by Trevor Hopkins

The Starfield Club was crowded, more so that I had seen it hitherto. Every table was packed, and every bar stool occupied. The house band were playing something loud and up-tempo, and Goblins in formal shirts or skimpy evening gowns were dancing - or at least writhing rhythmically - to its strains. Behind the flimsy balustrade and guarded by potted plants and unsmiling bouncers, the roulette and blackjack tables were all working at capacity under the watchful eyes of croupier and pit boss alike.

A flotilla of pneumatic cocktail waitresses in their skimpy uniforms dashed to-and-fro, trays piled high with refreshments, ready to loosen the inhibitions and pocket-books of guests and gamblers, oiling the wheels of Club business with Scotch and sex-appeal. Sure, a joint like this would take a lot of upkeep, but it must be a golden money-mine especially on an evening like this.

Clathy had disappeared, or at least I had lost track of her in the crush. I had other fish to fry in any case. I moved slowly around the room, keeping to the relatively uncrowded edges and staying away from the bars. No-one is more indistinguishable - and therefore effectively invisible - than a lone male in nondescript clothes moving quietly through a crowd.

I wanted to find Hosh - or at least find out where he was right now. I pressed my way through the crowd, keeping an eye out for his expensively suited body and grey-eyed face. I almost bumped into Clunie on her way past with a tray of empty glasses and discarded cigarette packets held high. She swung around, almost dropping her tray, her eyes opened wide with amazement as she recognised me.

"How did you get in here?" she squeaked, "Mister Hosh has given instructions to all staff to bar you from the place! Everyone's looking for you!"

"Simmer down," I shushed her, then added mysteriously, "I have my ways. Sneaky ways."

I took Clunie by the arm unencumbered by the tray and guided her towards a quieter spot.

"Did you send me a photo? In the post?" I hissed in her ear.

She looked surprised.

"Photo? No!"

I didn't really think she had sent the snap. I was just checking. Somebody wanted me here, wanted to excite my interest in Monzie Hosh and his associates, who may or may not include Madderfy junior. Somebody like Clathy Dupplin.

"Where's Hosh now?" I demanded.

Clunie looked around, bright eyes flicking this way and that.

"I don't know," she said, "He was down here earlier, chatting with some of the regulars, high-rollers, at the tables."

"How long ago was that?"

"Err. Maybe a couple of hours. He's probably gone back to his office."

I grunted something non-committal. I knew that Hosh wasn't in his office a few minutes ago, and I was beginning to worry about exactly whose body it was being removed by Drummond. And exactly who was in charge of the Starfield Club right now.

"Where's Merton's briefcase?" Clunie's voice cut into my thoughts.

"In my office," I replied.

"Who's looking after it?"

"I am."

She looked confused.

"Don't worry about it," I urged her, "I need your help, again. When you've finished here, go to my office - the doors are never locked - and collect the case. I'll let you. Then take it home with you, keep it safe there. Can you do that?"

Clunie nodded her understanding.

"Good girl. Now run along and do your waitress thing until closing time, OK?"

She looked obscurely pleased, out of proportion to the minor appreciation I had shown her. She was a girl who really wanted to please.

Part 52 Part 54