Vigorish, p.1

Vigorish, page 1

 

Vigorish


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Vigorish


  Produced by Greg Weeks, Bruce Albrecht, Mary Meehan andthe Online Distributed Proofreading Team athttps://www.pgdp.net

  VIGORISH

  By WALTER BUPP

  Illustrated by Petrizzo

  [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from Astounding ScienceFiction June 1960. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence thatthe U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

  _If it "takes a thief to catch a thief" ... what does it take to catch a psi-gifted thief?_

  What do you hate and fear the most? I know a girl who gags and throws upat the mere sight of a bird. Poor kid, when she was a barefoot moppetshe stepped on a fledgling robin in the grass. She hasn't gotten overthe squish of it yet.

  Birds don't trouble me. I can look at them all day. It takes snakes togive me the green shudders. I hate them.

  She was getting better at them, I decided. This was the fourth one sincebreakfast and the roughest-looking of the lot. It was a diamondbackrattler, and lay coiled on the rug at my feet. I turned my swivel chairslowly back to my desk and riveted my eyes to the blotter. Snakes areghastly things. But there was no future in letting them shake me up.

  I bent over in my swivel chair and swung my left arm like a flail justbelow this rattler's raised head. He struck at me, but late, and missed.The swipe I took at him should have swept him over, but he got his coilsaround me. When I heaved back up straight before my desk, he was asneatly wrapped around my forearm as a Western Union splice.

  Enough of his tail was free to make that buzz that means "Look out!"About a foot of his business end stood up off my arm. His forked tongueflicked out over his horny lip, pink and dainty.

  "Now, vanish!" I said to the snake. It didn't. Instead the door to myoffice opened, letting in a little more of the unmistakable smell of thehospital, as well as old Maragon, Grand Master of the Lodge. He wascomplaining and shaking a finger at me as he came toward my desk. Hedidn't jump more than a foot when he got a look at my arm. His shaggygray eyebrows climbed way, way up his forehead in a mutely shoutedquestion.

  I wouldn't give the old goat the time of day. When I dead-panned him,he shrugged and lowered himself into the chair beside my desk.

  "Thought you hated snakes, Lefty," he said.

  "A guy could get used to almost anything, Grand Master," I said. "Ifound a cobra under my pillow when I rolled out of the sack thismorning. A coral snake fell out of the folds of my towel when I went totake a shower. Somebody stashed a bushmaster here in my locker to meetme when I dressed for surgery. I'm getting almost fond of snakes."

  Maragon semaphored doubt by squeezing his eyebrows down in a scowl."Even _real_ snakes?" he protested.

  "It's the most artful hallucination I've ever experienced," I granted."This snake has weight, a cold feel and a scratchy scaliness. This newwitch of yours really knows her stuff. I just would have thought..." Idribbled off, raising my shoulders.

  "Thought what, Lefty?"

  "Oh," I said. "That it was somehow beneath the dignity of the GrandMaster to drag himself down here to the hospital just to add a littleconviction to the hallucination. I mean, working up a big entrance, andall this pretense of your seeing a snake."

  His smile was a little weary. "Try a lift, Lefty," Maragon said.

  He had finally overplayed his hand. Hallucinations don't respond totelekinesis--there's nothing there to lift. I fixed on the rattler'scrouching head and lifted. The TK jerked the S-shaped curve out of hisneck. I could feel his coils fight my lift. At some moment there I musthave gotten the point that _this_ snake was real.

  I guess I was screaming and shaking it from me for five minutes afterMaragon had unwrapped the coils from my arm.

  "All right. All right. All right," I said to him, shaking my head. "Soit had no fangs. You've still got me sold. I'll go to Nevada for you."I'd have gone clear to Hell to get away from that hallucinating witch hehad working on me. I'd gotten used to hallucinations--but who can getused to the doubt that one of those dreadful visions is real? I'd had mylesson.

  * * * * *

  It served me right, of course. It had begun when Peno Rose had firstvisored me from Lake Tahoe. I had told him "No." Too busy, _much_ toobusy, with TK surgery at Memorial Hospital. It didn't mean a thing to methat some cross-roader with plenty of TK was stealing the Sky Hi Club'scasino blind. But Peno had known me from my days on the Crap Patrol, andwasn't much impressed that I'd reached the thirty-third degree. He'dgotten the Senior United States senator from Nevada to put heat on theLodge.

  When Maragon first visored me on it, I simply refused to discuss it andswitched off. That was the big mistake. I had an obligation to the Lodgefor my TK training, and there was no honorable way I could turn my backon it. The Grand Master is a patient, if deadly, old goat, and he cameafter me in person.

  I'd just walked out of surgery, and was still in mask and gown. Thesurgeon who had done the cutting while I had put TK clamps on theinaccessible arteries was at my side, breathing a sigh of relief thatthe patient hadn't died on the table. He'd still die, I figured, but noton the table. I'd felt the fluttery rasp of his heart muscle as it hadstrained against my lift. He didn't have too long.

  "Thank God for a dry field," the scalpel surgeon said, politely holdingout his left hand to me. I shook it with my left. That's why I hadn'tdone the cutting, too. There aren't any one-handed surgeons. My rightarm looks fine. It just hasn't any strength. Old Maragon had told meonce that my TK powers were a pure case of compensation for a uselessarm. The surgeon dropped my hand. "You're the best, Wally Bupp," hesaid. He's too good a friend of mine to call me "Lefty" and remind methat I'm a cripple.

  It was Maragon who did that. I hadn't noticed him, but somebody gave methe grip, and I looked around. He was back against the wall, short, grayand square. I gave his ear lobe a TK tug in return, harder, perhaps,than was necessary, and nodded for him to follow both of us to myoffice.

  "We'll have to talk about it, Lefty," he said, as he closed the dooragainst the smell of iodoform.

  "No, we don't," I said. "I don't care who is losing how much money atPeno Rose's Sky Hi Club. Right here in this hospital people are dying.Ask old Thousand Cuts," I went on, nodding to the scalpel surgeon. "Wejust pulled one out of the fire. When does this come in second best tosaving the skin of some tinhorn gambler?"

  "Your Lodge obligations come first," he said quietly. "We have areplacement for you here. Here's your ticket for Lake Tahoe," he added,holding out an envelope from a travel agency.

  "I'm staying here, Maragon," I said. "I'm a TK surgeon. I'm all throughtipping dice."

  "You may not find it practical," he said, getting up to leave.

  Well, I hadn't. Three snakes inside my head had made me a sucker for thereal one on my arm. Maragon had made his point. I might have reached thethirty-third degree, but I wasn't quite as big a shot as I thought Iwas. I could feel that rattler on my arm all the way to Lake Tahoe.

  * * * * *

  Like any gambling house, the Sky Hi Club was a trap. Peno had tried tokid the public with a classy _decor_. It was a darned good copy of anineteenth century ranch house. At the gambling tables everything wasfree--the liquor, the _hors d'oeuvres_, the entertainment. Everything,that is, but the gambling and the women. The casino was taking its cut.And the women--or should I be so sure?

  You paid for your drinks if you stood up to the long mahogany bar. Iturned my back to the rattle of cocktail shakers and chink of glasses,one heel hooked over the replica brass rail, and took a long carefullook at the crap tables. There was a job for me at one of them. I beganto shut out the distractions of sight and sound. I wanted nothing todull my PSI powers.

&nb
sp; A blond bombshell slithered down the bar and ground herself against myleg. "Wanna buy me a drink, honey?" she gasped. I smuggled a lift andslipped all four of her garters off the tops of her hose. A funny,stricken look replaced the erotic face she had made at me. She headedfor dry dock.

  B-girls usually work in pairs, so I looked down toward the other end ofthe polished mahogany. Sure enough, there was the brunette, frowning asshe tried to figure why the blond bomber had high-tailed it out ofthere. I shook my head at her and she let it lie.

  That should have cut out the last distraction. But no, I could see onemore bimbo working her way through the laughing, drink-flushed crowdtoward me. She had
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