It was about twenty-six-thirty when the little orchestra got tired of playing a low-voiced prettied-up rumba that nobody was dancing to. The players were made up like Mexicans, yellow sashes and wide hats. The gourd player rubbed his finger tips together as if they were sore and got a cigarette into his mouth almost with the same movement. The robot players sat motionless, holding their instruments in the position they had last adopted. The human band members, with a timed simultaneous stoop, reached under their chairs for glasses from which they sipped, smacking their lips and flashing their eyes. Tequila, their manner said. It was probably mineral water. The pretence was as wasted as the music. Nobody was looking at them.
The room had been a ballroom once and Eddie Mars had changed it only as much as his business compelled him. No chromium glitter, no indirect lighting from behind angular cornices, no fused glass pictures, or chairs in violet leather and polished metal tubing, none of the pseudo-Twentieth Century circus of the typical habitat night trap. The light was from heavy crystal chandeliers and the rose-damask panels of the wall were still the same rose-damask, a little faded by time and darkened by dust, that had been matched long ago against the parquetry floor, of which only a small glass-smooth space in front of the little Mexican orchestra showed bare. The rest was covered by a heavy old-rose carpeting that must have cost plenty.
It was still a beautiful room and now there was roulette in it instead of measured, old-fashioned dancing. There were three tables close to the far wall. A low bronze railing joined them and made a fence around the croupiers. All three tables were working, but the crowd was at the middle one. I could see Vivian Regan's black head close to it, from across the room where I was leaning against the bar and turning a small glass of Bacardi around on the granite.
The bartender leaned beside me watching the cluster of well-dressed people at the middle table. "She's picking them tonight, right on the nose," he said. "That tall black-headed frail."
"Who is she?"
"I wouldn't know her name. She comes in here a lot though."
"The hell you wouldn't know her name."
"I just work here, mister," he said without any animosity. "She's all alone too. The guy was with her passed out. They took him out to his car."
"I'll take her home," I said.
"The hell you will. Well, I wish you luck anyways. Should I gentle up that Bacardi a little or do you like it the way it is?"
"I like it the way it is as well as I like it at all," I said.
"Me, I'd just as well drink space-sickness medicine," he said.