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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Word Play

This short story was bought by Every Day Fiction a while back. It brought me $1 which, after the agent's cut and taxes, netted a tidy 63 cents... just enough for senior coffee at McDonalds, and who could ask for more. (Note to IRS: Yes, I claimed it as net revenue.) I always liked it because 23 is my favorite number (you'll see), but you'd never guess why?

Word Play
Seventeen across: Wish it done. Four letters.
Twenty-three down: Baa baa mama. Three letters.
Rob always looked forward to The Sunday Times because it was the best crossword of the week. It kept him hummingly busy most of the morning… and he usually finished it. This, however, was not one of those days.
“Damn! What is Carpenter’s key?”
Good time to grab a coffee, he decided as he stretched like a waking bear trying to throw his back out.
He smiled with smug confidence. This was war: his intelligence and worldly knowledge vs. the cunningly sly and diabolical Sunday crossword.
Bring it on, baby. When I fill in that last square, I am king of the forty-two across: Celestial orb… World. “Where is the Titanic when I need her?
The self-appreciating silliness was interrupted by his cell’s “Macho Man” ring tone.
“Hi hon…
“Yeah, workin the puzzle…
“No. Haven’t cracked it yet, but I will.
“What?  You are done already? No way! Did you use the dictionary?
“OK. Sorry. Hey, don’t be mad now. I was just kidding.
“You’re not coming over? Why not? We always go for brunch on Sunday. Since when is a sale more important than me? Honest, Steff… sometimes I feel you don’t love me as much as a good bargain.”
Feelings hurt, Rob sat, brooding for a minute. And to add insult to injury, he had to admit, she did the puzzle and he was stuck. The Sunday crossword was their ritual competition.
With new fervor, he picked up his paper and pen, determined he would ‘break through.’ But when he he looked at his progress, he could only shake his head at the ink-smeared corrections.
Rob was one of those addicts who always did the puzzle with his silver Cross pen that Steff had given him two birthdays ago. It was simply inscribed, “23 down,” cryptically referring to their little secret that time in the elevator.
He scratched his golden’s ears as she doggedly backed against his leg begging for more.
“Rob loves Steff, Tessie. Does Steff love Rob?
Tess looked back over her shoulder with those soulful dog eyes as if to ask, you’re not done scratching yet, are you?
“I thought so. No answer.”
Sixty-four down: Mother of Jesus. Oh, a gimmie, he thought. Mary.
The crossword’s theme was Happy Daze (spelled D-A-Z-E). He hadn’t figured that out yet but he knew the shaded squares were supposed to say something important when filled.  All he could think of was ‘The Fonz’ and it clouded his mind to the obvious.
“Hi honey,” she greeted, using her key to let herself in.
“Steff! I didn’t think you were coming today. What about the big sale? Aren’t you afraid you will miss a bargain?”
“Don’t think it wasn’t hard but I figured you might need my help with the puzzle.”
“That’s right. Rub it in. This is the first time you beat me in five weeks. Gloat, gloat, gloat.”
Steff smiled, filled her coffee cup, and kicked off her shoes as she curled into her favorite chair with the rest of the paper. Rob liked the look a lot... and for a moment, thought “The hell with the crossword puzzle.”
Steff broke the mood. “Go ahead. Finish if you can. I’ll just read The Times…and if you still aren’t done, I’ll read tomorrow’s paper too when it comes.”
“Very funny.”
110 across: Hood, affectionately. Three letters.
125 across: Hospital infection. Five letters.
“Wait. I may have a breakthrough!"
Wish it done: Will, of course.
Baa baa mama: Ewe.
Mother of Jesus: Mary.”
Hospital infection Staph… Steff?”
Suddenly, he stopped, startled at his revelation.
“I got it,” he beamed. “Solved the damn thing.”
“Yeah? So what is Carpenter’s key, Einstein?
“That would be my brother, Chuck.”
“Oh? Why Chuck?”
“Because he would be my best man…
“And yes. Yes. YES!” he said as he picked her up from the chair and danced her around the room, snapping her head back as he kissed her again and again. 
“I would be the happiest man in the world to marry you.”
After all the kissey-face smooching, hugging and crying had taken its course, Rob asked her how she ever pulled it off.
“I have a friend who knows the puzzle editor. He agreed it would be a wonderful trick…and make a great puzzle. Lots of human interest.”
“And I did make my sale.” She pulled a little blue Tiffany box from behind her back.
“This is for you, my love.”
The tiny inscription inside the ring read, “Second best crossword puzzle worker. First best fiancé.” 

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