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I paused in the middle of all the bells and chiming of the slot machines. If Jasper was giving me this information it was because he wanted something. To respond would be to give him an edge. In an effort to maintain control I said, “Describe him to me.”
I could almost hear the grin in Jasper’s voice. “Russian. Maybe Ukrainian or Belarusian. He’s got quite the entourage with him.”
I rolled my eyes with my voice. “The roulette room is filled with Russians.” It was true. Roulette and dice were in the same sector and the Russians seemed to prefer those over games involving more skill.
Jasper came back with, “He’s a tall, good-looking fellow, not the usual fat, sweaty type. He must not smoke: His smile is nearly bleaching out the camera.” Almost as an afterthought Jasper added something actually useful, “And he has a beard.”
“Thanks,” I replied and waved to the nearest camera. I knew Jasper would be watching me to see if I took his bait and went to the roulette room. I stayed rooted where I was for a moment, not wanting to give him anything and suddenly reluctant to get involved. Then my curiosity moved my feet, pulling them off the reluctant gravity of the floor. This was probably the only opportunity I was going to get to see the high roller and move beyond the vague descriptions that had been provided to me thus far.
Without a word to Jasper I stepped away from my noisy sector, fairly certain nothing would happen without me for a few minutes. I made my way out of that dimness to the glitzier part of the casino, through a pair of double doors to the main floor that was made up to look like an old Riviera palace. This transformation was convincing enough that I thought maybe it once was one, going from the dim lights and deep red carpet to the bright chandeliers and marble floors. Emerging from the cave of slot machines and into the bright light with black tie high rollers and the tourists let in to gawk at them, I headed to the roulette room.
Next to private games, the roulette and craps tables had the highest stakes. It could generate a lot of excitement. And not just for the players. A hot streak at a table could light up the entire room, sometimes pulling in people from other sectors. Each table even had a video screen mounted above it to display game information to those who got crowded out, cheers and groans rippling away from whichever table emanated the heat of a lucky run.
Fortunately for me there wasn’t that kind of crowd yet, leaving enough room to make my way across the floor, sticking to the walls and out of patrons’ way. I kept my eye out for a bearded Russian with a sizable entourage. It didn’t take me long to find him. He stood up straight and had a smile on his face. That set him apart from all the other casino goers, most of whom were crouched over tables and grimacing or looking ecstatic, depending on what was happening at their table.
True to Jasper’s words, the Beard did have quite the entourage. There was the usual gun moll; a young woman, too thin and with sharp cheekbones, but startlingly beautiful nonetheless. She hung on his arm or around him, casually ordering drinks and hors d’oeuvre she never touched from whatever casino employee came close by. Not far behind those two was the muscle: One looked to have the shape and intelligence of a brick wall and the other an angry looking whip of a young man, a scar on his cheek marking him from a past dispute.
I didn’t know how if the Beard was the same man that Balaclava had informed me about, but he fit the description enough that I kept out of his line of sight. I floated close enough to confirm that I didn’t know him from Adam, though, which made me wonder how he had known enough about me to give a description. Judging by his movements and treatment by the staff, he was connected enough that he might have come by the information second-hand.
What really told me he was important, though, was the pit boss, Thibalt, floating almost unseen nearby. Efficiently, Thibalt coordinated everything to make sure the Beard and his people were happy. A waiter was nearby ready to swoop in if any kinesics indicated a desire for something not present, and a two security personnel cleared a path through the rabble should the Beard get bored and move to another table.
I nodded appreciatively at Thibalt’s efforts. It was a good idea to keep a curtain between the Beard’s security and the tourists. Russian muscle might not control themselves if someone got pushy and the casino didn’t need an incident that might bring cops.
Which is why both Thibalt and me took notice when another entourage appeared, set on a course for the Beard and his people. Walking through the outer doors of the roulette hall, wearing a dark suit with a black shirt and deep purple tie, came Carlu Sarti, a man known to everyone in the hall, the casino, and probably even the city. The local mob boss, he was rumored to be a silent partner in the casino, but no one would ever be able to prove that. Thibalt spoke into his collar microphone, setting the floor abuzz with an activity that was fitting for the arrival of the shadow king.
My own earbud buzzed, summoning me to where I was already at. I smiled at my luck as Jasper’s possible hold over me evaporated.
Detaching from the wall I watched Carlu and his team of heavies move towards the Beard, who kept smiling and betting, oblivious to the new arrival. I wondered at the coincidence of it all.
Despite the consistent lack of women around him producing rumors that Carlu preferred the company of men (or boys, depending on who was telling the tale) it would have made more sense for him to be involved in a dispute over a local girl. The same gossipers had it that amongst his other grifts he ran the local brothels.
I didn’t have a great deal of time to dwell on that, though, as Carlu closed the distance to the Beard with pumping steps of his short, thick legs. His gait spoke of intention. As I moved to intercept I saw Thibalt do so as well. Both of the Beard’s men saw Carlu before their boss did and closed ranks in front of him, but the Beard gestured them aside so he could step forward to meet the shorter man.
People around them stopped paying attention to the action on the table and started watching them. The air began to fill with the kind of intensity one might associate with a public brawl in a high school. I felt more than saw this, ignoring the stupidity of the herd animals. I knew full well that people with money could be reduced to a mob just as quickly as all the people they looked down on in their saner, more sober moments.
With all of that I didn’t expect Carlu to pull out a pistol.