By the time I had gotten back to the apartment to get ready for my shift at the casino my mind was full of questions. But I had a good idea of where to start, which was conveniently the same place that I needed to go anyway. I washed the sweat from the cafe fight from my face and slipped into my dress shirt and slacks. Throw on a pea coat and an umbrella for protection against the rain and I felt about as French as I was ever going to get.
I didn’t want to spend a lot of time walking in the rain though so I took the tram into the better part of town, watching the high-rise tenements disappear behind the foothills to be replaced by the terracotta roofs of the old city. I stepped off the tram far from the motorways and promenade that would be filled with tourists even at this time of the year, but much closer to the casino than home.
Still early by gambler hours it was easy to slip around to the back and through an employee entrance. While it certainly lacked the lights and impressive architecture of the grand front entrance, the back did have a large canopy to let smokers enjoy their habit out of the rain. In my case, it allowed me to catch Gaspard on his way in. Many of the pit bosses weren’t friendly with the employees they managed and Gaspard was no exception, setting a quick pace as he moved towards the entrance. Even so, Gaspard seemed to pick up his step when he spotted me by the door. I shook off my umbrella and made as if I had just arrived, hoping to set him at ease.
I reached for the door as he approached, but didn’t get out my security card. Gaspard already had his out and swiped it, but I still had a moment to say hello as I opened it. He nodded and mumbled something, then slid through the cracked door with his narrow shoulders like a man escaping a flooding compartment. I followed him in.
I followed the standard protocol with Gaspard as I did with shop owners and anyone else I wanted something from that also happened to be French. Rather than jumping right to my questions I politely kept pace with him down the utility hall saying, “Hello,” and asking him how he was. Gaspard responded to both of these with the same kind of distant politeness as the merchants I dealt with, but with him there was no recognition of the effort to conform to local tradition.
Sensing that he was as warm as he was going to get I asked him, “The Corsican last night? Was the patron he was bothering older? Good looking? Big white teeth?” Gaspard stopped short in the middle of the hallway, causing a couple of croupiers to move around him with the speed and fluidity the casino demanded of its staff.
The stare Gaspard gave me over his shoulder didn’t contain any of the nervous sweatiness that he had displayed in the holding room with the Corsican. There was only the silent authority that he exuded as a pit boss. “What does it matter to you?”
I appreciated Gaspard’s need to maintain some distance from the other employees, but I was getting tired of him pretending it applied to me. Between the Corsican mentioning a girl and the trio ruining my breakfast there were more questions than I wanted to be bothered with. I stepped close enough to Gaspard that he had to turn fully to me to keep his balance. “I think I’ve seen the Corsican around.” I smiled, all politeness and no mirth. “I want to make sure he doesn’t bother our guest.” That was nearly impossible, of course. After causing enough trouble to get evicted last night, external security would almost certainly be alerted and provided with a description.
My proximity caused some of Gaspard’s previous nervousness to return. He glanced up at me briefly then around to see if there were any other employees within earshot. Without looking back at me he replied, “No.”
That was disappointing, but expected. It didn’t make sense for the high roller to follow his harasser then sic the Corsican’s comrades on me. Then it occurred to me that might not be Gaspard’s answer, but a refusal. Reading him, growing nervousness without good cause, left me more uncertain to which it was. So I requested, “If the high roller comes back, point him out to me. Please. I’d like to keep an eye on him. For his protection,” I lied, adding a bit of truth to it for the sake of credibility, “I believe the Corsican may have friends.”
A shot of fear through went through Gaspard’s eyes that let me know I’d hit on something with the last sentence. His response was a question that didn’t give anything away. “How do you know this?”
I shrugged, indicating I wasn’t concerned, only showing professional caution. “A couple of voyous followed me home last night. They looked a bit like him. Probably nothing.” The momentary fear in Gaspard’s eyes resolved into a guarded circumspection.
I was tempted to push it further, but I couldn’t do it in the hall without attracting the attention of other employees. And word of any sort of altercation would get around. Like any place that runs on silence and formality, the casino employees loved gossip.
Not able to get anymore out of him right now I just smiled at Gaspard and slapped him on the shoulder. Outside of a handshake when we had first been introduced nearly a year ago, I had never touched Gaspard. The pat was an overly friendly gesture that jarred his caginess with an irritation. I used his momentary frustration to give him an oblivious nod and walk away.
Sandwiched between the receiving dock and a row of walk-in freezers at the back of the kitchens were the employee areas, one for changing and one for dining. I went into the locker room and opened mine, taking out the black blazer. Recently dry cleaned, it had a chemical tang that reminded me of baking soda and fresh coffee, an odor I found oddly pleasant. It was one of the small things that brought me happiness in work at the casino. I was also glad I didn’t have to wear one of the vests of the dealers or a pretend cop uniform like some Las Vegas security. The blazer, at least, conferred some dignity. Or at least that’s what I told myself.
I swung by the security office to see if there were any alerts and to pick up my earbud. I nodded to the team of surveillance professionals that were breaking there, there eyes deadened by the constant hours of staring at screens, shirts stained with countless cups of coffee. One of the younger ones, a short man with an unvarying black stubble on his face named Jasper, broke away from the others to say to me, “Lost you on the security footage for a few minutes last night.”
I nodded, popping in my earbud, the constant noise of the casino chatter joining our conversation through it. “Yeah. Had a bit of a backroom waltz.” I threw in a bit of the odd slang that many of the casino employees seemed to enjoy when it came from the American. Funny thing was I had learned that one from an Australian.
“You know, disarming cameras is against casino policy. Punishable by termination.” Jasper gave me a smile that was supposed to tell me he was joking, but also told me he enjoyed having this bit of power over another employee. That’s all you really need to know about Jasper. I could have asked him to get me an image of the high roller the Corsican had been bothering and he most likely could have gotten it. But asking him would have given him something to hold over me and he was the type of person to want that.
“The semeur must have jostled the camera.” I smiled at the obviousness of the lie, letting Jasper know I didn’t expect him to believe it. Dealing with troublemakers like the Corsican, though, was a part of my unofficial duties so anyone Jasper might have told about the incident would choose to believe the falsehood. Jasper knew this, so let me go with an equally spurious chuckle and nod.
I tuned into the buzz coming from the earbud as I headed onto the floor and the section of the casino I had been assigned for the evening. As usual, I was banished to one of the least populated realms, with the one-armed bandits and other automated games, the less glamorous section populated with pensioners and slot jockeys. The rooms were kept dim so the young tourists searching for a bit of excitement didn’t have to see the end game if their curiosity became an obsession.
It was as boring as it sounds. I mostly gave directions to older folks confused by the casino’s labyrinthian layout and kept an eye out for machines that were paying out too often. It wasn’t a bad job as far as jobs go and I was accustom to spending long hours on my feet.
I had been at this for a stretch of time when the buzz of the casino communications went quiet in the earbud. It was replaced by Jasper’s voice sounding more weaselly than usual. He let me know we were on a direct channel by saying my name. I asked him what he wanted.
“That high roller you were asking Gaspard about?” That exchange had made its way up and down the grapevine faster than I thought it would. I didn’t say anything into the microphone pinned under my collar. Moments went by until Jasper continued with, “He’s in the roulette room.”