Monday, August 12, 2013
Let the Chips Fall ...
Before his mother’s remarriage, but especially after, Hannibal Ewing had never been one to ascribe positive attributes to a wolf. But even he had to admit Dante had pegged this one right on the nose. Must have something to do with all those predator genes.
He and his partner, Hoover, approached the two human cowboys lounging by the fence that marked the Cow Chip Bingo field. The wolf was happy enough to let the bighorn shifter take the lead. Hannibal didn’t mind. Humans didn’t make him nervous. Very little did.
The cowboys took one look at Hannibal’s size and defensive-tackle build and banished any thoughts of resistance on the spot. Hannibal swallowed a snort. So that’s why Dante had asked him to put in some time as fair security. Chalk up another one for the wolf boy and his knowledge of human and inhuman nature. “Morning, boys. Enjoying the fair?”
“We ain’t done nothing,” one of them blurted. His buddy thrust an elbow at his ribs.
“Never said you did,” Hannibal said mildly. “But some of the other fairgoers aren’t as conscientious as you two. We’ve been getting word people have been trying to rig the games. Not to mention the personal side bets.”
Hannibal rested his arm on the fence. The rail groaned beneath its weight. Both cowboys grew a little paler. “Now, we don’t mind the bets too much. That’s between the people involved, and nobody gets hurt except the loser. We just want to make sure everything stays on the up-and-up. That’s what we’re about.”
“Us too,” the beefier of the two cowboys, not the blurter, said. “Fairs are meant to be fun. No argument there.”
Hannibal mmm-hmmmed and gazed out over the field. The grass had been spray-painted into a huge Bingo board of lettered and numbered squares. A dozen cattle roamed about, cropping grass and twitching their tails. A baker’s dozen.
“Take Cow Chip Bingo,” Hannibal said. “Simple game. Cow roams around, fills up on grass, then does as Nature intended. Guess correctly where it’ll land and collect your cash. Depending on the number of players—and we’ve been having a lot—the payoffs can get pretty sweet. That’s not even counting the side bets.”
The cowboys looked mighty uncomfortable. Neither faced the field.
“Hoover,” Hannibal addressed his partner, “how many head did Brand drop off from the Flying F last night?”
“Twelve. I checked ‘em out myself.”
“How many in that field right now?”
Hoover did a head count. “Thirteen.”
“Well, well. “ Hannibal smiled down at the fidgety cowboys. “Looks like we’ve got us an extra.”
Hoover balanced himself on the fence and studied the cattle. His nose, keen enough to distinguish shifter from non-shifter, settled on a target. “That one.”
Hannibal nodded. He’d already been entertaining suspicions. Every other bovine on the board had caught his and Hoover’s shifter scents, and paused to stare before quietly but emphatically edging away from their section of fence. Every one but the big roan longhorn. That one munched grass and gazed off into the distance and flicked his tail at flies, the very picture of nonchalance.
“Brandon must have miscounted,” Hannibal said. “Hoover, do you see a Flying F brand?”
“Maybe it’s on the other side,” one of the cowboys hastily suggested.
“We’d better check. Just to be safe.” Hannibal unclipped his walkie-talkie. “Elliot, Dale, I need a hand at Cow Chip Bingo. We may have to do some cattle branding.”
The longhorn bellowed. In a blink he changed from bull to human. “No way, man! You’re not burning anything into me!”
The blurty cowboy swore. “Way to blow it, Colby.”
“Sue me. I’m not into the torture scene.”
“How’d you know?” the other cowboy asked Hannibal.
“C’mon. Bovine shifter loads up on a fiber-heavy breakfast, joins the herd, then just ‘happens’ to dump his load on a prearranged square. His partners outside the fence walk away winners. Maybe multiple times, considering how many bets we’re told you two laid down. That, and my mother runs the diner where your partner stuffed himself this morning. This may be our first fair, but it’s not our first rodeo.”
“Uh, guys?” The bull-shifter danced from foot to foot. “Now that the jig’s up, okay if I … ?”
“Behind those trees.” Hannibal pointed. The shifter vaulted the fence and charged away post haste.
“What about us?” the beefy cowboy said.
“Since we caught you in time, there’s no harm done. Just make sure you tell your marks you’ve changed your mind about the bets. Then go enjoy the fair. Have fun. Oh, and see to it you’re back here this evening. You wanted to clean up so bad, you can clean up the field for tomorrow. Don’t try to duck out. We’ll be watching.”
The one cowboy started to protest. Beefy elbowed him again. Both nodded glumly.
“Cancel the branding,” Hannibal said into his radio as he and Hoover walked away. Hannibal returned the device to his belt. “I don’t know how he does it. Dante called this even before the fair opened. Who the scat even thinks about scamming Cow Chip Bingo?”
“Humans,” Hoover said. “They’ll scam anything. Look what they did to their sports.”
On their way back toward the midway they encountered the longhorn again. Hannibal flicked a glance at the naked man’s impressive, bull-sized dookey. “You’re gonna have to cover that up,” he advised him. “We’ve got humans here, and they brought their kids. There’s a tent by the entrance with donated clothes. Stuff like this happens a lot in the Peak.”
“I was you, I’d go with a kilt,” Hoover added.
“Good idea. Thanks. Guess the game’s over, huh?” The bull shrugged. “Well, I’m still getting my cotton candy. And Bud and Lou are buying. I left my wallet in the truck.”