"[W]e are living in a sick Society filled with people who would not directly steal from their neighbors but who are willing to demand that the government do it for them." ~ William Comer
Minerva, Chapter 25
'Are you sure you want to do that?' Mason asked Danny.
'You said I should control the center of the board,' Danny answered, being careful to keep his finger on his Knight.
'Yes, but I also said you should keep your extended pieces protected,' Mason reminded him. 'That Knight is guarding your Bishop. Do you intend to remedy that with your next move? Don't forget about him.'
'Whatever,' Danny said, looking hopeless. He moved his Knight back. 'What should I do?'
'It's your move, Daniel,' Mason snapped, 'so you must decide!'
Danny moved his Rook, placing it in the path of Mason's Knight.
'Fine,' Mason sighed, 'if you don't want to play, we can stop. But . . . look at me, Daniel,' Mason commanded.
Danny looked at Mason.
'. . . but don't for one minute feel sorry for yourself. You lost because you made inferior moves, and you did that because you didn't think them through. It doesn't matter how much older I am, Daniel. My pieces follow the same rules as yours, and I'm starting down a Rook. You have the ability to beat me, Daniel. But you never will until you believe it.'
'Yes sir,' Danny mumbled. 'I have to get ready for bed now.'
* * *
'Why do you always go there?' Danny asked.
'Because it's the only place we can all agree on,' Tara answered. 'There's gambling for Dr. Mason and the guys, and entertainers for your father and me.'
'Can you tell me a story before you go?' Danny risked.
'Aren't you getting old for stories from mommy?' Tara said, smiling.
'No,' Danny said, his mind racing. 'I want to hear a Tara O'Toole story. Even grownups like her stories.'
'Okay,' Tara said. 'Get in bed.'
Tara lied on top of the covers after Danny settled himself. She was pressed for time, and so returned to a tested formula.
'It was a dark, stormy night, and Scientist Blue had just made a discovery,' Tara began. She saw Danny smile with anticipation.
'Scientist Blue had finally perfected his elixir,' Tara continued. 'It would almost instantly dissolve bullets and heal gunshot wounds. The war with the Reds was causing terrible casualties, with hundreds of Blue soldiers dying every day. So Scientist Blue took his formula and rushed over to notify Major Blue.
'When he arrived at his office, Scientist Blue told Major Blue about his discovery. But the Major got angry. 'Dammit Scientist,' he yelled, 'We paid you to work on the laser cannon!'
''But my elixir can save thousands of our troops!' the Scientist protested. 'If we mass produce it, we can win the war!'
''Don't tell me how to win the war,' the Major yelled. 'And what good are our troops if they're still using bullets when the Reds have laser beams? I'd trade 10,000 boys for one laser cannon any day. Besides, you don't even know if that stuff works.'
''But of course I do!' the Scientist pleaded. 'I've tested it on primates of all kinds. If you give me the word, we can start treating the wounded in the hospitals.'
''Are you crazy, Scientist?' the Major yelled. 'Do you really think I'm gonna let you experiment on my boys, who are out there fighting every day, with your monkey juice?''
* * *
'Hey, is Jennifer Heyden working tonight?' Matt asked the pit boss. Regardless of the answer, he could still ask every other hot employee he encountered. It was a great way to break the ice.
'No, I think she's in tomorrow,' the man answered as he took down Mason's information. He had no idea who Jennifer Heyden was.
'Damn,' Matt responded. 'If I'm gonna lose another twenty ounces, I at least want some great jerk-off material.'
'Better luck next time,' the pit boss said, before walking away. The money was certainly better on the island, but the crowds were even raunchier than in Vegas.
* * *
'So it was easy?' O'Toole asked.
'Piece a cake,' Quinn answered. 'It was like buying into a franchise: we make a down payment, they give us the ship and cargo, give us a training session, and tell us where to take it. We got there with no trouble at all'didn't even see a U.S. or British ship'they unloaded the stuff, and filled us back up for the return voyage. We just need to make one more roundtrip, and the boat's ours. After that, we keep all the profits.'
'You pay for the satellite feed?' O'Toole asked.
'Oh, right, we pay for that. But that's just a cost of doing business, what with the blockade. It's like paying for fuel.'
'Sure,' O'Toole said, nodding. 'Look, if you don't mind me asking, how experienced are you at sea?'
'Oh me?' Quinn said and laughed. 'I'm not much of a sailor. But I picked up two extra guys. Both served in the Navy, or maybe the Coast Guard. So they know what they're doing.'
'And how many of these trips do you plan on making?' O'Toole asked.
'Well,' Quinn said, leaning back in his chair, 'we were playing around with numbers just the other night. I figure if we make another three roundtrips, we can sell the ship and all retire as very, very wealthy men.'
'Do you know there's another carrier coming?' O'Toole asked. 'And the Europeans are really beefing up their domestic interdiction; you could get picked up just trying to load your cargo. How well do you know the people telling you where to go?'
'Well,' Quinn said, 'I don't really know them at all. But I hardly think they'd give us this brand new ship'you gotta see this thing, it's a beaut'and then hand us over to the French police. Besides, we're not going to Europe at all.'
'Oh no?' O'Toole said.
'Nope,' Quinn answered. 'I'd tell you where, but I don't want to compromise security and all.'
O'Toole snorted and finished his beer. Quinn just stared at Tara 's husband.
He sure doesn't like the idea of another self-made man coming along, Quinn thought.
* * *
Oh don't hit you stupid motherfucker . . . .
Matt watched with horror as the man in the Sonics jersey hit his thirteen while the dealer showed a Four of Diamonds. The dealer placed a Ten of Clubs on the man's hand and took his chips.
'Good job, chief,' Matt groaned. 'Wouldn't want to miss out on the suspense.'
Matt slid out the chips to double down on his initial twenty-ounce wager. He had been dealt an eleven.
'Oh someone sodomize me now,' Matt said as the dealer placed a Five of Hearts on his hand.
Mason stayed on his seventeen. The dealer flipped a Seven of Spades.
'Great, fuck me with a black cock why don't you,' Matt mumbled.
The dealer drew a Two of Diamonds from the shoe.
Oh baby oh baby oh baby, Matt thought. He had lifted his butt from the seat without realizing it.
The dealer drew a Seven of Hearts. Matt sat back down.
'Th-it th-it th-it that's all folks,' he said and stormed away from the table. He headed for the bar.
Moments later, Mason joined him.
'Matthew,' he said, 'I told you to reduce your bet size. The percentage of your bankroll was far too high.'
'Yeah,' Matt agreed. 'Note to self: Next time, cut your bets in half, and fuck yourself for twice as long.'
Mason sipped from his martini.
'I can't believe that stupid fuck,' Matt said. 'I'd have eighty ounces right now if it weren't for that dumb prick.'
'Oh come now, Matthew,' Mason said. 'The man was a fool, to be sure, but you can't blame your failure on others'at least not in Blackjack.'
'Oh boy,' Matt said. 'Now you'll tell me that guy did me a favor, right? Like, if it weren't for him, I'd be down eighty ounces plus my balls would shrivel.'
'Matthew,' Mason said firmly, 'you have a fine mind and it breaks my heart to see you waste it.'
Matt suppressed his sulk.
'A foolish player ahead of you is just as likely to help as to hurt you,' Mason explained. 'If the two top cards of the shoe had been reversed, his play would have saved you. But I daresay you wouldn't have remembered that nearly as much as you'll remember tonight's incident.'
'Guess we'll never know,' Matt said, 'since that guy certainly fucked me. But I'll be sure to think back fondly on the prompt bartender.'
* * *
'How'd ya do, Cap'n?' Matt asked Quinn as he and Mason approached the others at the designated time.
'I dropped about five quarters at the tables, and another at the bar,' Quinn answered. 'You?'
'Oh, you know,' Matt said bitterly, 'I was up eighteen at one point'and I'm talking full ounces here, not quarters'and walked out down sixty-two.'
'Ouch,' Jim said, 'you are stupid.'
'So I guess I'm definitely in for the next ocean jaunt,' Matt said, sitting down next to Tara on the bench.
'What about you, beautiful?' he asked. 'Find any replacements for the wind-up husband?'
'No,' Tara said, 'but I'm still looking.'
Everyone stood up as the ferry approached the floating casino.
* * *
'Aww, there's no place like home,' Matt said, staring at the advertisement hanging on the subway station wall. Two women were drinking beer that two men were pouring over the chest of a third, topless woman. The ad read, 'BRAMMS: GOES DOWN SMOOTH.'
'That's just great,' Tara said. 'I'm glad to see exploitation is alive and well in Minerva.'
'I hope you are referring to the drinkers who may be misled into preferring beer over martinis,' Mason said. 'Those women are certainly being paid quite well for their pose. And notice that their faces are hidden, so they needn't squirm in church.'
Here we go, O'Toole thought.
'You never cease to amaze, good Doctor,' Tara said. 'The ad shows us that women are only important for their boobs, and that, to you, is proof of the company's decency.'
'What else are women important for?' Matt asked Quinn, keeping his voice low so as not to disturb the professor.
'Oh Tara ,' Mason sighed, 'now you're just behaving as a red-headed clich'. You certainly have the ability to discredit male chauvinists, but for some inexplicable reason you choose to prove their point.'
The argument was interrupted by the approaching subway. Unlike systems in other cities, the subway cars in Minerva were actually linked together in giant, elongated rings, one for each line. When the ring for, say, the local B line moved, that meant every car on the line moved with it. In consequence, the timetables were incredibly accurate. The rings were arranged concentrically, with the express lines in the interior. The ring on an express line would move through roughly ten percent of its perimeter in between each stop, while the outer, local rings would stop every fifty meters or so. By wisely choosing lines, a passenger could usually reach any ground location on the island within fifteen minutes. Also in contrast to most cities, the subways in Minerva were clean and comfortable, so that even its wealthiest couple would ride them, rather than cutting short an evening out with friends who did not normally take helicopters home.
'Can you honestly sit there,' Tara said, after everyone had been seated on the plush benches, 'and tell me that society doesn't exploit women?'
'It would depend,' Mason answered, 'on your definition of exploit. But I will say that whatever 'exploitation' is suffered by women, is suffered much worse by men.'
'Ha!' Tara exclaimed. Surely David was just putting on a show for the crowd at this point.
'Amen!' Matt yelled. 'Preach it brotha!'
'Please specify your complaints, Mrs. O'Toole,' Mason challenged.
'Where to begin?' Tara said. 'How about the fact that from the moment they're born, girls are given Barbie dolls and anorexic role models? If a girl doesn't have an anatomically impossible figure, she feels guilty just eating.'
'Fair enough,' Mason said. 'But the male role models are truly impossible to emulate. Little girls play with Barbie dolls, but little boys play with Superman dolls; I daresay the latter sets a more formidable standard.'
'Oh please,' Tara said, 'everyone knows that Superman is a fantasy. But girls are led to believe that they can really look like the women in swimsuit magazines if they just diet and exercise enough.'
'But they can!' Mason exclaimed. 'The models are able to look like the models, are they not?'
Matt laughed out loud at this point.
'I must confess,' Mason said, 'that the feminist whining on this matter disgusts me. Can you imagine a man complaining that professional football is an exploitive institution, and that all-star athletes should quit because their achievements hurt his self-esteem? Can you possibly imagine a man making that argument?'
'That's right David,' Tara said, 'ignore the issue by making an analogy. Just pretend that there really aren't girls dying from eating disorders.'
'Pardon me while I sob,' Mason said. 'Mrs. O'Toole, 'society' also 'expects' young men to march blindly into machine gun nests whenever political rulers tell them to. 'Society' 'tells them' that if they don't, they're cowards and sexually undesirable. So what happens? Every year thousands if not millions of young men are butchered in wars caused by evil politicians. So you'll forgive me if I don't shed a tear for the depressed sorority girl who puts a finger down her throat.'
The group remained silent for a few moments. They had never seen Mason become so emotional during an argument.
O'Toole noticed three people at the other end of the subway car. They were stealing glances at O'Toole and Tara. O'Toole realized that they had recognized the couple.
This recognition was becoming a growing problem. O'Toole had been approached three out of the last four times he had left the apartment. Especially in bars and restaurants, people were constantly thanking him and asking for his autograph. O'Toole suspected that tonight's relative peace was only due to the imposing presence of Quinn and Knight, whom the masses had no doubt mistaken for surly bodyguards.
I've got to do something about this, O'Toole thought, and surveyed the rest of his group. Matt was resting his head on his knees, while the others stared out the window, eyes glazed over with drowsiness. O'Toole seemed to be the only one aware of the now gawking fans.