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As Chicago Detectives go, Joe Costalino was a patient man. The job made him that way. His eyes no longer registered emotion and the lines creasing his face made him appear fatigued. In his twenty-six years on the job, he had seen the raw madness of mankind. After you witness enough criminal insanity you throw in the towel on disgust and outrage. You just do the job and bear it. Joe was doing the job and bearing it as he listened to Father Henry Dorcus ramble on about his missing friend, Ken McAlister. Finally Joe broke in on the ramble.

“I’m sorry, Father Henry–” he couldn’t remember the priest’s last name–“but no crime has been committed here, know what I mean?”

“Not yet perhaps,” said the priest, “but soon, if we don’t do something!”

The detective looked over his desk at the priest, with the ruddy complexion and wavy white hair. He felt a twinge of embarrassment as he considered the drab, untidy office surrounding the gentle old man in the immaculate black suit. Joe concluded, from what he had heard already, that the priest had himself witnessed more tragedy than his mind could handle and was suffering delusions.

“With all due respect, Father, what you are reporting is unbelievable. Even if your friend is harboring some weird fantasy, that’s not a crime. Tell you what, your friend, what’s his name…?”

“Ken McAlister.”

“He’s also a priest?”

“No, detective, not anymore.”

“He’s missing, that’s all you really know, and that’s out of my jurisdiction. You can see Sergeant Coulter down the hall. He handles missing persons.”

“Please, Detective Costalino, allow me to read Ken’s final letter before dismissing me. You will realize he is in serious trouble. I’m asking you as a human being to hear his letter.”

Joe, because he was a Catholic of sorts, and because he thought the letter would be short, smiled and consented to the priest’s request. Immediately Father Henry removed the letter and began reading.

“‘Dear Henry, beloved friend, I apologize for being out of touch for so long, but I have been truly lost. This will be my last letter to you, and I ask that you receive it as my last confession.”

“‘Forgive me, Father, for I am about to sin. I am planning to steal a young man’s body–not the dead body of a young man but one fully alive, healthy body. This is not a kidnapping as the law defines that crime. In fact, there isn’t a name for the crime I’m about to commit. What would you call it if a man administers an ancient potion to cast a spell on someone in order to dispossess his soul and replace it with his own?”

“Nuts!” Joe interjected. “Wacko, off the charts! Father, if this is a letter from your friend and not something you made up, your friend is certifiably insane. Either that or he’s pulling your leg, know what I mean, joking with you? Some priests do that, don’t they?”

“He is no longer a priest, detective. But he is not joking, as the rest of his letter will verify. May I continue?”

Joe decided to endure the rest of the letter. He thought the old priest might be right and that his friend, if he really existed, might be seriously dangerous.

Father Henry raised the letter closer to the desk lamp and continued reading.

“‘Frankly, Henry, I don’t know why I’m confessing this to you. It has nothing to do with cleansing my soul of sin, for I no longer believe in sin as the church defines it. I chose to confess to you because you are my dearest friend and may actually understand why I am about to take over another person’s body.’”

“Politely put, wouldn’t you say?” chuckled the detective.

The priest paused, unsettled by the comment. The detective’s tone waxed serious.

“For your sake, Father, I need to tell you, giving false information to an officer of the law is a crime. What I’m saying is, if you wrote the letter, now’s the time to tell me. No real harm has been done, no crime committed yet, know what I mean?”

“I know,” the priest stated emphatically, as he searched through his briefcase, retrieving a photo and handing it to the detective.

“This is Ken McAlister. He’s not a figment of my imagination, as you can see!”

Joe looked at the photo of Father Ken McAlister seated in a wheelchair. He looked to be middle age, with a full head of close cropped black hair, graying in places. He had a masculine face, strong chin, but his cavernous eyes and sallow complexion revealed a man who looked more like a weary warrior than a priest.

“He’s what, paralyzed?” asked the detective.

“From the waist down,” responded the priest. “He was born that way. Actually, he was born out of wedlock to some street urchin, a dropped out teenager. I think her name was Ilene or Arlene. McAlister, was one of the assumed names she used in the dark world she inhabited. It’s hard to imagine how this girl managed to care for an invalid child for eight years, without a husband”.

“She was probably a prostitute,” said Joe.

“Ken never said that.”

“Well Father, unless she was a trust-fund brat, there’s no other way she could cover the tab of a paralyzed kid.”

Father Henry scowled, “Ken always spoke of her with the highest regard.”

“Considering the circumstances, who wouldn’t! How did she die?”

The priest shook his head despairingly. “In Jail, in Las Vegas I think. Ken never gave the details.”

“Probably suicide,” offered the detective.

“I don’t know,” said the priest, choking back tears. “I only know he loved her beyond words!”

Joe reached across the desk and patted the priest’s hand.

“Continue your letter, Father.”

The priest blotted his tears with a tissue, then resumed reading. As Detective Costalino listened to the rest of the letter, the missing person, Ken McAlister, was less than three miles away preparing dinner for the man whose body he planned to inhabit.



 Classical music wafted through Ken’s one-bedroom apartment in a well-kept brownstone in an impoverished neighborhood. The time on the copper pyramid wall-clock was quarter to seven. It was still an hour or so before his guest, Joel Ellendorff, was scheduled to arrive, and Ken couldn’t break free of his depression. The classical music he enjoyed only added to his gloom, and preparing the meal of Beef Stroganoff wasn’t demanding enough to sufficiently distract him. He was planning to take a young man’s life. “What madness!” he thought. Shaking at the thought of murder, Ken managed to open a bottle of wine. He poured himself a glass and while he sipped it he considered canceling the whole plot— “I can still just have dinner with Joel, talk about his plans to open his own repair shop.” The thought brought him some solace. But how could he abandon his plan, unless he was willing to kill himself? It was one or the other, he knew that. If he backed out now, with an almost perfect candidate, he would never regain the confidence to go through the painstaking process of culling another. Perhaps he’d been lying to himself all along. Maybe deep down, his own soul knew he never would, never could do the terrible deed. All the work, the planning, the lying, for what! Ken reviewed the months of stalking that led up to this night of unrelenting anguish.

He’d met Joel Ellendorff in a Spanish Language class six weeks ago. Attending night school was a ploy he incorporated to find suitable young candidates for the switch. Joel was twenty-three and appeared to be physically fit. Except for his mother, who lived in England, Joel had no close family ties, and was more or less a loner. He worked as a handyman, another small advantage, which provided the ex-priest the opportunity to employ him and gather the necessary information in the process. It didn’t take Ken long to forge a friendship with the young man, and after a month of intense research, in the guise of friendly conversations, Ken decided to make his move. That was the day he wrote his last confession and mailed it to Father Henry Dorcus.

Ken continued to review the many calculations leading to the rejection of several other candidates and the choice of this most likeable fellow, Joel. One thought kept intruding on his calculations: “Are you sure you’re not crazy Are you sure that this entire plot, all the planning and stalking and lying are not just the contrivances of your deranged mind?” Ken sipped his wine as he contemplated the nagging question again. This time, instead of trying to drive it out of his mind, he chose to review the events that led him into this diabolical situation.

Ken’s reflections began with the Las Vegas gun shop. The brightly lit glass cases that displayed the hand guns were vivid in his memory. Then he was there having to listen to the sales clerk with the Beatles’s haircut who looked too young to be selling guns to people.

“What kind of hand gun are you looking for, Father?”

“Oh, something with the fire power to blow my brains out at close range,” thought the priest, who said, “It’s for an anti war display we are setting up at the church.”

Immediately, he flushed with embarrassment, having told his first full-blown lie since becoming a priest. The young man behind the counter responded by removing an Army 45 from the case and handing it to the priest.

“This is an authentic military issue forty five, Father.”

The priest examined the weapon in hand, as though he knew something about guns. Handing it back to the clerk he said, “This is exactly what I’m looking for. I’ll take it.”

With that, the clerk leaned over the counter and whispered, as though there was someone else in the empty store, “This gun will cost the church two hundred and eighty-nine dollars. You can get a plastic one that looks totally authentic at K-Mart for six bucks.”

“Thank you, son, but it has to be the real thing. And I need the real bullets also.”

Upon exiting the store, Ken maneuvered his wheel chair through the parking lot toward his van. He had been concerned that there might be a problem buying the gun, and there might have been, if it weren’t for the naive young Catholic behind the counter.

As Ken approached the maroon colored van he pressed the unlock button on his automatic key. Immediately the driver’s side door slid back and the entry ramp slid out until it rested on the pavement. As he had done a thousand times before, he guided his wheelchair up the ramp and maneuvered it into place behind the steering wheel. Satisfied with his position, he then hit the button on the extended dashboard which triggered the metal device that latched the chaise of his chair to the floor of the van. Ken concluded the entry ritual by pushing the “Driver Ready” button on the dashboard which withdrew the ramp and closed the driver’s side door. Placing the gun on the passenger seat, Ken fastened the remote seat belt and checked the time on the dashboard clock,. It was nine forty-five. Depending on the cross-town traffic he could be at the cemetery in two hours or so.

The fatigue he experienced from the long drive from Chicago began to subside as feelings of relief flooded his consciousness. His struggle to stay alive was over. For the first time in his life he had a personal advantage over other people still striving after life. He alone, in this city of blazing lights and excitement, was seeking peace, a peace he would have before the night was over. Scanning the menu on the CD player, Ken selected one of his favorites albums. “Requiem” performed by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

The drive went without incident. It was a little past midnight when Ken turned off the highway onto a two lane black top that lead to the town of Appaloosa. The road soon narrowed to one lane as it snaked through the barren prairie land. Five miles later he came to a large beautifully carved sign.




Except for the single street light above the sign, the town was dark, everyone asleep or huddled around a late night T.V. movie. For certain, no one was out dancing or night-clubbing in this town of “the most righteous.” Ken chuckled at the thought of the commotion his suicide would create. The pious population would be talking about it for decades, especially when they found out it was his mother’s grave on which he shot himself and how she lived and died a sinner. Not one of them, mused the ex-priest, could ever imagine that this poor girl, this sinner, had more love in her heart than their precious Lord. Ken drovepast the huge Church Of Our Savior, behind which was the cemetery of “the saved.” He had to drive a mile beyond the town, and half a mile on a dirt road to reach the Cottonwood Cemetery where “the unsaved” were buried and forgotten. His mother was buried among the poor and the destitute. Decades ago the Las Vegas power brokers funded the remote cemetery to inter the paupers. In their minds, paupers were those who lost the game of life. When it was cheaper to just cremate “the losers” they stopped funding the cemetery.

The iron gate surrounding the defunct cemetery was rusted out and large sections of it were missing, probably the work of some ambitious junk dealer. There were a few weather-worn tombstones spread out across the property. Most of the rusted metal grave markers were hidden by the prairie grass which overran the place. The only building on the cemetery was a large prefab metal shed, where the grave digging equipment “used-to-be” stored…just a few yards from his mother’s grave. The rusted shed doors hung open and bent, resembling a giant gapping mouth with crooked teeth. Ken drove his van behind the shed, running down the grass leading to his mother’s grave before he parked.

He switched on the light in the cab, removed the gun from the box and opened the carton of bullets. The ex-priest proceeded to load the clip as the instruction manual illustrated. Not that he was anticipating more than one shot, but he was mentally adrift in the faded, all but lost memories of his mother. If life existed after death, he would gladly give all of it for just a couple of minutes with his mother, to thank her for the love she lavished on him.

With the gun loaded and lying in his lap, Ken removed some snapshots of his mother from his wallet. The one he cherished most was taken at Disney Land. She was holding him on a white horse on the merry-go-round. She looked so young and beautiful, too young to be his mother. There was an older man with them on that trip, which he despised at the time, as he despised all the men she got involved with. Ken placed the photos in his pocket. Removing a pad and pen from the glove box, Ken wrote,

Dear Henry,

My only suffering at this moment is the thought of the grief my death will cause you. Please don’t blame yourself, for there’s nothing you could have done to stop me. I know you will pray for my soul, fearing I have sinned, though I no longer believe in sin as the church defines it, or heaven or hell, which are determined by a most arbitrary fate. I learned that in a coffee shop, where I witnessed several high school kids involved in a kissing contest. Their full hearted laughter captured my attention because in my whole

life I never laughed like that. That thought triggered a revelation that the Kingdom of Heaven is literally in our midst, right where Jesus said it was. Heaven is right here, right now, Henry–not for everyone of course–not for me, not for the handicapped–but certainly for the blessed young, healthy and beautiful people–for those kissing kids it’s here and now. And here’s my take on hell, Henry, ‘been there done that!’ I have never had happiness like those teenagers were sharing, or peace, as a priest in the service of God should have. I faked it, dear friend, for there never was a day in my life that I didn’t experience some pain, some discomfort, in this disabled mess of a body which continually claimed my attention. So, grieve not for my passing, dear friend. Rather, be glad that I have finally escaped from hell.

With Love and Gratitude,

Ken put the pad on the dashboard, placed the gun on his lap and pressed the buttons that released his chair and opened the door. Maneuvering his chair around, he rolled down the ramp onto the ground. The night was pitch black, no moon, no stars, just darkness. No sound but crickets. Ken thought about returning to the van and switching on the headlights but didn’t want to expend the energy. He felt weak now, an all-consuming fatigue, no doubt brought on by the long drive and the emotions he experienced in the last two days. Instinctively, he motored the few yards to his mother’s grave. He wouldn’t see her name plate tonight. It didn’t matter. On previous visits he would pull up the grass around her name and place flowers down. Tonight, he just wanted to die, to forget everything and be himself forgotten. With some trepidation but no regret, Ken cocked the gun and placed the cold barrel into his mouth, the way he had seen it done on television.Out of the blackest night headlights flashed and the sound of a car approaching shocked him. Immediately he pulled the gun from his mouth, as though he didn’t want to get caught committing suicide. Before it dawned on him how absurd he was acting, a car pulled up on the far side of the shed, the motor and the headlights turning off simultaneously. Ken just listened as the car door opened and shut. A moment later he heard the sound of the car trunk opening, followed by some scuffling sounds along with the grunts and strident voices of two men.

“Don’t, Bobby! Please, please give me a chance to explain!”

“Shut the fuck up! You were all over her in my bed! What am I, a fucking idiot! Start walking, asshole. I said, walk!”

Ken heard the men approaching in the dark. He glimpsed the broken shadow of a man walking in the beam of a flashlight. He was stymied, frozen in a state of total confusion as he listened to the men rage on.

“We lost our heads, Bobby, just drank too much! It was the first time. You’ve got to believe me! She loves you, man–she loves you to pieces!”

“Wrong response, asshole! Keep walking… She’s seventeen, for Christ’s sake! And you raped her, you low-life motherfucker!”

“No, Bobby, I swear to God! We just drank too much!”

The two men drew closer and closer to Ken until they were but one grave site away. When the flash light went out Ken felt no fear. So what if he was about to witness a murder, or was about to be murdered himself!

“What a world,” he thought. “You can’t even check out in peace! And how in heaven’s name will the “righteous morons” down the road ever figure out what happened tonight? Did they even have a police station, or would that be an embarrassing indicator that Jesus didn’t really reign in Appaloosa?”

Ken’s thoughts were interrupted as the men’s voices reached a fever pitch.

“You see that grave in front of you, that’s–”

“I can’t see shit! Bobby, listen–”

“That’s your final resting place, scumbag!”

“Just listen a second. I can give you the secret to eternal life. I know it sounds crazy but–”

“Admit it! You drugged my wife and took advantage of her!”

“I swear to God! It was just a drunken mistake! Look, Bobby, this is premeditated murder. It’s the end of your life too!”

“Not really, scumbag! This is no man’s land! They don’t bury people out here any more. Nobody’s ever going to find your fat ass! How does that make you feel?”

“Look, I swear–you want me to admit it—all right, Bobby, I owe you that as a friend—all right, I did it. I drugged her and I’m sorry, man. You’re my friend–it was totally wrong–and–and I’m going to leave town. You’ll never see me or hear from me again. I’ll go to Europe–Brazil–I swear–I’ll be out of your life and hers forever!”

“Sorry, Taulb, you’re just a fucking creep! You drugged the wrong girl. Molly is so messed up in her head, she thinks she loves you!”

“It’s the drug I gave her. It will wear off in a few days. I’ll be gone, in Brazil by then!”

Ken sat in the darkness coming to his senses, not ten yards away from the two men. Up from the depths of a past seminary sermon came a thought shared

by Buddhist monk, Tully Boccti: “Even if one believes there is no God, no purpose to life, that one should more logically seek to alleviate suffering.”

“Why not one last, useless good deed,” Ken thought, as he heard the distraught man cry out as he was shoved into the grave, followed by the sounds of dirt being shoveled in on top of him. The condemned man kept shouting,

“No, please, Bobby! For God’s sake, just think about this! I have some money.”

“Enough of this! I don’t want this to be my last memory,” thought Ken, as he fired his gun in the air, and heard himself shout. “Drop the gun, or I’ll shoot you!”

Ken barely got the words out before the pain in his wrist from the recoil claimed all his attention. The warning drew a volley of gunshots, the bullets whistling past Ken’s head.

“Holy smokes,” Ken thought, “this is my ticket out of here! Lifting his gun in both hands and firing wildly into the air, Ken waited for a return volley to take him out of the world. It never came. In spite of the ringing in his ears he was able to hear the shooter scurry off, jump into his car and drive away. After a long silent pause Ken collected himself enough to speak.

“Mister, are you there? Are you okay?”

“Yes, I’m okay. He missed,” came the raspy voice of Ebizer Taulb.

“That’s good,” said Ken, at a loss for anything else to say.

“Can you help me get out of this hole, buddy?”

“I’m sorry, but I can’t,” said Ken as he motored carefully toward the voice in the dark.

“You can’t help, or you won’t? I have a few hundred dollars on me–”

“I can’t. I’m paralyzed, in a wheelchair.”

“You’re joking, right!”

“No, sir, I’m not.”

With the perseverance of a man who knows his life may still be at stake, Ebizer Taulb clawed his way up and out of the grave. In the blackness he was just able to discern the priest in a wheelchair two feet away.

“You saved my life…”

“I know,” said Ken, aware that he was speaking to a tall man but unable to make out his face in the dark.

“Well then, let’s tackle the big question,” said Taulb. “What the hell are you doing out here in a wheelchair in the dead of night?”

“It’s a long story,” responded Ken.

“I don’t suppose you have a car or anything?” inquired Taulb as he continued to brush the dirt from his head and shoulders. Holding out the van key, Ken said,

“I do. It’s right there beside the shed.

“What, you’re not coming?” queried the bewildered Taulb.

“No. Go ahead, take it. It will require a few minutes to figure out though. The controls are all around the steering wheel. Click on “help” then “controls” on the dashboard screen and the computer will talk you through it. Oh, you will have to unlatch the passenger seat and slide it over beneath the steering wheel.”

“What’s going on, dude? Are you a priest?”

“I’m going to end it tonight, my life,” responded the ex-priest.


“Well,” said Ken, “I’ve been paralyzed all my life, and ah, well, I’m…I’m just tired.”

“No way, my friend! I’m going to do you a favor that’s going to change your life forever.”

“Thanks for the kind thought, but I don’t want to live any more.”

Instantly, Taulb snatched the gun from Ken’s lap.

“My friend, you and I are going to have a beer together.”

As Ken motored his wheelchair to the van, he thought, “What does a man have to do to escape this insane world!”

Once in the cab, Ken got a good look at Ebizer Taulb, a huge bear of a man, with a receding hairline and a “salt & pepper” goatee. The goatee provided the only definition on Taulb’s well fed face. It wasn’t until they were on the road that the huge man spoke.

“My name is Ebizer Taulb, and you don’t know it yet, but this is the luckiest night of your life. What’s your name, Father?”

“Ken McAlister, and I’m not a priest anymore.”

“That’s cool. I always hated that ‘Father’ bullshit anyway. Now we can just get down like a couple of real men.”

“Don’t you think you should call the police? That guy tried to kill you,” interjected Ken.

“You got a phone, Ken?” asked the huge man, who was still brushing dirt from his clothes.

“There’s one in the glove compartment.”

Taulb retrieved the cell phone and dialed the operator.

“Operator, put me through to the Las Vegas police department,” Taulb said in his commanding, raspy voice. “No, I don’t want the number. This is an emergency! I tried 911, it’s busy! You want to keep your job, ‘operator’, put me through to the Vegas police!”

After a brief pause, Ebizer Taulb spoke to the Vegas police.

“Sergeant, my name is Patrick Calhoon, and I just had a guy named Bobby Gallagher try to sell me some crack cocaine…Bobby Gallagher. He’s in room four twenty one at Caesars Palace…What? No. He’s got a gun. He said he’s going to kill a cop tonight…Take every precaution, Sergeant, he’s a drug-crazed maniac!”

Taulb closed the phone and erupted with laughter. When he settled down, Ken asked why he lied to them.

“I didn’t want to get involved,” replied the huge man. “You understand…”

“Look,” said Ken, “I can drop you off wherever you want.”

“No,” replied Taulb, “I am going to buy you the best steak dinner in Vegas. Then, I’m going to get you a room at the Vallencia. You ever stay there?”

“No, sir.”

“Have you got any other clothes beside that priest costume?”

“Not with me…”

“Okay,” said the big man, “there are shops still open at the Paris Hotel Casino.”

“Mr.Taulb, I am physically exhausted. I need a bed and a bathroom as soon as possible.”

“Say no more. We’ll paint the town tomorrow!”

On the way to the Vallencia, Ken couldn’t help but think that Ebizer Taulb was some kind of con man who was going to try and use him for some scam. “I mean,” thought Ken, “what does he want with a paralyzed priest, ex-priest? If it were my money he was after, he could have taken that at the cemetery. Maybe he’s just a crack pot? Of course he is, making insane statements about eternal life!”

While Ken was contemplating his situation, the odd, disheveled giant was on the phone booking Ken a room at the Vallencia. In the process, he turned and asked,

“Do you have a credit card I can use to book the room?”

Ken wasn’t surprised in the least and handed him his wallet which contained a Visa Card.

“This good for a hundred and twenty, Ken?”

“Yes. Tell them I need a ‘non-smoking, handicap room.”

When Taulb concluded the reservation, he reached in his pocket, pulled out two one hundred dollar bills and stuck them in Ken’s wallet before returning it to him.

“What’s this for,” asked Ken?

“The room,” replied Taulb. “This whole excursion is on me. There’s only one stipulation, my friend— you check in on your own and make no mention of me, or anything that went on tonight. Can I trust you to do that?”

“What kind of game are you into, Mr. Taulb?”

“To you the proper title is, Master Taulb. I will explain it all over a late breakfast tomorrow. Tell me I can trust you until tomorrow.”

“You have my word, Mister Taulb. I just want to sleep,”

“Me too, said Taulb as he pulled the seat lever, lowering the seat to a reclined position. Minutes later the huge man was snoring, with the gun still clutched in his hand. Only in an emergency would Ken ever use a public bathroom because it was a breeding ground for germs. Nevertheless, his urine collection bag was full and he had to stop at a gas station to empty it. This is something he did several times on his drive from Chicago, only because he thought it was the last two days of his life. When he returned from the bathroom, Taulb was still sleeping. Before locking his wheelchair in place, Ken ever so gently tried to remove the gun from the giant’s hands. Without opening his eyes, Taulb just whispered, “Forget about it.” and continued snoring.

Upon entering Vegas city limits, Ken woke Taulb to remind him that he was holding a gun. Taulb immediately sat up and put the gun in his jacket pocket. The giant proceeded to direct the ex-priest to the Vallencia Hotel, making his exit before they reached the entrance. Ken was trapped. Taulb took off with his gun. His body, wracked with exhaustion and pain, Ken ignored the valet parking because it would take too long to explain the controls. Fifteen minutes later Ken had parked his van, picked up his room key and was in his room stripping for a shit and a shower. Too tired to think, he just concentrated on taking his required medications, three in all, and went to bed.



Ken paused in his reverie to turn down the Beef Stroganoff and fill his wine glass. While he hadn’t yet confirmed his sanity, his journey into the past provided a welcomed distraction and peace. Thus, he settled back in his chair and returned to his memory of the room in the Vallencia Hotel. He remembered waking up to a phone call from Ebizer Taulb. Reluctantly, he took the call from the weird man, whose raspy voice triggered a rush of anxiety.“Good afternoon, Ken. How’d you sleep?”

“Like a dead man,” was all he could think to say, as he slowly awakened to the mess he was in with this man he perceived to be a “nutcase”!

“Don’t dress, my man. I’ve got a new wardrobe for you. I’ll be over in fifteen minutes.”

Before Ken completed his morning bathroom ritual, Master Taulb was knocking at the door. Ken hit the room remote that opened the door and finished brushing his teeth. In the bathroom mirror he saw Taulb drop an armful of signature shopping bags on the bed. Taulb, himself, was wearing a silver sport jacket over a green golf shirt and white pants. Was it by accident that this weirdo was dressed in the exact colors of the room! The pale green and white striped wallpaper matched exactly Taulb’s golf shirt and pants. Taulb’s silver sport jacket could have been made from the silver bed spread. The long drapes framing the balcony window were also silver and white. Fortunately, the mauve carpet didn’t match Taulb’s tan sandals or he would have disappeared altogether. The light and airy room was beautifully accented with driftwood colored furnishings, and a miniature crystal chandelier.

When Ken rolled out of the bathroom, Taulb was on the phone to room service.

“The sirloin, with eggs over easy, a side of biscuits & gravy. Throw an order of pancakes in… large orange juice and a pot of coffee”, said the huge man.

Looking over to Ken, he asked, “And what would you like for lunch?”

“A scrambled egg, with an English muffin… Earl Grey tea,” replied Ken.

“That’s it!” exclaimed Taulb. “No wonder you can’t walk!”

The quip sparked a hearty laugh from Ken, who hadn’t experienced that kind of laughter since he was a child. While Ken was laughing, Taulb placed the order, expanding Ken’s order to three eggs with bacon and home-fries.

“Here, try some of these new rags on,” suggested Taulb, as he dumped the new clothes all over the bed. “I’ve got some research to do.”

As Ken began to dress, he realized that this strange giant of a man was one clever character, crazy perhaps, but clever. The underwear, jeans, shirt and tan sport jacket fit like they were tailored for him. The sandals were also a perfect fit. When he finished dressing he called to Taulb, who was absorbed in a Victoria Secret fashion show on TV.

“This stuff fits like it was made for me! How did you know my size?”

Without removing his eyes from the TV, Taulb responded, “I’m an alchemist, dude.”

Ken began to understand why someone as clever as Taulb could wind up in a life-threatening situation. He appeared to live a life of unchecked passions and lunacy.

Taulb, slapping his hand to his forehead, exclaimed, “My god, Ken, check out these babes, these swim suites! Every year they get younger and prettier!”

“That’s not something I can indulge in, although I recognize the sheer beauty of their physical bodies.”

“I thought you weren’t a priest anymore,” said Taulb, with his eyes still riveted on the babes.

“I’m not, but I have this small problem with my body. Nothing works below my waist.”

With that, Taulb turned from the television to behold the ex-priest in his new garb.

“So, you can’t ‘get off,’ no way, no how?”

“No way, no how,” Ken repeated with finality, smiling as though it never mattered.

“Wow! Now that really blows!,” exclaimed the mysterious giant. “We’ll just have to remedy that, won’t we?”

A knock at the door interrupted their discussion. As Ken motored to retrieve the room remote and open the door, Taulb ducked into the bathroom. Once the waiter was tipped and made his exit, Taulb re-entered the room. Together the two men spread the food out on the table by the balcony window and Taulb sat down.

“Do you mind if I say grace?” asked Taulb.

“Go ahead,” responded Ken somewhat baffled, “whatever you want.”

Looking quite serious, Taulb put his hands together, bowed his head and said, “Grace,” followed by his own unique style of hearty laughter. Ken chuckled, not wanting to cause the giant any embarrassment, though he inwardly bristled at Taulb’s childish prank. Even though Ken had given up the idea that God existed, specifically the God of Catholicism, he didn’t like ridicule of any kind, not even of the faith he rejected.

“By now, I’ll bet you’ve got me pegged as some kind of nut case,” said Taulb, while wolfing down a chunk of steak topped with eggs and gravy.

“Let’s just say, I’ve never met anyone as unpredictable as you,” said Ken while dipping his tea bag. “Do you mind telling me something about yourself, and what you want from me?”

Taulb worked half a pancake, dripping with syrup, into his mouth and just about swallowed it whole. Next, the huge man seized a piece of steak, buried it in a gravy-covered biscuit, and pointed the forkful at Ken.

“I don’t want anything from you. You saved my life and I’m going to return the favor. For that to happen you’ll have to trust me until tomorrow night. Can you do that, my man?”

Just as the last word left his mouth the mess impaled on his fork entered.

“What’s going to happen tomorrow night?” asked Ken, venturing a fork full of eggs.

“If I told you now, you wouldn’t believe me,” responded the master, chewing while he spoke. “You’ll have to see it to believe it.”

Ken nibbled at his muffin while watching Taulb wrap a pile of eggs in the remaining pancake, drown it in syrup and take it down in two gulps.

“Have you had your cholesterol checked recently?” Ken chuckled, “I think you gobbled the place mat with that last mouthful.”

Taulb rushed his napkin to his mouth and roared with laughter at the insult, as he took hold of his large orange juice.

“Don’t worry about me,” you skinny prick. “I’ve got more lives than the Devil’s cat!”

“Do you mind my asking what you do for a living?” queried Ken, enjoying the last of his muffin.

“I’m sort of a psychologist by profession.”

“Sort of?”

“Well, people hire me to help them improve their game of poker, usually professionals. Right now I’ve got a movie star in the World Series of Poker. You ever hear of Zackary Taylor?”

Taulb, anticipating the time a response to his question would take, dropped the rest of the sirloin and bacon into the bowl of biscuits and gravy in preparation for a gastronomical finale.

“No, I don’t watch movies that often,” related Ken,” but I’m aware of the recent poker craze sweeping the world. I sometimes watch the High Stakes Poker Games on television.”

“Cool,” said Taulb. “Then you know what a ‘tell’ is,” stated the eating machine, while masticating the mess in his bowl.

“That’s when a player unconsciously does something that gives away his hand,” responded Ken.

“I couldn’t have defined it better myself. ‘Tells’ are my specialty. Every poker player, I don’t care who he is, harbors tells—Kid Poker, The Brat, The Magician, Phil Ivey, Johnny Chan, even old man Doyle Brunson. I can read those guys like a book!”

“That begs the question, why aren’t you playing in the World Series?”

Taulb flashed a wry smile. “Because I’m involved in a game with much higher stakes.”

“And what game is that?” asked Ken.

“You’ll find out soon enough,” replied Taulb, as he reached out and patted Ken’s cheek.

Taulb then looked at his Rolex and walked toward the door.

“I’ve got to check on my guy, Taylor, at the Rio. He’s presently third to the chip leader. I would invite you but we can’t be seen together.”

“Why?” asked Ken, perfectly aware that he wasn’t going to get a straight answer.

“You’ll know why tomorrow night, my man. Didn’t I promise you a whole new life, with legs that walk and a cock that works?”

Ken was convinced that Taulb, if that was his name, was some kind of lunatic living out his fantasies.

“Mister Taulb, I wish you would just give me back my gun,” pleaded Ken, hoping his heart felt plea might persuade the deranged man to release him from whatever fantasy he was concocting.

“Master Taulb,” corrected the giant. “I plugged your cell phone in by the lamp. Just stay out of trouble till I call. And we can hang together, off the beaten path, later.”

“Master Taulb, please, I don’t need any more games! I just want out of this world.”

“Okay, contemplate this until I call you,” said Taulb, as he plucked a rose from the vase on a pedestal by the window. Handing the lovely flower to Ken he asked, “What makes this flower beautiful?”

Ken, going along with the game, responded, “Its color…Its fragrance…”

Taulb stated emphatically, “Its life, dude!” With that Taulb raised the lovely rose close to his face and said, “You’re ugly! No one cares about you. No one wants to see you any more. You’re disgusting and useless–now die!”

Ken watched in horror as the rose wilted instantly and died. Taulb flung the flower to the floor, with a wry chuckle. Before Ken could respond, Master Taulb was out the door.

Ken, on the verge of tears, rushed the dead flower to the Bathroom, where he placed it in a small pitcher of water, hoping to revive it… but it just hung limp and lifeless over the side of the pitcher. The ex-priest, though momentarily mystified, concluded that Taulb must have dropped some poison on the flower when he snatched it from the vase. “What a weird and heartless character,” thought Ken, as he went about cleaning up the table.

His next thought was whether the distance between the balcony and the ground below was enough to kill him if he jumped. He decided it was, but he would clean up the table first, where he would write a note of apology to the Vallencia owners and management for his suicide.

It was just about ten minutes later that Taulb called, interrupting Ken’s suicide note.

“Hello, Ken, this is the master.”

“Yes,” replied Ken into the phone, perturbed by Taulb’s intrusion on his plans.

“Do you trust me, my man?”

“You didn’t have to poison the flower.”

“Oh, yes, the flower. Put her on the phone.”

“What?” asked Ken, at the strange request.

“I want to talk to the flower. Put her on the phone.”

Ken just paused, holding the phone away from his ear, waiting for Taulb’s belly laugh. When it didn’t come Ken decided Taulb hung up. Then Taulb spoke in his raspy commanding voice, “Put the fucking flower on the phone! Humor me, my man.”

Bristling at the thought of being drawn back into Taulb’s idiotic games, Ken fetched the dead rose from the pitcher in the bathroom. With the limp flower in hand, Ken mocked the obnoxious idiot.

“The flower is six inches from the phone, but it’s not saying very much. It may have something to do with the fact that it has no vocal cords and that it’s dead.”

“Just hold the phone so she can hear me,” responded Taulb.

Ken obeyed the request, putting the phone two inches from the rose. He was barely able to hear some gibberish Taulb recited to the flower, and felt his upper body flush with shock, as he watched the flower in his hand come back to life. In utter amazement, he stared at the rose standing strong, straight and beautiful in his hand. Stymied, Ken returned the phone to his ear. He heard the Master’s belly laugh. When the laughter subsided, Master Taulb said, “Pretty fantastic shit, wouldn’t you say, coming from a fat guy with atrocious table manners? As the saying goes, you ain’t seen nothing yet! I’ll call you later.”