Going to the racetrack was an experience in itself. It was the first time since the Change that I used the interstate (since a month before actually, but who's counting?). Traffic was pretty much back to normal, but some people's driving skills seemed to have degraded a bit, due no doubt to new eyes or a distracting tail. And when someone swerved suddenly in front of me I found that it's impossible to give someone the middle finger when there's only four fingers on a hand.
I payed the entrance fee and entered the tracks. Well, the stands, at least. I looked around curiously, noting the long lines of betting booths, the bar, the cafeteria. I hadn't been to a racetrack in more than a decade, and that had been with my parents. I had actually come out five bucks ahead that time.
One time at the tracks and I'm in the black. Maybe it's an omen. I grinned, or did my canine equivalent, which mostly was wagging my tail.
I had brought two hundred dollars. While not my entire bank account, it was about all I could afford to lose, if this didn't work. I didn't really expect it not to, but sometimes it's a good idea to be cautious.
The first race was done remotely. Two other racetracks were having their races piped in via television, and they were run in between the local races. It made sense, once I thought about it; it keeps the patrons from getting bored while tripling the betting being done. I'd just never thought of it before. I decided to only observe, this time. Watch the race, sip a coke (I'd found I could still use straws, so I didn't have to shoot everything past a coyote muzzle anymore.), and have fun.
The second race, though, I placed a bet. It was a lot simpler than I had thought it would be. I merely told them what track, race number, horse number, and amount of the bet. I put $50 on horse 4 ("Army Boots") to win the next race. No point betting it all just yet; I had no more idea of the winner than anyone else. Yet.
A few minutes later post time sounded. I looked at the TV -- it was another remote race -- and noticed that no horses were racing. They weren't even at the gate yet! What's going on? I was getting a little worried. Another three, maybe four minutes and my bet would be too far back to change.
"That was post time," a deer morph told me when I asked. "It's when the track stops taking bets. It'll be another minute or two until race time."
I swore vociferously under my breath, making the deer's huge ears twitch. Two minutes to the race, and the race takes...call it another two minutes...I kissed that $50 goodbye. Oh well. Live and learn. I'll just have to place my bet closer to post time.
It was a bad race, for me. "Army Boots" came in dead last, a full length behind the closest horse. I replayed the last six minutes (tiring myself a bit from the effort) and got back in line. No point in not making something. I put another $50 on the winning horse, "Tyger Tyger" (The owner was a fan of William Blake's, I guess.).
A few minutes later, my horse came in first. I collected my money: about $350. If I had bet my whole wad I'd have had more than a thousand. I had a moneymaker on my hands, for sure.
I didn't see many security guards around. It would normally be difficult to cheat from the stands; to cheat at the tracks a person either needs to crack the betting computers or do things to the horses. The guards were there mostly to prevent robberies. Nevertheless, I was careful not to win too often. I'd bet on losers and lose, and bet larger on winners. I placed bets for show and place together about as often as for win, and sometimes I would keep from betting entirely. I had no idea if they kept track of people who were a bit too lucky.
By the end of the day, I was tired of all the ass-covering I felt I was forced to do, and I decided to actually ask whether they keep track. I found a security guard, a bear morph. "Um..." I stammered, not sure how to ask without bringing attention to what I was doing. "What would the track do if someone were to win a lot? An awful lot."
The bear looked at me a little strangely. "Do?"
"You know. Would that be enough to throw him out or anything?"
Now he looked, and smelled, surprised that I'd even think of such a thing. "Of course not. He's just lucky."
"Even if he comes back day after day, and continues to win an awful lot?"
"Then he's really lucky. The odds are against it, though."
It took an awful lot of effort not to laugh in his face. Well, his chest; I'd have needed a ladder to laugh in his face.
It was a load off my mind. They don't officially keep track at all, although I was willing to bet that if I used the same betting window every time the person there would think something was up. I let myself win the last three races, with fairly large bets.
It was about 5:30 when the last race ended and I collected my last winnings. I counted it all at the car. My God! I had made over $7000 today!
It hadn't come without a price, though. If going back one minute was a jog across the srteet and replaying the full ten minutes was running a marathon, five was about a mile, maybe less. A few minutes recovery time and I'd feel almost as good as new. The key word being almost. Replay five minutes fifteen or twenty times in an afternoon and it adds up. I was nearly exhausted.
Not so exhausted I couldn't eat, though. It was dinnertime, after all. I went to the best steak house in Kansas City I knew of and ordered their biggest. I enjoyed the meat immensely; it had been done perfectly. Even if it hadn't I wasn't in a mood to be upset by much of anything, really. Despite how tired I was, I wanted to celebrate. I had found that I was a rich man, or would be very soon.
Meat prices had gone up since the Change, but that didn't concern me anymore. Fifty dollars for the meal? No problem! I even left a twenty for a tip.
Feeling sated and still glowing over my impending fortune, I was rather surprised when I was grabbed by the arm and dragged into a alley. It didn't take more than a second for my eyes to adjust to the darkness.
An mid-degree elephant morph loomed above me. Not only was he holding my arm in his massive grey hand, but his trunk was poised to hit my head if I did something silly, like resist or shout for help.
Standing next to him was a high degree lizard of some sort. It must have been a small species, because he was smaller than I was. "Give us your wallet," he hissed at me.
Straight to to the point, I thought. I also thought of the thousands of dollars that now filled my wallet. Yeah. Right. Not a chance. I reached for the dial in my mind. "And don't try to use a Power," the lizard morph was saying. "I've got Lightining, and if --"
"Is anything wrong?" the maitre d' asked.
I took a quick look around. "No. Not at all," I said, grinning, as I handed over my money. When I left, I took a more roundabout route back to my car.
Piece of cake.
The next day I went to the track again. With what the guard said in my mind, I let myself win more, than I had yesterday. I also bet much less on sho or place this time than I did to win. I still wasn't about to let myself win all the time, but I let myself most of the time I actually bet.
My earnings grew much faster that day. With my winnings from yesterday, I had a larger base to start from. This time, when I was done, I had them write a check for most of it; last night's encounter made me a little more aware of the possibility of theft. I won't bother saying how much the check was actually for, though. You'd want to get a gun.
Back in Lawrence I began to get ready for the Chandler Iced Tea Social that would start in another hour. These preparations mainly consisted of sitting around watching TV. I did a lot of preparing. Unlike most times, though, this time I had to get ready mentally as well. I had a decision that was, to me, fairly major.
Do I tell my friends about what I'm doing?
On the one hand, they're my friends. Keeping the fact that I'm rich to myself would be perceived as greedy. Hell, they'd be right. I wanted to tell them.
On the other hand, doing so would inevitably raise the question of where I got the money. Any lie I could think of sounded either assinine or illegal. And the truth was at best a grey area. Questions into my ethics I can do without, at least when they're more than thought experiments.
I still hadn't come to a real decision by the time I had to leave.
The first bits of the CITS went normally. People came in in waves, two or maybe three at a time. I, of course, entered alone. Michelle put in a minidisk of Celtic music as we discussed the merits of a local right-wing extremist (Yes, he did have some, though not on purpose.). Tony landed on the porch outside about an hour after I got there. He had indeed found something to dye his feathers blue and red. He looked exactly like a living Jayhawk would. Everyone there was unsure whether to applaud or laugh.
Though I participated, my mind was still on my little dilemma. Eventually someone noticed that I smelled a bit nervous, and asked what was up. Time to decide. So I did.
"Um...I have something to show you guys." I reached into my pouch and withdrew a stack of bills. I had gotten most of my money by check, but I had wanted this in cash, just in case I wanted to do this. Or maybe I had already decided, subconsiously, I dunno. I placed it on the coffee table.
Nobody spoke for at least ten seconds. Then Tony noted disbelievingly, from his perch across the room, "Those're hundreds."
I nodded. "A hundred of 'em, in fact. An even ten grand."
People were beginning to move again. "Where did you get that?" Michelle asked.
"You dealing drugs again, Trickster?" Tony joked badly.
I smiled a little. "Well...remember what my Power is?"
"Precognition," Trevor nodded.
"Short-term precog," I corrected. I took a breath, partially to get a breath, but mostly to make them wait an extra second for dramatic effect. "And you know Woodlands racetrack?"
It took a few seconds for the implications to sink in. Here it comes... Then the room exploded with exclamations of "What?!" "That's illegal!" "You can't do that!" and "Hey great idea!" That last was from Leo. I shot him a look I hoped he recognized as grateful, then addressed the others.
"Look, I don't think it's wrong. It's not stealing or anything."
"You're stealing from the tracks," Michelle pointed out.
I shook my head. "No I'm not." At least I didn't think so, but at this point ambiguity would be bad for my arguement. "I did some reading. According to how the betting system works, so long as I don't bet more than ten times what everyone else bets together then the track won't be paying anything. In fact it makes money. All I'll be doing is altering the odds."
"That's still stealing. You're making the other people win less," Michaela said.
"Sure, in the same way Tony here is stealing from the hydrogen stations by flying to work instead of using a car." I shrugged. "It's stupid not to use every advantage in life we can."
"You're still stealing."
"Oh, really? Who from, huh?"
Michaela shook her head. "I don't know. The tracks, maybe. At any rate it's not money you earned."
"Look, I didn't come here to argue. I didn't come to brag, either. I believe in share the wealth, so here," I said, pointing at the stack on the table, "I'm sharing."
"Trying to buy our friendship?"
I finally lost it. "No, dammit! I have that, already! Or at least I thought I did. Would you rather I kept this secret? If you found out somehow, I'd be called greedy, as well as morally suspect."
"I don't consider this `morally suspect'," Michaela stated firmly.
"Well I do, and that's all I consider it. Now, do any of you want any of this, or no?"
Leo looked like a kid looking in a candy shop window. But he followed everyone else's lead; nobody took any of the money on the table.
"Fine. I'm now $10,000 richer than I thought I'd be. You've made me a happy coyote," I lied as I gathered the bills.
The rest of the night didn't go too well. Nobody ignored me; Tony and Leo even tried to treat me the same. But the conversation was a little... restrained... when I tried to say anything. Eventually I got the message and left.
I didn't go to the track for the next few days. Instead I went out and spent some of my new wealth. It was a pretty good distraction from what had happened at the CITS. I bought all the books I'd had my eye on, as well as all the minidiscs. I also bought a new entertainment system to play them on. Might as well go whole hog...
Sometime that week the Party in Memorial Stadium, which had been going nonstop since the Change, finally ended. The only reason it did is because it rained. Being outside in a Kansas rainstorm is distinctly not fun. The Party started up again briefly during the Fourth of July, but the police were prepared and it ended proptly on the fifth.
My friends from the CITS and I, meanwhile, had our annual Burn Down Baldwin party. It was still stressful, albeit less so than last week. It wasn't low enough that anyone apologized, though, including me. Still, I was not about to let myself miss this. I wanted to see how close to the party's name we'd come *this* time. Every year we would somehow top the previous year.
It was never planned, really; it just happened. The first year the party was held, we used rubbing alcohol to light the road ablaze (in a rainstorm, yet). Last year we used homemade thermite to actually melt the pavement while tornado warnings were sounding. This year we would light fireworks and Leo would try to shoot them down with his pyrokenesis before it exploded on its own. He must have been practicing; about half the time he hit they would explode as if they were set off by the fuse anyway, making those great fireflowers. It was quite a show, especially after it got dark. No weather-related things going on this year, though. Still, I kinda wondered if Baldwin would survive next year's Fourth.
After the Fourth, I decided not to attend the CITS during my remaining weeks in Kansas. With the host's fiancée against me, things would just be too tense to be pleasant. I kept in touch with Leo, Michelle and Tony, but the rest were cool to me at best.
I got my frustrations out by getting rich. With my major -- only, really -- social event gone, and with me being graduated and unemployed, I had about as much free time as a person could get. I went to the tracks three times a week, and won scads of money. It got to be fun to smell their exasperation as they handed me yet another check.
It probably wasn't long before they figured I might be cheating somehow. I do know that a security guard -- the same bear that I'd asked my fist day there -- loomed over my shoulder for ten straight races sometime during the second week after the Fourth. I made sure to win all ten, since he would never see me replay. It proved I wasn't cheating to his satisfaction. It also pissed him off, to my satisfaction.
I didn't spend most of my income. I couldn't, really. It was coming in too fast. And I had enough sense to realize that I would be moving very shortly; the more I bought, the more difficult that would ultimately be. I did buy a new car, though. I figured if I was going to do some long distance traveling I might as well go in style and comfort. So I bought myself I Porche. Truth to tell, it was the car's name that got me as much as anything else; it was a Roadrunner.
I eventually had to tell my parents something about my income. After all, they knew I was fired from my pizza delivery job, and here I was with a couple hundred grand. I had decided ahead of time to keep what I do to myself; I didn't want another ethics arguement. The only people who needed to know were the IRS and myself. So I told them I won the lottery.
There was one last thing I did during those weeks. I had been calling myself Trickster since the day of the Change, and I thought it past time to make it official. So I got my name changed. My new legal name became Trickster, to the wry grins of my friends and the astonishment of my parents.
In the beginning of August I began making my final preparations for my move to California. I had gotten the last of the bills paid, my address changed, and all the other mundane tasks done in July. Then I had to pack the boxes. It amazed me how much I owned, even discounting my shopping expeditions lately. I gave away a lot of my older things, but it was still quite a bit. I hadn't originally planned to use movers, but not much can be fit into a sports car, and I could now afford movers.
The going-away party was a small one, with only myself, Leo, Michelle, and Tony present. I'm not too fond of large parties. In high school I hadn't gone to many due to a dearth of invitations, and my friends in college were more sedate partiers. I'd just never gotten into the habit.
"You have my new number?" I asked over a beer near the end of the evening. They nodded. "Good. You won't be able to reach me until I hit San Francisco in a couple weeks. 'Til then I'll be busy road trippin'."
"I wonder," mused Tony, "how does one trip roads, anyway?"
"I dunno," I said, looking thoughtful. "I guess this'll be a learning experience. I'll call you when I figure it out."
Two days later I hit the road.
I was in a good mood. I'd found that there's nothing that can make me feel as good as going 90 with the wind in my fur. Plus, I was coming to my goal, what I was planning to be the high point of my little trek.
Not that the rest of the trip to date had been bad. I had left Denver about a week earlier, after visiting the natural history museums and other interesting sites. I took the time to visit the site where I spent half a summer in geology camp. Ah, the memories, the sunburn...
When I left Denver I'd taken some secondary highways; now that I was out of the prairie there was something to see! With no schedule to adhere to, I was free to take my time along the scenic route.
I smiled wistfully. The second day out of Denver I had lost track of time while on the road, and it had grown dark while I was nowhere near a town. I had declined to move on to the next town (Half the point of this trip was to see the countryside, and travelling at night isn't a good way to do that, coyote night vision or none.) and had instead just parked. And because car seats are hell to sleep in -- even more so now that I have a tail -- and because it was a warm night, I slept outside.
I had expected to sleep in motels, so I hadn't brought a tent with me on the trip. Thus I was lying directly under the stars. And what stars! I had never seen so many! I was from New Jersey, and light pollution there had drowned them out. Even in Kansas, Lawrence was too bright to see many. But suddenly I understood why some people became astronomers, why they get obsessed with the sky.
What depressed me the most was when I realized that as recently as last century, this is what everyone saw at night. People in the heart of New York City could see the Milky Way. Since that night I had avoided motels and continued to sleep outside.
I shook myself from my reverie and concentrated on the here-and-now. The desert heat here was stifling. Even with the wind, all this fur makes a person hot. Coyotes live nearly everywhere in North America, but I couldn't understand how they could live here. Unless desert coyotes have electric fans snuck into their coats somewhere...
Then my thoughts changed course again, due to my passing a certain sign:
"NOW ENTERING LAS VEGAS"
The smile in the rearview mirror didn't belong on a coyote driving a car; it would have fit far better on a wolf looking at sheep.
I looked around the casino. It was like all the others I'd seen, different only in the details. Over the last ten days I had seen casinos with Egyptian, Roman, circus, Hollywood, New York, and Russian themes. Here it was a monster-movie theme. Dracula loomed over the main entrance, the Mummy was a permanent resident at the main bar and the staff leaned heavily towards wolf-morphs.
Over the last ten days I had concentrated on games in which human interference invalidated the results, such as roulette and keno. I didn't play those exclusively, though; craps, blackjack, and even poker could be won with the help of my talent, if less consistently. And of course, no visit to Vegas is complete without playing the slots. Telekenesis alarms, if they were more than just a scare tactic, apparently don't work versus time travel.
All in all, I was having a grand time. I had made more money in ten days at Vegas than I had made in four weeks at the races. There was a downside, though. Security would inevitably eventually catch on, and I would get the boot from that particuar house. Apparently casinos are more willing to kick someone out if they won too much, irregardless of whether they could proove he was cheating or not. Nothing more than that, of course. The net effect was that I was beginning to run out of major casinos (There's scads of small ones; heck, one McDonald's had a few slot machines.).
Two hours later, I had moved from the roulette wheel to the slots. I would insert my coins, pull the handle, and if I didn't win I'd do a minimum-time replay. I'd long since found I could do many more one-minute replays than five, and many more fivers than tens; I suspected a graph of times replayable vs. time replayed would be logarithmic, but never bothered to find out. Even so, I limited myself to a similar win/loss ratio to when I'm at the racetracks, winning about half to two-thirds of the time.
I had just finished a replay when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I looked up to see a low-level cheetah morph (about a 3, I thought automatically; he didn't even have digitigrade feet). "Would you come with me please?" he asked politely. It was plain he wouldn't accept "no".
Well, time for me to get kicked out again, I thought. A few more of these and I'd have to leave Vegas until they forgot about me. Oh well, there's alway's Reno.
I shrugged in response to his question and gathered the coins in the tray. I had the feeling I wouldn't get the time to trade them in for bills or E-Money (at least I never have in the past) so I just put them into my pouch. It sagged heavily against my hip.
After a few steps we were joined by another security person, this one a rat. I began to think while I was led away. I reviewed my actions once again, trying to determine whether I had tipped them off somehow. I couldn't find one. Sure, I won an awful lot, but that could be just luck, right? I still didn't know what tipped any of the casinos off to my activities.
It was at this point that I realized I wasn't being led to the exit. There was a door a short distance away from it marked "Employees Only" which I was led through. Beyond it was a staircase leading down, a maze of hallways, then a door marked "Security".
"Am I getting the VIP tour?" I asked lightly, to keep my spirits up. This was one step away from being arrested, in my opinion and maybe in reality. I didn't relish the idea of jail.
The cheetah glared at me. "No."
Beyond the door was a large room. There were perhaps a dozen people here watching monitors showing the casino floor. I didn't get more than a few seconds to observe, though, as my escort brought me to yet another door. Behind this one was a small room. The floor was carpeted, there were nice chairs that had been modified to allow tails, and even a table of magazines. The room reminded me of a dentist's waiting room, without the charm. I was ushered inside and left. I distinctly heard the door lock.
There wasn't a whole lot for me to do, so I just sat down and picked up a magazine. It was a Time, but from before the Change. A quick search found that the youngest magazine there was three months old. Just like a dentist's office.
It was over an hour before the same cheetah-morph stopped by. After letting me stop by the bathroom, we went to the Director of Security's office. Past that door was a mid-degree wolf-morph who looked more predetory than usual for his species.
"I assume this is him?" the wolf asked the cheetah.
The wolf turned his gaze to me. "I understand that you've been cheating at the tables."
"I'm shocked." And I was, just not for the reason's someone might think. How did they figure it out? To anyone watching it would just seem to be -- "...luck?" the cheetah finished my thought. He was smiling; I could tell even without looking.
Finished my thought? Everything clicked.
"Let me guess: you're a telepath?" He nodded, still smiling. I smiled back, and turned to the director, who was smiling as well. It's a smile-o-rama! was my disjointed thought before I continued. "So, you mindscan the crowd looking for cheaters, and tell the cameramen. They then get the cheater on tape, and to jail he goes."
The director nodded. At first glance he seemed pleased, but he smelled nervous. He wasn't as confident as he would appear. It was only a moment before I figured out why. "Now, tell me if I'm wrong, but you don't have a recording of me cheating anywhere, do you?"
The Security Director's smile turned rigid. Got it in one. "No, we don't," he said after almost a minute. They must have been getting desperate, and nabbed me before I could do much damage. "But we do have your confession," he continued.
I quickly scanned my memory for everything I said since entering the casino. I couldn't find anything. "Confession?"
"You just admitted you cheated."
Ah, it's another bluff. I rolled my eyes. "'Fraid not. I said you don't have any records of me cheating. There's a big difference."
"We still have the testimony of our witness," the wolf growled.
"A telepath? Do you know how many constitutional ammendments would be broken by allowing him to testify? Let's see, there's the right to free speech, right to privacy, rights against self-incrimination... he's useless, and in fact, it's probably illegal for him to be employed the way he is." I vowed to write the networks thanking them for all the cop shows.
The wolf's face had been getting nasty-looking through that entire little speech. Finally he erupted from his chair, his teeth bared in a snarl. "Get him out of here," he growled to the cheetah. "Get him out of my office, get him out of this casino."
The cheetah promptly turned and led me away. I was getting the boot again, but it was better than jail. And there were plenty more casinos, if not as many as two weeks ago.
"I see you're thinking about just moving your little racket to another casino," the cheetah-morph said, surprising me a little. "Don't bother. I plan on calling all the other places in town. You, my friend, have just been blacklisted from Las Vegas." I growled softly in annoyance; the thought of all the money I wouldn't be making was like a stone in a my shoe, if I still wore shoes. But it was simply faster than it was happening anyway.
After getting thrown out of Transylvania Casino -- almost literally -- I went and picked up my effects at a nearby motel. While I had gone to the casinos to gamble, I had stayed here, possibly the only place without a single slot machine. That way I had never had the added indignity of security standing over me while I packed.
I gave a healthy tip to the people at the motel, packed up my Roadrunner, and drove off. I gave myself one last, short tour of Vegas before heading south on I-15. No sense in delaying; I wouldn't be welcome back in Vegas, most likely for the rest of my life.
It actually felt good to get out of town, though. The air, even hot desert air, drove my annoyance at my ban from my mind. The feel of it ruffling my fur invigorated me. California, here I come! I couldn't help shouting for all the nearby telepaths to hear.
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