She opened her eyes slowly and he watched through slivered eyes, like glimpsing pocket aces for the first time. He kissed her. She was new. She smelled of the big room, of plastic cups and silver dollars and smoke. He rose and she followed him. They showered and dried each other's backs. I adore you, she said. You're my baby.

Wait here, he said.

He dressed, deep cover, brown cowboy hat and aviator glasses and went to the elevator. He went to the bottom, the credit desk, and it wasn't Kevorkian there but it was close. The old man said, come for more? I gave you what you wanted last night. It was a fair trade.

I want it all. The max.

It's gone, he said. Why bother? Why make it hard?

I don't believe you, Scratch. I just don't.

Well. Well, then. Sign.

Upstairs, in the big room, the dealer nodded to him; the regulars didn't but reached for their drinks as though synchronized. Cards came in bolo speed and silence. As swiftly, wax-smooth fingers dealt cards to rail and covert glimpses followed.

Pocket aces came to him. His money went center, all of it, and the cripple from last night matched it, wanted last night's losses reimbursed. For money, he moaned; for money, he moaned.

The flop came, the turn, the river, and that cripple smiled and sighed.

When he came, she was still upstairs, new, stiff and shiny like a fresh deck. She said, you're my baby, and he said, yes.

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