"Mister Du Barrinat."
"Yes, what is it, Tobius?"
"There's a, ah, situation, that I think you should know about."
Tobius Karr, the head of casino security, was a tall and blocky man dressed in a sombre but very well-tailored suit, although the tailoring did seem to leave plenty of space under the armpits.
"We have a guest, one Mister Gock Lossat," he said carefully, "We've been watching this guy for days. He seems to be, for reasons none of us can understand, extremely lucky."
Wincen Du Barrinat was a man of few words. Although a shrewd and ruthless businessman, he nevertheless affected the calm and detached manner of a university professor of ancient history.
"He keeps winning. Every day. In increasing amounts," Karr explained, "I've already comp'ed him a presidential suite, to keep him happy here. I've up'd his status to 'high roller', to encourage him to bet more. And he's still ahead."
"Card counting?" Du Barrinat raised an eyebrow.
"Doesn't appear to be, sir. His bets at Dwadziescia Jeden don't follow the pattern you'd expect if he were counting highs and lows," the security chief said, "And, in any case, he wins at all the games."
"How much?" Du Barrinat leaned back in his chair and appeared to stare into space.
"Well," Karr hesitated, perhaps considering the best way to convey bad news, "Just now, at the Lucky Wheel, he took us for ten mill plus. He won on blue, six times in a row, letting his stake stand. Stopped just before a zero came up. Then, he put 2 mill on a single number, just once, and won - another 76 million."
"Altogether, over 150 million," Karr said, "I've got exact figures here."
He put a slim folder on the desk in front of Du Barrinat.
"Hmm. How long has he been here?" he asked, not looking at the folder.
"A little over three weeks."
"Bright kid, did well at college. Worked as an engineer for an avionics company, then came into money from an inheritance. Been a bit of a playboy since. He checks out, everywhere we've looked."
Wincen Du Barrinat sat back in his chair and exhaled deeply.
"Do you think he's cheating?"
"I do, I'm sure of it, sir. But I don't know how," Karr said, "Given his background, it's probably something very technical."
"So, pick him up. Ask him hard questions. In a hard way."
Karr smiled thinly.
"That's been harder to do than I expected," he said, "He's very well known on the floor. Half the people out there recognise his face. So it would have to be very discreet. And he's rarely away from busy public areas, or his own room."
"Still..." Du Barrinat began.
"Indeed. And I tried it. At the first opportunity I could see," Karr explained, "He was heading for the theatre foyer. While the show is on, that place is deserted."
Du Barrinat nodded slowly.
"I sent out a dozen operatives. Good people. I trust them. I watched the whole thing on the cameras. This Gock Lossat, he just seemed to step back for a moment, and then - he wasn't there. Anywhere I could see at the time. The team on the ground couldn't find him either."
Karr shook his head, looking as if he did not quite believe what he was saying.
"And then he reappeared," he went on, "In the Cocktail Lounge, sipping a drink and chatting. The staff there swore he'd been sitting there for an hour, although checking the cameras showed it was more like ten minutes."
"So what did happen?"
Karr sucked air through his teeth thoughtfully.
"I checked every piece of footage from the place, not just the cameras in the immediate area. I think I've worked it out. As far as I can see, he dropped a chip, or something, then bent down to pick it up, in a spot hidden by a bank of gambling machines from most cameras. The next second, the foyer was flooded with several hundred other people leaving the magic show, which had inexplicably finished ten minutes early. Gock Lossat simply strolled in the direction of the latrines and the exits, other people's heads and bodies always obscuring him from both the cameras and my team. Most improbable."
"So, just lucky again?"
"It would seem so."
"So, try it again?" Du Barrinat almost growled.
"I've tried something else, sir," Karr said, a slight smirk creasing his face, "I've sent in one of the girls".
"The one called Sharah."
Du Barrinat nodded again.
"That might work. Keep me updated."
"So how is our supply of miracles working out?"
Ambassador Vilbeda liked to be kept abreast of covert operations on the planet she represented to the Culture, and vice versa.
"Coming thick and fast," the voice of the ship said, "Young Ngok has managed to get his winnings to the point where all the staff and half the guests know who he is. He's continuously under surveillance by casino security, although Yoma Xantana is doing a good job of keeping that erratic and occasionally confused. And deflecting the odd more direct attack."
"Sounds good. And Du Barrinat?"
"He's started taking notice, personally," the GCU Elegant Sufficiency sounded smug, "His security chief decided he couldn't keep it from his boss any longer."
"Excellent." The Ambassador leaned back in her chair. "So we are getting close to a meeting, a contact in person?"
"Well, Ngok has managed personal contact with somebody close to the Boss already."
"Huh. I thought we could rely on that boy's charms."