In the bowels of the Bellagio, the new Archbishop of Canterbury refused to play his hand. His whisky remained untouched and his eyes stared past the undulating bodies of beautiful teenage dancers. Perhaps he struggled to withstand the lures of the flesh and thought about God and Jesus and stuff, or perhaps it was just all the chloroform he’d recently been forced to inhale.
‘Ratzinger, you fucking pervert!’ screamed the Dalai Lama, his face flushed red above his orange robes. The chatter of the room died down to watch the former Pope Benedict XVI walk into the top-secret gambling room.
He wore new leather pants, which crinkled around his spindly legs and a cowboy style shirt with a bolero at the neck and lace around the cuffs, which covered his thin old-man wrists. He was accompanied by the Olsen twins who looked bored, but also kind of concerned by his weak, old man steps.
‘Deal me on,’ he said, which wasn’t really poker lingo, but nobody called him out on it, because despite the high stakes, it was a fairly friendly room.
‘Buy yourself a drink girls. And get me something too – anything but red wine. I’ve had a lifetime of that shit.’
He smiled broadly around the room, but nobody responded. He was dealt a hand, but only shuffled it absently.
‘Who’s the new guy?’
The Dalai Lama chuckled, ‘Dude, this is the new Canterbury. Won’t drink, won’t smoke. Fucking Anglicans, what the hell is wrong with gambling? Although, I suppose we are wagering the souls of our followers, so there is that.’
Justin Walby the Archbishop of Canterbury, jerked his head up at this, prompting a round of cackling from the table. It was an ancient hazing ritual to kidnap the new heads of religion and bring to this gambling den and also burn down their houses.
‘I’m fucking with you man. Just fucking with you,’ wheezed the Tibetan holy man.
The Olsen twins sat down again, each sipping politely from glasses of champagne. They’d bought a White Russian for the former pope, who drained it in one heroic gulp.
‘Girls, have you met my friend the Dalai Lama?’ They didn’t wave, because they were texting, but the Dalai Lama stood up unsteadily to bow to them regardless.
‘This is Ashley and Louisa May Alcott. They’re very big in the tween market, and have been kind enough to escort an old man around town tonight.’ He shifted his trembling hands to both their legs.
L. Ron Hubbard watched the display with a sardonic eye, speaking around an enormous cigar. Tom Cruise sat next to him playing a Nintendo DS, his tiny legs kicking gently from the top of his chair.
‘So Joseph, you’ve quit the believing game?’ he asked underneath a great puff of smoke.
‘Yeah, yeah, it’s been really great,’ answered the ex-pope. ‘I’ve been working on my screenplay mostly and getting in a few rounds of polo in the morning, keeping myself fit you know. Working on my delts. But it’s been really good, been feeling really alive, living in the moment, smelling the roses, hashtag yoyo.’
Ratzinger trailed off a bit, beating an awkward tattoo on his own legs. He looked around and ordered another drink from a waiter.
‘It’s YOLO, Ratzinger. You should really get yourself on Twitter,’ smirked L.Ron.
‘I really should, you’re right. I guess I have the time to buy a computer now.’
‘You know, you should get on the motivation speech circuit,’ stated the Dalai Lama earnestly.
‘Me and Tony Robbins basically dominate that scene, but I could convince him to share some space on the stage with you. I did give birth to him, afterall. Sprung fully formed from my forehead.’
Ratzinger shrugged, beginning to look a little annoyed.
L.Ron laughed and plopped his cigar into a full glass of whisky. ‘Or maybe you could invent your own religion – a religion for quitters or something.’ He high-fived Tom Cruise, who giggled high and pure like a bird or a crystal-clear spring.
Ratzinger looked on the verge of a retort, even half rising from his chair. But then he sat back down, and pretended to look interested in a bunch of Muslim clerics throwing knives at each other.
‘Sorry man, it’s just that nobody has ever quit being Pope before. It’s kind of a big deal.’ The Dalai Lama was clearly speaking for the entire room now, with a hush evident as they listened in on the answer. All except Tony Robbins, who was speaking loudly on his mobile phone while using a step-machine.
‘I just felt trapped, you know?’ answered Ratzinger. ‘I had to do that job until I died. Deal with all the scheming Cardinals casting spells at me. Wearing that goddamn hat. The hat is heavy, you know? What other job requires you to die, man? No retirement for the Pope. Like – what even do they do when it’s time to elect a new Dalai Lama or whatever?’
‘Well, I’m actually an immortal wizard who has terrorised Tibet for thousands of years, so it’s not really a thing.’
Ratzinger nodded and then smiled broadly.
‘Well, too late to go back now. I’ve made my bed.’
The poker game began in earnest, stretching long into the night. Around dawn, only a few players were left, not including the current incarnation of Buddha who was slumped on the table, drooling a large tequila-scented puddle. Ratzinger threw down his hand in disgust, knocking over a wine glass in anger.
‘I’m out. I’m actually out – this is the worst game I’ve ever played.’ Mary Kate Olsen patted his head sympathetically and looked pointedly at her watch. Tom Cruise was curled up in a little ball, snoring like a tiny train going through a tunnel.
‘I just don’t get it – why am I losing so badly?’
The entire table laughed in response, a laugh so hearty it was like the entire night had been a setup for this one joke. Ratzinger looked baffled and angry. Tom Cruise woke with a whimper.
‘Don’t you get it?’ muttered L. Ron. ‘We know you’re not bluffing anymore. That’s what makes us such good players – the people around you are the biggest gamblers in the world, and we bluff until the day we die. But you gave it up. As George Michael said “You’ve got to have faith-a-faith-a-faith. Baby!” You’re not bluffing anymore.’
Ratzinger cradled his head in his hands and repeated him.
‘No, I’m not bluffing anymore.’
The Archbishop of Canterbury vomited on the table.