Reality Inspector, chapter 2

Copyright © 1982 John Caris

John Ocean was not the first customer in the Rainbow Inn; Odysseus Tinker (his friends called him Od) was seated at the bar, sipping a cup of seven herb tea, the specialty of the house. Although the tea was made from seven herbs, Mary frequently changed the mixture.

Various aromas filled John's nose--aromas from the soup kettle, from the herbs hanging from the ceiling rafters, from the flowers nestled in the windows. The noonday sun shone in, brightening the interior. Whatever social activities were happening at the Rainbow Inn, a warm and carefree attitude always prevailed. This was the neighborhood's social center where people met for tea or wine, chess or conversation.

Mary Rainbow had opened the Inn ten years ago. At first business was sporadic, but soon residents around Ocean Avenue began to find the charm attractive. The Inn became a place where people could spend their time quietly and in an unhurried manner. As word spread throughout San Francisco, more people visited the Inn, bringing their interests and activities with them. By now, the clientele came from all around the Bay Area for the many events that took place at the Inn.

John took a seat next to Od and ordered the luncheon special--a bowl of vegetable soup and a sesame butter sandwich. The soup was pure vegetable without any meat or meat oils. Although not a total vegetarian herself, Mary did not serve meat products. For those who desired such there was the Reef, which served seafood, on the other side of Ocean Avenue.

Mary called his order into an intercom. A few minutes later, an older woman emerged from the kitchen bringing the soup and sandwich.

John smiled and said, "Hi, Helen."

Her face beamed, and her eyes sparkled. "Praise the Lord," she sang.

After she had returned to the kitchen, Mary motioned to John. "How's the soup?" she asked. "Helen came in early this morning and decided to be chef for the lunch crowd." John became a gourmet and tasted the soup. "Mmm. Quite good," he answered. He took another spoonful and enjoyed the flavor.

Helen, the baglady. Was it Helen Smith or Helen Jones or Helen...? No one knew. Though everyone in the neighborhood was on a first name basis, no one knew Helen's last name, or, for that matter, anything about her background. She was Helen, except for the congregation at the Voice of Pentecost up the street. For them she was Sister Helen who sometimes stayed at their women's home, but she sometimes stayed with Mary, and much of the time no one knew where she stayed. Helen was different from the average baglady one saw down at Civic Center or walking along Polk Street. There was something unusual about her. She was much too together to be the regular down-and-out old woman. She had a spark and lucidity that older street people often lacked.

More customers were entering now. Mary was bustling around the Inn, taking orders, while Helen was busy in the kitchen preparing the food. John had briefly described his new case, and Od was showing interest.

"Going to help the government solve inflation, eh?"

"No, not really. My client is a computer that has a leakage problem."

"Why would anyone want to cause that malfunction?"

"We won't know exactly until the person responsible is found. But there are several possibilities. For one, profit. Two, revenge on the system. Three, a mad genius showing off."

"And the program continues to reappear--even after it has been deleted? Strange."

"Od. John. Hi," a tall, lanky woman called out. "Hi, Esther," they both answered.

Esther took a stool at the bar and excitedly began talking about the world championship chess match which would start in a couple of days. Esther had a rating of 2045, and she ate and slept chess. John had watched her play chess here at the Inn, which not only was the neighborhood chess club but also attracted players from all over the Bay Area. When Esther sat at the chess board, she looked like a praying mantis waiting to gobble up her opponent. Such an image devastated many opponents.

Psychology was very important in chess--especially in tournament play where mental tensions and conflicts could be a deciding factor. Chess was a survival game, so one's state of mind was important. For chess nuts, it was a way of life.

The world championship chess match would be held in San Francisco, and excitement was mounting. Famous chess players throughout the world would converge on the city for several weeks and maybe months, depending on the number of draw games. To see, to personally watch, and perhaps even meet the world champion--that was exciting too. But more than that--what gave the electric tingle to chess buffs in the Bay Area--the challenger was their own Mary Rainbow. She had won the right at the candidates' finals in Zurich by beating Karpov, who had attempted a comeback. And now she was preparing for the most important event in her life--a chance at beating the champion.

chapter 1 chapter 3
table of contents