Dennis lay on the thin vanilla carpeted floor of the hospital waiting room. He rubbed his face, wondering how long he had been asleep. Groaning softly, he rolled onto his side, feeling the pain that typically accompanies a poor night’s rest on a hard surface. Stretching his arms upward, he felt his joints crack and pop back into place. He draped his arms over his bent legs and looked around.
Lolly wasn’t around. She had met him, crying hysterically, when he arrived at the hospital. He had never seen her so distraught. The poor girl was practically hyperventilating. He managed to get more out of Sinbad Rotter than his own daughter. While Lolly clung desperately to his leather jacket sleeve, Dennis listened to Sinbad explain how they heard the news about Rachel. Dennis had his doubts, but he listened as Sinbad share what little he knew of the police report – Rachel’s stab wounds, the result of a mugging gone wrong. He still couldn’t understand why his father still hadn’t surfaced. As the hours drew late, Dennis felt more and more sick with worry, not about his father’s safety, but about his father’s possible involvement in his sister-in-law’s pain. His conspicuous absence confirmed Dennis’ worst fears.
He wasn’t surprised. Max had a violent streak in him. He had seen his father beat up men before – rival mafia crew, a wayward member of his organization, and his brothers. Hell, he had been on the receiving end of Max’s backhand a few times. He had heard his father smacking around his mother. Dennis winced, feeling the weight of the shame encroach on his mind. He had never done anything to stop his dad before. He had always given his father the benefit of the doubt, just like he gave everyone. Dennis was a fair man. He never hit his wife or children. He never utilized corporeal punishment with a colleague who got out of line in the family business. He never punched his brother… unless Bill genuinely deserved it.
But all that doesn’t make me a good person! Dennis thought with dismay. Doing nothing is worse than doing something. He could see Sinbad dozing off in his chair on the other side of the room. He had half a mind to go over and wake the young man, tell him to go home. He wasn’t even sure why Sinbad was there, other than drawing some sort of conclusion that Lolly had called him. He hadn’t seen or heard from Sinbad since he tried to pick up his final paycheck months before. He was glad to hear Sinbad was making something of himself out here in the Heights, but he hoped to God that the boy wouldn’t get sucked back into the Racket organization.
Dennis was aware of his father’s Roaring Heights associates. When his father had gone to jail, he had assumed his father’s criminal ties were severed, but he should’ve known better. As the youngest son, Dennis had been kept in the dark about the bulk of his father’s activities, and yet, he was the one who stayed. Dudley had gotten out and joined law enforcement, making it clear where his allegiances lay. Bill had been too much of an idiot to run a huge criminal enterprise and had gone into politics. When Max was captured by the SNIT agents, Dennis should have walked away – taken the wife and kids and head for the hills. Instead, he was backed into a corner by his cousin, Russ, and stayed out of family loyalty and obligation.
Who am I kidding? Dennis stood to his feet. To think I could leave. As he plopped into a chair, he could hear his sister-in-law’s friend, Gala. The young woman had flown down to Florsimda after she heard about her best friend’s hospitalization. That’s what real loyalty looks like, Dennis smiled wistfully. Gala had been a lifesaver, picking up Hope, bringing her to the hospital, and calming Lolly down. Right now, the woman was humming softly, bouncing his niece, Hope on her hip while the toddler pushed the buttons on the vending machine. Every few times, Gala would put some coins in and watch the little girl’s response as an item fell into the dispensary. Cheap entertainment, he smiled amused, thinking of all the crazy things he did to calm his kids down or keep them occupied when needed.
Dennis was grateful Hope wasn’t anywhere near Rachel during the attack. The little girl had been at his daughter’s friend’s house. Thank God, Dennis leaned in the chair and stretched. And Lolly! He couldn’t live with himself if something had happened to his daughter. He still wasn’t convinced this was a mugging. For starters, the police hadn’t been able to find the actual place where the “crime” took place. He asked around and the hotel employees had confirmed Rachel had left and returned to the Royal Riverside Hotel together. The more he thought about it, the more he was sure his father was involved.
Max insisted on taking this trip to Florsimda with Rachel. The whole thing seemed suspicious. Dennis rubbed his hand over his bristly jawline. Why didn’t I stop them? Rachel and her daughter had taken this trip and Lolly had tagged along. What possible innocent reason could his father have to join? Dennis couldn’t think of a single one. He knew one phone call might confirm his suspicions. He flipped open his cell, and dialed a number he had hoped he wouldn’t have to call again.
As an accountant for the family “biz,” Dennis was privy to records, phone numbers of employees being one of them. When Russ took over, he insisted all those records be burned for legitimate safety reasons. It was good Dennis had a pretty sharp memory.
“I’m calling about the man in the black hat,” he said quietly into the phone.
“I’m sorry, sir. Are you calling about the king, bishop, or knight?” a female voice responded.
“The king has been checkmated and is waiting for the next round,” he said.
“What’s he waiting for?” was the next question asked.
“An opportunity to get back in the game…” he hesitated trying to remember the correct phrasing. “I have questions about the rules of the game with a view by the ocean.”
He held his breath, hoping he said the right thing. Oceanview Park was the staging grounds for a drop, a place where one could gather information over a game of chess, or at least that was the place his father used before. After a moment of agonizing silence, his question was met with a reply.
“The King is now in play. What do you want to know?”
So Max did come to Roaring Heights for business? Old habits are hard to kick, he thought with a smile.
“I believe he brought a new pawn to the board. I’m calling to confirm.”
This was met by a laugh. “Yeah, a pawn who wants to be a queen.”
He blanched. Did that mean Rachel wanted in? No. She couldn’t. She wouldn’t.
“The pawn doesn’t stand a chance. The queen is still in play.”
So Lucy was still his father’s number two? Dennis pieced together. And Rachel was in danger. He would need to choose his next words carefully.
“For the integrity of the game, the pawn needs to learn a lesson.”
“The pawn was reminded of its place, and if need be, the king is prepared to take the pawn off the board. The pawn is receiving an education at the library.”
Dennis nearly dropped the phone, feeling all the blood drain from his face. “Receiving a library education” was the code his father used for hospitalizing people. Lucy had practically admitted to Max’s involvement in Rachel’s stabbing.
“What’s your move?” the woman inquired.
He wanted to know one more thing.
“Can I schedule a match with the king?” he asked.
“I’m afraid the king is unavailable. Try back between Tuesday and Wednesday.”
He understood the code. So his father was returning to Twinbrook? Why? How could he possibly explain his sudden disappearance?
“Thank you for your time. I’ll play next time,” he barely choked out before clicking the end button.
Leaning over, he grabbed his knees and wheezed, feeling as though the air had been sucked out of him. He could feel a cold anger rising in his chest, compressing his lungs. Once his breathing slowed, he balled his fists and released. He stood to his feet. Once he was sure Rachel was okay, he had a plane to catch.
Author’s Note: Okay, I’m the first to admit, I know little about chess. I just messed around with some of the terms and did a smidgen of research so if I used terms incorrectly or they didn’t make sense at all, that’s why. Then again, this is some weird mixed-up coding the Racket organization uses to gain information so maybe it’s not supposed to make sense. In case you were wondering, SNIT stands for SimNation Investigation and Tactical Agency (basically the FBI of the Simworld). I tried really hard to make the word “SNITCH” and it just didn’t happen. Also… “the king has been checkmated” references Max’s arrest. “The king is now in play” means Max is or was in town. The “pawn” is Rachel. The “queen” is Lucy Ferne, Max’s number 2, and that’s who Dennis is speaking to. “Tuesday and Wednesday” is the code referring to Twinbrook. Between the T and the W… oh yes, my cheesy cleverness. I realize if these were real criminals, these so-called “codes” are laughable. I know… I’m just trying to get a chapter out and I’m feeling a bit lazy about making this realistic.