The other day, I am out at Iotia Downs, the big pony track, with a brace and a half of Federation guys. Now, anyone who knows me will tell you that this is a very unusual situation in which to find me, as I am not such a guy as habitually associates with Feds. A guy who habitually associates with Feds is liable to get a reputation for being in sympathy with such people, and this is likely to hurt his social standing on the street. It is also likely to attract unwanted attention from parties of nervous disposition, on who the guy in question has a little inside dope. Such parties are often known to get high blood pressure from so much worry, and are also often known to lower their blood pressure by giving the worrisome bird a pill dispensed by old Doc Equalizer.

As I do not wish for such attention, having the greatest respect for all nervous parties and wishing them only low blood pressure and untroubled sleep, I avoid the Feds whenever they are in town which, as I am a low-profile kind of a guy anyway, is not so tough to do, at that.

Another reason anyone who knows me is surprised to see me at the track is that I am known to be such a guy as has no truck with pony players, unless it is to hold a little book for them if their regular bookmaker is not around and about. I am willing to do them this favor as, while it is my observation that all pony players die broke, it is also my observation that no bookmakers do, unless they are tangled up with a doll, or maybe a banker.

Not only do I prefer to have no truck with pony players, I prefer to have no truck with pony owners, pony trainers, or pony riders. Although the ponies themselves never do me any dirt, I am just as glad I have no truck with them, as well. Ponies mean big mazuma, and big mazuma means nothing but trouble in any man’s language.

So, when Bela Okmyx’s lieutenant, Kalo, comes up to me on the corner where I am chewing the rag with a couple of guys of my acquaintance, going to the track is the last thing on my mind.

The first thing on my mind is the hope that Kalo is not coming up to me at all, but only passing me on his way to somewhere else. Still, when Kalo claps a hand to my shoulder and gives me the big hello, and invites the guys I am with to take a long and scenic hike, I naturally give him the big hello back very friendly, indeed.

Kalo is known to one and all as a very sensitive guy. I hear that Kalo once shoots a guy deader than a stripped engine and cries like a baby afterwards. I also hear that the reason Kalo is so broken up is that the guy is his brother, and is wearing Kalo’s favorite shirt at the time, but this is only rumor, although it sounds reasonable, at that.

So I am very cordial to Kalo when he comes up to me and puts a hand the size of a streetcar on my shoulder, greeting him with much warmth and showing plenty of teeth.

“You are just the man I need,” says Kalo. “I am looking for you all over town. I guess no one tells you.”

Kalo knows as well as anybody that if anyone tells me he is looking for me, he will never find me, so we have a good laugh at his joke and he continues.

“Although you are known by all as a guy who has no truck with ponies, even such a non-sportsman as yourself must know that this is the week of the Derby.”

“I will have to be very unsportsmanlike, indeed,” I agree, “if I do not.”

“And, being a guy who is wise to what is what, you must also know that the entire syndicate is in town for the race.”

The “syndicate” Kalo refers to is only a couple of years old. The Feds — guys from a big muscle organization called the United Federation of Planets — blow into town one day on a starship. They let the Territorial Bosses get the idea that “Feds” is slang for “pushover,” then they spray the neighborhood with some kind of superheater, knocking blocksful of guys colder than a barrel of yesterday’s mackerel, and claiming that they can kill the guys if they want to, and everyone figures they probably can, at that. Then they put the squeeze on the Bosses to form a syndicate and work the planet together. They hit the Bosses up for forty percent of the profit and send their own mob of strongarm guys to Iotia to collect it.

All this will be well and good, but then they send a guy called an “Ambassador-at-Large,” who is supposed to take the Feds’ cut and use it to turn Iotia into some kind of ice cream parlor. They expect guys to stop packing rods. They expect guys to dropout of the mobs and start wearing gold-rimmed spectacles and bowties. Needless to say, this does not catch on, although the dolls seem to cotton to the idea more than somewhat, especially old dolls who have sons in the mob. Such dolls as this circulate the Feds’ advisory papers amongst themselves and wave them under their sons’ noses and wail and carry on until their sons wish they are never born.

Fortunately, the Ambassador, one Tom B. Flashman by name, is as crooked as a doll’s memory for an insult is long, which is very crooked, indeed. He is so crooked no Boss can buy him and be sure he stays bought, so all the Bosses end up skimming less than might be off the Feds’ forty percent, although they skim enough to make it worth their while, even taking into account what they have to pay Flashman. All in all, the syndicate makes a goodish profit, especially with the savings in bullets and bags and ropes and cement and whatnot that the mobs no longer have much use for.

As Kalo says, I am such a guy as tries to keep up with what is going on in this man’s town, although I do not go so far as to ask. If I ask, people will get the big idea I wish to know, and this is not always a healthy idea for people to have about a guy. Still, I am always around and about, and a guy who is around and about just naturally comes to know things. So I know that the syndicate is in town for the race, which lasts for a week and takes place every three years. To be honest, every citizen knows that, before the syndicate is formed, the Bosses always call a truce during Derby week, so the fact that they are all here, now that they are supposed to be working together, is not such a tough piece of information to come by, after all.

“I know this,” I say. “I see Jojo Krako’s favorite enforcer, Cirl the Knife, just yesterday in Mindy’s Fizzbin Room. He is bragging that his Boss is backing a certain pony to win and advising us that money invested in any other pony’s future is money wasted.”

“What pony?” asks Kalo, very interested.

“Seabottom,” I say.

“Seabottom is a nag,” says Kalo, by which he means that his Boss, Bela Okmyx, is investing in another pony altogether. “Spectacular Risk is the one to lay your mazuma on.”

“I do not lay my mazuma on any of them,” I say. “Mazuma is too hard to come by to lay it on a pony.”

“Some mazuma is harder to come by than other mazuma,” says Kalo. “I have some very easy mazuma for you. Call it a gift from the Boss.”

“What do I have to do in order to get this gift?” I ask, very cautious. I do not want to turn down any gift which any Boss wishes to present to me, as I do not wish to be rude, and I do not wish to be found in seven different post offices at once, either. At the same time, I do not wish to get involved in such a project as will prove to be bad for my health.

Kalo replies as follows:

The fact is, [Kalo says] the Boss gets himself into a corner. He has pony fever. He bets the Feds’ cut on Spectacular Risk to win. Ordinarily, this is no problem. The Boss will slip Ambassador Flashman something to sweeten him up, and Flashman will let the Boss pay the percentage — with 50% vigorish to the Ambassador — out of the winnings if the pony comes in, or out of our Territory’s share of the syndicate’s profits if the pony falls down and breaks his leg. But the Feds are here — the Enterprise Feds — the ones who start the syndicate, and they want to run the books through their computer to see if all the money is in the correct pockets. These are very tough birds, and they are not likely to take kindly to the idea of one of the Bosses laying their piece of the action on the nose of a pony, even such a pony as Spectacular Risk. So the Boss asks me to see that the Feds are kept occupied until after the race, at which time Spectacular Risk will pay off, the Boss can collect, and the Feds’ cut will be waiting for them, fresh as a new corpse.

“It seems to me,” I say, “that I do not get paid unless this Spectacular Risk wins.”

“Is this a problem?” asks Kalo, reaching inside his jacket.

“Not at all,” I say. “It is only fair.”

“I know you will feel this way,” says Kalo, taking his handout again. “This is one reason I decide you are the guy for the job. Besides this reason, I choose you because everyone knows you are not a coming guy in the mob, and the other Bosses will not think Bela is trying to get in good with the Feds by having one of his coming guys squire the Feds around.”

“Why do I take them to the track?” I ask.

“Where else do you take them during Derby week?”

I can think of many, many places I prefer to be than the track, Derby week or no Derby week, but naturally I do not put this to Kalo.

Kalo gives me a letter of introduction, which I take to the Feds’ Territory One embassy.

There is a doll sitting at a desk inside the embassy. She is wearing a red dress, or maybe she merely has a terrible rash, because the dress is so tight it looks like it might be her skin, and not a dress at all. I am highly in favor of this dress, as it shows off the doll’s construction, which is such that a guy’s eyes feel very refreshed just looking at it. Also, there is nothing that makes a doll look so sloppy as wrinkles in her clothes and, as there is no room in this dress for the doll and wrinkles, too, this dress makes her look very well-groomed, indeed.

The doll in the red dress takes my letter through a door and comes out, followed by Ambassador Flashman and three Feds in very nice three-piece pinstripes. I hear that, when they first blow into town, they are wearing black boots, black pants, and shirts with no buttons and the tails hanging out. I am relieved to see they learn how to dress since then, as such clothes as I hear they wear before will get them nothing but the razzberry.

Flashman gives me a large hello and introduces me to the Feds: Kirk, Spocko, and Sawbones. Kirk is a little soft-looking but, when you are around hard guys as much as I am, you get to know when a guy is soft and when a guy only looks soft, and this guy only looks soft. Then there is Spocko, who is a tall, skinny bird, kind of greenish, like he has liver trouble or something. This may be why they bring the Sawbones with them; otherwise, he is not the kind of a guy the big muscle boys will usually take with them on a job, as anyone with half an eye can see that he is the kind of bird who will warn a guy before he throws down on him.

“Off to the track, eh?” says Flashman, very hearty. Chances are, he does not relish the company of the big muscle boys, as they are very clear in their directives about wanting everything in their organization to be on the up-and-up, and this is a position Ambassador Flashman never cares to experience.

I get the feeling the Feds are wise to Flashman, because they give him very cold and fishy looks, such as a doll might give a bracelet she suspects is paste and not diamonds like Snookums says it is, and follow me out to the car.

The Feds sit in the back seat and talk amongst themselves on the way to the track. My ears are not big, as a guy with big ears sometimes wakes up to find them gone, but I cannot help hearing the Ambassador’s name mentioned in such a way that, if he hears it, will make him take the train now, and worry about fresh collars when he gets where he is going.

#

Iotia Downs is a dry river bed full of rock from an avalanche they have out there a couple of billion years ago. The banks are bare, and the Downs’ owners build grandstands, box seats, and deluxe clubhouses all along the course. They also build concession stands, necessary rooms, and betting windows. The whole course runs north from Territory Eight through Territories One and Two and on up into Territory Five. The Derby is run here, in Territory One, where the rocks are biggest, some of them as large as a house. The race covers about 240 kilometers, and takes a week to run. This is the last day of the race, and Bela Okmyx reserves us clubhouse seats on the finish line.

All this I explain to the Feds after they get through slinging the mud on Flashman.

“I presume,” says Spocko, “that the horses must go so slowly because the course is so rough.”

“What is a ‘horses’?” I ask.

“The beasts which run the race,” says Spocko.

“I do not know from ‘horses,'” I say. “Ponies run on Iotia.” I hand him a tip sheet with a picture of Northern Crawler on it.

“What th –” says the Sawbones. “It looks like a sea turtle, only long and slim.”

“Is this saddle-shaped indentation in the middle of the shell natural,” asks Kirk, “or… er… made?”

“It is made natural,” I say. “The pony breeders pinch the shells as soon as the ponies hatch, and the saddle grows with the pony.”

“Fascinating,” says Spocko.

#

So I find myself at the track, where I never wish to be, with three Feds who do not even know what a pony is. We walk around some, so they can rubberneck at the crowds and the track itself, where three ponies are in sight and a fourth just disappears behind a large rock. Guys and dolls are coming and going from the betting windows, laying and collecting bets on how long it will take such-and-such a pony to go the distance from here to there, and sometimes on who will come in first in the end. Sometimes the same sucker will end up betting on all the ponies to come in first. In such a case, the sucker cannot help but lose, unless the odds against the winner are very long, indeed, in which case the sucker might break even.

While we are standing there, waiting for the pony behind the rock to come out again, I see an old pal. This guy goes by the moniker of Talk, because he does so much of it. I call him over and introduce him to the Feds, figuring he can keep them occupied for a while, as I am all out of chit-chat.

“Which pony do you like for your money?” Talk asks me.

“I do not like any pony for my money,” I say. “For my money, I like my wallet.”

“I am looking for a good bet,” says Talk. “Do you hear any tips?”

“Cirl the Knife is touting Seabottom,” I say, “but Kalo tells me Bela Okmyx likes Spectacular Risk.”

Talk makes a face like somebody has just shoved a grapefruit into his snoot.

“You have a beef against this pony?” I ask.

“I have no beef against this pony,” says Talk. “This pony is a very fine pony, indeed, but I do not like his rider.”

I look at the tip sheet and feel myself making a face like the face Talk makes and then some.

“I do not know Scroon is back in circulation,” I say. “The last I hear, she is doing a five-and-dime for irregular conduct.” By this I mean she is serving five-to-ten years for getting caught doing something dishonest in relation to her job, which is riding ponies so they win without breaking the rules to do it.

“She puts the finger on the guy who bribes her,” says Talk, “and gets her sentence remitted.”

This is just the kind of thing anyone who is not a chump will expect Scroon to do, so I do not feel sorry for the guy she fingers, as he must be a very large chump, indeed, to put himself in a position to be fingered, and chumps should not be allowed to run around loose, cluttering up the landscape.

Scroon, herself, is as crooked as a corkscrew with arthritis. I do not trust her as far as I can see through lead, which is not very far, at all.

Talk accompanies us as far as the clubhouse, where he says as follows: “I think I will get a track pass and go look at the ponies close-up.”

“Do not get too close to Spectacular Risk,” I say. “You may get a boot on the beak.”

“Spectacular Risk is not the kind of pony to kick,” says Talk.

“I am not worried about the pony,” I say.

After Talk leaves us, I take the Feds into the clubhouse. This is just a big, long, open room up two flights of steps, with glass all along one side overlooking the track and betting windows all along the other side. The floor is bare, and the food is no better than good, and the liquor is so high I do not see how the clubhouse crowd can afford to bet and drink at the same time, although they seem to manage it, somehow.

The Feds are drinking on Bela Okmyx’s tab, of course, and I take them to the bar.

“I will have water,” says Spocko.

“What do you mean by ‘water’?” asks the bartender. “Is this some new slang for booze?”

“I mean,” says Spocko, “I do not wish to partake of intoxicants.”

“He says he does not drink liquor,” says Kirk. When the bartender looks like he might object, Kirk scowls very fierce. “Do you have a problem with this?” he asks.

“I do not have a problem with anything,” says the bartender, running water into a beer glass and pushing it across the counter. “Drink it in good health,” he says to Spocko.

“…Thank you,” Spocko says, as if he has to remember to say it. “May your health remain unimpaired, as well.”

“I will have something a little stronger,” says Kirk. “Got any flavored soda? Fruit juice?”

“You boys are really on a tear,” says the bartender, giving Kirk a beer glass full of something pink and fizzy.

Frankly, I wish this bartender will keep his remarks to himself. Bartenders on Iotia are traditionally permitted to be mouthy, but I do not know that the Feds accept this tradition, and I do not wish to spend any part of my day picking the teeth of this bartender out of my hair and trouser cuffs.

“Well, well, well,” says the Sawbones, rubbing his hands together and grinning very large. “You do not happen to know how to mix a Mint Julep, now, do you?”

“No,” says the bartender. “But I have a feeling you are going to happen to tell me.”

Spocko makes a sound like a laugh strangled in infancy.

“Fill a glass with crushed ice,” says the Sawbones. “Mix a little sugar, a little crushed mint, and a couple of jiggers of bourbon, and pour it over the ice. Then stick a sprig of mint in the glass. It is heaven — sheer heaven.”

“Crushed ice I got,” says the bartender, “and bathtub hootch made fresh this morning. Will this do?”

“I will have what he has,” says the Sawbones, very sour, nodding to Kirk’s pink fizz.

There is a yell from the crowd outside. We look out at the track, and see that the pony which goes behind the rock is coming out. Its shell is painted puce and magenta which, according to the racing form, makes it none other than Spectacular Risk.

Scroon is sitting very relaxed on its back, as if she is admiring the view she has of the backsides of the three ponies ahead of her.

So I am not surprised when Talk comes into the clubhouse, very shaky, motions me to come away from the Feds, and says to me as follows: “She is at it again.”

“Do you put money on her yet?” I ask.

“No,” says Talk, “I put money on Seabottom. I am on my way around the rock Scroon just crawls out from behind when I hear voices. I stop and listen, but do not show myself, as I do not wish to interrupt, not to mention the fact that I do not swim very well, especially with two or three concrete blocks tied around my neck. I hear Scroon talking with Krako’s top boy, Zabo, saying that she never yet wins a race she takes good money for losing. He asks where she plans to come in, and she says she figures she will see how far back she can finish without running backwards.”

“Seabottom sounds like a good bet,” I say.

“It is,” says Talk, “and I am very fortunate, indeed, that I get my money on him when I do. No more money is being taken on Seabottom. The windows are closed on him.”

I whistle, very low, such as a guy does to keep his jaw from dropping in public.

“They must take in a great many beans on Seabottom to win if they close the windows on him,” I say.

“There are a great many beans in town this week,” says Talk.

I whistle again, lower than ever. What Talk means to indicate is that all the Bosses except Bela Okmyx have pooled their beans and bet on the same pony. Territory One is the biggest turf in the world, and the other Bosses are always looking for ways to put the slam on it. When Spectacular Risk loses, and Bela Okmyx comes up short of the Federation’s scratch, the slam will be on him plenty.

“Keep the Feds company for a while,” I say to Talk, “while I make a phone call. Do not mention what you overhear and so on to any of them.”

“I do not spill to Feds,” says Talk, very indignant, so I apologize for insulting him and buy him a drink, and go put in a call to Kalo.

When I come back, the Feds want to go back outside where they can “get the feel of the crowd,” as they tell me. Personally, I can do without the feel of the crowd if the smell of the crowd goes along with it, but they are calling the shots, so out we go.

I point out Seabottom, in front, Foolish Dancer second, Native Commander third, and Scroon aboard Spectacular Risk making like a statue, with the rest of the field gaining on her.

While we watch, I notice a couple of guys from Bela Okmyx’s mob moseying, very casual, onto the track, and I figure Kalo calls them on those communicators the egg-heads duplicate from one the Feds leave behind the time they set up the syndicate.

Bela’s boys go for Scroon who, as her pony is not moving, except possibly for its lungs, is not difficult to catch. They speak to her, and Spectacular Risk begins to pick up speed. Then a couple of Krako’s boys join them, and speak to her, and Spectacular Risk begins to slow down again.

The crowd goes wild as they realize a bribe war is going on out on the field. Bets fly back and forth, and bookmakers cannot figure the odds fast enough.

“What is happening out there?” asks Kirk. “Is this legal?”

“This,” I say, “I do not know.”

At length, Bela’s boys and Krako’s boys put the arm on each other, and come back off the track paired off like they are running a three-legged race. Someone in the crowd points to us, and the boys come over and start squawking to the Feds as follows: “It is a fix! They pay Scroon to lose!” and “They threaten to break Scroon’s legs if she does not win!” and so on.

“Can this be true?” Kirk asks me. “Is this standard operating procedure for… er… pony racing on Iotia?”

Something tells me the answer had better be a very large No, so this is what I give him. “They just get carried away by the spirit of competition,” I say. “Call the steward and have them tossed.”

“I hate for them to miss the end of the race when they are so enthusiastic,” says Kirk. “Let us forget the incident. But,” he says to the boys, “stay off the track from now on. Get me?”

The boys nod and let go of each other, moving off in opposite directions.

“What about the jockey?” asks the Sawbones. “The poor woman must be frightened out of her wits.”

“Talk has a track pass,” I say. “If he will give it to me, I will go tell her she is free to run whatever race she likes.”

“Will you do this?” asks Kirk.

“I do not mind,” says Talk.

He gives me his pass and I go onto the field.

Scroon, of course, knows that Krako’s boys will be waiting for her at the finish line. If she keeps her deal, and lets Seabottom win, they already make arrangements to get her out of the Territory before Bela’s boys can scrag her. If she runs an honest race, she is sure to win, as Scroon is not only the crookedest pony rider in the world, she is also the best. In this case, Krako’s boys will scrag her themselves, unless Bela’s mob can stop them, which is by no means certain.

I come up next to Spectacular Risk, keeping well out of kicking distance, and speak as follows: “Hiya Scroon. Long time, no see.”

“Not long enough,” says Scroon.

“Now, now,” I say. “I have a business proposition for you.”

“I have business propositions coming out of my ears,” says Scroon. “But I have a place in mind for yours, if you want me to tell you.”

“Does your mother know you talk such talk as this, Scroon?” I ask, much shocked. “What does she think if she hears her little golden-headed angel say any such things as this?”

Scroon tells me that I can put what her mother thinks right next to my business proposition.

I am silent for a minute or two, looking as down as the undershell of a low-slung pony.

“This attitude is a blow,” I say. “I count on you to remember old times and old friendships, and you let me down.”

“I do not let you down on that count,” says Scroon. “I remember just fine.”

“I mean,” I say, “I hope you will do me a good turn, and get me out of a scrape, to boot.”

“What scrape?” asks Scroon.

“I am on a job for Bela Okmyx,” I say. “He bets very large on your pony to come in first. If he does not win, he does not pay me.”

“Really?” says Scroon, gaining interest.

“I put money on you, as well,” I say.

“You are no pony player,” says Scroon.

“This is true,” I admit. “But I know you can win, if you want to, so I draw everything I have out of the bank and put it on your pony’s nose. If I lose this bet, I am a gone gosling.”

“Is this a fact?” says Scroon, very thoughtful.

I am silent another minute, wondering if maybe Scroon has a heart, after all.

“Do not worry,” Scroon says at last. “Your money is right where your money ought to be. Go back to the stands and watch closely. You are in for the race of your life.”

So I go back to the stands and watch with great interest, as I am not lying when I tell Scroon I have money on her, although I exaggerate the amount by a very large margin.

All of a sudden, Spectacular Risk begins to pick up speed. He passes Native Commander, he passes Foolish Dancer, he comes up even with Seabottom. Neck and neck, they inch over the rocky track, skirting pits and boulders, closer and closer to the finish line. I see Scroon and Seabottom’s rider leaning towards each other, shouting over the roaring in the stands, which is very loud, indeed.

The finish line is just ahead, and the two ponies are even. Then one of them stops running and the other pulls across the finish line. The Derby is over for another three years, and the winner is — Seabottom.

I feel very dizzy, and a little sick. I take a deep breath and say, “Talk, will you take our guests back to the club house? I will be along shortly.”

I get to the clubhouse to find Talk buying the Feds pink fizzes out of his winnings. I am wondering how much longer I have to play nursemaid when Kalo comes in.

“The Boss wants to see you back at headquarters PDQ,” he says. “I will take the Feds from here. This is some job you do. I never see the Boss in such a state.”

I do not wish to see the Boss. I wish to go home and soak my feet, which are sore from walking on the pony track while I try to reason with Scroon. Naturally, though, I do not say any such thing to Kalo.

Instead, I drive to headquarters and let myself be led to Bela’s office, where he waits for me behind a very large desk.

He gets up and comes around, drawing his arm back for the punch.

I stand pat, as only a marshmallow will duck a friendly sock on the arm.

“Good work!” says Bela. “The Feds have their cut, and I make a tidy profit, as well. Ambassador Flashman tells me the Feds suspect him of poor accounting procedures; this may be, but they will not catch him this time. Imagine what will happen to Iotia if the Feds put a guy in here who cannot be bent.” But this, I do not care to do.

Bela gives me a cigar and tells me if there is ever anything I need, just ask. All I ask is that he forgets he ever hears of me, but this I do not say out loud.

I go home and soak my feet, as per plan and, when the dogs feel up to it, I slick back my hair and don the glad rags and take my winnings out on the town.

How do Bela and I win, when I tell Scroon we put money on her pony’s nose? It so happens that Scroon is once the ever-loving wife of a pal of mine. This pal takes a powder and leaves Scroon high and dry which Scroon, as dolls everywhere are apt to do, blames on the guy’s pals, including me. Personally, I think Scroon can look a little closer than the guy’s pals for the problem and she will not go very far wrong, but she does not ask me for my opinion and, naturally, I do not volunteer it.

So I call Kalo and suggest he send some guys to draw Krako’s boys away from Scroon, and I then go out onto the track and bring up old memories, telling Scroon how much it means to me for her to win this race. Scroon being Scroon, what is more natural than for her to come within a heartbeat of winning, only to pull back.

What I do not tell Scroon is that, when I speak to Kalo, I have him tell Bela Okmyx to call every bookmaker who will give him credit — which is every bookmaker in Territory One — and place bets as large as they allow on Spectacular Risk to come in second. I also do not tell her that I place the same bet with my personal mazuma, and do not put it on her pony’s nose to win, as I lead her to believe.

Anyone who knows me will tell you I am not such a guy as ordinarily will have any truck with ponies in any way, shape, or form, but I am not such a guy as will slip out the back way when opportunity knocks, either. Still, I am taking quite a chance today, and I do not like to think of what will happen if Scroon does have a heart, after all, and wins the race for me.

As it is, everyone is happy: the Feds, Bela, and Krako. Even Scroon is happy, thinking of the massive coronary she believes she gives me by throwing the race.

In fact, everyone in the universe is happy except yours truly. It seems that word gets around that I am such a guy as is good at putting the fix on desperate situations; the kind of desperate situations that cause kings of old to offer half their kingdoms and marriage to an ever-loving princess if a guy makes the fix and a very close shave, indeed, if the guy blows it.

Kalo is looking for me again, and he is doing such a persuasive job of it that I am forced to blow town and lay low in the sticks for a while. I am willing to lay low until the frost blights the rhubarb, but I have a feeling that even such severe frost as this will not cool Kalo down sufficiently to protect my interests, so I might just as well pick the straw out of my hair and go home.

Besides, Talk just slips me the word that the trouble is something about a load of pets which Krako is smuggling onto Iotia, and which Bela tries to intercept in the name of the Syndicate, and which gets lost, somehow, in the ensuing scuffle. Talk tells me that these pets — dribbles, or fribbles, or some such name as dolls like to call things — do not even have teeth.

This, I think I can handle.

The End

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