- Author: George O. Smith
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BIG FIX BY GEORGE O. SMITH
t was April, a couple of weeks before the Derby. We were playing poker, which is a game of skill that has nothing to do with the velocity of horse meat.
Phil Howland kept slipping open but he managed to close up before I could tell whether the combination of Three-Five-Two-Four meant a full house of fives over fours or whether he was betting on an open-ended straight that he hadn't bothered to arrange in order as he held them. The Greek was impenetrable; he also blocked me from reading the deck so that I could estimate his hand from the cards that weren't dealt out. Chicago Charlie's mind was easy to read but no one could trust him. He was just as apt to think high to score someone out as he was to think low to suck the boys in. As for me, there I was, good old Wally Wilson, holding a pat straight flush from the eight to the queen of diamonds. I was thinking "full house" but I was betting like a weak three of a kind.
It was a terrific game. Between trying to read into these other guy's brains and keeping them from opening mine, and blocking the Greek's sly stunt of tipping over the poker chips as a distraction, I was also concerned about the eight thousand bucks that was in the pot. The trouble was that all four of us fully intended to rake it in. My straight flush would be good for the works in any normal game with wild cards, but the way this bunch was betting I couldn't be sure. Phil Howland didn't have much of a shield but he could really read, and if he read me—either my mind or my hand—he'd automatically radiate and that would be that.
I was about at the point of calling for the draw when the door opened without any knock. It was Tomboy Taylor. We'd been so engrossed with one another that none of us had caught her approach.
The Greek looked up at her and swore something that he hadn't read in Plato. "Showdown," he said, tossing in his hand.
I grunted and spread my five beauties.
Phil growled and shoved the pot in my direction, keeping both eyes on Tomboy Taylor.
She was something to keep eyes on, both figuratively and literally. The only thing that kept her from being a thionite dream was the Pittsburgh stogie that she insisted upon smoking, and the only thing that kept her from being some man's companion in spite of the stogie was the fact that he'd have to keep his mouth shut or she'd steal his back teeth—if not for fillings, then for practice.
"You, Wally Wilson," she said around the cigar, "get these grifters out of here. I got words."
The Greek growled. "Who says?"
I do not have to explain who Barcelona is. All I have to say is that Phil Howland, The Greek, and Chicago Charlie arose without a word and filed out with their minds all held tight behind solid shields.
I said, "What does Barcelona want with me?"
Tomboy Taylor removed the stogie and said evenly, "Barcelona wants to see it Flying Heels, Moonbeam, and Lady Grace next month."
When I got done gulping I said, "You mean Barcelona wants me to fix the Kentucky Derby?"
"Oh no," she replied in a very throaty contralto that went with her figure and her thousand dollars worth of simple skirt and blouse. "You needn't 'Fix' anything. Just be sure that it's Flying Heels, Moonbeam, and Lady Grace in that order. One, two, three. Do I make Barcelona quite clear?"
I said, "Look, Tomboy, neither of them platers can even run that far, let alone running ahead."
"Barcelona says they can. And will." She leaned forward and stubbed out the Pittsburgh stogie and in the gesture she became wholly beautiful as well as beautifully wholesome. As she leaned toward me she unfogged the lighter surface of her mind and let me dig the faintly-leaking concept that she considered me physically attractive. This did not offend me. To the contrary it pleased my ego mightily until Tomboy Taylor deliberately let the barrier down to let me read the visual impression—which included all of the implications contained in the old cliché: "... And don't he look nacheral?"
"How," I asked on the recoil, "can I fix the Derby?"
"Barcelona says you know more about the horse racing business than any other big time operator in Chicago," she said smoothly. "Barcelona says that he doesn't know anything about horse racing at all, but he has great faith in your ability. Barcelona says that if anybody can make it Flying Heels, Moonbeam, and Lady Grace, one, two, and three, Wally Wilson is the man who can do it. In fact, Barcelona will be terribly disappointed if you can't."
I eyed her carefully. She was a composed and poised beauty who looked entirely incapable of uttering such words. I tried to peer into her mind but it was like trying to read the fine print of a telephone directory through a knitted woolen shawl. She smiled at me, her shapely lips curving graciously.
I said, "Barcelona seems to have a lot of confidence in my ability to arrange things."
With those delicate lips still curved sweetly, she said, "Barcelona is willing to bet money on your ability as a manager."
At this point Tomboy Taylor fished another Pittsburgh stogie out of her hundred dollar handbag, bit off the end with a quick nibble of even, pearly-white teeth, and stuffed the cigar in between the arched lips. She scratched a big kitchen match on the seat of her skirt after raising one shapely thigh to stretch the cloth. She puffed the stogie into light and became transformed from a beauty into a hag. My mind swore; it was like painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa.
Out of the corner of her mouth she replied to my unspoken question: "It helps to keep grippers like you at mind's length."
Then she left me alone with my littered card table and the eight thousand buck final pot—and the unhappy recollection that Barcelona had gotten upset at something Harold Grimmer had done, and he'd gone into Grimmer's place and busted Grimmer flat by starting with one lousy buck and letting it ride through eighteen straight passes. This feat of skill was performed under the mental noses of about eight operators trained to exert their extrasensory talents toward the defeat of sharpshooters who tried to add paraphysics to the laws of chance.
Lieutenant Delancey of the Chicago police came in an hour later. He refused my offer of a drink, and a smoke, and then because I didn't wave him to a chair he crossed my living room briskly and eased himself into my favorite chair. I think I could have won the waiting game but the prize wasn't good enough to interest me in playing. So I said, "O.K., lieutenant, what am I supposed to be guilty of?"
His smile was veiled. "You're not guilty of anything, so far as I know."
"You're not here to pass the time of day."
"No, I'm not. I want information."
"What kind of information?"
"One hears things," he said vaguely.
"Lieutenant," I said, "you've been watching one of those halluscene whodunit dramas where everybody stands around making witty sayings composed of disconnected phrases. You'll next be saying 'Evil Lurks In The Minds Of Men,' in a sepulchral intonation. Let's skip it, huh? What kind of things does one hear and from whom?"
"It starts with Gimpy Gordon."
"Whose mind meanders."
He shrugged. "Gimpy Gordon's meandering mind is well understood for what it is," he said. "But when it ceases to meander long enough to follow a single train of thought from beginning to logical end, then something is up."
"Such as what, for instance."
The lieutenant leaned back in my easy-chair and stared at the ceiling. "Wally," he said, "I was relaxing in the car with Sergeant Holliday driving. We passed a certain area on Michigan near Randolph and I caught the strong mental impression of someone who—in this day and age, mind you—had had the temerity to pickpocket a wallet containing twenty-seven dollars. The sum of twenty-seven dollars was connected with the fact that the rewards made the risk worth taking; there were distinct impressions of playing that twenty-seven bucks across the board on three very especial nags at the Derby. The impression of the twenty-seven bucks changed into a mental vision of a hand holding a sack of peanuts. There was indecision. Should he take more risk and run up his available cash to make a larger killing, or would one Joseph Barcelona take a stand-offish attitude if some outsider were to lower the track odds by betting a bundle on Flying Heels, Moonbeam, and Lady Grace."
I said, "Lieutenant, you've a pickpocket to jug. Horse betting is legal."
"Since wagering on the speed of a horse has been redefined as 'The purchase of one corporate share to be valid for one transaction only and redeemable at a par value to be established by the outcome of this aforesaid single transaction,' horse betting is legal. This makes you an 'Investment Counselor, short-term transactions only,' and removes from you the odious nomenclature of 'Bookie.' However, permit me to point out that the buying and selling of shares of horseflesh does not grant a license to manipulate the outcome."
"You sound as though you're accusing me of contemplating a fix."
"Oh no. Not that."
"Wally, Flying Heels, Moonbeam, and Lady Grace were refused by the National Association Of Dog Food Canners because of their substandard health. If I'm not mistaken, the Derby Association should have to run the race early that Saturday afternoon."
"Uh-huh. Early. Y'see, Wally, the blue laws of the blue grass state make it illegal to run horseraces on Sunday, hence the start of the Derby must be early enough to let our three platers complete the race before midnight."
"Lieutenant, there still stands a mathematical probability that—"
"That the rest of the field will catch the Martian Glanders as they lead our three dogs past the clubhouse turn?"
"Lieutenant, you are wronging me."
"I haven't said a thing."
"Then why have you come here to bedevil me, lieutenant? If Barcelona has ideas of arranging a fix—"
"If Barcelona has such notions, Wally Wilson would know about it."
"Everybody," I said, "entertains notions of cleaning up a bundle by having the hundred-to-one shot come in by a length. Even Barcelona must have wild dreams now and then—"
"Come off it," he snapped. "Something's up and I want to know what's cooking."
"Lieutenant, you're now asking me to describe to you how someone might rig the Kentucky Derby in a world full of expert telepaths and perceptives and manipulators, a large number of which will be rather well-paid to lend their extrasensory power to the process of keeping the Derby pure."
He eyed me sourly. "Remember, 'Fireman' O'Leary?"
"That's an unfair allegation," I replied. "The rumor that he started the Chicago Fire is absolutely unfounded."
"As I recall, 'Fireman' O'Leary came by his nickname about one hundred years after the holocaust that started on DeKoven Street in 1871. It seems that 'Fireman' O'Leary was most useful in helping the fillies home at Washington Park by assaulting them in the region of the bangtail with small bollops of pure incandescence. He was a pyrotic."
"That is a false accusation—"
"It was never proved," admitted the lieutenant, "because any one who accused anybody of making use of extrasensory faculties in 1971 would have been tossed into that establishment out on Narragansett Avenue where the headshrinkers once plied their mystic trade."
"Things are different now."
"Indeed they are, Wally. Which is why I'm here. No one but a fumbling idiot would try anything as crude as speeding a dog over the line by pyrotics or by jolting the animals with a bolt of electrical energy."
"So considering the sad and sorry fact that human nature does not change very much despite the vast possibility for improvement, we must anticipate a fix that has been contrived and executed on a level that takes full cognizance of the widespread presence of psi-function."
"But again, why me?"
"Was not 'Fireman' O'Leary an ancestor of yours?"
"He was my maternal grandparent."
"And so you do indeed come from a long line of horse operators, don't you?"
"I resent your invidious implications."
"And wasn't 'Wireless' Wilson the paternal ancestor from whom the family name has come?"
"I fail to see ... the allegation that my father's father employed telepathy to transmit track information faster than the wire services has never been proved."
He smiled knowingly. "Wally," he said slowly, "if you feel that allegations have somehow impugned the pure name of your family, you could apply for a review of their several appearances in court. It's possible that 'Fireman' O'Leary did not use his pyrotic talent to enhance the running speed of some tired old dogs."
"So I think we understand one another, Wally. There is also reason to believe that psionic talent tends to run in families. You're a psi-man and a good one."
"If I hear of anything—"
"You'll let me know," he said flatly. "And if Flying Heels, Moonbeam, and-or Lady Grace even so much as succeed in staying on their feet for the whole race, I'll be back demanding to know how you—Wally Wilson—managed to hold them up!"
After which the good Lieutenant Delancey left me to my thoughts—which were most uncomfortable.
Barcelona had to be kept cheerful. But the dogs he'd picked could only come in first unassisted if they happened to be leading the field that started the next