By Pete Moss
Larry picks us up in his Caddy. Desiree and Larry sit in front. Ramona sits in back between YoYo and I.
"There's gonna be three observers there," says Larry. "Angus Quick, a shriveled up little ginger who always has a tumbler of whiskey in his hand. He reps Ladbrokes. Then there's Dino Martelli, from Vegas, and Ricky Wong who reps an Asian syndicate out of the San Gabriel valley. So, you guys have to keep real close tabs on the score."
"Observers?" I say.
"Bookies," explains Ramona.
"Oh," says YoYo. "We keep an eagle eye!"
"Good, good," says Larry
We drive down the 5 and get off at Palomar. It's a straight up suburban neighborhood. A bit past its prime. One story California ranch houses on large lots.
The streets are pretty straight. An uncomplicated grid. We pull up in front of a corner lot. The house has solar panels. We get out. We walk up to the front door. Larry knocks and the door opens. There's a large dude filling the doorway. He looks Mexican, except for his blue eyes.
"Olaf!!" Says Larry.
"Wassup buddy?" says Olaf.
Larry and Olaf embrace. We go into the house. There's a large front room. There's two couches against the wall and a table in the middle of the room, with two chairs and a Scrabble board. There's a white chalkboard.
A nerdy girl is fussing with some webcams and cables. The three bookies Larry warned us about are warming up their laptops on the couches.
There's two Mexican gangbanger dudes with neck tats and pistols in their waistbands. I presume they are security.
I hadn't noticed but Larry is carrying a briefcase. He sets the briefcase on the table and opens it. He gets out some bills and hands them to Olaf.
"Thanks for hosting this event," says Larry.
"Always a pleasure doing business with you," says Olaf. "Can I get you a drink?"
Desiree goes in the bathroom. Larry orders a shot of Tequila. Ramona sits at the table and closes her eyes.
"What's she doing?" I say.
"Praying to Scrabble Jesus," says YoYo, as if I'm an idiot. "Hoping the words come freely."
A car pulls up out front. Templeton & Hepzibah knock and are admitted. Templeton orders a scotch and Hepzibah orders a Baileys. Olaf serves them their drinks. Templeton sits at the table, across from Ramona.
Desiree comes out of the bathroom. She's wearing a clingy pink rayon outfit. She takes her place by the scoreboard.
Now we're waiting for something. I don't know what. I sit by the mini bar with Larry. YoYo is massaging Ramona's shoulders. I notice a pool in the back. It would be nice to take a dip in the pool.
A sporty little car parks out front. A guy dressed like an Ivy League Jane Austen scholar gets out. You could hardly imagine a less comfortable getup in San Diego than a tweed jacket and wool trousers.
"The ref is here," says Larry.
The ref disdains introductions, but is quite happy to take $500 from Larry.
And so, the match begins. Ramona draws a T and Templeton draws a B. Templeton proceeds to draw his seven tiles and Ramona follows suit.
On his first laydown Templeton Scrabbles with 'equated'. He's up by 84 points.
The bookies tap furiously at their laptops. Desiree posts the score on the chalkboard with a suitable flourish.
Templeton is a big play Scrabblero. He likes to use all of his tiles and he pushes the game towards the outer edge, where the red triple word bonus squares are.
Ramona has a counter strategy. She blocks Templeton with two and three letter combos.
Templeton is having good luck, drawing a mix of vowels and consonants. Whereas Ramona can't seem to draw anything but consonants. Templeton is visibly annoyed when Ramona gimps his play.
In the first ten rounds Templeton challenges Ramona's word choice twice, but the ref rules in Ramona's favor both times. Templeton's confidence takes a hit. Ramona has shown her vocabulary is bigger.
Ramona nibbles away at Templeton's lead. And his luck changes. At the 16th round Templeton dumps his tiles.
Normally, by the 16th round, there wouldn't be enough tiles left in the bag to make a dump worthwhile. But Ramona has been so parsimonious with her tiles that the bag is still almost half full.
Templeton's move reveals his growing frustration.
Watching the bookies on their laptops it seems to me the betting is in Templeton's favor.
I move over to Larry, who watches the game from the mini-bar.
"Can I place a bet?" I say.
"You want to place a bet?" Says Larry. "On who?"
"Ramona," I whisper.
Larry likes that but he's deadpan. He nods OK almost imperceptibly.
The game goes on. The board is crowded now. The tiles are growing few. There's not much room for a big word score. Ramona's strategy is paying off as she cuts the lead with one 30 point combo after another.
But Templeton has an endgame.
The bookies are as frantic as traders on the floor of a stock exchange.
Desiree is a whirlwind, writing scores on the whiteboard. The webcam girl points her handheld back and forth at the scoreboard and the gameboard.
The last tile is drawn.
Templeton hits a combo on a triple word score for 37 points. His victory seems assured as now he only has 2 tiles left and Ramona has 6 and Templeton is leading by 48 points.
If Templeton goes out first all the tiles Ramona is caught with are subtracted from her total and added to his.
But Ramona pulls it out. She Scrabbles with 'viscous'.
Templeton issues a vociferous challenge.
"That isn't Scrabbling. She only had 6 tiles. You have to use 7 tiles to Scrabble!" Says Templeton.
There's a tremendous amount of discussion.
But the ref rules in Ramona's favor.
"The rules are that if you use all your tiles that's a 50 point bonus," says the ref. "Whether it's the endgame and you don't have 7 tiles is immaterial."
After his ruling the ref can't get out of there fast enough. Larry tips the ref $500.