Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Great Hites 71

This week we have Stories by:


Norval Joe
Marla J. Mercer
Jeff Hite <--------- This week's WinnerWinner

It's Just a Game.
By: Norval Joe

The spaceport bar was mostly empty. There were no large starships docked at the time, the occupants of the bar were mainly locals from other shops, or spacers waiting to apply for work on the next big ship to come in.
Justin sat at a dice table, alone, which was fine. He didn't really want to gamble, he was really just looking for a mark. Someone smart enough to think that they couldn't be taken, but not so clever that they would see through his pitch. As long as he looked like he was willing to gamble, no one would consider his loitering suspicious.
A creature entered the bar and stood just inside the door way, artificial light from the passage outside made a silhouette of the short stalky being. The bipedal creature scratched its head with a hand that sported many opposable fingers. Eventually, it faced his direction, paused as if looking at him, and headed his way.
Short green fur was illuminated as it passed under ceiling lights, set at random intervals to compete with the darkness of the bar. The creature wore a sleeveless spacer's jumpsuit, cut low at the neck. Justin recognized the mammalian species as a Whooshahb, and as such, a female.
She approached the dice table and struggle to get her small body onto a stool next to Justin. Her jumpsuit was stained with sweat, a pocket zipper was broken, and the collar and cuffs were frayed. She was obviously not worth the time it would take to work a con, so Justin just smiled, as she settled herself on the tall stool.
She rested her elbows on the edge of the table, her chin was not much above her folded hands. Her long snout like face, covered with the same short green fur, jutted out over the gaming table.
With flabby, rubbery lips, she said, "Hello human, I am Showbleph. I have come to see if my luck has turned. Are you ready to roll the dice, or shall I?"
Justin expected such directness from a Whooshahb, and though it was not his nature, in an effort to avoid offending the polite little creature and drawing unwanted attention, he attempted equal directness.
"My name is Justin," he said and nodded his head. " Though my purpose of sitting at this table is to await a friend, if you wish to gamble, you may place the bet and I will roll the dice.
This was courteous of Justin. By placing the bet, Showbleph was able to limit how much she could loose, but could win many times that amount. The dice roller had a much greater chance of winning, but could also be required to pay as much ass 100 times the amount of the bet.
Showbleph opened a small purse and shook the contents into one hand. She placed the single token on the he gaming table. Even in a worst case scenario, Justin had more than enough credits to cover the bet, right in his chest pocket. He spun the dice hopper. A kaleidoscope of color swirled as Justin turned the handle again and again. until three of the twelve sided dice slipped from an opening at the bottom to rest in a small leather cup. He spilled the dice onto the table, turned each of the brightly colored dice over in his hand, checking each side, edge and corner. He placed them one by one, on the table in an order and arrangement that pleased him. Suddenly, with a single fluid motion the dice were swiped up and cast into the square box atop the table.
When the first roll of the three dice tumbled to a stop, the dice were totaled. The next roll would only be two of the dice. If their total was greater than the first roll of the three, for the better would win that round of the game. Therefore if the first roll was greater than 24, the game would already be over.
Payouts were small with a second roll win, usually even, or 2 to 3 times the bet. The biggest wins and losses came with a third roll that was higher than the second.
Calculating the payouts was complicated and based on the odds of the number that was rolled, compared to the odds of the number to be beaten.
Each dice roll was recorded by the table camera, odds were calculated, displayed on the tables backboard, and the payout required of the looser.
The house made its money on secondary betting against the odds of the second and third rolls. The players could also hedge their bets by betting with or against the house on subsequent rolls.
Justin's roll was well above 24 and the game was over. Showbleph excused herself and left the bar.
He had just settled back into the affected contemplation of his drink, when the silhouette reappeared in the doorway. Showbleph didn't hesitate but returned directly to the table where she had lost the previous bet, and struggled to return to the tall stool.
"Good Justin. Please permit me the honor of attempting to recoup my meager loss, by wagering this small family trinket."
Justin picked up the ornately tooled metal box and turned it over in his hands. The craftsmanship was fine and he estimated the item to be worth about what he had just won from the small alien.
"Yes, Showbleph, I will roll once more, but then I must leave, as it appears my friend has been retained elsewhere."
Showbleph nodded, and said, "that is good, and as much as I can ask."
Justin spun three more dice from the hopper, examined them, then placed them superstitiously on the table as he had done previously. He scooped and cast them again.
To his horror, he counted the single mark on each die. "Three," he whispered. It would be impossible for Showbleph to lose the next roll. Justin quickly gathered the two dice, shook and threw them onto the table. Four. "Impossible," he shouted, and many in the room turned to regard the man who had exclaimed.
"Impossible," he said again, took a single die and cast it onto the table.
The last die rolled to stop at a five. The odds were phenomenal. "That's it," Justin said, "I'm done."
"Well, Showbleph, that was incredible. I'm afraid we must get your little trinket appraised, so that I may pay up." Justin said, chagrinned that he had probably just lost 100 times what he had made on the previous bet. He placed the trinket onto the center of the green felt of the gaming table.
The trinket was scanned. Within seconds the computer announced. "The item is a rare, royal signet holder, from the fourth cycle, pre-galactic standardization. The item is valued at 12,500 standard credits. The sum of 1,200,000 standard credits must be paid with in 2 solar cycles or the debtor will be sought for incarceration.
Justin didn't know how the diminutive creature had done it, but he knew that he had just been duped by a con artist. He stood and said to Showbleph. "That is an exorbitant amount. I will have to speak with a benefactor to secure your payment." Without hesitation, he strode from the bar, and made with all haste to the docking port where his small starship waited.
Throughout the galaxy there were warrants against him for welshing on legitimate gambling debts, he was not about to pay a single credit to someone who had obviously taken him for a ride.

Marla J. Mercer

Harry Hoffman leaned back in his chair and toyed with an unlit cigar. He smiled at the large female African elephant that stood in front of his desk.
“Trust me, Monique,” said Harry. “I didn’t make it to the top of my profession by giving out bad advice. My record speaks for itself.” With both hands, he gestured towards the scores of framed photos that lined the walls of his twelfth-floor office. Each autographed, eight-by-ten glossy bore the image of a famous client. Cheetah, Mister Ed, Babe, Lassie—almost every big-name animal star in show business had been with the Harry Hoffman talent agency at one time or another.
“This Ringling project is one sweet deal,” Harry continued. “I know a hundred elephants who would kill for an offer like this.”
“Well, I am not one of them!” huffed Monique. She shook her ruby-studded ankle bracelet and stared defiantly at her agent. At a towering eleven-foot ten inches in height, Monique was nearly as tall as the ceiling. Her cheeks were heavily rouged. Her turquoise eye shadow glistened with tiny iridescent sparkles. A pink feather boa was wrapped loosely around her wrinkled neck.
“It’s a lot of cash,” said Harry. “You should take the job. When I have ever steered you in the wrong direction?”
“I don’t care how much their offering,” Monique replied. “I refuse to wear some ridiculous tutu skirt and stand atop a giant ball. Monique-of-the-Jungle is not circus material. For crying out loud, Harry. I have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.”
As if deeply offended, Monique dramatically turned her head towards the large window that dominated one wall of Harry’s office. With a tragic, yet regal expression on her face, Monique gazed in perfect profile at the smoggy Los Angeles skyline.
Harry smoothed back a well-oiled strand of his toupee. “Of course you’re a star,” said Harry. “I wasn’t saying otherwise. It’s just that right now there aren’t a lot of pachyderm-related scripts coming across my desk. That’s why I think this Ringling engagement could be a good thing for you at this particular time in your career. It’ll keep you in the public eye until something terrific comes along.”
Monique returned her gaze to Harry and regarded him suspiciously. “Have they offered you a kickback if I sign with them? Is that what this is about? You’re always working some angle or another. The usual ten percent is never enough for the great Harry Hoffman, is it?”
Harry grimaced as if in pain and clutched a hand to his heart. “You’re killing me here. How could you even think such a thing? Haven’t you always been my favorite client?” Harry pointed over his shoulder to a photo of Monique that hung on the wall directly behind his desk. “I’ll I want in the world is to make you happy, sweetheart.”
“Then find me something else,” said Monique. “How about television? Wild Kingdom and I go way back.”
Harry frowned. “I’m afraid that’s not an option at the moment. They still have some bad feelings about that little incident that occurred the last time you were on the show.”
“Well, what did they expect?” snapped Monique. “The director was inexperienced and completely clueless. In my big tranquilizer-dart scene, he kept insisting that I fall on my left side.” She rolled her eyes in exasperation. “Everyone in the business knows I always fall on my right side.”
“Of course, you do,” said Harry. “I totally sympathize. I just wish you hadn’t hurled the camera into the wildebeest dressing room. That little stunt cost you, sweetheart. You know how word travels in this town. You get a reputation for being difficult, and people get nervous.”
“Well, just forgot Wild Kingdom,” Monique replied haughtily. She lifted a front leg and admired the red polish on her toenails. “Who needs them? Surely you can book me on a decent nature documentary. They run them day and night on the cable channels. You’re holding out on me, Harry. I can tell.”
Harry brushed a piece of lint from the sleeve of his gold sports coat. “All right. All right. Maybe a little bird told me that there’s new National Geographic special in the works. But, I didn’t mention it, because it’s not you. From what I’ve heard, all they want is a little bark stripping, and then a few dead acacias get knocked over. Air time would be thirty seconds tops.”
“I want it, Harry! I want it so badly I can taste it.” Monique reached across the desk and grasped his lapel with the two fingerlike protuberances at the tip of her trunk. “Just get me an audition. I’ll show those bozos what it means to bring down a tree.”
Harry took the cigar from his mouth and rolled the wet stogie between his fingers. “I hate to do this to you, Mo baby, but I have to be honest. The truth is, they’re looking for a slightly younger elephant.”
“Younger!” Monique trumpeted loudly, shaking the windows and sending a photograph of Simba crashing to the floor. She curled her trunk against her forehead. “Look at these tusks! They’re the real thing—one hundred percent ivory. I’ve never used silicon. These are the tusks that Mother Nature gave me.”
“They’re beautiful,” said Harry. “I’ve always said you have the best pair in the business. But we’re talking Hollywood, and right now the demand is for the girth and wrinkles of a teenage elephant. You know I love you, sweetheart, but I’m not going to lie. You’re getting a little older. You’ve lost some weight, and you’re smoothing out a little bit. You and I both know that your creases aren’t as deep as they used to be ten years ago. Personally, I prefer the look of a more mature elephant, but I’m not the one doing the hiring.”
Tears brimmed on Monique’s long eyelashes. “Is that all they want—raw tonnage? What about talent? Doesn’t that count for anything? You remember my waterhole scene in Tarzan Meets the Leopard Woman? It takes a lot more than fat deposits to deliver a performance like that.”
Monique walked slowly to the window. With a bitter expression on her face, she looked out at the town that had once been hers for the asking. “Thirty years of paying my dues, and I’m left working for peanuts in some three-ring circus.”
“No, no!” protested Harry. “You’ve got it all wrong. They don’t call it the greatest show on earth for nothing. These Ringling people are positively drooling to snag a big name talent of your caliber. They’re on their knees, Monique. You’ll have it all—top billing, catered meals, a private stall. I’m sure I can do a little arm twisting and make sure they give you the best rhinestone head-harness that money can buy. And, you know how good you look in rhinestones.”
Monique coyly swung her trunk from side to side. She continued to gaze out the window.
“Think of the little people,” said Harry, “the millions of fans dying to see in person the most famous, female elephant star of all time. And we’re not talking small-town circuit—no way. We’re talking major venues—New York, Boston, Chicago, Miami. The Grand Tour. It’s the right move, Monique. And I’m not speaking as your agent now, but as your longtime personal friend.”
Monique sighed. She turned from the window and stood facing Harry. “Do you really think it’s a good idea for me to leave Hollywood? If I’m not attending parties, and award ceremonies, and charity events, I’ll drop out of the loop. You know how quickly people can forget about you if you’re not seen.”
“Are you kidding me?” exclaimed Harry. “How could anybody ever forget a big, beautiful, talented star like you? I’ll tell you what’s going to happen. You sign with Ringling for one year, and while you’re out there with your name up in lights, the studio bosses are going to find out soon enough what it’s like to work with this new herd of no-talent upstarts. By the time your contract is up and you come back home, every script that so much as mentions a large mammal of any kind will be piled high on your doorstep.”
Monique swished her tail and fanned her ears majestically. “I’ll need bottled water,” she declared. “You tell them that Monique-of-the-Jungle doesn’t drink whatever sludge that happens to squirt from a hose. I want bottled water written into to the contract, or it’s no deal.”
“Consider it done, sweetheart. Now you run on home and get some beauty rest. I’m going to give those people a call right this minute and make sure you get everything you want and them some. Don’t you worry about a thing.”
“Well, you’d better be right about this,” said Monique. “I don’t care how long we’ve been together. If this turns out to be a bad career move, I’m switching agents. I mean it, Harry.” Head held high, Monique gracefully sashayed from the office.
As soon as the door closed, Harry’s intercom rang.
“Mister Hoffman, Flipper is here for his ten o’clock appointment.”
Harry leaned forward and pressed the TRANSMIT key. “Thank you, Collette. Tell him I’ll be right with him. I just need a few moments to get things ready to accommodate his portable water tank.”
Harry stood and removed the framed photo of Monique from the wall behind his desk. He quickly exchanged it for a photo of Flipper that was hanging near the door. When Flipper’s picture was carefully positioned in the place of honor, Harry sat down and made a phone call.
“Louie! It’s Harry. The deal is good to go. She’ll sign a year’s contract for the price we discussed.” Harry paused. “Now, about those Lakers’ season tickets you promised me. We’re talking courtside, right?”

Creative Commons License
Monique of the Jungle by Marla J. Mercer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Never Con a Conman
By: Jeffrey Hite

"To every plan you need to have a plan b, how many times have I told you that Nellis?"
"I know boss but this seemed so fool proof."
"Son how many times have I told you that there are no such things as fool proof plans?"
"I know I know."
"You blew our cover, you wasted half of our capital, and we don't even know where we are."
"Come on boss, I feel really bad about this. I didn't mean for any of this to happen, I think we need to just work together and find a way out of this mess."
"I know you do, I'm sorry, I just can't get over the fact that we are stuck here."
"Speaking of that, do you have any idea what this place is? I mean you have been down here long than I have right?"
"No I have never seen anything like this before in my life. The walls are too smooth to be dirt, and it does not feel like any kind of rock I have ever felt. Besides, the had a bag over my head when they brought me down here."
"Hey did they say anything to you before they knocked you out?"
"Well boss not that I can remember, hey what's this?"
"What's what?"
"It feels like rungs on a ladder maybe there is a way out of here."
"Keep talking Nellis, so I can find you."
"Ok, I'm over here."
"Why do people always say that when you are trying to find someone in the dark?"
"I don't know boss, but I guess it is not very helpful is it?"
"No it really is owe!"
"Something just smashed into my leg."
"Are you alright?"
"I don't know I..."
"Boss? Boss? Joe?"
"Nellis, I'm alright, I tried to stand up and lost my balance and ended up down this small hole."
"Can you get out"?
"Well, I don't know, let me try. No, no I can't reach the top it is just out of my reach. You are going to need to come over here and help me out."
"Alright Boss, I on my way over."
"Yeah boss?"
"Be careful whatever tripped me is right near the whole in the ground. The last thing we need is for you to fall down the hole on top of me, or fall down another whole if there is one."
"Right boss, Hey listen boss, I was thinking, how long do you suppose they are going to keep us down here?"
"I don't know Nellis, you did try to swindle them, they might be pretty darn angry with us."
"Alright I think I just found the edge of you hole."
"Good good, lay down on your stomach and try to reach me."
"Ok here is my arm, can you reach it?"
"Wait, I can barely hear you now, you must have found another hole, keep looking Nellis."
"OK gottcha boss, I am going to crawl around up here so I don't fall down another hole."
"Good idea, just be careful there might be something sharp on the floor, I think it cut the sole of my shoe open."
"Hey boss did you have to walk up hill to get to me?"
"No I don't think so why?"
"'cause it feels like I'm going down."
"Turn around Nellis you are going to the wrong way."
"Yeah, Yeah... Ummm."
"What now?"
"Well I can't turn around."
"What? Why? And speak up I can barely hear you."
"There are walls on both sides of me. I'm going to try to stand up and. Owe! And apprently a ceiling over my head. I'm just going to back out. Woah, woah owe!"
"What just happened?"
"Owe, that floor was slippery, I slid right down it until a wall. I think my nose is bleeding."
"Well worry about that later, for now can you get turned around now?"
"well maybe if I flip over on my back and the roll over, and roll over. There we go now I am facing up slope again. Just give me a few seconds I will get out of this mess."
"Well keep talking ok?"
"Yeah, no problem. Hey wow this floor is slick. hey hey I am sliding back down.I can't grip."
"Try the walls, put your hands on the walls."
"Yeah that is better. Alright I think I can make it up now. I must have crawled right down this pit here. Maybe when I get up I should just stand up, and sort of shuffle over to you."
"That sounds like a good idea."
"Alright I seem to be out now, it is level and again, and there are not walls, and yup no ceiling. So keep talking and I will come get you."
"Just take it nice and slow we don't need you falling into another trap, and maybe this one you can't get out of."
"Right, Just keep talking."
"Yeah boss?"
"What was it you tried to sell them?"
"Well I told them, Wait, I need you to talk."
"Oh Right, They were down right angry when the came and rousted me out of bed."
"I know you should have seen their faces when they figured it out."
"You are going the wrong way, you are getting quiet on me again."
"Alright, wait, say something again."
"Ok, what do you want me to say?"
"You have got to be right here. Yeah I have found a lip of what feels like a hole. Owe! it is sharp, let me take my shirt off so I don't cut myself further."
"Ok reach up and see if you can grab my hand."
"I gotcha, just hang on to me ok?"
"Alright hang one, 1, 2, 3, pull."
"owe you are right that edge is sharp."
"Ok let me put my shirt back on and we get back to that ladder."
"Where was it?"
"I was just over, oh now I don't know what direction is was."
"It is ok Nellis, all we have to do is find the Wall again and we can work our way around to the ladder."
"I'm Scared, this place is really starting to freak me out."
"Relax Nellis, It is going to be ok, we are going to find the wall. Then we are going to find the Ladder. then we are going to find the way out of here. Just one step at a time."
"Boss, Joe?"
"I just remembered something. I told them that if they gave me their money, I would be able to put it in a place no one would ever be able to find it. When they figured me out, they said, turn about is fair play. What do you suppose that means?"
"I don't know for sure but I think it means we are going to have to look harder for that ladder."