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The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes Fiction:

Uncle Pringle and the Bookmaker 
Martin Green

I was in a mid-Manhattan coffee house with my friend Bob Cummings drinking lattes.   (This was before the recession when we could still afford them).   Bob, like myself, was a science-fiction writer, but a far more successful one.   He’d conceived of a hero, a mathematician, who’d solved what he called the Universal Theorem, or partially solved it, and this gave him the ability to predict the weather, know what stocks to buy, win at Las Vegas casinos, foresee terrorist attacks, and so on.   He’d written several books about this hero, all of which had sold very well.   This is why I couldn’t understand why Bob now looked so anxious and harassed.   I soon found out.

Bob’s story was familiar but had a singular twist.   He’d become a gambler.   The twist was that he’d done so because he thought he could duplicate his hero’s powers, using the Universal Theorem, to predict future events, in this case sporting events.   The familiar part was that after having some early success the inevitable had happened.   He’d lost a good amount of money, then, trying to recoup it, had bet even more and so was over $100,000 in debt.   The worst part was that the bookmaker he’d bet with, a man named Manny Roth, was threatening that if he didn’t pay up soon Bob would suffer grievous bodily harm or worse.
  “I know I’ve been an idiot,” Bob said, “but I was hoping that maybe your Uncle Pringle could help me out.”
  Uncle Claude Pringle was really my wife Ellen’s uncle.   He was retired from a government agency whose name I’d never learned and was now, he said, a consultant, although what he consulted about I was never sure.   I did know he had a surprising number of contacts of all kinds.   He’d helped me out with a sticky work situation several years before and since then had also helped, in various ways, a few friends of mine.   In the last instance, a mobster, who’d been threatening a restaurant owner Ellen and I knew, had been found dead in his car, something which had led me to wonder just what kind of connections Uncle Pringle had.
  “He might,” I told Bob.
  “Do you think you could arrange for me to meet him?”
  “I can do even better.   Since the weather is so nice, I think I know where I can find him.   Let’s go.”   

It was December, but the day was sunny and unusually warm. Uncle Pringle didn’t have an office.   He conducted his business in a midtown park, which wasn’t too far away from where Bob and I had been drinking our lattes.   Sure enough, as we approached the park, I saw him on his familiar bench, feeding some squirrels.   It had always seemed to me that Uncle Pringle resembled the actor Claude Rains who was his namesake.   He was a small man with white hair, handsome and always neatly turned out.
Uncle Pringle smiled as he looked up and saw me.   He threw a last handful of peanuts to the squirrels and shooed them away.   I introduced him to Bob, who once again related his story.   “It’s my own fault for getting into this situation,” Bob concluded, “but I don’t look forward to being beaten up by Manny Roth’s goons.”
  “I’ve read a couple of your books about this fellow and the Universal Theorem,” said Uncle Pringle.   “”I wouldn’t want to see their author come to harm.”
  “Maybe you can have one of your old CIA buddies visit this bookie,” I said.
  “I don’t believe I ever said I was in the CIA.   At any rate, let’s see what we can do without resorting to extreme measures.   Why don’t we pay a visit to Mr. Roth ourselves?   I’ve always wanted to see a bookmaker’s establishment.”
     At this point Uncle Pringle’s cell phone rang.   “Excuse me,” he said.   “Yes, Barack, how are you?   No, that won’t quite do it.   I suggest that you stress the theme of change, something like change you can believe in.   All right, give it a try.”
  “Was that …”  I began.
  “A young friend who needed some advice.   Now, where were we?   Oh, yes, we were going to beard a bookmaker in his den.”
Manny Roth ran his bookmaking operation out of a restaurant near Times Square, one of several legitimate businesses he owned.    It was a week later and the weather had turned cold.   The New York sky was a grim gray, suitable for our mission as Bob had recently received another warning by phone.   We entered the restaurant, which was doing a brisk business, and made our way to the back.   A large beefy man stood in front of a door.   “Where ya think ya goin’?” he barked out, then he recognized Bob.   “It’s you.   Manny wants to see you all right.”    He opened the door and we went in.
  The room we entered was large, bigger even than the restaurant.   The walls were lined with television sets, each showing a different sporting event.    A large board showed odds on the week’s football,  basketball and other games.   A diverse lot of people sat at tables, holding pencils and looking at papers, presumably deciding on their bets.   We found Manny Roth at a desk in the back.   Nearby was still another large goon, who kept his beady eyes on us.   “Well, Cummings,” Roth said to Bob, “do you have my money?”
  “Mr. Cummings is a little short at the moment,” said Uncle Pringle.   “I’m his, er, representative.   I was hoping we could negotiate some mutually agreeable terms.”
  Roth laughed.   “You gotta be kiddin’, right.”
  “Ya want me to take care of these guys?” asked the goon.
  “Yeah, I don’t have time to waste on small change like a hundred grand.   Teach them a good lesson.”
  The goon advanced on Uncle Pringle and grabbed him by his coat collar.   He was drawing back his fist when a large gun appeared as if by magic in Uncle Pringle’s hand.   “I won’t hesitate to use this.   I don’t think I can miss at this distance.”
  The goon pulled back.   “Hey, where’d that gun come from?”
  “Now then,” said Uncle Pringle.   “Why don’t we talk this over?”   
  “No way” said Roth.   “You can’t bluff me.”
  “I wouldn’t dream of it,” said Uncle Pringle.   Then he took aim and fired at on of the TV sets.   Bits and pieces flew all over.   The occupants of the room scrambled to get out.   Uncle Pringle aimed again.
  :”Okay, okay,” said Rothy.   “What do you want?”
     In the end, the agreement was that Bob was to pay off his debt in 60 days.   He’d just finished another Universal Theorem book and hoped to get a substantial advance for it.   “I knew you were a reasonable man,” said Uncle Pringle.   “A very interesting business you have here.   I may be back to place a bet myself.”
  “Just don’t shoot out any more of my TV’s,” said Roth.
     A few weeks later, Uncle Pringle called me.   “How’d you like to accompany me to that bookmaking establishment again?” he asked.
  “Why, is there a problem?”
  “No, not at all.   I have some business there and I also want you to convey some good news to your friend Mr. Cummings.”
     This time the goon at the door let us into the bookmaking room without question.   We went over to Manny Roth’s desk.   He looked up and when he saw Uncle Pringle he grimaced.   “I suppose you’ve come to collect,” he said.   “Okay.   I still don’t know how you did it.”   He handed Uncle Pringle a large number of banknotes.
  “Thank you.   Here, this $50,000 will retire half of Mr. Cummings debt.   I’ll let him pay the other half from the publisher’s advance he’s just received.   He has to learn the folly of gambling.”
  “Hey,” said Roth.   “You didn’t do too bad.”
  Uncle Pringle just smiled.
     When we were out of the restaurant, I asked Uncle Pringle, “What did you beat on?”
  “The Super Bowl, of course.”
  “You mean you bet on the Giants to win.   But New England hadn’t lost a game and they’d even beaten the Giants in the regular season.   They were prohibitive favorites”
  “That’s why the odds were so good.”
  “But what made you think the Giants could win?”
  “Mr. Cummings’ books about the Universal Theorem gave me an idea.   I did some research, and …”   He shrugged.
  “Don’t tell me you’ve solved the Universal Theorem?”
  “Oh, I don’t think anyone can ever completely solve the Universal Theorem.   But it does lead you down some interesting paths.”
  “So you knew the Giants would win?”
  “Nothing is that certain.   Let’s just say I was lucky.   Oh, tell Ellen I won’t be coming to dinner next week.   I’m making a little trip to Las Vegas.”
  I shook my head.   You never knew with Uncle Pringle.

© Martin Green January 2009

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