The Chessmaster glared at Victor, and then looked at the board. He scratched his head. Three black pieces left.
He squinted at the edge of the table. “What is that?” He licked his fingertip then leaned over and began rubbing a tiny smudge from the smooth surface. “Unbelievable,” he said. “You try to keep things nice, and look—dirt everywhere. I apologise. You know, I’d really like to clean this place up a bit. You could come back later and I’ll have it looking spotless.”
“Oh, no really,” said Victor, “the place looks great. Honestly. Let’s just finish the game.”
The Chessmaster nodded. “Right. Very kind of you.” He stared at the chess board again, though his mind seemed elsewhere. “Oh would you have a look at that,” he said, throwing his hands in the air. “My sandal is untied.”
He stooped and fumbled with his sandal strap, tying then retying it several times. Victor shifted on his seat.
“Is that stool getting uncomfortable?” asked the Chessmaster. “Oh dear, now my other sandal feels loose. I’d better fix it up. Look, while I sort myself out here, why don’t you get up and stretch your legs? Go for a walk out there.”
Victor straightened up on the undersized seat. “No, thank you. I’m fine. Let’s play.”
When the Chessmaster finished tying his sandals, he noticed the light bulb was askew. After adjusting the light bulb, he decided the floor was too dusty, and might trigger his asthma. He fetched a broom from behind the throne and spent a thorough twenty minutes sweeping the tight space. The chess pieces were dull, so he polished them; his cloak had a small tear, so he stitched it. He filled an hour completing a variety of suddenly urgent tasks: clipping his toenails, varnishing his chair, doing his morning yoga, writing a shopping list and trying to recall the name of a guy he used to work with. When it seemed the Chessmaster had finally run out of chores, Victor invited him to resume the game.
“Yes, I uh, suppose we should continue,” said the Chessmaster.
He sat down. A horde of thick wrinkles ambushed his forehead as he weighed up his limited options. Finally, he set his withered pincers on his king.
“I notice,” said Victor, “you haven’t used your knights.”
“Hmm?” The Chessmaster looked up at Victor, and then back at the board. “Oh, the horse—I mean yes, the knights. That’s right. It’s an old Chessmaster strategy,” he said, tapping his finger to his nose. “I’ll give you this advice for free—since you’re about to lose anyway—never move your knights.”
“Huh,” answered Victor. “I haven’t heard that before. You know, I’m wondering… do you know how to move your knights?”
The Chessmaster leapt to his feet. “How dare you! I am the Chessmaster!” Veins bulged from his temples. “I was moving knights all over the board before you were big enough to lift a pawn, you insolent flea! I have defeated kings, and magi, and the Chess Witch of Helsingborg. So watch your mouth, novice.”
“All right, all right, I was just asking.”
The Chessmaster straightened his cloak and sat back down. “I’ve toyed with you enough. Time to end this match.” He moved his king one square forward.
“That’s check,” said Victor.
“My bishop would take your king—see? So you can’t move it there.”
“Yeah, well, obviously. Give me time to finish my move, will you?”
He moved his king a square to the left, keeping his hand on the piece.
“That’s check too,” said Victor.
The Chessmaster moved the king back a square, and then looked at Victor. “Happy?”
Victor nodded. “Yeah, that works.”
The Chessmaster slouched back in his throne.
“You know, there was an old movie,” said Victor, assessing the board. “Black and white. Foreign language, I think. This guy challenges Death to a game of chess. You ever see that one?”
The Chessmaster’s face turned red. He shrugged and shook his head. “Never heard of it.”
“No? I saw a bit of it when I was a kid. Don’t remember much of it, but sitting here, playing chess, it just reminded me I guess. I wonder if Gary ever saw that movie?”
“I wouldn’t know,” said the Chessmaster, with deliberate nonchalance.
“Hmm. Doesn’t matter, I suppose,” said Victor. He moved his queen. “Checkmate.”
“What?” The Chessmaster leaned forward, and stared in horror at the board. “How?”
“Well… uh, if you move there my bishop will get you, and if you move there or stay where you are the queen can get you. The rook has this side covered. So… that’s checkmate.”
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