By Pete Moss
The next morning the phone bingles. I answer. YoYo is snoring on the bed.
"I did some homework," says Spela, on the phone. "Why don't you come over to the motel room."
"YoYo still sleeping and I need some coffee," I say.
"That's OK. Let YoYo sleep. She needs all the beauty rest she can get. There's a Starbucks over on Midway. We can drive over. I'll buy."
"In that case I'll be right out," I say.
Pedro is wide awake. The other little dog is fast asleep, snuggled with YoYo. The pit bull is under the bed, making little yipping noises in his sleep.
Pedro looks at me.
"Oh alright, I'll bring you," I say. A few minutes later we're hopping into Spela's rent-a-car. Spela has that annoying mechanical voice coming out of the car.
"In 100 yards turn right onto Rosecrans," says the voice.
"Please turn that thing off," I say.
"Then how will I find the Starbucks?"
"I don't know, dead reckoning? Oh wait, there it is!" I say.
"Where?" says Spela. She's driving and twiddling with buttons on the console.
"Right there, see the sign in the strip mall? About 200 yards up the street." I say.
"Where?" says Spela.
"Turn in at the next driveway," I say. We do find the Starbucks. Although Spela is confused by the robot voice. Instead of looking around for herself she wants to wait for the voice to tell her what to do.
We get settled. I order a Grande Blonde and Spela gets an Americano.
"OK, so I did some googling this morning," says Spela.
"About Ramona?" I say.
"She's a kook," I say.
"Apparently not," says Spela.
"C'mon. She lives in a Winnebago under the freeway. She's not some famous writer, no way!"
"Sort of," says Spela.
"OK OK, according to Wikipedia, Ramona came out of nowhere when she was 19..."
"Technically, El Paso Texas...."
"Nowhere enough," I say.
"Somehow a New York publisher published a manuscript Ramona sent in. It sold half a million copies in less than 6 months. Got translated into 20 languages. There was a bidding war in Hollywood for the movie rights."
I cock an eyebrow.
"I know, I know," says Spela. She sips her coffee. "The book is still taught in High School English classes all over the country to this day."
I cock both eyebrows now.
Spela sets down her coffee. "So then Ramona is signed to a 3 book deal with a $100,000 advance. She's offered a guest lecture position at San Francisco State. Everything is fine right?"
"Apparently not, if this is the same person living in the Winnebago over on Pacific Highway."
"Right. Well, Ramona also got hired to work on the screen play for the movie of her book. There was a tremendous amount of conflict amongst the creative team. There's law suits still in litigation. The movie never got made. As far as the three book deal, Ramona delivered one manuscript, five years late, which her publisher rejected. Her agent tried everything to get Ramona to do some revising but Ramona was obdurate. The agent shopped the manuscript around and found a less demanding publisher. The second book was a flop with critics and was ignored by the public."
I sip some coffee. "What happened with the teaching gig?"
"Ramona turned it down flat. Apparently a state college wasn't good enough. She expected to be hired at UC Berkeley or Stanford, UCLA was her third choice."
I mull all this information over.
Spela and I sip our coffee.
"So what are the odds it's the same Ramona Darby as in the Winnebago?" I say, thinking out loud.
Spela pulls out her phone and calls up a picture. I look.
"That could be her, 25 years ago," I say. "But what's all this have to do with high stakes Scrabble games?"
"Well, if she was a talented writer, she's a word person. If she's a word person it is logical she would be good at Scrabble."
"Uhm. Yeah, but...I mean, who flys in from England to play Scrabble for a ten grand pot?" I say.
"That was much harder to find information on," says Spela "But it looks like there is a shadowy tournament Scrabble scene."
"What do you think?" I say.
"I think you should cultivate your relationship with Ramona Darby," says Spela.