Grandmaster Flash

J– was the first schizophrenic I added to my “collection”. I was still in high school. He was ten years older. Already on disability. I walked in looking to my left. He was seated in his continuous position. Sheltered in his lair between the cast iron bed-frame and the hand built, floor to ceiling bookshelves to his left. Only room enough in the small corner for him and his roll-away chair.

He had a welcoming affectation to his voice, “Bill, Bill, Hey, How ya doin’? How ya doin? I haven’t seen you in a dog’s age… Where ya been hidin’ yourself? Nice to see you again… ” (I’m there every weekend, He’s my best friend’s brother)

I sat down in the chair on the opposite side of the chessboard in front of him. Always set up for someone to make the first move. (Advantage white, right? Never with J–) Behind me stood a longer wall of the same book shelves. Filled with all the books they proffered in school and many more that had long since dropped out of any curriculum. All the books I had read and all the books I hoped I would have time to read. All of them well worn. Where did he find the time?

I thought it would be funny to “challenge” J– to a game since I had just dropped a hit of checkerboard blotter with his brother an hour ago.

I pushed my queen’s pawn forward two spaces; he reached and did the same. I slid my bishop pawn alongside my first. “Hmm… Very interesting, very interesting…” (Bullshit… It’s the Queen’s Gambit, he can beat me six ways from Sunday, this is what he does)

He accepted!? (This is interesting… Is he fucking with me?) My brow drew down and I looked slowly left and right, then up at J–. His eyes sparkled behind his horned rim glasses and his tight-lipped mischievous smile wasn’t quite hidden by his wispy beard. I once asked him if he had never shaved. “No, no, I used to look just like you once, Bill, just like you.”

He set his meerschaum down on the shelf, reached down blindly, pulled up a small case and opened it. It was his smooth finished, deep-grained briar… His most expensive pipe… He tilted back in his chair and slowly started packing it with his favorite tobacco. This is interesting! He’s taking me seriously? He knows I don’t know anything.

J– didn’t say anything, he wasn’t looking at me, he wasn’t looking at the board. I was looking at the board. I don’t know this game. He never takes; that does give me the advantage, right?

The blotter wasn’t very overwhelming; in fact I believe it was helping me concentrate. I studied the board for ten minutes before my next move. He immediately leaned in and countered. That’s how the game went. Both of us silent, me taking forever, him going by rote. I’m making all the right moves, right? I can’t see any flaws; but I can’t see the end.

Then I saw it! I take his Knight with my Queen; forcing him to accept my sacrifice. I’m going to win in five moves! J– quickly sat up straight. “Interesting.” (This time he meant it.) He stroked his beard.

Now J— was taking his time. I had never seen him do this before. He can beat a roomful of people simultaneously while carrying on rapid fire conversations with each opponent individually.

I kept examining the remaining pieces. I had him! I thought it through as I waited for him to make his next move. This was it… Then he did it!

He was one move ahead of me the whole time.


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