“Not another triple letter word, Jock! Leave some for me,” I said, exasperated yet again. That was another 24 points on his score, not that he needed them. I did. And I needed them badly.
“Angus, you’ll never win if you miss an opportunity like that. Twice you could have used that triple letter square but you didn’t, so I have. Just add the points up and take your turn. That’s if you can go.”
Every week he did this. And has been for the past two years. Sitting in this quiet corner of the Leaky Tap pub, by the window, overlooking the quayside, I added the 24 points onto Jock’s existing score of 97. Jock’s hand slid into the cloth bag to choose his replacement letters.
The barman brought over our next round of drinks.
“How’s it going Angus? Is he thrashing you again? Jock, you really should let him win some time. What are your scores?”
“Jock’s got 121 points and I’ve got 42.”
“You’ve got some catching up to do then,” said Harry as he collected out empties. “There’s a double word score there Angus, can’t you use that?”
“What with these letters?” I exclaimed.
Harry peered over my shoulder and made a sound as though he was wincing in pain.
“It’s got nothing to do with the letters,” Jock muttered, looking at me over the top of his glasses, “it’s where you put them on the board that counts.”
“I’m sure you’ll beat him one day Angus,” Harry said as he wandered back behind the bar.
“Oh I will,” I replied. “I will.” And as we both knew, that day has come, I thought to myself.
* * *
I used to enjoy playing Scrabble with my Esther. Twice a week we would play a couple of games, even when we were on holiday. There was always a bit of competition between us, but if you averaged out our wins over time, you’d find that we’d won about the same number of games each. Esther never liked to keep score though, which meant that I always did, not that I enjoyed doing it. I’m much better with letters than numbers. Or so I thought.
And when Esther had to go into the hospice they let us carry on playing Scrabble there too. We played all the time – morning, afternoon and evening. Sometimes a game would last two or three days, but we would always finish it. We never gave up.
“The best Scrabble games are when both minds think alike,” Esther always said. And it was true. One of us would always put a word down where the other was just about to go. We’d then have to start looking elsewhere on the board for where our letters could go. They were difficult games, but they were the best. Think like your opponent and it’s anyone’s game.
Esther won the last game we played, and she slipped away quietly after that. I was winning by 8 points and then she laid down her final letter – a Q. Next to an I it made the word QI which means ‘an individual’s life force’. Quite appropriate really – it was the final action of her life force on this planet. Eleven points that gave her. I’m glad she won that game. But it was the last game that I played for several months.
It was whilst walking along the quayside here that I wandered into the Leaky Tap pub for a drink and spotted Jock sitting in the corner with the Scrabble board in front of him. As I supped my drink, I watched him sit silently by the window looking out at the hustle and bustle of the boats in the quayside. His finger caressed the letter tray.
“Fancy a game,” I offered?
“Aye, that’d be good.”
And that’s how it started. We introduced ourselves and then every Friday afternoon would meet in the same corner. Of course, Jock beat me to begin with, but then I’d been out of practice hadn’t I? My Esther wasn’t around to train me. But as the weeks passed, Jock continued to beat me, and each game became more of a battle. Despite using words that Esther liked, such as QI and KA (which means a spirit of a loved one) I could never reach the really big scores and beat Jock.
It began to affect me. All I could think about was Scrabble and trying to win a game. It would keep me awake at night, although I must have slept at some point, because Esther would often visit me in my dreams.
Bleary eyed and with a fuzzy head, I’d wandered down to the Leaky Tap and ordered mine and Jock’s usual tipple.
“We don’t normally see you here on a Thursday,” said Harry.
“Thursday? It’s Friday surely?”
“I’m afraid it’s definitely Thursday Angus. No wonder you can’t beat Jock if you can’t remember what day of the week it is.”
“Stand more chance of winning today then don’t I? Ah well, just give me my usual then please. Perhaps I can think of a way to beat Jock whilst I sup it.”
“He always wins doesn’t he?”
I nodded to Harry as I supped my pint. “Giving me restless nights now it is. My brains so fuddled I can’t keep track of what day of the week it is. Never beat him like that will I?”
Harry looked up and down the pub and then waved his head towards the end of the bar where it was quieter. Intrigued I followed him down there.
“You know he cheats don’t you?”
“He does Angus. I’ve seen him do it.”
“But … how?”
“His picks his letters whilst you’re adding his new points to his score doesn’t he?”
“Yeah. Takes me ages sometimes. I have to concentrate so hard. Never liked numbers me. Sometimes I take so long he’s already thought of his next word before I’ve finished adding his points and started thinking about my turn.”
“That’s how he does it. Whilst you’re busy adding up numbers you don’t see him choose his letters. If he picks something he doesn’t like – like an X or a Q, he puts it back and chooses another.”
“He does Angus. Think about it. Do you always get the Q’s?”
As I drank my pint I began to think back and realised it was true. The only way that could happen was if Jock was cheating.
“The canny little blighter, Harry. Quite clever really when you think about it. Here, you don’t fancy helping me get my own back do you?”
Harry winked at me. “Angus, it would be a pleasure.”
* * *
Our game continued as normal. Jock kept getting the words on the high scoring squares whilst I fumbled about with the K’s and M’s and X’s. His score stood at 219 whilst mine was struggling at 114. There was one final letter resting in his tray and I still had the full quota of 7 in mine. To anyone passing who happened to see them, they would probably have reacted in the same way Harry did earlier. My tray looked a mess. I had an A, I, O, J, K, Q and an S.
“Can’t you go?” Jock enquired looking smug.
“I’m still looking,” I tried to claim, knowing it would wind him up.
“Ah, come on Angus. You’ve been looking for 15 minutes now. If you haven’t found a space, you never will.”
“Got it!” I exclaimed.
Jock looked relieved almost, convinced he’d be able to get his final letter out and win the game any minute now. One by one though, I placed my letters on the board around an E Jock had placed there earlier.
“K..A..Q..I..J..O..E..S,” Jock spelt out loud. “What kind of word is that?”
“Kaqijoes,” I confirmed, “is a Scottish word. Haven’t you heard of it?”
“I’ve not heard of it, because is doesn’t exist,” he declared.
Right on cue, as we’d agreed, Harry came over to collect our empty glasses and replace them with the next round.
“Harry, look at what Angus has put down here. Kaqi…Kaqi…Kaq… I can’t even pronounce it.”
Harry took one look at the word. “Oh I see. Kaqijoes. Yes I know it. Well done Angus.”
“What? You’ve heard of this word?” Jock enquired incredulously.
“Yes, it’s an old Scottish word that actually comes from three individual words. KA means spirit or soul, QI means an individual’s life force and JO is the Scots word for loved one. The ES on the end is the plural spelling. Kaqijoles means the spirit or soul of a loved one’s life forces. Well done Angus, that’s a good one. What does it do to your score?
“Well I never,” Jock declared.
Knowing that it would take me too long, Harry picked up the score pad and then started moving the letters of my word to count up the score.
“So that’s 28 you’ve got in total, on a double word score, which makes it 56. You’ve used all 7 of your letters haven’t you so that gives you a 50 point bonus, bring your total to 106. Add that to your score of 114, and you’ve now got a total of 220 against Jock’s 219. And now that you put all your letters down, you’ve won. You’ve beaten Jock by 1 point.”
“But that’s not possible,” spluttered Jock as he stood up. “We’ll have a rematch next week,” he shouted as he left the pub.
Harry winked at me. “I don’t think he’ll be cheating again. Perhaps next time you can suggest that he does the scoring?”
I nodded in agreement and picked up my fresh pint. Esther had been right after all. The best Scrabble games are when both minds think alike. It’s just that I had to think like a cheat to beat a cheat. As for Kaqijoes, it isn’t a real word, it’s just the amalgamation of Esther’s favourite two letter words, perfect for getting rid of those awkward letters. Harry liked it when I put it to him yesterday. I raised my pint to the view of the quayside through the window and proposed a toast.
“To Esther, whose spirit and soul of her life force has helped me to win this battle.”
And strangely enough, this particular pint tasted even sweeter than usual.
© Simon Whaley