Okay, I’ve been flirting with kleptomania again, but at the rate Roz is going, I didn’t see much choice. May posting it is serve as a firecracker up the literary buttocks.
“Just get out!”
“You’re just going to dump us here?”
“Get out before the light turns green!” From the passenger seat, she thrust a white bag at Susan and directed, “Give this bag to Dolores.”
“Dolores! Now get out! The light’s going to turn!”
Stupefied, we did as instructed. Although it would have been simple not to do so, defying Ginny ranked right up there with playing in traffic. If you valued life, there were some things you just didn’t do.
The window lowered, and her head craned out. “It’s supposed to be a beautiful day. Enjoy it! But for Pete’s sake, behave yourselves!”
And the blue van sped off. It didn’t appear to be shaking with laughter, but still, I figured it was.
It was barely nine-thirty on a Saturday morning, a Lesbian Adventure Club day, and there we were: dumped at a stoplight under a highway overpass on the city’s outskirts.
We gaped down the street until the van disappeared from sight.
Laura queried, “Did you ever notice how they always get rid of us?”
As custom dictated, we exchanged inquisitively pissy glances.
“Yeah, last time they had us running all over town.”
“Yeah, and the time before that, they had us running all over the county.”
“You’re right, babe.”
“They don’t like us very much, do they?”
All eyes, all hanging jaws aimed again down the van-less street.
“All right, so what do we do?”
Claudia too eagerly pointed to the southwest. “We’re by the mall. Maybe the activity is a shopping trip.”
“And the challenge is how to get all our loot home.”
Janice pointed south. “The airport. Maybe they really don’t like us, and they have one-way tickets waiting for us.”
“Somewhere warm, please.”
Maggie jutted her arms upward as though a crescendoing orchestra conductor. “This is warm! It really is a beautiful day.”
It was warm—okay, for March it was warm. Compared to the dead of winter, it was a heat wave, about to take us deliriously near sixty degrees. The sounds of melting snow hitting storm drains and purple irises rousing in sleep: one proved audible, the other proved hope. If you squinted through the sun’s glare, you could see grass, limit-pushers on motorcycles, and total morons wearing shorts. Cabin fever broke, the stale air of hibernation freshened, and spring fever began to rise. We had quite a ways yet to go, but all told, signs seemed to indicate we had survived another Midwestern winter.
Our favorite yoga instructor elbowed our favorite schoolteacher. “What’s in the bag, Susan?”
“And who the hell is Dolores?”
Susan took a peek and then gasped, “Oh my good God, donuts!”
“They trusted us with donuts?”
“Any chocolate ones?”
The cop—who you’d think would have had the biggest weakness for donuts—yelled, “Do not eat the f-ing donuts! We have to figure out who Dolores is so we can give her the donuts. Obviously, that’s our first task.”
“Maybe instead of scavenging for things, we’ll be delivering things.”
“An upside-down scavenger hunt!”
“That sounds like Ginny and Kris.”
“Okay, but who the hell is Dolores?”
“Susan, hold the bag out in the direction of the traffic. Maybe Dolores will drive by and see it.”
“And what? Pull over and say, ‘I’m Dolores. Hand over the f-ing donuts.’ I somehow doubt that.”
“I hate Kris and Ginny as much as they hate us.”
“I say we just eat the donuts and be done with it.”
“For shit’s sake, you guys!” Laura screeched. “We need the donuts to give to this Dolores character!”
“Well, who the hell is Dolores?”
“Where the hell is Dolores?”
“Dolores, where are you? Dolores?”
“Dolores, honey, come get your donuts!”
“If you dare.”
All those who had never taken an oath to serve and protect fell into a fit of laughter and arm-swatting.
“You guys!” Laura boomed a hundred times to secure our attention. “Quit acting stupid. If you get your butts hauled in, I will swear up and down I don’t know any of you.”
“Even me, babe?”
“Of course not you, Hol.”
“Well, we’re going to get busted for soliciting prostitution if we don’t get away from this stoplight.”
There came a giggle. “Good point, Claudia. You would know.”
There came a gasp. “Crawford, did you just call me a whore? Kate, do something!”
“She’s not a whore,” I instinctively defended. When I realized the utterly stupid needlessness in doing so to her best friend, I added, “Although, if you offer her cookies…”
There came another gasp, a spleen-rupturing wallop to my gut, and a laugh. “You’re a shithead, honey, a cookie-hoarding shithead.”
I was about to offer my rebuttal when Laura shouted, “You’re all shitheads, donut-holding shitheads!”
“Me, too, babe?”
“Of course not you, Hol.”
Oh, of frickin’ course not!
“All right, everybody, listen up,” Laura said as though giving orders at a crime scene. “There’s obviously no one named Dolores under this overpass. I say we head to the next light where there are places and people.” She motioned to the north, from whence we came.
Okay, the cop made sense, and we complied without any griping.
Except out here, there were no sidewalks, just a gunky, trashy, road-salty patch of earth. I seized the occasion to remind everyone that we’d need to see about cleaning our stretch of the DWD highway in the near future.
Soon, we made it to the next stoplight. The four corners did indeed offer more potential than under the overpass: Lucas Furniture, Granton Gas & Go, Granton Convention & Visitor Bureau, and Stanley’s, a restaurant infamous for bad burgers and fries that tasted like last week’s fish fry.
“I say Stanley’s,” Susan suggested.
“It’s packed. We’ll never get a table.”
“We’re not looking for breakfast. We’re looking for Dolores.”
“Plus, you get more gas at Stanley’s than you do at the Gas & Go.”
“I vote Gas & Go,” I dared. “It’s closest, and Dolores sounds like someone who works at a gas station.”
Obviously perplexed, Claudia squinched up her face at me. Then, she whispered, “You need coffee, don’t you?” When I nodded, she announced, “Kate’s right. Let’s start with the closest one.”
God, I love her!
Not a minute later, we invaded the Gas & Go, scoping out those of the female gender and/or possible drag queens. It proved damn easy. Only one needed to either gas or go, and she sported an employee nametag: Steph.
Holly quickly deduced that all women out on a Saturday morning would be at the mall. I hoped to hell that was not next on our agenda. Although, a simple PA announcement from the mall office might get us what we needed: Dolores, you left your car lights on.
With mission completed, they all headed outside while I desperately zoomed to the coffee machine. If Hell served coffee—which I hoped to hell it did—it was gas station coffee.
I purchased a large one and a cup of hot water for Claudia, who seemed to have developed a fear of Prohibition, refusing to go anywhere without Earl in her pocket. At least he wasn’t allowed in her bra anymore. I thanked my lucky stars for that as I made my way to the exit.
The door had barely closed behind me when Alison goggled me and gasped. “You spent money, Kate?”
“Well, yeah,” I stated the obvious. “It’s why I work.”
“What if we need your ten dollars for something?”
I plumb forgot about the frickin’ instructions we received from Ginny and Kris. Each person was allowed ten dollars, no more, no less, and we were forbidden to possess credit cards, debit cards, money orders, loose change, traveler’s checks, and/or foreign currency. Ten bucks, and I had just dwindled almost a tenth of it for hellish coffee.
My eyes shot to Claudia for her reaction. Unconcerned, for the moment anyway, she shrugged and confiscated the hot water for the waiting Earl in her hand.
After a bit of deliberation, we decided to cross the street and work our way around the corner businesses. Knowing them, though, I suspected we were actually making sure we’d land at Stanley’s last, where someone would most certainly swoon from exhaustion and hunger.
In short time, Janice held the door, and we piled into Granton Convention & Visitor Bureau. While my reporter self had called there many times regarding area goings-on, I had never been in the place, and I was surprised to find it sterilely unwelcoming. It made us all hush.
Finally, Laura cleared her throat and politely inquired, “Does a Dolores work here?”
“I’m Dolores,” the woman cheerfully answered, and with great relief, we all sighed.
Laura furthered the inquiry, “And you’re unfortunate enough to know Ginny and Kris?”
“I am,” she answered with a hearty laugh. “I’m supposed to make a trade with you.”
This time, Susan cleared her throat. She cautiously approached the big reception desk as though it resided in an organ donation clinic. “We have donuts,” she informed, waving the white bag.
Dolores grabbed for something behind her desk and said, “And I have a map.”
Alison elbowed me and whispered, “Donuts sound like a better deal.”
The swap took place, and Susan scurried back to us.
Curious as hell, we all looked to the map she held, figuring that after all the trouble we endured to get it, it would sport an X on the location of a big-ass treasure. We were sorely mistaken.
“A map of Granton?”
“What the hell do we need a map of Granton for?”
“Don’t we live in Granton?”
“What the hell?”
“I’m a Granton cop. I know where everything is. I don’t need an f-ing map.”
“Why the hell did we get a map of Granton?”
As if on cue, we all turned to Dolores. With a glazed look and glazed donut aimed at her mouth, she conversed on the phone. Uncharacteristically, we minded our own business until she was done. Then, we gawked again.
“Help yourselves to coffee,” she offered, and I nearly spit mine across the room.
Holly dared, “Dolores, are you sure this is all you were supposed to give us?”
“That’s it at the moment,” she assured.
But we were about to receive more…
In near synchrony, eight cell phones sounded and/or vibrated. Hands flew into purses and/or pockets.
“It’s Kris,” someone yelled, and several of us aped the announcement.
Silence ensued as we all navigated our text message screens.
The quickest navigator of us all, Janice, read, “‘By a number of little green hedges.’ What the hell does that mean?”
“That’s not what mine says.”
“‘There were a number of tiny little brooks.'”
“‘And the ground between.'”
I bellowed with dispirited understanding, “Shit! Ginny’s frickin’ riddles again.”
“Why do we let her in the group?”
“She started the group.”
Janice offered, “Well, if it’s a riddle, we need all the pieces. Everybody read what you’ve got.”
And we did.
“Okay, now, let’s try it one at a time. What the hell is wrong with everybody today?” Janice bellowed and then shook her head. “I’ll start,” she said and read hers again, “‘By a number of little green hedges.'”
“‘Running straight across it from side to side.'”
“‘And a most curious country it was.'”
“‘There were a number of tiny little brooks.'”
“‘Was divided up into squares.'”
“‘And the ground between.'”
“‘That reached from brook to brook.'”
“‘Looking out in all directions over the country.'”
We stared at each other, having arrived at the end of either a really bad poem or … something else.
“Lewis Carroll! It’s Lewis Carroll!” Susan shouted. “At least I think it is. Hang on.” She heaved her purse from her side to her front and started rummaging.
“You carry Lewis Carroll in your purse?”
Better than Earl Grey in your bra, I figured.
“Not just Lewis Carroll,” she said as she retrieved and held something out in ta-da fashion. “A whole library. Maggie gave me an ebook reader for Christmas.”
Needless to say, all eyes careened to the vegan.
“That’s the true meaning of c-word, Maggie?”
“Maggie, I thought you were against that whole materialism thing.”
She smiled quite broadly. “It’s not really a thing,” she claimed. “It’s a symbol of Susan’s love to read.”
Groans overtook the Visitor Bureau.
Laura declared, “And pigs’ feet are merely a mode of transportation. Go ahead and eat them.”
“What the heck does that mean?”
“It means vegans can justify anything.”
She gasped. “And exactly how many vegans do you know?”
“One, and she can justify anything.”
“Shut up, Laura,” she said and cracked her a good one. Then, she looked to Susan who was tap-tap-tappin’ away on her enviable electronic gadget. “Go ahead, Susan.”
“Ginny and I read books at the same time. Then, we go out to dinner and discuss them. Last month, we did Through the Looking-Glass,” she explained.
She distractedly nodded and continued her tapping. “I’m searching for ‘brook to brook.'” A moment later, she said, “Found it! … Uh oh, this is not good.”
I doubted any one of us really expected something good.
She read, “‘For some minutes Alice stood without speaking, looking out in all directions over the country—and a most curious country it was. There were a number of tiny little brooks running straight across it from side to side, and the ground between was divided up into squares by a number of little green hedges, that reached from brook to brook.'”
For what seemed like some minutes, we all stood without speaking, at least until Claudia boomed, “What the hell does that mean?”
Susan cleared her throat. “Brace yourselves, girls. In the next paragraph, Alice says, ‘I declare it’s marked out just like a large chessboard! … It’s a great huge game of chess that’s being played—all over the world—if this IS the world at all, you know.'”
“I don’t get it.”
“Holy frickin’ shit!”
“For Christ’s sake!”
“Why exactly did we decide Ginny could stay in the group?”
“It’s not just Ginny. The messages came from Kris.”
“Because Ginny no doubt has a gun to Kris’ head.”
“Well, I still don’t get it.”
I figured no one did. I sure as hell didn’t.
We consumed a few more non-speaking Alice minutes until it finally began to dawn on us.
“Granton is a chessboard, isn’t it?”
“And we’re flippin’ pawns.”
“And you can bet money Ginny is the queen.”
“Wait a minute! Hold the phone! Does anyone even know how to play chess?”
A total of three seconds elapsed before all eyes turned to me.
“Sutter, were you … you know? Were you on the chess team?”
“Well, you said you were a nerd in school. I’m just asking.”
“I was not on the chess team.” I guiltily looked to Claudia and then confessed, “But Kris tried to teach me a long time ago. But I didn’t like it! I swear!” Jesus, I defended myself as if chess were akin to a shameful sexual perversion. “I didn’t like it. I really didn’t. It felt more like work than play.”
“But you can play.”
“The basics,” I emphasized. “I only know the basics.”
“That’s more than we know.”
“So, Sutter, if Granton is a chessboard, how do we play?”
I laughed. Did I have a choice? “Don’t you think that’s a bit beyond the basics? I have no frickin’ clue.”
Alison proved sharper than the lot of us. “Why don’t we just look at the map? Maybe it will be obvious.”
The cop turned gumball red. “I was just getting to that.”
Maggie plucked the map from Susan and started to unfold, just as Susan said, “You guys, right after that, Alice says, ‘I wouldn’t mind being a Pawn, if only I might join—though of course I should LIKE to be a Queen, best.’ And then, the Queen says, ‘That’s easily managed. You can be the White Queen’s Pawn… You’re in the Second Square to begin with: when you get to the Eighth Square you’ll be a Queen.’ Do you think maybe that’s our instruction?”
More Alice moments followed, and then, eyes returned to me.
Suddenly embarrassed for what I knew, I sheepishly said, “Pawns start in the second row. If a player gets one to the last row, it can be promoted to a better piece. It’s usually best to promote it to queen.”
“All right, how do we get to the last row?”
“Where is the last row?”
“Where’s the second row?”
“Where the hell’s the first?”
“Yeah, where the hell are we?”
“This is getting curiouser and curiouser.”
“Look at the damn map!”
Maggie snapped it open the rest of the way, and we looked, finding absolutely nothing but an untouched city map. If it held a chessboard, not one of us recognized it.
“All right, now what?”
“I say we go to Stanley’s for breakfast and try to figure it out.”
“I’ve sure worked up an appetite.”
“We should have just eaten the donuts and gone to the mall.”
The reminder of donuts caused us once again to look in Dolores’ direction. As if expecting our about-face, she apologetically smiled and waved a piece of paper at us, saying, “I’ve got one more thing for you. I was supposed to give it to you after you looked at the map.”
Laura marched to receive it, read, and informed, “It’s a sixty-dollar gift certificate for Stacked.”
Laura furthered, “There’s ‘e1’ written on the back. Anybody know what that means?”
“A booth number, maybe.”
“No, it’s not,” I said. “It’s our first chessboard square: fifth square, first row. It’s the starting position of the king.”
“Well, whoop-de-do! King is better than queen.”
“Unless you’re a woman.”
Suddenly motivated by the smell of pancakes and the sound of dripping butter, we offered our thanks to Dolores—yet another pawn in Ginny and Kris’ demented game—as we all worked to help Maggie fold the map into a crumpled mess.
And we were off.
If you’re interested in scoring points with our favorite English professor, you could read Through the Looking-Glass while Roz takes her sweet time finishing our book. You can nab the ebook for free over at Project Gutenberg. Reading it is not necessary to understanding LAC 11; although, it could have helped us to have done so.