Sal Westerman left his modest home to walk the approximately half mile to the Provident Life Building in Bismarck, North Dakota.
The Provident Life Building was where the Beacon Cafe was located, a popular place for coffee, sandwiches, and some of the best baked goods in Burleigh County, produced by blue-ribbon baker and proprietress Deana Nagel. It was also the place where, at 1 PM every Saturday except for holidays and summer months, the Coffee and Cake Checker Club gathered for an afternoon of checker fun accompanied by delicious treats.
The Coffee and Cake Club members, or "boys" as Sal called them, were all over 50 years old, and some, like Sal, much older. Of course, younger players were welcome. Age was not much of an issue except sometimes a couple of the "boys" would maybe feel a little stiff after an afternoon of play.
But today would turn out to be different.
It had snowed three days ago, one of those heavy April storms that often marked the end of winter, and with a couple of days of subsequent thaws and freezes the streets and sidewalks were quite slick in places. The city and the residents did their best but it just wasn't possible to get rid of all the icy patches.
And so it happened that, just yards away from the Beacon Cafe entrance, Sal missed his footing on an ice patch and took a tumble, landing on his back and narrowly missing banging his head on the sidewalk.
Sal groaned and tried to pick himself up. It was then that he realized he was unable to stand. He tried pulling up his legs but they wouldn't respond. He tried rolling and pushing with his hands, but with his legs not functioning, it was of little use.
"Hey!" he shouted. "I can't get up!" His back felt like it was on fire above the waist, but he didn't feel anything lower down.
It was a good thing that when he fell, he had rolled right in front of the Beacon's entrance. Deana, always alert, heard him and called to the boys. "Someone fell," she said, "come and help me."
She swung open the front door and gasped. "It's Sal!" she said. "He's hurt!"
"It's my back," Sal said, his voice now a bit weak. "I don't feel anything below my waist."
Delmer and Wayne, two of the boys, were outside with Deana. "Call an ambulance," Delmer said to Deana, who immediately returned to the Cafe. "And he needs a blanket!"
"We don't dare move him if it's his back," Wayne said, and then addressing Sal added, "Hang on, Sal, help is on its way."
Deana found a blanket in the Cafe's storeroom and she came back out and covered Sal with it. Within minutes an ambulance arrived and before much longer Sal had been carefully moved onto a lifting board and was on his way to St. Alexius Hospital. Meanwhile Deana called Sylvia, Sal's wife. The boys--- Delmer, Wayne, Dan, Louie, and Tom--- all walked to the hospital to await news. They promised Deana they would find a phone and call her as soon as they knew something.
Of course only Sylvia, who arrived breathless and tearful in another 10 minutes, was allowed to be with Sal. There were X-rays taken and blood samples drawn.
It wasn't until almost 4 o'clock that Sylvia came out to report to the boys. "It's good news," she said, "at least relatively. Dr. Eriksson says that there are no broken bones. It's a pinched nerve in his spine, and Sal has already recovered some feeling in his legs. The doctor says he'll be on his feet in a few days and back to normal after a month or so of physical therapy. It could have been a lot worse. But you might know, Sal is already complaining about missing his checker club today."
"He'll be fine if he's doing that!" said Tom. All of the boys looked relieved. "Meanwhile, Sylvia, we're all glad to help you in any way possible."
Sylvia smiled. "Thank you. And wouldn't you know, Sal asked me to give you this. It was in his coat pocket."
Sylvia handed Tom a slip of paper which contained the following diagram.
"Must be the problem Sal was going to show us today!" said Wayne. "Hey ... the Beacon's open for another hour, let's go back and try it, and we can tell Deana what's going on!"
The boys of course would have rather visited with Sal, but the doctor had given him a sedative and wasn't allowing anyone to visit but immediate family. Still, it was about quarter to five by the time the boys got back to the Beacon and related everything to Deana over a quick cup of coffee and a chocolate coconut bar. The Beacon closed at five and they wouldn't have time to try Sal's problem.
"Save it for next week, and maybe Sal will be back with us then," Delmer said. "And let's drop in on him as soon as he can have visitors."
Everyone agreed. After a quick round of farewells, the boys all started for home, and Deana began to close up until her Monday morning reopening.
It had been an unusual day for the Coffee and Cake Checker Club, one that they wouldn't wish to ever repeat, but one with a happy ending.
Sal had brought along a nice problem from his Pennsylvania checker pen-pal, Ed. The "boys" will have to wait a week but you can try to solve it right now. Just don't slip--- with your line of play, we mean. Solve the problem and then slip your mouse over to Read More to see the solution.
13-9 17-26 25-22 18-25 9-14 10-17 3-19 23-16 32-14 White Wins.
Grandmaster Composer Ed Atkinson calls his problem Anaconda noting, "This giant stroke problem reminds me of a giant snake, hence the name." The Checker Maven thanks Mr. Atkinson for providing the problem and solution.