Because one of you wrote to Roz: It has been a really l-o-o-o-ong wait, though, you know, and another stolen chapter geting posted wouldn’t really be a catastrophe, would it?
High-five from the DWD! 😀
So let’s find out if my thievery leads to catastrophe or not. I’m thinking not, but you never frickin’ know. If you don’t hear from me again, get Laura on it.
The Red Queen had barely left the building when scouts of the boyish persuasion infiltrated the place. Doubting there was a merit badge for identifying eight Dykes Who Dare in their unnatural habitat, we bailed and took up unruly residence outside.
With a pointing finger, Susan suggested, “How about we go to the little park across the street and figure this out?”
“We can’t,” I said. “If we have to move as a pawn, we can only go forward.”
“This is going to be a long weekend.”
“Remind me again why we let them do this to us.”
Impatiently flicking her wrist, Laura said, “There are benches on the side of the building. Let’s go there.”
Just then, a bus pulled away from the curb, and through a cloud of stinky exhaust, we followed Laura. As soon as we rounded the building and saw the benches, we hightailed it. We claimed two that faced each other, a mud-puddled sidewalk between. We all put forearms to thighs and leaned in to consult.
Janice wasted no time. “What the hell kind of notes was I supposed to be taking?”
“Maybe just where we’ve been,” Maggie suggested.
“Maybe chess notation. I’ll help you,” I assured, and she gave me a thumbs-up.
My project manager asked, “All right, how do we decide who is what chess piece?”
“Bishop, rook, and knight,” I reminded.
“She said we have to see who fits best.”
All eyes turned to me. I knew the pieces, how they moved, but who the hell fit them loomed far beyond my basic understanding of the game.
Susan tried, “Kate, you said Ginny did wordplay with Carroll’s wordplay. Maybe it’s the same thing.”
“Maggie Novak, Alison Tenner, Claudia Kitterman, and the gorgeous Holly Crawford,” Laura said. “How the hell do those play with words?”
“And how are we supposed to know what four things represent the square we visit?”
“This is insane!”
“Shit, were we supposed to get four things from the first square?”
“What about this square?”
“Shit! The markers Ginny used! There are four!”
“I’ll go grab them,” Janice volunteered and began a sprint.
“How about Stacked? Do we really need four things from there, too?”
Laura smugly announced, “I’ve got the receipt, the spent gift certificate I talked them into giving me just in case those professors pulled something like this. Oh, and the paper with the backwards nonsense.”
“Anybody else have anything?”
“I’ve got their coffee,” I said as I wiggled my cup toward them.
“It’s in a Gas & Go cup, Sutter. Am I supposed to get the crime lab to verify that claim to Ginny?”
“Can you?” Maggie asked.
“Yes, Novak. I’ll just waltz over to—” She plucked the map from me for a quick scan. “I work at h5. I’ll be back with the results in two weeks.”
“So we need to go back to Stacked?”
“Pawns can’t go back,” I said. “Other pieces can, though.”
“All right, first things first then. We need to decide on pieces.” Laura said and then looked at me. “Sutter, do your synonym roll thing or something.”
I hardly had a mental list for those three words so I looked them up. “Bishop: diocesan, eparch, exarch, metropolitan.”
“How the hell does that fit?”
It didn’t, I figured, so I read the definition, “An overseer of a dioceses, a chess piece, a bird, and spiced wine. … Overseer! Claudia, you’re an overseer! A project manager oversees.”
“Hold that thought and try the next one, Sutter.”
“Um… Rook: overcharge, defraud, cheat. A chess piece, a crow, or a verb about ripping people off.”
They all shook their heads, and I tried the next one, “Knight: cavalier, cavalryman, horseman, lord, noble, nobleman. A chess piece, a soldier, a sir, a man devoted to the service of a woman or a cause.”
“How about a woman devoted to a cause? How about our cape-less crusader?”
“Yes, Maggie would fit.”
“I am not a crusader.”
Claudia said, “How about Crawford? She—”
Janice suddenly appeared. “Flippin’ scouts! One of those little terrors took Ginny’s markers. Cost me five bucks to get them back!”
“Half your money?” Alison gasped.
“Now, that is being rooked.”
Laura seemed only to care about one thing. “Kitterman, why say Holly is a knight?”
Claudia laughed and swatted Holly. “If there’s anyone in service to a woman, it’s Holly.”
Holly giggled, and Laura’s face turned beet red.
“Laura, not that kind of service,” Claudia said. “I just mean she lives for you. The great detective hasn’t noticed?”
Laura’s face stayed the same color, and Holly latched onto her. “I do, babe. I’m your knight. Make me the knight, you guys!”
“All right, Holly and the cape-less crusader are knights.”
“I am not a crusader!” Maggie argued.
“Yes, you are, honey. Make her a knight. She’ll be a cute knight.”
Maggie rolled her eyes and shook her head as Claudia jumped to her feet. She grabbed Maggie and Holly’s hands and tugged. When they stood, she placed her hands on their shoulders, saying, “We dub thee Sirs Holly and Cape-Less Crusader.”
They returned the favor. “We dub thee Bishop Claudia.”
“What am I?” Alison asked.
“I think that makes you the rook.”
“I don’t rip people off!”
“Um, you have a head that looks like a castle.” Why the hell did I say that?
“I do not! … Do I?”
“I’m sorry. I was kidding,” I offered as I quickly looked up the word again. Then, I figured salvation was at hand. “You have black plumage,” I stupidly said. “You’re a crow kind of rook.”
Everybody started laughing, and Claudia swatted me.
Redhead said to blackhead, “I love your plumage, Al.”
She smiled and squeezed her hand. “Okay, okay, I’m a rook.”
“We dub thee Rook Alison,” the bishop and the two knights said with karate chops to her shoulders. Then, they high-fived, and I realized, that for us, nonsense existed on both sides of a looking glass.
With one task accomplished, we next debated whether a return to Stacked was in order. To most of us, the first square seemed an exception to everything: we were not kings; we could not move as a pawn to the diagonal square where we now stood; and, it didn’t seem to fit anything. Still, if you pooh-poohed the Red Queen, the English professor would no doubt give you shit.
Susan reasoned, “Ginny said we need four things that represent the story square—not just the square, but the story square.” She looked for agreement and then continued, “If we go by the book, we’ve been through Looking Glass House and The Garden of Live Flowers. The four pegs we got from Ginny will work for this square. For the first one…The backward note Laura has will work, but not the other things she has. We still need three more things.” She stopped and shook her head. “In the book, the chess game doesn’t even begin until here. I’m not sure we even really need anything from the first square. Do we?”
Laura piped in, “I do not want to get all the way to the eighth square only to be told we screwed up on the first square. As long as we’re this close, let’s just take care of it.”
Everyone seemed in agreement with the better-safe-than-sorry approach.
“All right, Kate, which pieces can get back to Stacked?”
I looked to the map and did a little figuring. “All of them—bishop, knight, rook—can get back there, but only the bishop can get there in one move. I’m not sure that makes a difference, but it makes sense.”
“I’ll go back to Stacked,” Bishop Claudia volunteered. “Just give me an idea of what I need.”
Susan started whipping through ebook pages. “Tiger-lily, rose, violet, daisy, gnat, rocking horse fly, snap dragon fly, raisins and brandy, bread and butter fly.”
“Where the hell do I find a rocking horse fly or a—”
“I say we go for the brandy.”
“I hate raisins.”
“I’ll find something,” Claudia said and immediately spun away from us to begin the journey, and for some unexpected reason, that made me nervous as hell.
“Wait. Wait. Wait,” I blurted as I made a frantic grab for her arm. “Claudia, I don’t think you should go alone.”
“Honey, it’s barely two blocks, and it’s broad daylight. I’ll be fine.”
I shook my head. “No. I think this is wrong. Kris and Ginny would not split us up. They always make sure we’re safe.”
“This is safe. It’s not a big deal, honey.”
“Maybe Kate’s right,” Susan said. “Four people, three chess pieces: that’s weird right there. And I don’t think there’s even a bishop in the book.”
“Maybe the point was to be like chess pieces,” I suggested. “There are two of each of those pieces. Holly and Maggie are the same piece. They can travel together.”
“Then make me a bishop,” Alison said. “I’ll gladly go with Claudia.”
“How are you a bishop, Tenner?”
As I madly looked up “bishop” again, Claudia said, “Then make me a rook.”
“And how are you a rook, Kitterman?”
“How the hell do I know?”
“My god, this is a frustrating game!”
“Stupidest one yet.”
“This feasting and fun shit better be worth it.”
“Wait. Wait. Wait,” I blurted. “A bishop bird … ‘African weaverbird … red, orange, yellow, or black plumage.'”
“That’s Alison and Janice.”
“Make one redhead remark, Maggie, and I’ll show you just what a hothead a redhead can be.”
Alison walloped them both in the gut. “Just make me a bishop. Dub me a bishop, and let’s get going.”
Claudia charged at her and chopped her shoulders. “I dub thee Bishop Alison—the best damn piece there is. Let’s go!”
In a flash, they were running down the block. As stupid as it probably seemed, I felt better knowing she was not alone.
The rest of us took to the benches again to wait for them. Janice asked me to help her add the chess moves to the notes she was supposed to have been taking. We sat off to the side, and I watched her ready herself, a reluctant stenographer.
I asked the obvious, “What makes Ginny say you’re good at note-taking? Care to share the secret with someone whose livelihood depends on good notes?”
“I am not good at notes,” she said. When I asked her why Ginny thought differently, she replied, “I’m taking a couple classes at the university. God help me, but I ended up with Ginny as one of my professors.”
“Lucky you,” I said with a snicker and some scary memories threatening to surface.
“So it is not that I take good notes. It’s that she thinks I better learn how to take good notes.”
“Unfortunately, it means she likes you.”
“How do you figure that? I figure it means she thinks I’m stupid.”
“Ah, no, that is not how she works. If she thought you were stupid, she’d politely let you be, expect nothing special from you. If she thinks you’ve got what it takes, she’ll like you, and she’ll crack her whip until your ass is tired.”
“My ass is tired.”
She paused for a moment of thought. “No. I’m just bitching for the sake of bitching. … I could probably use somebody cracking the whip.”
“For her class? If you need help—”
“Not her class. Life, Kate. Life in general.”
“Why? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong. I don’t think so anyway.”
She figured that non-answer would suffice, so I cracked my own whip.
“I got complacent,” she said. “After Lexie died, I worked so hard to get myself to a place that felt comfortable, but once I got there, I just stopped and sat down.”
“So? You went through hell. You deserved a comfortable spot just to sit.”
“But for how long, Kate? How long is it acceptable just to sit? I should be doing something—something more—something more important than what I’ve been doing.”
“So you went back to school… What? Why?”
“Because of Alison.”
“Alison wanted you to go back to school?”
“No,” she emphatically said and then paused again. “She’s just always stretching—and I don’t mean yoga-wise. She’s just always trying to better herself. I used to be like that. I used to want more. I used to expect more from myself. But I’ve been sitting on my ass.”
“That’s bull, Janice.”
“I don’t think it is.”
I sure did, but who the hell was I to judge? She was talking heart things, and she had the answers to that—not me. But I saw her work so hard to heal. I saw her toil, running her own business. I saw her donate her time at the hospice. But she knew more than I did. I decided to shut my mouth.
For many minutes, I watched her work on the notes, and I gave her what she needed with regard to chess. Then, seemingly out of the blue, she said, “Holly’s sister asked me to become a partner in her spa.”
“She did? … What did you say?”
“Her question isn’t the one that needs answering,” she said, and that made no sense to me. “What do I want to be when I grow up, Kate? … Other than someone who tries very hard to make Alison happy and gives you crap every once in a while, who do I want to be?”
“I like who you are,” I said quite honestly. “I always have.”
“No. You felt sorry for me back then.”
“No, I felt sorry for what you had to go through. There is a difference. But that’s what this is about, isn’t it?”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re confusing what you do with who you are. They’re two different things, Janice. I’ve been slowly figuring that out lately as I watch people get the axe at the paper or when I’m twiddling my thumbs on another frickin’ furlough. I love my job, and as desperately as I’d like to be a reporter for the rest of my life, I’m more than a reporter.”
“I know you are.”
“And I know the same about you. If you want to do something different, cool. Find out what it is and do it. … But you say Alison is always stretching. That’s inside stuff, Janice. She doesn’t change professions. She changes inside. She grows.”
“She woke some things inside of me.”
“That’s good, isn’t it?”
“Yes. … Makes me antsy, though.”
“Maybe antsy is what inside stretching feels like. Do you think—”
Suddenly, my cell phone sounded with Claudia’s ringtone, and I frantically answered.
“Hey, honey,” she greeted. “Kate, if we just need things like Susan said, it shouldn’t matter where we get them, should it? We’re standing in front of Deacon Florist. Why can’t we just get what we need from here? Maybe that’s what our money’s for.”
I wasn’t sure, but it made sense. I got a quick consensus from everybody else and told her to go ahead with whatever she was thinking.
“All right,” she said. “You guys start heading to the fourth square. Alison and I will catch up.”
“No, we’re not going ahead. We’ll wait here for you,” I adamantly assured.
“Yes, we’ll wait for you,” Janice nearly screamed into the phone. “Tell Al to shake a leg.”
After Claudia promised that extremities would be shaken, I disconnected and turned my attention back to Janice. I sensed an unwillingness to talk further so I said nothing. I tilted my head to the sun and enjoyed the warmth of it on my face; I simply grooved.
Soon, the leg-shakers returned with their haul.
From Stacked, they got a slice of bread and a foiled pat of butter. From Deacon Florist, they got a small rose and a tiger lily, neither of which seemed thrilled by the air we considered unseasonably warm.
After receiving validation for their deeds, Claudia said, “All right, onward to the fourth square. By bus or by foot?”
There were no arguments; we would forego parting with bus fare and travel by foot.
Laura suggested, “Let’s see if we can figure out where on that block we need to be.”
All eyes zoomed to the schoolteacher.
“I’ve been reading,” she said. “There are a few passages that may help us know where to go from here. If I’m correctly figuring the parallel between Alice and us, she is walking through a forest where nothing has a name. She runs into a fawn along the way.”
“So we’re looking for a fawn?”
“A fawn in the middle of downtown Granton?”
“I’m not sure,” Susan said. “This is all third square stuff, but it might have something to do with getting clues along the way.”
I offered, “Fawn is a young deer, a color, or a verb that means exaggerating affection.”
“Listen to this, though. It sounds like a clue to me,” Susan said as she upraised her reader. “She’s talking about not having her own name and trying to find a creature that has it. She says, ‘That’s just like the advertisements, you know, when people lose dogs—ANSWERS TO THE NAME OF DASH: HAD ON A BRASS COLLAR.’“
“The dog pound!”
The cape-less crusader qualified, “The animal shelter is in the country, not downtown.”
“That’s in the mall.”
“A place that makes or sells brass collars!”
“An S&M shop!”
We all hurled disgusted looks at a laughing redhead who simultaneously received a swat from her shake-a-leg partner.
“Keep reading, Susan,” Laura urged.
“Okay.” Her head shifted with each line she silently read. Then, she summarized, “She walks through the woods with the fawn until the fawn realizes she’s a human.”
“Run, Bambi, run!”
Susan ignored the hysterics and said, “Tweedledee and Tweedledum occupy the fourth square. That’s who we need. It says, ‘She went on and on, a long way, but wherever the road divided there were sure to be two finger-posts pointing the same way, one marked TO TWEEDLEDUM’S HOUSE and the other TO THE HOUSE OF TWEEDLEDEE.'”
“What the heck is a finger-post?”
“A guide post … a sign that points in the appropriate direction.”
“Does Granton have those?”
“The House of Lee!” Laura suddenly shouted. “Ginny’s wordplay. ‘House of Tweedledee’ sounds like ‘House of Lee.’ Right there on Main Street.”
We gaped at her for a moment until Susan said something that made us gape at her.
“So we need to find two fat men who are twins in a Chinese restaurant.”
“What the hell are the odds of that?”
“Maybe it’s Happy Family.”
“I love Happy Family.”
“Maybe General Tso has a twin.”
“He would if we ordered two.”
“Why the hell did they make us eat pancakes?”
“No shit. Chinese sounds better than pancakes.”
“I love pancakes!”
“How about Mandarin pancakes?”
“Maybe that’s the challenge: to see how much we can eat.”
“We’ll be rolling into the flippin’ eighth square.”
“Yeah, and for feasting and fun.”
A few made disgusting retching noises.
“Ginny’s finally going to kill us.”
“Maybe the challenge is just to come out of this alive.”
“Christ, you guys,” Laura bellowed. “Maybe the challenge is to jabber and walk at the same time. Let’s get a move on!”
Far from orderly, we scuttled to the corner, aimed at the crosswalk, and watched Alison stab the walk button.
When the light changed, we yelled, “To House of Lee!”
And off we went.