Saturday, June 8, 2013

Stiff Hand, Part 3

[Continues from Part 2]

While Natalie was talking I had been taking a careful look about the room, noting the table, the arrangement of the cards, the drinks, and the drinks trolley. "Thank you, Natalie, er, Sergeant Bishop. With your permission, perhaps I could ask a few questions of these gentlemen?" She nodded. I turned to the barman. "Mr....Newport, wasn't it?"

"Yes, miss," he said nervously.

"Were you here all evening?"

"Yes, I set up the bar station before the players arrived."

"From the looks of the table, it seems as though whisky was the drink of choice this evening. Did anyone have something other than whisky?"

"No, miss. Mr. Elwood ordered one, and the others decided they'd have the same. Made life easy for me."

I looked at the table and Elwood's full glass. "Mr. Elwood didn't drink much of it."

Newport grinned. "No, miss. Of course, I've seen this sort of thing before. I expect that he was hoping some of the other players would drink too much and it would affect their play."

"Did it work? Did anyone seem inebriated?"

"No one asked for a refill. I don't see how a man can get drunk on just one highball."

"No doubt you're correct, Mr. Newport." Sergeant Bishop examined the whisky decanter and the soda siphon. She shook her head at me, indicating she smelled no trace of poison.

Thanking the barman, I turned to the dealer, Morris Skelton. "Mr. Skelton, how did you get the job to be tonight's dealer? Did the players know you?"

Skelton ran a hand through his hair. "I never saw any of these gentlemen before tonight. But I'm the top-rated blackjack dealer in the casino. The manager often asks me to deal private games for high rollers."

"How often do you change the deck of cards?"

"After every game."

"Did you see anything unusual tonight during the game?"

"No, Miss Jameson. They were all experienced players, some better than others, of course, and the game was moving along without a hitch right until... until..." He trailed off, a hand gesturing to the empty seat.

"Thank you, Mr. Skelton. That's all I have for now." I looked at the three card players. "Now it's your turn, gentlemen. Mr. Alderton, do you play cards regularly?"

Alderton mopped his face. "I've played a few rounds in my time. I'm not sure... regularly... it really depends..."

"Let me try an easier question: how well did you know the victim?"

"Fallon? I don't believe I've seen him before tonight." Alderton's body language told a different story, but I let it go.

"Sergeant Bishop said you are a card-counter. Is that correct?"

"Tommyrot!" Alderton said with some emotion. "Scurrilous rumor, and I'll thank you not to spread that around. I'll be banned from this casino - hell, from every casino between here and Steelhead - if people start believing that." He mopped his face even harder than before.

Barney Elwood was next up. "Mr. Elwood, you seem to have a good motive for wanting Mr. Fallon dead, if it's true that you borrowed money from him that you can't repay."

If my accusation disturbed him, Elwood did not let on. "I had every intention of repaying Fallon, and he knew that," he said coolly. "In any event, lending money entails some risk - as does investing in a business. Fallon and I understood those risks, almost certainly better than you, Miss Jameson."

I could have told him a few things about risks, but chose to ignore the barb. "And do you gamble regularly, Mr. Elwood?"

"I enjoy a good game of cards every once in a while. I'm not a habitué at this casino, if that's what you mean."

"I'm not sure what I mean, which is why I asked the question. You're not much of a drinker." I gestured at the full glass at his elbow.

"I was concentrating on the game. But you are correct, I don't drink much. Perhaps I would have enjoyed it more after we finished with the cards but, alas, as you know, I did not have that opportunity."

"Mr. Fursey," I said, "you might have known Mr. Fallon better than anyone in the room, is that correct?"

Fursey balanced his weight uncomfortably first on one foot, then the other. Before he replied, he loosened his tie even further. He looked at Natalie. "Sergeant, I protest. This woman is not a police officer, and yet we seem to be expected to answer her questions."

Natalie smiled. "You're right, sir, you don't have to answer Miss Jameson's questions." Fursey looked smug. "On the other hand, I like her questions, so you could pretend that they're coming from me. If you really want to, I can repeat everything she says and then they'll really come from me. Or you can just do it the easy way."

"Oh, fine," he grumbled. "You're probably right, Miss... whoever you are. I expect I knew Fallon pretty well. I saw him six days a week at the office, and sometimes socially as well."

"And is it the case, as Sergeant Bishop said, he caught you embezzling funds from the firm?"

Fursey rubbed his face. "No! I mean, Fallon accused me of some...irregularities, but it was a misunderstanding that I would have cleared up for him quickly."

"And who will run the business in his place, now that he's gone?"

"I don't know. I suppose I will." Fursey looked uncomfortable.

"And I take it you won't be investigating yourself too carefully about those accusations of fraud?"

"Miss, I don't care if you're friends with the police. I don't like your tone."

"I do apologize, Mr. Fursey. Sometimes I get carried away. On a different topic, are you much of a gambling man? How did you find yourself here tonight?"

"As a matter of fact, I'm not a gambler. Well, I play cards socially, but not too often. In fact, it was Fallon who suggested I make up the fourth tonight."

I turned to Natalie. "I think that's about all I have for them."

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