Drunk on Time
by J. H. Malone
Saul is a 20-something computer expert. He’s somewhat undisciplined and drinks too much, but he is charming and has a soft spot for older people and for his love interest, who is a brilliant but enigmatic researcher. They unlock the secrets of parallel universes with unexpected results for themselves.
Table of Contents, parts:|
1, 2, 3, 4. 5, 6, 7,
8, 9, 10, 11a, 11b
I arrived at Santa Anita in plenty of time for the first race. I parked in the Gate 8 lot as Tommy had done. There were plenty of cars in the lot for the weekend’s racing, more than I expected with tracks failing around the nation. I didn’t spot Tommy’s Cutlass. I regretted not checking the night before to confirm he had showed up.
Santa Anita’s art-deco buildings, Persian green and chiffon yellow, stood unchanged with skinny palm trees stationed around them, crowns high against a sky the color of periwinkles. I bought a general admission. I wouldn’t need clubhouse or infield access while dealing with impoverished Tommy. Inside, I rented a pair of binoculars.
I headed directly for Paddock Gardens. The crowd on the grass and walkways was strolling about in the sun. I had no trouble spotting Tommy by the Seabiscuit statue, waiting to check out the horses in the first race. He looked Hollywood Amish in his sunglasses, fake beard and big straw hat. It was twelve-thirty, half an hour to post time.
I walked over and stood next to him. He was as tall as Garza but half as thick. I edged into the fringes of his personal space. He looked up from his racing form, back down, back up. I met his glance, or my glance reflecting off his shades.
“Can I help you?” he said.
He was just a kid.
“Why not wear a sign that says ‘I’m In Disguise’?” I said.
He didn’t tense up. A true gambler, he remained impassive.
“You’re Tommy Link,” I said. “What the hell are you doing out here?”
He checked to see if I was alone, craning his neck to look around.
“Actually, the question’s rhetorical,” I said.
“You working for Tony?” he asked.
“In a way.”
“He know I’m here?”
“If he knew you were here, you wouldn’t be here.”
“Tony promised he wouldn’t hurt me too bad.”
“That was before his daughter told him if he hurt you, she’d move out. With your debt hanging over his head and his daughter’s attitude, he’s only got one play at this point.”
Tommy’s shoulders slumped.
“I told Julieta not to tell him that,” he said. “I begged her to let me take a beating. I’ve got it coming. She wouldn’t listen. She’s afraid he’ll cripple me by accident or turn me into a vegetable. She don’t understand Tony can’t let me walk.”
“She told him what she told him, and you’re still here?”
“He’d look for me in Reno or Vegas or wherever I went.”
“Go somewhere without casinos. You’re trying to quit, why go to Vegas?”
“Everybody’s got casinos. How do you know I’m trying to quit?”
“I have friends in Gamblers Anonymous.”
“Hey, that’s supposed to be confidential.”
“Let’s stay focused here.”
“I’m quitting as soon as I climb out of the hole. I’m here because I’m in love. I can’t start running now, for crissakes. I’ve got to pay Tony what I owe him.”
“You think you’re going to climb out of your hole here?”
“Where else can I?”
“Why not buy a lottery ticket? Same odds.”
He stood a little taller. “Very funny,” he said. “I’ve got no choice, man. If you’re not going to call Garza, leave me alone. I need to think.”
The horses for the first race were led out to circle the walking ring.
“Who do you like in this one?” I said.
“Leave me alone.” He studied the horses as they passed.
“Garza told me that poker and team sports are your specialties,” I said.
“Poker and team sports got me into this fake beard. Leave me alone.”
“I like the two horse in this one,” I said.
“The two horse is the favorite,” Tommy said. “I can’t make what I need betting favorites. I’ve got to hit a trifecta or Pick Six on a long shot.”
“Not going to happen in this race,” I said.
“You can’t tell with the cheap horses.”
“That’s the problem,” I said.
“Leave me alone.”
The first race was a claimer full of unreliable three- and four-year-old horses that hadn’t won more than one race. They were all available for sale after the race at the claiming price, in this case five thousand dollars. No one can handicap the early races at a track, though many have tried. Not the professionals, though. They sell advice but don’t take it.
After the horses had passed, Tommy picked one based on its trainer, who, according to Tommy, was known for buying losers and turning them into winners. We walked out to the apron in front of the grandstand, found some shade, and waited for the horses to warm up on the track.
I let Tommy think, or worry, in peace. The horses came through from the paddock and trotted back and forth in front of us. To my untrained eye, Tommy’s horse seemed a little washy. I held my tongue. Tommy went in to bet. The horses circled to the back of the track. Tommy came out. The horses were loaded into the gate. I put the glasses on them.
The start was clean and after some doubt in the scrum that followed the first turn, the favorite won going away.
The number two went up on the infield board. “Unofficial” changed to “Official.” Tommy tore up his tickets.
“Uh-oh,” I said. “That didn’t last long.”
“You called it.”
“But didn’t touch it,” I said.
“Garza isn’t looking for you.”
We headed back to the paddock and evaluated the horses for the second race. The Saturday crowd was still building, folks looking to score like Tommy rather than pros scouting around for late mail.
“I like the seven,” I said. “A not-so-long shot.”
“I’ll bet the Exacta for the seven and the one,” he said.
“Nah,” I said. “Box the seven with the two favorites. You’ll win a few shekels to keep you going. Forget the one.”
Back on the apron, I bought us both a beer and we watched the warm-up for the second race. Kids ran around shouting at each other.
“It’s like Disneyland,” I said, “and we’re not even on the infield.”
The one horse trotted past.
“Sore,” I said. “Choppy stride.”
Tommy went in to bet and came back with his tickets in his pocket.
Another clean start. The seven horse was a swooper, running in the back of the pack until he burst away on the outside to win. The two favorites followed. I put the glasses on the horses after the finish and watched them walk off, sweat on their hides, foam on their lips.
The one horse finished out of the money. The crowd on the apron receded.
Tommy tore up his tickets.
“You bet the one horse?” I said.
“I told you, I need the odds. You’ve got an eye for horses, though. That’s two in a row.”
“It’s not my eye,” I said. “I’ve got the feeling.”
Tommy nodded. “Why didn’t you bet?” he said.
“I don’t bet the cheap races. You ever get the feeling?”
“Why I gamble.”
“You get it out here yet?”
“What do you think?”
We dropped our bottles in a recycle receptacle and walked back to the paddock.
In the third, I touted two of the finishers but threw in a ringer. Tommy boxed the three horses for a Trifecta ticket. The bet covered the six possibilities in which the three horses all finished. He shouted as two of the three charged down the stretch well ahead of the rest. I kept my glasses on the ringer, who was well placed and stalking the pace. Moving outside a rival, the horse took an awkward step onto the dirt crossing, drifted four wide into the stretch, and was pulled up by his jockey passing the midstretch. He walked off limping.
Tommy tore up his tickets, but his blood was up. “We had that into the stretch!” he said. “What’s your name, anyway?”
“Well, Saul, this could be our day! Closest I’ve come so far.”
On the way back to the paddock, I shook my head. “Not feeling it for the fourth. Let’s sit this one out.”
Tommy groaned but bowed to my gut. I walked us over to the Bud Light Lounge in the paddock.
“You have an ID?” I said.
He produced it, a California license that rendered him twenty-one. He could bet at the track at eighteen, but he needed the license to bet in the sports books, casinos and clubs, along with a little forbearance from the proprietors.
I paid the lounge walk-in fee, and we took seats by a window looking down on the paddock and the walking ring. We ordered beer and visited the buffet. I spooned a little potato salad onto my plate and forked a chicken leg over to keep it company. Tommy, a growing lad on the run, loaded his plate.
We ate and drank fast, listening to the click of billiard balls mixed with crowd chatter. The fourth race went off on the monitors. We skipped the fifth as well, Tommy restive but staying true to the gods of luck and the memory of my start. The order of finish in both races matched my phone list. Modest payoffs in both.
We returned to the paddock for the sixth, an allowance race featuring horses of a higher class but not yet ready for stakes racing.
“Give me your paper,” I said to Tommy.
He handed it to me, and I turned to the sixth race and studied the page.
Tommy fidgeted beside me. “What do you think?” he said.
“Two, three, five, six, ten,” I said. “Buy the one-twenty ticket. The ten horse will go off at forty to one and the five horse, at thirty to one. Our race.”
Copyright © 2020 by J. H. Malone