Who to thank? Who to thank? Oh, I know, I'll thanks TAE, the Beta Monster.

As always I don't own any of the characters. I make no money, only feedback and warm fuzzies.

Chapter 19: Know When to Fold

Joel sighed and tossed his cards into the center of the table, "I fold. Again." He took a look at his dwindling amount of cash and held in another sigh. At this rate, he'd end up leaving the game in just a couple more hands and the night was still young.

The other occupants of the table didn't miss their host's mood.

"You know what they say, Joel," Henry commented from Joel's left, "unlucky in cards..."

"...lucky in love," Rafe finished for his partner.

"You've got that right!" they all heard shouted from the kitchen where Mable was maintaining a never-ending source of munchies.

"Well, I for one am glad to see someone besides Sandburg running the table. I'll see Jim's three and raise two," Simon said as he tossed five dollars into the pot.

Blair duplicated the captain's actions only with his cards instead of cash, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, so I'm having an off week. I used up my quota of luck with that stalker on campus."

"Oh, quit your whining. It wasn't that bad," Jim Ellison told his partner. Then tossed two dollars into the center of the table and turned to face his captain, "I call."

"Yeah, Hairboy, it's not like the guy ever got near you," Henry said as he got up to help Mable with several bowls of chips.

"Well, with Joel shadowing him all week, would you harass the guy?" Rafe asked.

Simon and Jim laid their cards on the table.

"Argh, Sandburg must be rubbing off on you." Bank groused as Ellison pulled the pot towards his side of the table.

Ellison just reached over towards his roommate and gave him a quick noogie.

Joel sat back and watched his friends. It was always great to relax at their regular poker games. They tried to have them on the weekends, but it wasn't unheard of for a case or other craziness to move it or even cancel it. Luckily this week was one where everything worked out just right.

Now if only he could get some good cards and actually win a hand.

Jim finished shuffling the cards, let Blair cut, and began to deal. "Five card draw, aces high, and ladies wild. First to fold goes and washes dishes."

The other men around the table tossed their initial ante into the center of the table and picked up their cards.

Rafe started off the new round of betting with a dollar, "Dishes? No fair sucking up to the hostess."

Joel followed suit, "I always make it a point to keep on Mable's good side."

Next, it was H's turn. "I have no problem doing dishes, but not just yet," he said and tossed his money into the pot.

Simon quietly chewed his unlit cigar and added his share.

"Jim's just hoping my lousy luck will hold and I'll end up doing dishes here as well as at home," Blair added and he too bought his next card.

Ellison tossed in his own dollar and began distributing the next set of cards. "I figure if Mable can't teach you the proper way of doing the dishes without wasting half an ocean of water, then no one can."

The banter continued as each of the men tossed in another dollar and bought another card.

"I still can't believe you wouldn't let me keep an eye on Sandburg," Ellison commented, passing out the third round of cards.

"You were already working on three homicides and that chop shop ring, Jim. Plus you had Sandburg with you while he wasn't on campus. Are you trying to keep him all to yourself?" Simon retorted, tossing his cards onto the table.

"Besides Joel was great," Blair continued as he too tossed his cards onto the table and went to help Simon with the dishes. "He didn't intimidate the students."

Henry patted Rafe on the back as his partner tried to laugh and swallow at the same time. "Intimidate the students? Jim wouldn't do that," he teased.

Joel picked up his next card, "I even got several comments. One actually told me he was glad I was protecting their professor instead of 'that other guy'," Joel made quote signs in the air. "He said it was harder to sleep in class with Jim glaring at him."

After all five cards were passed out there was only H, Joel and Jim left in the game. Joel surveyed his remaining cash and planned his attack. His hand wasn't unbeatable, but it was the best he'd gotten all night and it would be a shame to waste it. This called for a bit of bluffing.

He took three singles and raised the stakes.

"Oh, Joel must have gotten a good hand this time," H said as he tossed in a five dollar bill.

"Okay, that's five to the dealer and I raise two more." Ellison added his money to the pile in the center.

Each man seemed to have the same idea and each raised the stakes on the next pass. It came back around to Joel and he owed the pot seven dollars. The problem was, he only had five.

Joel's dilemma was obvious to everyone, even Simon and Blair, who had returned to the table after being chased out of the kitchen for starting a water fight.

"Hey Joel, if you're short on cash, you could always bet something else," Henry suggested.

Jim pretended to be deep in thought for a moment, "I have heard a rumor that you have some Seahawks tickets. I'm sure we could convince everyone to accept them instead of cash."

"Only if you want to escort me to the game!" Mable stated from the kitchen.

"I could live with that," Rafe stated.

"Wouldn't have to twist my arm," was Blair's response.

"That's Mable," H laughed. "Nobody gets between her and her football."

"And nobody gets between me and my Mable," Joel warned his friends.

The resulting laughter left everyone breathless.

Simon was the first to regain his composure, "So, no Seahawk tickets. Any other ideas?"

"You don't think Mable would let you borrow her mad money, do you?" Rafe suggested.

"Are you guys trying to get me into trouble?" was Taggart's response.

Before anyone could offer any other bright ideas, Mable rolled up to the table to refresh drinks and place several full bowls of chips on the table and remove the empty ones. "Don't you boys eat during the day? I just filled these bowls." She was careful not to move the tray she was using.

Joel watched with obvious love in his eyes as she made her way around the table. When she made it around to him she leaned over and gave him a loving kiss. Joel's smile grew even wider.

"You just play with your friends and have fun," she said, and then retreated back to the kitchen.

Joel turned back to the table to find everyone had politely turned to look at something else. "It's safe to look guys."

Once everyone's attention was back on the game and the current problem, Joel continued, "and I'll see Jim's raise."

"I knew it, Mable slipped you her mad money," Rafe declared.

"Better," Joel replied and with a flourish he placed the item that Mable had given him onto the table."

"That's where it got to," Jim exclaimed. He picked up the Army sweatshirt and gave it a quick once over. "Last I knew Sandburg had it."

"No man, remember, I told you that I passed it to Naomi down at that retreat," Blair reminded his friend.

Brown was about to pay his debt to the pot when a thought occurred to him, "Hey, wait a minute. Does that count as a call or a raise?"

All eyes turned to their host. Joel thought for a moment. He could see Brown silently calculating his own cash flow and made his decision. "Call."

Brown quickly tossed in what he owed and turned over his cards. "I'll call as well."

Joel flipped his cards over in response and everyone turned to look at Ellison.

"I guess your borrowed luck's run out, Chief," Jim said as he tossed his cards face down, onto the pile already on the table.

Joel smiled and collected his winnings.

Everyone settled at the table and got ready for the next hand.

"So Sandburg, explain to me how you managed to get your mother to wear something saying Army," Simon ordered.

"Oh, this should be good," H said as he grabbed a handfull of pretzels.

"It wasn't me. It was Paul. He spouted something about stored energies and harmonious convergence and Naomi gave in." Blair explained matter-of-factly.

Jim just rolled his eyes and H had to try not to choke on his drink. "That'd be enough to make anyone give in," H said between coughs.

"But how did Joel get the shirt?" Simon asked, getting the conversation back on topic.

"Don't you remember, Simon? I gave it to him," Mable reminded the captain.

Laughter erupted and Rafe began gathering up the cards in order to shuffle them for the next hand, but Jim held onto the half of the deck that hadn't been delt in the previous round. "Hang on, I want to know how Mable got my shirt."

Almost as soon as Jim finished speaking, a yipping sound could be heard from the door in the kitchen leading to the garage. "I told you about our new puppy, didn't I?" Joel asked, receiving nods from the gathered friends. "We found him down the storm drain at the track so Steven climbed down and rescued him. When he passed Alfred up to me, the little guy was wrapped in the Army sweatshirt. It's gone from rescuing puppies to the poker pot," he finished with a smile.

"Hey, Jim, your shirt's a hero," H declared.

"What did you expect? It's Jim's shirt," Rafe added.

"It's the stored energies," Blair explained and quickly ducked the hale of chips and napkins.

Jim ignored the antics and just gave the host a slightly confused look. "You got the shirt from Steven? My brother?" he asked. Then he scanned the people at the table, "How did Steven get the shirt?"

Joel and Mable just shugged, indicating that they didn't know.

Everyone looked expectantly at Blair.

"What? I don't know. I gave it to Naomi, remember." the grad student exclaimed, noticing the attention.

Simon tried to give him a stern captain look. "You were the last one of us to see it before the time in question."

Blair held up his hands in a defensive posture, "Whoa, you're interrogating the wrong person."

"Surely you talk to your mother occasionally," Rafe said, helping with the questioning.

Easily recognizing the detectives on the prowl, Blair decided to have some fun. He leaned back in his chair with a thoughtful look on his face, "Well, she did call when she got to her sister's in Maine."

"Sandburg," Simon growled.

"Yes, Simon?" Blair asked innocently.

Another shower of chips and napkins rained down on the grad student.

Seeing the intently curious faces of his friends, Blair decided to have pity on them. "Okay, I did ask her about the shirt. She said something about giving it to some guy at the airport and that Jim should be hearing from him."

"Ah man, what are the odds?" H asked with a whoop of laughter.

Jim handed the stack of cards to Rafe so he could shuffle and begin dealing. "It looks like I need to call my brother and find out about his habit of hanging out in airports."

The rest of the evening continued similar to other poker nights. The banter bounced around the table. None of the players were safe. Topics soon moved from the sweatshirt to Rafe's wardrobe. Several stories about Blair's students were told. As always, Jim artfully avoided detailed explanations of how he miraculously finds evidence and Joel and Mable ignored the teasing from the bachelors.

Multiple hands of poker were played and several times the sweatshirt was tossed into the pot. It didn't take long for it to go from Joel, to H, to Simon, and back to H.

"You know Chief, I just realized that my shirt has gotten to do more traveling than I have, lately," Jim said as he raised the stakes of the current hand.

"Jealous?" Blair replied, as Joel matched Jim's addition to the center of the table.

"Ah, poor Jim misses his shirt," H teased. "Here, how about I give you a chance to win it back?" he asked as he placed the shirt in the pot.

Simon quietly added his own cash to the center of the table, passing control of the game back to Jim.

Taking a good look at his cards, Jim came to a decision. "Call."

Jim, Henry, and Simon lay their cards down on the table, then looked over at Joel.

"Oh well, at least my luck's consistent," the host said as he tossed his cards, face down, on the table.

Of the three sets of cards showing, it was obvious that Ellison had the winning hand.

"It looks like Jim actually gets to take his own shirt home," Mable said as she began collecting bowls.

"Hoo-ah!" Jim said, giving the standard answer of every Army grunt, as he picked up his shirt and winnings, and also picked up several empty bowls.

Taking the hint, the friends all assisted in cleaning up the evidence of their exploits. They quickly had the mess cleaned up, the dishes done, and everything put away.

After all the clean up was done everyone began to say their goodbyes and head for home.

"Thanks for letting us have the game here. As always, you're a gracious host. It was a great evening," Jim told the Taggarts as he paused at the door.

"It was our pleasure, Jim," Mable answered.

Jim leaned in closer to the hostess, "I appreciate your impeccable sense of timing."

Mable simply winked and waved to the two men as they crossed the porch towards their truck and home.

Chapter 18

Chapter 20


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