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"Two for Mr. B."
"And one for the Spaceman."
A snort from Ann.
"We are in caucus."
"Very well, we will take two."
"Is that a bipartisan conclusion?" Matt asked, his voice dry as lunar dust.
"The chips will stop here," promised Harry.
Ann snorted again. "And dealer takes two."
Mr. B tossed his cards down. "I'm out."
Matt stared at his hand. He sighed. "Me, too."
Abe looked at Tom. Tom looked at Harry. Harry looked at Jack. All of them nodded, stiffly. Abe picked up a couple of chips, threw them out into the middle. "Reckon we're in."
Ann threw down her cards in disgust. "Who dealt this crap?"
"That would have been you," Mr. B observed. "I've killed for less."
"You?" Matt said, incredulous, even as he pulled the chips toward him.
Mr. B looked at him with brown, hard, blank eyes. "Better believe it. I've faced nightmares. Monsters from the Id. Things that lurk in the dark."
"Can you make a living like that?" Matt asked.
Mr. B shrugged. "Bodyguard work. Not much call for it these days, but if he still needs me ..."
Matt barked a laugh, bitter. "Well, there's the trick."
Mr. B looked at him with that blank face of his. "You could do okay." He nodded. "Protective suit. Nice gun at least."
Another laugh, this one bitter. "It's not a gun."
"I do not understand everything I see in these parts, young man," said Abe. "But it does bear a resemblance to firearms I've known." He stiffly rubbed the back of his head.
"Yeah, you'd think," Matt said. "But it's actually a laser flare pistol."
"You're shitting me," Ann said. She shook stray wooly locks of red hair from her face.
"Nope. All my stuff had to be peaceful, semi-authentic stuff. No actual guns or weapons of destruction. Thus, a 'laser flare pistol.'"
"A noble endeavor," said Jack.
"Wait," said Mr. B. "No weapons? Didn't you have a moon base? And a truly impressive mobile laser firing platform?"
"Yeah. 'Firebolt Space Cannon.'" Matt scratched his chest, though he could barely feel it through the suit. "Except it wasn't a laser cannon. It was a laser excavator. 'Suitable for lunar mining operations' and similar constructive activities. Political correctness before there was political correctness."
"Lame," said Ann.
"You're one to talk," snapped Matt. His usually friendly blue eyes glared at her. "What the hell were you doing among his 'favorites.'"
She squirmed a bit. "Well, I wasn't. Really. Directly."
"You would seem a most unlikely subject of his affection," said Tom. "Unless young men have changed greatly since my day."
That brought a chuckle from Mr. B. "She wasn't his favorite. She was his sister's favorite."
"That's right," Ann said, quick and harsh. "He took me from her room one night. Hid her away in his stuff. By the time he realized what a stupid thing it was, he was ashamed to let her know. So he kept me hidden for years, a secret treasure, red-faced and locked away. Even took me to college with him, in case she found me."
"Never thought to just toss you out?" Abe asked.
She shook her head. "Too sentimental, I guess. Later, he put me up on his dresser in his first apartment. Right next to Mr. B here. Except when Susan came to visit. Of course." Her voice was harsh.
"Ashamed of you?" Matt said.
"At least he took me out," she glowered at him. "He never did anything with you until his mom and dad were cleaning out the garage.
"Hey, baby," said Mr. B. "You can shake your buttons at me any time."
Ann made a gesture at him that one wouldn't have thought a fingerless hand could make.
"We playing cards?" Harry asked, "or just shooting shit?"
"Playing cards, one would hope," Tom said.
"Hold your freaking horses," Ann said. She started peeling off cards. "Goddamned politicians," she muttered.
"Servants of our country," corrected Jack. "Ask not, and all that."
"Gas station promotion, if I remember right," Mr. B observed. "Collect one small plastic facsimile of a president each week. Fine educational value. Comes with a complementary styrofoam pseudo-Roman amphitheatre to stand in." He chuckled, his face expressionless. "What, Millard couldn't make it tonight?"
"Favorites, once chosen, even within the mind of the individual, remain. For whatever reason, we were borne in such familiarity in his mind," Tom replied. His arm, usually outstretched in a perpectual gesture, turned upwards. "I suppose it beats embellishment upon an unused increment of currency."
"Speak for yourself, Tom," Abe said, a slight grin upon his face.
"What kind of kid plays with little toy presidents?" Mr. B asked.
"A well educated one," Jack replied, grinning.
"Cards are dealt, gentlemen," Ann broke in. "I thought someone wanted to play."
Mr. B reached forward with his good arm, checked his hand. "Ten," he said, tossing in some chips.
"It does make one wonder," said Jack, craning his neck. From the living room, they could just see into the bedroom, where the dreamcatcher hung from the wall above the headboard, caught itself in the light of the ceiling fan, feathers fluttering slightly in the breeze. "What destiny has brought us here, on this day, to play this game."
"I'm in," Abe said, pushing the chips forward.
Matt looked over at Jack with some fondness. "Favorites. The stuff dreams are made of. Like looking at the sky and walking on the moon."
Ann nodded. "Something close to the heart. Even a guilt still carried."
Mr. B wiggled his ears. "Or a love."
"Or," Tom said, "a memory of great fondness, a familiarity of sight."
The door opened. He walked in.
Conversation around the coffee table stopped. The fan continued to rotate. Eyes -- button, plastic, and painted -- turned to the figure framed there.
A long, long moment of silence, as the tableaux was taken in.
"Oh -- my God --" He paused -- reached out -- then, shook his head. "I'm on a deadline." He slammed the door behind him going into the bedroom. They could hear the startup tones of his PC booting.
A collective sigh went up around the table.
"Favorites my ass," Ann said.
"Maybe he'd have preferred dogs playing poker," Mr. B snorted.
Matt tossed out a chip. "I'm in."
By Dave Hill