Winter: A Beacon Cafe Story


March, 1955. The Kilauea volcano in Hawai`i had erupted. But in Bismarck, North Dakota, it was still winter, and the cold and snowy weather just didn't want to let go.

On a Saturday afternoon later in March Sal Westerman, the unofficial leader of the Coffee and Cake Checker Club, looked out of his living room window. It was about 12:45 in the afternoon, and the Club would have its regular Saturday meeting at one o'clock at the Beacon Cafe, the regular venue for the many years the Club had been in existence.


It wasn't looking good out there. The temperature was at about 20 degrees. It could have been a lot worse but the wind was at 25 miles per hour and there was a combination of snow and freezing rain falling. While Sal almost always walked to the Club meetings--- it was usually just a leisurely 10 minute stroll--- this time he didn't think it would be such a good idea. The sidewalks and streets would be treacherous, and he didn't want to take another fall as he had during a previous winter.

Well, he'd ask his wife, Sylvia, for a ride. That was something that she would be happy to help with, as she always worried for his safety (Sal, at 73, wasn't getting any younger). But there was just one little problem.


Sylvia's sister Phoebe was visiting. She had come from Dickinson a few days earlier and wouldn't go home until Tuesday. And Phoebe's goal in life was to make Sal miserable, or at least so it seemed.

Sylvia and Phoebe were at the kitchen table, chatting over a pot of tea. Sal knew what he was getting himself into, but he went into the kitchen and said, "Sylvia, do you think I can get a ride to the Beacon? The weather is awful and ... "

Phoebe interrupted, skipping her usual preliminary throat-clearing. "Can you not see that we are busy chatting? How rude of you to interrupt! And furthermore, you say the weather is awful but you expect your wife to go out driving on such a day? Is it some sort of emergency? Well, speak up, then!"

"My checker club ... "

"Your checker club? Why of all the foolishness." Phoebe looked over at Sylvia. "Sister dear, I thought we had spoken about you forbidding this ... man ... of yours from wasting more of his time on this checker nonsense of his, when he should be helping you with laundry and cleaning and so many other important things." She turned back to Sal. "Checker club, indeed! You can stay at home, where you belong, and do something useful for a change. Now, leave us alone and go wash some windows or something."


Sal addressed Sylvia again. "Syl, I'm going to be late ... "

"What did I just tell you?" Phoebe exclaimed. "How dare you!"

"It's fine, Phoebe, it's fine. I'll be right back." She stood up. "Come on Sal, I'll take you. I don't want you out walking today."

Sal and Sylvia exited the kitchen, leaving Phoebe sputtering into her teacup. About five minutes later, Sylvia stopped in front of the Beacon's entrance at the Provident Life Building.

"Be sure to call for a ride home," Sylvia said as Sal exited the car.

"Thank you, sweetheart," Sal said, "and my regards to your sister."

Sylvia gave Sal a sharp look, and then laughed prior to driving off.


It was already about ten after one, and as Sal entered the Cafe he saw that there was a smaller than usual group gathered in the big booth at the back. Wayne and Dan were there, as were Delmer and Louie the Flash, but that was all.

"Bad weather today," Sal said as he reached the back of the cafe, "must have kept most of the boys away." Sal referred to the members of the Club as the "boys" even though all but one of them were at least 50 years old.

"Well, we're here Sal," said Wayne. "But you're never late, so we wondered what went wrong."

"Phoebe is visiting," Sal said tersely.

"Oh," Dan said, and the rest of the boys quietly nodded their heads. They knew all about Sylvia's sister.

"Well, I'm here now," said Sal, "and I have a nice one from Brian in St. Louis." Brian was a grandmaster problem composer and one of Sal's checker pen-pals.

Sal looked over at Deana, the proprietress of the Beacon, who was stationed as usual behind her counter. "What have you got today?" he asked.


"Double chocolate brownie bars," she said, "just the thing for a winter's day. And lots and lots of fresh hot coffee."

"Well then," Sal said, "here you go." He laid out the following position on one of the checkerboards that the boys had set out.

White to Play and Win


"I think you boys will be buying today," he added. The tradition was that if the boys could solve the problem Sal would buy the bars, otherwise the boys would.

But as always the boys were already hard at work and didn't reply.

If, wherever you may reside, you experience bad winter weather, we do hope you'll be cautious when out walking or driving. Meanwhile, though, stay indoors and enjoy Brian's problem. A warm mouse click on Read More will of course bring you to the solution and the conclusion of our little story.20050904-symbol.gif


After about an hour, Sal called "time" and the boys had to admit that they couldn''t come up with the solution. Sal demonstrated the following play.

Problem, solution, and notes are by grandmaster problem composer Brian Hinkle.

17-13*---A 31x22 29-25* 22x29 20-24 32-27 24x31 28-32 31-26---B 32-27 26-22 27-23---C 14-9 5x14 22-18 14-17 18x27 17-21 27-23 29-25 23-26* 6-10 13-9 10-14 9-6 14-17 6-2 25-22 26-23 22-26 23-18 26-31 2-6 31-27 6-9 27-31 9-13 White Wins.

A---26-22 ... It would be hard to resist this tempting move on the first try ... 32-27 22-18 28-32 20-16 27-23 17-13 6-10 14x7 23x14 7-3 14-10 16-11 32-27 11-7 10-6 29-25 27-23 25-22 31-27 30-25 23-26 22-17 27-23 25-21 23-18 3-8 26-23 8-11 23-19 in a complicated line which the KingsRow engine sees as a man-down draw.

B---White has only one king against two Black kings and Black has the move! However, White will run away from the king on 32 and join forces with the rest of White's army and win. This pretty setting is original, per Jim Loy's database.

C---27-24 30-25*24-19 25-21 19-16 22-17 16-11 14-9 5x14 17x1 White Wins.

"Nice one, Sal," Louie the Flash said. "Okay, then, we buy." Deana, never one to miss anything, had already arrived with a tray of delicious looking double chocolate brownie bars and refills on everyone's coffee.

The boys continued to talk checkers, look over problems from checker magazines, and play skittles until about quarter to five. Closing time was at five, and the weather hadn't gotten any better. The freezing rain had turned to snow, and now there was an inch or so of snow covering the icy roads and sidewalks. Sylvia had said she'd pick Sal up just before five. Sal and the boys put away the checker sets and got ready to leave.

Sylvia drove up as Sal was saying his final good-byes while exiting the Cafe. Sal smiled as he saw the family car arrive.


But then his smile turned to--- something else. Phoebe was in the car with Sylvia, and she was in the back seat. Sal knew what that would mean. He'd take the passenger seat in front next to his wife, and Phoebe would be perfectly positioned to give Sal an earful all the way home.

Sal opened the front door and sat down inside the car, and within seconds heard his sister-in-law's shrill voice. "The nerve of you! How could you dare ... "

The car door closed. The boys, who couldn't help but hear, tried very hard to keep their faces averted as they scurried off into the gathering night.


03/11/23 - Category: Fiction -Printer friendly version-
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