KNIGHT TAKES KING

This was to be a piece for a flash fiction challenge with a 1,000 word limit for Chuck Wendig’s TERRIBLE MINDS Flash Fiction Challenge.  I went over that number.   I randomly picked the following four prompts from a list of nine that must be included in the story somehow.

Rocking Chair

Chess Piece

Iron Horseshoe

Police Officer’s Badge

Pretty cool challenge.  Unfortunately, I got too ambitious with my plot concept.  Oh well, at least it’s a damned good story.

Enjoy!

 

KNIGHT TAKES KING

Saikura knew the boss was pleased he had a lead, but it meant he’d be out all day looking for those fools when he needed to find Kai.

Sienna still hadn’t heard from him.  Four days … it wasn’t like his brother, especially with the new baby.

Kai didn’t have a mean bone in his body, but he tried to emulate his big brother any way.  Had gotten him in deep trouble more than once.  Saikura carried some guilt for this.

The sky was showing signs of dawn as Saikura pulled into the garage of the Iron Horseshoe Gentlemen’s Club.

The boss was sitting in his rocking chair in the lounge playing timed chess against himself.  He moved white king’s bishop then tapped the timer.

“Good evening, sir.” Saikura held up a police officer’s badge. “They got this in the struggle.  There’s a badge number on it.”

The venerable Arcady Aranov spun the table to play black, moved, then took the badge and inspected it while the other hand continued to play.  He seemed not to even look at the chess board.

Saikura was used to this.  He himself was an exceptional player.  In fact the only man Saikura had never defeated was sitting before him.  Aranov had given Saikura the honor of playing him twice five years ago.  Both matches were a route.    Saikura had improved since, but wasn’t going to insult the boss by presuming to ask for another game.

Not yet, but soon maybe.

“It’s a forgery.” Aranov said as he moved another chess piece. “Go home, Saikura; rest.”

Saikura nodded and headed for the door, feeling ashamed he hadn’t caught the forgery.

Saikura climbed into his car.  So the idiots who raided the boss’ card room weren’t real police.  They took a ton of cash, but the boss sent Saikura home anyway.  Why?  It didn’t matter right now; he had to find his brother.

Three hours later Saikura returned to the club, hoping what he’d heard on the street wasn’t true.

The lounge was empty.  The boss’ chair and chess table were gone.  Saikura knew exactly what that meant, and headed for the basement.

Aranov was sitting in his rocking chair next to his chess table.  There were six thugs Saikura didn’t recognize.  One wore a bloody butcher’s apron and held a dripping knife.

Saikura stepped inside.

Plastic lined the back wall and floor where four gagged and naked men were chained.  One was covered in blood, and missing fingers and toes and chunks of flesh which were left where they had fallen on the plastic.  Kai was chained at the end.

A guard saw Saikura and pulled his pistol.  Everyone turned.  Saikura raised his hands.

Aranov allowed a flash of surprise to betray his calm.  “I told you to go home.”

Kai looked up then, his eyes wide.  Saikura saw the hope.  It broke his heart.

“I respectfully ask; Why wasn’t I told about this, sir?”

“Shall I not punish a thief?”

“He’s my brother, sir.”

“Yes, and he has shamed you irreversibly.  Are you armed?.”

“No, sir.”

“You are not a liar, so I will spare you the indignity of being searched.  You’ve earned that.”

Aranov motions for Saikura to sit opposite him. “You place me in a difficult position, but I understand your desire to aid your brother.  You know this is not possible.”

“Have they confessed, sir?”

“I have not asked them to.”

Arkady Aranov’s preferred means of torture was to play chess against himself, having assigned the prisoner as black—always black.  When black lost a piece, the prisoner would lose a piece of himself.  If black lost the match, the prisoner was killed.  If black won, then the prisoner theoretically would be released, but black never won.

“May I ask him, sir?”

“As you wish.”

Saikura squatted in front of his brother and pulled the gag down.

“Is it true, Kai?”

“I didn’t know it was his place, Sai.  None of us did.”

“He has confessed, Saikura.” Aranov said. “I intend to continue.  Do you intend to stay?”

Kai began to sob. “Please help me, Sai … please!”

Saikura took his brother’s head in both hands, and kissed his forehead, then stood and faced Aranov. “I respectfully request a match, sir.”

Aranov couldn’t hide his shock. “You are no match for me, Saikura.”

“I request the match in any event.”

“Your stakes being your brother’s freedom, no doubt.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Blitz chess is my game.”

Timed chess is played with limited time to make your moves.  If at the end of the game you’ve gone over you time, you’re deducted points.  In this case it would be flesh or life.  Blitz Chess was the fastest.  Based on the average number of moves per game, Saikura would have less than five seconds per move.  The stopwatch timers kept everyone honest.

“I understand, sir.” He sat.

“Very well.  I play white.”

In chess white moves first, which is an advantage balanced by black being the only color that can win on a stalemate.  Be that as it may, Saikura wished he was white.  He had been black both times that Aranov had annihilated him.

“Let us begin.” Aranov advanced his queen’s pawn, and hit white’s timer.

Saikura matched the move, and tapped his.

And so it went.  Each man moving their chess pieces into their strategic positions.

Black was the first to lose a piece; the white queen’s bishop slid out to take a pawn.

Aranov signaled to the ‘butcher’.

Saikura turned and watched the butcher slice an ear off each of the other prisoners who screamed through their gags.  He turned back to Aranov. “This is about my brother.”

“Therefore these other scum are none of your concern.  I suggest you mind the time.”

Shit!

Saikura moved and hit his timer. He’d just lost a second per move.

It wasn’t long before this looked like his other losses.  Each piece taken was closer to Kai’s life lost, and behind Saikura the other prisoners wailed ceaselessly as his tactical deficiencies cost them parts of their anatomy.

He was only down twelve pieces to eight, but Aranov held the offensive initiative.  There was only one way Saikura could win this.  He moved accordingly and tapped his timer.

Eleven moves later his strategy had paid dividends; he’d since taken four of Aranov’s pieces to only two of his.

Other than their kings, white had a pawn, bishop, and rook; black had only a knight.  Victory was improbable, Saikura knew, but not impossible.  So he moved his knight to cover his king, and hit the timer.

Aranov moved his pawn forward.

If the white pawn reached black’s side white would get his queen back.   The upside for black is that the slow-moving pawn presented an obstacle to its own color that black could capitalize on.  Saikura moved his king accordingly.

Seven moves later Saikura blocked the pawn with his king.  What Saikura really had done was to present an obvious move for white to get his king out of the way—the pawn was only one move from getting the queen back—and if white fell for the swindle it would present a move for black to end the match in stalemate and win.  How quick Aranov moved his hand would determine if he fell for the swindle or not.

Immediately Aranov moved his rook to threaten Saikura’s king.

“Check.” Aranov declared and hit the timer.

Saikura couldn’t believe Aranov had missed it.  Maybe there was no stalemate move.  His eyes double, triple, and quadruple checked the board.

As Saikura stared and second guessed, Aranov said, “No need to move; I see it.  Well played.” He stood and offered his hand to his opponent.

Saikura had done it.  He’d won!  He shook Aranov’s hand. “Thank you, sir.”

Aranov nodded, then said to the guard. “Release the thief. Finish the others.”

They unchained Kai, as the butcher slit the other men’s throats.

“This match was about his release, Saikura, not about his debt.  You know this.”

Saikura nodded and went to Kai who threw his arms around his big brother and cried, “Thank you!”

Behind them the guards rolled the dead men up in the plastic, and carried them out.

Saikura separated them. “Go to my house.  On the bar I have left you instructions.  Follow them exactly.”

“Where are you—”

“Listen!  Follow the instructions exactly.  Do you understand?”

“But…  You’re not coming?”

“No.  I can’t.  Now go.”

“But—”

Aranov interrupted, “Do as you are told thief, before I change my mind.  And remember always that a far better man than you stayed so that you might go.”

Kai sobbed. “I’m so sorry, Sai.”

Saikura nodded. “Go.”

Then Kai disappeared up the stairs.

“Leave us.” Aranov commanded his remaining guards.  They did as ordered.  He drew his pistol.

Saikura faced him. “Shall we get this over with?”

Aranov hesitated a moment. “No.” He holstered his pistol. “I want a rematch.”

Saikura laughed.  “On one condition, sir.”

“That is?”

“I play white.”

It was Aranov’s turn to laugh. “Agreed.”

They sat, then Aranov set the timer on the floor.  Saikura acknowledged the gesture with a nod, and the two men set up their pieces.

 

~CLS~

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12 Comments

  1. excellent story! I didn’t notice the length either, it didn’t seem too long at all.

    Reply
  2. Nice! I know you went over the word limit, but the whole thing just flowed so well that it didn’t seem like it was too long. I’m glad Kai got away—hopefully he’ll learn from his mistake. I really thought Saikura was a deadman at the end, so great job on that little twist. Well played.

    Reply
    • Christopher Shawbell

       /  July 31, 2013

      Thanks US. He still has to pay his debt, but they are having a slow game “for old times sake” I think.
      Funny thing is, once I started ready the other stories, a full quarter of so were well over the limit. I’m stoke. The guilt was punishing. Thanks for reading, my friend.
      ~Chris

      Reply
  3. What a fascinating story! I know nothing about Chess, but I was captivated by the intensity of the match. I like the switch in thinking at the end… I thought for sure Saikura would have to die for his brother’s debt, so I was relieved when Aranov requested a rematch instead. I like Saikura.

    Nice job, Christopher!

    Reply
    • Christopher Shawbell

       /  July 30, 2013

      He does have to pay the debt, the beauty is that they play anyway, and Aranov takes the timer out of the game.
      ~C.

      Reply
      • Oh I see. I understand. 🙂 I still appreciate the respect Aranov has for Saikura.

      • Christopher Shawbell

         /  July 30, 2013

        Yes, it’s beautiful in its own tragic way.

  4. This was great! I certainly didn’t notice the length—I would have thought nothing of it if you hadn’t mentioned it. Nicely done. The criminal underworld was a good choice.

    Reply
    • Christopher Shawbell

       /  July 30, 2013

      Thanks, Wanderer. Maybe I should nuke the disclaimer.
      I wanted to create a “gentlemen’s underworld” that was of course ruthless, but had, an honorable side to it where it was known what was expected.

      Reply
      • I don’t think anyone will complain about length if you do.

        I think you were successful in that—it wasn’t just a bunch of thugs, they had intelligence and a code of conduct.

      • Christopher Shawbell

         /  July 30, 2013

        The boss putting the timer away for their rematch was not planned. It showed, for me anyway, more of the mutual respect than anything else in the piece.

  5. Christopher Shawbell

     /  July 28, 2013

    It seems like every new piece I write becomes my new favorite. Am I actually getting better every piece, or am I just in love with the moment? I don’t think it matters. I am in love with this story regardless. I hope you enjoy it as well.
    ~Christopher

    Reply

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