"What do you mean you never saw it coming?" one woman said to the other a few seats down from where I parked myself, waiting for a pint.
"I knew Jack," said the other woman. "At least I thought. "
"If you knew Jack, youd have served him his balls years ago. And the picture should have killed any feelings in you for that cheap son of a bitch."
"I know, Glenda, but I just couldnt believe he was seeing other women."
"Look, Abby, did you really believe he was going to fantasy cons to play games?"
Hello, I said to myself, my ears a lot more focused now just as Mike, the assistant bartender, gave me my pint.
"Look," continued Glenda, "all that time he was talking about the role playing that he was doing, and you bought that crap? Even after I showed you that whole section in the Village Voice where they talk about role playing as being outcalls where they accept major credit cards?"
"But it sounded so..." Abby rolled her hand four times before she could say, "I mean, I saw the books and the dice."
"Yeah, a guy that old playing with dice. He was cheating on you the whole time, and he had you suckered good."
"I cant believe hed do that to me. I trusted him."
"First big mistake," said Glenda, as Nataly, the bartender, got her a strawberry daiquiri. "You said this was something he went over to his friends to do. He never did this at home, right? And he never said, Gee honey, lets get together with my gaming buddies, right?"
"When we were dating, I went to a few games, and it was guys like him."
"OK, so two, hes doing a lot of stuff over the Internet, right? Ever read Ann Landers pieces about guys cheating on their wives with e-pen pals?"
"He kept talking about his games," said Abby as she sipped her Manhattan. "Hed tell me about wizards and dragons and quests."
"Oh, he was on a quest, all right," said Glenda with a knowing smirk. "You last saw him Friday, its Monday and hes nowhere but in this picture here. And the picture, that should tell you something."
"He said it was a fantasy con-"
"Sister, wake up and smell the garbage youre in. That no good prick was playing you like an organ, and the picture in the paper from that so-called con should take you out of your little fantasy."
Abby looked again at the newspaper clipping. "Maybe its not quite what it seems"
"Are you serious? I can ask any guy here whats going on in the picture, and hed agree Jack was fooling around on you. Any guy," and Glenda started looking around.
I swear, I didnt do anything to make her think I was that guy. Glenda came over to me and said, "Excuse me, but I need to settle a bet."
"Oh, I love how this joke ends," I quipped as I sipped.
"No, this is no joke. I want you to look at this picture, and tell me what you see," and she showed me the picture.
In it was a guy in his thirties looking very happy to have around his shoulder the arm of a svelte, athletic early-twenty-something woman wearing a fur bikini and a long sword.
I didnt say anything. I was just staring at the picture, mostly at the woman in it
Glenda snatched the shot from me, not happy that I wasnt being vocal, and said to Abby, "Men, theyre all pigs. I dont know about you, sister, but I know just the thing we need."
Glenda had very little trouble leading Abby away from her stool at the bar. The way Abby was complying with Glenda, it didnt look good for Jack.
And that would have been the end of it except for a pint and a half later, who should take the seat next to me...
I tried not to let my surprise at seeing Jack in The Washington make me say something stupid. "You look like you could use one badly," I said truthfully, as the poor bastard did seem pretty pitiful.
"You would not believe what Ive been through," he said to me.
"Try me," I said, not letting him know I already knew.
"Tell me," he said as the pint I got him came, "ever hear of role-playing games?"
"We talking the kind you pay by the hour for, or the ones in books with dice?"
"Books and dice. Christ, how many times have I had to explain that one."
"Hey, you made your point. Go on."
Jack took a sip and said, "Anyway, this weekend there was a gaming con in town, and I went on the first day, where I met someone."
"She was fantastic. Literally, she did this amazing magic"
I held up a hand. "I thought you said this was the books and dice kind of role playing."
"No, I mean, real magic. I started talking with her, and she said her name was Queen Brodicana, of the Kingdom of Gwan Gorah."
"A queen you say?" My eyes widened.
"And I was sitting there thinking, shes really way into character. It had to be the fur bikini, I thought, because she was just going on. And she says to me, I need a champion- Hey, Im serious! Stop looking at me like that!"
"OK, but if this is just another guy bragging about his one night stand story, Ill be annoyed."
"But it wasnt. She did do magic. She had this gem in the hilt of her sword, and we did actually go to Gwan Gorah, this place that was like Ireland in the middle of the Rockies, all these green fields and really high mountains."
"Do tell," I said with the required widening of eyes.
"And we spent what seemed like months there. She was a queen, and it seems guys from here, on Earth, some of us when were there, we can cast great magics, so I was like this wizard for her, saving her kingdom from this lich overlord. It was more intense than any game Id ever done."
"Uh-huh," I said as I looked into my pint.
"I even got to keep the source of his power," said Jack as he pulled from his pocket a golden chain with an orange and yellow jewel attached to the end of it. "Tell me what you think of this."
I took it from his hands and said, "Oh yeah, seen these a few times downtown. Supposed to bring you luck, which is why they sell them right next to the lotto machines." As I ordered another drink from Mike I put the jewel down on the bar next to me and said to Jack, "So if this was such a wonderful experience for you, why do you look like someone blew apart your dog?"
"I finally get home from this thing today, and Im trying to tell my wife about it, but whos there but my bitchy sister-in-law, who says she has proof Im having an affair and talks about the pictures with Brodicana as proof theyre going to use to file for divorce."
"Let me get this straight," I said. "You went to this con, met a girl in a bikini, someone shot your picture with her before you went off with the girl to somewhere you cant explain, and when you get home your wife is ready to dump you because of the picture, right?"
"Ive got three words for you to keep repeating right now."
"Yeah?" Jack asked.
"They are, Dude, Im fucked. You have a lot of explaining to do to your wife, and youre going to have to talk real fast to get through to her. I bet this sister-in-laws keeping your wife from seeing you, right?"
"Yeah," Jack seemed to wilt as he assessed his situation.
"What you got to do is this: Find your wife, prove as hard as you can that you love her, and keep from doing anything stupid like this in the future. Now the sooner you get to it, the better."
Jack started to look for his treasure on him.
"Dont just sit there," I admonished him, "get off your ass and get your wife back. Go!"
I waited for Jack to blow the Washington and a good five count afterwards before I looked at the jewel on the chain again.
"Hey whats that?" Mike asked me as he took my glass.
"This heres the Stygian Eye of the Gross Wurm Magnu," I said as I looked at it. "So shes a queen now; I always wondered when Brodicana was going to stop letting her father get away with that shit and take the throne for herself."
"But didnt that thing belong to the other guy?"
"Hes got a lot to deal with, saving his marriage from his hobbies. The last thing he needs is unlimited cosmic power to seize an empire with. The last few rulers who built their thrones on this sucker all met horrible ends, anyway."
"So what are you going to do with it?" Mike asked.
"Put it in a very safe place. After another pint."
James Ryan won the Beatles Embassy Imagination Award: Best Fan Fic for his story "I Read the News Today." Yes, believe it or not, you can still hold a vote with a surprise winner without a media circus ensuing or legions of lawyers running around your capitol.... For his birthday, he has hopes of actually being recognized as a writer; hey, weirder things have happened.... His work has appeared in such places as Dragon magazine, Lacunae, the Urbanite, the New York Times, and some of the better men's room walls across the state of New York. Until he gets the chance to follow the program for disenfranchised neurotic writers, he's doing the regular job and grad school schtick. His wife Susan and son Jamie just nod and smile when he starts to rant, which, all said, makes things that much easier.