Mr. Beelzy’s Trick
by Bill Prindle
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Standing in the early evening shadows just beyond the light of a flickering street lamp, the dark figure of Albertus Beelzy waited across from a row of run-down houses. The frigid wind off Lake Michigan carried a fine mist that crept under the collars of the desultory passers-by, but bothered Beelzy not at all.
He withdrew a cigar as fat as a newborn’s arm from inside his jacket and, igniting a match with a flick of his thumbnail, puffed on the cigar until its tip glowed red. A newspaper floating in a nearby puddle proclaimed Roosevelt’s inauguration. He glanced at it and then gazed down the street.
Out of the gloom emerged a man, water dripping from the brim of his hat, his shoulders hunched against the damp and cold. When he paused to shift his battered case from his left hand to his right, the tan-and-white fox terrier trotting by his side looked up as though concerned about her master’s uncertain pace.
When the man and dog walked up the sagging steps of Burke’s Rooming House, Beelzy drew deeply on his cigar, and rubbed his hands together, not to warm them but in anticipation of meeting his dinner companion. Whistling the O Merveille! aria from Gounod’s Faust, he strode off into the gathering dark.
* * *
The Amazing Presto, Prince of Prestidigitators, tapped on Mrs. Burke’s door. He gave her the rent for the past two weeks, nearly all of what he’d just earned performing close-up magic for a bunch of drunken Elks, one of whom had dumped a drink onto Presto’s tie.
“Thanks for your patience, Mrs. Burke,” he said, his voice edged with fatigue.
She hesitated and asked if he’d have enough to get by.
He said he would. What he didn’t say was that it would mean canned beans and mustard sandwiches for him and a lesser grade of butcher scraps for Molly for the next week or two. He inquired if there had been any mail.
“No,” she said, “but a gentleman was here earlier and left this for you.”
Presto took the cream-colored envelope, similar to one he’d received years ago when he’d been invited to perform at the White House. Written across the front in elaborate calligraphic flourishes was “To the Greatest Magician in the World.”
Inside his apartment, Presto shrugged off his sodden, threadbare overcoat, set his case on the small dining table, and dropped his ruined tie in the trash. From the case he withdrew two bottles. One was a pint of cheap rye whiskey. The other’s label was emblazoned with “Poison” in bold, black letters. He propped the envelope against the bottles.
Molly took up her perch on the tattered, rump-sprung chair and watched as Presto fetched a glass and returned to the table to stare at the envelope.
Who might have left it? Presto was savvy enough to know elaborate compliments often hid a touch, their goal to create a false sense of obligation. And yet... Whether to forestall the possible disappointment or to prolong the faint hope of some good news, he hesitated opening the envelope.
No matter what the hour, after a magic show, Presto usually made notes on how he could have improved his performance and then, to soothe himself, he’d take out a deck of cards and run through the subtle shuffles, passes, cuts, second deals, bottom deals, and the most arcane of all deals known to a select few, the center deal, his hands moving with an unmatched and effortless grace.
He’d finish by sailing cards for Molly to pick out of the air and return to him with nary a toothprint to show for it. Presto had even taught her a set of undetectable signals — a wink or a slight movement of his hand — whereby she could find a spectator’s selected card from a deck spread face down on the floor, or do a little dance on her hind legs, or race around barking madly, or any number of other amusing tricks.
But, this night, Presto slumped in the chair, a battered champion no longer certain he possessed the strength to answer the bell for the next round and knowing that if he did, only more punishment awaited him. A deep rattling cough shook his body, and he hung his head to catch his breath.
On his bedside table was a framed, hand-tinted photograph of an exotically beautiful young woman with long dark hair, an enchanting smile playing on her lips, her lissome body draped in a robe of rich Oriental design, a silvery orb floating in mid-air just beyond her finger tips, as if under her spell.
Presto gently turned the photograph face down, poured two fingers of whiskey into the glass, and downed it in a gulp. As it burned its way into him, he opened the envelope and read the enclosed note with watering eyes.
It will give me the greatest pleasure if tonight, upon your return, you and Molly will be my guests for dinner at the Majestic Café to discuss magic, life, and new beginnings.
Your worshipful servant,
“Never heard of him,” Presto said to Molly. “On the other hand, we could use a good meal, couldn’t we? All we’ll owe him is ‘Thank you’ and ‘Good night’ and maybe a trick or two. Let’s see what this fella wants.”
Presto swallowed a second whiskey, donned his still-wet coat and hat, slipped a deck of cards into his pocket, and left the apartment, Molly close at his heels.
* * *
Copyright © 2015 by Bill Prindle