a very dim view of any and all forms of cheating.
She glances over the contents of her black Prada back-pack. The bag
gapes open, deflated on the dark shine of the granite table top.
Spread out next to it are her tools, her needs of Vegas life. The
black leather wallet, Amex, Visa and membership cards spread by it,
her tiny silver cellphone, separated from it's battery, her black
bound note book and pens, make-up bag and change purse, Cosmo, and
her Mexican silver eagles head money-clip with the deep lapis eye,
clasping a healthy fold of crisp American bills. Next to these,
reflecting in the dark surface, are four nice, neat stacks of
black-rimmed, hundred-dollar chips.
The green glass light shade over Melanie's head leaves Cardoza
sitting practically in shadow behind the table. The two dark-skinned
burlys standing behind him in the shadows haven't moved or spoken
since they escorted her in. One, black, with dreadlocks and built
like a pick-up truck in a suit, the other just big and dark brown,
Asian looking, black hair trimmed short and shiny. The place smells
of new leather and wood polish. Cardoza's snakskin smooth voice
echoes a little in the cool of the hard, dark room.
"You have a lot of our money, Ms Karim,"
She peers through her coated shades to see him clearly, but she won't
take them off. They provide some small defence, at least.
"You play regularly here, and in our club in London. Mostly you come
out even, but you often walk away with a healthy profit and hardly
ever a loss."
He looks at her for a tight moment, then reaches into a drawer under
the large desk. She hears the drawer slide closed and he puts a large
cigar on the black granite desktop in front of him.
"Maybe, Ms Karim, you are simply a very good blackjack player. We're
naturally always happy to welcome winners."
He waits for her to react. She doesn't. He rolls the cigar backwards
and forwards under his hand, slowly. Towards her, towards him.
She waits. There was no telling where this would go, but she wouldn't
gain by rushing it along.
"Over the last, what is it, six weeks? You've taken about twenty
thousand dollars of our money." "After I've won it, it stops
being yours, doesn't it?"
"Of course it does," he smiles a thin, bankers smile. He says,
"Assuming that you have won it fairly." His eyes sadden, "In
this business, alas, there are always people who want to tip the odds
in their favour. Ah, the lengths some people will go, to tilt an honest
game. To subvert it." Rolling the cigar some more, he looks straight
at her and says, "To cheat, Ms Karim. We take a very dim view of
any and all forms of cheating." He stops rolling and waits again.
"Are you accusing me, Mr Cardoza? That would be rather serious, wouldn't
it?" One more roll, forwards then back, then it stops. His voice
even softer, "Very serious, Ms Karim."
She fights the itchy urges to touch her hair or shift on the seat. She
sits like marble.
He says, "People cheat in such ingenious ways. You have to admire
in a way. They use technology. Players have come wearing incredibly
small, thin computers. Under clothing, in the soles of their shoes,
even under hairpieces."
Rolling again, while he pauses.
"We wonder if you would object to our satisfying ourselves with a
The burly with the locks on Cardoza's right shifts to an 'at-ease' position.
She said, "Well, you already looked through my bag," She looks
at him through the shades. Can he see her eyes? It doesn't matter.
The silk of her stockings rustles softly as her legs cross, "And
I'm not wearing anything that you can't see," and she gives them
all a moment for it to sink in, "so I think that searching me might
give you a little more satisfaction than the situation would indicate
was strictly necessary. I'm sure you'd agree, Mr Cardoza." She felt
the timing was beat-perfect. Small bluff, understated, move on.
She leans forward a little, and in a reasonable, businesslike tone, says,
"I'm not cheating you, I'm playing as straight a game as you are.
If you really can't stand me winning, I can play somewhere else. But while
I'm at the table and people see me win some, their bets seem to get a
little friskier. I'm sure you have noticed. Especially the tourists. I
don't know how much you actually profit from my playing here, but I'm
sure it doesn't cost you anything. In the long run, it's good for your
business when the punters see someone winning, isn't it?" she smiles,
"and, you know, I don't see too many other players win steadily,"
a pause, "maybe it's just the nights that I'm here."
He settles back in his chair, and rolls the cigar some more. He seems
to be thinking it over. He reaches into the drawer again and fetches out
a cigar cutter. A small black guillotine with a round hole and a bright,
shiny blade. He holds it between his thumb and forefinger, snapping the
blade up and down.
He says, "I'm sorry, Ms Karim," and looks up at her, "I
haven't asked you," another pause while he picks up the cigar in
his left hand, "would you like something to drink?" "Lagavulin,
thanks. With a splash of water." she gives him a small, easy smile,
"Was that what you wanted to ask?"
"No," The Asian burly goes back to a table in the corner. Still
looking at her, Cardoza says, "Make it two, Hari. I'll have mine
Hari brings two large tumblers and a small water jug on a silver tray,
which he puts on the table. Then he resumes his station behind Cardoza's
chair. Melanie slowly crosses her legs the other way.
Without looking up she can see that Hari and the other burly are
fiercely not watching. At the swish of the silk, they both clear
their throats and swallow.
She sees that there is water in one of the whiskies, and she takes
the tumbler. Cardoza lifts the other. He tilts his glass towards her
and says, "Crime,"
They both take a drink.
She savours the whisky, dancing spicy and peaty on her tongue for a
couple of seconds, then the golden warmth wakes her throat, and
She says, "I love these island malts. Soft and smoky." He says,
"I know a lot of aficionados swear that they come through better
with water, but I can't bear to dilute it."
"I know what you mean. They are really at their best with Scottish
spring water, though."
"I heard that. I mean to visit Scotland. I'd very much like to play
at St Andrews."
"A good walk spoiled, Mr Cardoza. But at least, in St Andrews, it
is a real walk." They both sip some more whiskey.
"Ms Karim," he pauses. Perhaps he was waiting for her to invite
to call her 'Melanie.' How quaint. She doesn't. He goes on, "I have
to make a choice." Now both the burlys stand with their hands clasped
in front of them. She rolls her glass and watches the low amber
He says, "You may know that we consider what's known as 'card counting'
to be a form of cheating," She waits for him to go on, "I could
simply ask you not to return to our casinos. That would be a shame,"
She agrees, "For now, I'm inclined to take a chance, and to take
you at your word. You tell me that you are not cheating," He picks
up the cigar cutter again, "and I shall accept your assurance. I
very much hope that you will not prove me wrong," the cutter snaps,
and the blunt top of the cigar flops onto the desk, "And I hope that
your luck continues." He lights the cigar, puffing until a curtain
of heady blue smoke drifts and eddies between them.
Carlo was shuffling and spreading cards across the turquoise baize of
the empty blackjack table, waiting for players. He saw Miss Karim
step into the dimly coloured lights of the casino floor, her bag over
her right shoulder. Black bag, short mop of black hair, little black
dress, black stockings, tall black pointed shoes and a little,
high-waisted black leather jacket, all black except for silver chains
around her neck and waist, the only colour was the iridescent blue
coating on her sunglasses. She was reflected in the gold-tinted
mirror walls, through the Las Vegas mood music of tuneless electronic
chords and metal clatter in the aisles of flashing slots, as she
steered straight for Carlo's table.
"Hey, Carlo," she said, taking the chair at his far right. From
bag she neatly stacked three short piles of five chips, and one of
just two. Carlo offered her the decks, and she cut, about two-thirds
of the way into the stack. He popped the decks into the plastic shoe,
gave her a smile back and started to deal.
She dropped one hundred dollars on each of fifteen successive hands.
That must have been some kind of a record. She bet when the count was
way into minus numbers. She even hit a hard seventeen and bust. Then,
holding one chip up for the eye-in-the-sky cameras she said,
"One for the boys, Carlo."
A tip was money from home on a dead night like this. Even better,
Miss Karim almost never lost when she toked him. She put the last two
chips out next to each other. He dealt her a ten of diamonds, a
face-down card to himself and smiled as he turned an ace of spades to
He smiled and said, "Black Jack. Thank you, Miss Karim," and
he passed her a hundred and a fifty, taking the same for himself, plus
the hundred she had toked. Ten minutes work for a two-hundred and fifty
dollar tip. "Thanks, Carlo," she smiled as she got up to leave.
Carlo signalled the pit boss to log his tip. Mikey nodded to him and
made straight for Miss Karim.
"You're leaving," Mikey had on his disappointed face as he took
her hand in both of his, "not a lucky night, Miss Karim?" "I
don't know, Mikey. Depends how you look at it."
"It's my break, now. Let me buy you a drink, Miss Karim and we can
consider ways to look at it."
"I'd love that, Mikey, but I have to go. I promised a friend I'd
meet them and I'm already late,"
"Ah, so sorry, Miss Karim. Another time."
The house rules wouldn't let Mikey join her for a drink even if he really
wanted to. Which he probably did. He didn't make that much effort for
most of the punters, unless some business required it. If she accepted
his invitation, as she had occasionally, he would seat her and get drinks
for them both. Then after a very few moments polite chit-chat, he would
snare her some interesting company, before making an excuse and one of
his charming retreats. All very agreeable, but not tonight. Upstairs in
the screen nest, Cardoza and Hari watched as Melanie Karim moved silently
through the tables from four different angles.
When she reached the edge of the casino floor, she turned her face up
to the last camera and gave them a wave.
Cardoza made smoke with the cigar.
© David Whelan November 2002
Want to know more? Then contact the author...
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