Weathergirl the not-quite-a-sequel to Zendoscopy is now available on Amazon.com in print and Kindle e-book formats, and the early reviews are terrific. To whet your appetite, here is Chapter 1. Read, enjoy, and then pick up your copy of the book to find out what happens as Effie Mae, the “spin the bottle” girl from Zendoscopy, pursues her deadbeat ex-husband, Horace, who’s ducked out on his alimony payments and is becoming more and more unhinged with each passing day.
The Great Tibbles Vanishes
The Great Tibbles stood in front of the bathroom mirror, assessing himself with unpitying honesty. “I am a great magician,” he said aloud. “A great magician with a lousy act. No, a lousy fifty-year-old magician with a lousy act. But there’s greatness in me, somewhere, isn’t there? I mean, it can’t really be this bad.” He clucked in disgust and finished readying himself for the evening’s performance. Then, leaving his room in the scummy hotel reserved for the troupe during its latest engagement, he only wished he could be anywhere else. Bora Bora, maybe.
The Vroom Vroom Room was no palace. Truth be told, it was a dump, but Horace Tibbles, ex-CPA, aka “The Great Tibbles,” liked to eat and so was at least grateful for the work. Still, about the only thing that had gone right with the whole gig was that his performance didn’t have to follow Missy Lamb and Her Frolicking Cockapoos. No, he was indeed fortunate in that. She followed him, and that meant that he at least had the best of an admittedly depressing situation. He wouldn’t be overshadowed by the lovely Missy and he could hang out in the wings after his act to ogle her as she performed in her delicious milkmaid’s costume.
Even more in his feeble favor, the program had him onstage after Henrietta Egret did her Dance of the Seven Veils. Actually, Horace thought, it was more like seven bedsheets, given the woman’s gargantuan proportions.
The regular audience wasn’t much for breeding. Drunk and raucous on watered-down, overpriced firewater, dissipated men and abysmally degraded women hooted and jeered as a motley succession of pre-intermission acts laid ostrich-worthy eggs, slicking the way for Henrietta and then The Great Tibbles to face what—by the time intermission was over and additional liquor consumed—was little more than an ugly, vindictive mob out for blood, whether it be from the performers or anyone else unfortunate enough to get in the way.
Tibbles and Henrietta stood in the wings, Henrietta awaiting her cue. Suddenly, she turned to face the magician. “Tibbie, quick! Help me. My left pasty won’t stay on.”
The Great Tibbles tried in vain to avert his gaze from the enormous nipple thrust barely two inches from his left eye. “Er, just a second, Henrietta.” He ran to the dressing room, grabbed a small bottle of spirit gum, and ran back, panting. “Here,” he wheezed. “This should work.”
“No, you do it, Tibbie. I’ve got to hold onto my veils.”
Nervously, Tibbles painted on the spirit gum, fanned it with the tails of his coat while Henrietta giggled girlishly, and then slapped the pasty into place. “All fixed,” he said with evident relief.
“Thanks, Tibbie.” Henrietta, a good six inches taller than the magician, bent over and planted a little kiss on his forehead. “You’re a sweetie.” Just then, the drummer began banging a very loud burleycue hump-a-dump rhythm on the bass drum and Henrietta was on.
It was not pretty. Stunning, maybe. But not pretty.
Her bulk was unconvincingly camouflaged by the veils, a bit like trying to cover an aircraft carrier with a few washcloths, and the catcalls began almost immediately. But Henrietta would be a trouper. In a manner highly suggestive of the dancing hippos in Fantasia, she began to pirouette and prance about the stage, the multicolored veils soaring in her turbulent wake.
Too soon, she began shedding the components of her patchwork tent. As each veil was discarded, the catcalls grew louder, the crowd more aggressively offended.
And then, there was the drumbeat: Hump-a-DUMP! Hump-a-DUMP!
Finally, the veil covering her breasts was shed, and this final assault upon her inflamed audience being met with outraged shrieks and, most objectionably, by loud mooing and snorting from the drunker revelers who, without warning, suddenly charged the stage, followed by the rest of the inflamed villagers. The only things lacking were the flaming torches.
The curtain dropped; the tidal wave of outraged humanity ebbed back to the cheap seats. Moos and catcalls and piggy snuffling noises persisted far longer than necessary while, backstage, Henrietta fled sobbing into the wings, throwing herself into The Great Tibbles’ awkward embrace and causing both to fall against a large, painted flat. Only marginally supported, the flat began to tip, its upper end catching the edge of a metal catwalk along the stage left wall. But the arrested flat was no match for Henrietta and, preceded by Tibbles, they both crashed through it, Tibbles ending up with his neck between the hippo’s two gigantic mammaries, each the size of Montana.
“Tibbles!” came the distressed, urgent stage whisper from Sleazy Freddie—that would be Freddie Vroomski—the Master of Ceremonies and owner of the World Renowned Vroom Vroom Room. “Tibbles! Get up. You can bang her later. You’re on!”
Dazed and partially strangled, The Great Tibbles could only gurgle, “Wha???”
“Get up! Come on, Tibbles. Get out there. You’re on, dammit!”
Henrietta, well cushioned by her own fat rolls and by Tibbles underneath her, had managed to remain somewhat oriented. “Tibbie, get up!”
“I can’t. Roll over, Henrietta. Roll over.”
“Oh, sorry, Tibbie.” Henrietta rolled to the side and Tibbles struggled to his feet.
Still disoriented, he had to ask, “Which way’s the stage?”
Freddie aimed him in the right direction and then ran center stage to introduce, “…an act that will amaze, will mystify, will leave you enthralled and uplifted! I give you The Great Tibbie-er-Tibbles!” There were a few scattered cries of “Boo!” and “Foo on Foodini!” from regulars, who knew only too well what to expect.
With all the composure he could muster, Tibbles marched out to face the drooling mob, by now so far gone that it didn’t give a rat’s ass whether it was about to witness a magic act or the Second Coming. (There is something to be said for truculence held in check by advancing alcoholic stupor.) And in any case, as long as Henrietta wasn’t going to take the stage again, another assault was distinctly unlikely.
Tibbles’ act, as he had long ago acknowledged to himself, was pretty cheesy. He’d never managed to achieve any large degree of mastery over sleight of hand, so most of his tricks were based on “gimmicks”—small pieces of machinery or bits of apparatus to facilitate what more skilled practitioners of the art routinely did by means of wonderfully smooth manipulation. Tibbles’ disappearing coin trick was accomplished using clips attached to elastic bands sewn into his coat. His card manipulations always involved stripper, alternating blank card or other doctored decks. Even his few larger illusions used mechanics so crude and old that any attempt at finesse just made him look silly. Take his sawing a party doll in two illusion. Pathetic by the most generous standards, it employed a clunky blade setup whose unresisted fall accompanied by fingernails-on-a-blackboard scraping noise when inserted into the cabinet immediately ruined any possibility of deception. The hackneyed illusion never, ever brought the least gasp of surprise from anyone embarrassed enough on his behalf to suffer through it. In fact, the only reason anyone was willing to sit through it at all was that he always drew lots to give “Susie” to a lucky audience member when the trick was done. Henrietta, perhaps to her credit, felt that a real, breathing female instead of a party doll would spiff things up substantially, and she had repeatedly offered herself as his willing accomplice. Appalled at the prospect of trying to stuff her corpulence into the flimsy cabinet and afraid that if he did the whole apparatus might collapse under the load, Tibbles had consistently, if politely, declined.
The act opened with his pulling coins from the air and dropping them into a jar. This was, in fact, the only actual sleight of hand trick in his repertoire. It consisted of repeatedly producing the same coin and only appearing to drop it in the jar. The actual coins clanking into the jar came from the hand holding the jar, giving him time to palm the original coin for the next pull. By this means, he could produce as many coins as he could conceal in the jar hand. It was an old trick, endlessly performed by magicians over the years, artlessly and mechanically performed by Tibbles. The audience was seriously unimpressed.
For his next trick sequence, he did a variation of the color-changing handkerchiefs, making individual colored silks disappear, only to reappear in different colors and, as his climax, producing a long string of differently colored handkerchiefs all tied together in a prison-escape sort of string. Ho hum.
From there, Tibbles moved on to some cabinet and container magic, making a vase of flowers disappear and reappear from a box painted like a circus wagon. He made milk disappear when poured into a seemingly hollow tube and, for the grand finale, that “famous” sawing in two of the inflated party doll. Just that afternoon, Henrietta had yet again begged him to let her be sawn but Tibbles had, for the umpteenth time, rejected her entreaty. The last thing he needed was jeers—or worse—sadistic encouragement from the audience to bisect the corpulent woman in public view. Not wanting to hurt her feelings, he told her he didn’t have time to make a set of false feet that would match hers, necessary of course to complete the illusion. In any case, he knew, the really big draw for the whole thing in the first place was the party doll giveaway.
All went pretty well, notwithstanding the general audience hostility, until he was ready to pull “Susie’s” winner. Usually, this was no problem. He simply did it as a raffle, each lusting drunkard having earlier in the evening placed his name in a large goldfish bowl at the bar. This particular evening, however, after the name was drawn and the lucky winner staggered with his compliant, plastic wench from the stage, the fellow was rushed by several sore losers. There ensued a spirited melee during which the lovely Susie was popped, deflated, drawn, quartered and beheaded, leaving only limp vinyl and none of the highly engineered functionality that was so inherent in her formerly pneumatic pulchritude. As the desecration of the corpse proceeded, The Great Tibbles retreated to the wings, relieved to have lived through yet another evening of supreme self-degradation and, now, to reap his reward, the opportunity to experience the delectable Missy Lamb brush by to take the stage.
Tibbles harbored a wicked, lusting crush on Missy, even to the extent that he forced himself to tolerate her two fricasseeable mongrels, which he thoroughly despised ever since one of them had peed all over a new pair of Oxford wingtips he’d planned on wearing to his mother’s funeral the next day.
He knew just where to stand along the curtain legs and, in a few seconds, Missy appeared alongside him. She paused for only the briefest moment as Sleazy Freddie finished delivering her introduction and, in that moment, Tibbles drank in the sight of her with desperate thirst. Then, without seeming to notice him at all, Missy broke out in a broad smile and pranced into the limelight, trailed by the two yowping cockapoos, leaving her musky scent for him to taste as much as smell. It made him dizzy, and the ache he felt nearly brought him to tears. This, however, was quickly followed by protective anger as her cherry-ready appearance elicited catcalls and obscene invitations from newly aroused males in the audience. And, as if such prurient disrespect weren’t depressing enough, Tibbles was moved to desperation when he saw Sleazy Freddie plant a kiss on her neck and pat her behind before leaving the stage.
Thoroughly demoralized, Tibbles could bear to watch no longer. He turned, making his way rapidly between two rows of curtain legs. To reach the men’s dressing room—there were no private dressing rooms in the dump—he had to pass the women’s. In front of the latter door, he knocked lightly, wanting to check up on Henrietta. There was no answer, and so he assumed that she must have fled the building following the debacle of the veils, no doubt still quite upset. Oddly, he was disappointed. Sure, Henrietta was a lipoid mess, but Tibbles had to admit she was nice. In fact, she was just about the only nice person he knew. He shuffled back to the men’s dressing room, put his things together, and headed back to the hotel.
The establishment wasn’t much but the booking agency had at least found the troupe rooms in a place he could afford. After his divorce and landing a job performing in a Pittsburgh dive bar, he’d taken an apartment. But that was before everyone with an act there got cancelled in one fell swoop. They all decided to stick together and eventually found an agent who got them a gig in Newark at another low-class establishment similar to the Vroom Vroom Room. That lasted only three months before they again found themselves unemployed. Then, miraculously, on the day they all were let go, the Vroom Vroom Room in El Segundo, California, near Los Angeles International Airport hired him, Henrietta, and Missy in a package deal and simply got them all rooms in a residential hotel while paying them to perform the same shtick, night after night, that they had been doing in Pittsburgh and Newark. He had no idea how the club had decided to hire them, as they never auditioned. Missy had apparently gotten the call but had been sort of cryptic about it, just saying she knew someone “out there.” At least, he thought to himself, no matter how it happened, best of all, I can still be near Missy. Delicious Missy. But then he also thought, and Henrietta, too. He was surprised to be thinking about Henrietta again, especially when he had just been jonesing about Missy, but he was reassured by the fact that it wasn’t thinking about Henrietta that always made him break out in a sweat.
Now back safely in his room, Horace was suddenly tired but still wound up and not ready for sleep. Instead, he decided to work on what he had taken to calling his Grandest Illusion. This, he had determined, would be his masterpiece, the illusion that would raise him from the ranks of mere magical hackdom and turn him into a legend as famous as Houdini, as respected as Robert-Houdin, as great a genius of the magical arts as P.T. Selbit.
The vehicle of his transport to greatness was taking shape in the dingiest corner of the dingy room. To all appearances, it was a simple box measuring about three feet on a side and four feet in height. The bottom edge of each side and the rear edge of the top panel were attached with hinges to respective support members of the cube’s skeleton framework. The opposite edge of each panel latched to a corresponding piece of the frame. The bottom panel was fixed in place without any hinging.
Horace had studied the secrets of the most venerated masters of magic and knew well how most, if not all, cabinet-type illusions were performed. He knew just where the mirrors should go, how the boxes should be supported onstage, which way the panels should open, and how lines of sight were critical to successful execution of the effects, whether it be appearance, disappearance, transformation, or the presentation of ghostly images. Horace truly understood how to do them all.
This one was going to be different.
He began painting the complex, essential, final design on the last of the panels, the front one, knowing that the appearance of the cabinet was critical for achievement of the ultimate emotional effect. A bit over an hour later, he stepped back to inspect his work. The panel was, at last, perfectly finished. He looked at his watch. It was 2 a.m. and his fatigue had vanished. Still not ready to go to bed, he decided to make himself a cup of decaf, but when he went over to the stained hot plate and looked in the coffee canister, he realized he had used the last of the instant.
Maybe someone was up. He went out into the hallway. Henrietta’s room was right next door, to the left. Missy Lamb’s was the more distant, three doors to the right, but there was something important that he desperately wanted to say to her. Why not, finally, tonight? He forced down his anxiety, took a deep breath and turned right.
Not wanting to wake her if she had already gone to sleep, he stopped and placed his ear to the door as a prelude to knocking. At first, he heard nothing. Then, just as he was deciding not to disturb her, he heard what sounded like soft sobbing and a man’s voice. Horace strained to make out what the voice was saying. It sounded angry, and then he heard the word “bitch” and some other words he never used himself. The man was saying something about already having “paid the creep” for her. That if she and her other friends wanted to keep working at the Vroom Vroom, she knew what was required. Upset, yet feeling powerless, Horace headed back to his room. Just as he was stepping inside, he heard the door to Missy’s room open. He backed up slightly and looked just in time to see a man in a long coat and fedora slam the door and stride down the hall, away from him. Horace only caught the merest glimpse of the man’s face, but it was enough to see that it was Sleazy Freddie. He felt nothing so much as revulsion.
When he was certain that the Vroom Vroom’s owner and M.C. was really gone, Horace summoned his courage and went back to Missy’s room. He knocked, and there was no answer. He knocked again. A whimpering voice on the other side said very softly, fearfully, “Who is it?”
“It’s Horace. Horace Tibbles.”
“Go away, Horace.”
But something in her voice, and something in The Great Tibbles, wouldn’t allow him to leave.
“Missy, open the door. Please.”
A long moment passed, and then Horace heard Missy slide back the chain. The door opened to reveal the object of his secret lust. She was wearing a skimpy and diaphanous robe in pale pink, revealing more of her than he ever thought he’d see this closely, but that was not what caught his attention. Instead, it was the swelling over her left eye and the still wet blood just beginning to congeal on her split lower lip.
“Missy! What happened? Did he hit you?” Horace suddenly sensed that maybe he’d overstepped.
Missy looked at him with suspicion. “Were you spying on me, Horace?”
“Me? No. Of course not, Missy.” And he proceeded to explain very earnestly that he had only just been passing in front of her door and unintentionally overheard an angry man’s voice. He had become worried and wanted to see if she was all right.
Missy wasn’t sure she believed that he hadn’t been spying. Finally, however, the strain overcame her and she burst into tears, falling into his arms and sobbing, “Oh, Horace, I don’t care. I don’t care. I don’t care about anything anymore.”
Horace didn’t know what to say—he had no idea what she was talking about. Beyond that, he was never very good with the opposite sex—his failed marriage was a testament to that—and certainly not now, with one of them crying in his arms. Selfishly, he told himself he was probably getting too old to attract anyone young enough to appeal to him. Which, he knew, described Missy to a T. Pretty and in her early thirties at most, she was the kind of fully developed, overwhelmingly threatening specimen of explosively flowered womanhood he’d never be able to have. He realized that saying that thing he ached to say would never be more than a fantasy.
Gently, he guided her to the edge of the bed, had her sit down, and then sat down next to her. The two cockapoos nestled at their feet. Horace was grateful that they appeared to have enough sense not to be frolicking—or pissing. Since he couldn’t fathom anything to do, he just sat there and let her cry on his shoulder. Presently, he realized with queasy self-loathing that he was becoming excited, but he didn’t move.
At last, she recovered her composure. “Thank you, Horace. For just being here. I don’t know why I don’t fall for guys like you.”
“I do,” said Horace and then, thinking that didn’t sound very complimentary, he added, “But it’s okay.”
“No, Horace. I’m sorry.” She kissed him gently on the cheek, and he felt her increasingly bulbous lip brush against him. He twitched involuntarily.
“Will he come back?” he asked.
She sighed. “I don’t know. I hope not. I have terrible luck with men, especially ones I don’t really like in the first place.”
“Well, I hope he doesn’t come back.”
They sat in uncomfortable silence until Horace, feeling as if he was now intruding, rose to leave. “I guess I’d better be going.”
“You can stay if you’d like.” She was looking at him very strangely.
But Horace was decent enough to know that this was not a situation he could ever justify trying to exploit, so he only said, “No, I don’t think I should do that,” and then he felt a twinge of disappointment when she didn’t argue the point.
She only nodded and, looking down at the floor, said, “Well, good night then, Horace.”
“Good night, Missy.” He started for the door and then stopped and turned. “Missy?”
“Missy, I, uh…Freddie? That little shit?”
Missy didn’t say anything.
But Horace had to know. “Missy,” he said, his voice cracking just slightly, “you did what you did…for us? I mean, for all of us? You did that?”
This only caused Missy to begin sobbing again, and Horace silently berated himself for the stupid thing he had just done. He turned and retreated, overwhelmed and saddened by the knowledge of what she must have sacrificed to get them the gig at the Vroom Vroom.
Back in his room without the decaf, emotions churning, he drank a glass of water and paced in circles. He’d never be able to sleep, now, but it didn’t matter because, not five minutes later, he heard the scream.
Horace bolted into the hallway. Again, he heard the scream, and he knew from where it came. He tried the door but it was locked. He pounded, hollering, “Open it, bastard! Open the damned door!” But all he heard was more screaming, then a sick, gurgling moan—and then silence. “Open the goddamned door! Open it!”
Out of nowhere, Henrietta was suddenly there, pushing him out of the way. “Let me!” she yelled, throwing her entire prodigious weight against the door. That did it. The bolt tore through the jamb and the door flew open, the two would-be rescuers tumbling into the room behind it. Missy lay crumpled on the floor, blood flowing freely from both slashed jugulars, bubbles spewing from a lacerated trachea. In the corner, rocking in a fetal position, was Sleazy Freddie in his coat and fedora. The bloody knife was on the floor next to him. The cockapoos were trembling and whimpering pathetically while sniffing around Missy’s blood-drained face. One of them, out of anxiety, had crapped on the floor.
With a throat-sung cry of fury and anguish, Horace lurched forward, reaching the knife before the regressed murderer could react. Then, the crazed magician was on top of him, waving the knife in his startled face, shrieking. “What did you do? What did you do? You putrid sack of shit! You killed her!”
Henrietta took it all in and reacted, throwing herself across the room and into Horace, knocking him sprawling to the floor. “No, Horace! No!” But there was no longer anything to worry about. Horace was crying and pretty much useless, as useless as was Sleazy Freddie, who only cowered, whimpered, and had begun banging the side of his head against the wall.
Others had heard the screams and ensuing commotion, and someone had called the police, several of whom now rushed into the cramped hotel room and attempted to sort out what had happened. Henrietta was able to give the essence of what she assumed had transpired, and after considerable further questioning, the police took the nearly catatonic Freddie into custody. Then, the coroner arrived and carried away Missy’s body on a stretcher, as Horace, shocked and grieving, watched, glassy-eyed. Henrietta stood at his side, ready to catch him if he folded under the strain of it all. Finally, it was just the two of them, alone save for the cockapoos, staring at the blood, still pooled but clotting, slowly sinking into the carpet.
“I’ll call the pound for the dogs,” said Henrietta. “But right now, let’s get out of here,” Supporting Horace by the elbow, she began steering him in the direction of the doorway.
“Yes, let’s,” mumbled Horace.
Slowly, they made their way along the now-deserted hallway. When they reached Horace’s door, Henrietta’s own emotions abruptly overtook her. Having been a rock through the acute crisis, she was, at last, unable to contain herself any longer. Breaking out in blubbery sobs, she unburdened her hitherto heavily laden heart before the already overwhelmed magician. “Oh, Horace, I know you loved her, I really do. It’s just that…oh…I love you, Horace. I’ve always loved you, Horace Tibbles. Ever since the first time I watched you saw Susie in half.”
Horace was nonplussed. Fumbling for his key, he tried to find something to say to her, but still in shock from the events of the evening and unable to think of any coherent response, he finally unlocked his door and started to enter.
“Horace?’ Her voice was pleading. “Horace, no, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have.”
Horace turned, giving her a long but surprisingly kindly look. “It’s all right, Henrietta.” And then, in one brilliant moment, he thought he understood everything. “Henrietta?”
“Henrietta, would you like to assist me with my new illusion tomorrow?”
“Assist you? You mean, like be your onstage girl? And turn into a tiger, or a butterfly or something?”
“Yes, something like that.”
“Oh, Horace! I’d love to. But then, you’re not mad at me? For what I said?”
“No, Henrietta, I’m not angry with you.”
“Thank you, Horace!”
“Well, I’ll see you tomorrow, then.” He started to close the door.
“Won’t we need to rehearse?”
“That won’t be necessary. It’ll all be totally clear soon enough. You’ll see.”
“Well, all right, then. Tomorrow at the club.”
“Yes, tomorrow. Good night, Henrietta.”
“Good night, Horace.”
In the morning, Horace borrowed a hand truck from the hotel maintenance man to wheel his new creation to the club, where he spent the remainder of the day working feverishly to get the device ready for its big moment. The final step was to get the box onto a matching, decorated dolly so it could be maneuvered about the stage with ease. He hefted it into place and then stood back to admire his creation.
Yes, he thought, This is really going to be something.
By eight o’clock, the club was infested with the usual complement of lowlife scum well on the way to blitzed sothood. The bartender, himself an ethanolic lout known only as Zits-the-B, was drafted by default to fill in as M.C. Somewhat nervously and with all the enthusiasm of a three-toed sloth, he stumbled his way to center stage and managed to mumble that the honorable proprietor Frederick was indisposed and also that, due to certain, most unfortunate circumstances, Missy Lamb and Her Frolicking Cockapoos would no longer be performing at the Vroom Vroom Room. This latter revelation elicited groans of disappointment from a certain subset of the male regulars, but was otherwise met with the singular absence of anyone giving a shit.
Backstage, Henrietta was positively frothing over with excitement. In contrast, Tibbles was the very picture of composure, appearing more sure of himself than anyone could remember, simply smiling knowingly every time Henrietta met him with a coy look, a jiggle and a giggle.
The Dance of the Seven Veils this particular night was an event to remember. Perhaps in anticipation of her impending role as The Great Tibbles’ glamorous assistant, she had spent the afternoon reducing the square yardage of her veils by a considerable amount, thus assuring maximum display of her charms from the get-go of her number, a specially selected hump-a-dump rendition of Scheherazade. amid gasps of wonder and disbelief from the otherwise jaded crowd, Henrietta artfully shed veil after veil, revealing, on this night of nights, for the very first time, the entirety of her beauty.
Someone whistled for the cops.
As a contingent of the local vice squad, conveniently headquartered across the street from the establishment, came crashing through the front door, Tibbles ran onto the stage with a large drape he’d grabbed in the wings, threw it over the naked dancer, and hustled her off, stage left, scooping up the seven veils as they went.
“Quick,” he urged. “In here.” He wedged her into a broom closet and, slamming the door, commanded her to stay put until he came for her.
“Oooh,” came her muffled coo. “This is really exciting!” Tibbles groaned and ran back to the stage.
There was pandemonium in the audience as the inebriated masses were engaged in pelting the vice cops with peanuts, shot glasses, and the occasional beer stein. It took about ten minutes to restore order, after which the police were informed by Tibbles that the naked ecdysiast who was the cause of it all had fled the club and was likely streaking through downtown at this very moment, and what the hell were they doing hanging around the club when they should be out chasing her down? The facts appearing irrefutable, the cops rapidly retreated to the safety of the street.
“On with the show,” announced a suddenly brighter Zits-the-B, who appeared finally to be getting into the spirit of things. It was time at last for The Great Tibbles to etch his name into the annals of legendary stage magic.
He began with the usual crappy dime store routines, eliciting the usual crappy responses from the audience.
“Get the hook!”
“Someone make him disappear!”
At all this, Tibbles merely smiled indulgently, as if to say, “Just wait.”
For the penultimate, he performed his usual climactic piece, Sawing a Party Doll in Two. The trick went by both uneventfully and unimpressively, as regulars in the audience only waited for their chance at winning the prize: a brand new fille de joie named, of course, Susie. Since most had seen his act more times than they cared to admit, and since Missy would not be taking the stage, it was now assumed by the unruly mob that the show—despite whatever pathetic acts might still technically be waiting for their moments in the limelight—was for all practical purposes over.
“Wait, wait!” the Great Tibbles called in an unusually commanding voice. People turned to look at the diminutive conjuror onstage, and he continued: “Tonight I have something special to offer—”
Someone interrupted with a catcall.
“Another plastic prosty?” someone yelled. “Batteries included?” hollered another.
Undaunted, Tibbles began his spiel. “Tonight, I will present a magnificent marvel of magical manipulation, a confusing conundrum to create conniptions in all who may confront it, a—”
“An alliterative idiot, is what he is,” mumbled a drunken English teacher.
But Tibbles was not to be stopped. “And so, my friends—”
“Tonight, my assistant and I will incredibly astound you, leaving you filled with wonder and amazement, and asking, how did he do it?
At this, he wheeled the painted cabinet on its stand to center stage.
Gesturing in its direction, he announced, “An ordinary—if gaudy—box. Regard.”
He opened the five panels and rotated the whole apparatus, demonstrating its lack of gimmicks. He then closed all but the front panel.
“And now, allow me to introduce my assistant, the lovely, gracious, and graceful Henrietta Egret.”
Henrietta, beaming, entered from stage right, causing Tibbles to gulp hard. He hadn’t discussed costume with her—there had been no rehearsal or discussion of any kind—and she now appeared wearing far less than advisable to cover her massive essentials, or much of anything else. The besotted members of the audience attempted bravely to withstand escalating nausea in the face of growing curiosity. This was certainly an unexpected event. To a person, he had them all.
“My assistant will now enter the cabinet of mystery.”
Henrietta looked at the three-by-three-by-four cabinet, and from there to Tibbles. Silently, she mouthed, “What?”
Tibbles ignored her. “Ahem. Please enter the cabinet, Miss Egret.”
Looking highly dubious, Henrietta approached the open front of the apparatus. Unsure of how to climb into the thing, she first stuck her head in, and then tried to insert her left knee. This had the unfortunate effect of forcing her giant buttocks straight at the audience.
“Whoa!” came the protest in unison from the unwashed masses.
Henrietta backed up and turned around. Tibbles whispered to her, “Backwards, Henrietta. Backwards.” He motioned with his hands for her to back into the cabinet, sitting on the floor. With considerable effort, she planted her bottom in the box and slid rearward. Achieving success, she next drew up her knees and ducked her head. Finally, she folded her arms across her face, leaving only frightened eyes staring in barely concealed panic above her elbows. Incredibly, her entire mass was now well within the confines of the box. A cheer arose from the onlookers.
“Now push her over a cliff!”
Tibbles ignored them.
“All right, ladies and gentlemen. Watch closely.”
Henrietta, peering out over her crossed arms and drawn-up knees, was trembling with such fear that the whole assemblage had begun to skitter to and fro on the stage. Tibbles again smiled at her, as if to say, “Don’t worry.” But he didn’t say that. What he did say, and it was only for her ears, was, “You are the only person who has ever been kind to me, Henrietta, who has ever really cared for me. And I, Henrietta, care for you.”
As he reached down to close the panel, she whispered, “What are you doing? What’s going to happen to me?”
But Tibbles just continued to radiate that frozen smile and slammed closed the panel, latching it firmly. Silently, he counted to five while a hush overtook the crowd. Then, he unlatched the panel, flung it open, and…Henrietta was gone! There was a collective gasp as the literal enormity of the achievement sunk in. This wasn’t merely the simple disappearance of some blonde sylph. This had been the apparent dematerialization of Moby Dick.
“Mirrors,” someone in the audience cried, but Tibbles next opened the four panels and rotated the box all the way around, allowing clear views from all sides. No, Henrietta was gone. Really gone.
Tibbles faced his remarkably silent audience and announced, “Next, everyone, the coup de grâce.”
“Oh jeez, he’s gonna bring her back.”
He ignored the jibe. Instead, he again closed all but the front panel. “Drummer, a dramatic roll, please, for a dramatic event.”
The drummer, heavy-lidded from his recent horse dose but still thinking clearly enough to conclude that, unfortunately, Tibbles really was going to re-materialize the Hippo of the Seven Veils, gave it his best tribute: HUMP-A-DUMP! HUMP-A-DUMP! HUMP-A-DUMP!
Tibbles scowled at the drummer, who made an obscene gesture but ultimately decided to cooperate with a weak, if respectful, conventional roll.
“And now,” Tibbles announced expansively, “The glorious finale. The moment you’ve all so eagerly anticipated. The pièce de résistance: The Great Tibbles’ Grandest Illusion!”
So saying, Horace Tibbles, himself, climbed into the cabinet and, with a long last look at the admiring crowd, reached down and slammed closed the front panel. The latch wiggled fast, fastened through a slit from the inside. And then…silence.
A murmur stirred the crowd as seconds, then a minute, then a minute and a half went by and nothing happened. Someone in the crowd yelled, “Open the box!”
Zits-the-B, puzzled by this unexpected turn of events, cautiously approached the sealed box. “Tibbles?” he called softly. “Tibbles, are you in there?”
Finally, he slid open the latch and swung open the panel door. The cabinet was completely empty. Empty, that is, except for seven silk veils, recently reduced in size. Zits-the-B was at a total loss for words. He looked back and forth between the empty cabinet and the audience. “He’s gone. I mean, she’s gone. I mean, they’re gone.” His befuddlement was almost charming.
A search was begun. No room, no closet, no alcove or possible hiding place was missed in the increasingly frantic effort to find the two performers, but it was all to no avail. And so, in the end, there was nothing left but wishful thinking, the fantasy that the magician and his assistant had to be somewhere and, perhaps, even somewhere better than the Vroom Vroom Room.
Maybe so. Or not. But then, perhaps, where wasn’t really the point so much as, well, just the escape.
Now read the book, available on Amazon.com in print and Kindle editions.