Matt looked the chessboard over, very carefully. Then he moved his Rook to h4, announcing “Check.” He raised his head to look at Sam, sitting across from him. She wasn’t studying the board - she was looking at him with that cute little half-smile of hers.
“Are you sure you want to move there?” Sam asked.
Matt’s gaze lingered on Sam’s face a few seconds more, then he returned his attention to the chessboard.
“I thought I did, until you said that.” Matt looked over the board again. He noticed Sam could take Rook with Knight, reversing their fortunes. She would no longer be in check, but his King would be under attack. Looking at the board a little longer, he saw that she would have Checkmate in seven moves.
“I took my fingers off the Rook,” he conceded, reaching for his King to lay it down in resignation. Sam reached out and clasped his hand in hers. He felt a warm tingle slide up his arm and into his heart.
“Mate in six, actually. If you want to make a different move, we can continue playing.”
Oh, the thoughts that raced through his head. He considered strongly risking their friendship by making a move that didn’t involve chess. He wondered if that would take their relationship to the next level, or alienate his best friend. Taking the safe route, Matt reluctantly took his hand away from hers, laid his King down, put his hands together, palms facing each other, and gave Sam a gracious bow from his sitting position. “You win, Master my Master. Or should I say, Mistress, my Mistress?”
“In your dreams,” Sam smiled, standing up. Matt breathed an inward sigh of relief. That comment told him he had avoided disaster. Other than the loss at chess, of course.
“I’m convinced you have a superpower,” Matt told her, as he stood. Sam’s head whipped up reflexively and she gave him a wide-eyed, deer-in-the-headlights stare. “It’s your ability to see, think, and plan more moves ahead than I can. You can almost tell the future. As a matter of fact, I think you do see the future.”
Sam’s shoulders relaxed and she gave Matt a smile. “I’m not sure that qualifies as a superpower. Besides, I can’t see, think, or plan ahead any more than the average genius.”
“Oh, so you consider yourself a genius, do you? What does that make me?” whined Matt, “since I lose every board game we ever play. A Neanderthal?”
“Not true.” Sam gave Matt’s shoulder a little shove. “You won Switchback, Yo, Ho, Ho, and Fluxx last week.”
“They don’t count. Yo, Ho, Ho uses dice, Switchback goes a little more rando with polyhedral dice and cards, and Fluxx is so random it’s hard to plan ahead.”
“Well, I bet you could beat any Neanderthal at any game we play, except Fluxx. Even an above average caveman.”
Matt returned her playful shove with one of his own, careful not to shove too hard. Sam was tough, but he had been working out. Then Sam did that thing again, the thing she seemed to do so often. Making her apologies, she hurried off.
- - - -
Sam felt bad leaving Matt so abruptly, again, but duty called. Her earbud picked up a police broadcast about a robbery in progress. She ducked around a corner, out of the field of view from his door, then zipped away, speeding faster than the human eye could follow, racing to the Jared Galleria where the robbery was taking place.
Policemen in riot gear formed a semi-circle around the front door of the store, weapons drawn, crouched below the rims of their shields. Behind a squad car, a hostage negotiator held a phone to his ear. Another half dozen men and women in blue surrounded the emergency fire exit on the other side of the store.
“Let me handle this, Lieutenant.” Sam spoke to the hostage negotiator, Lieutenant Karen Frawley. This wasn’t the first time the two had worked the same crime scene. Karen gave a huge sigh of relief and smiled. “You got it, Sam.”
“I’m going to come in and help you get out of trouble,” Sam announced in a loud voice.
“Come any closer and I’ll . . .” the perp started to reply. By that time Sam was inside the store. She stopped, not wanting to startle the man by going closer to him immediately.
Too late; he was already startled, as she expected he would be. He swung his Glock around to point in her direction and fired. Sam had already figured out that moving out of the way might endanger the policemen outside, so she just swatted the bullet out of the air.
One moment after her hand batted the round aside she had the perp disarmed and in a sleeper hold. His eyes were wide, then closed, as he went limp and fell to the floor.
Seeing all of this through the glass windows, Lieutenant Frawley ordered her squad to go in and arrest the perp. Hoping she had been too fast to be recognized by the store employees, Sam raced out of the store and back to the corner of Matt’s house.
- - - -
She stepped around the corner just in time to see Gordon Smallwood stepping into Matt’s house. She and Gordon weren’t strangers. Three times they had both arrived at the scene of a crime in progress. Three times he had managed to disrupt her attempts to thwart the perps. She considered him to be her arch-nemesis. And she still didn’t know what his power or powers might be, other than figuring out ways to get in her way.
What was he doing here? She raced through the door, hoping to slip into the family room without being seen, only to be knocked to the floor.
“Glad you could make it,” Gordon sneered at her. He stood over Sam, straddling her legs, blackjack in hand. She kicked her right leg upwards, hoping to connect solidly and make him bend over, so she could grab his neck. He grabbed her ankle and twisted. How could he do that? He didn’t have her speed. But now he did have her ankle in hand. She couldn’t zip away. Gordon laughed.
Sam looked around the room. She saw Matt, sprawled on the floor, blood trickling from his scalp and down his cheek. They were almost eye to eye. But his eyes were closed. At least he was breathing, even though it was shallow. “My other leg,” she thought, “and a twist around to grab Gordon’s left ankle.”
Somehow Gordon managed to bring his left leg up and step down, hard, on her left calf, avoiding her reach. As Sam gasped in pain, Gordon gave an evil laugh. He switched his left foot from her calf to step on her left wrist instead.
“How are you able to do that?” Sam asked Gordon. “You don’t have the superpower of speed, like I do.”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Gordon chuckled.
“Sam,” Matt whispered hoarsely. She turned her attention from Gordon standing over her to Matt.
“Stop thinking, just act. He’s anticipating your moves.”
Sam’s brow furrowed and she blinked. She tried to avoid thinking about what she would do to extricate herself from this mess, but it was hard. She always thought several moves ahead. How could she thwart Gordon? And why was he even here?
“You’re wondering what you’ll do next,” Gordon sighed. “And why I’m here. And I’m wondering if I will even bother to tell you”
“How does he do that?” Sam wondered. She looked at Matt. His eyes were closed again. Then she decided what to do next, and how to thwart Gordon’s anticipation. “Rook to h4” Sam announced. Matt’s eyes opened halfway. Gordon responded with a “Huh?” immediately followed by a raspy grunt as her left foot connected with his crotch.
As Gordon doubled over, releasing her wrist as he grabbed himself, Sam scooted out from under him, stood, spun around behind him, and put him in a sleeper hold. At the same time, she spoke into her subcutaneous microphone, asking the police to come pick up an intruder. She pulled a length of cord from her jeans and tied Gordon’s hands behind his back.
Having secured her arch-nemesis, Sam stepped over and knelt beside Matt. “Stop thinking, just act,” she repeated Matt’s words. Bending closer, she kissed him tenderly on his cheek.