Theres no cause
for panic, thought Ketsy. None whatsoever. This isnt some
haunted house miles from civilization. This is a mansion in Manhattan.
There are a hundred people downstairs capable of helping me break this
door down. All I have to do is yell.
She drew a deep breath.
The inhalation rasped in her ears, underscoring the eerie silence in
the room -- and reminding her how isolated the fourth floor library
was from the rest of the house. She could scream bloody murder. Nobody
was going to hear her over the din of the dance music.
she told herself again, trying to calm the racing of her heart. She'd
just have to wait until someone came by and released her. Another guest
perhaps or one of the staff cleaning up after the party. How tough could
it be? It wasn't like she was marooned on a desert island with Freddie
Krueger or Jerry Falwell or one of the wienies from Survivor.
Not that she couldnt eat grilled termite with the best of them,
but then again -- she looked again at the sideboard -- it didnt
look like shed have to. Thank the gods, she wasnt allergic
to olives or honey-glazed peanuts. She saw there were twists of lemon,
too, to be used as garnishes for drinks.
Dont have to
worry about scurvy, at least. She snorted.
Thats it. Accentuate
the positive. After all, hadnt she just been wishing for a
quiet place to sit and mourn Rod? The wake he had arranged for himself
was one of the best Halloween parties shed ever been to -- except
for the reason it was taking place. Hed been such an important
part of her life for the past ten years. It was impossible to believe
that he was gone. It had been a godsend when the butler had handed her
the note that instructed her to go to the library to find the bequest
Rod was leaving her. Of course, that was before the door had
mysteriously jammed, trapping her inside.
She studied the note
A gift that words cannot
With deepest thanks for
your love and friendship
and for the ineffable
beauty that you've brought
into my life and the
lives of so many others.
Its your turn.
Make it count.
Damn. That word still gives me the willies. Though he probably didnt
mean it that way, Ketsy thought. Just another of his silly riddles,
she told herself with a determined grin.
wrap it and put a tag on it, could you, Rod? She surveyed the room
once more, curious about what her friend and benefactor had left her
to remember him by. Just had to make a treasure hunt out of it, too.
She shook her head, wondering what she was missing. For all its grandeur
the library really didnt contain much more than shelves and shelves
of leather-bound books -- more books than shed allowed herself
to look at in ages. At the end of the room was something she supposed
was a reading area, a quartet of high-backed chairs surrounding a low
table lit by a Tiffany lamp, next to which stood the well-stocked sideboard.
particularly sinister about any of this, thought Ketsy. It certainly
wasnt her worst nightmare, not by a long shot. That particular
honor was reserved for the recurring dream in which she found herself
lecturing, buck naked, to an auditorium full of women who clearly were
interested in neither her renowned glazing techniques or her
porcelain skin and the nicely toned assets it covered.
Ketsy indulged in a moment
of self pity regarding her long-term unpartnered state before wrenching
her thoughts back to the problem at hand. It was ironic. When she was
eight, it would have been a dream come true to be locked in a room filled
with books. That was before her father found out about her gift for
seeing words backwards, inside out and scrambled, before he reduced
those -- what had her teacher called them? oh yes -- "magic carpets"
to perpetually interchangeable letters devoid of meaning.
She gazed wistfully at
the shelves on the other side of the room, remembering the marvelous
places that books had taken her -- to a little house in the big woods,
to Narnia and -- a smile lit her face -- to Wonderland. Where she had
learned delicious words like "brillig" and "slithy"
had spat the word at her. "Phoney! Phoney! Phoney! Forget them!"
It wasnt long after that that he had banned books from their apartment
altogether. "Too many phoney words in them," he said. "Stick
to the word lists."
She winced, remembering
how shed eventually thrown the word back in his face, labeling
him a fake in front of everyone whose opinion he valued. After which
shed stormed out of the tournament and straight into the arms
of a dark-suited man named Rod, nearly bowling him over.
What a godawful mess!
When Rod figured out what had happened, hed asked if there was
anyone she could go to. Shed choked out the name of the aunt shed
never met and then collapsed in tears. Instead of washing his hands
of her as any sane person would have done, hed run interference
with the local authorities and stayed by her side until she fell asleep
in the room he'd arranged for. When she woke up half a day later, Melisma
and her partner, Mina, had been there. Rod had tracked them down at
the artists commune they lived in near Taos and arranged for somebody
to fly them to Reno. Later he arranged for them to have permanent custody
of her after her father had obligingly skipped the country to
escape his creditors.
Ketsy smiled. Just like
that, she had a new family. Two mothers to take the place of the one
whod died in childbirth. Considering they had never expected to
have a child, much less a 16-year-old with tons of emotional baggage,
the couple did a damn fine job.
Funny how things work
out, Ketsy thought. I was only hoping for a place to stay. Instead
I got two incredible examples of how to live and discovered the way
I was meant to make a living. She shook her head, wondering where
she would be and what she would be doing if not for two loving women
and the man she had called her "fairy godfather," a quirky
businessman with a penchant for finding and caring for strays of various
shapes, sizes and species.
A gust of wind swept
round the house and rattled the windows of the library. The spooky sound
drew her eyes toward them and then back to the shelves beside them.
It had been years since
shed read anything but a technical manual or the instructions
on the back of a box. Years since shed allowed herself to be caught
in the web of words. A slim red volume caught her eye. A book of
poetry? She crossed the room for a closer look. No. Through
the Looking Glass! Her hand moved of its own volition, a finger
extending to extract the book from the shelf.
What the ...?! She
retracted her hand hastily. The shelves werent filled with reading
materials at all, but with the color-coordinated spines of old books
glued to boards, a facade designed to convince the casual observer of
the owners literacy and good taste.
Must have been that
way when Rod inherited the place, Ketsy thought. Her friend had
loved books. The shelves downstairs were groaning with them. These
would have been, too, she thought, if hed only had the
time to fill them. Hed have filled my studio with them, too, if
only... She sighed.
Rod had often told her
she would never fully recover from the traumas of her childhood until
she reclaimed the pleasure that reading and words had given her before
her father had blighted it with his obsession. Shed been tempted,
but not enough to overcome her fear -- the fear that she would succumb
to the same obsession, that she too would be unable to keep things in
If... She looked
heavenward, knowing full well that if there were an afterlife Rod was
as likely to be hanging with the reprobates in the basement. Well,
buddy. Im almost there. Figures that Id be locked in a room
full of phoney books when I nearly got the nerve to do it!
She sighed again and
looked back at the door. Time to rattle my cage again. She was
on her way to give it another push, pull and curse when she noticed
the object sitting on the arm of one of the chairs. A book! An honest-to-god
book! She made her way toward it, praying that it too wasnt
a fake or something that would make her want to puke -- like the life
story of Anita Bryant.
Pulling one chair aside
to get better access, she reached toward the volume and ... froze as
she saw for the first time what lay on the green felt game table in
the middle of the cluster of chairs.
It couldnt be
She jammed a fist into
her mouth. Why would Rod do this to her? Direct her to a room with THIS
in it? He probably thought it was for her own good. But gods!
He didnt KNOW what that 15 x 15 grid did to her. The way her heart
pounded and her stomach heaved when she saw them. And how her fingers
tingled at the prospect of once again touching the smooth squares of
wood. How they ached to shift them again from place to place until she
found the perfect pattern!
The letters sitting on
the board -- waiting to be played, begging to be played -- wormed
their way into Ketsys consciousness before she could stop them.
Her mind automatically went into anagram mode, twisting them this way
DRYAD. No, DAIRY. Or maybe DEARY for an AI leave. Put the Y on the Double
Letter Score. No "bingo," with a 50-point bonus, but a possible
build toward SATIRE ...
She gasped as she realized
what shed done. And how quickly and easily, despite a hiatus of
nearly a decade. She had sworn she would never again play the game.
Rod knew that! And yet hed set up this ... ambush.
She glared at the tiles,
as if to laser holes into them. She gasped when, instead of being blasted
to smithereens, the string of letters suddenly began to
reversing its order and spelling out ...
I DARE YA
Ketsy gripped the edge
of the table and gaped at the board, incredulous at first and then furious.
She didnt know how Rod had managed that conjury, but she wasnt
falling for it!
She brushed his challenge
from the board and dumped the letters into the ceramic bowl that held
the rest of the tiles. She whirled and headed for the door, ready to
scream for assistance regardless of any embarrassment it might cause
her. She stopped short of it when she heard the thud. She looked back.
The bowl was on its side now, a stream of tiles spilling from it. She
must have jarred the game table as she left. It was the only reasonable
It didnt explain,
however, how seven squares could separate themselves from the others,
crawl toward the middle of the board and spell
Even as she tallied the
score in her aching head -- 92 points another seven headed for
the board. Building down vertically from the C, they created
this one worth 82. Ketsy sank into the nearest armchair and watched
apprehensively as another septet of tiles began its hypnotic trek.
The sound of a door opening
registered dimly on her ears. And then footsteps making their way over
plush carpeting. Managing with great difficulty to tear her eyes from
the impossible activities taking place on the SCRABBLE board, Ketsy
stammered out a word of warning and a plea.
"HOLD! I mean, HALT.
Er...." She waved frantically toward the oak door, which was closing
inexorably, as if it had a mind of its own. "By the gods, dont
let that door ..."
There was an unnaturally
loud click as the door swung back into place.
The tall dark figure
who had entered was just a few steps away from her when the expletive
was discharged undeleted. The visitor clapped her hands over her ears,
in obvious fear of another high decibel detonation.
Ketsy slumped dejectedly
into a chair. "Shit," she intoned listlessly, "Shit. Shit. Shit. I'm
trapped in a hell hole. With a moron who can't comprehend a simple imperative
sentence." She buried her face in her hands. "Im never
going to get out of here. Never!"
to you, too," K.J. interjected, dropping her hands when it seemed
that no further histrionics would be forthcoming. She wiggled a finger
in the ear that had been closest to the hysterical womans outburst.
"No, no. Let me guess. Red-gold hair, gorgeous green eyes, voice
that could shatter glass. Id say you were a banshee -- but for
the fact that they didnt usually dress like something out of Anne
of Green Gables. So I guess you must be ..."
"Mad as hell!"
retorted Ketsy, straightening in her chair and glaring. "And not
going to take it any more! Back off!"
K.J. offered a blinding
smile, guessing that doing so would probably drive the blonde up a tree.
It did. She was reduced to incoherent splutters.
"Kersey Jnana Calathos,
at your service, pretty lady." She gave a courtly bow, sending
the tails of her frockcoat flying. "You can call me K.J. Whats
all this about being trapped?"
"The door is jammed,"
Ketsy droned. "Were stuck here until eternity."
see about that, shall we?"
K.J. strode back to the
door and gave a mighty pull. Nada. She returned the other woman's
smug smile with one of her own.
"That happens sometimes
in old houses like this. Nothing to worry about, Ill have us out
of here in two shakes of a lambs tail." She reached inside
the coat of the riverboat gamblers garb she was wearing and, with
a dramatic flourish, pulled a cell phone out of an inside pocket. "Glad
Im wearing this outfit and not yours," she said to the smoldering
woman beside her. "That school marm outfit doesnt appear
to have overmuch in the way of pockets."
The costume didnt
leave much to the imagination, either. Whew! K.J. eyed the compact
and well-defined form next to her with growing interest. If Anne
Shirleys dresses had snugged her that way up top, I would have
been an even bigger fan of that series! She flushed as she realized
her gaze had lingered a fraction of a second too long on the blondes
pert breasts. The other woman had taken note of her regard, but ...
she didnt seem have been greatly offended
K.J. cleared her throat.
"Ive got the butler on speed dial. Hell have us out
in a jiffy." She flipped the phone open and held it next to her
ear. "Hm..." She frowned, then punched several buttons, getting
no response. "Thats strange."
Ketsys nervousness lent her query unexpected gusto. K.J. winced
and made another ear-cleaning gesture.
"No dial tone ...
Battery must be dead." She gazed thoughtfully at the gizmo: Shed
unplugged it from its charger just before coming to the party.
She strode across the
room and tugged on the windows. They were painted shut. In any case,
the oak branches thrashing themselves against the brick of the mansion
werent sturdy enough to support either of them.
Might as well relax
and wait it out, take the time to get to know each other a little better...
Returning to where the
other woman was slumped, K.J. lowered herself into the chair opposite,
hunting for a good opening line.
"Been playing with
yourself, I see."
The blonde head popped
up and a green eye fixed her with a baleful stare. "What
did you say?"
Belatedly realizing how
her words might have been misconstrued, K.J. hastily nodded her dark
head toward the game board. "SCRABBLE, I mean. Youve been
playing SCRABBLE. And pretty well, by the looks of it. A run of seven-letter
words. You must be some kind of pro." She bent her head over the
game, missing the expression of sheer panic that flashed across the
face of the woman opposite her before being ruthlessly suppressed.
another one!" She pushed the next seven letters into place, spelling
RISKIER across the top of EDUCTIVE and thereby forming SEDUCTIVE vertically.
She added up the score.
"86. Not bad for
a bean counter, eh?"
the blonde repeated, as if in some kind of haze.
you know. Like that."
said? K.J. Calathos?"
K.J. nodded warily, afraid
she knew where this was going.
the Calculator? The CFO of Serling Enterprises?"
K.J. gave an even curter
"Gods, woman. Youre
not just a bean counter. You are THE bean counter!"
K.J. silently cursed
Rod again for the People magazine article hed arranged.
Hed said it would do a service for accountants everywhere. Let
people know they werent the drab individuals everyone presumed
And then he goes and
dresses me in this getup! She smoothed the lapels of her frockcoat.
Lord, but hadnt he loved giving the board of directors the
heebie jeebies by suggesting that the companys chief financial
officer was a distaff reincarnation of Brett Maverick.
The funny thing was --
she WAS a gambler. Or had been, at least, when she and Rod had first
run into one another. Putting it more precisely, shed been two
minutes away from being an EX-gambler. As in just barely 120 seconds
ahead of Panga when Rod pushed her into a broom closet and told the
casino goon that the suspected card counter hed been chasing had
gone the other way. Card counting wasnt illegal, mind you; its
"crime" was that it gave the players who could do it a significantly
improved chance of beating the odds. That was all the excuse the casinos
needed to boot them off the premises. If they had caught up with her
shed not only have been summarily tossed from Harrahs Reno
-- and none too gently -- but banned from every blackjack table in the
state of Nevada.
As it happened, the proposition
that Rod made her later that night accomplished pretty much the same
thing. She ended up telling him about her studies at USC, and he offered
her a job as an entry-level accountant and the money shed been
trying to raise to complete her senior year -- as well as very businesslike
terms for repaying the loan. It was his week for rescuing damsels in
distress, he had said cryptically.
After a brief measuring
pause, shed stuck her hand out and theyd shaken on it. It
was just that simple. And just that immense.
The next time she saw
him was on Commencement Day, when he pushed his way to where she stood,
alone amid the clusters of classmates and their families, and wrapped
her up in a hug. As shed learned in the intervening years, it
was entirely typical of the man to arrange to surprise her that way,
to give a young woman with no family somebody with whom to celebrate
her many accomplishments.
"I apologize for
The words broke through
K.J.s reverie and jolted her back to the present.
... I know how much Rod loved and respected you. He told me about your
incredible talent and integrity and all the charity stuff you did that
nobody knew about. He was very proud of you." The blonde stuck
out a hand. "Lets start over, shall we? Im Ketsy Quenelle."
K.J. enfolded the smaller
hand in hers, marveling at its softness ... and its strength. She gave
it an extra squeeze -- and was not surprised, somehow, to find the pressure
returned in full measure: The other woman was no pushover. She broke
off their shake an instant before it might have turned into an arm wrestling
She examined the woman
opposite her, realizing theyd probably come to the library on
similar errands. K.J. lifted a pale green ceramic goblet from the end
table on which the lamp stood. "May I offer you a drink?"
When Ketsy nodded, she reached for a matching decanter, removed its
stopper and filled the goblet with rich red wine. She poured another
"To Rod," K.J.
said solemnly, her voice low and intense. She raised her glass.
"To Rod," responded
her new acquaintance quietly. "Forever young, forever free."
They clicked the rims
of the goblets together carefully, then sipped for a while in companionable
silence, each lost in thoughts of the man whose life and death had brought
Wonder what her
note said, K.J. mused. Her own had been quintessential Serling --
eloquent and at the same time ambiguous.
A treasure beyond measure
who counted to me more
than she could possibly know ...
With deepest thanks for
your steadfast love and friendship
and for the many ways
youve enriched my life
and the lives of so many
It isnt whether
you win or lose, K.J.
Its how you play
She snorted quietly to
herself. She only played the game one way and he knew it: She only bet
on sure things and she played for keeps. That made her a great CFO,
he had said, but a lousy prospect for long-term success in something
as messy and unpredictable as an emotional relationship.
Not that this proclamation
had come as any great revelation to her. It was no coincidence that
she never let get anyone get close to anything but her erogenous zones.
Not that anybodys gotten even that close of late. She grimaced
as she tried to recall how long it had been since she'd been involved
in anything more intimate than merging the assets of two corporations.
Too long. Since Rod got ill, in fact.
Hed made her promise,
on his deathbed, that someday she would take the risk of letting someone
into her heart as well as her bed. It remained to be seen if she was
capable of that. In the meantime ...
She caught the blondes
eye and winked. "Want to play a round?"
When Ketsy snorted merlot
out of her nose, she realized once again that her words had not been
chosen as carefully as they might have.
"A round of SCRABBLE,
I mean. Since I dont see any cards." She waggled her dark
brows suggestively. "Otherwise, Id suggest strip poker."
The expression on the other womans face seemed to combine equal
amounts of fierce yearning and fear. Hm... "Cmon,
you know you want to. You know youre dying to see if the bean
counter can spell for beans."
Before Ketsy could demur,
K.J. cleared the board of its witchy words, set a rack before each of
them and pulled out a pad on which to keep score. She swirled the tiles
in their celadon bowl and held it slightly above eye level. "Beauty
before age." When Ketsy still hesitated, she added, "Would
it help if I told you that I havent played this game since I was
a kid? And that I stunk at it?"
Ketsy held back a second
longer, then gamely began pulling out letters. "Not since you were
a kid, eh? Which was when? Yesterday?" She spoke hesitantly, as
if chatting while competing was a totally foreign concept.
K.J. smiled and scooped
up a handful of tiles for herself. "Hitting the big 3-0 in December,"
she said. "You?" She flicked a surplus tile back into the
bowl and then placed the remaining seven on her rack.
K.J. tore her eyes away
from her companion long enough to look at her rack -- and then tried
very hard not to gape at her tiles. Jeeze! What were the odds
of that happening? She didnt know and she didnt care.
What a great way to start!
A quick glance at Ketsy
revealed that she was frowning at her tiles and restlessly shifting
them from place to place. She didnt look happy.
"Draw for first
Ketsy reached into the
bowl -- K.J. held her breath -- and pulled out a ... B. Damn!
K.J. pinched a tile between
her thumb and forefinger and laid it carefully on the board. A! Wahoo!
Let the wild rumpus begin!
Kets looked on curiously
as K.J. slowly took her tiles from the rack -- one by one, from left
to right -- and placed them carefully on the board, positioning the
Z over the Double Letter Score to achieve maximum effect.
"110 points. MAZUMAS."
The blondes jaw
K.J. turned to stone.
"What did you call me?" She gave Ketsy an icy glare.
"Not you. That word.
No way is it acceptable. If we had an official dictionary here, Id
The tall, dark woman
reached over to the chair beside her. "One of these, you mean?"
Ketsy gaped at the book she held up. Shed forgotten all about
the object that had drawn her to the game area in the first place. Her
dazed green eyes made the words out slowly: Official SCRABBLE Players
Dictionary, Third Edition.
K.J. opened the volume
to the middle, flipped to a page that began with MAUN ("Verb. Must."),
and ran her finger down first one column and then the other, holding
her breath until the word she was seeking appeared.
read aloud, trying not to sound as if she were gloating. "Noun.
Plural -S, Money."
She offered Ketsy the
book and the opportunity to verify her claim. The embarrassed woman
waved it away.
said. "I just ... sorry, thats all. My bad. Its been
a long time... I forgot that one. Wont happen again."
She flushed and ducked
her head, then turned her attention back to her rack. After fussing
with her tiles a bit more she put a T, an H and a W on either side of
the last A in K.J.s word to form THAW.
The dark-haired woman
entered the number on the score pad and then -- to Ketsys amazement
-- started methodically placing tiles on the board again. Working vertically
through the U, she laid down another bingo.
announced the total in a strangled tone in which awe and embarrassment
seemed present in equal measures. "FIDUCIAL," Her blue gaze
met Ketsys green one. "Means based on faith or trust."
Then, after an awkward
silence, "Um..." She gestured toward the bowl; Ketsy hadnt
yet replaced the letters shed used in her first play.
quickly grabbed three tiles, happy to obtain some vowels to go with
the consonant soup on her rack. Steadfastly resisting the urge to gaze
again into the brilliant blue eyes on the other side of the board, she
started looking for her next play. FRITTED. Finally, a bingo of my
own! Her shoulders drooped after she studied the board. And no
place to put it.
She considered her options.
She could still play her word, using the I and the T already on the
board. It would score only 13 points, but the aptness of it -- the fact
that it was as much a part of her daily life as MAZUMAS were to K.J.s
-- was tempting.
On the other hand,
this could be a pretty apt word, too. U She gave K.J. a wink and,
using the L at the end of FIDUCIAL, she spelled out FLIRTED.
"24." She folded
her hands, gave K.J. a broad grin and ... waited.
K.J. enjoyed the appreciative
stare at first, but grew uncertain, then irritated when it persisted
long after it should have. "What?" she growled.
Ketsy just gave her another
engaging grin ... then pointed to the bowl and then to K.J.s empty
at losing the upper hand in their game of oneupsmanship, K.J. dipped
a hand in the tile container, pulled out seven and then another, after
one of the first bunch slipped away. While Ketsy helped herself to six
new letters, she placed them on her rack and stared uncomprehendingly
at the result.
It didnt look like
any word she had ever come across, though she knew the SCRABBLE
dictionary was filled with some weird ones. The SCRABBLE spirits --
not that she believed in such things -- seemed to have withdrawn their
patronage. Shed just have to do the best she could ...
was a little uninspired, but it would do. "13."
She was irritated when
she looked up from the score pad and discovered a grin on her opponents
face. Probably just unutterably grateful I didnt clear my rack
again, thought K.J., trying to get her equilibrium back. Heck,
its not like shes going to catch up. I mean, cmon!
What are the odds? Its 229 to 42 after three turns!
Then it was 229 to 50,
then 236 to 89, then ... Ketsy slowly but surely continued to gain ground,
making her plays atop or beside other words to form not one but sometimes
as many as four words, most of them ones K.J. was sure she had never
seen in print. Not that she was about to challenge any of them. Something
told her that Ketsy considered it dishonorable to stoop to that kind
Nonetheless, she needed
a way to change the momentum. Spotting the nearby snacks, she rose gracefully
to her feet and sauntered over to get them. She put a little extra sass
into her walk when she saw in the mirror above the sideboard that Ketsy
had her beautiful green eyes glued to her butt. She smirked at her reflection
in the glass, delighted at her success in attracting and distracting
Ketsy -- and equally amused at her own emotions. Oh, yeah, K.J. It
is ALL about the SCRABBLE game. Right!
stomach rumble as she approached, she held out the dishes. "Olives?
A third of the nuts disappeared
almost before she could set the dishes down. She helped herself to the
black olives and was congratulating herself on having found such a good
way to break Ketsys concentration -- and languidly admiring the
blondes sensual red lips -- when the Comeback Kid used the hand
that was not popping peanuts into her mouth to place an X on the board.
On a Triple Letter Score! On a square that linked two seemingly inconsequential
words that shed played two or three moves earlier! The move garnered
her -- Yikes! -- 94 points. With one tile!
lead was eroding fast. If she couldnt pull something out of the
hat (or rather the bowl) soon... She studied Ketsys face as she
pondered her next play. It was relaxed, even joyful -- and infuriating
beyond belief! How could she be taking this contest so casually? Before
she could suppress it, a primitive growl issued from her throat.
The harsh noise startled
Ketsy. She drew back in alarm, clipping a wine goblet with her elbow
and tipping it over with a thud. Happily, it was both empty and unbroken.
Smiling in relief, she reached over to right it, freezing when K.J.s
iron grasp came down on her wrist, pinning it in place.
These things are worth more than you are! Maybe worth more than both
of us combined!"
The anger in the older
womans voice was palpable, fueled by much more than the irritation
shed been showing at losing. Ketsy decided to tread softly.
said gently. "Whats so special about them?"
K.J. released her wrist
and carefully retrieved the goblet, bringing it close to her face to
examine it for cracks or chips. "They were Rods favorites,
number one, and they were made by a genius, number two. Quetzal Quenelle
would be a Living National Treasure if America was smart enough to have
them. These are one of kind, unique."
Ketsy gave her a long
quiet look. "Theyre not, you know." She picked up one
of the other goblets in the set and filled it with wine. "I have
a couple dozen more pretty much like them in my studio. I will admit,
though, that its nice to know that Rod liked them."
K.J.s voice rose. "LIKE THEM?! He LOVED them. He called them
She paused, making sure to recall his eloquent words exactly, the way
shed written them down. "He called them tangible evidence
of the human ability to pull hatred inside out in order to live less
deformed and more gracious lives. To have faith that at the center of
it all is goodness and strength to empower us beyond our expectations.
And to turn our foolishness and evil into wisdom and beauty."
She placed the goblet
back on the table, struggling to get her emotions under control. Looking
up after a bit, she surprised Ketsy in the act of wiping tears from
her eyes. She froze, afraid that shed gone too far. Then something
told her that Ketsys tears were tears of joy and not of embarrassment
She stepped back. Gave
the pieces a push or two and watched them fall into place. "You!"
Ketsys green eyes met her blue ones. "Youre her. I
mean she. Whatever. Youre Quetzal Quenelle!"
Ketsy blew her nose on
a cocktail napkin and then laughed.
me. Ketsys a lot easier to say, isnt it? Got named after
my fathers proudest moment in SCRABBLE competition -- when he
played QUETZALS on two Triple Word Scores and the Z on a Double Letter
Score. Earned him 374 points on the last play of the game. He gets credit
for the weird name. Thats about it. Its my mothers the artists,
though, who deserve credit for my work in porcelain. Who -- together
with Rod made me believe again that the world could be a magical
"I saw you that
day, you know."
"The day you broke
700, the first day of the Nationals. You were the talk of the town,
the youngest person ever to have joined that exclusive club."
Ketsy snorted. "I
just kept praying that the SCRABBLE gods would keep putting the right
tiles in my rack -- and that my father wouldnt get back from the
bar until I was done! I kept expecting it to go up in smoke at any minute."
Long pause remembering. "Instead my life blew up. Luckily Rod was
there to put it back together." She cocked her head at K.J., curious.
"What were you doing there, by the way?"
"Taking a break
between games of blackjack and praying that the floor bosses would not
catch me counting cards until Id won enough to pay for my last
year of college." She grinned, flashing white teeth. "They
did, unfortunately. Luckily Rod was there to put it back together again."
"Got a lot in common,
There was a pregnant
pause as they considered the implications of that. When it had stretched
on long enough to threaten to become maudlin, K.J. gave a sniff and
said, "Id like to discuss that sometime, but right now weve
got a game to finish."
"Yeah, right. As
I recall, I got some butt to kick."
"Yeah right. You
go on thinking that, while I clean your clock."
The conversation grew
friendlier, more spirited as the game continued. As the margin of difference
in the scores continued to dwindle, K.J. took longer and longer to decide
on her plays. Which gave Ketsy the opportunity, after she determined
all the options for her next move, to sit back and study the
intriguing woman on the other side of the table.
"That old black
magic has me in its spell. That old black magic that you do so well
Tapping her foot to the tunes wafting up from the ballroom below, she
watched K.J. chew her lower lip in concentration. Licked her own lips
as the black-haired beauty wrapped her tanned hand around the bowl of
her wine goblet, wrapped it as one might cup a delectable breast, and
brought it to her mouth. Stared in fascination as the warm red liquid
slide between her lips and wondered
"Your turn, I said.
Make it count."
Going on autopilot, Ketsy
made the play shed planned, K.J.s eerie echo of Rods
note ringing in her ears.
"Hey! What do you
know! 350 to 350, a tie. We could just quit now. Want to call it a draw?"
"Heck, no! A
tie is like kissing your sister."
K.J. pretended to consider
that notion. "I dont know: Ive kissed my share of family
members and I dont recall that I was ever bored. Or that
they were. As I recall, in fact, many of them requested encores."
"Pretty full of
yourself, arent you?" Ketsy gave a grin that was broad and
inviting and only a little nervous.
"I just speak the
truth. See for yourself." K.J. waited a moment to make sure she
hadnt read the situation wrong, then lowered her mouth to Ketsys.
It was soft, so incredibly soft. And as sweet and as intoxicating as
the wine they had been drinking. Especially at the ends, when their
lips slipped apart and their tongues touched, ever so briefly.
Separating their mouths,
they touched their foreheads together. When they were able to speak
again, K.J. quietly asked, "So. What do you think?"
"I think its
too bad I was an only child. Kissing a sister has a LOT
to recommend it." She closed her eyes, savoring the moment and
the salt tang in her mouth from the olives K.J. had been eating. Wondering
what other, more exotic flavors might taste like. She shook her head,
trying to clear it. "I also predict that youre going DOWN,
lady, and before the clock strikes 12."
She blushed violently
as she realized how K.J. might interpret her last statement. She was
about to amend it, when the smirking woman took pity on her. She pulled
back the sleeve of her coat, seeking out the face of a digital watch
at odds with her frontier garb. "Only 15 minutes to go, smart mouth.
My move, I believe."
As she rearranged her
tiles, stalling for time, she calculated the number of tiles remaining.
Just 6, with no evidence yet of the Q, the 10-point tile that often
could make or break a game, depending on when it showed up and whether
it was accompanied by a U. All but one of the Us and one of the
blanks was on the board but were they in the bowl or in Ketsys
She laid down her play
and picked up three new tiles. No Q.
Ketsy placed GNUS on
a Triple Word Score for 15 points and took four tiles from the bowl
in replacement. A cloud crossed her features as she set them down. Had
she just picked up the Q? And if so, did she have the letters she needed
to use it?
lead, K.J. used two tiles with a face value of only four points into
a 30-point score. "Ooh!" She scooped the last two letters
out of the bowl: the Q and -- she turned it over gingerly on her rack
-- a U! But was there any place to put them?
She furiously calculated
which tiles remained on Ketsys rack and what she thought
the artist would do with them. Then she studied up her own tiles and
options and did the math.
Making a great point
about how aggravating the resulting low score was going to be, she frittered
away five of her remaining tiles. She studied Ketsys face, particularly
the adorable bit of tongue visible between her lips as she decided what
to do next, and watched her use up all but one of her remaining tiles.
There was no absolutely
no way to be sure, K.J. thought. Still it seemed worth the risk. She
took a deep breath and put her U next to an N to form NU -- for two
Ketsy looked confusedly
at the corner of the board, where the word ASH sat with two juicy empty
squares in front of it, and then at K.J.s hopeful face. Then,
cocking her head to one side (and crossing the fingers of the hand she
was holding under the game table), she placed her last two tiles and
ended the game. The math whiz tossed her Q on the board, disgustedly,
and finalized the score, adding 10 points to Ketsys tally and
subtracting 10 from hers.
muttered. "Tied again!" She gave Ketsy an inscrutable look.
"How the heck did that happen?"
"Ah well, far be
it from me to be a sore loser. Especially since I didnt lose."
She moved closer to Ketsy. "Want to test out that adage again?"
reply seemed a bit too eager, thought Ketsy. Better step things back
a bit. "In the interests of science, I mean."
"Uh huh." K.J.
covered Ketsys mouth with her own again, delighting in the softness
of her lips. Cupping her jaw with one hand, she drew her closer, deepened
the kiss, pulled her compact body into tight contact along the length
Afterwards, they agreed.
The test was inconclusive -- despite being more than twice as long as
the previous one. "Best three out of five?" one of them asked
though later they could never remember who.
They turned back to the
game table, picked up the SCRABBLE board and swept the tiles back into
the bowl, then drew out seven tiles each and then a tile apiece, in
a light fist, to determine order of play.
"You show me yours
and Ill show you mine
They opened their hands
simultaneously and began to laugh when they saw that both of
them held an A. "Another tie. Oh well!"
They moved together again,
hot in the pursuit of scientific knowledge, when a ringing noise interrupted
them. Ketsy, who had surfaced for air a moment before, giggled. "Melisma
told me Id hear bells ringing when I found the right girl. I never
thought, though, that theyd be playing
"My phone. Its
working again." K.J. started fumbling inside her jacket for the
device, turning down Ketsys offers to help her find it
which she thought might be counterproductive, though she was certainly
willing to test that theory later, too. "Ahem -- no, Ive
got it." She flipped the phone open with one hand, wrapping the
other arm around Ketsy and pulling her tight against her.
" She tried valiantly to sound businesslike, failing miserably
as Ketsy wiggled her fingers in a very sensitive region of her ribs.
"Igor, hi! I tried to get you earlier, but ... I know its
almost time for the toast and Ill be happy to give it -- but Im
trapped in the library. Could you ...? What ... just lift the door by
the handle, then give it a quick pull? Okay, see you soon. Send a rescue
party if you dont see us in five minutes."
It took about that long
for the scientifically-inclined couple to drift over to the door. After
a kiss or three for good luck, they popped the door open, then stood
staring at the open corridor beyond, not quite ready to take their leave
of this room in which something quite mystical and inexplicable had
K.J. said, a little nervously. "Before we go downstairs, that is."
"If Rod told you
anything about me, he probably told you I hate losing."
"So. This isnt
settled. Far from it. I wont accept anything less than a definitive
decision. So, I was thinkin ... Best 200 out of 300?"
Ketsy smiled up at her.
"I was thinking more like 2 out of 3 ... thousand!"
K.J. shook her hand.
"Its a deal. You drive some kind of hard bargain, sister!"
Ketsy grinned. "Thats
for me to know and you to find out -- when the time is right. In the
meantime, I believe theres a toast youre supposed to make
in honor of the very smart and very sneaky Mr. Serling. And then some
serious dancing to be done." She grabbed the older womans
hand and started leading her toward the staircase. "And tomorrow
well call the optometrist and make an appointment for you to have
your eyes checked."
like them the way they are?" K.J. murmured.
beautiful they make me want to ... well, we go into that later. The
thing is: Im afraid you might be getting near-sighted in your
old age. I cant figure out why else you failed to see that spot
in the lower right hand corner where you could have played QUASH for
18 points instead of being stuck with your Q..."
As their voices faded
away, a white mist began to coalesce next to the game table. The figure
that formed wasnt as horrifying as it might have been due
in the main to the Cat in the Hat-type chapeau perched jauntily upon
its cranium. The voice that emerged from it didnt send chills
up and down the spine, either. Its stylized cadence was, in fact, oddly
reassuring, as were the words it spoke.
"The old place has
been haunted since it was built filled with the specters of the
things that might have been. Theres only one way to exorcise those
demons to seize every day, every experience and enjoy it to its
fullest. And to make sure those around you do the same. Besides your
love, thats truly the best gift you can give anyone one
that cannot be measured or described."
Another figure, this
one with a mop of wild hair, clad in saggy pants and a clown nose, materialized
beside the first. In an accent that originated in Austria, he poked
the first in the chest. "Its chust like I told you, Roddy.
Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that
counts can be counted. Hurry! Vere missing der party!"
His unkempt form began
to vanish, followed shortly thereafter by the first one. But not before
it waved a hand over the tiles the two women had left on the board
and he performed a final
party trick. As he faded out of view, the letters began to move, inching
into the position that Ketsy and K.J. would find them when they returned
the next day for the first of a lifetime of rematches
words attributed herein to the wise and wonderful Rod Serling are actually
those of Unitarian minister Wallace Robbins about religion:
To be deeply religious
To have a passionate
interest in the wholeness of existence,
To seek for the connecting
tissue in the apparent separations,
To turn from disorder
to seek the unity which lies hidden in diversity,
To pull hatred inside
out and expose it as the dark side of love,
To find no absolute end
to the significance of life, not even in the event of death,
To seek to live less
deformed and more gracious lives,
To have faith that at
the center of it all is goodness and strength to empower us beyond our
And to turn our foolishness
and evil into wisdom and beauty.
What little I know about
Rod Serling leads me to believe he would find much to affirm in this
There are, by the way,
a number of phoney words in this story words, which like (believe
it or not) "fart" and "shit" are not included in
the OSPD, having been expurgated as an objectionable terms somewhere
along the way. Just so you know, however. Other than nicknames, all
the names used in "Spellbound" may be played legally. And
if you ever play SCRABBLE with me you can use those other words,
too. I sure will be.
My heartfelt thanks to
my family and friends for putting up with my foolishness and sharing
with me everyday their wisdom and beauty. You guys rock. I love you.
to the Academy