By Medora MacD



There’s no cause for panic, thought Ketsy. None whatsoever. This isn’t 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.

Don’t panic! 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 couldn’t eat grilled termite with the best of them, but then again -- she looked again at the sideboard -- it didn’t look like she’d have to. Thank the gods, she wasn’t allergic to olives or honey-glazed peanuts. She saw there were twists of lemon, too, to be used as garnishes for drinks.

Don’t have to worry about scurvy, at least. She snorted.

That’s it. Accentuate the positive. After all, hadn’t 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 she’d ever been to -- except for the reason it was taking place. He’d 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 once more.

A gift that words cannot describe.

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.


It’s your turn. Make it count.

My "turn." Damn. That word still gives me the willies. Though he probably didn’t mean it that way, Ketsy thought. Just another of his silly riddles, she told herself with a determined grin.

Couldn’t just 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 didn’t contain much more than shelves and shelves of leather-bound books -- more books than she’d 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.

There’s nothing particularly sinister about any of this, thought Ketsy. It certainly wasn’t 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" and "wabe."

"Phoney!" He had spat the word at her. "Phoney! Phoney! Phoney! Forget them!" It wasn’t 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 she’d eventually thrown the word back in his face, labeling him a fake in front of everyone whose opinion he valued. After which she’d 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, he’d asked if there was anyone she could go to. She’d choked out the name of the aunt she’d never met and then collapsed in tears. Instead of washing his hands of her as any sane person would have done, he’d 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 who’d 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 she’d read anything but a technical manual or the instructions on the back of a box. Years since she’d 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 weren’t 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 owner’s 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 he’d only had the time to fill them. He’d 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. She’d 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 perspective.

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. I’m almost there. Figures that I’d 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 wasn’t 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 couldn’t 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 didn’t 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 Ketsy’s consciousness before she could stop them. Her mind automatically went into anagram mode, twisting them this way and that.

AID — ARID — 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 she’d 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 he’d 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 … move, reversing its order and spelling out ...


Ketsy gripped the edge of the table and gaped at the board, incredulous at first and then furious. She didn’t know how Rod had managed that conjury, but she wasn’t 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 explanation.

It didn’t 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


Another "bingo," 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, don’t 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. "I’m never going to get out of here. Never!"



"Happy Halloween 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 woman’s outburst. "No, no. Let me guess. Red-gold hair, gorgeous green eyes, voice that could shatter glass. I’d say you were a banshee -- but for the fact that they didn’t 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. What’s all this about being trapped?"

"The door is jammed," Ketsy droned. "We’re stuck here until eternity."

"Let’s just 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, I’ll have us out of here in two shakes of a lamb’s tail." She reached inside the coat of the riverboat gambler’s garb she was wearing and, with a dramatic flourish, pulled a cell phone out of an inside pocket. "Glad I’m wearing this outfit and not yours," she said to the smoldering woman beside her. "That school marm outfit doesn’t appear to have overmuch in the way of pockets."

The costume didn’t leave much to the imagination, either. Whew! K.J. eyed the compact and well-defined form next to her with growing interest. If Anne Shirley’s 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 blonde’s pert breasts. The other woman had taken note of her regard, but ... Interesting! … she didn’t seem have been greatly offended by it.

K.J. cleared her throat. "I’ve got the butler on speed dial. He’ll 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. "That’s strange."

"What’s strange?!" Ketsy’s 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: She’d 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 weren’t 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. You’ve 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.

"Look! Here’s 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?"

"Bean counter?," the blonde repeated, as if in some kind of haze.

"Accountant, bookkeeper, you know. Like that."

"Calathos, you said? K.J. Calathos?"

K.J. nodded warily, afraid she knew where this was going.

"’Calathos the Calculator’? The CFO of Serling Enterprises?"

K.J. gave an even curter nod.

"Gods, woman. You’re not just a bean counter. You are THE bean counter!"

K.J. silently cursed Rod again for the People magazine article he’d arranged. He’d said it would do a service for accountants everywhere. Let people know they weren’t the drab individuals everyone presumed they were.

And then he goes and dresses me in this getup! She smoothed the lapels of her frockcoat. Lord, but hadn’t he loved giving the board of directors the heebie jeebies by suggesting that the company’s 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, she’d 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 he’d been chasing had gone the other way. Card counting wasn’t 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 she’d not only have been summarily tossed from Harrah’s 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 she’d 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, she’d stuck her hand out and they’d 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 she’d 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 staring."

The words broke through K.J.’s reverie and jolted her back to the present.

"It’s just ... 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. "Let’s start over, shall we? I’m 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 match.

She examined the woman opposite her, realizing they’d 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 for herself.


"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 them together.

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 for one

who counted to me more than she could possibly know ...

With deepest thanks for your steadfast love and friendship

and for the many ways you’ve enriched my life

and the lives of so many others.


It isn’t whether you win or lose, K.J.

It’s how you play the game.

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 anybody’s 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.

He’d 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 blonde’s 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 don’t see any cards." She waggled her dark brows suggestively. "Otherwise, I’d suggest strip poker." The expression on the other woman’s face seemed to combine equal amounts of fierce yearning and fear. Hm... "C’mon, you know you want to. You know you’re 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 haven’t 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.

"Twenty-six last July."

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 didn’t know and she didn’t 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 didn’t look happy.

"Draw for first move?"

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 blonde’s jaw dropped. "Phoney!"

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, I’d show you!"

The tall, dark woman reached over to the chair beside her. "One of these, you mean?" Ketsy gaped at the book she held up. She’d 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.

"Mazuma," she 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.

"Sorry," she said. "I just ... sorry, that’s all. My bad. It’s been a long time... I forgot that one. Won’t 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 Ketsy’s amazement -- started methodically placing tiles on the board again. Working vertically through the U, she laid down another bingo.

"106." She announced the total in a strangled tone in which awe and embarrassment seemed present in equal measures. "FIDUCIAL," Her blue gaze met Ketsy’s green one. "Means based on faith or trust."

Then, after an awkward silence, "Um..." She gestured toward the bowl; Ketsy hadn’t yet replaced the letters she’d used in her first play.

"Sorry!" Ketsy 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 rack.

"Oops!" Flustered 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 didn’t 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. She’d just have to do the best she could ...

"BAGEL." It 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 opponent’s face. Probably just unutterably grateful I didn’t clear my rack again, thought K.J., trying to get her equilibrium back. Heck, it’s not like she’s going to catch up. I mean, c’mon! What are the odds? It’s 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 of tactic.

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!

Hearing Ketsy’s stomach rumble as she approached, she held out the dishes. "Olives? Or peanuts?"

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 Ketsy’s concentration -- and languidly admiring the blonde’s 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 she’d played two or three moves earlier! The move garnered her -- Yikes! -- 94 points. With one tile!

Damn! K.J.’s lead was eroding fast. If she couldn’t pull something out of the hat (or rather the bowl) soon... She studied Ketsy’s 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.

"Careful, idiot! These things are worth more than you are! Maybe worth more than both of us combined!"

The anger in the older woman’s voice was palpable, fueled by much more than the irritation she’d been showing at losing. Ketsy decided to tread softly.

"Really?" she said gently. "What’s 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 Rod’s 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. "They’re 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 it’s nice to know that Rod liked them."

"Like 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 she’d 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 she’d gone too far. Then something told her that Ketsy’s tears were tears of joy and not of embarrassment or shame.

She stepped back. Gave the pieces a push or two and watched them fall into place. "You!" Ketsy’s green eyes met her blue ones. "You’re her. I mean she. Whatever. You’re Quetzal Quenelle!"

Ketsy blew her nose on a cocktail napkin and then laughed.

"Yep, that’s me. Ketsy’s a lot easier to say, isn’t it? Got named after my father’s 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. That’s about it. It’s 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 place."

"I saw you that day, you know."

"What day?"

"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 wouldn’t 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 I’d 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, don’t we?"

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, "I’d like to discuss that sometime, but right now we’ve 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."


"Your turn, I said. Make it count."

Going on autopilot, Ketsy made the play she’d planned, K.J.’s eerie echo of Rod’s 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 don’t know: I’ve kissed my share of ‘family members’ and I don’t recall that I was ever bored. Or that they were. As I recall, in fact, many of them requested encores."

"Pretty full of yourself, aren’t 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 hadn’t read the situation wrong, then lowered her mouth to Ketsy’s. 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 it’s 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 you’re 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 U’s and one of the blanks was on the board — but were they in the bowl or in Ketsy’s rack?

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?

Following Ketsy’s 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 Ketsy’s 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 Ketsy’s 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 whopping points.

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 Ketsy’s tally and subtracting 10 from hers.

"Damn!" she 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 didn’t lose." She moved closer to Ketsy. "Want to test out that adage again?"

"Sure!" Her 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 Ketsy’s 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 of hers.

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 I’ll 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 I’d hear bells ringing when I found the right girl. I never thought, though, that they’d be playing … La Cuceracha?"

"My phone. It’s working again." K.J. started fumbling inside her jacket for the device, turning down Ketsy’s 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, I’ve got it." She flipped the phone open with one hand, wrapping the other arm around Ketsy and pulling her tight against her.

"Calathos here... " 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 it’s almost time for the toast and I’ll be happy to give it -- but I’m 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 don’t 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 taken place.

"One thing," 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."

"Uh huh."

"So. This isn’t settled. Far from it. I won’t 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. "It’s a deal. You drive some kind of hard bargain, ‘sister’!"

Ketsy grinned. "That’s for me to know and you to find out -- when the time is right. In the meantime, I believe there’s a toast you’re 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 woman’s hand and started leading her toward the staircase. "And tomorrow we’ll call the optometrist and make an appointment for you to have your eyes checked."

"You don’t like them the way they are?" K.J. murmured.

"They’re so beautiful they make me want to ... well, we go into that later. The thing is: I’m afraid you might be getting near-sighted in your old age. I can’t 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 wasn’t 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 didn’t 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. There’s 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, that’s 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. "It’s chust like I told you, Roddy. ‘Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted.’ Hurry! Ve’re 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…





ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: The words attributed herein to the wise and wonderful Rod Serling are actually those of Unitarian minister Wallace Robbins about religion:

To be deeply religious is:

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 expectations,

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 quotation.

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.

Return to the Academy