotel

"It worked!!!" she exclaimed, reaching for her boss's arm to help
him sit up. "Are you okay?"

He looked up in confusion, then glanced at the TV. "I think so,"
he said. "I was just dreaming."

"If you say so," she said, not sure whether to be amused or

"I still owe you that dinner," Skinner said sheepishly. "You've
been the best secretary an A.D. could want. I can be a real jerk
sometimes but you always come through for me. Dinner's the least
I can do."

"I'm ready if you are," she said, blushing. Should she tell him
about the comp meal she had earned for that same reason? Nah,
she decided. A comp from him was better.

As Kim walked to the door, Skinner went to the TV, aiming his
index finger for the power button. On screen, the old blind man
sat at his table, slurping his soup. "Thank you," Skinner
whispered. "I'll never forget your kindness to a stranger."

The old man smiled enigmatically, then leaned back in his chair
as his image turned grainy then dissolved in a blizzard of gray