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Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Another early story, written for a creative writing class. I was rather proud of writing about a couple of eccentric upper-class folk, the likes of whom I would never meet and had only ever seen in movies from the 1930s and 40s in the person of James Mason or Ray Milland. In fact, those two guys could play the characters in a film version of this tale.
Ah, where are the Ray Millands and James Masons of today?
Condensation from the melting ice formed and rolled down the side of the short rocks glass. The cocktail napkin shriveled as it absorbed the moisture from Nash’s whiskey and soda. Nash stared at the half-empty glass and observed that the effectiveness of the napkin was rapidly dwindling and it was only a matter of time before the moisture left a damaging ring on Jonathan’s expensive oak table, a prized antique that Jonathan often bragged had been spirited out of Atlanta during Sherman’s march to the sea. Nash watched another drip slide down the glass and smiled to himself, inwardly pleased.
“It appears, my friend, that you are in serious trouble.” Jonathan said, shattering Nash’s pleasant reverie. He had taken Nash’s rook with the black knight, leaving the white king exposed and vulnerable. Nash picked up his whiskey soda and scrutinized the board. It was true that his left flank was naked, but he was by no means in serious trouble.
“I think not, Jonathan,” Nash said, waving the drink at his companion. His right side, he knew in fact, was still quite strong and mobile. His queen, gnawing at the bit, was anxious to venture forth and inflict some damage of her own on the cocky, unsuspecting black soldiery. “In your overzealous pursuit of a high body count, my dear friend, you have been careless in your surveillance of my Lovely Lady.” Nash toyed with the white queen, his fingers tracing along her sleek, smooth curves. Jonathan’s eyes darted down to the potentially lethal piece.
“You don’t frighten me with your bluster, Nash,” he said, his mouth betraying a slight twitch. Jonathan evaluated the situation at hand and waved a bejeweled finger at the polished marble board, which had been imported at an exorbitant price from the Peruvian black market. “There is no way that my bishop warrants putting your queen in such danger.”
Nash inhaled slowly, feeling a certain comfort in the rich, familiar smells of Jonathan’s den with its first-edition, leather-bound volumes lining the walls, the massive Prussian roll-top desk, the thick, dark rugs woven centuries past in the ancient orient. The two men had been meeting in this room for nearly forty years, matching wits, circling and parrying mentally, attempting to gain any slight advantage over the opponent, using whatever means necessary. “One of your biggest problems is your short-sightedness, Jonathan. Of course I could take your bishop, standing exposed as he is in the middle of the board like some sacrificial lamb.”
Nash watched with amusement as the beads of sweat began to form on Jonathan’s forehead. He felt the power of the white queen as he lifted the heavy piece from the board and swung her back and forth in a gentle arc, pondering his next move. “But there are much greater rewards than those that lie so openly exposed on the surface, aren’t there, Jonathan?”
“Your brash threats and innuendo won’t change my strategies, Nash. Talk is cheap, as they say…”
It was 1975, here in this elegantly appointed den, amongst the dusty volumes of Shakespeare, Poe and Hemingway, that the men had taken their matches to a new level of competition. It happened that Nash was particularly fond of a certain BMW that he had been driving to the games. That night, so long ago, Nash had left the car parked in front of Jonathan’s home in the big, circular driveway. As Nash walked into the house, he admired the car, freshly washed and waxed as it shone in the glow of the full moon. The room was silent during the game; both men having sustained taxing losses on the board and neither speaking, so absorbed were they in the subtle rhythms and nuances of the match. Suddenly, outside the window of the den, a blinding flash of light and a deafening explosion erupted and a mushroom cloud rose from the spot where the BMW had stood.
Nash ran to the window and screamed for nearly a minute, his face pressed against the glass, tears running down his face. “My car…My car…” He mumbled, deep in shock at the sight of the burned-out hull that remained in the circular drive.
“Cheer up, Old Man, pull yourself together,” Jonathan said, clapping Nash on the shoulder on his way to pour himself another Chianti. “That wasn’t your car—it was an old wreck I had purchased from a junkyard. Nice effect, though, eh? Very powerful…” Nash eventually calmed down enough to sit down and resume the game, but Jonathan had gained an upper hand mentally. Nash couldn’t concentrate; his hands shook uncontrollably and he couldn’t stop sweating. Jonathan won the match.
Nash now sipped his cocktail and with a quick, decisive motion moved his queen across the board, striking not the bishop, but an unsuspecting pawn, erasing it from the game. Nash heard Jonathan gasp audibly, hitching air into his lungs. Nash was now in striking distance of Jonathan’s own queen, who lingered back with no defense, her forces scattered about the board in a fruitless, aggressive campaign.
After Jonathan’s staging of the BMW explosion, the competition had grown more intense, the level of exchange ruthless. Once, deep in the midst of a particularly trying match, Nash innocuously set fire to some drapery, causing Jonathan to spill a drink on himself and to singe his carefully-cultivated beard in his panicked attempt to smother the flames. Nash won the game. Another time, Jonathan accidentally dropped a heavy cannonball from the battle of Waterloo onto Nash’s foot, shattering his arch and leaving Nash with a permanent limp. Jonathan apologized, paid the hospital bills and most importantly, won the match.
Over the ensuing decades, the men ruined furniture, automobiles, clothing and irreplaceable family heirlooms. Jonathan bedded Nash’s wife and Nash seduced Jonathan’s twenty year-old daughter. Together they had incurred over $100,000.00 in hospital expenses and had endured numerous physical violations. They were now in so deep that neither could stop. The game was the thing — victory the ultimate goal. Their activities along the way were simply distractions, clever ruses to gain an upper-hand and keep the enemy off-balance. All was fair in love and war and this was war at its most bloodthirsty. No quarter would be granted, nor would it be expected.
Jonathan loosened his tie and wiped his palms on his trousers, standing to look at the board from various angles and vantages. Nash wondered if Jonathan would continue his reckless assault against the white forces. There was, of course, an advantage to such style of play. One could thoroughly deplete an opponent’s ranks by the time the backpedaling enemy could gather a solid defense. Nash figured, however, that Jonathan was too smart, too seasoned to attempt such a daredevil maneuver. They had been playing far too many years for Nash to panic under the threat of a kamikaze attack. Jonathan sat down and fondled his black queen.
Ridiculous, Nash thought. The only move that could be made with that piece was the taking of the white queen, leaving Jonathan’s own queen victim to the white bishop. Surely Jonathan wouldn’t send his most powerful weapon to such an early death. Jonathan moved the piece slowly, savoring the action as he swept Nash’s queen from the board.
“You bastard,” Nash hissed as he felt his face flush. “How could you do that to your own queen?”
“Nash, Nash,” Jonathan said as Nash’s hand moved to his bishop, the weapon with which he would silence the presumptuous attack of the foolhardy bitch. “I haven’t done anything to my queen — I haven’t endangered her in the least.”
Jonathan touched Nash’s hand gently as it gripped the white bishop. “Please look carefully before you move your bishop.”
Nash looked down, his eyes scanning the board. Then he saw it: His king! His stupid, weak, defenseless king was being protected by the bishop! This meant that the bishop could not be moved, lest the king be in check. Nash felt a fool for not spotting the predicament. He had thrown his queen to the lions, wasted her life on a meaningless pawn and played into Jonathan’s manipulative hand. The time was now to make the boldest move yet; a move that would swing the momentum back his way—a move that would win the match outright. Nash looked squarely at his opponent and played his ace in the hole.
“Jonathan,” Nash said, gliding a harmless knight into an unoccupied area of the board — one that could possibly pay dividends within a half-dozen moves. “I want you to know that I have planted a timer-activated explosive device on the premises and that you have less than an hour to find it before this whole place comes down in a violent shower of flames and rubble.” Nash felt a giddy rush of delight swell up inside him, threatening to burst forth in an insane giggle. He took a deep breath and waited for Jonathan’s reaction of terrified panic.
Jonathan’s eyes didn’t waver from the board. He looked at his watch, then again stroked his queen. He was totally nonplussed. Nash felt the wave of euphoria drain from his body, leaving him empty and numb. “No need to worry, Nash,” Jonathan said, as he moved the queen to take the bishop protecting Nash’s feeble king. “It’s almost a blessing, really…” He continued, a pleasant smile dancing on his lips. “If the estate should happen to be engulfed in a violent rain of rubble and flame, the authorities would have a devil of a time even identifying your charred corpse, let alone detecting the poison that you’ve been drinking in your whiskey all evening…”
Nash swallowed hard, feeling nauseous as he looked down at the drink that was leaving a ruinous ring on Jonathan’s oak table. Jonathan laughed heartily as he placed his queen on the smooth, black Peruvian square from which Nash’s bishop had just been evicted. Her imposing figure shadowed the helpless, unprotected king.
“That would be checkmate.”