Rutherford Carter III was a powerful executive in the boardroom and a rather weak chess player in the game room. Other men in similar roles would likely see underlings falling over themselves to intentionally lose a game to the boss in order to curry favor.

This was not the case for Rutherford Carter. Carter’s inborn superiority complex emanated from him, and this aura caused those around him to want to knock him down a peg when given the opportunity.

It had been many weeks since Carter had last stumbled to a win against an opponent who was distracted by a phone call. He lusted for the sweet smell of victory, and he knew where he could find a weak and willing opponent.

Down on the street below, Carter quickly found a target. The bum was gaunt, and the pieces on his chessboard were cheap plastic.

“Care for a game?” asked Carter as he sat down on the bench.

The bum looked up with disinterest.

“I brought some dinner for you,” cajoled Carter. He popped the briefcase open and pulled out half of a pastrami sandwich, left over from lunch.

The bum nodded. “Sure. Why not?”

“I’m Rutherford Carter III.”

“The third, eh? They call me Soapy. Soapy the second, I suppose, since I’m named after the O. Henry character.”

“Where do you sleep at night?” asked Carter, as he opened the game by moving the queen’s pawn ahead two spots.

“On the bench, mostly” replied Soapy, as he quickly made his move. “Sometimes under the bench, if I need to get out of the wind. The shelter on 32nd street sometimes brings blankets for us when the weather gets cold.”

As the game progressed, Carter asked more questions about Soapy’s life on the street. Soapy answered him between bites of the sandwich. It became quickly apparent that Soapy was a simple man. He desired nothing more in life than a chance to read the comics from a discarded newspaper in the morning, a warm meal at the shelter at noon, and a blanket on a cold night.

Carter was so engrossed in the conversation that he was shocked when Soapy called out “Checkmate!”.

Carter was taken aback. His eyes focused intently on the board, sure that Soapy was mistaken. A moment later, Carter conceded defeat to a lowly street bum and asked for a rematch.

An hour later, Carter’s record against Soapy had dropped to 0-3. With his head hung low, Carter was about to bid Soapy good night.

“I can tell that you’re surprised,” Soapy said, reading his mind. “My father was a lawyer and taught me chess at a young age. I played in tournament nearly every weekend until I had to give it up to focus on law school. I’m still quite good at the game.”

“Law school?” asked Carter.

“Yes, Harvard Law,” replied Soapy. “I used to work over here. There’s my old office,” he said, point toward the corner of a building twice as tall as the one that housed Carter’s firm.

Carter gasped. “A corner office in the Hepner building? You must have been making a fortune! How did you end up on the streets?”

“Too much success, I supposed,” Soapy replied. “I was high on cocaine one night, celebrating successfully defending a sleazeball company from a legitimate class action lawsuit.  I crashed my Mercedes into an oncoming semi. My wife and baby daughter were killed instantly.”

Carter’s eyes opened wide at the tragic story.

“They never tested me for drugs, so I was never charged with a crime. I collected a large life insurance payment. I tried to buy happiness with the money, but it only made things worse. I couldn’t bear living without them, and I knew that the insurance settlement was blood money, Finally, one night I doused my bank records in gasoline, set them on fire, and walked away and let the house burn to the ground.”

“That’s terrible,” interjected Carter.

“It could be worse” replied Soapy. “I could be dead like my dear wife and baby. My meager life on the streets, this is my penance for the sins of my past.”

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Kosmo is the founder of The Soap Boxers and writes on a variety of topics. Many of his short stories have been collected into Kindle books.

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