Prose Header

Drunk on Time

by J. H. Malone

Table of Contents
Table of Contents, parts:
1, 2, 3, 4. 5, 6, 7,
8, 9, 10, 11a, 11b

part 11b, conclusion

The sixth was the designated Super Hi-5, with a one-dollar bet in which the five top finishers are to be picked in order. No one had picked a winning combination Thursday or Friday, and the carryover money to the Saturday pool was excellent. A hundred-and-twenty dollar ticket allowed the bettor to box five horses, that is, cover all possible finishes that included the five of them.

Tommy was sweating like a racehorse, appropriately, and hanging on my every word. “Two, three, five, six, ten,” he said.

My earlier choices had him amped. The size of his bet compared to the size of his diminished poke had him amped. The moment of truth had arrived, and I too was amped. Every branch world I had checked Friday night showed this race finishing ten, five, six, two, three. There would be a few worlds where that didn’t happen for one reason or another, but not many. The odds against us were infinitesimal, given the width of the band containing the worlds I had examined. However, bad beats live in the dark heart of gambling. Highly improbable negative outcomes somehow seem more natural than big wins.

I accompanied Tommy to the tellers. We stood in different lines. I bet two bucks on a loser. When we came back outside, Tommy had the gambler’s calm that comes after the life-or-death bet has been laid.

I handed him the binoculars.

The start of the race was good. The ten horse went off at forty to one. The five came up on his heels at the three-quarters pole, eager to run. The ten took a short lead into the stretch and inched away in midstretch, kicking clear under a steady hand ride with Tommy screaming beside me. The five horse finished two lengths back with the six on his flank. The two and three faded enough to give us a scare but hung on to produce a winning ticket for Tommy.

We waited for the signal that the race was official and to see the Super Hi-5 payout. The stewards certified the race. A one-dollar bet that correctly picked the five finishers in order paid $9,445 from a pool of $98,151.

Tommy stood there weeping.

“How much did you put on your box?” I said.

“Four tickets.”

“So you’re forty thousand richer.”

He looked around himself as if he were waking up. “So far,” he said.

“It’s about knowing when to quit,” I said.

“Not on a day like today it isn’t. You won, too. No way we stop.”

I took out my phone and called Garza. “I found him,” I said.


“Santa Anita.”

“Sure,” Garza said. “I’m on my way. Where are you parked? Bring him out.”

“Come in and get him,” I said. “We’ll be in the Bud Light.”

“Garza?” Tommy said when I returned the phone to my pocket.

I nodded.

“He’ll settle for it,” Tommy said.

“Good thing he has a daughter.”


We went back inside and sat down at the same table and drank beer while we waited. Outside, the horses circled the paddock for the seventh race.

“How about this one?” Tommy said, eyeing the monitor and the voucher machines along the wall.

“We’re done,” I said. “Call your sponsor. In the meantime, I’m your substitute sponsor.”

“Or my dad.”

“I’m the guy who just saved your life, which is more than you can say for your dad.”

“And I appreciate it, but we can still get rich. Three more races.”

“You’re rehabbing, remember?”

“Forget that,” Tommy said. “I’ll rehab tomorrow. Let me get well first. The Tony thing was only half of it. Julieta and I need a nest egg. Don’t quit on me now.”

“Tommy,” I said. “Call your sponsor. Then call Julieta. No more bets.”

The horses headed out to the track. Tommy leaned forward, elbows on the table. His eyes jumped from mine to the monitor behind me.

“Call your sponsor,” I said.

“I don’t need him, or you,” he said.


He pulled out his Racing Form.

“Who do you like in the seventh?” I said. “You’ve got a couple of minutes.”

He stared at the paper and shook his head. “What if I call Julieta and my sponsor?” he said. “What if I explain what we’ve got going here? What if they both give me the go-ahead?”

“This is Julieta and your sponsor you’re talking about?” I asked.

He went back to the Racing Form, which shook in his hands. He glanced up at me from time to time. “Just give me a hint,” he said.

When I didn’t reply, he got up and stalked over to the window. On the monitor, the horses headed for the starting gate. Tommy got someone on the phone. He began talking. He talked faster as the horses were loaded into their barriers.

The seventh race was one and a sixteenth miles in distance. I looked up at the monitor when I heard the bell. I had the finish on my phone as eight, five, four, two. I figured the payout on a four-horse exacta bet at over a million. Tommy didn’t need that, nor did Garza, nor did I.

The race was well contended. On the turn, the eight horse’s jockey stepped out for room on the outside. The five horse, another long shot, was off his right hip and the eight gave him a little bump, then closed steadily on the two and the four to take control in the final sixteenth and finish going away. The race ended eight, five, four, two, as my phone predicted. Tommy was lucky. Ignorance is bliss.

I took in some beer. Tommy talked on, phone to ear, pacing and gesticulating, rapping his knuckles on the window glass. Presently, a murmur passed through the room. I looked up at the monitor. The finish was not official. The jockey on the five horse had not objected to the bump on the turn, but the stewards had posted an inquiry. On the replay, the incident looked to be minor between the two horses. I thought the jockey on the five might have stopped riding for a couple of strides but I didn’t think that this in any way affected the outcome of the race. On a major track like Santa Anita, the stewards tended to let the horses run.

Tommy returned his phone to his pocket. As he started back to our table, the eight was taken down. The horse was disqualified for bothering the five. The disqualification was an aberration, caused by a steward with animus toward the horse or its owner or trainer or jockey, or who was just having a bad day. A phantom call.

“They said okay,” Tommy said, standing on the other side of the table. “Julieta and my sponsor, they said okay.”

“Uh huh.”

Garza came through the door looking like a man about to shoot his dog. Below us, the horses for the eighth race were led out. Garza walked over to our table and sat down with us. I couldn’t read murder in his face, but it was no time for a sunny hello.

Tommy reached into his pocket and brought out his winning ticket. He handed it to Garza.

“Forty thousand, give or take,” he said, “before taxes.”

Garza stared at the ticket. He looked up with a mixed expression of scepticism and profound relief.

“Let’s go cash it in,” he said to Tommy. “I’ll let you do it. You’re in a lower bracket.”

We stood up.

“My mom was right about you,” Garza said to me. He handed me a wad of cash. “Happy ending,” he said.

“Goodbye, Tommy,” I said to the boy.

He gave me a pleading look. His life had been preserved, but he was missing out on half a dream payday. Gamblers Anonymous had its work cut out for it.

Garza took Tommy’s arm and led him off to the short line. I let a couple of minutes pass before heading out. In the parking lot, I stopped for a moment and looked up at the sky. Cloudless. Nothing had changed. Same old world.

Only it wasn’t. I was standing on a planet where the eight horse lost. That had to make some kind of difference.

I drove back to North Hollywood and stopped in at The Studio. Keishi and Juan Lopez were nursing late-afternoon beers at the bar. Walt was on his stool. He nodded to me when I came in. I eased down next to Keishi.

“Why is this place called The Studio?” I asked him.

“It got the name in the Thirties but why I don’t know.”

“We’re in North Hollywood,” Juan said.

“Which is nowhere near Hollywood,” Keishi said.

“Disney is down at the end of Buena Vista,” Juan said. “Warner Brothers and Universal are down Olive.”

“On the other side of the freeway,” Keishi said.

“No freeway there in the Thirties,” Juan said.

Mimi joined Walt behind the bar. Walt stood up and removed his apron.

“You got some sun today,” Mimi said to me.

“I was out at Santa Anita.”

“I haven’t been there in ages. How’d you make out?”

“Couple lucky picks.”

“I’d like to go out there sometime.”

“How about tomorrow?” I said.

“Let’s not rush it,” she said.

Copyright © 2020 by J. H. Malone

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