Though having an ace in the hole can be a wonderful thing in different situations,
and possibly be the only prevailing factor in succeeding or failing, being called an
ace in the hole, quite frankly, made him feel more inferior than those who said it
as a compliment could’ve ever imagined. He took it as meaning he was
something not part of the regular routine and someone who laid dormant until
absolutely needed.

But on an everyday basis, he was an Ace, Ace Beaucoup, my Ace in the Hole, the
one who wanted to fight my battles for me and never took kindly to being asked
or
told to butt out...the first to come to my defense, the last to leave when the
going got tough... and one of the few people I’ve ever known who made it a
conscious effort to enjoy each day to its maximum potential.

He had good reason at 40 to adopt and live by that philosophy. He had lost so
much when he was 30. Both his parents died that year, two months apart. Then
right before Christmas and his 31st birthday, he lost his wife and child to a drunk
driver -- which brought on a decade of self isolation, work, more work and more
isolation from the rest of the world.

A few of us concentrated on motivating him to get him out the house and live
again. Eventually, it started to work, but when we were busy with other things or
people, he retreated back to his house hidden far back in the mountain. He didnâ
€™t want to expand his circle of friends even though he had many opportunities
to do so.

His late wife and child’s birthdays were also close to his, which made the
whole Christmas holiday season even more unbearable to him. He often talked
about how he probably would’ve changed careers if even one of them had
survived.

Sometimes he had guests over for dinner and one of us graciously accepted the
role as co-hostess to help things flow. I liked that role. He had several very funny
friends from work who loved him much and started to worry less about him as he
spent less and less time alone in the shrine he build to his dearly departed family.
The last few years, he even hung decorations, had a Christmas tree for the first
time and started seeing the sister of one of our friends. This was significant
progress for him.

However, even though it appeared that he had started to move on, he really did
not. He learned to hide his depression better when he was out among friends.

Being single with no desire to get a roommate or live in companion, he took
possession of us in ways and all of our joys and problems until they were solved.
If someone hurt one of us, he wanted to intervene. If someone loved one of us, he
wanted to make sure that person wasn’t going to hurt us. He was your big
brother, pap, conscience and soul all wrapped into one.

About a month closer to Christmas and after the night he fooled me so expertly
in that bar in disguise, we met again for dinner. He looked great and happy.

He was planning a Christmas party and wanted help to pull it off. While we joked
about what to serve and what he needed to buy or order ahead of time, he
instantly went somewhere else in thought and dramatically changed his facial
expression. He started to get up. I had no idea what was wrong and he ignored
my asking. He just got up and started to walk towards a table with several people
around it.

One man sitting on the far side seemed to recognize him and started to run
towards the kitchen. I ran following him to see what was happening. My friend
had the man bent backwards over a kitchen counter with scared restaurant staff
watching. I tried to pull him off as he had his hands around the man’s neck
strangling him.

“You killed my family, you miserable drunk. You don’t deserve to live.
You got out of jail and I’ve been looking for you. I told you this day would
come.�

Several others tried to break his hold on the man but couldn’t. I pulled his
cell phone from his pocket, pulled up a photo of his lost family and shoved it in
his face.

“Look at this picture. They wouldn’t want this to happen and wouldn’t
want you to be in jail the rest of your life. I won’t let you do this,� I told
him. He called me a Pollyanna. Plan B.

“I have your gun and it’s pointed at you. Let go of him or I will shoot
your ass,� I told him.

He looked at me and told me to leave him alone.

“You know I’ll do it,� I reasoned.

He knew.

“And you know I’m a bad shot, Pilgrim, and might shoot your testicles off
instead,� I continued trying badly to imitate John Wayne in an attempt to
make him laugh. It worked.

He let go of the gasping man who thanked me.

“Stay right there. You’re not getting your gun back just yet,� I told my
friend. I looked at the man who was driving the car that killed my friend’s
family and told him to get out of the kitchen.

By the time the police arrived, it was all over. The man refused to press charges.
The restaurant owner refused also when he learned what happened between them.
One of the state cops waited outside for the man to start his car and arrested him
for DUI in the parking lot and driving with a suspended license. This also violated
terms of his parole, so he had to return to jail to finish serving out the rest of the
first sentence.

My friend had his party after all several weeks later. At one point in the night, I
went outside to smoke and he joined me. The grounds looked beautiful with the
snow that had fallen and the Christmas lights on the trees. It was the first year he
allowed outside lights.

“He would’ve been 21 yesterday,� he said, referring to his son. “I
wonder what he would be like. I think he would’ve turned out all right, but
kids today have it so much harder in ways than we did.�

“Yes, they do. But I think your son would’ve been a great young man who
would have been proud of you and you would have been proud of him, too,� I
told him and meant it.

“Tell me something. Would you have really shot my ass in that restaurant?�
he asked.

“No, I probably would’ve missed and hit your testicles as I said. But, yes, I
would have shot you to have kept you from killing that guy and going to jail,�
I replied.

“Thank you for having balls yourself,� he said laughing. “You’ve
become my hero, not just because you stopped me from making a very wrong
and bad choice, but because you always make me laugh and know when I need to
laugh, even if I don’t.� he said.

Someone from the party came outside to relay a problem with the bathroom
lights. When we went inside, they had arranged a birthday cake for him with lit
candles and sang “Happy Birthday.� The cake read, “Happy Birthday,
Ace In The Hole, Ace & Ace Beaucoup.�

We always viewed him as our Ace In The Hole, but when the cake was cut, he said
that he viewed us 8 as his collective Ace. Without us, he said he would not have
got past his losses and learned to laugh at life.  

Before the night was over, he took me outside to his shooting range to practice
incase I ever had to threaten to shoot him in the ass again...so that I wold hit only
the intended target.

When we were done shooting, he took a folded piece of mail from his pocket and
asked me to open and read it first, then to say what it was about.

From jail, he received a letter from the man he probably should have strangled
but didn’t.  He told my friend how sorry he was that he drove drunk all the
times in his life that he did. He also wanted to tell my friend something new that
we had not known.

It was always thought that he fled the scene immediately. He acknowledged that
he stayed with my friend’s wife until she died. In his letter, he said that his
wife said to tell her husband to look behind her sock drawer.

We ran inside the house, upstairs to the loft past all the guests and pulled out the
sock drawer. Back behind the old sock drawer, he found a wrapped Christmas
present that she put there for him.

My friend was reduced to tears and so was I. I started to leave to give him some
privacy, but he held my hand and asked me to stay. He unwrapped it to find that
she had framed an Ace of Hearts card from a deck, a lock of their son’s baby
hair and their son’s first and only lost tooth.

My friend retired early from his job because someone with better shooting skills
than I actually did hurt him. While he was in the hospital and then in rehab, he
asked only for one personal item from his room to be brought to him. He kissed
his index and middle fingers daily and touched his fingertips to the glass on that
framed gift.

While he was recovering, a more serious health problem was diagnosed that took
his life too quickly. Our Ace in the Hole was gone and we were left to fend for
ourselves. The next time we 8 met at his home, it was to say goodbye to him
following the memorial service that his sister insisted on having but he didn’t
want. I was outraged to find the framed gift from his wife on his dresser when I
used the bathroom. His sister didn’t honor his other request, either, to have it
buried with him.

On my last birthday, a delivery came from my friend’s lawyer. It was a gift he
wanted me to have that day. It was a framed Ace of Spades card from his hospital
deck with the bullet that the bad guy put in his ass. Included were books on how
to reverse witch’s spells and how to work for difficult people. Of course, I
laughed because one last time, my Ace came through for me.  
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