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I. Merano, Italy

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The first words out of Chip’s mouth was, “It's cold.”

Olive sighed. “It's not exactly a tropical location, Charlito. It's Italy. They've got the Mediterranean weather going for them.”

“Whatever. Where are we staying at? I have to study up on German chess strategies. Wait. Should I look at Korean masters instead?”

“Why don't you look up clips of William Barfée playing chess? Since that's who you're playing?”

He snapped his fingers. “Duh. Olive, you're great.”

“No, I have common sense. Calm down. You've met him before. You played him in Baguio City two years ago.”

“Right. Two years ago. I don't remember two years ago, Olive! And he beat me!”

“And he'll beat you again with that attitude. Let's let you go study, because you don't whine when you study.”

Chip frowned. “Hey. Rude.”

“You know what's ruder? Almost getting disqualified from the world championship because you got into a kick fight with the other player.”

“Oh, don't you go pinning that on me. That was his fault. He didn't suffer any casualties.”

A cab finally stopped. Olive gave directions and they sat in the back as the car drove. “Ah, yes. The famous blow to the crotch. That earned you a lot of sympathy in the news.”

“It also probably made me infertile,” he muttered. “It hurt.”

“Thank god,” Olive said. “A tiny person with your genetics has the potential to be worse than you already are as a human being.”

“Why do I pay you to be mean to me? Please remind why I hired you.”

She pulled up a list on her phone. “Because you're incapable of managing your personal actions, let alone your schedule. Here, I've got practice questions for the interview tomorrow. I typed your name into google and found the most frequently asked questions about you. We're going to have you rehearse some answers and get you ready for anything they might throw at you.”

Chip sighed and nodded. “Hit me.”

“Alright. Charlito Tolentino, is it true that you're an immigrant?”

He paused. “People still ask that?”

“You've never given a clear answer in your life. That's kind of why we're practicing this.” She looked up from her phone. “You're known for being great at chess and for being ‘hot’, not for your public speaking skills.” With a pat on the head, she added, “Be thankful you're pretty, because that's about all you've got going for you.”

He swatted her hand away. “I can't believe I thought you were nice when I hired you.”

“Answer the question, Charlito. Are you an immigrant?”

“Ugh. Yes, I'm an immigrant. My parents brought me to America the legal way when I was five. I'm a citizen, just not natural born.”

“Very good. Short and sweet. Next question, are you married, and if so, is it to Ms Ostrovsky?”

“Okay, I've heard that before. No, I'm not married or in a relationship, and I have to pay Ms Ostrovsky to stand being around me.”

“The humor is good. It's a great counter to your normal aggressiveness. Keep it up. Let's see… oh.” She frowned.

“What is it?” He leaned over and tried to look at the screen. “C’mon, I'm on a roll.”

“Fine.” She cleared her throat. “Are you gay?”

“Am I what?”

“Breathe. It's a question that someone is inevitably going to ask you. You can either end the rumor and speculation, or you can start a shitstorm of questions. You choose. I don't care if you want to lie to the press. Just stay calm when you answer and they'll accept what you say. For the most part. Be charming, be funny, don't look as pissed off as you do now.”

He rubbed his face and sighed, his face buried in his hands. “Great. What am I gonna say? I don't even know the answer to that.”

“Come up with something good to say before the conference tomorrow. Let's keep going.”


“You remember how he opens?” Marcy asked.

“I don't know,” William grumbled. “Is it what we have been drilling for the past hour?”

“You hired me to make you a winner, and by God I'm gonna do that.” She took a swig from her water bottle. “Now, I know you've beaten him before, but you need to beat him and get good PR this time. No nut shots. Don't kick at all, actually. He's a bastard, but a sneaky one.”

“I wasn't planning on it. But he cannot start shit either.”

“O juyeo, him-euljusibsio,” she muttered. “You have a press conference in,” she checked her phone, “thirty minutes. Get ready for it.”