Ben and Barb would claim the extra clue from Teresa. I wasn’t too thrilled with that. The odds were good that one of them was the Falcon, or the Scar – if it wasn’t Sheila or Eric.
We took a half hour break before staring the pool games. Same teams, same format, because the losers all wanted a chance at redemption. I went upstairs to check on the weather. The deck was wet, and it was still raining, albeit lightly.
Craig caught up with me in the kitchen. “Got a minute, Colin?”
– “Sure. What’s up?”
Craig didn’t answer right away. He led me into the den. “OK if we talk in here?”
– “No problem.” I said. “What’s on your mind?”
I was expecting something game-related, but he surprised me. “Hey, ah – thanks for teaming me up with Claire.” He wasn’t being sarcastic; Craig was rarely anything but completely genuine. “But listen, ah … I don’t want to step on anybody’s shoes, you know.”
– “Craig, are you talking about Claire? You and Claire?”
– “Yeah. I mean, no – I was talking about you and her. You guys have some history, right? And I saw how she was looking at you. So, I just wanted to ask: are you serious about Claire?”
I felt a tremendous sense of relief. And satisfaction, too. Craig was a truly decent guy. He would be great for her. “No, Craig.” I told him. “You called it right. History. All in the past. And neither of us ever wanted to get serious. It would have made things awkward, you know? With Leo and Eliza, I mean. We’re old friends, and we both think it’s best to stay that way.”
– “You’re sure?” asked Craig. “Because I can back off, if that’s what you want.”
– “Craig – just answer me this: are you interested in Claire?”
– “Yeah. I am. Very much so.”
– “I really appreciate you coming to me like this.” I told him. “It’s a classy thing to do. But the field is wide open, my friend. Better than that, even. Claire has been trying to get your attention for a while now. She was worried that you had a girlfriend, or something.”
– “No, no. Nothing like that. I just … wanted to make sure.”
– “She’s a great girl, Craig.”
– “I know. Hey, thanks, Colin. Thanks a lot.” We shook hands, and parted as friends. This might just turn into a perfect solution for all concerned.
We started playing pool in the basement. It turned into a very, very different game. For one thing, Eric was better than Eliza, changing the balance of power on that team. For another, Sheila was not so good, and Leo was … Leo, so they went from one of the strongest teams to one of the weakest. Claire was still terrible. But the biggest surprise of all was Lena.
Now I know that they have pool halls in Slovenia, because she was a shark. I can hold my own on a pool table, and she was damn good. Unless somebody ran the table on us, we weren’t going to lose.
– “Stacked the teams, Colin?” said Ben. Asshole – he wasn’t complaining when it was ping-pong.
We made it to the finals, against Barb and Ben, and we cleaned their clocks.
It was a great confidence booster for Lena, and she got a lot of positive attention. Beating Ben never gets old, so I enjoyed it, too. But we also prevented those two from getting a second clue. Lena and I went to see Teresa to claim our prize.
– “Congratulations.” she said. “Here you go.” Teresa handed us a teabag each.
I just looked at her.
– “Oh, the expression on your face, Colin!” Teresa actually laughed. “Priceless!” Lena was just as confused as I was, so Teresa took pity on us. “This is a clue to the location of the treasure. Redbeard captured a whole cargo of this from a French merchantman. He liked it so much, he put into it the code for his treasure.”
– “That’s it?” I asked.
– “That’s it. Now I have to try to explain to Lena.” Teresa pulled out a small book. It was a Slovenian-English dictionary.
– “Hey – that’s awesome.” I said. “Could I borrow that, later?”
– “Why?” asked Teresa.
– “So I could maybe use some words that Lena would understand.”
That half-smile crept across Teresa’s face. It was a sight I knew so very well. She was pleased. “We’ll see.” she said.
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