Royal Flush

Casey glanced around the poker table; four impatient judges stared back at her. Casey chewed nervously on her bottom lip as she peeked down at her cards for the forth time.

"Come on, Ms. Novak," Judge Petrovsky prompted. "Congress doesn't take this long."

Judge Terhune lit his second cigar of the night. "Give her a break, Lena. She's new to the game."

"No one here is getting any younger," Petrovsky argued. "I'd like this game to end in my lifetime, please."

Judge Bradley looked mildly amused. "Don't listen to them, Ms. Novak. They're just a bunch of grumpy old coots."

"Speak for yourself," Liz Donnelly shot back. "I'm not getting older. I'm getting better."

"My apologies." Bradley refilled her scotch glass. "I forget you're the exception."

"As I am to most rules," Liz added with a cryptic smile.

Judge Petrovsky sighed loudly. "How about it, Ms. Novak? Make a decision."

Casey bit her lip. Her eyes darted around the table. "Um, I guess I'm in."

"Praise the Lord," Petrovsky breathed, quickly taking her turn. Judge Bradley, Judge Terhune, and Judge Donnelly quickly followed suit. "Okay," she announced. "It's the moment of truth. What does everyone have?"

"I've got a straight," Bradley admitted, tossing down his cards.

Terhune muttered something explicit under his breath, then said, "I'm out."

"Read 'em and weep, boys." Petrovsky laid down her hand triumphantly. "Full house."

Casey slowly smiled. "Um, I think I won." She showed her cards to the group with childlike excitement. "Four of a Kind beats that, right?"

"Don't celebrate yet, Ms. Novak." Liz Donnelly smirked. "In homage to my continuing greatness, I present you with a Royal Flush." The swears from around the table made her superior smile grow. "All right, everyone. You know the drill. Ante up."

Petrovsky removed her scarf and tossed it across the table. Bradley started yanking his belt out of the loops. Terhune tossed his tie onto the growing pile. With a smug grin, Liz gathered her winnings. She turned her attention to Casey, arching an eyebrow. "Ms. Novak, I'm waiting."

She bit her lip. "But, Judge Donnelly," She looked down at herself, left with nothing but a flimsy bra and panties. "I'm out of clothes."

"Rules are rules," Liz said smugly. "Hand them over."

"Don't worry, dear," Petrovsky taunted. "We won't laugh. Too hard."

Casey jerked awake, drenched in a cold sweat. Her heart was beating hard in her chest. Goosebumps covered her entire body as the hairs on her arms stood up. Her hand automatically shot to her chest. "Oh, thank God," she gasped, finding herself to be fully clothed. Closing her eyes, she tried desperately to catch her breath.

Casey nearly jumped out of her skin when the telephone rang. Reaching across to her bedside, her legs twisted in the sheets and she found herself tumbling to the floor. She landed with an undignified thump, the phone clutched against her chest. "Uh, hello?" Casey answered, slightly disoriented.

"Hey, Case. It's Olivia. Sorry to call you at home, but we need a search warrant."

Casey pulled herself off the floor and back onto the bed. She rubbed her elbow where it had made hard contact with the floor. "What time is it?"

"Almost midnight." Detective Benson paused for a beat, then said, "Since it's Friday, we figured you could just crash Judge Terhune's poker game..."


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