Reality Inspector, chapter 14

Copyright © 1982 John Caris

The eleventh chess game occurs tonight, and a beautiful night it is, John thought. The moon, nearing full, was already in the sky, and if fog did not roll in, the night would be crowded with stars.

The Players were performing their one act play The Open Door before the chess game began at seven p.m. He had enjoyed the rehearsal and desired to see the opening performance; he could have dinner at the same time and then be ready for the chess game.

Although he had found the two bullets which the fleeting car had fired at them, the bullets were so misshapen that identification was impossible. As he had thought. The significance was the threat--as a threat. His enemy was willing to threaten him when he could have killed him. So John knew that he was getting close to a solution, but still not there. If he quit now, the enemy would be safe; so he was given only a scare. But next time would mean death. So he must accept his stalker by becoming one himself; he must draw his opponent out. From now on he would act invisibly, taking precautions and becoming unpredictable. His mantra would be "the unexpected is always upon us." He would behave accordingly.

John locked his office and walked through his garden to the gate on Keystone Way. He saw Hank standing over at the Rainbow Inn parking lot. The old man saw him, and waving, came across the street.

"I must speak with you, John." He put his box down beside the petunias. "Od was telling me about the threats you have received and about the shots fired at Mary and you last night."

"Somebody doesn't like my intimacy with ZAC. I guess I'm getting too close for someone's comfort."

"Oh, a case of jealousy?"

"More like a case of greed."

"When death stalks, one must be ready for the final dance. Are you ready yet?"

"No, I'm afraid not."

"At my age, each day is a joyous celebration for the life I awake with. I may not get through the night, so I live each day as it opens to me.

"I plan ahead, and sometimes I'm frustrated when my plans go astray."

"Plan ahead, yet live only in the present, for the future is never fixed. Each moment is only a microcosm. Taste it fully. Tomorrow is an illusion; today is real."

"And yesterday is a memory."

"And a trap! Today is. Yesterday was."

"Isness is difficult to maintain."

"No, it's too easy. Just let go and drop in." Hank pointed to his box. "Step in, John, and I'll show you."

"Just step into the box?"

"Yes."

With a shitty smile on his face, John put one foot and then the other into Hank's box. He looked at the old man, who grinned like the Cheshire cat and disappeared. Space spun and dissolved into itself. Laughter whirled about him.

His eyes begin to focus, and John realizes that he is in a building seated at a table. It is Falstaff's Coffee House, so the sign above the counter states. The coffee house has a decor that is a fusion of beat and punk. He has never been here before, and so he does not know if it is even in San Francisco. Perhaps, it is down in North Beach. Whatever, Hank's box has spun him to this location. Well, he is hungry and ready for dinner, so never mind.

He looks around. A man and woman are seated at a table to his right. They are intimately involved in each other; they are in their own space and living in the now. Their whispering voices form a love duet.

To his left are three people standing around a pool table. One man is rotund and his deep laughter vibrates the coffee house. The other two, a man and woman both dressed in blue jeans and leather motorcycle jackets, are about six feet tall and have athletic physiques. They are obviously punks. In the back of the coffee house two women are playing chess. They do not seem to be aware of the other habitues.

John turns his attention back to the three playing pool. The rotund man had been called Fal by the woman wearing the motorcycle jacket. No doubt, he is Falstaff, owner of the coffee house. He is so involved with the other two that he does not notice John's presence, so John listens to their conversation. The woman is called Little Sheba, and the man is named Fred. They look and act like twins, yet there are subtle differences between them.

"Got my draft ticket today," Little Sheba says, "supposed to be down there at the hole Monday morning sharp. I ain't goin'."

"Yeh, they need more cannon fodder." Fred sinks the three ball into a side pocket. "Another war for the profitmongers."

Fal chuckles, "More toads for their table."

Little Sheba bangs her cue stick on the floor. "Those ball-less bastards, sitting at home, countin' their money."

As he sinks the nine ball in the far corner pocket, Fred remarks, "Sterile turkeys, wantin' us to clean up their shit for 'em. Diaper toddlers."

Little Sheba jabs her cue stick in the air. "Big talk they mouth. Somebody should ram a missile down their throat."

"Or up their ass. They're a bunch of fascists." Fred misses putting the seven ball in the side pocket.

"Aren't you honored to die for their greed?" Fal rubs the tip of his cue stick with chalk. "Be careful, or you won't get any crumbs from their stench filled anus." He hits the two ball into a corner pocket.

Fred farts loudly. "Not even maggots'll touch 'em."

Little Sheba places her fists on her hips. "I got honor. I won't be their slave. I'll rip their gizzard out first." She takes out a switch-blade and cuts the air.

Fal looks up from the pool table and says in a teasing voice, "Won't you fight for your country?"

"What country? Ain't mine! They never asked me. Go get killed for us--that's what they say." Little Sheba glowers at him.

Fred shakes his head in agreement. "A free country--that's what they say. Yeh, that's the big lie."

"I ain't been free since I was born. I've been some sort of object--pushed here, tossed there. Lie down and spread your legs. Jump up and go get killed. Fascist pigs!" Little Sheba gives an invisible figure the ram with her cue stick.

A devilish smile creeps over Fal's face. "Just think, Little Sheba, you'll be helping the Gross National Product, keeping people in work so they can buy all those plastic throwaways. Haven't you any pride?" He puts the ten ball into a side pocket but also scratches.

Little Sheba rubs her cue stick with chalk. "Yeh, but I ain't selling it. I ain't a whore. Let 'em rot in their Gross National Product."

"Fuckin' bastards. Sacrifice they say. Sacrifice for what?" Fred looks about questioningly.

"For more bombs and missiles. That's all we get from our taxes." Little Sheba sinks the ten ball into a corner pocket.

Fal pats her back. "But aren't you happy that a few have all the wealth while we people live in poverty? You're not very patriotic."

Little Sheba looks up at him and says with honed sarcasm, "Oh, I just love living in poverty. I love the hovel I stay in. I love the rats biting my toes at night. I love the watery soup and moldy bread I eat each day."

"But if you don't go down to the hole Monday, government agents will come looking for you." Fal gives her a fatherly look.

Little Sheba sneers, "The turd faces! And on my money too." She puts the twelve ball into a side pocket.

"Servants of the people. Another big lie. They treat us like animals!" Fred is indignant.

Fal scratches his belly. "Well, they do act like we people are the enemy."

"Petty tyrants! Biting the hand that feeds 'em." She sinks the eleven ball into a far corner pocket.

"They're just doin' what they're told." Fal belches.

"I never told 'em." She hits the five ball into a side pocket.

"Yeh, they're just doin' what the corporate bosses tell 'em," Fred says. "Shows you who's running the country. Democracy. Fuck. Ain't been any democracy around here for a hundred years or so. Look at who they run for president--Twiddledee and Twiddledum."

With a sly smile, Fal asks, "Which twin has the mark of the beast?"

"They're both beasts!" Little Sheba answers; she hits the seven ball into a corner pocket.

Fal chuckles, "And those servants of the people . . ."

With a double play, Little Sheba slams the one ball into a far corner pocket and then rolls the four ball into a nearby corner pocket. "Servants of the multinationals, you mean."

"Oh," Fal says in a tearful voice, "those servants of the multinationals will hunt you down, Little Sheba, and put you in jail. Die on the battlefield or die in jail. Which is it?"

"Those scabby robots! Those tranquilized zombies! I'll stand by you, Little Sheba." Fred holds his cue stick in readiness.

Little Sheba looks up at him and smiles. "I don't need your help, Fred, but I'll take it." She sinks the six ball into a corner pocket.

Something that the couple to John's right said catches his attention. The woman and man are intimately involved but not cooing. They are roommates. Luke, who is tall and lanky, his frame stretched out over a chair, fills his voice with anger. Catalina nods her head.

"The landlord raised the rent. One hundred dollars more a month!" Luke clinches his fists.

Catalina begins to boil. "The crook! Where are we going to get that much money?"

"Well, we can rent one of our three rooms." Luke does not like the idea, but what else is there?

"Ugh!" Catalina puts a hand over her mouth as if she is going to vomit.

"It would be crowded," Luke says. "Well, do you have any ideas?"

Catalina is puzzled. "One hundred dollars more a month. How come so much?"

"He claimed a hardship case." Luke tries to hold his anger back. "He remortgaged the apartment house. He invests that money at the present high interest rate. And the tenants pay for the interest on his loan."

The white player moves her rook. "No foundation--all along the line."

The black player nods in agreement; she says, "Times being what they are."

Fal saunters over to the table where John is sitting. John feels that he is getting a careful scrutiny.

"Hi. I don't think we've met. I'm Fal, owner of the Falstaff Coffee House."

"I'm John. Glad to meet you." They shake hands.

"Where're ya from, John?"

"Oh, I live at Ocean and Keystone." As an afterthought he says, "In the city."

Fal gives him a questioning look. "And what city is that?"

John is bewildered. "Aren't we in San Francisco?" When Fal does not respond, he continues, "In San Francisco, California, U.S.A.--on spaceship earth."

"Can I see your ID, please." Fal is suspicious and demanding.

"My ID? Oh, you mean my driver's license."

Fal looks back at Little Sheba and Fred, who, at his glance, walk over to the table. He takes out his ID and shows it to John. "This is what I mean. Don't ya have an ID like this?"

John looks at the ID, which has a very futuristic appearance. He is puzzled by what is happening. Can he be in another galaxy or dimension, he wonders? "No, I don't have anything like that."

Luke and Catalina gasp. Leaving their table, they join the group around Fal. Speaking to the concerned group, Fal says, "No ID--that breaks galactic code 71805."

The group mutters, "No ID. Horrors. A galactic crime."

John smiles and opens his hands. "In my galaxy we don't use ID's."

The two chess players leave their game and join the group. It is apparent that Fal and the others are shaken by John's statement. Fal faces John and leans on his cue stick. "Welcome, stranger, to our galaxy. Now that you are here, you must abide by our rules. You will need an ID. Luckily, you have four types to choose from--mine, Fred and Little Sheba's, Luke and Catalina's, and the chess players'. You are limited to one of those four. We'll give you a few minutes to deliberate on this serious matter." He turns and walks through the restroom door; the others follow him.

"What kind of strange space did I step into?" John says half aloud. "I remember stepping into Hank's box and now this. Am I really in another galaxy? And I don't like any of the four choices. They're not me!"

John picks up the menu and looks at the items. He shudders. Then hammering on the table with his fist, he shouts, "Service! I want some service!"

Fal appears from the restroom door. "Have you decided?" He comes out with the others huddled behind him.

"Yes," John says. "My choice is to reject the four possibilities and choose a fifth one. And that is me. I am my own ID!"

"You can't!" cries Fal; he is upset. The others mimic him, "You can't!"

"I have." John is firm in his resolve. Turning around in his chair, he calls out, "Helen, a cappuccino and a cheese cake, please."

Helen's voice floats through space. "Cappuccino and cheese cake comin' up."

John turns back to Fal and the others huddled behind him. "Since I haven't received very good service in your galaxy, I'm calling for assistance from mine. I hope you don't mind."

"I don't mind," Fal says. The others concur, "We don't mind."

Helen appears with the cappuccino and cheese cake, which she places on the table, and then disappears with a big grin on her face.

John tastes the cappuccino. Looking up at Fal and the others, he says, "A word of advice."

They nod in agreement.

"If you don't like what the bastards are doing to you, go and fight them!" John takes a bite of cheese cake and savors its flavor.

The entire space of the Rainbow Inn thundered with applause and cheers. The audience went wild with enthusiasm, for this performance of The Open Door had the scent of strangeness. After the cast had taken several bows, the Inn quieted down; and chess boards were set up on most tables.

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