Bob Mackinnon

The Art of the Exit

For nearly two weeks in 1968 James had been living in a young man’s paradise: Chicago in the evenings with two lovely princesses, love making at night with the very same, and afternoons to rest while the young women went shopping (what stamina!) all at the expense of billionaire Howard Heinz, the father of Heidi and the sponsor of Betsy. There was one cloud on the horizon: James was supposed to be writing a newspaper feature on international women’s bridge, but he hadn’t yet had the time or the energy to produce even a single line. The idyll came to an abrupt end shortly after lunch at the Savoy Grill, where the girls received many admiring looks from the likes of Jimmy Stewart and Charlie Chaplin, who at 80 years of age still entertained romantic notions.

Howard Heinz and James had had a full lunch while Heidi and Betsy ate a light salad as was their wont. (How do they do it?) Howard rose from the table stating he felt a walk along The Embankment and a cigar would be good for his health. His young companions demurred saying they would best stay in the suite and work on the interview, which, they said, was near completion. Five minutes later Howard was on his way to Cleopatra’s Needle while the three young people were rolling around naked in Heidi’s huge bed.

Five minutes after that Howard was back in the suite, calling out, ‘Yoo-hoo, has anybody seen my cigar case?’

‘Good God! Daddy!’ exclaimed Heidi, who at that moment was on the top of the pile. It was a quick jump, hop, and skip within Olympic qualification time before she reached the bathroom just as Howard was turning the doorknob to her bedroom.

‘James! Princess! What do you think you are doing?’ asked Heinz purely rhetorically.

‘Hello, Sir, my apologies, we were feeling a bid fatigued after lunch, so we thought we would have a little rest, and, well, one thing led to another. ‘

‘I see you are not the English gentleman I thought you were, taking advantage of this young woman’s fragile state of mind. She’s not a party girl, she’s a princess. Your Highness, please gather your clothes and go to the bathroom while I finish this, because what I have to say may not be fit for your ears.’

Betsy did as she was told with as much dignity as her position allowed, but without a modesty one would normally expect.

‘Did I see a tattoo?’ asked Heinz as the bathroom door closed behind a finely decorated posterior.

‘I understand it is a depiction of the Rearing White Stallion, ancient emblem of the House of Saxony.’

‘I revere loyalty in its many guises,’ announced Heinz. ‘Poor Elizabeth, the Russians confiscated everything, but they couldn’t rob her of her sense of identity. That’s obvious. Now, where’s my daughter?’

‘Gone shopping for new shoes in Carnaby Street, I believe,‘ said James gambling this was the most believable lie.

‘That’s ridiculous! She has only two feet, but already she’s got shoes to match shoes. Thank heaven she was spared this…this… debaculousness. I am disappointed in you, Woolwich. Obviously you are a man of the world, but I see you are not even wearing protection. Get dressed while I call the maid to come and clean up this mess before Heidi gets back. I don’t want even a hint any of this to get out, so how much will it cost me to keep your article out of the papers? Here, take this £200, it’s all I have on me.’

‘Sir, no money, you have my word,’ replied James who had yet to produce a word.

‘I don’t trust a man who refuses money. How about £300? That’s my final offer.’

‘That would more than compensate for lost revenue,’ conceded James reluctantly.

‘Here, take this,’ Heinz said retrieving £100 notes from an inside pocket. ‘Now get dressed and get out. I don’t want to see you ever again. Remember I have friends who carry weapons.’

James was thus expelled from his Garden of Eden. £300 was manna from heaven, but James complained, Adam wasn’t sent off all by himself – he got to keep Eve. He eventually told the whole story to his Japanese flatmate and spiritual adviser, Hisashi-san.

‘Is there as lesson in all this, Sensei?’

‘Yes, James-san. What you experienced was Firefly Love (Hotaru-Koi). Geishas sing a song of a love that burns bright throughout one night before dying with the dawn. So sad, so beautiful, but now it is best to move on and look for wife. Man needs family and family needs wife.’

To relieve James’ melancholy, the priest proposed resuming their regular game of duplicate at the Southwark Lawn Bowling and Bridge Club. Before play began, James observed the faces gathered about the tables in the greenish light reflected from the walls of the underground playing area. Were others also experiencing private agonies behind their impassive faces? Of course, it was unlikely that any had just lost 2 lovers in the same afternoon, but might they not be also suffering behind the mask? Perhaps that old dear was hiding grief at the unexpected passing of a beloved canary. Perhaps behind that stern patriarchal façade lurked fear over a pain in the chest that had arisen after a favourite meal of bangers, mash, canned peas, and fried onions. Maybe for a few brief hours, bridge would temporarily dispel all hidden concerns. These weren’t Italians. Emotions wouldn’t be allowed to slop over and affect card play.

Luckily Hisashi got to declare most of the hands, including this one where the art of the exit was on full display.

 
N-S
West
N
James
A
J96
KQ52
AQ642
 
W
Wilson
63
1084
J1098
10987
 
E
MacGregor
KJ985
K754
1064
J
 
S
Hirashi
Q10742
AQ3
A3
K53
 
W
Wilson
N
James
E
MacGregor
S
Hirashi
1
1
3NT
Pass
4
Pass
4NT
Pass
5
Pass
5NT
All Pass
 
 
 

In theory Angus MacGregor was no racist, but he couldn’t help trying a bit harder when playing against former enemies. A dyed-in-the-wool conservative he stretched his normal limits to overcall where today such action would be considered automatic by most players. The way the evening had been progressing, Hisashi thought it best to keep things simple, so he bid game, but then found James with 5 losers looking for a slam in a minor.

John Wilson avoided responsibility for any ensuing disaster by leading his partner’s suit, and Hisashi took the time to form a plan. There is a saying conveying begrudging respect, ‘give a Japanese a lemon and he’ll make lemonade.’ Here declarer was thinking of ways to squeeze the lemon for 11 tricks. From his experience playing against MacGregor he could count on the heart finesse being right, but one more trick was needed.

Hoping for 5 tricks in clubs Hisashi began with the A from dummy and the K from hand, discovering a loser in that suit. Losing a club early would make the defender’s job easier, so he made a strange play, a passive exit of the Q from his hand, won by MacGregor with the K. The Scot considered cashing the J at this point, but that would give up a trick to declarer’s T. As it was obvious that this was what declarer was aiming at, MacGregor, being the stubborn, frugal sort for whom his countrymen are esteemed, exited with the 6 giving nothing away. (In Scotland toilet paper in a gas station lavatory came at a price. It was left to those in need to decide whether it was worth the extra expense. The Scots had learned to bring their own or do without – it was all part of the Scottish economic theory of how to increase goods for the rich by slashing services for the poor. Today’s airline executives wish they could fully implement that same principle.)

With the defender’s communications severed, it was safe for the priest to set up a fourth trick in clubs, ending in dummy in this ending:

 
N-S
West
N
James
J96
5
 
W
Wilson
1084
10
 
E
MacGregor
J
K75
 
S
Hirashi
10
AQ3
 

Select (you can triple-click it) and over-write this text below the diagram.

MacGregor, stingy to the end, would not give up his J on the play of the winning club, so declarer could discard his losing spade and finesse in hearts to gather 3 heart tricks raising his total to the required 11, making 4 clubs, 3 diamonds, 3 hearts and 1 spade.

Coming first at the local duplicate largely as a consequence of misplays by the opponents doesn’t compensate for losing two firefly lovers on the same day, but it helps immensely in easing the pain. A warm beer at a crowded pub provides further comfort. James had a question on the play of the hand.

‘Hisashi-san, what would have happened if MacGregor had taken his 2 spade tricks? Wouldn’t that prove awkward?’

‘No, James-san, if he cashes 2 spade tricks, no need to lose club as I have a spade trick to compensate. So MacGregor-san gets squeezed no matter what he does. He didn’t follow the advice of Sakamoto Ryoma, “Before entrance, plan exit,” but in the end neither did Sakamoto. He was assassinated in a hotel room with no back exit. That was careless. Believe in actions more than in words, James-san.’

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