3. Lost Master

THE LOST MASTER

Robert St.Clair

ABOUT ROBERT

Robert St. Clair is eighty years old and a recluse billionaire. For the past 45 years he has build Shambala Natural Foods into one of the largest grocery chains in the world. He has done most of his work in seclusion, living a semi-monastic life. That life began when he was five years old, left by his American parents in Tibet, to become the next guru in a lineage. His training there lasted 30 years. Now he’s ready to return, and  bring his three best friends with him. But a few matters need to be taken care of first.

The book begins with ROBERT telling his story of how and why he escaped from Happy Acres. We learn about his life, and also the lives of MAGGIE SINCLAIR, HOWARD JOHNSON, and SOPI NGUYEN—all in their late 70’s. In Japan they too meet the young Immortal Master. They continue on to Mandalay, Burma, and then Kathmandu where Robert buys a small plane. Now in a different form, the same young Immortal Master is his pilot. Robert faces his arrogance, and romance between the two elderly couples begins. Will Robert be able to find the lost paradise he left 45 years ago?

Two compelling stories happen in this book. The four elders journey to the most sacred mountain in the world, Mt.Kailash, in Western Tibet. Guided by the young Immortal Master Arjuna, they face one life threatening challenge after the other. At the same time the detectives are led by Tenzin, a rapidly aging Immortal Master, formally Robert’s personal teacher when he was growing up. They trek halfway around Khawa Karpo, the second  most sacred mountain in the world, 1000 miles away from the old folks. Tenzin prepares them for the 5th Dimension. Will the two groups meet in Shambala? How are the detectives related to Robert St.Clair, and why lead them halfway around the world?

 

1

Trust life.
The bridge to eternity.

Thursday, two weeks before the detectives began the investigation:

Robert St. Clair:

After a satisfying dinner I, Robert St. Clair, known to everyone at Happy Acres as Archibald Goodwin, moved over to the bridge table with my three best friends: Howard, Sopi and Maggie.

It had been three weeks since I had presented Mildred Rice with a hundred thousand dollars cash and moved into Betty Wilson’s room, and a little more than a month since I miraculously recovered from my near certain death coma.

Happy Acres, which I indeed owned, was an executive gated facility, which housed twenty-seven “guests,” all of whom arrived with various stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s. No one there, except Sopi, had any idea that the new patient, Archibald, me, had a healthy and active mind. If Howard were to tell anyone that I was the billionaire owner of the facility, they would laugh it off as just another of his fantastic tales.

While shuffling the cards, I grinned. I was pleased–all was proceeding as planned.

I reflected back to the days after I purchased Happy Acres. I met with only one person, a general contractor. That man coordinated the architects, sub-contractors, carpenters, painters and interior designers and within a of couple months he converted the huge mansion, set at the front of twenty wooded acres, into an upscale and exclusive retirement resort, with a price of admission well beyond the working class budget. The so-called guests arrived from rich, cultivated, privileged, groomed, and polite lives. All over seventy years old, they were constantly watched by Mildred Rice and her well-trained staff of caregivers, who led the guests through a daily routine of activities: exercise, arts and crafts, games, movies, and outdoor walks. One staff member played the piano and quite often they all joined in the singing of oldies but goodies, eliciting good memories and robust laughter. Nobody was allowed to sit for hours, vegetate, or stay in their room, unless death was imminent. The guests were encouraged to express their unique personalities, though some, like Howard and Betty Wilson’s, clashed. But for the most part they all liked being together, entertaining one another with stories of their lives before Happy Acres, either real or imagined. In the past weeks, My calm voice and funny stories made my three friends extremely happy, and they all were grateful that I had come to join them; an old friend with a new name–Archibald Goodwin.

I focused on my plan and how I would execute it. I had been trained for many years in the conscious movement of energy. My study involved many disciplines–prana yoga, kundalini yoga, Reiki, and the conscious expansion of ki or chi–all forms of life-force energy. My daily meditation for the past seventy-five years included one form of energy work or another, and although invisible, it was directly responsible for the global success of Shambala Foods. At my darkest hour, the time of my death, I decided to turn this energy inward, and use it for self-healing. It worked. My current plan is to share this life-giving energy with my friends, and at that moment, facing Maggie, Howard and Sopi at the bridge table, I could only hope for the same result.

Watching her watching me shuffle the cards, I was drawn to the tiny white polka dots on her dark blue dress, the way her gray hair was held in a bun with waterfall strands touching her shoulders, and how her baby-skin complexion was accented with a touch of pale red lipstick. I could imagine her smell, maybe a light spray of sweet perfume–to me she was still very beautiful and I had no doubt of my intentions.

Maggie had short-term memory loss and although I had wanted to, I couldn’t tell her about my plan. She would agree with my explanation, and forget all about it five minutes later. Howard would listen to my story, but since his mind confused time, space and accepted reality, he would come up with an even better imaginary story to tell. Sopi would like Howard’s story better even though she knew very well it probably wasn’t true.

I remained patient as the bridge game began. I was again impressed with how Maggie and Howard remembered hundreds of technical terms, the rules and intricate maneuverings of the complicated game. They could care less about keeping score, winners or losers; they wouldn’t remember anyway. In the midst of counting cards, making bids, plays and runs, they shared pleasantries as all bridge players do.

After twenty minutes and a winning trick, I took a Tony Bennett LP out of my white jacket pocket and gave it to the attendant, who thinking nothing of it, slipped it in the CD player and turned up the volume. Maggie loved Tony Bennett and shyly squealed with delight when I stood up and asked her to dance. I left my heart in San Francisco . . . high on a hill . . . it calls to me . . .

The bridge game was officially interrupted as I removed my sunglasses and led Maggie to an open area and we began dancing cheek to cheek, which was easy since we were nearly the same height. Howard took Sopi’s hand, and then bending over, lifted her from the wheelchair and held her frail body. He put his cheek to hers, and joined us on the dance floor. This amused the two evening attendants, who would be shocked if they knew what I had in mind.

After about a minute of slow dancing I proceeded in doing what I most purposefully intended to do. Maggie looked curious as to why I placed one hand on her head, opposite my cheek. With my cheek next to hers I began the energy transference.

She felt the tinkles and they made her giggle. Something extraordinary was happening and without thinking she was actually thinking about healing energy, which was what her life profession had been all about. She was conscious of her thoughts. “Archie,” she whispered into my ear, “what did you just do?” I smiled. “You know,” I whispered back, “prana, chi, ki. Do you remember what you were just thinking?” That question surprised her. “I do. I was thinking that you just sent life force energy into my brain. Did you?” We moved our heads back and looked into each other’s eyes. “”I did,” I answered. “I know how . . ,” she whispered in my ear, “but I never thought it could be used on the brain like this. What do we do now?” I put my cheek back to hers and whispered, “Act like nothing has happened. Now, work with me with the life force energy . . . you and I together . . . on the rest of your body. Let’s fill it with healing light . . . right now.” I put my hand on the small of her back and with no fanfare she helped heal herself of osteoporosis, arthritis, and the first stage of cancer she wasn’t aware she had. As the song came to an end, I bent Maggie over, which almost made her eyes pop out of her head, moments before physically impossible, and whispered in her ear, “How do you feel?”

“Great!” she answered, still whispering. “Can you do that to Howard and Sopi, too?” The next song came up, I’ve got the world by a string . . . sitting on a rainbow . . . got the string around my finger . . . what a world, what a life . . . I’m in love.

“We’ll see. Sopi is next,” I answered, moving away. Tapping Howard on the shoulder, and before taking Sopi into his arms I asked, “May I have the next dance, madam?” I then proceeded to heal her of terminal stage four cancer, a disease she knew nothing about. When the song was through I placed her back in the wheelchair and took it to the table.

Maggie smiled at my and began whispering to Sopi about what had just happened. I then leaned over to Howard and said, “You know that place we always talked about going?”

“Oh do I. You mean up in the mountains. That fishing hole. Under the stars and pines. Oh my, yes I do know that place.”

“I want to take you there, Reggie.” In private I often called Howard “Reggie”–after all, that was his real name.

“When?”

“As soon as we don’t have to be here any more.”

“Well, I like it here, but you know . . . there’s still lots of places to go. When do you want to leave? I’m ready.”

I looked deep into my dear friend’s eyes. “You know I would never do anything to harm you. You know that don’t you?”

“Of course I do. Don’t be silly.”

“OK then. Let’s you and I go to the little boy’s room.” We excused ourselves and went to the men’s room where I cupped Howard’s head in my hands and sent healing energy into my friend’s brain. Later Howard told me that the Latin names of botanicals flooded his mind and the horticulturalist wondered about his office and lab and an experiment he was conducting before he forgot. All he could say was, “Oh my god.” He hugged me and we returned to the bridge table.

Maggie and Sopi were both grinning when we returned.

“Keep quiet, all three of you,” I whispered. “Stay in your wheelchair Sopi . . . practice walking in your room. Don’t let anyone know, or even suspect anything, especially the attendants over there . . . most especially Mildred Rice. You must act as if nothing has changed.”

“Why?” Maggie asked.

“I have a trip planned” I looked at my best friend. “It’s time for you and I, Reggie, to take that trip we talked about, and bring these two beautiful women with us.”

“So what’s the plan?” Howard asked, looking around to see if anyone else could hear.

“Well,” I paused. “I want to take the three of you to Shambala with me.”

“That’s just a myth,” Maggie offered, her mind suddenly as sharp as ever. “There is no Shambala, Archie.” Maggie had gotten used to calling me Archie, and although she knew my real name, she liked the other better.

“Oh, there sure is a Shambala. I’ll prove it. Well go there next week.”

 

2

Secrets of deep deception.
Unfathomable

Robert St. Clair:

The week that followed “the healing” wasn’t a pleasant one for Maggie, Howard and Sopi.

Although Sopi felt better than she had in years–her legs worked properly and she was cancer free–she wanted to be out of her wheelchair, take off her shoes and feel the grass between her toes. She longed to walk hand-in-hand with Howard and dance with him around the trees–to do things she wouldn’t even allow herself to do when she was in full health. Dementia had freed Howard’s mind, and now he wasn’t as out-going as he had been in the last two and a half years. He returned to his “normal” quiet self. The staff thought he was depressed and wanted to increase his medication, since he no longer happily offered the non-sense stories, which entertained them. Not wanting to further arouse their suspicion, it took quite a lot of effort for him to recreate his dementia personality and make up gibberish.

Maggie had the hardest time of all. She now saw me in an entirely different light, and realized that she really didn’t know me, since she had had no contact with me in the last sixteen years. Although she went along with it, she disapproved of my charade.

Why I refused to identify myself as the owner of Happy Acres, made no sense to her. She argued that if I owned the place then I could dictate the rules, including making up one that would allow me and other mentally fit guests to live there. Now aware that dementia could indeed be healed, she wanted to come forward and attempt the healing on everyone else. She insisted that I teach her how to heal the others of dementia and Alzheimer’s, which I refused to do. I argued long and hard against her saying a word about this to anyone; she acquiesced, but quite reluctantly. Maggie’s compassion then focused on Howard and Sopi. She saw how they struggled with their pretense and continued to argue with me on their behalf. If only I would confess then Howard could stop acting so stupid and Sopi could walk around and express her good health. I begged for her patience.

Throughout the weekend Maggie remained persistent in her argument for transparent disclosure and truth. At first she considered my plan, to take them to Shambala, an old man’s fantasy. She tolerated it, but by Monday, as I began stating out loud that I was once a guru from Shambala, in an attempt to convince the staff of my dementia, she was losing her patience. “Why would you say such a thing?” she asked me.

To make things worse, during a private talk with Howard and Sopi that weekend, she found out for the first time that I was the billionaire owner of Shambala Natural Foods. She had known me for thirty years, and I had never told her. I’m a very private and secretive man, but from her point of view my not telling her the truth about my career was an act of deception–the lies were beginning to pile up. “A guru wouldn’t be like you. He would never tell a lie,” she said to me in front of the others. “You’re no guru.”

She began to question how she got to Happy Acres in the first place. We hadn’t been in contact for at least fourteen years before she arrived. I had somehow tracked her down and brought her here, but why? “Why did you wait so many years before contacting me, and if you knew I had dementia and had the ability to heal my brain all along, why hadn’t you done it before? Am I a part of some long-term con you’ve conjured up, keeping me in the dark until now: until you were ready to go to this Shambala place? There’s no Shambala, Archie. I’m happy that you’ve figured out some way to heal physical and mental illness, but what about healing yourself? Sometimes it was hard to take, but I knew she would understand when we finally were in Shambala.

By Tuesday afternoon Maggie was beside herself; her mind was filled with so many unanswered questions. She told me that we needed to have a serious talk. Late that night after curfew she came to my room and tapped on the door. We sat in the two stuffed chairs, separated by a table and lamp, and I offered her some tea.

“No thank you. I know it’s past the curfew,” she started in, “but I need you to understand how important the truth is to me. You need to come forth as the owner of this place. Howard, Sopi and my lives have been turned upside down. We’re worried all the time about being caught.”

“There’s no reason to worry,” I politely answered. “Don’t worry, Maggie.”

“I don’t need you to placate me, Archie. You’ve put all of us in a very precarious position. You’re asking me to lie, and for what good reason? Sopi wants to get up and dance and express her good health. We’re cured of our mental illness, but are you?”

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about all your lies and secrets and deceptions and cons. It just goes on and on: you telling people you’re a guru from Shambala. There is no Shambala. You’re just an old man who lies and deceives people. I can’t take any more of this.”

“It’s only for two more days.”

“Two more days? Then what? We get on a magic carpet and fly to this fairytale land of yours? I don’t think so.”

“I’m not lying about that.”

“The fairytale land or the magic carpet? Archie . . . wake up! When I knew you sixteen years ago I knew you had had that house and family money. You told me you were a grocer. Now I find out that you’re actually a billionaire, one of the richest men in the United States. You never told me about Shambala Foods before. We’ve known each other for thirty years. Why couldn’t you say ‘Maggie, I’m the owner of Shambala Foods.’ Don’t you think that’s a bit odd?”

“No. I’ve never said that to anyone.”

“Not to your friends?”

“I’ve never had any friends outside of the few people who know me at Shambala.”

“What about me?”

“You were my massage therapist. You asked and I told you I was a grocer. That wasn’t a lie, and it was all you really needed to know.”

“So who am I to you now: someone on a need to know basis?” Maggie began to laugh at the absurdity of it all. “I find out that you own the place, and old Mildred Rice, who has run it for the past three years, doesn’t recognize you? She has never met the person she works for?”

“Again, there was no reason.”

“There is every reason! You own the damn place! But never mind. I just want to know if you’re in here for the same reason I was in here: dementia. If not, is there some sort of meaning to your wacky behavior.”

“I don’t have dementia, Maggie. You’ll just have to trust me.”

“Trust you? Why? Everything you do and say speaks of mistrust. If you are in your right mind, then you need to come forward with the truth, at least to us. You have some sort of power, Archie. It’s obvious and I appreciate what you’ve done, but it’s not enough. You started something that you need to complete.”

“It’s far from completion. It’s only beginning . . .”

“There you go again, being vague. Stop trying to draw me into your fairytale. I’m just not going to buy into it.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“Tell the truth!”

“I will. How about tomorrow evening after dinner.”

“I look forward to it. Good night, Archie.”

That “good night” was interrupted by a light knock on my door. I opened it and my young Tibetan assistant walked in.

“Good evening, Tulku,” he said to me with a deep reverent bow. “I take it that everything is in order with you tonight. Good evening, Mrs. Maggie. I hope I have not interfered. Forgive me.”

“I was just leaving, Tenzin,” she answered. “Good night.”

“May I help you to your room?”

“That isn’t necessary. Good night.”

Soon after she left, Tenzin bowed and left too. I knew that Mildred Rice tolerated Tenzin’s nightly presence only because I demanded it. The reasoning why the young man showed up between eight and nine made absolutely no sense to anyone except me, the man with the many secrets; now Tenzin’s appearances were taken for granted, which was exactly what I had in mind.

 

3

A seed once planted.
Sprouts undaunted:

Robert St. Clair:

I wanted the best of everything for my friend Howard. His Happy Acre apartment was, by far, the biggest and nicest suite in the mansion.

Howard could care less that the couch material was the most expensive crushed velvet, or that his La-Z Boy was heated and had massage features, or that the drapes were the finest quality, and the walls were covered with wonderful paintings. It was all first class that didn’t matter. He never once turned on the wide-screen TV or attempted to read one of the hundred books on the shelves. Comforted by a few personal treasures from Mississippi, and his world travel photos, the room for Howard was just a place to sleep at night. He never had visitors, except for this night, as we gathered in the apartment which he now fully appreciated: it felt good hosting in elegant ambiance.

Once we were settled around the rosewood coffee table and the conversation came to a pause, I broke in: “Maggie came to my room last night. She accused me of lying, of being deceptive, of running a con and I can’t remember what else . . . oh . . . of being mentally ill.”

Howard let out a big belly laugh. “I was thinking the same thing myself.” Sopi also laughed and Maggie remained tight-lipped.

“Me, too,” Sopi offered. “What’s wrong with you?”

“Surely you don’t think I’m not nuts . . .”

“Don’t you see, Archie?” Maggie seized the opportunity, “it’s just not me who thinks these things. You need to be forthcoming with us. No more lies.”

“I’m not lying.”

“See? There you go again.” Maggie was an old woman, but she hadn’t lost an ounce of her spunk.

“Are you going to give me a chance?” I almost pleaded, which was something I never do.

“I’m not sure. Look at you. You’re wearing sunglasses inside this room. The sun went down two hours ago. You’re what? Eighty years old and have a ponytail below your waist–like some hippie from the sixties.” She gave me an overall disapproving scowl. “I’m supposed to take you serious?”

“I have severe photophobia, which I haven’t been able to cure.”

“Oh . . . sorry.”

“The hair has to do with a vow I took when I was in Tibet studying to be the head Rinpoche of a monastic order.”

“And we’re supposed to believe that?” Maggie questioned, still not allowing for my truth.

“Which one? That I vowed to not cut my hair, or that I studied in Tibet?”

“Both . . . all of it,” she insisted.

“Maggie . . . Howard, Sopi . . . I’m telling you the truth now.”

“That you were this guru from Shambala?” Maggie pressed.

“Technically . . . a guru is a teacher with knowledge or wisdom in a certain discipline. That would apply to all of us.”

“So you just loosely used that term . . . for effect?”

“It’s easier to comprehend. I was actually a Rinpoche.”

“A Rinpoche? What’s that?”

I smiled and then patiently explained, “A Rinpoche is an honor earned or sometimes given to a Tibetan Buddhist lama who has been identified as a reincarnated master and, like the Dalai Lama, sometimes the master is recognized as a child. At five years old I was identified as a Rinpoche, the one who was to succeed the master of our order. I studied at the Portola Palace in Lhasa for five years, and when I was ten we moved to a beautiful valley in the Himalayas called Shambala. I was there until I was thirty-five years old, when I ran away from that life. I found my parents here in Portland and began working with them in their grocery business. I turned a small chain of organic supermarkets into the biggest natural foods grocery supplier in the world. I retired from active duty after forty-three years, and I still head the Board of Directors.”

Maggie was speechless. She stared at me for a long time, as did the other two. They finally were getting that this was not the babbling of a man with a mental illness. They each had witnessed my power first hand, and it wouldn’t take much research for Maggie to substantiate what Howard insisted was true: that I was the owner of Shambala Foods and one of the richest men in the world. “Okay,” she finally said. “Quite a story. I would like to hear the details one of these days. But why all the deception?”

“It’s not actually deception, Maggie. More like a personal respect of my inner knowing. And I have credible reasons for honoring my privacy, and for continuing my spiritual practices.”

“Then why come here?”

“First to prepare you for the journey that we are about to undertake, and second . . . to clear up old business.”

“Old business here at Happy Acres? Maggie asked.

“Mildred Rice was hired by someone other than myself. I accepted her hire only because I liken her position to an over-paid baby-sitter, and figured at her age she would be benign. She wasn’t that way at all, and possibly out of boredom she complicated her authority, creating trouble around here for no good reason. I pretty much ignored the negative reports on her, but when she fabricated a story that Howard murdered the woman whose room I now occupy, I decided to fire her. I notified my attorney to find a replacement and have her removed. That process began only days before my stroke. When I recovered four weeks ago I was surprised she was still here.”

“You had a stroke?” Maggie asked, creating a tangent.

“I remember doing my morning exercises, and then passing out. Apparently I went into a coma, which I stayed in for a little over a month. The moment I came out of it, I decided that I wanted to continue living. Lying there I remembered and then applied the healing techniques I had learned while in Shambala: on myself. As I regained full consciousness I heard my inner voice say it was time to go home, and to bring the three of you with me.”

“Pretty impressive healing yourself . . .” Sopi offered before being interrupted my Maggie.

“You moved in here three weeks ago. Why didn’t you tell us that you just came out of a coma?” She still had many unanswered questions. “And why did you use a fake name? And most of all . . . why didn’t you heal us then, instead of waiting three weeks?”

“Your recovery wasn’t one hundred percent complete, was it?” Howard surmised. “You wanted to be around a trained nursing staff in case you had a relapse.”

“That, yes, absolutely, and I wanted to be with you while I was recovering, instead of being alone at my home.”

“You didn’t answer my questions,” Maggie insisted.

“Howard answered it roundabout. I had been on life support for a month. As soon as I woke up I used all my strength to restart my whole body. It took everything I had. I wasn’t sure I had the strength a week later to heal someone else, let alone three people. When I decided to do it I still didn’t know if it would kill me.”

“I’m happy it didn’t,” Sopi offered.

“The point is, it depleted my energy more than I imagined. I was taught that this healing movement of energy took no effort and that there would be no side effects. Maybe I forgot a step or two . . . it did drain me.”

“You looked fine now,” Maggie stated, and then continued her interrogation, “What about your fake name?”

“It’s a long story. I considered firing Mildred before I moved in, but didn’t want to arrive during the confusing changing of the guards. My attorney called our Happy Acres on-call doctor, who connected him to the newest male attendant here. For enough money he confessed that Mildred was manipulating her male staff to act as spies. We paid the young man to be a double agent.”

“Is it Manny? Who?” Howard asked. “Why?”

“Doesn’t matter who. Why?” I paused. “I want to know exactly what I’m getting myself into. I found out that she likes to play detective, and used operating funds to buy sophisticated surveillance camera’s and equipment.”

“She’s been spying on us?” Maggie asked in disbelief.

“She has been. I wasn’t sure why, so I decided to play along. Archie Goodwin is a fictional character in Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe novels. I was informed that she has a library of his books. I wanted her to find out who I really am, and for her to disover my connection to Howard.”

“Why?” Maggie asked.

“So she would know that I’m on to her. I was giving her a chance to come clean, to save her job, and to forget about the whole Betty nonsense. There’s more to it . . . which the detectives will uncover once we’re gone.”

“Detectives? Why in the world would detectives be interested in us?”

“In me, Maggie. Mildred Rice can make up whatever story she likes, about me. She could go to the press.”

“I’m sorry . . . I just don’t get why you have to be so secretive. Who cares if people know who you are, and what you’re up to?” Maggie just couldn’t figure out the enigma in front of her.

“I care, Maggie. Who I am and what do is nobody’s business. I have agreed to my dharma, my life purpose. I have been clear and focused on that purpose, and because of it I feed many millions of people every day with nutritious life enhancing foods. Who I am as a personality is beside the point.”

“But you do have quite a personality,” Maggie stated.

“I am who I am and when ordinary people see me they rush to judgment. It’s much better that I live my life in the shadows.”

“You didn’t have to heal us,” Maggie responded. “We wouldn’t have cared. It’s actually made being here very complicated: extremely uncomfortable. You’ve forced us to be deceptive and play games we don’t want to play, for what reason?”

“You know why.”

“Shambala?“

“Yes.”

“But there is no Shambala,” Maggie protested with insistence.

“Are you sure?”

“Am I sure about the imagination of fiction writers? These are just stories, Archie. A paradise valley in the Himalayas called Shangri-La is a myth that nobody has or ever will prove to be true.”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure.”

“Positively, without a shadow of a doubt?”

“Well . . .”

“What if I can prove it to you? What if I had used my extreme wealth to launch unprecedented expeditions in search of this Shangri-La: and that we had finally found it? What if the valley contained wealth and beauty far beyond anything you would ever imagine? And on top of all that . . . Ponce de Leon’s fountain of youth was there. And what if there are only three people in this world I want to share this paradise with? You three. Would you turn down the offer and opportunity to journey with me to this magnificent place?”

“Maybe not . . . but you just made all that up, Archie. You didn’t pay for an expedition, and now you want us to believe it just because you say so? If there actually is a Shambala, do you know how to get there?”

“I do.”

“And when do you want to take us there?”

“Tomorrow night after bridge.”

“Oh.”

After an uncomfortably long pause Howard finally broke the ice, “I guess it’s never too late to start over. Are you going to tell us your plan?”

“I like it here at Happy Acres,” Maggie declared. “My mind is healthy now and you know . . . there’s a lot of people I can help, right here. I’d rather stay, and for you to stay too, Archie, and teach me your technique. Why should we be the only ones who are healed?”

“That’s not the point,” I answered.

“My point is . . . I’m a healer, Archie. Where is Shambala anyway? The Himalayas? You can’t seriously expect us, a bunch of terribly senior citizens, to go trekking off in the mountains. I wouldn’t even go to Mt. Hood on a sight-seeing tour.”

“We can do it.”

“In your dreams . . . look at us. I don’t care if we’re disease free . . . we’re all old and somewhat feeble. I’d rather stay here and channel healing energy until I die. We’re all going to die soon, you know . . . and I can’t imagine us walking around in the Himalayas doing anything other than causing our deaths much sooner than later. Really, what is the point?”

“Living our lives to the fullest while we still have them, for one.”

“Sounds like a whole lot of unnecessary pain if you ask me.”

“What happened to the arthritis you had last week, Maggie? The osteoporosis: your cancer: your dementia? Are you not pain free right now? Do you actually think that your healing can’t be continual, that it only happens once? Can you, with all your years of healing and spiritual study, even half-way entertain the idea of reverse aging?”

“No, Archie . . . I can’t. I’ve watched my life progress for seventy-eight years. I will accept a few more years, if I’m blessed to heal a few more people . . . but beyond that I welcome death. I’ve come to a place of peace with my life . . . finally. Sure I’m grateful to have my health and mind back, but I’ve realized that I don’t like the drama, the pretending to be someone I’m not. I have no desire to be anywhere but here. All I want is to love and serve until the day comes when I don’t get up. Don’t you see? I’m okay with it.”

I took off my sunglasses so Maggie could see the sincerity in my eyes, and then we stared at each other for a long while. I had pushed her envelope and it was almost more than she could take. What she said made sense, so I had to find another way to convince her.

“I hear what you’re saying, Maggie. I really do. I too have not been willing to compromise my integrity for anyone, for any reason. Our lives have not been all that different: we’ve both been dedicated to healing others. I respect your point of view, and your passion. Let me be totally honest with you Maggie. Consider my wealth. My finance attorney recently told me that I was worth more than eighteen billion dollars. It’s a proven fact that I am one of the wealthiest men on earth. I have my own corporate jet. I have the means to pay for the best accommodations along the way. Whatever you want. We could have porters carry us over the Himalayas in golden carriages, if that’s what you want. And what if you were to arrive there, as healthy as you are now? What if after arriving in this mystical valley you could actually bathe in the fountain of youth: were given a second chance with life? What if you didn’t need to die? Would you be willing to take a trip with your best friends for a little while, to find out: perhaps experience life in a way you never imagined. And if it’s not all that I say it is, then you’ll have the golden chariot and the corporate jet to bring you back here.”

“You can guarantee it?”

“Of course I can.”

“How?”

“Tomorrow I will show you. It’s all about trust.”

“Archie . . .” She gave me a grandmotherly don’t-screw-with-me look.

“I’m dead serious.” I looked at my old friend. “Reggie? Sopi? Will you come to paradise with me?”

“You know I’ll go anywhere with you, Robert. Sure. I’m coming. Why not?”

“I’ll go wherever Howard goes,” Sopi said. “If he wants to walk over the Himalayas, I will follow him. I can’t wait to start walking again.” She gave Maggie a sincere sisterly look. “Please come with us. I need you to come with me. Please.”

The above photo is of Mt. Kailash in far western Tibet. By many, especially the Hindu, Buddhist and Bon religions, it is considered the most sacred mountain in the world. No person has ever climbed to the top, as it is forbidden

In this story, Robert St. Clair will buy the Cessna, pictured here, to fly with his best friends Howard, Maggie and Sopi to the base camp of Mt. Kailash, before their trek to Shambala.