The Mongo Gambit

In his collapsible chair on the other side of the table, Bernard is playing with his queen. He is careful never to take his finger off her. He considers his place on the board. He considers Jennifer’s and then he pretends to meditate. He strokes his beard, he inspected his glasses, he even replaces his queen and cleans his glasses.

“Checkmate in three.”

It is a room, the walls (although Jennifer can’t see them) are there. All the light she can see is coming from two feet above her head. On the yellow edge of the halo, a man stands with only his sneakers in the light. The chess game is all set up on a little collapsible table and by the count of captives, Jennifer is losing. She can’t leave her own collapsible chair and she doesn’t know why.

“I thought we use to be playing checkers?”

“What you thought isn’t precisely important and I think you know that.”

“Chauvinist much?”

“In the darker corners maybe, but that’s moot.”

She looks down. The board is upside down.

“Backgammon? You know how to play this?”

“In here? Yes.”

“How?”

“Well you move the white ones I move the black ones and it’s not important.”

“What are the dice for?”

“Decoration.”

“How do I win?”

“You don’t. You can’t win here, not if I know you’re coming.”

“Who is that guy?”

“You’ve got a lot of questions for someone who’s not kinged, in check and needs eight backgammons to win.”

Jennifer tries to get a hold of herself but in this room it’s hard.

“It’s hard to get a hold of yourself because you’re not her. You’re just an imprint.”

She stares at him hearing the comma he implied and waits for the explanation.

“Jessie there is an imprint too but he comes by it honestly. From grade five to ten, he tormented me daily: wedgies, beating, wet willies, all the things a growing nerd needs. You however are just the inept creation of the lady sitting next to me on the bus. Psychics these day think all you need is the raw talent. It never occurs to them that walking in someone else’s mind might take, oh I don’t know? Training perhaps?”

“Okay, why am I here?”

“You are far gone.” He sighed  “I suppose you were here to find something.”

“What?”

He almost falls for it like he’s a vaudevillian foil. It’s perfect, but then she has to go and dissolve out of existence. And so it goes…

Jennifer wakes up penniless and clueless on the 6:15 out of Denver, halfway to Los Angeles. Bernard is up soon after.

“Morning beautiful, sleep well?”

Bernard looks up at her, half a foot smaller than in his mind. He’s also quite a bit balder.

“Couldn’t you just tell me the secret ingredient?”

“Honestly, I forgot it after the eighth guy tried to take it for me, it’s just safer that way.”

He pulls a small hinged case out of his pocket. He opens and reveals the knights and pawns inside.

“Wanna play a game?”

Eight hours are between here and Los Angeles.

“Yes.”

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