This is a short story I wrote for the one creative writing class I ever took in 2005, hence many of you may not know what Snood was as its popularity has faded. This was also before my writing style matured, so its wordier than usual. There are two sequels to this, Death by Sudoku and Death by Slots,
Bobbi Sue Jenkins sat in her non-air-conditioned living room in her small house in Gurley, Alabama, playing Snood. The scalp beneath her dirty blond hair itched, and her pants stuck to her legs. She swatted a fly and took another drink of her Diet Coke before continuing.
Gurley was a small town: nothing more than a gas station, a few stores, and lots and lots of farmland. Bobbi Sue was born and raised in Gurley. She had an abusive father who routinely beat her mother, ran off with a waitress when she was seven, and returned after a few years claiming he had found God. She dropped out of school at sixteen and married a local boy named Harry who worked as a mechanic. It was a shotgun wedding since he had impregnated her in the back of a pick-up. Harry worked while she took care of the kids and the small, badly battered house.
Their fourteen-year-old daughter Mildred was in constant danger of following in her mother’s footsteps because all the local boys kept trying to screw her, but Bobbi Sue kept a close eye on her and took no dirt. Their seven-year-old son Ricky liked to run around with the BB gun Harry had given him for Christmas one year and shoot squirrels and chipmunks. Their four-year-old daughter Evelyn was too young to go to school so she spent her days riding her tricycle around the badly-mowed lawn and playing with hand-me-down dolls in hand-me-down dresses.
Bobbi Sue had discovered Snood by accident, one afternoon two years earlier. It was one of the few games she could play on her ancient computer that Harry got for cheap at a yard sale. It was immediately addicting, and gave her a release from her miserable life. She was not going anywhere, and her good looks had faded into cellulite and stretch marks years before. Despite her efforts it wouldn’t be long before Mildred was impregnated by boys who grew up like Ricky, and the cycle would repeat for Evelyn as well. Harry would often go out and come home piss drunk after a night of hard drinking, and hit her in a drunken rage. Bobbi Sue loved him when he was sober, but when drunk, Harry was an unbearable monster.
“Darlin’, I promise you that we will do better in life and move out of this stinking town,” he would often say to her, but it would never come. The money that they would need to move always went towards his expensive bar tab.
Long ago, she had stopped going to church and praying to a God who did not seem to care about her or her family. She looked at her neighbors and wondered why they kept going, because their lives had not improved.
So she sat in her hot living room, flinging colored boxes upon colored boxes all day long. She hoped being the 3rd top scorer would get her somewhere, but it seemed to all be in vain.
A few hours earlier, FBI Special Agent Charles Duncan pulled up to the makeshift checkpoint outside the entrance to an underground parking garage, beneath the Century Plaza Towers in Los Angeles. He flashed his badge and drove down to the fourth level. The parking lot was near-empty except for the camp of FBI agents and Bomb Squad personnel surrounding a large U-Haul moving van. The coffee he had on the plane was wearing off and he would need to re-caffeinate himself soon: he had a long day ahead of him, and it was only 9 AM PST. He looked in the mirror, adjusted his tie, patted down his brown mustache, and got out of his rented black sedan. A young female agent with jet black hair and a matching pant suit spotted him and ran over.
“Are you the agent from the Washington Bureau we’ve been waiting for?”
“Yes I am. I’m Charles Duncan,” and he flashed his badge.
“I’m Marlene Davis with the Los Angeles Field Office, nice to meet you.” They shook hands.
“What do you have? The chief called me at 10 last night and said that I would be on the next flight out to Los Angeles because this involved the Puzzle Bomber.”
“I think you have to take a look at this.”
The Puzzle Bomber was a notorious criminal mastermind. He would place bombs where the solution would be to play his games or puzzles that were near unbeatable. Some of the smartest minds in the world had died at his hand, and yet no one knew who or where he was. Some people who had seen him said he wore joke glasses or was dressed up as a scientist. All Charles knew was that he was a crazed genius and a very dangerous man.
Charles had first heard of the Puzzle Bomber in 1992, when as a young agent, he and his partner were sent to a stadium where the Puzzle Bomber had set up a Nintendo playing Battletoads. In order to disarm the bomb, one had to beat the game on one life and no continues, a feat considered impossible. They had to fly in developers from England to do it.
Then a few years later, Charles lost his partner when he failed to triple-A “the Legend of Max”, the hardest song on a rigged Dance Dance Revolution machine. Ever since, Charles burned with a passion to personally catch and kill the Puzzle Bomber, no matter what the cost.
Charles and Marlene walked over the moving van and looked in the back. Inside was a foldout card table with a laptop on it. The laptop was attached to a large metal cylinder: a nuclear bomb.
“Can I take a look?”
“Sure, but be careful.”
He climbed up and looked at the laptop.
On the screen was a game. At the top of the screen were various rows of colored boxes. In the middle of the screen was a thick yellow line. On the bottom there was an arrow and next to it was another colored box. He pressed the arrow keys left and right and the arrow moved. He was about to press the spacebar when Marlene interrupted from outside the van.
“Don’t press the fire key; we only have one try left, then the bomb will explode. The game starts when you press that spacebar.”
Charles turned around.
“We only have one try left. Our agents used up the other two.”
Charles walked out.
“All right, I won’t. What is the game?”
“It’s where you shoot the box on the bottom to the corresponding box on the top, removing both boxes from play. The game is won when all the boxes are removed. You lose when the boxes hit the line – “
“I can guess that, but what’s it called?”
“Commercial names include Bust-a-move and Snood; it’s a pretty popular puzzle game type. My sister is addicted to Snood.”
Charles scratched his mustache.
“Well, can we get her to beat the game?”
“I never said she was very good at it. She loses as often as she wins.”
“Can we disable the bomb? I was once able to disconnect a bomb from a mahjong board without blowing it up.”
“No, the bomb has a trigger in it that is wired to go off if the laptop disconnects. We also are working against the laptop’s battery, which will explode the bomb if it runs out of charge.”
“How much time do we have left?”
“It’s a special extra-long lasting battery, so we have about twelve hours.”
“Is there a box of wires?”
“No, it’s all one solid piece.”
“Well, I guess we will have to play the game, then, or millions will die. I remember once when the Puzzle Bomber wired a bomb to a chessboard and set it to go off if white won in a match between Garry Kasparov and Michael Prusikin at the U.S Open in 2002. Kasparov was white.”
‘Wow, what happened?” Marlene asked.
“We set up Deep Blue for a rematch and it kicked Kasparov’s ass, fortunately. Unfortunately for us, we may not have that option here. Do we have anyone who is good enough to beat it?”
“No, the two agents who play got their butts kicked here. We contacted the people who make Snood, and they gave us a list of the top scorers in the world. Mike, come here and bring the score list.”
A large man walked over carrying a sheet of paper.
“Tell him what you found,” Marlene said.
“Well,” Mike began, “the top scorer lives in Sweden, the second top scorer lives in Singapore. The third scorer is a woman named Bobbi Sue Jenkins and she lives in a backwater town in Alabama.”
“Good, tell the office in Mobile to get their asses out there and pick her up and fly her out here pronto, we have no time to lose.”
Back in Gurley, Evelyn ran onto the porch and into the living room.
“Ma, Ma, vans are pulling up the drive way!”
“What in blazes – “ Bobbi Sue jumped up and ran outside.
Two black vans with FBI painted on the side were rolling up the driveway.
“I told your sister not to hang around those fucking meth dealers. Go inside.”
Bobbi Sue ran inside and pulled the loaded shotgun off the mantle piece, then ran on the porch and watched as the van stopped in front.
A black man in a suit and sunglasses got out and stood at the foot of the porch.
“Are you Bobbi Sue Jenkins?”
“Yeah, I am. What do you want?”
“I’m Special Agent Edward Jackson with the Mobile Branch of the FBI. We need you to come with us,” and he flashed his badge.
She pointed her gun. Other agents near the van put their hands in their jackets.
“I didn’t do anything, ya hear! If this is about those drug dealers who hang out with my daughter, the police know about ‘em.”
“Put the gun down, you’re not in trouble and neither is anyone you know. We need your help.”
She lowered her gun.
“What? What would the FBI want with a hick woman like me?”
“I know this sounds strange, but we need your Snood-playing abilities. Millions of lives depend on it.”
“Well, you don’t hear that every day. What’s in it for me?”
“Service to your country and a nice fat reward,” Edward said.
“Thirty million. We would pay you a lot less, but the importance of your service warrants it in this case.”
“Well now, that sounds like a sweet deal, but what am I gonna do with my family?”
“We have already notified your husband and the schools your kids attend.”
“What about my youngest daughter who is sitting in the house? Where is she gonna go?
Edward motioned and a teenage girl got out of the van. Bobbi Sue recognized her as Toby from down the street.
“Hiya Mrs. Jenkins,” Toby said.
“This girl said she babysat for you before.”
“She sure did. Are you gonna watch her real good ‘till Harry gits home?”
“I will,” Toby said.
“Evelyn!” Bobbi Sue screamed into the house.
Evelyn came out onto the porch.
“You gonna go with Toby now, momma needs to do somethin’ important by herself.”
“Yes momma,” Evelyn said.
Bobbi Sue kissed her and then Evelyn jumped off the porch, and she and Toby walked off down the street toward Toby’s house.
“Well, now that everything’s set, let me change into somethin’ better.”
“Ten minutes,” Edward said, “We don’t have much time to waste.”
Bobbi Sue ran into the house, took a quick shower, threw on her best dress, put on makeup and ran out, all in ten minutes.
She got into the back of one of the vans and they pulled out. Edward sat in the back with her.
“So, what’s happenin’ that you need someone to play Snood to save lives?”
Edward explained to her about the Puzzle Bomber and the bomb connected to Snood.
Eventually, they pulled into a local airfield where a private jet was waiting.
“I’m staying here, an agent will meet you in Los Angeles,” Edward said.
“Wow, I never flew before. Good day.”
Bobbi Sue got out and walked onto the jet and into the small passenger area. There were only a few leather seats, a cooler with drinks and snacks, and a screen up at the front for movies.
“We’ll be on our way immediately, the clock is ticking and it’s a three-hour flight,” the pilot said.
She sat down and buckled up, and the plane taxied to the runway. Bobbi Sue gripped the armrests tightly as the plane took off.
Charles Duncan leaned on his sedan, waiting for the plane to land at a local airfield. It was now late afternoon and there was not much time left, two hours at most. He was not sure if this woman would be able to save them, but he really did not have much choice now. Marlene offered to drive but he said no, this was a pickup he could do himself. He knew Los Angeles from when he stationed there a few years before. The FBI had evacuated the surrounding streets, but trying to evacuate the entire city would have been a logistical nightmare, so they decided against it, therefore the traffic would be bad.
The plane landed and the hatch opened. Bobbi Sue got out and looked around, bewildered at the strange surroundings. Charles walked up.
“Are you Mrs. Jenkins?”
“Yeah, I am.”
“I’m Charles Duncan, special agent with the FBI, and in charge of hunting down the Puzzle Bomber. Please come this way, it’s a forty-minute drive to the towers and traffic is bad.”
They got in the car. Charles put a siren on the dashboard, and they drove off.
On the way, Bobbi Sue looked out the window, marveling at the skyscrapers and the large amount of people.
“This is a neat place. I’ll have to come back someday – I never traveled outside my town.”
“Los Angeles is a great city; however, it may be gone in a few hours thanks to the Puzzle Bomber.”
“I’ll try my best,” Bobbi Sue said.
“Well, I’m sorry to say this, but you need to be perfect, otherwise, we’re all dead.”
Bobbi Sue put her hand to her chest to find her heart was pounding.
“It’s a lot of pressure to put on a woman so quick, ya know?” Bobbi Sue said.
“I wish it could be different, but it can’t. I wish I had something better to tell you.”
“It’s all right; my life’s not worth much anyway,” Bobbi Sue muttered.
They squealed into the parking lot and slid into a spot behind the camp. Charles opened the door for Bobbi Sue.
“This way,” Charles said, and they walked to the truck and got in the back.
A tarp was now over the entrance and a light, folding chair and bottle of water had been put inside.
“Everything should be self-explanatory to you: arrow keys to move, space to fire.”
“I think I got it.”
“Don’t let us down, it’s on Armageddon level,” and he left, leaving her alone.
Bobbi Sue sat down in the chair, wiped her brow and took a slip of water. Her heart was pounding and her mind raced. She closed her eyes and counted to ten. Then she decided to pray. If there was a god, now was the time to ask for his guidance.
“Oh Lord,” she prayed aloud, “Please help me win this game and save this city and all its inhabitants. Amen!”
Bobbi Sue took a deep breath and started to play.
Her heart pounded and her sweaty finger worked as her mind concentrated. The outside world ceased to exist. At first it was easy for her, erasing row after row of colored blocks, but then the block ceiling started to collapse and she got a bad series of blocks which pushed her farther up to the line. It finally came down to four blocks stacked two by two with only two rows to the yellow line: two green on the top, and a red and a blue block on the bottom.
She got a green box and eliminated the green from the board. The she got a red block and knocked it into place eliminating red, but there was another red block in the queue. She put it next to the blue as it went down to one line (Blue Red)! Another blue next to the other blue eliminated the pair, but there was another one in the queue. She pushed next it to the red (Red Blue), then another blue, then another blue then another red, then a final blue. The board was now clear.
The screen went blank, and then white letters proclaimed “Bomb has been disarmed.” The laptop turned off. Bobbi Sue had saved Los Angeles.
Bobbi Sue shut the laptop, sat back and sighed. A wave of relief washed over her body and she took a drink of water. Then she got up and looked out of the truck. Everyone was completely silent and staring at her.
After a few awkward seconds, Bobbi Sue yelled, “Hey y’all; the bomb’s been disarmed!”
The room erupted into cheers. She got down and shook Charles’s hand.
“I know you could do it!”
Then she saw Marlene handing her a cell phone.
“It’s the governor.”
Bobbi Sue put the phone to her ear.
“This is governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and, on behalf on the citizens of the State of California, I would like to thank you for your brave service today in saving the great city of Los Angeles.”
“How come you couldn’t do this? I’ve seen you do this in movies.”
“I was just acting, but you; you are a real heroine.”
“Thanks, Arn – I mean, Governor Schwarzenegger.”
Marlene took the phone, and a cameraman and reporter ran up.
“Mrs. Jenkins, this is Tanya Santos with Channel 7 news, what was it like saving the city?”
“I’m sure. Do you have anything you would like to say?”
“I’d like to say hello to my husband Harry and my children Mildred, Ricky and Evelyn.”
“That’s enough; I’ll be willing to issue an official statement later,” Charles said and shooed them off.
“Now, where’s some dinner, I’m hungry and tired.”
“We’ll get you dinner, but I have President Bush on the other line,” Marlene said.
Later, Charles Duncan slowly sipped his beer on the red-eye back to D.C. He would get a few days off, then go back to work. He was disappointed that the Puzzle Bomber was still out there, planning his next move. There would be more games and puzzles in the future, Charles could be sure of that; but one day he would see the Puzzle Bomber brought to justice. Today though, Los Angeles had been saved, and it had been done by an unlikely heroine. He could at least celebrate that.
A van pulled into Bobbi Sue’s driveway in the dead of night. The house was dark except for the living room and porch. Harry stood on the porch, holding a bottle of whiskey. Bobbi Sue exited the van and it pulled away. Harry walked off the porch in a drunken swagger.
“Hey darlin’, I saw you on TV saving LA,” Harry slur said with a drunken slur.
Bobbi Sue grabbed the whiskey bottle and smashed it on the ground. Harry’s face turned red.
“What did ya do that f’r, woman?!” Harry screamed. He pulled back his fist, ready to punch her. Bobbi Sue grabbed his face and pulled him forward. Harry went limp in her grasp.
“I made thirty million dollars today and the money is sittin’ in an account under my name. If you ever hit me again, ever, your ass will be sitting on the street without me or the kids because I don’t need ya money anymore. I love you but I’m not gonna stand here and watch you piss away our life by gettin’ drunk every night and hittin’ me. I’m your wife, not a punchin’ bag, and you’re gonna treat me like your wife from this second forward.
We’re rich now, and you’re gonna act like the gentleman, father and husband I know you can be, and you can start by stoppin’ drinkin’. We’re gonna make something of ourselves and if you don’t wanna, you can pack your bags and leave, because I’m taking the kids out of this shit town to let them grow up right! Ya hear?”
“That sounds great, my darlin’,” Harry squeaked, the blood drained from his face.
Bobbi Sue let go and Harry stumbled back.
“Now git in the house. I’ll repeat what I said in the morning if ya happen to be too drunk to remember.”
Harry scurried inside. Bobbi Sue stood there for a minute, then she wiped the tears from her eyes and went inside.
Finally, her life would start to change for the better.