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I eyed the guy who had just opened the door of the ground floor apartment and wondered if this assignment could get any worse.  He looked to be hovering around 300 pounds if he hadn’t already crash landed on that particular number.

I shouldn’t criticize anyone’s weight since I’m a Size 12 myself.  Okay, okay, a 14 if I want to zip my jeans.  And maybe a tad more if I don’t want to pop a button.

He had beautiful long chestnut hair though—better than my graying reddish orange do—but from there on down he was a train wreck.

Stubble, and not the sexy kind but the I was too hung over to shave kind.

His pink chiffon robe was open, probably because there wasn’t enough chiffon in Bowling Green, Missouri, to make a robe in his size.  His chest was nearly bare, sprinkled liberally with black curly hair and a little gold star adorning each nipple.  I’m guessing he earned those stars by cleaning his plate at lunch.

I didn’t want to let my eyes drift lower, but I couldn’t help myself.  And there was an athletic cup.  A pink athletic cup.  I hurriedly dropped my eyes to the pink socks.

So this was Avery Turnberry, the trucker who claimed to have been a stripper in a previous life.

I didn’t want this assignment, and I’d made that clear to Lorenzo Mayo, my boss at The Spyglass, the tabloid newspaper that employs me in Hannibal, Missouri.  My name is Aretha Moon, and I’m a reporter of sorts.  Mostly the middle-aged, divorced, irritated sort.  It was Friday, and all I wanted was to get home early for a nice quiet weekend of TV and junk food.

But Lorenzo had only laughed, a sound like a malfunctioning washing machine, and said it would give me a chance to get out of Hannibal.  Carl, another reporter, had grinned.  I had looked over at the new reporter for support, but she only gave me a sympathetic look before she turned back to her computer.  Thelma Murphy was our newest addition, hired at the end of summer.  She was around sixty-five with coffee-colored skin and sleek black hair pulled back into some kind of chignon thing that looked professional.  Her hair was liberally sprinkled with gray.

So here I was, being ushered into a small apartment by the trucker slash stripper.  I was surprised to see a little woman sitting at the kitchen table since I’d assumed Avery lived alone.  But it turned out she was the landlady and also the hypnotist who had regressed Avery into his former life as a stripper.

Her name was Maria Louise Hopper, and she smiled warmly when Avery introduced her.  I guessed she was about fifty-five, which would make her five years older than I am.  Her gray hair was cut in a curly bob that flattered her face.

“I could hypnotize you,” she offered immediately.  “I bet you were a famous writer in the 1800s.  And you died of consumption.”

“More likely I was the wife of an Iowa pig farmer with gout,” I said.  “So, Avery, tell me about how you discovered your past life.”

Avery sat down and passed around three cups of hot coffee.

“It’s all because of Maria,” he said.  “I was watching wrestling one night, and she brought me down some chocolate chip cookies.  I had pork rinds and onion dip out, and I got us a couple of beers, some pretzels and cheese puffs and heated up some pizza rolls.”

I love food.  I live for food.  My hobby is food.  But I found my inner foodie going Uh-huh, Uh-huh and my eyes glazing over as Avery went through his endless snack list.

“Another couple of beers and Maria told me about this past lives stuff.  I thought it was a bunch of bull.”  Avery stopped and gave Maria an apologetic nod of his head.

“It’s all right, dear,” she said.  “Most people don’t believe in it.”

“But I thought, What the heck?” he went on.  “It was a Saturday, and I didn’t have anything better to do.”  He shifted in his wooden chair, and I heard a distinct cracking sound.  I figured that poor chair was good for maybe another two sittings before it was kindling.  From my angle I could see one of Avery’s butt cheeks hanging over the edge like a deflated tire.

“So why don’t you show me what you did?” I prompted Maria.

She immediately brightened.  “Oh, I’d love to.  Why don’t I demonstrate on you?”

“I really need to take notes,” I said.  “Just do Avery again.”

“Okay.  Sure.”  She cleared her throat and looked into Avery’s face.   “Now, Avery,” she said, “I want you to look down at your coffee and see how smooth it looks, just like a lake.”  Her voice had softened to slow sing-song, like a mother soothing a child.  “Feel how calm the lake is, and look at how deep it is.  So deep that you can’t see the bottom.”  She went on like that, talking about the lake and how Avery should ignore everything but that lake and how relaxed it was making him.

I watched his face and saw it go slack.  His eyelids drooped, and his mouth was slightly open.  I was feeling kind of relaxed myself.

“Just relax and let your mind float,”Maria told him.  “Now you’re ten years old.  Remember how you felt and what you did on your birthday.”

“A bicycle!” Avery said.  “I got a blue bicycle!  And cake!  A big chocolate cake.”

I guessed that Avery probably ate most of that cake himself.  I would have.

“Now go back further,” Maria said quietly.  “You’re a baby.  You’re lying in a crib.  Feel how relaxed you are and know that everything is all right.”  She waited a beat, then said, “Now go back some more.  Further, further.  What do you see?”

“It’s all dark,” he said.

“Keep going. 

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