Knight of Checkers
27 SEPTEMBER 2002
"I'll just be taking that."
Before Kylie could protest, the third grader took the ball out of her hands, and lifted his arms straight up so that she could not reach. The first grade was not going well for her; school had been in session for several weeks and she had not made any friends. A person with her introverted personality would not do very well in the social aspects of public education.
"Hey, give it back, you jerks!" she said, while jumping in the air in a hopeless attempt to snatch the ball from the older child's hands.
"Keep away!" shouted the aggressor, who tossed his quarry to one of his friends who had accompanied him behind Kylie. The six-year-old girl realized what had happened and spun around, trying to reclaim what was hers, but as soon as she had reached the other boy, he threw the ball back to the original tormentor.
"Whoops, too slow!"
This happened during most recesses. Kylie would just be playing by herself when some bigger kid decided that he wanted the ball she was using, or else simply wanted to make her twenty-two minutes without classes miserable. She had tried telling an aide, but was not believed.
All of a sudden, she heard a very familiar voice.
"Just what do you think you're doing?"
Kylie breathed a sigh of relief. Coming over to the scene was Frederick, her brother. The two of them could not be more different. Frederick's appearance suggested that his personality was the opposite of his younger sister's. He was walking all cool with his jacket unzipped, so that it was flapping in the breeze, and his dark brown hair was styled in the spiky fashion popular with his age group, with a large quiff extending out over his forehead.
He asked the third graders, "Would you care to explain to me what you're doing with that ball? It was being used by my younger sister."
The leader of the two said, "So what?"
"So," Frederick said, taking a step closer, "you had better give it back to her."
The other third grader was not so confident about their plan now. Frederick was taller than both of Kylie's tormentors because he was in the fifth grade.
"So very sorry," he said. "We'll leave you two alone now…"
As he ran off, his friend said, "Where the heck do you think you're going? Get back here, you chicken!"
Even so, he knew that he would have some difficulties taking on a fifth grader all by himself. He was sufficiently distracted by this desertion that he did not notice that Frederick took the ball out of his hands until after it was too late.
"I'll be taking this," said Frederick.
Realizing that he had picked the wrong victim, the remaining third grader ran away, calling for his friend to slow down.
His mission accomplished, Frederick turned to face his sister.
"Kids giving you a hard time?"
Her brother said, "Just don't let 'em get to you. That's what bullies want, so if you cry or throw a fit, you'll let them win. Next year I'll be in middle school, so you won't always have me around to stop the bullies. Okay?"
Kylie understood what he said, but made no response.
At that time another kid in the distance called, "Hey Freddie! We're having a ball game here, wanna play?"
"Coming!" shouted Frederick.
He tossed the ball back to Kylie and said, "See you at home, okay?"
Then he made his way over to his classmates.
An African-American man, hair styled in an afro and wearing a well-pressed and immaculate white suit, stepped outside the airport. Upon his arrival, a cab pulled up to the sidewalk and out stepped the driver.
He said, "Welcome to New Jersey, Mr. Lothario. You have an appointment with us."
"Well, here we are!" Coco exclaimed, and spun around in the sidewalk to attract attention to the location.
The house where Kylie lived was not exactly in a quiet location. It was right at the intersection of two of the busiest streets in Marlton, and the four high schoolers needed to wait until the traffic light was green before reaching her home. Without even knocking on the door, Coco pushed it open with great force.
"Is anybody home?" she asked.
From behind her, Kylie asked, "What would you have done if the door had been locked? I do not wish for my front door to be broken."
"Silly Kylie, of course the door is unlocked!" said Coco. "I opened it."
The others would not say anything about her horrible logic. They knew that such an act would be an exercise in futility.
Rob and Sally just made it up the steps to the front door when Coco darted off inside the house trying to find Frederick's whereabouts. The young man was in the kitchen, raiding the refrigerator for some sodas, when Coco jumped on top of him. The resulting sentence could be heard throughout the house.
"WHAT THE HELL?"
Rob glanced at Kylie and said, "Hey… are your parents home?"
"Not that I am aware."
"Good," he said. "Then wait a minute, who was that?"
And so Rob, Sally and Kylie followed the noise in order to see what that commotion had been about. The scene was not pretty. Coco and Frederick both lay on the floor, the former dazed because the latter had fallen on top of her, with both the humans and the linoleum floor drenched in soda. The refrigerator door hung fully open, as if to mock the situation. The two unfortunates, upon hearing a swarm of footsteps, slowly looked up to see the others.
As usual, Kylie's expression was unreadable, but the youngest two witnesses were having difficulty keeping a straight face.
"So…" Sally began, "what are you doing on the floor?"
Frederick and Coco got up and realized what had happened.
"Aw damn it," said Frederick, who took off his jacket and wrung it out. "You stained my jacket! What are you even doing in my house?"
Coco looked despondent. The next five minutes were spent by everybody in the room grabbing paper towels and cleaning the floor. Frederick, meanwhile, took some time to go to leave the room and change out of his stained clothes. When he came back he noticed the unfamiliar faces.
"So, why are you here?" he asked.
Coco spoke up, eager to show her apology for causing a mess earlier.
"We've run into a bit of a problem at school," she said. "There's a… what was the word she used… extortion ring going on that has blackmailed one of my club members!"
The males were taken aback. Rob was affronted by Coco calling them all "her" club members, while Frederick was shocked as soon as he heard the word "extortion".
"You gotta be kidding me…" he sighed. "What happened?"
The high school students gave him a debriefing of what had gone on that day. Frederick crossed his arms and muttered vague agreements and acknowledgements at the appropriate times. Then he remembered something.
"Wait a minute, I don't think I know who you two are," he said, pointing towards Rob and Sally.
"Oh. I'm Sally, and this is my brother Rob. We're in the chess club just like them. We're freshmen."
"I'm only into it 'cause you forced me, remember?"
"Freshmen, hm?" asked Frederick. To Kylie and Coco he said, "Well then I think our little group might have some continuity for quite some time now. Now we're a five-man band, how appropriate. I'm the hero, I guess Coco can be the lancer, Rob looks like he'd be the big guy, my sister's definitely the smart guy, and that leaves Sally as the chick."
Almost immediately there was dispute and controversy over this arrangement. Rob protested that he hardly knew anybody there and Sally did not like having the most useless position.
"Never mind, never mind," said Frederick. "We'll think of something later when you get to know us better."
Coco said, "Aw, I wanted to have a cool job."
"Then you can be the funny foreigner!" Frederick exclaimed.
That changed her expression quickly. It went from disappointed to taken aback.
"So what are we waiting for?" said Frederick. "Let's find this guy and bust up his racket!"
He left the house and the others followed him to the car which he had parallel-parked in front of the sidewalk earlier that day.
Frederick got behind the wheel and said, "Okay, where do you think we'll find him?"
Rick was very happy. He had uncovered the secrets of a few more of his classmates and now had all of the week's school assignments passed on to other students. Even better for him was that he had gotten another source of information. The chess club had been in such a hurry to leave (though for reasons he did not know) that the members had forgotten to clean up after themselves. Most of what they had was useless junk, but there was one stack of papers which was quite peculiar. Very peculiar indeed. Many of the forms were not filled out, and the ones which were showed handwriting samples from at least three people, but the information was quite interesting. Some of it was just straightforward membership forms for the chess club, but most had little to do with academics. It was just paperwork about the club's current leader, Coco Thanatopoulou. Whoever had gathered this information was foolish enough to have included her school records.
Now, the spy's eyes darted to something interesting. On Coco's enrollment form, it asked for the signature of her parent or guardian. Ordinarily this would be of no use to Rick, except that he had heard this name before. The adult who had signed the form was known as "John Freeman".
"Dr. Willard had better know of this," he said.
And so without further ado, Rick headed for the teacher's office.
"So let me get this straight. You walked all the way over to my house from Cherokee?" Frederick asked.
Coco said yes as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
Incredulous, Frederick said, "But that's really far. How long did it take?"
Rob interrupted from the back seat, "Long enough for us to be really, really tired."
The car had been zooming down Main Street for several minutes, and still needed to make a few turns before they would be even halfway to Cherokee High School. To walk that distance, against the flow of traffic for much of the way, was quite a harrowing experience. Only Coco would have thought it was a good idea.
"That reminds me," Coco said, leaning around the front passenger seat in order to face Rob, "have you finished that paperwork yet? You've had so much time to complete it."
Indignant, Rob reached into his backpack to find the papers in question, while muttering that it was not his responsibility to ensure that her forms and whatever else was in that pile were properly filled out. Suddenly, his face fell. He took his hand out of the bag and had no paperwork anywhere to be found.
"Houston, we have a problem here," he said.
Then Coco shouted, "WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU LEFT IT AT SCHOOL?"
It was nearly sundown by the time they reached Cherokee. Only a few clubs which lasted for a very long time were still being held, and the last few late buses were beginning to appear in the parking lot. Being somewhat pressed for time the five ran to the nearest entrance which, fortunately, was still unlocked. Having snuck in, they went down the hallway.
"Okay, let's come up with a plan here," said Frederick. "You people go look for that paperwork while I confront this Ricky kid. Where did you say he was likely to be?"
Sally said, "The AV club, but it's so late that that might be over."
"If it's over we'll just come back later. Now, move out!"
And so the group went its separate ways. The chess club was lucky not to come across any faculty members, and even more so to find the door was unlocked. However, as Kylie pointed out, this just meant that it was more likely that somebody had been in the room who was not supposed to be there.
Once they were in, Sally asked her brother, "Okay, now where did you put the papers?"
"Over on that desk," said Rob.
Even as he was pointing to it, his heart sank. There was nothing on top of the desk.
"Search the whole room," said Coco. "That stuff's really important!"
They looked around the room and inside every desk, but it was futile. The paperwork was nowhere to be found.
"Rats!" Coco exclaimed. "Someone really did come in here! This is your fault, Rob!"
"How is it my fault?"
"If you hadn't been such a procrastinator, those forms would never have been stolen."
"It was your fault for not filling them out yourself!" Rob countered.
Sally walked up to them and said, "Come on. Let's go meet up with Frederick."
Luckily for Frederick, the person he was looking for was indeed in the place he had been told. Rick had a lot of that paperwork to analyze; he had only sent that one curious page to Dr. Willard. So the freshman was very surprised to look up from his work and see the college student staring down at him.
"What the hell are you doing here? Do you even go to this school?" he asked.
Frederick said, "I have a few questions for you. You're Richard Alpher, correct?"
"So I've heard that you're running an extortion ring. Care to explain that?"
The younger man was not in the mood to answer questions.
"What's it to ya? You look too old to be in school; I could tell the teachers that you're breaking and entering."
Frederick responded, "I came in here with my sister, who goes to this school. Kylie Swanson, you ever heard of her?"
Rick did not answer.
"Now would you mind telling me why I heard that kids in this school are getting blackmailed?"
Rick just snorted. Then he motioned to the chessboard on his desk and said, "Mind if we play a little chess? If you win, I'll stop my entire operation."
"Fine then!" Frederick was not one to simply turn down a challenge. "Let's begin!"
Frederick started the game by moving his queen-bishop pawn ahead two squares. His opponent moved his king-side knight towards the center of the board. This game was starting off a bit unorthodox, and in order to get into a good position Frederick moved his queen-side knight towards the center. Rick advanced his king-pawn only one space. Both moved their queen-pawns forward two squares. Now every piece which had been moved was either threatening or was threatened by an opposing piece.
Thus, Frederick did not try to take any of his opponent's pieces. Instead, he threatened the opponent's knight with his bishop. In order to halt this potential onslaught, Ricky moved his own bishop. Frederick then moved out his other knight.
At that moment, the door slammed open.
Coco said, "So here you are, you little miscreant!"
This interruption distracted Ricky from thinking of what of several possible moves he should make. He looked up from the chessboard to see an angry twelfth grader, followed by three younger students.
He said, "What do you want? I am in the middle of a game here, and you've distracted me. I'm winning, so I don't want to mess up."
"How can you tell? All the pieces are still on the board," said Coco, having glanced at it.
Frederick added, "This game has just started. What I can't stand are arrogant people like you."
Coco continued, "Anyway, what I want is that paperwork, which I know you have. Give it to me."
"Oh, you mean this?" Ricky pointed to the stack. "I think I won't. It makes excellent blackmail material."
Frederick stood up from his seat, staring over the board and his opponent.
"Now you've done it," he said. "This sort of thing will not be tolerated. You heard the lady. Relinquish the papers."
He reached out to grab the paperwork, but Rick's arms stopped him.
"Not so fast," he said. "We still have to finish our game."
"And why is that? You stole that information and violated the privacy of who knows how many kids at this school."
Rick changed his approach.
"Well then take it," he said. "I don't really mind. I've already given the most sensitive information to my superiors."
This revelation hit the group like a ton of bricks.
"Superiors, eh? How many people are in this racket?"
"Don't think I'm gonna tell you who they are," said Rick with a smug look on his face.
They were at a brick wall, metaphorically speaking. But Frederick would have none of it. He motioned his friends to close the door. Then he said, "We can do this the easy way or the hard way. None of us are going anywhere, and we will not open this door until you spill it."
Ricky was not going along with this. He spun around and ran right towards Rob and Sally, who were the closest to the door. He created enough force to barrel through them and race out the door.
"Well what are we waiting for?" said Frederick. "Don't let him get away!"
Coco shouted, "Ooh! This way, onward, to victory!"
Rick made it to Dr. Willard's office, and struggled to turn the doorknob. When it did not budge, he cursed. Of course the teacher had already left. He was in this position when he was caught.
"Don't go anywhere," said Frederick. "We've got you surrounded. Now, calmly explain to me who is the head of this organization and make amends to everybody you have humiliated."
There was no way out of the situation. Rick was cornered.
"Fine, I'll tell you who it is," he said.
"What the hell are you playing at, man?"
Asa Lothario had been brought over to the house of John Freeman, which had been taken over by Dr. Willard. Presently he had been led by two large black-suited men into Freeman's office, where Dr. Willard had sat in the comfortable chair behind the desk. Up to this point he had to listen to Dr. Willard explain his goals and why he had requested Asa in the first place.
The teacher said, "Now now, it's very simple, Mr. Lothario. I'm running a large operation here. My contacts have infiltrated various information highways, on the lookout for people with useful skills. You are good at chess, if I am not mistaken, which shows intelligence, which could be useful for my plans."
"You haven't said anything about what those plans are," said Asa, "or why you'd need me. How do I know you aren't involved in anything criminal? I want nothing to do with this."
"Oh, so noble of you," said Dr. Willard, smirking. "Perhaps you will reconsider after you have received a little persuasion?"
He motioned for the two large men to drag Asa out of the room. The last thing he wanted was for anyone whom he could not blackmail to alert the authorities. So far, he had conducted himself well. Nobody not already on his payroll was in any position to stop him. Life was good.
I admit this chapter is kind of rushed. My writing of this chapter kept getting delayed and I wished to avert that happening. I am also trying to move focus away from the actual chess games and more towards the development of the characters; I hope this is all right.