Twenty-One. It was an all too familiar hand to Brunson Taylor and it made his Queen of Spades and Jack of Hearts weep, just as he was weeping on the inside. The vulture had twenty-one and his hand had come up short. One short. Just as it had time and time and time again. He had stopped calling the people who sit across from him every pay day “dealers” about 6 months ago. At first he would call them “vultures” under his breath but as the night wore on and his paycheck disintegrated he would openly say it to their faces. “Vultures!” Circling around him at every table waiting to get his money. His hard earned money. The money that he would sweat for in the hot New Orleans sun. The money he held in his blistered hand for the duration it took for him to go from the bank to Harrah’s and lay down the cash for a modest stack of clay chips. The chips that may last him hours, but inevitably, they would leave him. Everything leaves Brunson. His wife saw the signs about four months ago. Brunson coming home drunk and belligerent after his payday evening was spent losing all his money but guzzling the free drinks as some sort of mental retribution for his loss. When the shoving started she told him something had to change. When the hitting started something did change. Her bags packed, she left him. Just like his small stack of chips did every week. And now the vulture reached for his last three chips and stacked them with that familiar “plink-plink” sound behind her hand of Twenty-One. And now Brunson Taylor faced another week with no cash, nothing in the bank, and he was reaching the limit of his final credit card. He should have been enraged. But as he stumbled back to his empty apartment, he smiled a crooked grin. Brunson Taylor knew everything was going to be OK in a few days. Brunson Taylor had a plan. Brunson earned the wages that escaped him every two weeks as a graveyard caretaker. His lack of education and upbringing in the lower 9th ward in New Orleans didn’t offer much in career upward mobility. But he was strong and always on time and those are really the only two qualifications one needed to care for gravesites in New Orleans. Because the entire city is well below sea level, Brunson never had to dig any graves. He prepared and sealed crypts where the dead lay and it was his responsibility to keep the cemetery free of litter and leaves. He worked at the cemetery closest to Lake Pontchartain for nearly twenty years and now his wages were up to 11 dollars an hour. With a Bi-weekly payment his gross paycheck usually lasted him 5 or 6 hours at Harrah’s on payday. One time he was there for 9 hours straight. But the ending was always the same. Brunson considered the mortician, Harry Leflore one of his good friends. Working with someone that long you had no real choice but to talk with idle chit chat and get to know a person, and Harry would let Brunson help him out from time to time, when the dead needed some special preparations. It was a year ago during one of these preparations when Brunson met Katarina. She must have been the widow of a Russian businessman. With a name like Katarina, she had to be from some exotic country in Eastern Europe. Harry would never tell Brunson the last names in order to protect the family’s privacy, and honestly, Harry rarely remembered the names of the corpses on the preparation table. But he remembered Katarina.