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The Limit: Chapter 6

Toni Rossetti is determined to fight to keep her family's gaming businesses - but is she "big'' enough to take on the Dyson brothers?

Ace crime writer Peter Lacey conveys an inside knowledge of his characters and locations.

To read earlier chapters of this story please click on The Limit in the menu on this page.

The hotel room was an oasis. She felt she had been centre stage for the last seventy-two hours. Tiredness had hit her in debilitating waves that retreated as soon as she resigned herself to sleep. The 6,000-mile trip always wrecked her internal body clock and events had added to the pressure.

But now she had found Shangri-la and it came with en-suite bathroom, telephone, TV and shag-pile carpet.

She undressed and caught sight of her reflection in the full-length mirror on the wall.

Not bad for a mature woman in her late thirties. She knew she looked good; she had taken care of herself. Of course, missing out on childbirth had helped. She smiled wrily at the mirror.

A long hot shower washed away the anxiety of the drive down to London. Afterwards she lay on the bed in a towelling robe.

She felt safely isolated in the amorphous womb of the hotel room, safe to reflect on her enforced homecoming and three days of upheaval, shock, distress and anger.

Three days.

Everybody had said that if her father hadn't died so young, things would have been different. Perhaps they would, perhaps not. Her father's death had changed a lot of things for her and her brother.

When Big Bruno Rossetti died of a heart attack at forty-two, he had a small mansion, a healthy empire and a lot of respect. He was strong on family and he protected his own.

His dying words to his wife were the combination of the second safe, the one containing the undeclared cash and the real set of books.

His funeral was an Italian wake. He lay in state in an open, silk-lined casket in the oak-panelled study for three days and nights. The women wailed, the men were stern and moist-eyed. They spoke fine words over the coffin and Toni heard them all.

For most of the daylight hours she sat by her father's side and held his cold hand. The imprint of her fingers was in his flesh when they finally screwed down the lid.

She began to cry for the first time when the cars arrived for the funeral. While he had been here, in the house, it was simply a pageant of which he was a part. But the coffin lid was final.

There were forty-two cars in the funeral cortege and more at the church and cemetery. All the shops on the main road were closed and their blinds drawn in respect.

Respect. It had been a hard act to follow for her brother.

But once Mario had come of age and asserted himself, he had earned his own respect. He had done well. Until he had been put into hospital. Seeing him there had been a shock.

He was a big man, but being prone and immobile had made him seem smaller. That first day back, she still thought he had been the victim of a hit and run, and found his story of what had really happened almost too incredible to believe. She had pacified him and promised to sort everything out. After all, what were big sisters for?

If she had been born a boy, Mario's empire would have been her empire. Now she had it by default, at least for the time being. Her first priority had been to make sure it continued to run smoothly.

Jimmy Docherty had worked for Rossetti Entertainments for ten years and been club manager at Dolly's for the last three.

Mario valued him because he was loyal and he was not greedy. He was paid good wages which he augmented with his own fiddles. It was a balance many managers did not always appreciate and, as a result, got a thumping or the sack or both. Greed could be unrewarding and painful.

Dolly's had a disco, cabaret room, dining areas and lounge bars, spread over two floors of what had been a co-operative laundry. It was on its third name change. On a Friday or Saturday night in the season, it would be heaving with locals and holidaymakers, but at eleven thirty in the morning it was occupied only by the cleaners.

Toni visited him in his first-floor office on her first day back. He was a small, compact Scot with dark hair that was greying at the temples although he was only in his mid thirties. He wore a pale blue shirt and slacks and a pink sweater. A fine gold chain was round his neck and a chunkier one on his wrist. The other wrist held a slim gold watch on a bracelet and he wore two rings—a large ruby and the obligatory gold sovereign. His walnut tan gave the gold lustre. The flashy opulence suited him.

They talked about Mario and about the business.

"You'll be able to keep things running, won't you, Jimmy?"

"No problem. Tighter than ever. Staff sometimes get sticky fingers if the boss is away. I won't let them."

It was an assurance that he wouldn't take advantage of Mario's absence, but she had known that already. Jimmy Doc was sharp but, like many Scots, he was very strong on honour. Besides, once back, it wouldn't take Mario long to spot major discrepancies.

"Will you be able to look after the bingo as well?"

"I dare say."

"Do you know the managers?"

"Not well, but I know them. Malcolm Batty is at Dixon Road, Peter the Pole has Talbot Road and Fat Gerard is still at South Shore. They all need watching but Gerard's been there for years. Anyway, you know Gerard."

"Yes. I know Gerard."

Fat Gerard had always been fat. He had first been a manager fifteen years before but hadn't been able to keep his hands out of the prize bingo money. The prize bingo was the non-accountable income.

Playing card bingo for cash prizes was, in the main, tightly regulated and traceable. It was the games for prizes in between that provided undeclared profits.

Cram in as many games as possible for swag that ranged from digital watches with a twenty-four-hour guarantee to Taiwanese blankets, and make money.
The prizes were well-packaged and displayed, the more lavish requiring accumulated wins to be claimed. They were bankrupt stock, flood damaged, job lots, misplaced deliveries. They cost flumpance but they looked enticing.

In the early days, the system had been to collect the prize bingo money in a bucket. Gerard had thought it was Christmas every day until Mario noticed his expensive jewellery and the diminishing returns. He had been sacked and Mario had changed the system. Over the years he had been re-employed and sacked for a variety of reasons. But at least he had learned his lesson about taking too much as his unofficial bonus.

Jimmy Doc said nothing to suggest he knew of any Dyson connection with Mario's injuries and Toni did not enlighten him. She needed to ensure the smooth running of the business before moving into those murky waters.

"I don't intend to bother you, Jimmy. This is your turf. But I need to know now what sort of cash flow I can expect. And I don't mean what the accountant knows about.

Jimmy nodded.

"The earners are door money, bandits and booze. Weekends there are a thousand punters a night. They pay four quid to get in. Weekdays and Sundays it's fewer numbers, two quid, less take. We cream a grand a week.

"There are three bandits. They're licensed, legal and metered. The meters are turned off one night a week and that brings two fifty. The booze is bought two ways. From a declared supplier with recorded accounts, the rest cash and carry. We make four hundred on a litre case of spirits and we don't need lead in the optics. Booze is about eight hundred a week. There's some off food, too.

"Mario takes about two grand a week in readies from the club, plus a grand from the halls. His policy is don't be greedy. That way, you don't get caught. Even by the taxman."

Toni smiled and remembered their father's advice. Always take the same percentage. If it's a good week, don't be tempted to take more. If it's a bad week, still take the same. And leave the shillings and pence. Never round up the take.

"Apart from the cream, how's business?"

"Legit? Never better. We make money that way, too."

Talking money had made her feel more optimistic. At least Rossetti Entertainments would continue to function despite her brother's hospitalisation, and her presence would be a deterrent to any middle management who might be tempted to overstep the accepted bounds of dishonesty.

But she still hadn't taken the Dyson brothers seriously. Not until she had learned from independent sources how they had moved into town and after she had met them herself, in their offices, and their hired help in a dark car park.

It had been that last experience, more than anything, that had sent her looking for the Mordecai Morgan of yesteryear with a burning desire to fight back.


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