The Nitkeeper. Nick Pelling’s runner
Dome’s entry, firming ever so slightly.
Two men positively identified the man labelled Keane as being in Melbourne four years before he was found dead. An illegal club employee, a nitkeeper for a baccarat school in 1944. The war at its peak in both Europe and the South West Pacific. Keane aged forty plus. Worked there for about ten weeks, not a big talker, no mention of an accent. Left without saying goodbye.
In a hurry.
Nitkeepers were called cockatoos in Sydney, they gave a whistled warning to the Two-Up rings. A fine job that was for a boy who knew the streets and alleyways of inner Sydney. No problem in spotting a patrolling copper, they all wore uniform. The only time a plain-clothes detective walked these back streets of East Sydney was at night
Two-Up was a working man’s game played in the sunshine. Baccarat was different. They had clubs. One door off the street, another at the top of the stairs with a peep-hole, then into the room. Women, cigars, cocaine, liquor, soft chairs around the baize. Plush. Money everywhere. Nobody ever just blew in.
Nitkeeper, good word that, it pictures somebody picking through their hair searching for the one nit making them itch. Nit keepers had the same itch when they watched the passers-by on the street outside their club.
The man labelled Keane had to know if the plain-clothes cop coming at him had a pair of handcuffs in his pocket or was wanting to get upstairs and into the game.
Know what I mean?
Keane had to know good cop from bad cop, cop being detective or higher, only they had the money to play regular baccarat. And a plain-clothes dick off the time-sheet with high-stakes gambling on his mind doesn’t stop to ask the nitkeeper if he passes muster.
Keane was connected.
And if the wrong cop got past him the consequences would be severe.
Perhaps they were.