As usual, the Writer’s Circle Games Night had descended into chaos, aided on this occasion by Kenny’s decision to list the evening as a charity event (‘They’re all bloody charity cases, if you ask me.’) and thus allow alcoholic beverages to be drunk, although not purchased upstairs. (‘There’s only one of me you know and you’ll find me downstairs with the pumps and the till, not running up and down the stairs at the whim of a group of losers.’) The search for the missing Scrabble letter ‘X’ had been a long and (by Writer’s Circle standards) uproarious one, driven on by Deidre who had ‘E’, ‘N’, ‘N’ and ‘O’ and was determined to stand a chance, at least, of banging ‘XENON’ down on a triple word score. Her natural irritability was not exactly eased by Phil and Elizabeth who inexplicably suffered a serious attack of ‘the giggles’ when Elizabeth accidentally knocked a box of dominoes from the shelf and found, in amongst the widely distributed dominoes, a Scrabble ‘T’ which, as far as anyone could see, wasn’t actually missing in the first place.
“Here,” said Phil, holding out the tile to Deidre, ‘You might as well take this. You could at least get ‘TENON’.”
“Or ‘NONET’ said Elizabeth.
“Is that a real word?’ asked Phil.
Elizabeth opened her mouth to reply.
“You shouldn’t have been looking at my tiles,” snapped Deidre.
“Oh come on, Deidre,” said Phil. “I couldn’t miss them; you left them on the table. Besides, even if we do find the ‘X’, you’ll have to get hold of it before Elizabeth, otherwise she’s going to get ‘SPANX’.”
Elizabeth took a playful swipe at Phil who ducked and, much to the amusement of both of them, dislodged the ‘X’ tile from the folds of his sweater.
Deidre stared coldly at the two of them, giggling like teenagers. “Well, I think we’d better start all over again, don’t you?” she said, beckoning Frankie to rejoin them at the table.
Frankie had, in fact, played no part in the search for the missing ‘X’ as he had found himself at the next table, alongside Billy and Terry who were staring blankly at a chess board. “You’re telling me that you having decided to play chess, you discover that neither of you have ever played before?” He looked from Billy to Terry incredulously. “… Never?”
He sighed, took a seat between them and, after a deep breath, attempted to introduce them to the simplest rudiments of the game. Both men nodded sagely as Frankie explained, “The game is all about protecting your King: it’s an old game – I’m surprised that both Kings are not white really – and the Queen is your most powerful piece, she can go any distance across the board, in any direction, straight or diagonally, but she can’t go through or over other pieces. If she reaches your own piece, she stops, if she reaches your opponent’s, she takes it off the board. The Knight is the only piece that can go over or round other pieces. It moves like this… or this… or this… or this…”
Penny stared at her opponents – Vanessa, Tom, Louise, Jeff and Jane – across the Cluedo board and tried to decide where her main competition was going to come from. She was, for once, pleased to find that Phil – the detective writer – was otherwise engaged, but thought that Louise and Jane could both offer stiff competition. Vanessa appeared confident (but was actually just confused) whilst Tom and Jeff – who was laughing so heartily at something (Not even he appeared to know what.) that he was slowly dripping a puddle of gin and tonic into his crotch – simply seemed pleased to be involved. The initial barrier to starting the game had still to be crossed: the positioning of the six ‘weapons’ on the board. Jane was insistent that they should start in ‘appropriate’ rooms: “Knife in the Kitchen, Candlestick in the Ballroom, it’s obvious.”
“Spanner in the Garage, Pistol in the Shooting Gallery…” said Tom.
“Lead Pipe?” asked Jeff.
“Outside Toilet,” said Tom, which amused them both.
“Yes, well, I think it would make more sense if they went into rooms that actually exist on the board,” said Jane. “Can we all agree, at least, that the Candlestick belongs in the Ballroom?”
They couldn’t. Tom wanted it in the Library and Louise in the Lounge. “My mother,” she said, “Always kept the best silver in the lounge… and the knife has to be in the Dining Room.”
“Maybe we could start with the rope,” said Vanessa. “Any suggestions?”
“I don’t know,” said Louise. “Who even has a rope in the house? I can never even find string. And how long is that rope, even to scale? It would never go round somebody’s neck…”
Eventually they all agreed to pick a murder weapon each, at random, and they placed them in a room of their choice, which resulted in the Candlestick being in the ballroom ‘Because that’s where the piano is’; the Revolver in the Study ‘Because it’s always in a desk drawer on the telly’; the Lead Pipe in the Cellar where it had ‘Fallen from the old boiler when they fitted a new one’; the Dagger was in the Dining Room because Tom had drawn it and he wasn’t about to change his mind; the Rope in the Library ‘Having fallen off the bell-pull’, and the Spanner in the Billiard Room ‘In case the table’s legs needed adjustment’.
“OK, so who’s got the dice?” asked Jane.
Accusing glances passed around the group.
Billy and Terry both grinned nervously as Frankie drove on. “The Bishop moves diagonally, the Rook or Castle in a straight line.” They cupped their chins and stared intently at the board, occasionally reaching out and moving the pieces along the lines of the instructions…
A thorough search of the Cluedo box revealed a single die trapped within its cardboard tomb.
“Can we play with just one?” asked Jeff.
“It will take an awful long time to get around,” said Tom.
“Perhaps we could each roll it twice,” suggested Vanessa.
“Brilliant!” said Tom, who was now in full-on ‘charm’ mode. “So, who wants to be Colonel Mustard?”
Eventually, at the insistent beckoning of Deidre, Frankie left Billy and Terry to their game. “Do you think you will, at least, be able to give it a bit of a go?” he asked.
Billy and Terry nodded in unison.
Slowly they placed all of the pieces onto the board and, thrilled with their accomplishment, shook hands before commencing a simple game of draughts.
“What will we do if one of the pieces is crowned?” asked Billy.
“We’ll swap it for a King or a Queen,” said Terry.
“But they’re already crowned.”
“You’re right,” said Terry. “We’ll promote a Knight. A Bishop wouldn’t be ruthless enough and a Pawn would be unseemly…”
They both grinned agreement and began sliding pieces around the board in a random fashion.
“Do they go on black or white?” asked Billy.
“Yes,” said Terry. “Black or white, definitely…”
At the Scrabble board, Deidre had once again taken control. “Right,” she said. “I think it is you to start, Francis. What have you got?”
Frankie looked at his tiles: ‘A’, ‘C’, ‘F’, ‘K’, ‘L’, ‘L’ ‘U’.
“Fuck all,” he said.
…Downstairs, Kenny was playing darts with a man in a tired business suit, who was asking a lot of questions about somebody who sounded a lot like Tom. Fortunately, as Kenny was able to assure the man, he’d never been seen in his pub. “Sounds like a bit of a loser, anyway,” he said…
I think many of my readers will know Draughts as Checkers and Cluedo as Clue – and if you have one, I’d be pleased to know about it