87. The New Geometry

In the morning, after a night that seemed to go on forever, he went to his car with his bags and found a shape scratched on the hood in the form of a pawn, crude, icy cuts in the paint, maybe made with a key.

Still, he had his ticket to Luzern, Switzerland, where his father had disappeared, and an appointment with a private detective. On the chute feeding people into the aircraft, he received (and this was surprising as he hadn’t thought she’d mastered the phone) a call from his mother’s mobile. Her voice raved through the receiver, “If you’ve a mind for Luzern, change it. I woke up this morning, went to the car, just an impulse believe me, and found a scratch on my hood in the shape of a pawn.”

He turned and made his way to the boarding area, which had the feel of a sudden evacuation, as if all critical airport activity had gone elsewhere.

From a pay phone he called Lorena, who had just arrived from Mexico City, visiting her inlaws. “I was going to call you,” she said. “My father-in-law phoned–there are so many calls this morning. He said that on the wall of his house, the one that faces east, he found a massive pawn drawn onto the stucco with chalk.”

“I’ll come over,” he said. “Someone scratched a pawn into the hood of my car, and my mother . . . ”

“We should meet in the park on the bench across from the deli,” Lorena interrupted. “For some reason I don’t feel safe here.”

On the freeway back to town, he felt that something about his life had changed with the appearance of the pawns. When the past returns to the now, he told himself, the future changes, which is why he’d tried to avoid it until this morning, the day of his flight, which he now knew was a mistake. He began to question his mother’s phone call, as it was unlikely that she’d suddenly learned how to use her cell. So who had called? And how did she know he’d been about to board a plane? These question’s lead him back to Lorena and the deli, a deli across from a park bench where they often met for lunch. How was it possible, therefore, to conclude that such a place was safe?

In any event, he took the off ramp and made his way downtown and parked. He crossed under the arches of the park entrance and made his way to the bench across from the deli.

His father had been a chess master and with his father the days and the weeks and the years had been an extension of the language of the board.

“To your father,” his mother said, “chess is war and madness.”

The day before he’d flown to Luzern and subsequently disappeared had been the day the son had beaten the father for the first time. His father played a defensive, frustrating game that lulled the opponent into naive aggressiveness. His father’s favorite move was to castle whenever possible, and so, to beat his father, he’d studied. He began to dream chess boards in which the castling scenario had been arranged so that the board and its pieces took on a grand and systematic geometry that would stay with him like a glow when he closed his eyes. For years he dreamed it, and his father would smile as the game drew longer, sometimes deep into the night. He remembered that after he’d beaten him, his father had stood, congratulated him, shook his hand. The next day his father had shaved off his beard and then had taken his flight, as he typically did that time of year.

His mother told him, after his father had disappeared, “There are rumors but only rumors. A man named Pierce, who was the first man to beat your father, was found killed, strangled. The second, a man named Bengal, disappeared and was never found. Only three men ever beat your father.”

“And who was the third?” he asked, giving the numbers little thought.

“You,” his mother said.

Lorena was not sitting at the bench. He waited for thirty minutes, thinking she might be late, caught in traffic, diverted on a sudden errand. He went to the deli and bought a drink and came back to the bench. Still no Lorena. Then something drew his attention. The windows in the tall building above the deli used blinds to protect rooms from the sun. Some of the blinds had been drawn, others not drawn. He now realized that the front of the windows in the building had been arranged in the shape of a great chess board with an ingenuity that struck him with sudden terror, the terror of returns and rumors and plans that extended across the globe.

He called Lorena’s cell. There was no answer. He called his mother’s cell, then her home phone, but neither of these were answered. He studied the face of the building and its windows but for some reason his next move escaped him, for this was a new game, an extension of something old, with new pieces, and a new and dangerous geometry.

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