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[Illustration]

Illustrated by Bernklau


THE
BIG FIX

BY GEORGE O. SMITH


_Anyone who holds that telepathy and psi
powers would mean an end to crime quite
obviously underestimates the ingenuity of
the human race. Now consider a horserace
that_ had _to be fixed ..._


It 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?"

"Barcelona 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."

"Then what?"

"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."

"Early?"

"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 - ?"

"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."

"But - "

"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_ race, and even then the post time would have to be
delayed to give them a longer head start. That meant that _if_ our three
platers came awake, _everybody_ would be looking for the fix.

Anybody who planned a caper would sure have to plan it well.

Barcelona hadn't planned the fix, he merely stated a firm desire and
either Barcelona got what he wanted or I got what I didn't want, and I
had to do it real good or Delancey would make it real hot for me.

I was not only being forced to enter a life of crime, I was also being
forced to perform cleverly.

It wasn't fair for the law to gang up with the crooks against me.

And so with a mind feeling sort of like the famous sparrow who'd gotten
trapped for three hours in a badminton game at Forest Hills, I built a
strong highball, and poured it down while my halluscene set was warming
up. I needed the highball as well as the relaxation, because I knew that
the "Drama" being presented was the hundred and umpty-umpth remake of
"Tarzan of the Apes" and for ninety solid minutes I would be swinging
through trees without benefit of alcohol. Tarzan, you'll remember, did
not learn to smoke and drink until the second book.

* * * * *

The halluscene did relax me and kept my mind from its worry even though
the drama was cast for kids and therefore contained a maximum of
tree-swinging and ape-gymnastics and a near dearth of Lady Jane's
pleasant company. What was irritating was the traces of wrong aroma. If
one should not associate the African jungle with the aroma of a cheap
bar, one should be forgiven for objecting to Lady Jane with a strong
flavor of tobacco and cheap booze on her breath.

And so I awoke with this irritating conflict in my senses to discover
that I'd dropped out of my character as Tarzan and my surroundings of
the jungle, but I'd somehow brought the stench of cheap liquor and moist
cigarettes with me.

There was an occupant in the chair next to mine. He needed a bath and he
needed a shave but both would have been wasted if he couldn't change
his clothing, too. His name was Gimpy Gordon.

I said, "Get out!"

He whined, "Mr. Wilson, you just gotta help me."

"How?"

"Fer years," he said, "I been living on peanuts. I been runnin' errands
for hard coins. I been - "

"Swiping the take of a Red Cross box," I snapped at him.

"Aw, Mr. Wilson," he whined, "I simply gotta make a stake. I'm a-goin'
to send it back when I win."

"Are you going to win?"

"Can't I?"

For a moment I toyed with the idea of being honest with the Gimp.
Somehow, someone should tell the duffer that all horse players die
broke, or that if he could make a living I'd be out of business.

Gimpy Gordon was one of Life's Unfortunates. If it were to rain gold
coins, Gimpy would be out wearing boxing gloves. His mental processes
meandered because of too much methyl. His unfortunate nickname did not
come from the old-fashioned reason that he walked with a limp, but from
the even more unfortunate reason that he _thought_ with a limp. In his
own unhealthy way he was - could we call it "Lucky" by any standard of
honesty? In this world full of highly developed psi talent, the Gimp
_could_ pick a pocket and get away with it because he often literally
could not remember where and how he'd acquired the wallet for longer
than a half minute. And it was a sort of general unwritten rule that any
citizen so utterly befogged as to permit his wealth to be lifted via
light fingers should lose it as a lesson!

But then it did indeed occur to me that maybe I could make use of the
Gimp.

I said, "What can I do, Gimpy?"

"Mr. Wilson," he pleaded, "is it true that you're workin' for
Barcelona?"

"Now, you know I can't answer that."

I could read his mind struggling with this concept. It was sort of like
trying to read a deck of Chinese Fortune Cards being shuffled before
they're placed in the machine at the Penny Arcade. As the drunk once
said after reading the Telephone Directory: "Not much plot, but _egad_!
What a cast of characters!" The gist of his mental maundering was a
childlike desire to have everything sewed up tight. He wanted to win, to
be told that he'd win, and to have all the rules altered ad hoc to
assure his winning.

Just where he'd picked up the inside dope that Barcelona favored Flying
Heels, Moonbeam, and Lady Grace in the Derby I could not dig out of him.
Just how Gimpy had made the association between this clambake and
me - good old Wally Wilson - I couldn't dig either. But here he was with
his - by now - sixty-five bucks carefully heisted, lifted, pinched and
fingered, and by the great Harry, Gimpy was not a-goin' to lay it across
the board on those three rejects from a claiming race unless he had a
cast-iron assurance that they'd come in across the board, one, two, and
three.

I said slowly, "_If_ I were even thinking of working for Mr. Barcelona,"
I told him, "I would be very careful never, never to mention it, you
know."

* * * * *

This bundle of The Awful Truth hit him and began to sink in with the
inexorable absorption of water dropping down into a bucket of dry sand.
It took some time for the process to climax. Once it reached Home Base
it took another period of time for the information to be inspected,
sorted out, identified, analyzed, and in a very limited degree,
understood.

[Illustration]

He looked up at me. "I couldn't cuff a hundred, could I?"

I shook my head. I didn't have to veil my mind because I knew that Gimpy
was about as talented a telepath as a tallow candle. Frankly between me
and thee, dear reader, I do not put anybody's bet on the cuff. I do a
fair-to-middling brisk trade in booking bets placed and discussed by
telepathy, but the ones I accept and pay off on - if they're lucky - are
those folks who've been sufficiently foresighted to lay it on the line
with a retainer against which their losses can be assessed.

On the other hand I could see in Gimpy's mind the simple logic that told
him that as a bookmaker I'd be disinclined to lend him money which he'd
use to place with me against a sure-thing long shot. If I were to "Lend"
him a century for an on-the-cuff bet on a 100:1 horse, especially one
that I knew was sure to come in, I might better simply hand him one
hundred times one hundred dollars as a gift. It would save a lot of
messy bookkeeping.

So the fact that I wouldn't cuff a bet for Gimpy gave him his own proof
that I was confirming the fix.

Then I buttered the process.

"Gimp, do you know another good bookmaker?"

"Sure. But you're the best."

"Know one that'll take a bet from you - one that you don't like?"

"Sure, Mr. Wilson."

"Then," I said hauling a thousand out of my wallet, "Put this on _our
horses_ for me."

He eyed the grand. "But won't Mr. Barcelona be unhappy? Won't that run
down the track odds?"

I laughed. "The whole world knows them dogs as also-rans," I said.
"Gimpy, they put long shots like those into races just to clip the
suckers who think there is a real hundred-to-one chance that a 100:1
horse will outrun favorites."

"Well, if you say so, Mr. Wilson."

"I say so."

"Thanks. I'll pay it back."

He would. I'd see to that.

Gimpy Gordon scuttled out of my bailiwick almost on a dead run. He was
positively radiating merriment and joy and excitement. The note in his
hand represented a sum greater than he had ever seen in one piece at any
time of his life, and the concept of the riches he would know when they
paid off on the Kentucky Derby was vague simply because Gimpy could not
grasp the magnitude of such magnificence. Oddly, for some unexpected
reason or from some unknown source hidden deep in his past, his mind
pronounced it "Darby."

* * * * *

I returned to my African jungle still bored with the lack of anything
constructive. I returned at about the point where Tarzan and Jane were
going through that silly, "Me Tarzan; You Jane" routine which was even
more irritating because the program director or someone had muffed the
perfume that the Lady Jane wore. Instead of the wholesome freshness of
the free, open air, Jane was wearing a heady, spicy scent engineered to
cut its way through the blocking barrier of stale cigar smoke,
whisky-laden secondhand air, and a waft of cooking aroma from the
kitchen of the standard cosmopolitan bistro.

Worse, it got worse instead of better. Where a clever effects-director
might have started with the heavy sophisticated scent and switched to
something lighter and airier as Jane was moved away from civilization,
this one had done it backwards for some absolutely ridiculous reason. It
finally got strong enough to distract me out of my characterization, and
I came back to reality to realize once more that reality had been strong
enough to cut into the concentration level of a halluscene. There was
strong woman-presence in my room, and as I looked around I found that
Tomboy Taylor had come in - just as Gimpy Gordon had - and was sitting in
the other halluscene chair. She was probably playing Lady Jane to my
Tarzan.

Tomboy Taylor had changed to a short-skirted, low-necked cocktail dress;
relaxed with her eyes closed in my halluscene chair she looked lovely.
She looked as vulnerable as a soft kitten. Remembering that it's the
soft vulnerable ones that claw you if you touch, I refrained.

I went to my little bar and refilled my highball glass because swinging
through the jungle makes one thirsty, and while I was pouring I took a
sly peek into Tomboy Taylor's mind.

She was not halluscening. She was watching me. And when I made contact
with her, she radiated a sort of overall aura of amusement-emotion,
covered up her conscious deliberation, and blocked any probing by
directing me mentally, "Make it two, Wally."

I built her one, handed it to her, and then said, "Folks these days sure
have forgotten how to use doorbells."

"If you don't want people coming in, Wally, you should restrict your
mindwarden a little. It's set to admit anybody who does not approach the
door with vigorous intent to commit grave physical harm. When the thing
radiates 'Come in and relax' is a girl supposed to stand outside
twiggling on the doorbell?"

I dropped the subject thinking that maybe I shouldn't have brought it up
in the first place. It's one that can't be answered by logic, whereas a
firm emotional statement of like or dislike stops all counter-argument
and I'd made the mistake of questioning my own judgment.


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