Avoidance Of Doubt

Entry by: percypop

20th May 2016

Monte Carlo Casino is like no other place on earth, combining glamour and deceit in equal measures. It attracts the rich and the greedy and that is where my skill was essential. I watched the croupiers and the clients; no one was above suspicion, because money is magic in that world.

Last Spring I lost my job. It happened like this. In May, after the Cannes Film Festival, we were full every evening. I strolled through the Chambres Privees paying my respects to the regulars I knew.

There was Marcel, an Italian gigolo who made a living from dowagers with money to burn. He sat next to a frail old lady who studied the roulette wheel as if it was a sick friend. There was Count Fosco, no one knew his real name, but he had money and we liked him. Then, an Englishman called Bentley who sat at the same baccarat table each night and caused a row if someone took his place, and there were several others who gave no trouble and kept the Casino in funds.

But I noticed two new faces among the regulars. Of course, new faces appear every evening, but these were special. He was a tall figure in an impeccable tuxedo; his hair was black and swept back from his forehead into a neat bunch behind his head. He had the eye of matador, keen and brilliant black, with an edge of danger in the corner of his eye. Standing at roulette table Number Three, he watched the ball on every spin as it dropped into place.

She sat far away at the other end of the table, but every man there was entranced. She wore a short evening dress of some indefinable blueish colour, evidently Haute Couture. She perched on the edge of her seat and every time the coup finished, she leant forward so that her gleaming blonde hair framed her profile. Her skin was pale and smooth, her poise immaculate and when she smiled, her sapphire blue eyes lit up with an innocent delight which radiated across the room as if we were all to share her joy.

I watched him with interest. He played the odds/evens spots, which is unusual because although they came up frequently, they pay just evens and lack the excitement of the individual numbers. Even so, he leant forward at most spins and placed high stake chips on the table. My instincts warned me that he was worth watching. Sure enough, after a few coups I saw what he was up to.

People crowd round as the winning numbers are called and whenever his even numbers won, he leant forward among the crowd and deftly added a high value chip to his pile before the croupier paid out. We call it "tophatting."

I moved to a place where I could reach him without drawing attention to myself and touched his arm.
"May I ask you for a minute of your time, Monsieur?"
He looked down on me and raised an eyebrow.
"Certainly," he said, "but I have two more coups to play before I have finished."
He turned away from me and I admired his sang-froid in what was a difficult situation. I let him finish and then gently guided him to a corner of the room where we were unobserved.
"May I know your name Monsieur?"

He fixed me with a dark look and I knew there was going to be trouble. He pushed me away and began to shout. This is a frequent ploy used by cheats, they hope, by causing a scene, to embarrass the Casino and make an exit. I gripped his arm and signalled to one of the pit inspectors to help me. Between us we marched him to the Cashiers office; he struggled and shouted all the way. The room was in an uproar. Everyone, both at roulette and baccarat stared at the scene and for a minute, play stopped everywhere.

By the time we reached the Office, the handsome gambler gave up his tantrum and stood quietly lighting a Turkish cigarette from gold lighter. He said nothing but I saw that dangerous glint in his eye. We went through the usual procedure, which I need not bore you with, took his winnings -banned him for life -photographed him and sent him on his way.

As he left, he waved and sauntered into the balmy night as if he had enjoyed a good evening's entertainment. When I went back into the hall, play had resumed and all was normal. The regulars exchanged knowing glances with me and I shrugged my shoulders in mute acknowledgement. Then I noticed the beautiful girl had gone. Just a hint of her perfume remained at the place where she had sat.

"Everything ok?" I asked Max, the croupier. He nodded and continued play. It was only in the early hours of the morning the scam came to light. While we were dealing with the dark haired man, someone had raided the coffre-that is the croupier's till - and taken chips to a value of 105,000 Euros.

Next morning, the Director invited me to his office. He sat squarely in wide leather chair and beckoned me to stand before his desk. Signor Fratelli is a large man and well connected. Bedside him stood a man in dark shades wearing a cheap beige suit. I had never seen him before at the Casino. He said nothing but chewed a toothpick.
"Let me understand what has happened."
Fratelli did not use my name but stared at me with his dark ringed eyes. His face had an unhealthy pallor as if he never saw the sunlight. His lips were moist and and he wiped them occasionally with a yellow silk handkerchief.

"You were on duty last night and got involved with a cheat. Is that right?"

"Yes," I said," you can see my report."

"But there is nothing here about the real loss, is there?"
His eyes focussed on me with an intense stare.

"Well, I didn't see how it happened and I doubt if I was in the room at the time."

The beige man stirred in his chair and smirked.

"What's your job then?" He said, "cloakroom attendant?"

"Shut your mouth!" Fratelli silenced him and turned to me.

“I want you and the table staff out of here and away from the Casino."

"What have I done wrong? You can’t sack me like that."

"You slipped up and that's that."

He looked away from me as if the matter was over and began to shuffle papers on his desk. The other man moved forward and threw his toothpick away. I noticed the bulge in his shabby suit jacket and decided to leave. He grinned at me and held the door open.

I said nothing and when I left the Casino, I went down the front steps onto the square to show I was not ashamed. The centre flowerbeds bloomed with oleander and hibiscus, scenting the air and disguising the foul exhaust fumes from the incessant traffic. I looked around and shook the dust of that life from my feet.

For the avoidance of doubt, I copied the key my darling Yvette used when she unlocked the table coffre. My brother Bruno lives in Porto Fino, but we still live in Beausoleil just above Monte Carlo.