Dr. Mathis felt like he was going to be ill. The operator had definitely said twenty thousand at the end of the call. And the man on the other line had said his account was in good standing, which didn't make any sense at all since he'd never called a bookie in his life. He certainly had never called one to place twenty thousand dollar bet that he couldn't cover.
For a moment, Dr. Mathis thought he might lose the breakfast he'd eaten a few hours earlier. The feeling passed quickly, though, and he managed to settle back into his office chair. He sat there in the silence of his office for a long time focused only on not completely losing his composure. After a moment, the initial shock passed, and Dr. Mathis quickly dialed the number again, his fingers shaking as they pressed the buttons.
The phone rang twice, and a familiar voice clicked onto the line, "Pearson guided tours, how can I help you?"
"Listen, I just placed a bet with you," Dr. Mathis stammered. "I need to cancel it. There's been some kind of misunderstanding or something. I wanted to put down twenty dollars, but I think you took it as twenty thousand!"
"Sir, I'm sorry," The polite operator on the other end of the line said calmly, "But all books are closed. The first horses have left the post. Good luck."
There was a click, and the line went dead once more.
The phone slipped from Dr. Mathis' fingers as he turned and emptied his stomach in the small round waste bin by his desk. When he was done he sat for a while in his plush leather executive's chair shaking and shuddering. Somewhere in that interval, he made the decision to cancel all of his classes and office appointment for the day. He told his assistant that he wasn't feeling well, and that he did not want to be disturbed. The young man dutifully forwarded the office phones to his personal cell phone, and he left for the day, locking the door behind him.
Dr. Mathis put on a pair of old stereophonic headphones and put a record on his faded Audiovox turntable. It was a recording of Vivaldi and it was nearly thirty years old. Still, this was Dr. Mathis' favorite record, and he only played it on very special occasions. He was always worried that the needle might scratch across the surface or maybe simply wear out the grooves from simple repetition.
Today, he needed the familiar rising and falling swells of pitch and tone, the weaving harmonies of violins and cellos playing off each other in turn. It calmed him and soothed his raw nerves. He listened to the music for a long time with his eyes closed, leaning back in his chair. It took an effort, but he slowly gained control of his breathing first, and then his heart rate. It took much more effort to quiet his turbulent thoughts.
Finally, Dr. Mathis opened his eyes to find Gregory sitting across from him. Dr. Mathis nearly cried out in shock, but he caught the urge in time and stifled it. He swallowed hard, and reached over turn off the turntable with as much nonchalance as he could muster. He carefully and slowly placed the headphones on top of the closed turntable lid, then turned to his visitor. He opened his mouth to offer a half-sarcastic greeting, but Gregory beat him to it.
"You should have watched the race," Gregory said. "But, then again, I didn't figure you would. Check the standings on line, though. Your race has run already."
"Gregory" Dr. Mathis began, "I really don't think--"
Gregory interrupted roughly, "That wasn't a question, Dr. Mathis. I need you to see them before I say anything else."
Dr. Mathis took a deep, slow breath, and turned to his laptop. He navigated to the website Gregory told him, and clicked on race results. For a moment, he couldn't believe what he was seeing.
His horse had won.