Sitting on a bench across the way from an attractive lady who was watching me just as intently when she wasn’t distracted by potential buyers was not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon in what many people considered the world’s largest city. Today the sky looked only moderately black, perhaps because there were less vehicles out on the streets. Insurgentes seemed equally crowded, but the ride on the Metro convinced me most people where elsewhere than in cars.
They’d told me to take things seriously, for training was supposed to simulate real-life situations, but I found it hard to do so after a huge Italian meal at a restaurant on the other side of Sullivan Park. Still, I had to give those tasked with finding and following me a few hints. It wouldn’t be any fun just staying away from them; I had to let them see me and then get away, otherwise I was due for a boring day.
It was still early, so I walked around Sullivan Park, gawking at the paintings but hoping I wouldn’t spot anything I liked, because I didn’t have either the time or the inclination to stick around here too long. And with that I realized I was pumped for the game too; for one brief second earlier I’d thought of letting them capture me so I could be released from this silly competition and allowed to go my own way, but again, what fun would that be?
Being in a giant city gave me an advantage, and right now I was close to downtown; a slight smile permeated my face as I remembered the first time I’d tried to find this park; when I told the taximan it was “just off Insurgentes,” the driver had thrown me an irritated look while shouting, “Every part of town is just off Insurgentes! The street is thirty-five miles long!”
Sullivan Park was just like every other park in the city, or in the world, for that matter, except on Sundays. Every week the most renowned painters and sculptors of the city and beyond came to exhibit. Competition to show off the wares here was fierce; most artists had exhibited all over the world, and all it took was the right word to have them gleefully pull out the scrapbook of posters or exhibition cards. Oddly enough, more than a few of them had shown at the Playboy Mansion; I wasn’t sure what to think of that, and finally decided not to, at least not right now.
Near the Monument to the Mother something caught my eye, a young man–by far the youngest I’d ever seen here–whose specialty seemed to be alien landscapes. For such a young artist to be allowed here, he had to be good, and sci-fi stuff wasn’t exactly the main topic in these here parts. . .
Yeah, it was too good to pass up. Selecting two of the paintings, I paid the price without haggling. The young man was so overjoyed he offered to deliver them to my hotel free of charge. My only condition was that he re-sign them, larger than the first time; When he was a world-renown artist, I wanted the world to know I’d been one of the first to recognize such talent. . .
Time to walk on. I saw my old friend the miniature artist still in his usual place; some of his art was so small a magnifying glass was needed, but those rarely were on show. A few years before I’d commissioned a painting of a redhead figure skater from my past, and had given him permission to duplicate it for sale; now I saw those little things in the damnedest places all over the world! Still, I was secure in the knowledge that the original was in a special place in my apartment back in El Lay.
The park always seemed bigger on Sundays, but finally I was back where I started, with the attractive lady in her 30s who seemed to remember me from previous visits. Her paintings were also in the fantasy genre, but more of the unicorn variety. One was lying on a lily pad, surrounded by all types of strange flowers, while in another the animal was inside a sphere, trying to break out. At least there weren’t any velvet ones of a unicorn on an alien cliff looking at two moons like I’d seen in Tijuana, but on the other hand if she got together with the youngster I’d bought from earlier that might be exactly what they’d do.
Knowing she knew I’d be back, I walked on. On the sidewalk of one of the side streets I came across another young man; perhaps in the time I’d been away several of the oldsters had died. None of these paintings impressed me much, either uninteresting artistically or mundane in subject. But I admit to releasing an involuntary gasp at the last one. Even I couldn’t tell ya why, it was just a statue in a fountain, but I stared at it for a good five minutes, not able to pull my eyes away. It didn’t take the artist long to become uneasy; no one had ever had such a reaction to his works before.
I finally uttered a few magical words–“Five hundred dollars”–and sent the artist into orbit; later he told he’d been expecting a fight for one hundred. Since he was friends with the previous guy, they agreed to join the deliveries, and that was that, deal done.
Now I walking in the middle of the park, where the abstracts tended to congregate, when I came across a chess match. An older gentleman was taking full advantage of a much younger opponent; the youth saw no escape from the trap on his home turf, and was about to tip over his king when I asked if I could take over. Having been given permission, I showed him the only escape, much to the chagrin of the old man.
I was still well behind, and knew there was no possible way to win, but I figured on taking out a number of the opponent’s pieces before going down in flames. And indeed, people leaned in to get a closer look as I slowly but surely made up some of the enormous disadvantage. My favorite ploy–probably because I found myself in that situation way too often–had always been the desperate counterattack, and once my defenses were reasonable secure, I sent my rooks on kamikaze runs. The first put his king in check, and with no possibility of a block he was forced to move forward out of the way, allowing my rook to make its way along the endline to gobble the opposing rook, still in its original position. The pawns in front had also not moved, so I managed to take out two of them and a knight before finally being subdued.
The other rook was even more successful. Not giving the opponent time to rest, it maneuvered its way to the point where it was online with the king and queen. Again finding itself in check, the king moved out of the way, leaving the queen unprotected, and the rook proceeded to ravish her. . . in a chess-like way of course.
There were oohs and aabs from the crowd, and my opponent was sweating. I wanted to tell him not to worry, that it was way past the time he could possibly lose, but there was no point to that, and he wouldn’t believe it anyway; in this regard, chess was a lot like poker.
Once my two remaining pieces were gone, I led the opponent’s remaining bishop on a merry chase, inching slowly but surely toward the king, but the old man wouldn’t fall for that, so finally I gave way, standing to shake the man’s hand while giving the youth a slap on the back. To my surprise, I found myself not only tired but, incredibly, hungry; I’d heard that Italian food kept hunger at bay for a good three or four days, but maybe I’d gotten the light version. More importantly, figuring the make-believe enemy was now in place somewhere around me, I wanted to get the game underway. . .