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Excerpt: Casino City

A Cooler's Conspiracy

By Ben SotoPublished 5 months ago 14 min read

Enjoy an excerpt from my cyberpunk noir book Casino City: A Cooler's Conspiracy!

Link to book:

Chapter 1

No Good Choices

THE UNIVERSE HAS tended to put the odds against me for as long as I can remember. No matter the situation, events have fallen apart faster than I could blink. Rock and a hard place can’t begin to describe my current dilemma. Oddly enough, they also represent two things I hate: people that don’t stand up for themselves and bullies.

The street was crowded with strong and weak genes alike. The odd mix of genetic misfits made sure to give us a wide berth as they kept their eyes glued to current events. The hairs on the back of my neck were on edge. I could feel their gawking, curious eyes; pretty much everyone in the Gene Pool District had come to watch. Bets were being made by onlookers that camped on porches, stoops, and balconies. They were all playing out the odds with each other; the odds were against me on this one. I’m used to it.

Crowded in shared fear behind me were the weak genes – it’s the name they’ve been associated with over time. They rolled the dice quite literally and underwent genetic manipulation. It didn’t turn out so well for them. You can gather from the name that they’re rather weak and pathetic, ending up in the shallow end of the gene pool. Standing in front of me with feral eyes accompanied by the body language of attacking predators were - you guessed it - the strong genes. These meatheads also rolled the genetic dice. They ended up stronger and more mutated than most ordinary folk would choose to become.

What is a detective to do? Do I protect the weak genes? I can’t stand their pessimistic views of the universe and the fact that they never ever seem able to defend themselves. Or do I stand up against the strong genes? I hate bullies; I always have. They piss me off like you wouldn’t believe, but the fact that these strong genes can pulverize my skull with a few precise blows makes me think standing up to them isn’t the smartest of moves. So now, yours truly, Frank Zed Kirkland, must make a choice and roll the dice. What can I say? It’s just another day in Casino City where everything and anything is a gamble.

The particular weak gene I found myself defending was Harold Rafin. Good old Harold lost a lousy bet six years back when, you know, he was still a pure DNA human. He was short, coming in at five foot nothing and was as skinny as they came. He rolled the genetic dice and wound up getting his genes spliced with a rabbit. It made for an interesting physique of human-rabbit features. Like all weak genes, he was hoping to come out as a strong gene. When it comes to messing with DNA like that, you never can honestly tell what the outcome will be, and that’s the point in Casino City. It’s purposefully left to chance.

The other weak genes that huddled near Harold wore variations of different colored jumpsuits. Not Harold. He was the only weak gene I knew to don a three-piece suit. The little guy kept up appearances despite getting spliced with a rabbit of all creatures.

Time after time I’ve had to get Harry out of a jam. He made a lot of bad bets here in Casino City and owed a lot of people as a result, but I’ll be damned if the little guy wasn’t good at rooting out information. He had a knack for it, and that made him somewhat valuable to me. You see, I’m a Cooler Detective, and information is my lifeblood. When things get too hot for someone or a fix is suspected, I get called in to investigate. I’m also referred to as a Sure Bet Man; it’s always a sure bet that I’ll get to the truth. That’s how I pitch it anyway. That line is a hit with the ladies – the drunk ones, that is. I know – I need to work on my standards.

So. Back to the problem with Harry. The strong genes were understandably fed up with him. Harold owed them a lot of credits, and by a lot, I mean more than a little and less than too much. It was just the right amount to get me involved, against my better judgment.

The leader of the strong genes was a big sonuvabitch named Murlco. During the roll of the genetic dice, he ended up getting his genes mixed and manipulated with a lion. He was already a big fella from the get-go as a pure DNA human, coming in at 6 feet 8 inches tall. Murlco towered over even me, and I come in at a decent 6 foot 1.

“Murlco. It’s been awhile. How have things been on your side of town?” I stood my ground even though I knew he could break me in half. The strong genes were named that for a reason. His mutated musculature rippled through the maroon jumpsuit.

“A Cooler like you shouldn’t be gettin’ mixed up in mutie business, Zeddie boy. Everyone sticks to their own area for a good reason. Not a good idea to mix things up. And Coolers, of all people, know better than to go sniffing around in the Gene Pool District.”

“Normally I’d agree with you, but Harold there is kind of a special case. I need him. So how about we figure out a way to make good?” I could smell and feel his foul, hot breath on my face as he sniffed the air for fear. I did my best to mask it and not let my pheromones get the better of me.

“I don’t think there’s any way to make good this time around. We want Harold’s head! He screwed us over one too many times!” The rest of the strong genes roared and yelled in support of their would-be king.

The air shifted behind me as the weak genes huddled closer together. I turned for a quick glance. Harold’s rabbit ears bent backward; the rest of the weak genes stepped back in unison. They did their best to stand together, but they were weak for a reason. If Murlco hadn’t smelled fear before, he and the rest of the strong genes sure did now. Hell, I could sense their fear, and it only fed the hunger they had for payback by way of physically torturing and killing Harold.

“You gambled on being the way you are, right?”

“It’s no secret, Zeddie boy.” The heavy bass of his growl vibrated through my chest.

“How about we make another wager to wipe the slate clean for Harold?”

“You can’t do that. You don’t have the authority.”

“Murlco, I’m a Sure Bet Man. I have the authority to intercede as I see fit, and this is one of those instances. Now, are you in or not?”

“What’s the bet?”

I gave him my signature smirk, scrambling to come up with a plan. Then it hit me. “There’s a game from the days of old Earth. This was played back before everyone left that shithole for the great expanse of outer space. I believe they called it Russian roulette.”

Murlco raised a hairy eyebrow with curiosity. He looked to see if the two nearest strong genes knew what I was talking about. One was a human mixed with a tiger, and the other was a human combined with a bear. Both shrugged their shoulders. Murlco looked back to me contemplating my words.

“Are you interested or not?” I let my annoyance mask the reaming fear. I had a long day ahead of me, and I was already behind because of my rabbit friend.

“How do we do this?” Murlco mused.

I’d always been fascinated by the old movie files that survived in the archive after we colonized this planet. Some of my favorites were the ones called Westerns. I practiced the draw like crazy when I was a kid, so when an opportunity presented itself to show off, I took full advantage. Like one of the gunslingers from that forgotten time, I drew my Remington replica six-shooter with lightning fast speed and style. Strong and weak genes looked in awe as I did so. I smiled; I take what I can get.

Some of the onlookers were starting to change their bets.

“What the hell is this?” Murlco took a step back, not wanting to be in my line of fire.

Before I knew it, the human-bear hybrid had his gun pointed at my head. He wasn’t too shabby with the quick draw himself. His weapon was clunky and modern, lacking any real sense of style. In a world of mass production, you don’t get quality.

“Relax. I’m just showing you all the gun we’re going to use. I chose this game because I want you to know how serious I am. Not only does the winner get to do what they want with Harold, but the loser dies.”

I had their attention. The higher the risk, the more people wanted to play. That’s just how it was in Casino City. There is one thing, however, that should be known about my gun. It wasn’t my only go-to. At any given moment I carried about four or five weapons (mostly guns of a type) ranging from the newest of the new to classic antiques for backup. That added a little visual flair to things. You can’t be too flashy in this city. It helps your reputation.

“Fine. How do we play?” Murlco sniffed the air again. Maybe he smelled his own fear.

With a showman’s presence, I proceeded to remove six bullets upon opening the cylinder chamber. I placed one single shell back in the chamber right after depositing the other five rounds in my pocket and spun the chamber closed. “One bullet. Six possibilities. One of them means death.” I placed the gun to my temple. “I’ll go first.” I pulled the trigger without hesitation. The desired shocks and gasps ran through both weak and strong genes alike as an empty clicking noise was made by the gun. “Your turn.” I held the gun out to Murlco with a smile.

Murlco wasn’t born yesterday. Leaders are leaders for a reason. He tended to solve most of his problems with brute force, but there was a decent amount of brain in that noggin of his. He made choices that mattered, and after a brief lion-like growl he stared at the strong gene with the mixture of bear and man. He gestured for him to step forward and stand in his place. Reluctantly the bear man stepped forward.

“He’ll serve as my proxy,” Murlco growled.

“Same rules apply with your stand-in. Whoever gets the bullet loses. The victor lives and walks away with Harold.” I wanted to make sure the terms were honored. Say what you want about Casino City – people respected the bet.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way, Zeddie.” Murlco looked to his underling. “Take the gun, Fresco.”

Fresco’s bear features frowned as he stepped forward. He towered over me like the other strong genes and took the gun from my hand. The hesitation was evident, and the fear in the air now belonged to Fresco. He stood frozen with the gun to his temple. He trembled a bit, unable to pull the trigger.

“Do it!” Murlco roared.

In startled reaction Fresco’s finger squeezed the trigger. The gun went off and... let’s just say that was the end of the line for Fresco. His massive body crashed into the ground with the thud of a falling tree; blood and brain matter stained my shirt and Murlco’s jumpsuit, given that we were nearest. The rest of the street had its fair share of brain matter and blood as well. There was enough Fresco to go around, I guess.

For a split second, I thought for sure that the leader of the strong genes might go berserk and attack, disregarding the bet we made. I could see the anger and rage in his predatory gaze. The primal emotion was thick in the air. But like I said, Murlco had some brains, and not just on his shirt. He lost a bet fair and square to a Sure Bet Man – a Cooler Detective. He had no choice but to follow through. Otherwise, the area under his control would be crawling with associates of mine.

I reached down to Fresco’s corpse and jostled my antique six-shooter from his dead bear paw hand. With the same amount of flair, I spun the gun in the air before holstering it. “A bet’s a bet,” I smirked tipping my gray fedora to Murlco. “Rabbit man comes with me.”

“Why do you have to call me rabbit man?” Harold interjected.

Murlco growled so deeply that Harold froze where he stood. I held my hand up in Murlco’s direction. “Easy Murlco. We honor the bet.”

“Get that runt piece of shit out of my sight...” Murlco almost whispered the words. He was fighting hard to maintain composure and keep his rage in check. I could tell he wasn’t going to let this one go. I was on his list.

“Thanks for the assist, Frank. Always appreciated. That’s my cue,” the squeaky voice of Harold, the rabbit man, spoke up. He turned as if he were about to walk off and move on with his day, attempting to disappear into the crowd of weak genes.

“Not so fast.” I grabbed him by his long white ears and yanked him back in my direction. He winced in pain as I forced him toward my transport that was parked not too far away down the street. “You’re coming with me. I need you for something.”

Harold’s rabbit ears seemed to droop down, but he quickly fell in line. He knew he owed me – again. That was the nature of our relationship, and it worked out well. Mostly for me, but you know, who's keeping score?

“What do you need me for Frank?” Harold asked once we were out of earshot and almost to my transport.

“I’m working a case, and I need you to do some digging.”

Harold wiggled his nose. “What’s in it for me?”

“I just saved your life! Again!”

“I could tell them that you had the whole bet rigged. I know for a fact that all your weapons that discharge are designed to recognize your DNA. They’re rendered inactive whenever they’re pointed at you. It would have kept shooting an empty chamber.”

I sighed with a smirk. “You could tell them that. Or I can cut out your tongue before you have a chance, make peace with Murlco, and let them have their way with you.”

The strong genes were still giving Harold a death glare from a distance. “I concede. What do you need me to do?”

“Get in the transport.” I opened the passenger door for him, and it slid up and outward like a wing. “We’ll talk on the way.”

“On the way?” Harold looked like a little kid that didn’t want to go to school. “On the way to where? I have things to do!”

“I had to redirect to come here, so the least you can do is come with me, get the skinny, and then be on your way from there. You’re crafty at getting around. I’m sure you won’t have a tough time finding your way back home. Now get in.” I gave him a stern glare.

“Fine.” And like that, he was in my transport.

So that’s pretty much how my morning started off. I woke up to a frantic asset in need of help and saved his ass in classic Cooler fashion. It wasn’t even breakfast time yet, and there was already a dead body. As the transport lifted into the sky, I could only imagine what the rest of my day would bring.

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About the Creator

Ben Soto

I'm a Puerto Rican storyteller/filmmaker who uses lies to tell the truth; this is the essence of what I love about good stories. Author of Casino City and Distinction of Realms! Scifi, fantasy, horror, and thriller are among my favorite!

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  • Test5 months ago

    Thanks for your time to share the story here. I appreciate your work

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