Fifty Seven

The rest of our week moves along, Zoe C and Elle have classes, they swim, hike the property, work out in the gym. McKenzie and I make meals, she swims every day.
Her IPad came in, Elle charged it before we gave it to McKenzie. She explained how it worked, showed her the online tutorial and left her to go at it.
She burned through the first charge, Elle showed her how to recharge and that she could also use the device while it charged. Usually in the afternoon, post her nap, we can find her lying on the mat, head on Zelda’s flank, touching and swiping. When she finds something interesting, she shows the screen to Zelda and explains what it is. Zelda sniffs the screen, sniffs McKenzie’s neck, then back to snoozing.
It’s Friday, yay, Natalie is here, I go out and take her small valise, she’s leaving clothes here now, not a wardrobe, enough to cover our common casual and a couple of things if we decide to go out for diner.
She gives me a kiss, scoots inside and is met by Zelda, gets her clearance as a friend, McKenzie is just behind her.
“Zelda is protecting.”
Nat, “She sure is, and I am happy for it,” she stoops and buries her fingers in the wrinkles for a scratch.
She stands, leans and gives McKenzie a peck on the cheek, strokes the gorgeous auburn hair, young girls have perfect hair, soft, shiny, rich, McKenzie is no different.
The girl and the mastiff, turn and go to their spot on the mats in front of the couch, martial arts mats that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. Very comfortable to lay on and easy for Zoe C to clean.
Zoe C, “Hey Nat, can I get a kiss too?”
“Of course, where’s Elle?”
“Showering, it’s past tea, time for cocktails, you want wine or something stronger?”
“Three fingers of Elijah Craig on the rocks will do perfectly.”
We park on the patio for cocktail hour, there’s peeled jumbo shrimp, caviar and toast points, sour cream plop on, then top with caviar.
Elle comes out, lean legs drip from a tiny t-shirt, “Hey Nat,” leans in for a kiss.
Natalie, “God Elle, you should be illegal.”
Elle giggles, “If you promise to ogle, I’ll sit next to you.”
She sits, crosses an elegant leg, Natalie runs her hand down the tight thigh.
“Jesus, you and Zoe are racer hard.”
“You seem to be hanging in.”
“We stay at upscale hotels, there’s always a gym. Unless it’s a dinner with clients, I skip the after work drinking sessions and go there instead.”
“You skip the bonding ritual?”
“I don’t care about bonding, not with those guys, they’ve decided I must be a lesbian, I don’t bother to explain. My boss verbally head slapped them, said as soon as they brought in as much revenue as I do, they could start with the name calling. They shut up.”
Zoe C, “Good for you. Want a McKenzie update?”
Of course she does, and Zoe C gives it to her, “We’ve let her find her way, we’re here if she wants something, we give her space otherwise. Her pal, besides Zelda, is Chef.”
“That’s because of the cooking, she’s not affectionate, not standoffish, she is attentive, absorbs things instantly. I’ve never had to tell her what to do twice.”
As if on cue, McKenzie appears with her pal in tow, she’s got her tablet. She climbs on Natalie’s lap, “Look.”
Natalie takes the tablet, flips through the last few sites, “She’s searching Hypatia and the Stoics, Marcus Aurelius, the whole crowd. Honey, that’s fantastic, what have you learned?”
“Keep only what is necessary, endure what comes, do not fight life, swim with the current.”
Natalie, “Dear One, only eight and a half and you have more depth than most adults,” she kisses the girl.
McKenzie hops up, “Zelda wants to walk.”
She follows the massive mastiff up the hill to the rear, the pool area faces down the mountain so we can enjoy the ocean.
Natalie, “It seems like the best idea is to leave her alone, did you see what’s she’s been reading on the tablet?”
Zoe C, “Nope, we don’t intrude.”
“She’s between Western philosophy, consciousness studies and Eastern philosophy. I paged back, she’s been on the J. Krishnamurti website. What happened to video games?”
I jump in, “She tried those, she gets through them in no time, they bore her.”
Natalie, “You see no need of a school, one with kids like her I mean?”
“That’s your call, but based on what happens around here, I don’t get the point.”
“Well, they talk about socialization, even ultimately preparing for her to live on her own someday.”
“My own take is not to put her someplace simply to learn conformity to a dangerously sick society. I understand that people, if they knew, would say we’re sick. That’s fine, they will believe what they wish.”
“Let things motor along like they are, besides, I doubt taking Zelda out of her day would be much welcome.”
“And I doubt Zoe C, Elle, me and the mutt would welcome her being gone much of the day. Plus I enjoy the kitchen assist.”
Elle, “Speaking of…”
“Dinner, beet salad with shredded cabbage and onion, Tahini dressing, fried catfish, baked beans, steak fries. Dessert, wedding cake and white frosting, I cheated and got that from Louisa.”
McKenzie and Zelda return, Zelda gets her rinse, shakes water everywhere, then plops between Elle and Zoe C.
McKenzie comes over and blinks at me, “Cook now.”
I stand, “Cook now.”
We leave the girls, Zelda will come in when she’s dry, I’m sure she’s up for a surreptitious treat courtesy of McKenzie.
She takes her spot on the stool, I said fried catfish, but it’s really battered in Panko then baked. I will fry the fries, beans have been baking on for over an hour already.
“First, we batter the catfish. Dip the strips into the egg mixture,” I show her, “then into the bread crumbs, coat all over, put the strip on the baking pan.”
I’ve coated the pan with grapeseed oil, they need to be turned halfway through and the light sheen of oil keeps the fish from sticking.
When she’s got them arranged, in perfect rows of course, I take the container of fries I’d cut earlier, they’ve been in the refrigerator soaking in water.
“Lay the fries on the paper towels, I’ll heat the oil.”
Fish goes in the three fifty oven, “We’ll fry the fries when the fish is halfway done.”
Timer dings, pull the pan of fish out, “Now two quick fingers and flip them over, they won’t be too hot yet, but don’t hold onto them, just lift and turn.”
“We’ll give Zelda a piece when it’s done and cooled,” pan goes in the oven again.
McKenzie, “Fries now.”
“Yes, oil is hot, very,” I show her how to ease in the potato piece halfway then let it go, it won’t send a stray drop of hot oil out of the pot that way.
“Put in a dozen, when they’re nice and brown, I’ll take them out, they go on these paper towels to drain.”
She eases in a dozen pieces, I flip with a slotted spoon. When they look right, I take them out and arrange them on the platter covered in three layers of paper towels, we repeat three more times. These are fat steak fries with the skin on, forty  fries for four adults, a sprite and a dog are enough.
Zoe C is behind me, “Wine, beer?”
“I’ll take a beer, if anyone wants wine…”
“We have white opened already.”
Timer dings again.
McKenzie, “Fish now.”
I open the oven, take a look, yep, fish now.
We leave the platter of fish, the platter of fries and the glass pan of baked beans on the counter. Plates are stacked next to the fish, utensils on the dining table, plus seafood sauce and serving spoons.
“Round up the others Zoe C.”
We gather buffet style, take a plate, serve yourself, then sit at the dining table. I see McKenzie has one piece of fish pushed to the edge of her plate. Zelda is right next to her studying it, her head sways between McKenzie and the tidbit. McKenzie pokes it with a finger, breaks it in two and tests it again, lays it aside.
“Lay down Zelda, too hot.”
Damned if the monster doesn’t just slip from sitting to laying patiently.
Natalie, “Zelda listens to every word she says.”
“Zelda is smarter than most humans, she knows there’s something for her and she knows there’s a reason she has to wait. Don’t ask me how she knows, I don’t know how she knows.”

Fifty Eight

An evening of BBC Sherlock, break for cake and Cognac, seltzer for our girl. McKenzie loves, maybe too strong a word, fascinated? by nineteenth century England and Sherlock’s brusque manner.                             
At least we think she’s fascinated, she keeps her attention on the screen, her spot on Zelda’s flank, reaches up to scratch the mastiff’s double size head. Zelda doesn’t move, content to have her charge in direct contact.
The program ends, Natalie asks, “What do you like best about Sherlock McKenzie?”
“Smart, focused.”
“You could be Sherlock.”
“Then who would be McKenzie?”
Natalie giggles, “That’s not what I mean, you are like Sherlock.”
No reply.
Natalie shrugs, “So much for bonding.”
I jump in, “She’s bonding at her pace, not ours. Zelda was easy, girls love big dogs, big dogs love little girls. The rest of us serve as she needs us to, not as we want to.”
Natalie, “I’m learning, she’s on her time, not anyone else’s.”
“She’s good about Zelda time, breakfast first, walk, maybe swim or fool with the tablet, dinner at five, walk, whatever we have planned for the evening. I take it as a compliment that she spends her evenings with us, she could as easily go to her room with Zelda and fiddle around on the IPad.”
“Good point, not being here all week I don’t see the interplay.”
McKenzie stands, “Go out Zelda.”
Zelda pops up, goes to the sliding patio door and opens it. I’ve installed the split screen and taken down the sliding one, Zelda pushes through and goes off for her pre-bed pee. She’s back in two minutes. McKenzie slides the door shut and they go upstairs.
Natalie giggles, “And goodnight to you too.”
Zoe C, “She doesn’t goodnight anybody, but I bet it would be okay if you went and tucked her in. She’s pretty self sufficient, flosses, brushes her teeth, bath or shower, she stays hygienic.”
Nat hops up and heads up the steps.
Elle, “Bet she doesn’t make six more months at Goldman.”
“Why she’s bringing in…oh, you mean McKenzie.”
“Yeah, while we watched Sherlock, Natalie watched McKenzie, the girl is more important to her than being a Goldman money pump.”
Zoe C, “If you offered to finance her startup, I bet she’d quit.”
“I’d finance it in a heartbeat, I’ve essentially told her so.”
“Yeah, but she needs you to ask her, and to make it clear that if she wants to move in, she’s welcome.”
Elle, “And don’t tell her it’s okay if she moves in, like you’re doing her a favor, tell her it’s what you want. If it isn’t, fine, don’t say anything at all.”
“You’re saying my girlfriend management skills leave something to be desired.”
Zoe C, “You’re a man, you have no girlfriend management skills.”
“You may have a point.”
“I do have a point, listen and learn.”
I nod, I live on a planet of women, even the dog is a girl, think I would pick up on these cues. But she’s right, men don’t read women very well, which frustrates both the man and the woman. We want them to be more direct, they don’t operate that way, not when it comes to what is commonly called relationships. Their world is subtle, more feeling less fact. One reason I can relate to McKenzie, she’s all fact.
“Okay, got it, if I overcorrect, let me know.”
Zoe C, “Chef, tell her what you want, leave the subtleties to her. Maybe she wants to keep it occasional. I don’t read it that way, but we’ve never discussed it.”
Elle, “No, if there was no McKenzie, then maybe arm’s length, the girl changes that.”
“How?”
“She’s here, in your house, she likes the pool, Zelda, cooking with you. You brought structure, not rigid, fluid structure. Natalie sees that the child is adjusting well, she admires that.”
“So I’m dad.”
“Call it what you want, nobody says you need to be married, but, yes, you are a father figure to the girl. Don’t deny, you like it.”
A half hour passes, Natalie doesn’t return, the others go to their bedroom. I go up and pass by McKenzie’s, Natalie is in there, both of them asleep, McKenzie is enveloped by Nat, Zelda is next to the bed on her own bed. Guess the girls are on to something.
I’m out for the count, next thing I know it’s morning. I blink awake, Zelda is eyeballing me.
“Good morning, what time is…cripes, eight thirty, have you been out? I’m sure you have, must be hungry.”
In the kitchen, I pour her bowl, she’s at it, then water, slurp-slop, then out she goes through the open patio door. She must have gone out earlier too, I closed the door before I went to bed.
Coffee, what to crank out for breakfast, maybe a big breakfast and light lunch, or vice versa?
I sense a presence, look down, McKenzie staring up at me, “Good morning, any breakfast preferences? I’m trying to decide whether to make a big breakfast and light lunch or the other way round.”
No reply, I stroke her shiny clean hair, “Light breakfast, we’ll see about lunch later,” Zelda comes in and parks next to the girl.
“I fed her already, let’s put out yogurt, smoked salmon, mascarpone and bagels. I’ll slice the bagels, you get yogurt, there’s a package of salmon in there and the cream cheese.”
I slice five bagels, put two in the toaster. McKenzie opens the salmon, slides the fish on a plate, adds a fork, places it on the dining table.
“Just leave the mascarpone in its package, the yogurt too, they can take what they want.”
Ding! Our bagels are ready, nice and crisp. I cut the halves in two, put two on a plate, “Here you go, want milk, juice?”
“Juice.”
The only juice we keep is sugar free cranberry, I put a glass down next to her plate, she busy handing a piece of salmon to Zelda. Her pal taken care of, she takes a slice for herself, spreads mascarpone on her bagel and takes a couple spoons of yogurt.
Natalie shows up, a kiss on the cheek for McKenzie, one on the lips for me, “She’s an amazing sleeping companion, didn’t move all night,” she grins, “of course I had her wrapped up in my cocoon.”
“I peeked in, didn’t appear she minded, I think she felt secure.”
“Zelda keeps her secure, hell, Zelda keeps me secure, she’s security for the whole place.”
McKenzie picks up her plate, rinses it in the sink and puts it and her utensils in the washer, then her glass in the glass washer.
Nat, “Geez, she’s learning the routines.”
She returns to the table, stares at the salmon, takes a knife and fork and separates the slices, then arranges them in a circle with four slices in the middle. The pieces are like triangles, sort of, wider at one end than the other anyway. Her design has all the tapered ends facing out for the circle, the inner slices are laid together alternately such that when she’s done it comes out square.
Natalie, “Beautiful McKenzie. Except which piece do I chose? I don’t want to mess up your presentation.”
The girl takes a plate and selects two pieces from the middle, one from each side so the square remains, just smaller.
“Of course, still perfect, thank you dear one.”
Elle and Zoe C come along, kisses for McKenzie and Nat, I pour their coffee. McKenzie takes two plates, puts the slices left in the middle on one, then two slices, one from the top of her circle, the other from the bottom. Gives one plate to Elle, the other to Zoe C.
McKenzie, “Bagels with mascarpone, yogurt.”
Zoe C, “Thank you sweet.” 
I have two more bagels toasted, cut again in quarters, Zoe C takes two, Elle takes two. I toast the last bagel, I know the girls, they’ll finish them off.
“It’s nine, lunch will be at one, cold cuts and hummus. Tonight, roasted chicken with cornbread stuffing, green beans cooked all day with bacon, ham pieces and onion. We have cake left for dessert.”
Elle, “Damn, now I want lunch and dinner. Zoe C, we need to get in the pool and work it.”
Zoe C, “We can sun for an hour first, catch the rays before the afternoon gets too toasty, I think it’s supposed to rain later but it’s clear now.”
Natalie, “Good plan, I’m in.”
Elle, “Nice day for Chef, three exhibitionist girls out by the pool.”
“Hear me complaining?”
McKenzie, “Walk Zelda,” they disappear up the hill that faces the front of the house.
Natalie, “That dog is a treasure, like McKenzie.”
Elle, “I worry that, combined, they’re smarter than the rest of us.”
“McKenzie is smarter than the rest of us, Zelda just makes it worse.”
They laugh, Natalie wonders, “What if, and I don’t mean to make it like some test, but what if I let her follow the trades in the stock market, just follow the tape, otherwise say nothing?”
Zoe C, “She loves numbers, it might be interesting.”
Natalie, “I have a Bloomberg, she can follow the markets live.”
“What’s the idea?”
“Nothing, we do it and see what happens. If she’s bored or doesn’t care, she’ll just walk away. I don’t want her told anything, not until she’s observed for a few days. If she has no interest, we’ve lost nothing.”
“Don’t you have to subscribe to Bloomberg? Can anyone use it?”
“Yeah, but I’m subscribed, all I have to do is log in from her tablet or your laptop.”
“What about if you need it, at work I mean?”
“Doesn’t matter, people like me log in from all sorts of locations, except I don’t. I don’t care about minute to minute trading. She can sit there all day.”
“Okay, everyone go do something, I need to clear and clean, we’ll put her on Monday when the markets are open.”

Fifty Nine

The morning passes, girls swim, good thing I got a big pool, with McKenzie there are four swimming girls and a giant mutt sitting on the steps halfway in.
Late-ish lunch, then off to leisurely naps or just quiet reading. Zoe C was right, the clouds are accumulating, dark and morose.
Inside, two girls are on the couch, Natalie and McKenzie sit cross legged on opposite sides of the coffee table playing chess.
Once McKenzie got the rules in her head, Natalie can barely get a draw, “Maybe you should learn Go, I understand it’s the most challenging of board games.”
Natalie, “You learn Go, I thought you had to think of alternatives, stay four or five moves ahead. I’m getting trounced at chess by an eight year old that moves her piece instantly after I move mine.”
McKenzie, “Eight and a half.”
Nat, “Oh, in that case I don’t feel so bad.”
“McKenzie, have you played before, do you know any opening moves, like traditional ones?”
She shakes her head no.
“How do you decide which piece to move?”
Natalie is resetting the board, McKenzie is watching as if it’s the most fascinating thing she’s ever seen.
“Colors, I move the red piece to the red square, yellow to yellow, blue to blue, like that.”
“What if Natalie moves into the colored space first?”
“She can’t, the colors don’t appear until it’s my turn.”
“Suppose there are several colors at once, how do you decide?”
She looks up and cocks her head at me, her expression when she’s having to explain something she thinks is obvious.
“Only one color, only one move, not two colors at the same time, that makes no sense.”
Zoe C, “She’s got you there Chef.”
She does.
“Okay, we’ll learn Go together, I’ll get a set this week.”
Elle, “Can’t you play online?”
“It’s fine if you don’t have a partner, I think better if you’re playing a friend to use a board, feel the stones, hear the click as they’re placed.”
“True, hadn’t thought of that, easier to watch her kick your butt too.”
“I don’t even know if she’s interested, I should let her read the rules online, then she’ll want to play or she won’t.”
Natalie, “Okay, back off, this is my game, I can feel it, and I’m white this time, I go first.”
Ten minutes later McKenzie says, “Mate,” and uses her queen to tip over Nat’s king.
“Damn, good play McKenzie, you want to enter a tournament, there are chess clubs all over California.”
She shrugs, indifferent to the idea.
“Maybe it’s better to keep her skill among us. She doesn’t care about recognition.”
Natalie, “Neither do I, but it gets her out, and it’s chess, she doesn’t have to make friends or even chit chat.”
“We’ll take her then, to a tournament, let her observe, if she wants to enter the next one, good.”
McKenzie, “Five o’clock, feed Zelda,” she stands, chess forgotten, Zelda follows her to the kitchen.
I hear the bag open, the food clink into Zelda’s bowl. McKenzie empties the water bowl and refills it with fresh, places it carefully next to her food bowl, giggles while Zelda laps, spreads as much water around the bowl as she drinks.
“Zelda is a messy girl, McKenzie will clean, go out now Zelda.”
The dog gets to the patio door, opens it, lightening, thunder and a hard rain.
I go over and look, “Too messy for now, she’ll have to wait,” I reach down, not too far down, Zelda is a hundred thirty pounds and comes to my waist, give her a pat, “you can go later girl, but if you have to, I’ll leave the door open.”
She eases to a sit, watching the rain. If thunder and lightning bother her it isn’t evident. The storm blasts away, she sits looking out at the pool, through the rain I can barely see the ocean churning off in the distance.
McKenzie sits next to her, the mastiff eclipses the little girl so she lays down flat, paws extended, snout in-between, McKenzie strokes along her head and down her back while they wait out the storm.
Elle, “Is it cocktails yet?”
Zoe C stands, ‘I’ll fix, what are you having Nat?”
“Wine, any kind.”
“We have a rosé that’s tart and tasty, Stolpman Vineyards, from Santa Barbara just up the road, and it’s nicely chilled.”
She pops the cork, pours out four glasses, and a half shot in a glass with seltzer for McKenzie, still parked next to Zelda.
I move to the kitchen, time to cut up chickens, cornbread stuffing is keeping toasty in the oven, green beans simmering in the big pot with a ham shank and bacon.
Nat comes behind me and circles my waist with her arms, peeks around my side, “Smells great, you just might get lucky tonight big boy.”
“I would be delighted.”
The chicken is in pieces laid out on the pan, stick it in the oven, “Dinner in twenty, has anyone selected something to watch, or if all the grown up girls want to shuck the t-shirts, I’ll have something to watch.”
“You had quite enough this morning, at your age, you need to watch your blood pressure.”
I laugh, I’m thirty two and my BP is near perfect one twenty over seventy, at least the last time I checked, but I let it slide, I know what she means.
“Let’s look up chess tournaments while the chicken heats,” there’s a tablet on the kitchen island, tablets and laptops are sprinkled around the house, Elle and Zoe C have school assignments which can be accessed online. Actual class attendance is optional, just get in the papers on time, take the tests, if they never show up for class nobody cares.
Nat returns to the living area, I hear them discussing movie or TV options.
I look over my shoulder, McKenzie and Zelda are still parked at the patio door, “Any preferences for TV tonight McKenzie?”
“Sherlock or Poirot.”
Walk over to the girls, “McKenzie says either Sherlock or Poirot, if you want something more R rated, wait until she’s gone to bed.”
Zoe C, “Sherlock’s fine, let’s see, we did him last, maybe Poirot tonight, what do you think?”
Natalie, “Good with me, I haven’t seen any of them.”
“Then we’ll go with the most famous, Murder on the Orient Express.”
Back to the kitchen, things are hot and ready to go, “McKenzie, wash up and put the plates and utensils out please.”
She obliges, I put the platter of chicken, bowl of stuffing and second bowl of green beans on the table.
“Dinner’s up girls.”
I hand McKenzie a piece of chicken breast, “Give Zelda her treat, then come and eat.”
She does, the rain has slowed, thunder and lightning off in the distance as the storm moves through. Zoe C opens a second bottle of wine, this one a red table wine of indeterminate vintage. We often try blends, wine snobs notwithstanding.
Elle, “I don’t get the problem, this red is perfectly acceptable, not that I’m a wine expert.”
“It is acceptable, Baron Rothschild, of the wine making Rothschilds, said it was crazy for anyone to pay more than ten bucks for a bottle of wine, any wine, from any vineyard of any vintage.”
Natalie, “You’re kidding.”
“Nope. Apart from wine that sits in casks for years, there is no substantial cost in a bottle of wine, it’s fermented grape juice, inexpensive to make and store. All the other stuff is bullshit, like diamonds. Experts cannot tell the difference between an industrial diamond and one compressed by thousands of pounds of pressure in the Earth. Diamonds are absurdly plentiful, just kept under tight control by DeBeers. Without market control, a two carat diamond would cost about five hundred bucks, maybe not that.”
Zoe C, “I’m never buying a diamond anything then. I can’t stand that sort of price manipulation, they assume we’re all fools.”
Natalie, “Come on Zoe C, most people are complete idiots, especially rich people. Poor people have to look at value, the rich don’t care, three grand purse, why not, it’s chump change to them.”
She looks up from the tablet, “There’s a tournament every week by the LA Chess Club, at the Barrington Bridge and Chess Club on Santa Monica.”
“Entry rules, can people just go and watch?”
“Let’s see….yeah, visitors can observe, ten bucks admission.”
“Okay, we’ll let her look at the site and decide if she wants to go down. It’s a lot of people in one room, she may not do well with that but we won’t know until she’s there.”
“Nothing lost, it’s twenty miles down the PCH.”

Sixty

A week passes, McKenzie was neutral on the chess thing, which I took to mean she had no objection to going for a look. It’s Sunday, we’re headed to the club now, Natalie, McKenzie and me, the other girls stay home with Zelda.
Free parking, dang, unusual in LA, then we’re in, big room as you’d expect, part of the action consists of teams from schools, an adult section and a one o’clock junior tournament. They direct us to that registration desk.
I ask McKenzie, “Do you want me to sign you up to play? They use clocks here, you understand how it works?”
She nods in the affirmative.
When I ask if she wants me to sign her up, she shrugs, “I guess.”
Natalie has her dressed adorably, slip on dress, sneakers, her hair is always combed out to straight as can be, shiny auburn to her shoulders. Small spray of freckles and crystal blue eyes.
The woman in charge comes along, “Welcome, first time yes?”
“Yep, our daughter plays at home, she’s pretty good, but never in a tournament before.”
“How exciting!” 
She stoops down to get face to face with McKenzie, “And don’t worry, some of these kids have been playing for years…with coaches. Do your best, the important thing is not winning, it’s learning.”
She stands, “She’s adorable, quiet though, I hope she’s not intimidated.”
“Guess we’ll find out, where’s she go?”
“I have her against another girl, nine, she’s played a dozen tournaments, aggressive style but only on the board. Otherwise she’s a sweetie.”
The tournament begins, and ends in fifteen moves for McKenzie’s opponent. None of the others have finished a game. The woman comes over.
“Are you sure she’s not played tournaments?”
“Not unless you count beating us at home, we don’t do timers or anything.”
“She moves before the opponent can tap the timer,” turns to McKenzie, “You have to let your opponent hit the timer before you move, okay?”
I step in, “Like I said, we don’t use timers at home, she’ll get it, when’s the next match?”
The woman has to think it over, “Well, it could be a while before the other matches are decided, you can observe or have some refreshment, up to you. We’ll announce the new matchups when the last game is done.”
We go for a Coke and a power bar.
I ask McKenzie, “What do you think?”
Another shrug, bite of her bar, sip the Coke.
Her next match is with a boy, maybe twelve, an arrogant little prick, tries for a psych out, “I won my last ten matches, I study with the best private instructor, don’t feel bad when I kick your butt.”
I smile, McKenzie stares with her ice blue eyes, says exactly zip. She’s white this time, makes her opening move, taps the clock.
The boy isn’t bad, at least as far as I can tell, he lasts twenty moves and a half hour, mostly due to his fiddling, McKenzie moved as soon as her opponent tapped the clock.
The boy is dumfounded, he’s lost to a not yet nine year old girl, so much for his hotshot instructor.
McKenzie, “We will go now.”
I find the lady organizer, “We’re done, McKenzie needs a bigger challenge, how to we arrange a match with an expert?”
“She has to climb the same ladder as everyone else, that’s the rules. Tell you what, if she will stay, I’ll put her against one of the best juniors. The top junior isn’t here today, but the boy I have in mind is no slouch, he’s accumulated Master’s points and will eventually claim the designation.”
I look at McKenzie, “One more go?”
“Coke.”
I fetch, she drinks, Natalie takes her off to the ladies. When they return, it’s time for the match. This time a group of non-finalists hover around, curious about the new girl.
This time she’s black. Doesn’t matter, she wades through the boy like she’s playing a novice, thirty two moves to checkmate. McKenzie stands, sticks out her hand as is de rigueur in the finale of a match, the boy swipes the pieces off the board and stalks off.
Natalie, “How rude, little bugger needs to learn manners.”
Chess Lady comes over, “Never would have believed it, why don’t I know who she is?”
“She has no credentials, never played a tournament as I explained. She’s just good, really good, clearly better than the juniors you have here. Here’s my card, call me when you have serious competition, no point in hurting a bunch of kids’ feelings.”
“We have rules, she has to compete her way up like everyone else.”
I shake my head, staring at a chess prodigy, or even more, and she’s tied up in rules.
A man comes over, “Excuse me Mattie, I’ll take over now, organize the awards please.”
He introduces himself, “Herb Hanson, sorry, we try to be fair, and fair often implies annoying rules. The young lady is gifted, I followed the last game, I saw moves that I’ve never seen before, that didn’t make sense to me, and I have an extensive knowledge of games. If she has time, perhaps we can steal away to a corner and have a game. I don’t offer to show anyone up, particularly not a young lady. I want to see her play.”
“Up to you McKenzie.”
She looks up at him, “Are you better than the others?”
He laughs, “I hope so.”
She plays him to a draw.
“I’ve never seen anything like it, like her. My game would have trounced any junior, why don’t I know who she is?”
“This is a minor hobby for her, she has no interest in trophies, awards or Master’s points. It might be why she plays so well, she doesn’t care about outcomes, only playing the game.”
“She could have taken the game, but she played for the draw, was that intentional?”
“I have no idea, McKenzie, why didn’t you take the game?”
She shrugs, “Just a game, time to feed Zelda soon.”
“Who is Zelda?”
“Her dog, she likes things orderly and on schedule.”
“Ah…I’m getting it,” he looks down at McKenzie, “come again next week, I will arrange more challenging matches, not part of a tournament, no prize, no points.”
McKenzie takes Natalie’s hand, “Feed Zelda now.”
I tell Hanson, “Duty calls, if she’s willing, we’ll show up again next week. If she’s not, I’ll call you, what’s the number?”
Herb gives it to me, we go off, players are occupied, we manage to leave with no further interruption.
Home, McKenzie goes straight to the cupboard and finds the dog food, pours Zelda’s bowl, it’s just ticking five. 
Zoe C, “Good thing you got here, Zelda kept wandering the house and grounds as it got closer to feeding time.”
“McKenzie wiped out two juniors, I mean destroyed, then let one of the club director’s off with a draw. If she’s willing, we go again next week, but to play at a higher level.”
Zoe C smiles down at the girl, “We are so very proud of you, good job.”
McKenzie is studying Zelda crunching her way through the food, she stands and refreshes the water bowl.
“Follow the colors.”
“I know that, but the colors arise from your brain, which means you have internalized the rules. Your brain takes the rules it’s memorized and instantly turns them into moves. I think you see, subconsciously, more opportunities on the board than a normal chess player. That translates into colors for you, that part I can’t explain.”
Natalie, “The stock market will be open tomorrow, should we let her follow the live feed?”
“I don’t see why not. We have you and Elle working on markets, Elle’s algorithm is chugging along successfully, you can’t start your fund until you’re out from under Goldman and there’s no big rush unless you just want to start.”
“I’m good, good-ish, how much longer I can watch bankers take advantage of gullible or greedy CEOs is another matter.”
“But you’re surreptitiously warning them about bad deals. If you leave to start your own firm, they’re going to pump their personal money into your fund, maybe even some of the company’s money. You’re building up trust points.”
She grins, “Goldman won’t see it that way.”
“Fuck Goldman, if you walk tomorrow morning, you’ve made them money, they have no beef. They sure as hell aren’t going to retaliate even if they find out that you’ve taken the back road and let a couple of CEOs know what kind of crap they were getting into. It goes public, they lose millions in future banking revenue.”
“Well, I signed an agreement to arbitrate, which implies secrecy, I can’t sue in court.”
“Fuck arbitration, I have lawyers who can skate around that bullshit. You aren’t leaving a paper trail, real or digital, are you?”
“No, all my conversations have been verbal, and low key. Besides, I don’t tell them not to do the deal, I tell them potential pitfalls never mentioned in the full on discussions, and my comments are, if not exactly vague, open to interpretation. I plant a seed, the flower grows on its own.”
“Good, deniability is good. I’ll get McKenzie on the market thing in the morning, you’re going….?”
“Yet another flight to Silicon Valley, which is short thankfully. Those east coast meetings are a bitch, even flying first class.”

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