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Double Take

By Susan
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Krantor, like most others of the Casino Owners Union, did not care who came to his casino, providing they had the money of course, and lost most of it gracefully. And he preferred it if they were not too obvious with their weapons. Most 'people like that' tended to go to the establishments in the rough area the other side of the spaceport - where half the betting was on the fights that arose out of such betting. Or so it was said: he had earned his reputation, and knew of such things 'only by repute.'

Some people did leave the casinos - and sometimes Freedom City itself - with significant winnings. Some of these people did stop before their winning streak did, while the COU members agreed it was necessary to allow sufficient 'satisfied customers' to depart to draw others to Freedom City. This included politicians of course, and others who had influence on spaceflights to Freedom City.

Normally members of the COU - as with parallel organisations for other places of amusement - shared out such 'official visitations' between themselves, and had a contributory fund which dealt with such matters.

Krantor made the largest contribution to the funds, as he had the biggest casino, and was one of the leading figures in Freedom City. That he accepted: the winnings he accumulated justified his payments. But recently he seemed to be getting more than his fair share of big wins and official visitations, and the COU fund, it was claimed, had to look after all its members. He bewailed his position to Toise, who was his 'eyes and ears' in Freedom City.

'The others are jealous of your standing.' Toise's costume, Krantor thought, was almost more ornate than his own. Perhaps he was getting ideas above his station - but Krantor had given Toise to expect that he would have control of the Big Wheel casino when Krantor came to retire.

'If they were prepared to update as much as I do, they might do better than they are currently. Did they think the Klute came cheap and lived on nothing?'

'They see your success, not the work that you do. They think that money just makes its way to you. And also' Toise hesitated.

'Also, what?'

'Gossip about the ten million credits you lost, and the sudden exit of the Klute is doing the rounds.' If only the two winners in question had stayed a little longer, Krantor might have been able to persuade them to publicise the Big Wheel on their journeys, and so got his money back that way.

And, strangely, they had come back, though not to gamble, unfortunately. If he had had the choice, it was better have two of the most wanted Federation criminals extracting the sum they had from - not that they would explain the scam which he was sure they had been using - than a couple of nobodies from the back of beyond. They had a business proposition, which made sense.

Krantor was aware of the need of 'some people' to keep 'certain moneys' out of the view of the authorities - he did not have one of his pensions on Space City for nothing. Everybody knew, as Avon and Vila pointed out, that Freedom City was outside the Federation and its fiscal jurisdiction. It was their suggestion that Freedom City should be the base for keeping such moneys out of official sight, and who better than the casino owners to handle such money.

'There would, of course, be a suitable handling fee,' Avon said, 'which you are in the best position to arrange.'

'Naturally,' Krantor replied. Handling of obscure money was a regular occurrence in Freedom City, and as the saying went, no questions, no blasters.

'All we want would be an introduction fee.' Vila added. 'And, to avoid a conflict of interest.'

'.we would not appear in your casino.' Avon finished, looking almost regretfully. Was it regret in his voice or a hint of a threat?

'You understand gentlemen, I will have to discuss the matter with others.'

'Understood. But do not take too long: there might be others who are interested. Toise here was telling us about Freedom City,' Avon said, with a nod at the other.

'We had not realised how interesting a place it is,' Vila interrupted. 'Quite different from Space City.' Again, Krantor was not quite certain how to take the statement.

'Can you give me a couple of hours?'

'As you wish.' Avon rose. 'As we said to Toise, we are trying to get in touch with someone we know, and Freedom City is a place where contacts can be made.' Krantor knew better than to pry, and it was none of his business.

As the two left he turned back to the documents they had provided. He had come across many 'get rich quick' plans in his time - in fact the COU had a regular competition at their dinners to find the most silly or outlandish. The common denominator for most of these plans was that they involved someone's badly thought out plan, usually with gaping holes, and the casino owner's money. This one, however had the merits of being plausible, and seemed to make sense.

'And, if nothing else, they will probably visit the Big Wheel.' Toise pointed out. Krantor dismissed from his mind the readiness with which Toise had supported the plan. Especially as others he contacted were positive, or at worst neutral about the idea.

By the time Avon and Vila returned Krantor had decided to explore the plan. He was even willing to let the two of them grace his casino on occasion. The promise of meeting some of the most celebrated rebels against the Federation might well provide an extra frisson.

'A toast?' Toise suggested. Krantor would have to have a word with him soon his costumes were getting somewhat too ornate, and he was getting rather forward in his approach to Krantor's business. They accepted. Vila finished his quickly, and looked as if he would not refuse more, while Avon sipped slowly, as to appreciate it. He even managed a passing knowledge of the art Krantor had collected, though it was obviously not to his taste. Krantor appreciated that - too few people showed basic courtesy these days.

There were a number of discrete visitations over the next few months - it seemed Avon and his companions were involved in other matters as well. The system paid its way, and some more. There were also introductions to others whom Krantor was pleased to mention in his conversation. President Sarkoff was one of the few who understood Krantor's interest in the past, though the casino owner could see little in the other's favourite period. Though that might well have been because Sarkoff had got there first. They both agreed that 23rd Century anarcho-monarchist fusion was truly dreadful. As was the tasteless stuff produced under the present regime. 'Monstrous monumentalism,' they agreed.

One day he had a visitation from the President of the COU, with some persons who were quite obviously Federation Administration. Krantor had dealt with enough of them to recognise the manner. The President was somewhat nervous as he went through the usual pleasantries.

'You seem to have been losing a significant amount of money lately Krantor.' That was not quite common knowledge.

'Yes. Such things happen.' Krantor was beginning to feel more nervous than the President. Of them all only Toise remained impassive.

'And you say these two' the President glanced at the Federation officers before continuing, 'rebels managed to appropriate ten million credits from your casino on their first visit.'

'I did not know at the time that they were rebels.' Krantor felt obliged to point out.

'Be that as it may. Then a few moths ago these same two rebels came with a so called business proposition that would involve diverting the Federation of taxes so necessary to its running, especially in the present circumstances.' What precisely had happened to cause the destruction of so many Federation ships was not entirely clear to Krantor, but the Federation had been severely weakened, and the composition of the visitors to Freedom City, which was the more important aspect to Freedom City, had changed. 'And people came to this casino in the hope of seeing these rebels, and rather than alerting the authorities, you let the situation go on.'

'Freedom City is open to all.' Krantor managed.

'Yes, but there are certain limits. We are strictly neutral - not that many rebels appear in Freedom City you understand,' the President said to the two officials. 'We just look at their money, not who they are, you understand. And nobody objects to people supporting obscure causes,' the President was well known to have several such, 'and rebels may seem romantic. But have you any idea how disruptive they can be. Were they to take over - not that I am suggesting it for a moment, gentlemen - there would be chaos, and, more importantly a further loss of revenue.' He looked at Krantor. 'So - they needed the money, and a base, and decided to use your casino for the one, and Freedom City for the other.' The worst part of it was that the suggestion sounded almost plausible.

'It wasn't like that. I never supported the rebels. They were looking for someone.' Besides, Krantor had been too busy doing other things.

'Disprove it.' And reveal where his nest eggs were kept? 'We will conduct thorough checks, and take the appropriate action. Toise can take over while the investigation is being made.'

Krantor finally understood the situation, and admired the way it had been done. He did not protest, as the COU President might have been expecting. For one thing he had been planning to retire from the casino anyway and he could now do so far more smoothly than might have otherwise been the case.

'Good day President,' Krantor said rising. The COU President, who had relaxed somewhat, suddenly became very nervous again, as well he might.

Toise nodded back at Krantor.

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