He would simply have to tell her he was not ready to leave. That should be easy enough. Regardless of what he had told Ms. Zoe, he always got his way—unless it did not matter. This, however, mattered—mattered deeply; it was absolutely essential he finish The Game.

But what could he tell Mother Dear to keep her at a distance?

And should they talk in private or should Ms. Zoe be present?

His earlier tantrum, no doubt, had gotten the old nun worried; she had confirm his morbid state. How, then, to use that as a means for gaining time—time to work on Melanie?

Julian plotted as he walked. The snow compacted underfoot. Upon reaching the nun's quarters, he heard the chapel bell toll twice. He knocked and entered.

"Punctual as usual."

"I said I'd be here. Here I am."

"You still sound angry, Julian. Are you?"

"Yes. I'm missing Melanie's lesson."

"Oh, I am sorry. I had forgotten, or I would have suggested another…"

"Skip it. Let's get this over with, shall we?"

Sister Zoe retreated behind her desk, picked up the telephone and dialed.

"Mrs. Filomena Papp, please…"

 

"No. It's Sister Zoe. Your son's here with me, though. Just a second, I'll put him on."

She offered Julian the receiver.

He did not hesitate. In fact, he veritably snatched the phone from her hand.

"Hello, Mother Dear. I'm fine. Don't come. Goodbye."

He clamped his hand over the mouthpiece and spoke to the nun.

"Always keep things short and sweet, do Mother and I… She's now protesting that I'm cruel… and that after having traveled all this way…"

He stopped to glower at Sister Zoe.

"Where is she?"

"Payson."

"Where the hell is that?"

"Julian, talk to your mother. When she heard that you were missing…"

"Right. Sorry, mom. Sister Judas has just informed me that you're practically in town. Payson, is it?… Fifty, sixty miles away… Hm, hm. 'Goddamn snow.'" His hand again covered up the mouthpiece. "She's frantic about my quoting her within your hearing."

"Would you like some privacy?"

"No, no. I'll edit." He addressed his mother. "I'll give her only an expurgated version. So, what's up?"

He listened quietly for a moment.

If only the nun could see his eyes, but with his glasses on—and with his usual deadpan expression—his face proved unreadable. She would have to depend on scraps he tossed her, and on their conversation afterward.

"She's expressing doubts, now, about your competence, Ms. Zoe. She's in a bit of a snit about my 'sabbatical.' Should I bail you out?"

"No, Mother. The fault was mine not hers."

He grinned sardonically.

"I took a walk, was all. Got lost. It started to snow. I found a cabin. What's to tell; I rode out the storm in style—the place had all the creature comforts."

The nun had expected as much, and wondered at Julian's withholding this account. She watched him closely, aware more than ever before, of a chess player's machinations.

"Oh, oh. She's asking about my seizures. Treacherous footing here, Ms. Zoe."

"Yes, Mother. I cannot tell a lie; I've had one recently. Again, my fault. I've been remiss in popping the pills. They give me nightmares—or so I thought. Ms. Zoe has been trying to convince me to the contrary."

"She wants to speak to you when we're finished, Ms. Zoe. Don't forget how generous I have been."

"Yes, Mother… Yes, Mother."

Sister Zoe felt a pang of guilt. Julian was drawing her into his own conspiracy. He was enjoying himself; it was obvious. Why? Because Julian, it was apparent, had total control.

Then suddenly he changed. He turned aside as he spoke. His tone grew less abrasive.

"She's just a patient here."

 

"No, she's just a kid. Amnesia victim."

 

"Yes, she's pretty—if you're into baldness and pedophilia."

 

"As a bat. A little fuzz is all."

 

"I didn't say. None of us know. I'd guess thirteen. What is this? Drop it."

"I'm getting the third degree about Melanie."

"Listen, Ma. I think you'd better go back home."

 

"That's right, without your baby boy."

 

"I know you're close, but I've been feeling kind of down."

 

"All right… All right… But not before. Okay?"

 

"Fine. I'll tell her."

"Mother Dear wants to wait it out, in case I change my mind when the roads are finally cleared. I said okay."

14. h4!...........

 

1.e4           
2. Nf3
3. Bc4
4. b4
5. c3
6. d4
7. 0 - 0
8. Qb3
9. Nxc3
10. Nd5!
11. exd5
12. Nxe5
13. Bb2
14.
h4!
15. 
16.
17.
0e5          
0Nc6
0Bc5
0Bxb4
0Ba5
0exd4
0dxc3
0Qe7
0Nf6?
0Nxd5
0Ne5
0Qxe5
0Qg5
0
0
0
0

"Okay with you?"

The nun considered. It would buy a little more time.

"Okay with me.

14...........Qxh4

 

1.e4           
2. Nf3
3. Bc4
4. b4
5. c3
6. d4
7. 0 - 0
8. Qb3
9. Nxc3
10. Nd5!
11. exd5
12. Nxe5
13. Bb2
14. h4!
15. 
16. 
17
0e5          
0Nc6
0Bc5
0Bxb4
0Ba5
0exd4
0dxc3
0Qe7
0Nf6?
0Nxd5
0Ne5
0Qxe5
0Qg5
0
Qxh4
0
0
0

"Agreed."

"I have to go now, Mom. Goodbye."

He held out the phone. Sister Zoe could hear Filomena talking to the air.

"I leave it to you, Ms. Zoe, to corroborate my misgivings. If you'll excuse me?"

"Julian, wait." She took up the phone. "Mrs. Papp, this is Sister Zoe again. Hold on."

But Julian was already out the door, hurrying back to his pupil.

 

 

Upon returning to his room, he found the note from Melanie waiting.

MxJ and JxM

Now that should prove an interesting exchange.

 

Some people...

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