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Churlstein, Favorito, Razor, Scott, Morden, Petrovich, and Standish were seated around the table, all drunk out of their minds, playing a heated game of poker.

"That is a three!"

Standish yelled, waving a card in front of Churlstein. Churlstein squinted, his head swaying along with the card. Morden, seated at the head of the table, saw her first. He was pounding his finger into the table, making a point to someone.

"Now you wish we'd raised the stakes," Scott said.

"Hey, Sheridan!"

She waved at Anna, a goofy grin on her face. Her short white hair was standing up every which way.

"Come help me beat the pants off these boys."

Several of them turned toward her, called encouragement.

"No thanks. I'm beat."

Morden stood, took a long gulp from his mug, and wiped all of his chips onto an empty plate.

"Deal me out," he said over the protests of the others.

He approached Anna.

"What's wrong?"

A mild look of concern moderated his smile.

"Nothing." Anna shook her head.

"I just tried to send a message to my husband and found out the communications are down."

"Oh. Well, I'm sure they'll be back on line soon. It can't be serious, can it?"

His dark eyes studied her.

"I don't know."

She looked back over at the table, her hand tapping nervously at her leg. She couldn't trust him. She couldn't trust anyone.

"It's just, you know how it is, it's the holidays, and you want to talk to someone..."

His smile rose, and she realized what she had said.

"I understand," he said.

"Oh. Listen. I almost forgot. I have something for you."

The box was in her sweater pocket. It seemed odd now, her giving him a present, but she'd done it and she might as well give it to him. She should keep acting normally.

"Sounds mysterious."

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