Originally broadcasted 12/19/06
Watchers Council – Dorm Room – Evening
A skilled pair of demonic hands shuffled the stiff deck of cards, cut the deck and shuffled them again. The demon and three friends sat around a rectangular table with piles of poker chips of varying sizes and colors in front of them. Across the room, images scrolled silently past on the muted television set tuned to a news channel.
“The game is seven card stud,” the demon announced as he began dealing the cards. “Nothing wild, and the sky’s the limit.” He threw his ante into the center of the table.
“See, I’m always wondering if Niven has another pair of hands tucked away somewhere,” Denise said. Seated to his right, she seemed mesmerized by the rapid, skilled shuffle.
“You think a demon like me is gonna cheat with a slayer like you in the room?” Niven asked with a bit of a smirk. “I’m a lot of things, but stupid isn’t one of them.”
“Ah, I wouldn’t stake you, Niv,” Denise brushed off the comment. “Who else am I gonna get to supplement my paycheck?”
“Well,” Jackson said, sitting across from Niven, “you’re gonna have to start winning first.”
Denise winced. “Touché,” she admitted.
“You really do have to work on that poker face,” Hope said from Niven’s left. “When I can tell that you’re bluffing, you definitely need to spend more time in front of the mirror.”
Niven finished dealing two cards facedown, then dealt one face-up. “Hope has the highest hand showing, so she controls the bet,” he announced.
She looked down at the queen of diamonds lying face-up in front of her, then carefully thumbed her two face-down cards to peek under them. “I’ll open with ten,” she said, throwing a red poker chip into the middle of the table.
Jackson looked down at the three of spades. “Yeah, I’m in for ten,” he agreed, throwing his own chip into the pot.
“Check,” Niven told him, throwing his own chip onto the table.
“Check,” Denise agreed, adding to the pot.
Niven dealt everyone another card, face-up. He played with the chips in front of him for a moment. “One of the teams slayed Bernie today,” he said idly. “I had to clean up after it.”
Hope winced. “God, are you okay?”
Niven nodded. “I didn’t know him that well.”
“Is this Bernie that Enidan demon who loaned you a few kittens to pay off that Fyarl who was threatening to rip your arms off the next time he saw you?” Denise asked.
“Yeah, that’s him,” Niven replied. “I was digging through back alleys for months trying to find stray kittens to pay him back. He wanted me to pay him back with interest. Trust me, he wasn’t exactly a friend.”
“He was a nice guy,” Denise said. “What did he do to get himself slayed?”
“I really don’t know,” Niven told her, his expression tight. “He was a slime bag, sure, but I really can’t see him doing anything violent.” He dealt everyone another card face-up. “Denise leads the bet with a pair of threes showing.”
“Twenty,” Denise said, throwing a pair of red chips onto the table.
“I see your twenty and raise another ten,” Hope said.
“You’re raising when she already has a pair of threes showing?” Jackson asked.
Hope’s eyes narrowed slightly. “Too rich for your blood?”
Jackson looked down at the nine of diamonds, the two of spades and the four of clubs lying face-up in front of him. “With these cards? Yeah, I fold.” He flipped his cards over and pushed them into the middle of the table.
“Everybody’s been a bit on edge lately,” Hope said. “Faith’s been holding it together, barely, but I can tell she’s upset.”
“Well, we’ve had one slayer go psycho and kill off two others,” Denise pointed out, “of course we’re all a little edgy.”
“Rowena’s been a bit touchy too,” Jackson said. “Even for an ice queen, she’s been pretty close to a meltdown.”
“I guess nearly being burned alive might do that to you,” Denise replied.
Jackson and Hope both groaned at the comment.
“The cleaners are feeling it too,” Niven said. “I’ve had a couple of demons that were beaten just a little more than they really had to be before they got slain.” He arched an eyebrow in Denise’s direction.
“We’re not all like that,” Denise said. “It’s just…”
“Hey, I’m happy you have something to let loose a little aggression on,” Niven said. “I’m just glad it’s not me.”
“I would never –”
“Tell that to Bernie,” he said, as he started dealing out a sixth card. “A lady for the slayer,” he said, flipping over the queen of clubs. “Hope has a four of diamonds and a possible flush.” He flipped over a card of his own. “Dealer gets a six of clubs.” He looked up at Hope. “With a possible flush, you control the bet.”
Hope looked down at her cards, then looked at the two she had face-down. “Fifty,” she said, throwing a pair of green chips on the table.
“Dammit, she’s got the flush,” Denise muttered.
“You know that thing we said about poker faces?” Niven said. “I hate to say it, but Hope’s right. You really need to work on that.”
“Are you in or out?” Hope asked.
“Oh, I’m in,” Niven told her, throwing a pair of chips onto the table. “If only to see what you’ve got hidden,” he added with a smirk, allowing his gaze to shift below of Hope’s chin.
Hope crossed her arms across her chest. “You wish,” she said tightly.
“Oh, that’s right,” Jackson said, “you’ve been seeing Willow’s protégé. How’s that been going for you?”
“Are we going to talk about my love life or play poker?” Hope asked.
“Can’t we do a little of both?” Denise asked.
“Your bet,” Hope said.
“I’ll check for fifty,” Denise told her. She looked up at Hope. “Don’t think I didn’t notice that you didn’t answer.”
Niven dealt a final card, face-down. “Hope, you still control the bet.”
Hope looked at the card. “A hundred,” she said, throwing four green chips into the center of the table.
“I fold,” Denise said immediately.
“Not your turn,” Niven told her.
“I still fold,” Denise said. “She has the flush.” She flipped her cards over and pushed them away.
“Looks like it’s just you and me,” Hope said to Niven, her voice deadpan.
“Dammit, I think she’s got the flush,” Jackson said.
“Niv, if you lose this, you’re gonna have ten bucks left in your pile,” Denise said.
“That’s only a problem if I lose,” Niven replied.
He looked down at the cards on the table, focusing intently on the cards in front of Hope. The queen, two and four of diamonds lay face-up on the table in front of her. Then his glance shifted back to his own cards. A king of hearts, four of spades and six of clubs lay face-up. “She doesn’t have the flush,” he said softly. “I call.” He threw his chips onto the table. “Let’s see your cards.”
Hope flipped over her cards. “High card queen,” she said.
Niven smiled. “Told ya,” he said to Denise. He flipped over his cards. “High card ace,” he told her.
“Dammit,” Hope said, as she threw down her cards. “Every single time,” she said, “every time one of us bluffs, you know. It’s like you have ESP.” Hope’s eyes narrowed. “Do you have ESP?”
“Ask Jackson. I’m half Divad. He’ll tell you if I’ve been peeking into your minds,” Niven told her, as he swept the chips towards his end of the table.
“Jackson?” Hope looked towards him for an answer.
Jackson was standing from the table, walking in something of a daze toward the muted television. “Where’s the remote?” he asked.
“What is it?” Denise asked, as she walked up next to him.
“Where’s the remote?” he asked more urgently. “I want to hear this.”
The duo frantically searched the room for a few seconds until Denise found the device.
“What is it?” Niven asked, walking up behind them.
” – Hamalainen. Again, in breaking news, we have received a video recording from the slayer Heli Hamalainen, who many of you may remember from the incidents surrounding the Watchers Council in October. Our own experts describe the video as a ‘personal challenge’ to the members of the Council. We’ll be playing that recording for you in a moment, but first, we’d like to speak with our senior consultant on demonic affairs…” The newswoman’s stream of commentary blared through the television’s speakers.
Denise looked at the television in shock for a moment. Then she let out a long breath. “Oh sh –”
End of Teaser