James watched the cards like a hawk. There were three in the river already and he was nervously checking the two on the table in front of him every ten seconds or so, as though he was afraid that they were going to change. To his left sat Isabella's sister, the hostess, who had looked at her cards once when they were dealt and then seemed to be more interested in the view of clouds out of the window than in the game itself. Isabella was dealing, though she was refusing to play, and I knew far better than to start gambling again. The urge to join in was making me feel physically ill though, twisting and knotting my stomach. I was pretty sure I was starting to sweat as well, but I'd nearly died trying to beat my addiction and that memory was what kept me away from the poker table now.
Isabella turned the fourth card and added it to the river. It was the nine of spades, joining the nine of hearts, the two of clubs and the King of Clubs. James checked his cards again reflexively and then threw some more chips on to the table, a jerky, spasmic movement that suggested to me that he was uncertain of his holding and was desperate from some tell from Isabella's sister. I frowned slightly; had Isabella introduced her sister? Had I forgotten her name already?
Isabella glared at her sister, who was still staring out of the window, and said pointedly, "Irene? To you!"
Irene turned, and checked the chips on the table, ignoring the cards, and added more from the pile in front of her. Which, I knew, contained all her own chips and about half of what James had started with as well. James shuddered, and I thought he'd probably bitten his lip at that point. He checked his cards again. I checked my pulse; it was high.
Isabella turned the last card: the nine of diamonds. It joined the river, and James yelped as though he'd been bitten. Irene smiled and tossed her cards, still face down into the middle, conceding. James had already flipped his over though, revealing the fourth nine and his first winning hand of the flight.
"We'll be landing in fifteen minutes," said the pilot over the intercom. "We'll be landing fast, so please secure yourselves into your seats now."
"He makes it sound like we're going to crash," I said as everyone got up from the poker table, James clutching his pile of chips like they were a lifeline.
"Only once so far," said Isabella, her half-smile twisting the non-paralyzed side of her face. "But we were being shot at."
"And this time?" I said, unable to think of a witty riposte to such an outré statement.
"Just a fast landing," she said. "In case you were hoping we'd circle for a while so you could look for landmarks."
Again, I thought of the GPS device in the heel of my shoe, and I shrugged. "You said I wasn't to know were we landed," I said. "I can respect that."
"I'm sure you can," she said. "But the day I stop being careful will be day my sins catch up with me, I'm sure." That tantalising half-smile again, flitting over her face like a bat: shadowy, mysterious, and full of the promise of terror.
"So, how fast?" asked James as he fastened his seatbelt and the plane tilted noticeably forward.
"About this fast," said Irene. "I can't remember if I secured the drinks trolley, you know."