“Boon Swa.” I always began in French even though they brought me in because I was an American.
Other than some of the casino’s employee bathrooms the holding room was one of the building’s smallest. It was large enough for a grown man to take a few paces or to get some space if another man started swinging, but not much else. Four walls of a faint yellow, a little longer than wide.
Centered towards the back of the room was a single chair behind a small table. Although the table was there mostly to set things on, like a beverage or ID, it was bolted to the floor and had a small restraining ring near the middle. For this reason it often caused the people who had been brought to the room to be anxious. And most people who were brought to the room were already nervous.
Stepping in briskly, I noticed the man there now wasn’t nervous. In a reversal of the normal situation, Gaspard, the pit boss who had called me in, looked sweatier than normal. He stood with his receding hairline and stooped shoulders near the room’s camera as if he were ready to shut it off at a moment’s notice. Gaspard’s uniform wasn’t disheveled at all, though, so I guessed the Corsican sitting in the chair hadn’t caused any trouble. If he had, I would have heard about it by now, either through the earbud or by word of mouth. Despite all the glamor casinos try to drape themselves in, working in one can be incredibly dull. Routine and procedure are the top priorities. It’s a bit like prison that way.
After issuing my greeting I examined the sitting man more closely, trying to get a better idea of how I knew he was Corsican the moment I stepped in. I nodded curtly to Gaspard and moved closer. The Corsican was dark-haired and unshaven, managing to look slick with rain even indoors. He had a steam shovel of a nose and at least one tattoo poking out from under his white shirt collar. I couldn’t see his feet, but I imagined he was wearing motorcycle boots. But it could have just as easily been some knock-off brand of athletic shoe. It was the leather jacket that made me think of motorcycle boots and I knew better to make assumptions about things that could be verified.
He didn’t look like the type who would try to cheat a casino. Out in the gambling hall he would have attracted a lot of attention from the black tie players. And he didn’t look French. That is to say, he didn’t look like a guy who came from a people who had managed to lose World War II twice. But his nose and other features still had a Gallic cast, which is why (I decided) that my brain had leapt to him as a Corsican.
He smiled at me with small, uneven teeth, pitted with neglect and brown with coffee and cigarette stains, though he was younger than me by a good 10 years. Seeing that smile in that face I decided that this kid should be out smuggling, running whores, or collecting loan shark debts. So what was he doing here?
Turning to Gaspard I switched to English in the hopes the Corsican didn’t speak it. “What’s going on?”
Gaspard shrugged his narrow shoulders causing the casino blazer to move like it was controlled by a puppeteer. His grey eyes darted to the Corsican then back to me. “He was disturbing one of our guests.”
I felt my eyes imitate his ocular dance. Back to Gaspard I said, “And I’m supposed to…?”
He shrugged again, his blazer moving up and down on its invisible strings. He didn’t speak, because the answer was obvious, the same as it always was. I was there to scare the Hell out of him.
Without taking my eyes off Gaspard I reached up into corner and pulled the plug on the camera, my superior height easily clearing him. The indicator below the vacant lens blinked out. Gaspard continued to stare at me, giving me a bit of mock concern, speaking in French too fast for me to catch, but all a part of the show that the crazy American had just shown up. I took off my casino blazer, broadening my wide shoulders as I did, getting a good stretch in while showing off my size. I put murder into my eyes and then rotated my body like a tank so the Corsican could see it.
I had seen professional cheats and rich, self-important children cower at the routine me and Gaspard were putting on now. The Corsican was unsettled by it, just barely shielding the apprehension that crawled up into his eyes, but he wasn’t frightened. He probably knew what was coming next so he was bracing himself for it.
That meant there wasn’t any point in wasting time. I slowly walked over to him, unbuttoning the cuffs on my dress shirt, just another stage tool to ratchet up the tension. By the time I crossed the short space and finished rolling up my sleeves the Corsican had raised his chin and the fear had gone out of his eyes. It left only a defiance that practically dared me to hit him. So I did.
Not in the chin or face as he was expecting though. If someone saw him being dragged out of the casino, some high roller taking a drunken stroll or the children of the ultra-wealthy trying to score something illicit in one of the back alleys, I didn’t want his face to be bruised. Also, I didn’t want to give him what he wanted.
I landed a fist into his solar plexus, pushing all of the air and confidence out of him in one solid strike, causing him to bend over in the chair. Grabbing him by his greasy hair I slammed his forehead into the table, not hard enough to leave a bruise, but enough to continue the stun. Pulling him back off the table I kept going with him until the front legs of his chair were off the floor, then I kicked the back legs out from under him. I let go of him long enough that he could tumble backward, smacking the back of his head into the wall then sliding down to the cement floor. Then I grabbed him again by the front of the shirt and lifted him off the ground so I could lean forward to whisper a couple of memorized French phrases.
They were generally meaningless threats, something for the mark to hear while worrying about my fists or my imposing size or the crazy in my eyes. Things like, “We don’t like your type around here” or “What makes you think you can act like this?” or “You should be more respectful.” In the case of troublemakers I couldn’t touch I salted in a mix of legal or parental menace. But seeing as I didn’t have much in the way of restrictions with the Corsican I let my hands walk him around.
I dropped him again, letting him fall to the floor like a deboned fish, giving him a few kicks to soft tissue in order to make sure he stayed down. I circled him, barking choice insults and phrases as I did, mostly to gauge his state. He managed to shoot me a few scornful glares, each one earning him another kick.
While I was doing this, Gaspard went around us, moving to open the door at the back of the holding room. It was nearly invisible, only a seam in the wall that most people wouldn’t see unless they knew it was there. It opened up into a labyrinth of utility hallways lined with steam pipes and electric routers. If one knew the proper path you could take this to a little used back exit where a limo could be waiting or, in the case of someone like the Corsican, they could be dumped by the trash hundreds of meters away from anyone important.
I picked him up by his shirt collar, my right fist back in preparation for one more blow, when my curiosity got the better of me. Instead of another line of rote intimidation I gritted out, “Why are you here?”
The recognition in his eyes told me that he understood English, which was rare. His stilted response told me that he didn’t speak it very well, although I suppose that might have been the pain I put him in. Either way he managed, “He’s got the girl.”
The response caused me to let go, him slumping to the ground again. I stared at him as Gaspard moved forward to drag him towards the back exit, the leather jacket tight enough that it cinched the Corsican under the arms as Gaspard grabbed him by the collar. I shook off my doubt and followed, locking the door behind us then helping drag the poor sap to whatever alley we’d be dumping him in.
Pulling him along the gray concrete of the utility hallway my curiosity got the better of me so I asked Gaspard, “Who was this guy bothering?”
His brow dotted with the sweat of dragging the young (and rather light) young man, Gaspard shook some of it off in drops. “No one to concern yourself with.”
Annoyed at the implied superiority of the answer I gave the Corsican an easy shake and asked him, “Hey buddy, who were you bothering?”
A low groan was the only reply from the kid, but Gaspard shot me a nervous glance from under a paling brow. “Don’t bother with this American. You don’t need more trouble.”
I shrugged. He was right, of course. But that had never stopped me before.