By Scott Wells
Magic Jack. THE Magic Jack. Seen everything and been everywhere. He was at the pinnacle of his career as a magician. So what was he doing in this one horse town? Sure, Jack was born in a small town like this but that was thousands of shows ago.
“Glad you could make it. IÃm Delmer.” Delmer Lee was JackÃs local contact. “Any trouble finding us?” he continued in his Southern drawl.
“No, your directions were perfect . . . except I did miss that road before the auction barn,” he said, struggling to speak as slowly as Delmer.
“Yeah, several of Ã«em miss that road.”
“Several? A lot of performers come through here?” Jack asked.
“Not really. YouÃll be staying over at GladysÃ Boarding House. ItÃs only a couple of blocks from the Acorn Lodge. Sorry we donÃt have any hotels like the city.”
What had Jack gotten himself into? He was trying to remember why he took this gig. It was just a knock-off show between closing in Lake Tahoe and working a cruise out of Miami. It wasnÃt supposed to be much out of his way and the money was okay. “Sorry I was a little late. It was a longer drive than I expected. So, tell me, what is the Ã«Acorn ClubÃ?”
“Oh, weÃre always looking for new material down at the Lodge, that is, magicians with new tricks. We like to consider it a place to grow,” Delmer said, dismissing JackÃs first comment. “Kind of a Ã«testing groundÃ for talented, young entertainers to try out new stuff. We see shows that the rest of the world will never see.”
Great, thought Jack. Now he could try some new effects that he had been wanting to break in.
Delmer pointed toward the Boarding House. “After you get situated, you can go to the Lodge and set up. We wonÃt start until 6:30. We figure to have you after dinner around 8:00.”
How many times had Jack heard that one. It meant that if he was lucky, he would be on by 10:00. But, what the hell, where was he going to go after this show?
“YouÃre welcome to eat with us. Jennifer Bodimer is fixing her world famous fried chicken.” Jack grinned with a knowing smile and said “ThatÃll be fine.
IÃll be ready when you are, D.L.” Delmer cocked his head and stared at Jack. “That was kind of like a joke . . . a metaphorical reference to a story about Cecil B. DeMille . . . C.B.” Delmer continued to stare. Jack blinked and said “IÃll be there early.”
The Acorn Lodge was typical of most large metal buildings, linoleum floors, plenty of space, a kitchen and two bathrooms. It was different though in that they had a built-in stage area, complete with velveteen curtains and heavy brocade, no doubt hand stitched by local matrons.
People started trickling in around 6:30. Jack thought “IÃll be lucky to get out of here by midnight.”
Although Jack didnÃt notice it at first, nearly every couple carried a lantern. As the room filled, it seemed that everyone had a lamp. It was peculiar that all of the lanterns were alike. Jack guessed that they must have been some sort of official “Acorn” lamp for members.
By 7:15 the room was full, a lot more people than Jack had expected. As the food was served, the ceiling lights were turned off. The light from the lanterns gave an unearthly glow to everything. Shadows cast on the walls formed unrecognizable shapes. Jack had worked hundreds of clubs where candles lit the room, but that seemed romantic. That seemed a long time ago and very far away.
Jack shrugged it off as he adjusted his props behind the velveteen shroud. He could hear the familiar sound of coffee cups, talking, laughter, and chairs being moved around. JackÃs mind drifted “this should be like falling off a log. Forty minutes of magic, a quick nightÃs sleep and IÃm out of here. Tomorrow afternoon IÃll be in Miami then out to sea.”
“DonÃt you want some chicken?” JackÃs thoughts were interrupted as a rather portly, middle-aged woman stuck her head through the curtain. “ItÃs really fresh. It was still scratching around the barnyard this morning.”
“Oh, sure.” The mental image made Jack wince for a moment. “IÃll have some later, thanks.”
“Are you sure you donÃt want to eat now?” she said.
“Really, thanks a lot, but I donÃt like to work an a full stomach,” Jack said diplomatically.
“I understand,” she said. “YouÃre all alike.”
“Have others . . .” JackÃs question trailed off as the lady disappeared back through the curtain. He shook his head then turned back to his props. It was already 8:00 and they had just started their meal. He would probably be on around 9:30 at this rate. Time dragged as Jack cybernetically rehearsed the movements of his routine behind the curtain.
“Are you about ready?” again JackÃs concentration was interrupted. This time it was Delmer. “EveryoneÃs pulling their chairs up to the stage.”
“Give me three minutes,” replied Jack.
“When youÃre ready, Evan over there will pull the curtains,” Delmer gestured toward stage right. “Just give him the high sign. WeÃll be ready when you are, M.J.”
Jack gave a double take. He noticed a grin on DelmerÃs face as he walked around the curtain.
When the noise of the chairs finally subsided, Jack turned on his taped intro. A professional announcerÃs voice boomed from the speakers, “Ladies and Gentlemen. The performer you are about to witness tonight has entertained celebrities and royalty from Las Vegas to Monte Carlo, London to Auckland, and Reno to Bombay. So sit back and prepare to enjoy the mysteries of . . . Magic Jack!” Jack gave a nod to Evan.
The music began, the curtains parted, and Jack started forward but he stopped abruptly. The room had changed. The lanterns were no longer sitting at the tables but instead had been placed at the apron of the stage. The glare from over 100 lanterns was more blinding than the spots at any casino show room. The music played on and Jack tried to concentrate on his opening. He produced a yellow silk, changed it to red then split them in two. He rolled them up, tossed them into the air and a rose descended into JackÃs empty hands. A killer of an opening . . . usually.
But tonight there was silence. He knew they were out there, he could feel their presence. The silence hung like the gold fringe on the velveteen curtains. Someone coughed in the back of the hall. But no applause. Jack took a quick bow as the music faded.
“Thank you for coming out tonight . . . at least I think itÃs night. ItÃs hard to tell what time of day it is up here. My watch isnÃt of much use in this kind of light.” Jack pulled back his sleeve to display a sundial watch. He removed it and said, “It appears to be about eye ex (IX) oÃclock.” No response. Then he heard a chair being pulled across the floor. A man with a moustache approached the stage, picked up a lantern, returned to his seat and extinguished the flame.
As Jack continued, his performance was flawless. It should have been the best show of his career, but he may as well have been performing in front of the mirror. No response all night. No laughter, no applause, nothing. Just the occasional sound of a chair scooting across the linoleum floor as another lantern went back to a table then slowly being put out. The show continued and the lights were snuffed until there was but one lantern remaining on the stage. The light cast a phantasmal glow on the entire room. It was time for JackÃs final illusion.
“To close this eveningÃs show IÃd like to present Ã«JackÃs SackÃ. For this feat I need the help of two volunteers to lock me in these handcuffs then secure me in this regulation mail bag.” The silence was so still that it could have been bottled and sold as molasses. Jack swallowed hard as he heard another chair being pulled back from the table. He prayed that it was someone coming to help him, not to pick up the remaining lantern. Thankfully it was Delmer who walked up on the stage. He motioned to Evan still off on stage right to come over to help.
“Thank you both for offering your help.” Jack shook DelmerÃs hand. Typically he would have stolen the spectatorÃs watch but he was afraid that it would appear to have been set up. “Now even though we have met, will you please verify to the audience that we have nothing pre-arranged?” Jack wished that it had been anyone else. But this was his last trick then he was heading for the door. He could hardly wait to feel the sea breeze.
Delmer and Evan both nodded briefly toward the audience. “Evan, please place the handcuffs on me and make sure that they are locked securely.” Jack felt the cold steel and the pinch of the cuffs as they were tightly drawn catching a little hair from his wrist as they clicked shut.
“Keep the key in your pocket where you know that it will be safe then help Delmer with the bag. I will climb into the bag then escape in less time than it takes to put me in.” Delmer and Evan held the bag as Jack climbed into the sack, drew the top shut and locked the bag at the top. Jack could still see the light outside of the bag coming from the last lantern as he worked with the handcuffs.
Before he could get out of the cuffs he heard the chilling sound of another chair scooting back. He knew that soon the final light would be extinguished and no one would see his denouement. Jack struggled to free himself in record time, but when he appeared out of the sack, it was pitch black. It was darker than the silence. He had had enough. He gave them a great show but nobody seemed to care. “WhatÃs wrong with you people!” Jack screamed in desperation. “DidnÃt you like my show? You act as if you see this kind of thing every day!” The deafening silence continued. “IÃve had it, the show is over.” Jack stumbled through the dark toward his nightclub table where he kept a flashlight. He couldnÃt wait to get out of that creepy place.
Jack took two steps then stopped dead in his tracks. He felt something warm trickling down his forehead off the tip of his nose. Everything swirled in slow motion as he felt his head throb. A fatal blow took him to his knees then forward, his face hitting the hard, wooden stage floor. Before he lost consciousness, he heard DelmerÃs familiar voice say “Everyone loved your show. YouÃll make great material.”
Michael was a young man making his way to the “big time” in magic. He hated to turn down any job on his way up. He felt as if he needed every chance to refine his routine. He never thought that he could play in a town smaller than where he was now. He hoped that this would be the dark before the dawn of his career. He only agreed to come to this place because the money was decent.
“Any trouble finding our town,” asked Delmer?
“Not at all,” replied Michael. “Well, I did miss the first turnoff before the auction barn. But after that, no problem.”
“Everyone seems to have that problem but weÃre glad you made it okay,” said Delmer. “WeÃre looking forward to seeing new talent and fresh material.”