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Once when you were Pharoah...

Irv Mordes has a manuscript under his wrinkled and spotted hands, but he doesn't want to open it yet. It's too soon. He needs to build up anticipation for that four-inch-thick text of his life's most important work. So he ponderously goes through his story the way old men do, hitting the highlights to emphasize how successful he's been in his 84 years, first as a nobody salesman and then in a second career with its asterisk of fame. He'll end his story with that secret he's selling in his book, the one about living forever.

He begins back during World War II, when the Army rejected him because of a bad back and he ended up making some quick money taking pictures of servicemen. He'd approach the GIs in Baltimore parks, making as much as $1,000 a week just snapping photos for a buck. He'd mail the pictures to the soldiers' sweethearts and parents. The snapshots often arrived not long after word came that the men had been gunned down. "I'd get letters saying 'Thank you, thank you. This is the last picture I have of my son,'" Mordes recalls, his eyes widening behind large bifocals. But business slumped after the war, so Mordes started selling Venetian blinds to the ex-GIs. The work made him a living into the 1960s, when Mordes wanted something more. He doesn't say things so bluntly, but, really, judging by the story he tells, Irv Mordes wanted immortality.

In 1963, he opened a business that promised clients they could lose ten pounds with little effort. He simply hypnotized them, gave them subconscious messages to lose weight, and sent them off with a newfound ability to refuse food. It sounds simple now, but back then, hypnotism was a field akin to carnival sideshows. When his female clients started losing pounds, though, Mordes became popular. "Women would go to their friend and say, 'Oh my god, what happened?' And they'd say, 'I went to Mr. Mordes,'" he reminisces, using a high-pitched female voice to imitate his clients. "Next thing I know, I've got 12 offices all over Baltimore, then Pennsylvania, then Texas. I couldn't believe it."

But that's not what the Irv Mordes story is all about. He takes his hands off the manuscript and places his palms on the simple wooden desk in the one-room office he rents in Delray Beach. He smiles coyly, and the wrinkles become deeper, running parallel on his bald head like lines across a highway. His toothy smile cuts below a level nose and into jowls hanging lower than they used to and nearly to those massive earlobes that come with old age. "One day, this guy comes into my office," he says, finally getting to the culmination of the story. "He says he's having all these dreams he can't explain. He says, 'One night, I'm a Hebrew slave in Israel; one night, I'm in ancient Egypt as a pharaoh; one day, I'm a soldier in Gettysburg. '" He pauses for emphasis. "So I put him under hypnosis."

What comes next in the story of Irv Mordes' life is the part that could bring him fame... or simply make him the subject of ridicule. It begins when Alan Lee, a car salesman and high school drop-out, told Mordes about the 16 lives he had led before. It's a fantastic story, if you believe in that sort of thing. There's even some proof, including letters Lee wrote in all kinds of languages and scientific tests he passed while hooked up to all kinds of brain-reading machines.

But it's the kind of story that makes mainstream hypnotherapists a little edgy. Their field is less on the fringe nowadays, but still, hypnotists struggle for full legitimacy. Some see Lee's tale as another way to discredit a profession already dragged down by elaborate hoaxes by people claiming to have lived before. Others say it's simply a con job that ought to be forgotten. Mordes has told his story to dozens of colleagues since moving 15 years ago to South Florida, and what he's found is that those who face skeptics themselves are just as skeptical of ideas more radical than their own. It's as if those who practice on the fringe have drawn a line for what's believable, and Lee's tale, for many, lands a little too close to the unbelievable.

Mordes ends his story with the news he expects will finally silence his critics: His book, the product of ten years of writing, is due out in just a few weeks. A publisher in Indiana has agreed to print it and sell it online. Chock full of Lee's tales of reincarnation, Mordes titled it You Will Never Die. He has already begun trying to sell it to patients and fellow hypnotists, despite those who call him a quack and in the face of the few who have threatened to sue him over it. For now, Mordes ponders another kind of immortality, the sort that comes with fame. For a man facing down old age, a bestseller would be his secret of how to live forever. "It's a bestseller, I know it," he declares emphatically, finally rifling through the pages of the manuscript. "I've just got to get on Oprah, and then I've got it made."

Back in the summer of 1970, Marilyn Cooper was a housewife who had gotten a little pudgy from her second pregnancy. She went to Irv Mordes for help losing weight. After just one visit, she dropped ten pounds in a month. So she was still singing his praises months later when she saw an article on Mordes in the Baltimore Sun. The story explained matter-of-factly that Mordes had a patient who was telling tales from his life as a duke in ancient France, as an Egyptian king, and as the reincarnation of early movie star Rudolph Valentino. It was written by a reporter who -- along with Baltimore lawyers, doctors, and all kinds of professionals -- would become one of Urv Mordes' long-time fans.

The hypnosis sessions with Alan Lee had been drawing a small audience, so Cooper dropped by that night for the next showing of Lee's tales from the grave. When a crowd gathered, Mordes had Lee lie flat on his back in the middle of his office on Fallstaff Road in northwest Baltimore. The lights were dim, the audience silent and sitting in the shadows. Mordes whispered his calming hypnotic commands to Lee. In an instant, Lee shot to his feet. "You will bow your heads before me," Lee commanded the audience. He singled Cooper out of the crowd and got in her face, screaming that he was a pharaoh and that she should avert her eyes from his magnificence. "I couldn't believe it," recalls Cooper, who now lives part-time in Hallandale Beach. "It scared me half to death."

Still, Cooper was astounded by Lee's transformation from a poorly spoken high school dropout into the strong-willed characters from his past lives. Cooper was so impressed that she offered her huge family room to Mordes, who used the space to attract larger crowds. For the next 15 years, Mordes hypnotized Lee weekly in Cooper's family room in front of crowds that sometimes numbered 80 or more. Many of those who watched left astounded, convinced by the details Lee seemed to pull from his past lives. But Lee -- and Mordes with him -- also had doubters, who to this day insist the whole thing was an elaborate scam for attention and fame.

After the early newspaper articles, Mordes invited doctors, psychiatrists, and paranormal experts to analyze Lee. Mordes wanted proof that his client was genuine. The experts tested Lee with parlor games, such as asking him to identify words found randomly in the dictionary. He would know them, writing them out on a chalkboard as if he could read their thoughts. The experts asked him about the health problems of friends. He would correctly predict their illnesses, sometimes figuring it out before doctors. They'd ask him for street numbers of places he had never been or hospital-room numbers of those he'd never visited. He knew them all. Those speaking through him from the afterlife justified these abilities by explaining that they could transcend time to learn the answers. And while speaking to people of our time, they would use English so that we could understand, although sometimes Lee would simply babble endlessly in what he explained was an ancient Egyptian tongue. One of the frequent audience members was Dr. Stanley Felsenberg, a retired medical examiner who's now in a convalescent home in Baltimore. "I was skeptical, yes. I went there, but I didn't believe it could be true," Felsenberg recalled recently by phone. "He had plenty of proof that it was authentic, and he really sold me. I came back -- probably for a few years -- just to watch. You just simply couldn't believe it."

The sessions attracted enough attention that psychologist Jerome Rubin took Lee to the state-funded Maryland Psychiatric Institute for a battery of tests. Rubin suction-cupped sensors to Lee's temples and watched his brain waves through an electroencephalograph. What he saw couldn't be explained. As Lee took on the persona of his former lives, his brain shifted from the alpha and delta brain waves associated with normal waking thought into theta waves, which usually indicate the person is in a deep sleep. Meanwhile, Lee's blood pressure would drop to levels associated with a person in a coma, despite the fact that he was striding around the room and bellowing in his pharaoh voice. "He would be talking in these other personalities, but his brain appeared to be sleeping," Rubin recalled recently from his office in Pikesville, Maryland. "When I saw the results, it wasn't explainable. He appeared to be really becoming these people -- while his body was completely asleep."

Lee claimed he spent two years as an Egyptian pharaoh named Kallakrates. He said he was the son of Nectanebo II and ruled from 363 to 361 BC, before his death in an uprising. He'd back up his story by quickly jotting down complicated hieroglyphics as if he were taking shorthand. Copies of the writing appear in Mordes' book. Asked to review the writings, Robert Wagman, a University of Florida archaeologist and professor of hieroglyphics, was impressed by the work. "The signs are genuine, and these are writings that are very hard to do," Wagman says. "I can't write like that. Sometimes, I'll have a student who spends many years practicing, and then they can write like this."

Lee would spend the next 15 years meeting with Mordes every week. As the years went by and the novelty wore off, fewer and fewer people came to watch. And the stories became more extraordinary -- and, to critics, more absurd. Under hypnosis, Lee spoke with a French accent as the Duke of Normandy, telling stories of invading England. He claimed he had been a Hebrew slave who spent three months walking with Jesus and then watched as the prophet rose from the grave. Instead of the Baltimore newspaper, Mordes was now appearing in the supermarket tabloids, under headlines boasting of the man who saw Jesus rise again.

As if his past-life accounts weren't incredible enough, Lee claimed his first life was as an alien who came to save the planet from certain doom. Noran, as Lee called this first persona, rode an "Avaton" spaceship powered by magnets to Earth from Uranus. Noran came here to protect Earth from his own race, which had planned to steal the sun from our star system. Lee drew pictures of Noran's big-headed race and saucer-shaped ship, which seemed straight out of a 1950s comic book. Lee even jotted down letters in Noran's bizarre language just as quickly as he had written the hieroglyphics. Mordes says he had the language checked out. "I sent it to Mensa, you know, the smart people," he recalls. "They confirmed that it was a language. It had a pattern they could recognize. They couldn't translate it, but they knew it was a real language."

It was Noran who seemed to know so much about things that Lee shouldn't be able to know, Cooper recalls. He once told a woman that she was suffering from kidney disease and that her life was in danger. "She went the next day to the hospital," Cooper recalls. "They did a blood test, and sure enough, they had to take one of her kidneys out."

Still, it was these outer-space stories and tales from famous dead people that earned Lee -- and Mordes -- their harshest criticism. Fellow hypnotists questioned the theatrical way in which Lee would tell his tales, they criticized Mordes for performing in front of an audience, and they expressed doubt that Lee could have lived so many exciting lives. Most people who tell of past lives while under hypnosis were nothing more than farmers, let alone living as some of the most important people in history. Besides, critics said, putting Lee on display brought hypnotism back to the circus-sideshow genre. Critics claimed Lee's act brought discredit to a profession that had proven to help people quit smoking and lose weight.

But when Mordes began pitching his book idea a decade ago, he faced the worst accusation yet. This time, it came from the only person who seemed to believe the stories as much as he did. This time, the man accusing Mordes of being a fraud was Lee himself.

The meeting had the feel of a school reunion. The guests at the party, though, were all the loyal believers of Alan Lee. It was June 12, 1993, and Mordes had helped assemble about a dozen of the people who were regulars at Lee's hypnosis sessions. Just as they had years earlier, they gathered in Marilyn Cooper's spacious family room. They came to help plan a long-awaited and long-debated book on Lee.

Things didn't go as planned. Two days before the guests arrived, Cooper received an unexpected note in the mail from none other than -- Alan Lee. Most people thought he had died years ago. The letter, postdated to the day of the meeting, dismissed the years of hypnosis sessions as an elaborate fraud. While its authenticity is still being debated, Lee's letter was enough to scatter the meeting and cancel the book plans for all but one of the followers.

Although the letter dismissed his life's most important work, seeming to turn it to salt and blow it away, Irv Mordes left the meeting with the same blind belief in Alan Lee and his past lives.

For Mordes, the letter just seemed to deepen the mystery of a man who claimed to have lived before and was now seemingly writing from the grave. Until 1985, Lee had continued to visit Mordes weekly for hypnotic sessions to recall new details about his former lives. But Mordes says a friend accused Lee that summer of using his credit card to wrack up thousands in charges; Lee faced jail time and fled. A year later, his mother in Baltimore told followers that Lee had moved to Montreal. Shortly after, she said, he had died.

His death didn't end the interest in his 15 years of tales from the dead, and critics still debated the veracity of his reincarnation stories. As Mordes planned his book, so did at least two others familiar with Lee's stories. But as the would-be authors began their investigations, holes began to appear in Lee's stories. One writer, who asked not to be named, says the reincarnation tales never held up to intense scrutiny. Lee merely had great acting ability and had figured out ways to trick guests into asking questions he knew the answers to. "Alan was a fraud, and really, he wasn't a nice guy," he claims. "The truth is, Irv is poverty-stricken now, and this is his ticket to fame."

No matter whom you believe, the writings were flawed. The more the letters Lee wrote under hypnotism were studied, the more his story appeared to unravel. The letters Lee wrote as the tenth-century Duke of Normandy, for instance, were written in modern-day French rather than the language that would have been spoken 1,000 years ago. The hieroglyphics had problems too. Wagman, the Egyptian expert from UF, says the hieroglyphic symbols were accurate, but they were written from right to left, the opposite of how the ancient language was written. The hieroglyphic words also had spaces separating them, while ancient Egyptians never put spaces between their words. In addition, no record exists of the pharaoh he claimed to have been, and the years he said that he ruled do not correspond to a timeline of Egyptian monarchs.

Even Rubin, the psychologist who performed a five-month battery of tests on Lee, became convinced over time that it was all a ruse of some kind. "I simply felt the man was not credible," Rubin says. "I don't mean that he was in the category of lying. He believed it was true, and that's how he could pass the tests." Maybe Lee had so convinced himself that he had lived before, Rubin says, that it had become reality for him. Or perhaps, while under hypnosis, Lee's subconscious mind took over and acted out an elaborate dream concocted to fill a desperate man's dreams of popularity. Either way, it still made Lee an interesting subject for a psychologist. "Alan Lee was not a bad person," Rubin says, "but I believe he got his ego satisfied with this fame he had gotten from the story."

Another believer turned skeptic is Joe Challmes, the Baltimore Sun reporter who once wrote so favorably of Mordes. Challmes attended the weekly sessions for years after his first article, and his own investigations of Lee's stories found damning proof against them. Challmes too began to believe that Lee didn't think he was lying but actually believed the stories he would tell, often simply pulling details from books he had read. For instance, the names Kallakrates and another Lee used while under hypnotism, Leo Vincey, were characters in the novel She, an 1887 novel by H. Rider Haggard about a lost African tribe. Lee could have deliberately copied the characters, or perhaps his subconscious mind adopted them when it took over while under hypnosis. "Alan read a lot, and in a trance, he adopted the characters he read about," says Challmes, now a sportswriter for magazines in Pennsylvania. Still, Challmes says many of the parlor games cannot be dismissed. Perhaps, says the reporter, Lee did have unexplainable abilities, but more on the psychic end than from past lives he's led. "There were a lot of things he did that were remarkable. Who knows what the human mind is capable of?"

After so many years banking his reputation on Lee, Mordes appeared to have gone down the same doomed road as many hypnotists before him who believed tales of reincarnation. The most famous of those ruses was the 1956 best-selling novel The Search for Bridey Murphy, about a Colorado woman who took on the personality of a 19th-century Irish woman while under hypnosis. In fact, the book even helped persuade Mordes to become a hypnotist. But the book's tale fell apart when reporters and experts checked out the details. Even the name Bridey Murphy turned out to be one of the woman's childhood friends. Mordes realizes the parallels between that story and his book, but it's too late for him to second-guess.

His book -- Lee's story -- represents Mordes' most important accomplishment, the sum of his life's work. It's not easy for a man to give that up. "There's always going to be critics," Mordes says. "They still can't come up with an excuse for half of the stuff he did."

For modern Americans, the notion of reincarnation is tough to swallow, says the Rev. Barbara Simons, a spiritualist at the Center for Human Development in Hollywood. Simons, who holds regular meetings for people who seek to delve into past lives, says most people are conditioned from childhood to resist the idea. "If we open doors, we're told it's demonic," she says. "But once we're given the chance to explore these things, we find that they're not demonic. They're natural."

What Mordes has never been able to brush aside, though, is Lee's letter, which sits there like a brick wall in Mordes' path. "I know it has been a long time," the mysterious note began, "but there hasn't been enough time for goodbyes." The letter claimed he staged the hypnotic sessions simply for attention. In fact, the letter claimed Lee was writing a screenplay on the whole thing, titled Hoax, and he refused to authorize any book on his life. He threatened to sue anyone who published one first. The letter also attacked Mordes, claiming the hypnotist had used him for the small bit of fame it brought. "Tell Irv that the days of him making money on me are all gone."

The letter went on to claim that Lee had never been hypnotized. He explained that he had a fantastic memory, was a terrific actor, and had developed simple ways to fool his "gullible" audience. He claimed he would ask around town before the sessions about who was sick and what their conditions were. Then he would call the hospital and ask for a definition of the illness and how to cure it. He also did his homework at the library, learning snippets of foreign languages so that he could write small passages for the audience. And any time he was challenged on something he didn't know, Lee said he would simply enter another one of his lives as a diversion. "Although Irv thought he had me under his control," the letter said. "I've never been hypnotized in my life."

The letter ended with the harsh message: "I'm sorry to have busted the bubble for you, but such is life."

But the letter still wasn't enough to crack the faith of Irv Mordes. He brought the document back to his one-bedroom condo in Delray Beach and examined it against earlier writings by Lee. "It's a forgery, I know it," Mordes says. "It was not written by Alan Lee." It was likely penned by a rival writer hoping to trick him into canceling his book, Mordes claims. It almost worked, but he began working again shortly after, finally finishing the manuscript earlier this year.

After rejections from some New York publishers, Mordes cut a deal with 1st Books, a publishing company in Bloomington, Indiana, that sells mainly through online bookstores and prints books only once copies have been ordered. The company has had some near-bestsellers but also puts out a lot of titles purchased only by the author's family, says R. Michael Johnson, the company's manager of promotional services. "We are not a vanity publisher," Johnson says. "We do have some little old ladies with inspirational poetry and cookbooks, but we've also had some that have gone on to be feature-length movies and on the bestseller list." Among them are books that led to the movies Legally Blonde and Proof of Life, two of the 121 titles the publisher sells through

That's just where Mordes imagines his book going, right after Oprah plugs it on her show. He has begun the self-financed promotional tour already, mainly by attending meetings of hypnotists in an effort to convince them he's not a fraud. The fact is, most of them have heard about Lee's mysterious letter and claims that he's bogus. That leaves Mordes with the tough task of promoting a book even his colleagues don't believe in.

Few local hypnotists are better known than Dan Cleary. He teaches classes on advanced techniques with approval from the National Guild of Hypnotists, and every month, he leads training seminars at his office in north Palm Beach County. His colleagues come to learn new ways to help clients quit smoking, lose weight, or delve into past lives. A few minutes before one of those training seminars recently, Cleary talks about the two sides of hypnotism: the scientific, noting that it's been approved as a treatment by the American Medical Association; and the spiritual, pointing out that even the Greeks used a form of it in sleep temples. He talks about reincarnation and past lives like a neurologist talking about migraines. After all, to him, hypnotism is a profession with journals and societies and none of that sideshow stereotype. "For many people," Cleary explains, "you're dealing with unresolved energy. They have memories from a life that they lived before that might have been traumatic, and they need to tap into them to resolve these issues."

The discussion is cut short, however, when Irv Mordes steps into the office. Mordes came for one purpose: to pitch his soon-to-be-published book. These meetings usually contain a good cross-section of local hypnotists, from those who see their work as a form of medicine to those who view it in an almost religious light. To them, past-life regression is proof of reincarnation. Mordes isn't the type to get into all that hooey about higher beings and spiritual planes, but he needs those people to order his book.

Cleary spots Mordes eyeing the turkey roll-ups on a platter in the entranceway. "How're you doing, Irv?"

"Well, you look older," Mordes says sharply, skipping the question while walking to the front of the room.

"Well, so do you," responds Cleary, a middle-aged man whose wavy hair is just starting to recede from his forehead.

Mordes picks up a book from a stack piled on a folding table. A dozen local hypnotists sit down in the rows of chairs. A sign in the front of the room offers: "Everything is for sale, just ask." Cleary explains his plans to close up his business soon to take a break.

"How long you been doing it?" Mordes interrupts.

"How long have I been here?"

"In the business," Mordes says.

Cleary taught himself hypnosis two decades ago after a motorcycle accident nearly killed him. He has suffered overpowering pain ever since, and his paralyzed left arm hangs loosely to his side. But he speaks of it proudly, saying it's a tragedy that allowed him to find his true purpose. He doesn't explain that to Mordes, though. He answers only, "Oh, uh, since '83."

"I've been doing it since '63," Mordes retorts, in a straight-back chair now, crossing his arms.

"Well, then you've been doing this longer than me," Cleary says, not hiding his annoyance.

So far, the first stop on Mordes' publicity tour isn't going so well. But Mordes figured the book will sell well among some of the younger hypnotists who can learn from the book's example. There are a couple of new hypnotists in the room whom Mordes could corner later. So far, though, disagreeing with Cleary isn't helping, since most in the crowd view Cleary as the area's hypnotism sage.

Mordes makes himself comfortable in the back row as Cleary began, explaining that the lesson that night was on finding the inner voice. He asks the audience to describe how they use the inner voice to solve problems. One woman says she gets her answers in the shower, another during the hazy twilight of her waking moments. Another claims she has a voice that speaks inside her head. ("I don't know where it comes from, but at least now I've realized it's there.")

Then Cleary gets to Irv Mordes. "What about you, Irv?" he asks. "Do you have an inner voice?"

"I'm not familiar with it," Mordes barks gruffly.


"Intuition, yes."

"How do you tap into it?"

"I don't know. I just do."

The session ends with Cleary putting the group into a light meditative state. They closed their eyes, and Cleary's droning voice asked them to concentrate on the tingly feeling in their fingers. Mordes' head bobs forward, his chin nearly on his chest. "Think of your breathing," Cleary drones. "Your thoughts lift away now, and I want you to concentrate on that feeling in your fingers."

At the end, Cleary asks them, "How many people got nice clear messages from your body today?" Mordes keeps his hands in his lap as the others shot their arms above their heads enthusiastically.

At the break, Mordes ducks out to hit the john. Away from the others, Cleary expresses some doubt about this book Mordes is peddling. "Irv Mordes, well...." Cleary drifts off. "I don't know how he works, but..." Cleary cocks his head with a smirk that says there's more he's not saying. "I've only met him twice now. He went to one of these one other time. That book of his, I think he's been writing it 30 years."

With his first stop on the publicity tour largely a failure, Mordes still has one last demographic to test: his clients.

Stephanie is right on time for her session with Mordes on a recent Friday afternoon, but he wasn't quite ready to help her lose weight today. Stephanie is a business owner from Delray Beach who's already lost 17 pounds with his help. She still wants to lose maybe ten more, even though her husband thinks this hypnotism stuff is all a bunch of crap. She sits down in the chair across from Mordes' particle-board desk and listens to a tape he is playing, a recording supposedly straight from the afterlife.

Mordes made the tape back in March 1999 at the home of Marilyn Raphael, a Lake Worth psychic who claims to have the ability to channel the dead. On the tape, Mordes was asking questions about his ex-wife. He wanted to know why Rose left so soon, whether he will see her when he's dead, and whether they'll get married again in another life. Raphael relayed answers from Rose, who began by nagging him from the grave. He hadn't cleaned his kitchen, his clothes, or his bathroom in quite a while. She told him to stop labeling his socks. "In your next lifetime," Raphael continued on the tape, "you will have a spaceship and travel through the paradises of other worlds." She told Mordes he will have four kids with Rose in that next life and will be a "head doctor," a very important position in the future.

Mordes stops the tape for a second. "This is what really made me believe in reincarnation. This." That's right, not those years with Alan Lee, but the time he could ask his dead wife questions through a psychic. That's when he truly believed in it all.

Mordes recorded the sessions with Raphael as he made the finishing touches on his book over the past couple of years. He became so enamored of the stories from the afterlife that he devoted a section of his manuscript to what she told him. On more than 2,000 hours of audio tape, Raphael explained to Mordes what it's like to be dead. "She told me only two things exist," Mordes recalled. "Love and forgiveness." When Mordes told Raphael he planned on putting her in his book, she broke off contact and has since threatened to sue him. Since then, she has waged a smear campaign against him to discredit the story of Alan Lee and, essentially, his life's work.

Raphael spread the claims from Lee's critics to other hypnotists and psychics in South Florida. She made sure others knew the holes in the story before the book comes out. Raphael explains that she was just protecting her own name, hoping that her efforts to discredit Mordes will convince him to cut her out of the book. "The gentleman means well," Raphael says cryptically, "but in his past, he has killed a lot of people on the way." She wouldn't say whether she meant in his current life or the ones before it. (Mordes himself says he was a gigolo in several former lives, once fathering 50 "bastard" children.)

Stephanie -- who asked that her last name not be used so her neighbors didn't think less of her -- had heard much of this before. Mordes has told her at length about talking to his dead ex-wife, his years working with Lee, and, of course, his book. Stephanie still isn't sure if she believes in reincarnation, but listening to the tapes and the stories has sure made her lean toward it. Her own attempt to search for a past life with Mordes never went far. He took her methodically back through her life and into the blackness of her first months on Earth. "That's where I stopped," she says. "In my mother's womb. I couldn't go back farther than that."

Finally, Mordes stops the tape and points to the vinyl recliner on the other side of the room. "Hop in the chair," he tells Stephanie, a middle-aged blond woman. She enters a relaxed state on her own before Mordes plays another tape, a recording of his own voice giving instructions for those he's hypnotizing. He perfected the recording years ago in the sessions with Lee.

"Visualize in your mind's eye an escalator," Mordes says on the tape, his voice sounding much younger, not cracking and a little higher pitched. "See the black railings moving down, down." His voice drones, smooth and relaxing. "Now step off at the bottom very relaxed and comfortable. You are now in a very deep, deep, hypnotic trance."

Next comes the commands. He tells her to start eating half her plate at dinner and to skip snacks. He tells her to exercise and quit smoking those borrowed cigarettes when she's been drinking. And most important of all comes the sternest of commands, the one that doesn't always work, that maybe failed him years ago with Lee, and that simply can't make people buy his book.

"You will now accept and follow," Mordes says, "every hypnotic suggestion."


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