Monday, December 17, 2012
Untitled. Excerpt WIP.
“I want you to get something for me.” Teddy was a pompous ass, but he paid well and had the nucleus of a good operation.
“Some Prince fancies himself a racing driver?” Dan watched the croupier, sure that this was it.
“Another card.” Teddy was not very drunk tonight.
“You always want something.” Thornton was holding at eighteen, with the Ace of Hearts and the Seven of Clubs, which as any fool knows is a pretty good hand.
The game was Blackjack, good old twenty-one.
Teddy nodded in simple justice. Dan Thornton was one of his newest operatives, one with a lot of potential. The problem was in getting him to take it seriously
“Hit me.” Teddy looked at the card and grimaced, but held comment.
Dan didn’t care for politics, and he had no great ideological concerns. If only he wasn’t so caught up in the dream. A more cynical outlook might have been helpful. The man didn’t have a political bone in his body.
Teddy suppressed a giggle, which wouldn’t be seemly. Tonight Theodore Swainson, Lord Rokeby, was on his best behaviour, and speaking in his posh accent. He had a few of them, as Dan knew, his working class and Cockney accents would have done him good service if he went into vaudeville, or what passed for it over here, the British music hall circuit. Dan supposed in its own way, it was much like the racing circuit, and a bit of a hand-to-mouth existence for the actual performers of that fine art of mimicry. As a spy, it came in handy no doubt. Dan had seen him in action, and he was good. He had one of those pale, shapelessly ovoid faces that without that bit of a mustache, the hair dyed and combed differently, could be almost anyone, male or female, of a certain height and weight.
The game went on, quietly and professionally.
It was time, and they showed their cards. Teddy had held at fifteen.
The croupier grunted and lugubriously shoved a stack of money at Thornton. The impression he gave was one of sheer boredom, but the repressed glitter of humour was there in his eyes. The game was rigged, for a modest fee. A close observer would have seen that what Dan won corresponded pretty nearly to what Teddy lost, and then the house got their percentage as well. This was a good way to pay agents, and Dan had an appointment in town anyway. He had left a suit for alterations, and it was on the way to Italy, where he had another appointment.
If anyone asked, he could at least account for the money. He had paid taxes on it and everything.
The casino was a watering hole for big predators and small fish. Which Thornton turned out to be was entirely up to him. Working on the assumption that all governments are corrupt in all kinds of little ways, and Monte was no different than other places, meant that Dan had to show up if he wanted to get paid, and it was perfect cover for a professional driver. They tended to live large and die in spectacular fashion. It was not unheard of for them to leave a good-looking corpse, although it was kind of rare. Teddy wasn’t lackadaisical or irrational. It was sheer random arbitrariness, of a kind that must have made it hard for any foreign counterintelligence service to keep up with his movements, at least not without blowing their own cover.
Dan always looked forward to the game, but to him, the enjoyment was in the winning, or rather the illusion of winning. Maybe it was just the illusion that he could win. For part-time work, it paid very well and he needed the money to continue with racing in Europe.
“What is it this time?”
“A friend needs to see you.”
“You don’t have any friends.”
They waited while cards were dealt.
“I want you to see a man.”
“Listen to what he has to say.”
“He’ll give you a package.”
“What? That’s it?”
“What if something goes wrong? Presumably this is something, um, interesting.”
Dan wasn’t all that curious, but he needed to know the risks.
“Yes, it’s valuable and important.” He held Dan’s eye for a second to drive home the point.
Teddy smiled. He was here to gamble, and he had a big pile of chips.
“You’ll know what to do.” His eyes swiveled back to the table.
“It’s not so much the judgment, although yours is considerable. It’s the speed. We’d like to avoid complications.” Teddy pulled out a slip of paper and gave it to Dan.
It was the usual sort of a place.
“You’ll recognize the person who comes. The pickup is in Geneva.”
Teddy had his own special little branch working out of the basement of Whitehall and he knew all sorts of people. He never made the mistake of believing any of them were his friends.
Dan debated whether or not to put a little down on another hand, but he doubted if the croupier, who had just shuffled up with a fresh set of cards, would be so generous now that Teddy had tipped him a microscopic nod. Teddy’s eyes widened at something or someone and a scent washed over his left shoulder.
“Well, well, well. Dan Thornton.” The throaty, husky voice, smooth in its timbre, was enough to make any man sit up and take notice.
It took a moment for it to sink in. A chill went over him and the hair on his neck prickled in shock. He turned, and froze when he met those eyes and comprehended the meaning in the lady’s sardonic grin. She had her chin up. Dan Thornton had always been a sucker for a lady with a good chin, and she had dark blue eyes too.
It was her, all right, and after all these years, she was as beautiful as ever.
It was like a trap door opening up under him all over again.
END Note: The year is 1938 and the action takes place in the casino at Monte Carlo. Dan's a racing driver, and perpetually short of money. Readers are welcome to check out my books on Smashwords, where 'The Handbag's Tale,' a short story in the noir detective tradition, can currently be had in all formats for free.