His Greatest Illusion

His Greatest Illusion - a short story by Robert Burton Robinson on TicklyTales.com

A young magician’s new illusion will leave everyone speechless—even his mentor. (2,738 words)
~~~
Cindy walked into her cruise ship cabin, grabbed a bottle of beer from the fridge, and plopped down on the couch. How much longer was she gonna continue to play second banana to The Amazing Louis? She didn’t need him anymore. She was ready to go it alone.

Louis burst into the cabin. “I can’t believe Martin’s on this ship.” He pulled off his jacket and threw it on the bed.

“He’s entitled to take a vacation, like anyone else.”

“That’s not why he’s here. He’s gonna try to screw up my act. Give away my secrets.”

“You really think he spent good money for a cruise just so he could get back at you? You’re being paranoid.”

“No, I’m not. He’s out to get me!”

“Did you see that woman sitting next to him? You think that was his girlfriend?”

He glared at her. “Why? You want him back?”

“No.”

He grinned like a crazy man. “Of course, you don’t. Why would you? I’m the greatest magician in the world.”

“Well, the greatest cruise ship magician, at least.”

His nostrils flared. “So, this is the way you talk to me—after all I’ve done for you?”

Why had she said that? She knew it would tick him off. “You are way better than Martin. That’s for sure.”

“That’s more like it.” He took off his shirt.

“But you did steal his act.”

“No, I did what every great magician does. I learned from the best and then I put my own spin on it. I didn’t steal anything.”

“You stole me.”

“And I made you better too. Didn’t I, babe?”

Yeah, right, she thought.

**********

It was the morning of the last day at sea. Cindy and Louis were on the stage in the main theater. All of the doors were locked, and the room was free of cameras and hot mikes so that they could rehearse his new illusion.

She was on a ladder, building a brick facade made of plastic blocks. It had sides, but no top or back. Cindy had grown to despise Louis, but she was a professional, so she would put on her best magician’s assistant face for one more night. Louis had no idea that this would be her last show with him. She was a better magician than he was and she was tired of living in his shadow.

Louis was behind the back curtains, bolting down his custom spring device to the stage floor. It consisted of dozens of bungee cords, sprockets, gears, a large spool, and an electric motor. He switched on the motor to wind the spring and then laid out a heavy-gauge cable from the spring to the back of the brick facade. One end of the cable was attached to the spring. At the other end was a battery-powered electromagnet, rated to pick up five-hundred pounds. He held the flat plate of the magnet up to a special metal brick which was position four feet high in the wall. “Okay, babe, engage the magnet.”

Cindy took a remote control out of her pocket and pressed a button.

“Perfect,” he said. “There’s nothing like premiering a new illusion—and this is my best one ever.”

“Yeah, it sure is.”

“Now I need your help with Pete.”

Pete was a life-size dummy that Louis custom-ordered for this trick. He was dressed in street clothes and a straightjacket. His ankles were zip-tied together. Cindy helped him carry Pete to the front of the wall and stand him up. “I still don’t understand why he has to be so heavy.”

“He’s only 150 pounds. That’s actually a little light for a man of his size, and when I bring up an audience member to check him out, I want them to agree that he’s as heavy as a real man.”

“What if he falls over before you shoot him?” she asked.

“He never fell during any of our test runs.”

“Yeah, but the warehouse doesn’t make sudden movements like a cruise ship can.”

“He’ll be fine.” He reached behind Pete, grabbed the hook on the metal brick and fastened it to the back of the straightjacket. Then he walked over to a small table, picked up a .44 magnum revolver, and took a position fifteen feet in front Pete, near the front of the stage.

He looked over at Cindy. “Timing’s everything, babe. You’ve got to get it right or the audience won’t believe they’re real bullets. When you press that button, the speakers behind the back curtain will double the sound of the gunshot, the spring will yank Pete to the back wall, the brick wall will collapse, and a cloud of smoke will explode into the air.”

“Right.” Like she didn’t already know all of that.

“But first,” he said, “we’ll do the wall shot, so be sure you push the right button.” He pointed the gun at the upper left corner of the brick wall and fired.

Cindy pressed a button on the remote.

There was a loud boom and some of the bricks blew apart and flew into the air.

“Wow!” she said. “Don’t you think that’s too loud? Maybe you need to turn the speakers down a little.”

“No. It’s got to be that loud to cover the sound of Pete being dragged across the stage. That’s why I added a slight echo to it—to give us a more cover.”

He aimed at the Pete’s chest and fired.

She pressed a button simultaneously.

There was a loud gunshot, Pete’s body disappeared into a cloud of smoke, and the wall crumbled to the ground.

When the smoke cleared, Pete was gone.

Louis laughed. “Beautiful!”

They went to the back to check on Pete. The spring had pulled him at breakneck speed until just before he hit the spring, when the electromagnet automatically disengaged.

He was hidden behind the back curtain, up next to the spring. “Didn’t seem to hurt Pete at all,” Louis said.

Officially, this was Pete 2.0. The original version of the trick did not have the auto-disengagement mechanism, and Pete’s butt got sucked into the spring and mangled beyond recognition.

Louis pumped his fist. “Frigging awesome!”

**********

The show was going well. Even Cindy’s knife-throwing routine was getting its share of oohs and ahs. It wasn’t magic, but Cindy excelled at it.

She about to throw her last knife at Louis—the one that was supposed to land just below the crotch. How easy it would be to throw it a little high. It would be an accident, of course. Nobody would be able to prove otherwise.

Cindy raised the knife over her head and held it there in dramatic fashion. The theater fell silent. She threw it—harder and just a bit higher than usual.

The blade sliced his pants below the crotch.

Louis looked like he was about to faint. Then he grinned. “That was awfully close, honey!” he yelled.

The crowd roared with laughter and cheered.

Cindy took a bow.

Louis was staring at Martin, who was sitting in the first row.

He walked to center stage. “And now I will perform an illusion that has never been seen before. That’s right: I’m premiering it here tonight!”

The audience applauded.

The mid-stage curtains opened, revealing the brick facade with Pete standing in front of it.

Louis went over to the small table and picked up his revolver. “Folks, that’s my buddy, Pete.” He pointed with the gun. “I like Pete because he doesn’t talk much.”

The audience laughed.

“But tonight, for your entertainment, I’m going to literally blow him away—just for the fun of it.” He held up the gun. This is a Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum revolver. Dirty Harry famously said. ‘It’s the most powerful handgun in the world.’ He looked at the dummy. “Go ahead, Pete. Make my day.”

The audience laughed.

Cindy slipped her hand into her pocket.

“Anyway, it’s no longer the most powerful handgun, but it does pack one heck of a wallop. “Of course, I know what you’re thinking—that this is not a real gun or that I’ll be shooting blanks.”

He quickly turned and fired from the hip.

Cindy pressed a button on the remote in her pocket.

The shot rang out with a loud boom and an echo. Some of the bricks on the top corner of the wall broke apart and went flying into the air.

The crowd gasped.

He turned to the audience, pointing the gun at them.

They instinctively recoiled.

He quickly lowered it. “Oops, sorry about that. Safety first.”

Cindy recited her scripted line. “Be careful with that thing, Louis.”

Some in the crowd laughed nervously.

He turned back to the audience. “Now, I’m going to shoot my friend, Pete. I’m gonna blow him to smithereens with this puppy. He pointed the gun at the dummy. “Goodbye, Pete.” Then he lowered the gun and turned back to the crowd. “But you’re probably thinking that Pete’s made out of something light and feathery, and that he’ll just evaporate when I shoot him. Is that what you think? I need a volunteer from the audience.”

Dozens of people raised their hands.

Louis said, “How about this guy right here in the front. What’s your name, sir?”

“Martin.”

“No way. I can’t believe it, folks. It’s my old buddy, Martin the Magnificent. Remember him? He used to be a famous magician? I’m sorry I didn’t recognize you, Martin. It’s been a while. But this is great. Will you come up and help me?”

“Sure.”

“Fantastic. Give him a round of applause, folks. Martin the Magnificent!”

The crowd applauded as Martin went up to join Louis on stage.

Louis set the gun down on the table. “Now, Martin, I’d like you to help me reassure the audience that Pete is about as real as a dummy can be. In other words, he’s got a solid body.”

Martin went over to Pete and felt of his arms and legs. “Yes, he’s solid, and probably about as heavy as a real person this size, I’d say.”

“Great. Now, if you’ll stand back, I will attempt to blow him away.”

Martin stepped back.

“Okay, everybody, maybe you’d better hold your ears this time.” Louis raised the gun and then immediately lowered it. “What am I thinking? This trick could be so much better. Martin, will you help me make this trick even more amazing?”

“Uh…sure.”

“Great. First, we need to move Pete.”

Louis unhooked the metal brick from the straightjacket, and they carried Pete to the side and laid him down. The brick hook had been painted the same color as the bricks to camouflage it, so the audience could not see it hanging there.

Cindy knew what Louis was up to, and that Martin would go along with it. He was probably the only man in the world more arrogant than Louis, and he would never back down.

Louis said, “Now we can do this thing right. Martin, if you will be so kind.” He pointed to the place where Pete had been standing against the wall.

“Okay.”

Louis quickly un-Velcroed the straightjacket that was on Pete, carried it over to Martin, strapped it on him, and connected the brick hook to the straightjacket. “You think you can get out of this thing?”

Martin said, “Maybe.”

Louis took a heavy-duty cable tie out of his pocket and held it up for the audience to see. “Let’s make it a little harder for him to get away.” He zip-tied Martin’s ankles together.

Cindy couldn’t believe Louis was pulling this stunt. Yes, Pete had survived being dragged across the stage at high speed, but what would it do to a human? It was a terrible risk. But if the two of them were crazy enough to go through with it, she wasn’t gonna try to stop them. If something went wrong, Louis would be the one going to prison.

Louis stepped away from Martin, picked up the gun, and moved into position at the edge of the stage.

“Here we go, folks.” Louis raised the gun and fired at Martin’s chest.

The gunshot boomed. A cloud of smoke enveloped the wall.

When the smoke cleared, the wall was on the ground in pieces. Martin was gone.

The audience cheered.

Louis smiled proudly and took a bow.

The front curtains came down and the guards cleared the theater quickly, and closed and locked the doors per Louis’ prior instructions.

Cindy and Louis went to check on Martin. He was behind the back curtain, lying in an awkward position up against the spring device, unconscious. His face and hands were badly bruised.

She said, “He’s gonna sue you for every penny you’re worth.”

“He’ll be fine. Let’s pack up while he’s sleeping it off.”

They packed their props and equipment. Martin was still out cold.

“You can go on to cabin,” he said, “but take the back exit to avoid the guards and the crowds. I’ll finish up here.”

“Okay.” She started to walk away.

“Wait. Take that trunk with you—the one with the spring. I can’t take a chance on somebody finding it and giving away the secret.”

“That’s why we’ve got locks on the trunks, and besides,” she looked at Martin, “haven’t you already given the secret away?”

He glared at her. “Just take it.”

She walked out, rolling the trunk behind her.

**********

Cindy was wearing a negligee, standing with her back to the balcony drapes when Louis walked into the cabin. She had two champagne glasses on the table and a bottle of bubbly in the ice bucket.

He smiled. “All right! Just what a man likes to come home to after a hard day’s work.”

She eyed him seductively. “Come over here, you amazing man.”

He walked up and put his arms around her and pulled her in close.

“Wait a second.” She spun them both around and pulled back. “How’s Martin?”

“I don’t think he’ll be bringing any charges.”

“Good. So, he’s okay?”

“Yeah.”

She stepped in close. “Now, where were we?”

He grabbed her.

She reached around behind him.

He said, “What are you doing?”

She stepped back. “There you go.”

“What did you do?” He reached around to his back.

She held up the remote.

His eyes bugged out. “Give me that!” He lunged for it.

She pressed a button.

The spring unit activated and yanked him off his feet, through the drapes, out the door, across the balcony, and over the top of the railing.

The electromagnet automatically disengaged, and Louis went flying into the darkness.

Cindy couldn’t hear the splash, but she knew he was in the ocean, and that he had no hope of surviving.

She laughed to herself. The Amazing Louis had just performed his greatest illusion: he’d vanished, never to be seen again. Ha! And if the cops suspected foul play, Martin would be the obvious suspect. How funny that would be.

Cindy heard a knock at the door, and quickly closed the sliding balcony door and pulled the drapes together. It had to be Martin.

She opened the door.

Two security guards were standing there. “We need to talk to you, ma’am.”

“What’s this about?”

“Can we come in?”

“Sure.” She let them in and closed the door.

“There’s been a murder.”

Oh, no, she thought. Had someone on a lower deck seen Louis’s body falling into the ocean? No, the guards couldn’t have come so quickly. “Well, what does that have to do with me?”

“We believe he was stabbed with one of your knives.”

“Stabbed? Who was stabbed?”

“The man from the audience who came on stage during the show tonight. Martin the Magnificent.”

“What?! He’s dead?”

“As I said, he was stabbed with a knife like the ones you use in your show.”

Louis killed Martin with one of my knives? Was he was wearing gloves—to frame me?!

“So, we’re gonna need you to come with us.”

“To where?”

“We have a jail on the ship. It’s just a room, actually, where we hold suspects until we arrive at port.”

“No, no, no,” she said. “Can’t you see? It must have Louis who killed him. He’s a magician. He could easily kill somebody and make you think somebody else did it.”

“Hmm.” One of the guards said. “So, where is Louis?”

THE END

Copyright © 2017 Robert Burton Robinson

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