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©02 Levite

part 3

Back toMagician 2

      I about a block away from the apartment building sipping coffee and listening to the radio.
      One of the things I wanted to see if there was any sign of two people living in the place.
      From the rental information I got on the complex I learned that Ms. Katheryn DeNoss resided in a small one bedroom apartment, although it was a very nice one bedroom apartment with amenities usually found in larger units.
      Her apartment came with one parking space. It was rather easy to spot her sportscar in the spot reserved for her unit. It had a bumper sticker on the back that said 'Magic Woman at the wheel'.
      The act's van was parked in the general lot across the street.
      She did not subscribe to the local newspaper.
      About nine in the morning she appeared, dressed nicely and carrying a small but smart handbag, and got into her sportscar. I followed at a very discrete distance and even lost her at one point.
      I backtracked and found her car in the parking lot of a diner. OK, she was having breakfast. I decided to join her.
      Luckily she was still waiting on a table when I walked in.
      "Miss Katheryn." I smiled with recognition.
      "Oh, hello.... Ahhh..."
      "Saul. Temporary stage manager at the NorthStar Resort."
      "Oh yes. Nice to see you again."
      I continued the small talk. Asking if they were appearing in town tonight. She said no, they had a couple of days off before swinging south for a month.
      "We're even appearing on a paddle-wheeler on the Mississippi." Her smile was genuine.
      The waitress appeared and announced she had a table for two.
      "May I have the honor of buying you breakfast?" I asked her gallantly.
      She smiled and nodded.
      We ordered coffee first and she asked me what I was doing in town. I was honest, sort of. "Running down a job lead, I don't think it's really going to pan out though. But at least I ran into a familiar pretty face in the big city."
      "Thank you. But I didn't even get my makeup on today. Got a late start."
      "Showbiz life catching up with you."
      "I wish." She giggled. "Those days are long gone."
      "That's a shame." I smiled at her. She was very pretty even without her makeup. Maybe even better looking without it come to think of it.
      "Trust me. I've had my share of fun on the road. Now I look forward to coming home for a few days as I do to appearing in a new city."
      "Or on a river boat."
      She smiled and nodded and stirred enough cream and sugar into her coffee to make it a coffee-flavored milkshake.
      As we chatted about the act and the travels she talked about Ms. Hughes, and their booking agent Emma Daushin.
      I noticed something odd. And I did not mention it.
      She never. Never. Mentioned Torgo as a travelling partner or even by name other than in passing and then as a reference to 'him'.
      Our breakfast arrived and I tried to be as charming as I could possibly be.
      And it seemed to work.
      "If your appointment doesn't pan out give me a call on my cel and I'll show you around the riverfront and I'll buy you lunch." She said with a genuine smile.
      "Sounds wonderful." I looked at my watch. "I'll know in less than an hour. But if my instincts are still good I'll probably be giving you a call."
      "I always say trust your instincts... An hour's all I need to do my errands." She picked up her coffee cup and toasted me. I returned it. "I hope to hear from you."
      "I'm not sure which I'd like better, to get the job or to spend my lunch hour with you." I admired her cheekbones. "Nah, no contest, unless the offer is unreal, I'd rather meet up with you."
      "Thank you. I don't think I've ever had to compete with a new job for a date before."
      "No competition I assure you."

      Well, since the new job was a total fabrication the offer would have had to be unreal. I drove downtown so my call would come from a different cel and walked through city hall and picked up a couple of applications and a listing of open positions. One of them looked interesting, if I was twenty years younger and actually looking for a job. I chatted with the security guard for a few minutes, then stepped out into the sun and dialed her number.
      She answered on the second ring. We laughed about how we could have rode into town together and saved paying for parking for two cars. She was about a block away at the main post office.
      "I had to return a set of magic cups to the manufacturer..." She started saying. "But you don't want to hear about that."
      "Sure I do. I do some tricks for my grandkids. I want to hear all about it. But we'll save our airtime and talk about it in person. Where can I meet you?"
      We parked side by side in a public lot near the river and laughed some more about our phones. We both had the same model of celphone.
      Then she took me on a whirlwind tour of the area. We visited the lock and dam, and saw some of the Rock Island Arsenal Museum. Then we had a quick picnic lunch in the park and sat on a bench watching the river traffic.
      And I got her to tell me about the faulty magic cups and how she had managed to work herself into the position of being the managing partner of a fairly successful magic act.
      "I was very young when Uncle Torgas talked my folks in letting me go on the road." She smiled at the memory. "He had a few really good tricks, but wasn't really a marquee act."
      "He certainly is now. What happened?"
      Her mood darkened and she took a long drink from her diet cola.
      I knew I was as close as I might ever get to the truth. I decided to not push her too much and move the conversation along. "When did he quit doing the escape artist show?"
      "That was after we totally changed the act. He still does an escape or two for the big shows, but we're into crowd pleasing mystification acts now."
      She had dropped the name again. She had referred to 'Uncle Torgas' several times in the past tense only. In the present tense it was back to 'he'. I noted it to myself and moved on.
      "I've seen that. Makes my little card tricks and vanishing cup act for the grandkids look silly."
      "You said that before."
      "That my tricks look silly?"
      "No." She laughed and her eyes sparkled again. "That you have grandkids. You can't be that much older than I am."
      I reached for my wallet and demonstrated that I was indeed old enough to have a grand daughter that wanted a car.
      "You and your wife must be doting grandparents."
      "Ex-wife. But yes. SHE spoils them rotten."
      She smiled a little at the ex-wife comment. But let it go. Then she wanted to know what other tricks I did.
      "Even better I can show you a couple. I have some of the stuff in the car. You never know when you might need to make something appear from a hat. But I left Thirsty for this trip at home so it won't be my overweight hamster."
      "Hamster? It's supposed to be a rabbit." She laughed a little.
      "Sorry. Low budget operation. Rabbits eat too much.
      She laughed and laughed.
      Watching her laugh made me laugh, and people on boats on the river even started laughing watching us.

      We walked back around to the cars and I got out my traveling kit. She saw my hat and laughed some more and said she had a stand in for Thirsty. She opened her car and looked around.
      "Here." She said tossing me a small stuffed white rabbit. "A donation to the cause."
      I looked at it and laughed.
      "It doesn't have the personality you said Thirsty has. But..."
      "I bet she won't go in my hat either." I said and she laughed some more with her eyes sparkling like diamonds.
      Then we walked down to the benches along the river and I set up my box on a table with a chessboard painted on top of it and talked to her some more as I got my things together.
      I started my patter when a couple of young women who were walking a group of kids along the path with the unmistakable signs of a daycare or kindergarten or something: the kids were in boy girl order and holding a string.
      One of the women made motions to me asking if they could watch and I nodded with a big smile and did my act the way I do it best, playing to kids instead of a woman so far inside the Magic scene I had no right to even borrow her stuffed rabbit.
      The kids clapped with glee as 'Thirsty's Stunt Double' made her appearance out of my empty hat, then she vanished with the cup and reappeared from behind one of their teacher's heads. Then I went trough a short routine with scarves, and a couple of card tricks, which exhausted my repertoire of card tricks, but they didn't seem to mind.
      Katheryn clapped appreciatively along with the small crowd of others that had been passing through. I had to make the bunny reappear and take a bow then vanish again.
      The kids cheered and clapped and jabbered and ... The teachers thanked me for the entertainment and got them back on their string.
      As I was packing up a few dollars appeared in my hat as if by magic and a jogger thanked me for the break.
      I picked the money up out of the hat and smiled at Katheryn. "May I use my earnings to buy you a cup of coffee?"
      "Maybe something a little stronger." She said.
      "Sure." I nodded. "So you liked the act?"
      "I loved it." She smiled and kissed my cheek. "And so did they, which is more important." She nodded down the sidewalk where the kids were parading along.
      "Ok then."
      "And if you want to hear some more about our act..." She didn't finish it.
      "Sure. If you want to tell me." I handed her the bunny.
      "Keep it. You might need it again."

      We sat in a hotel bar overlooking the river and didn't talk for awhile.
      I had to prime the pump. "So what happened to Uncle Torgas?"
      She looked at me. "It shows huh?" I nodded. She sipped her drink and stared out the window. Except I don't think she saw the window, the river, Rock Island, or even the State of Illinois beyond.
      "We were doing one of those breakneck tours along the gulf coast. We would do a matinee show here and then a dinner show fifty miles away and close the night at some dive across town." She sighed. "We shared motel rooms, split dinner specials, took turns driving, and all."
      "And then."
      "And then one morning I rolled over to wake him up and..."
      "I'm sorry."
      She nodded. "He went in his sleep after one of the best performances of his life. They loved it. We did a curtain call and he did twenty minutes of card tricks. He had them flying overhead and picking the one the mark had picked out of the deck in mid air. It was his own trick, he had invented it." She smiled softly at the memory. "Maybe I could teach it to you. I can do it, almost, except my hands aren't strong enough to flip them just right." She wiggled her fingers, then stared at a small silver ring with a red stone in it on her right ring finger. Her eyes had that look again.
      "I'd love to learn it. And carry it on to honor his memory."
      She looked at me. "I believe you." Then her eyes darkened again, she fingered that ring nervously. "But now you want to know about..."
      I nodded slowly. "But only if you want to tell me."
      She sat there a minute without speaking, so I changed the subject again. "When did Mae come on board?"
      Katheryn blinked a few times. "She had worked with us a few times, then after he died she asked me if I was going to continue the act." She shook her head and stirred her empty glass.

      It was a long afternoon. But I had the story.
      And I had chills that simply wouldn't go away.

      The end of our date was a quick kiss between the cars in the parking lot next to the river. She thanked me for listening, gave me a quick hug, and I waved to her as she drove south and I caught the highway west.

      And I still had chills that simply will not go away.

      I drove west for about an hour. Then at my first opportunity I made a hard left and drove the long way to St. Louis.
      "Sorry. I smell a little funny. I spent all night on the road." I said to Bill.
      "You look it too. Come on, wash up and I'll pour the coffee."
      "Bless you my son."
      "With lipstick on your face?"
      I put my hand to the place where she had kissed me yesterday. Yesterday, last year, a lifetime ago. It all seemed somehow relative now.

      "Well? Do you believe her?"
      I looked into the coffee cup.
      "I see. So. What do we do?"
      "I don't know if we can do anything. If we should do anything." I looked at Bill. "I'm not sure she wants us to do anything."
      "And there's the question of what will he do to them if we try."
      I nodded. "Or us."
      "Or us." Bill bit his lip. "And we need to find out if its true or if she was feeding you some sort of tall tale."
      I thought about it. "OK. How do we verify it?"
      Bill swallowed hard. "There is a way. And, hopefully, he won't know it was more than just an accident."

      Torgo was appearing at the same hotel they had played for the convention in Kansas City at the very end of their southern tour.
      For me it was a month of wondering what Katheryn had gotten herself into, and what I was about to get myself into. I marked the days, and did a lot of reading of old books that made me sleep with the light and the radio on at night.

      Then the week finally arrived. Bill stopped by my place, being halfway between St Louis and Kansas City, and we rode down together. We discussed baseball, fishing, imported four wheel drive cars, and the swimsuit Ms Missouri had worn at the national pageant, everything but what we were going to KC to face.
      We were there a day early. For good reason.
      We were going to sabotage the stage.

      Bill had an invoice, I had a stack of boxes, and the assistant manager hadn't a clue. We were in the ballroom as soon as he could get the door open.
      "Trade secrets, no peeking." I told the man as we shut the door behind us.
      "Oh. Yes sir." He grinned and left us alone.
      "Now. Are you sure you want to go through with it?"
      I shrugged. "In for a penny.... Besides. Why would she have told me all that. IF it was true... and If she didn't want help?"
      Bill frowned. "I don't think you said that right, but I know what you mean."
      I nodded. "OK. What do I do again?"
      "Open the electrical crawlway." He pointed to the front of the stage riser at a small panel.
      I got out of crawling under the stage because I was older than him. Then we wandered around the stage and did other things. Finally we worked around the back doors, writing things on the doorframes and muttering.
      "Last one. Find every opening into this building and do this." He took a small bottle and flicked water in a certain pattern and repeated a few more words. "Every door, window, exhaust fan, everything."
      "How about cracks in the plaster?"
      "Wouldn't hurt. We have plenty." He patted the gallon jug.
      Finally it was done. We packed up and left the 'replacement' set of magic cups with Torgo's name on it backstage.
      "I'll buy the steaks." I said.
      "Can't come to Kansas City without getting a steak."
      "You're right. Lead on."

      The next night I met Katheryn at the back door as they pulled up to unload the van.
      She was delighted to see me again and recognized Bill as soon as he said hello.
      Then she looked at us. "Is this about what we talked about?" She asked me as Mae carried in their costume bags.
      I nodded slowly.
      She got quiet for a second. Then she nodded as well. "OK. It's for the best. It's been long enough."
      That chill that had almost gone away was back.
      I looked up into the clear sky at the stars and took a deep breath. I hoped we knew what we were doing.

      I wanted to be backstage in case something went wrong. Not that I would have the slightest idea what to do about it. Or even how to tell if something went wrong. But I wanted to be there anyway. Bill agreed. We passed ourselves off as assistants to the assistants and carried in the trunk.

      The warm up act, a local comic that told jokes about a proposed sewer treatment plant was on. And then off. His laugh to groan ratio was about even as he waved himself off-stage.
      The MC introduced the magic act and I held my breath.
      "I forgot to tell you something." Bill said leaning close to me.
      I blinked.
      "Everything we did is to keep him in, not out. He'll come in, and do his act, but he won't be able to leave unless she breaks the tie."
      "You mean?"
      "The spirit of Merlin's Apprentice will be trapped in here with us at the end of the act."
      All of the sudden my mouth was very dry.

      But something was wrong from the minute they sat the box on the blocks for his entrance. Instead of just appearing like he usually did from under the sheet and going about his act...
      The plume of flame and sparks reached the ceiling high above. The blast knocked both women backward and the box exploded into slivers of wood that landed about six rows back in the audience.
      "I was afraid of that." Bill said.
      "He knows what we did." He reached into his jacket. "Get the girls offstage." He said and ran for our supplies piled near the back door.
      Mae was all for getting offstage. But Katheryn was holding her ground.
      "It's over Torgo. I don't want to do it any more. Go BACK!"
      The magician appeared to be human, but there was a haze to him. And I thought I caught tongues of fire here and there on him, or in him...
      "You Do Not Control Me..." He lifted his arms and the various props and magic gear around levitated into the air on pillars of fire and lightning.
      The audience, thinking this was a new and improved show applauded.
      Torgo paused and cocked his head to one side. Then he turned toward the audience and bowed slightly. The boxes and trunks returned to the floor. Then he reached behind his neck and took off his cape and swirled it around. Then from behind it an albino bear appeared from a ball of fire.
      Katheryn stepped back. I could see her hand was on the silver ring. My brain kicked-started. Bill had talked about a 'tie'.
      "Something that ties the spirit to this world." I said and felt that chill again. "I'm getting too old for this." I said and walked out on stage.
      "You have to break the link." I said to Katheryn as Torgo did the rope trick to it's logical extreme.
      The rope was a huge arch over the stage, he was climbing one side, the white bear was climbing the other side.
      "It won't come off." She said tugging at the ring.
      "Oh god." I muttered and held her hand and twisted the ring around her finger trying to get it off.
      The stage erupted in fire as they neared the top of the arch. The audience applauded.
      "Come on. While he's busy." I said to Katheryn. We slipped behind the curtain and I rummaged through the stagehand's desk. There were a pair of wire cutters in it.
      "Use them."
      "I don't want to cut you." I said staring into her eyes.
      "What do you think he's going to do to all of us if you don't do it?" She said with a shaking voice.
      Bill ran up. "Look outside."
      We glanced at the windows. What had been a perfectly clear night was now a thunderstorm from the Pit. We hadn't been able to hear the thunder and wind from outside because of the thunder and wind inside.
      I put the cutters along the edge of the ring trying not to catch her skin in it. But...
      "I Need My Cabinet." Torgo said.
      "He's still performing." Bill said. "I'll take it to him."
      "Where's Mae?" Katheryn asked.
      He went out on stage and moved the cabinet Torgo was pointing to downstage.
      Torgo did the patter about how it was empty. Then Bill stood back and tried not to look scared to death as the magician closed it, then opened it.
      About half the audience figured out right then and there that something was dreadfully wrong.
      Bats, vultures, ravens, and bugs flew from the cabinet in an endless stream that began circling inside the ballroom and swooping down on the people inside. Some of the audience broke for the exits, but the doors wouldn't respond. They were all part of the act now.
      "And Now I Shall Produce More Wonders From THE CABINET OF WONDERS!" He roared.
      "I don't want to see what it is." Katheryn said. "Do it."
      "I'm trying. It won't cut." I was straining on the tool. It wasn't even denting the ring.
      "Then take the finger off." Her eyes were streaming tears.
      "I can't." I said trembling until I couldn't breathe.
      "You can't go in there, you'll never come out."
      "Then cut it."

      I will hear her scream until I die.

      I'll hear Torgo's scream forever.

      I hope he'll hear mine just as long.

- -finale--

      It was billed as Torgo's last act.
      The bats, the fire, everything, was written off as a stunt to promote a soon to be made movie about his life.
      Some of the audience believed it. It didn't matter. It really didn't matter.

      Every chance I get I kiss Katheryn's hand. The scar was bright red. As red as the stone in the ring had been.
      She said it had been a Magician's Bloodstone. A sign of the pact that gave her control over Torgo.
      She says some people don't even notice her missing finger. I don't know if I believe her. It's all I see. I have to force myself to look into her eyes. Then I don't see her finger anymore.

      Katheryn stayed with me for a long time afterward.
      She didn't want to be alone. She couldn't bring herself to go back to her apartment and get anything. She wanted no part of what had been her life.
      But then... she had to do something. Mae had gone home and dropped out of sight. Katheryn sat in my kitchen for a few months, then she realized she had to do something.
      Bill hired her at the store. And slowly she began doing things with stage magic for customers.
      Stage magic.
      And she taught me Torgas's flying card trick.
      Uncle Torgas's trick. Not Torgo's.

      There had never been a Torgo. It had been an act. A magic act.

      By a Magician.

End Magician

[Note: All rights reserved, including the right to further publication. Distributed copies to proofreaders and editors remain property of the author. No infringement of copyright is intended. All events are fictitious, all historical persons various cities, clubs, hotels, etc. did exist, NO DISRESPECT or disparagement them is intended.
Email- dr_leftover{~at~}themediadesk{~dot~}com     Selah ]
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