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objection to women, but his idea of a souvenir of London was not a dose of the clap, and while the Southerner had laughed at his obvious reticence the Texan noted that Ezra never availed himself of the goods on offer either. Chris? Well, Chris had a mind and a peculiar logic all his own.

Ezra had merely smiled at his suggestion, as he showed his third winning hand in a row and neatly scooped up the modest pot.

“Lieutenant Tanner, if the prospect of “slumming” appeals to you, then by all means let us abandon the enjoyment of wine, women and song, and take a stroll along the seedier side of this fair city.”

“Slumming?” Chris leaned back in the chair, resting one ankle across the opposite knee as he slowly shuffled the deck of cards in his hand. Tilting his head, he squinted, in an attempt to avoid the smoke spiralling from the cigarette tucked in the corner of his mouth from getting into his eyes. “Ezra, your silver spoon is showing again.”

The Southerner laughed, not in the least offended. “Are you attempting to infer, Captain Larabee, that I am a snob?” Chris turned his attention to Vin, who sat quietly to one side with the expression of a man who has heard the joke but missed the punch line.

“Ezra apparently extends the same condescension towards the working man as he does to work.”

“On the contrary,” countered the younger man, “I have every respect for the working man. Honest toil and all that.”

Chris shook his head grinning. “You’re so full of crap. I don’t think you even know what work is.” “Now I believe you’re confusing work with manual labour.” Vin sighed heavily. “All I said was I’d like to see something more of London than the inside of a bar.” Standish smiled then, his gold tooth gleaming. “And so you shall. Just as soon as we finish this hand. Now, Captain Larabee, might I suggest you deal before you shuffle the tits right off those queens?”

And that had been the start of it. They had gone looking for reality -- and found it. For Tanner witnessing such wholesale destruction from the ground kindled a spark in the back of his mind, a tiny glow of doubt as he pictured the sticks of bombs falling. Entire city blocks had been flattened, bombed to rubble, and the three airmen had walked in contemplative silence through the streets. For once even the grandiloquent Southerner found nothing of value to say that would not sound pretentious under the circumstances.

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