Sahara Light: a Novel. Part III. Chapter IX.

18 Mar

The long, high hall was packed with male and female gamblers.

Gaseous illuminators cast brilliant light in every direction. The noise of metal wheels came from roulette tables along one wall. The most popular game appeared to be backgammon. At many locations, bankers compared their cards with those of the players at baccara.

Atlas identified some of the card games then in progress: pharo, bezique, orus, and elkethron. A mad fever dominated all the participants. The exhilaration about the hall never declined by an iota. This must be a highly lucrative enterprise to operate, the observer calculated. He had not expected such a gambling establishment at Arethusa Oasis. The patrons seemed to be Greek visitors from all sectors of the Sahara. He doubted that any large proportion were from Gamara, so badly damaged and suffering from its warfare with the ergati rebels.

But his purpose here was to the find the proprietor and talk with him.

A  card-dealer walked up to him to investigate the conspicuous stranger surveying the place with such intense interest.

“Can I be of help to you, sir?” asked the small man in a purple suit.

“Could you tell me where I can find Mr. Grion? My business here is with him, only him. I need to talk with the man.”

After studying him up and down, the dealer went off to confer with his chief. Atlas waited only seconds to see a tall, reedy figure with curly blond hair approach him. Silver gray eyes honed in on the stranger who had requested to see him.

“Yes?” said the casino-owner, garbed in an orange-colored business suit. “Can I do something for you, sir? I am the owner of this hall and at your service.”

“I am seeking employment in the area of hunting, Mr. Grion. I have had some limited experience using bows and arrows, as well as game shooters before their use was made illegal by the previous regime in Gamara.”

Grion abruptly interrupted him. “I take it, by your language and accent, that you are a native of that unfortunate city.”

“You are correct,” smiled Atlas Cimera. “But my problem is that I need much practice and training in order to qualify as a member of the venators’ guild of Gamara. That can be paid for by me, if I find people who can help me acquire the needed skills.”

The two of them exchanged trenchant, incisive looks.

“I have one person available who is able to give hunting lessons…”

The man named Endymion suddenly fell silent. His keen eyes picked up something at the entrance to the hall he was proprietor of.

Atlas turned his head so that he could see what was causing this shift in attention. Five men in chrome uniforms had entered the hall and were intently surveying it from end to end. What was the purpose of this Phylax intrusion? wondered Atlas. Were they searching for a fugitive like himself?

“Excuse me, please,” mumbled Endymion, quickly setting off in the direction of the men in chrome. Many of the games came to a halt, the players turning toward the surprise visitors.

Atlas stood still in the middle of the gigantic hall, his eyes glued to what indicated the possibility of some sort of confrontation. Nothing audible to him came from that scene, because both Grion and the leader of the newcomers spoke in guarded whispers.

Atlas watched intently, with engrossed attention, to what was happening. His mind had to interpret each gesture and movement of the participants in this strange meeting on a gambling floor.

All at once, Endymion took an oblong pad out of his coat pocket and began to write on it with an attached stylograph. The Phylax guards were about to be paid off with a bank check, concluded the watching Atlas. A transaction equivalent to bribery was taking place before scores of witnesses. It had to be that he was observing.

The quintet of uniformed extortionists quickly filed out of the casino. In a few moments of time, all of them were gone. It was clear that they had what they had come there for. What had their leader threatened the owner with? How had he forced the proprietor to grant him some amount that would remain unknown to outsiders?

As Atlas pondered such matters, Grion returned and walked back to the spot where he had been talking with the visitor from Gamara when interrupted.

“I want to introduce you to the instructor in desert hunting I mentioned,” calmly said the owner, as if nothing at all had occurred in the meantime. “It is a woman, my very own sister. Her name is Callisto. She should be here by closing time. If you can wait, I will introduce the two of you.”

“I can wait, sir,” replied the elated Cimera with a sense of moderate relief.

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