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           "Poker for human lives!" Lucky said.  "Are you crazy?"

            Reed considered.  "I don't think so," he said.  "But I'll keep an eye on it." 

            They were sitting at the bar.  Lucky was hunched over his stool, a hunted expression on his face.  "There's got to be some other way.  You've got to find some other guy."

            "There is no other way," Reed said.


            "If I needed a man shot, I'd get a sniper," Reed said patiently.  "If I needed something blown up, I'd get someone with demolitions experience."  He glanced at the miserable private beside him, and opened his hands.  "But I'm only looking for volunteers, here, Brown.  I don't blame you for not wanting to try."  He heaved himself off his stool.  "Is Monteverde still bawling back in Otto's crapper?"

            Brown sat bolt upright.  "Jesus Christ!  You're not thinking of asking Jerry, are you?"

"He seems like a brave kid," Reed began.

"You're gonna put some helpless refugee in the hands of Jerry Monteverde!  You really are out of your freaking mind, Captain!"

            "Pikar, then."

            Brown shook his head.  "Terrible idea."

            "I heard he was good."

            "He's good when he has cards," Lucky said.  "He plays tight and folds all the time.  He plays not to lose.  You willing for a few of your hostages to go bobbing for bullets while Mo waits for his suited face cards?"

            Reed settled himself back on his bar stool with a studious frown.  "Well.who, then?"

            Lucky ran one nervous hand through his hair.  "My buddy Rex is good.  He almost beat me last time we played.  And there's this kid in C company, we call him Philly.  He can play a little.  Sometimes his attention wanders, but he'd probably stay focused, it being a special circumstance and all.  Lives on the line and shit." 

            Reed almost smiled right then, but Brown was still too worked up to notice. "There's this DP kid fromRomania, Alin-came scooting in right ahead of the Red Army.  He can play."

            "Great!" Reed said.  "And all these guys are better than you, right?"

            "Like hell!" Brown said.

            Reed blinked.  "But. I can't really settle for second best here, can I?  Special circumstances.  Lives on the line," he drawled.  "And shit."

            After a long moment, Lucky blew out a breath.  "Yeah.  I got it, Captain.  Unless I'm dead or in jail, I'll be there."

"I knew you would be, soldier."  Reed held out his hand.

After a moment's hesitation, Lucky shook it, and smiled.  "I can't believe I'm agreeing to this.  This is high stakes, even for Mama Brown's little boy.  Listen, I'm gonna go find Mo.  He knows some other guys who can play.  He said he was just stepping outside for a breath of fresh air."  Brown paused.  "You know, Captain?  You're not such a bad card player yourself."


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