Hello all! I wrote a short story inspired by and dedicated to Neil... I thought I could share it here while I try to get it published. Feedback would be excellent! I apologize if the formatting is a bit off...
(For Neil Gaiman)
“So,” I say, realizing this guy is dead serious and profoundly bored by it, “what’s the reveal?”
He frowns even more, if that’s possible. “Ray, vel?” He mouths the word silently to himself several times, scanning the carpeted floor of the dressing room like a dictionary. He shakes his head. He has no clue what I’m talking about.
The foreign thing is no act, like I thought at first. His accent is thick and I can’t place it for the life of me. Eastern European maybe. His clothes are dirty and grubby and smell vaguely of boiled cabbage. It’s a shame, really. The foreign bit can sell when done right.
“Yeah, you know, the reveal,” I continue, producing a shiny silver coin. I vanish it with a flourish, show my hands are empty, then pound the table in front of me, revealing the coin, all with more show than his whole damn performance. “Tah dah,” I say.
He stares at me. Slowly, he says, “Watch is gone.”
Jesus Christ, I think, this was a mistake.
“We should use some local talent as your opening act. Show your hometown appreciation.” That’s what Pat, my agent, had said. A bunch of hack-job Hoo Doo acts (this being New Orleans), one passable contortionist, and now this. What a fucking mistake. I make a silent vow to seriously ream Pat out when she gets back here with my chai tea.
I took one look at this guy’s name when he’d walked in and knew I couldn’t pronounce it so I just said, “Go ahead. Dazzle me.” (Dick move, I know, but you gotta bring it if you’re gonna open for me. Plus, it had been a long day)
“May I have watch?” he had asked, completely maudlin.
“Sure,” I’d said, flashing him the smile of someone who knows where this is going.
So, he takes my watch, mumbling what I can only assume means “thank you” in a language I’d never heard before, and he covers it with his hands. I figure he’s doing some sort of palm. Then, he screws up his face in concentration. Honestly, it looks like he’s trying to take a shit.
This goes on for like two, three minutes. No misdirection at all. I’m thinking, Okay man, I kinda dig it. Very in-your-face, very punk rock because I’m thinking this is some sort of postmodernist thing, which I appreciate, even though I’m not letting it open for me. Finally, there’s a tiny pop!, which is the only hint of show in the whole routine, and he opens his hands.
It’s the way he opens them that tips me off, like a doctor explaining that, despite our best efforts, we could not save your wife. This guy is dead fucking serious. Jesus Christ, I think.
“Yeah I get that,” I say. “So bring it back. You gotta have a good reveal man! It’s half the trick.”
He’s giving me this pained expression, all solemn as shit. Even more slowly, he says, “Watch is gone.” It’s like he thinks I’m mentally retarded or something.
That does it for me. I stand up and hold my hand out. “Okay man, thanks for that. I mean it. You’re just not quite what I’m looking for. Better luck next time. Let me get my watch back now.” Fucking open auditions.
“No,” he says, “watch is gone.”
“Security!” I yell.
♠ ♣ ♥ ♦
I search him myself in a back hallway of the concert hall. There’s nothing up his sleeves, nothing except more nasty cabbage smell. At this point, I’m gonna need rubber gloves if I wanna keep looking. I’m pissed.
“Where’s my fucking watch douchebag!?”
I punch him in the gut before he can finish. I wanna call the cops but, honestly, I’m a little embarrassed that I can’t figure this guy’s grift out so I end up sending him out to walk Bourbon Street in his not-so-white tighty whities. I thumb through his wallet and find a measly thirty-seven dollars, barely a fraction of what the watch costs. He’s got no credit cards, no ID, nothing else except for some wrinkled pictures. I leave the wallet on top of the pile of his clothes in the hall.
I’m done with this shit and decide to cancel all auditions. I very loudly explain this to Pat.
“I fucking loved that watch Pat. I loved it.” Honestly, I really didn’t, it’s just the principle of the whole thing.
“God Cris, I know. You were totally right about going with a pro here. Just figured some local flavor couldn’t hurt, ya know? But this is on me, and I’m on it. What kind of watch was it babe?”
“Houdini’s Pat, it was fucking Houdini’s.” It really wasn’t, I just enjoy the reaction on her face that this gets me.
“Oh Jesus Cris, I’m so…”
“You’re fucking fired Pat.”
I go back to my hotel suite and make a couple drinks. Azur comes over and we fuck for a while. The combination of sex and alcohol chills me out. I call Pat up and apologize. “Sterling silver,” I say, “with an all-black face. Onyx or something. And I’m sorry for yelling.”
I have a club appearance that night so I take a shower. That’s when it finally hits me: How the fuck did he do that? I spend the night running through every vanish I know, but I can’t figure it out. It’s a hell of a trick I decide. After the club, I have them take me back to the concert hall. His stuff’s still there. I check it again and then put it in my dressing room, which I look over as well. I still have no idea. I look at the photos more closely. They’re all black-and-white and show the same three somber women standing in the countryside. In one they’re standing in front of an old-timey wagon; in the others it looks like they’re on a farm.
I realize then that he’s probably not in this country legally, what with the lack of anything that could identify him. I wonder why he took the risk in seeing me. I wonder if we have his real name.
♠ ♣ ♥ ♦
“Nah, nothing like that. I just wanna talk to him is all. Think you can track him down? Awesome. Get him tickets to the show. Toss in some BrainTwist gear, too, something befitting a proper magician. Okay. Thanks Pat. Oh, and figure out how to say his name.”
I make sure we have a private audience after the show. He arrives at my dressing room clutching an autographed program and a large shopping bag, both provided by yours truly. This time, I shake his hand, which is clammy as hell. He doesn’t seem to be nervous or angry, just grim as ever, his hair slicked over awkwardly. He still has that faint cabbage smell. I should have gotten him laid, I think.
Once we’re seated, I offer him a drink. He declines.
“Look,” I say, “I know we got off on the wrong foot here and I want to sincerely apologize for that.”
I get out his clothes, freshly washed and neatly folded, and place them on the table with his wallet. He nods but doesn’t say anything.
“So,” I say, “your trick…” I indicate with my hands that it blew my mind. “Would it be cool if I asked you to do it again?” I slide a tacky paperweight across the table to him. He looks at me and it seems like he’s vaguely disappointed or something. Still, he picks it up and nods again, stiff as a statue.
The performance is exactly the same. This time, though, I really watch him. I still have no idea how he does it.
When he shows me his “I’ve lost your puppy” hands, I clap and say, “Bravo man! Really! That’s an awesome trick. So, how’s it done?”
I can’t tell if he’s deciding if he should tell me or if he’s trying to figure out how to say it in English so I just keep smiling at him like a goofy asshole. Finally, he says, “I think it gone.”
This takes me a second, but when I get it, I’m ready to shit bricks. You fucking little prick, I think. Here’s me buying this whole earnest immigrant thing, but of course there’s an angle. There’s always an angle.
I say it back to him, still grinning like a champ. “You think it gone.”
I can’t believe this is his angle – it’s real fucking magic. Give. Me. A. God. Damn. Break. I fucking invented that angle.
So, I call his bluff.
“Do it on me,” I say.
He acts like I tried to stab him, hands all up and head shaking.
“C’mon,” I say, “we’re both professionals here.”
He makes for the door but I’m quicker.
“I insist,” I say, blocking his way.
He starts backing away.
“I insist,” I say, grabbing his wrists hard enough to emphasize how serious I am.
He looks me in the eyes, blinks, and then nods, all melodramatic and shit.
I gotta be honest, it takes me everything I got not to bust out laughing when his face strains up. He looks like he’s gonna pop a blood vessel or something. I can feel the sweat on the palms of his hands and see it oozing over the veins of his forehead. I keep on smiling, waiting for him to give up the charade. It feels like we’re standing there forever.
And just when I’m ready to call this all quits, there’s this tiny pop!
♠ ♣ ♥ ♦
The man saw the young magician in passing on a television and was impressed. Perhaps this one will know? But, once again, the man is disappointed.
He sighs to himself and gathers up his effects. He leaves the attire befitting a proper magician in the dressing room, where it sits all alone. As he departs, he mutters a single sentence in the language known only to the wandering folk of the caravan.
What he says is this –
“Where do they all go?”
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