Come and spend some time in the company of some great writers and artists/illustrators, not least yours-truly. Buried within the beauty of this volume are my short stories “Checkmate” and “The Queen, Her Soldier, His Lover and Her Teacher”.
“No, not like that, son,” said the man to the boy sitting opposite; “That one’s a Knight. It doesn’t move like that. Knights move like this,” and showed the boy how a Knight moved by picking up a white horse figure and counting ahead three of the squares etched into the table before a ninety degree turn “to the left or right. Okay?” The boy nodded and replaced his black horse a mask of deflation and defeat covering his face like chocolate spread. A stranger sitting across the aisle from the pair folded his paper and placed on the table in front of him, and looked at the boy.
“You gotta learn,” said the boy’s father: “It’s strategy. You gotta out-think your opponent all the time. It’s the only way to survive. Look at yer dad, boy. Keep one move ahead all the time.”
Again, the boy nodded but his features asked, why? Why did he have to keep one move ahead of his opponents? And who were these opponents anyway? His eyes focused on the board in front of him and watched helplessly as his dad, leaning into the table and dominating the scene, took black pieces one by one until there was little left to protect his King.
“Checkmate!” said Dad: “Learn from your mistakes boy, learn from your mistakes, and one day you’ll beat yer ol’Dad. Hey?”
“Yeah, Dad,” said the Boy, looking even more deflated now.
“Excuse me,” said the stranger sitting opposite, who until then had only observed the scene. He addressed Dad: “May I challenge you to a game?”
“Why not?” said Dad congenially: “Come and sit next to me, son, so the man can sit opposite.”
“I rarely get to play nowadays,” said the stranger. He lifted himself from his seat with effort and crossed the aisle. Dad scanned the room subconsciously. They were in a café on the edge of Holborn. It was half full. Sitting in the booth behind the Old Man, a young woman read a book. Dad kept his eye on her. She received his attentions with mild rebuke.
“Have you played much?” said Dad, as the older man settled into the chair opposite.
“In my younger days,” said the Man: “I played every day. Alas, as one gets on in life, one’s opponents become… rare. They have all gone to the great chess club in the sky.”
“I see,” said Dad: “I’m Mike, by the way, and this is my boy, Andy. My pride and joy, ain’t yer, Andy?” Andy nodded and smiled wanly back. The Old Man looked down at him, his wizened eyes glinting with sympathy, and saw a child of about seven years who understood very little of his father’s world and was falling short of the pride.
“My name’s Todd,” the stranger said to Mike.
“Please to meet you, Todd,” said Mike: “Now watch and learn, son. I bet Todd knows a trick or two, don’t yer, Todd?”
Todd smiled back at Mike whose own grin lingered too long as he cast another glance at the young woman sitting in the next booth. Their eyes met briefly before she hurriedly returned her attention The Great Gatsby. Todd took two Pawns from the board and shuffled them behind his back before holding two fists over the table. Mike tapped the left. A white Pawn emerged from the unfurling fingers.
“You start,” said Todd.
They set their pieces in silence then Mike moved a Pawn from e2 to e4. Todd reciprocated. Mike moved a further Pawn to begin forming a staggered line across the board. As Mike manufactured his Maginot Line, Todd brought some of his main pieces into play. The early moves passed in periods of calm activity and tense quiescence. Both players matched each other’s carefully consideration. Still, after twenty minutes Mike’s position was becoming precarious.
“See this, son,” Mike said at last: “Todd’s pushing me back with some good moves. That’s experience. But the game’s not over yet, not by a long shot.”
“No, it certainly isn’t, Mike,” said Todd: “You strike me as a man who likes a gamble now and then. Am I right?”
“I’ve been known to enjoy the odd flutter now and then,” said Mike.
“Then shall we make this contest a little more interesting?”
Mike sat back in his chair and regarded Todd. There was a gleam in the older man’s eye that gave an impression of a much younger, spry aspect, someone fitter for a battle than his body suggested. Yeah, Mike thought, why not. Yet his boss’s words echoed in his ears agian. “Keep out of trouble, Mike. I’m depending on you. Keep yer nose clean!” He would. Of course he would. Todd was some old guy from God only knew where. What trouble could he cause?
“What do you have in mind?” said Mike:
“A little wager,” said Todd, and he too sat back in his seat: “What shall it be? Ah, yes. The loser has to give up something of value to him.”
“Something of value?” said Mike, his curiosity piqued: “What sort of thing?”
“Well, if I beat you, Mike, you give me… your son.”
Copies available here… http://amzn.to/24uDSRZ