Sunday, October 7, 2007

Chapter One

Chicago, 1985

Mac's, the sign said. “Happy Hour 2 to7.”

I had wandered the two blocks from my apartment and found myself standing outside the door debating whether I really wanted to go in.

Oh, what the hell! Even though I had missed happy hour, it was still early and I did have more to celebrate than the average Joe on a Friday night. And what better place to celebrate life and the joy of living than somewhere with people! That seat over there looks just perfect.

“Excuse me. Do you mind if I sit here? Thanks. Hi! My name is Brent. Brent Teller. I'm the guy responsible for saving the world. All worlds. Every world of every when … Hey! Where are you going?

“Well, that's gratitude for you… I save the world and she gets up and leaves without so much as a thank you!”

“What'll it be, buddy?”

“You must be Mac.”

“Maybe. Depends on who's askin'. Whatcha drinkin'?”

“Scotch. Best you have, on the rocks. Easy on the rocks.”

“That'll be $4.50.”

“I was kind of hoping that this one would be on the house. You know, as a small way of saying thank you for saving the world — just rewards for services well rendered.”

“You just saved the world?”

“Got back about an hour ago.”

“Uh-huh. Drink's still $4.50.”

“Oh I had help, of course. I'm not cut out to be a world saver on my own. But, you could say I was the spool that the scroll of time was threaded on. Really.”

“Drink's still $4.50, buddy.”

“Okay, okay, so you don't believe me. Why don't we just forget that I said anything at all. I wouldn't want you to not believe me to the point where you decided to call the guys in white jackets with the butterfly nets.”

“I'm gonna call the cops if you don't pay me the $4.50 for that drink as of now.”

“All right. No need to get nasty. I just thought you might like to buy me a drink for rescuing the wor … never mind. The world did not almost come to an end; and even if it did, there is not a single thing a guy like me could do about it, right? Here's a five. Keep the change.”

Brent, buddy, you are just going to have to keep your mouth shut on this one. You try to tell this story and somebody will call the guys at the Happy Hilton and they will have a nice private room reserved in your name. With padded walls so you can't hurt your head any further. Better to just drink up, go back home and forget it. Forget everything. Forget the last eight weeks (or, was it four-thousand years?) ever happened. Forget Sheila, and Gorian, and wizards and, most of all, forget the day your best friend Doug asked if you wanted to learn to be a …

“A magician! Are you crazy?

“No, don't answer that; you are crazy. How in the world did you ever come up with that screwball idea? A magician!? Good God! What possible motive can you have for wanting to become a magician?”

“A magician, a good magician, can make beaucoup diñero,” he explained patiently.

“I should have known it had something to do with money — even if you can't keep your languages straight.”

Doug had had a lot of goofy ideas in the past, but this one took the cake. How did he expect me to get up and perform in front of a crowd? He knew I couldn't do that!

“All we need is a couple of decent tricks, something to snare people's attention, and word of mouth will do the rest. Bookings will come easy; everything from birthday parties to actual shows where we are the main attraction. Look at Doug Haney.”

“Doug Henning,” I corrected.

“Yeah, him too. Look at Houdini.”

“Houdini is dead.”

“But when he was alive, he was the greatest illusionist the world had ever seen. I think this class will be fun. I want to learn to make my wife disappear — that way, when she starts in on me all I have to say is ‘abracadabra’, and POOF! No more wife.”

Kim, who was sitting next to him on the couch, slugged his arm.

“Just try it,” she said.

“Hey! I was only kidding,” he protested.

Kim just glared at him.

Sensing a major confrontation brewing, I very tactfully tried to steer the conversation back to safer ground.

“A magician, huh?”

Doug nodded.

“Good money?”

He nodded again.

“Do you honestly think we could, uh… pull it off, so to speak?”

He nodded again.

This man is a brilliant conversationalist.

“Okay, bottom line — how much is this opportunity of a lifetime going to cost me?”

“Only seventy-five dollars.”

“Seventy what? I was right; you are crazy. Extremely so. Seventy-five dollars. Good lord!”

“We can make that back in one show.”

“We? What we? I suppose you already have us billed as a team somewhere? Thank you very much for consulting me first!”

“Oh, come on, Brent! Of course I have us billed as a team — what are friends for? I don't want to do this alone. Anyway, my dad's lodge is having a chapter meeting in two months and we just happen to be the scheduled entertainment. We get two-hundred bucks just to go pull a couple of rabbits out of a hat. Nothin' to it.”

“Two hundred dollars for doing one show? You're right! That is beaucoup diñero!”

Doug nodded in agreement.

“Correct me if I'm wrong, Doug, but doesn't that work out to be about a hundred a piece?”

“Well, I think I should get an agent's fee — after all, I did all the legwork in procuring us this booking.”

“Sure. Fine. How about ten bucks more? Sound fair?”

“Umm… I was thinking approximately twelve and one-half percent — you know, a real agent's fee. That's the going rate.”

“All right, fine. You can have the twenty-five dollars this time, just so I get my seventy-five back.”

I hated to admit it, but I was intrigued.

“When does this class start?”

“In two weeks. It runs three nights a week: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for two months.”

“Going to night school to learn how to be a magician. I sure don't want to put that on a résumé.”

Doug shrugged.

“Had to be night school … we're both working days.”

Not only is this man amazingly brilliant in conversation, he also possesses a keen appreciation for sarcasm.

“So, are you going to fill me in on the details as to just how, when, and where we sign up for this class, or do I have to guess?”

“Sorry,” he said. “We can register tomorrow afternoon at the admitting office for the college. I'll pick you up after work.”

“Tomorrow… uh, okay, I guess.” Having second thoughts now.

“You sure you want to go through with this scheme?”

Again, he just nodded.

“Sure! This will be great! Not only can we make some extra money, but we can actually enjoy ourselves doing it. And that, I'm convinced, is how God intended work to be.”

“Well, okay. I'll go along for the ride. Now, if there's nothing else I should know, I'm going to go back downstairs to my apartment and try to psychoanalyze myself to see if I can figure out exactly why I allow you to rope me into these things.”

“Like I said, what are friends for? Besides, you can't be a stick in the mud all your life! Oh, before you leave, there is one other small detail you can help me with.”

“It's too late at night to move the piano.”

“We don't have a piano.”

“Can't be spring cleaning — it's the middle of January.” “Nope.”

“Here we go with the twenty questions game.”

“It's just that I'm a little hesitant to ask,” he said, examining his feet.

“How much do you need?”

“What makes you think it's about money?”

“'Cause it's the only time you're hesitant to ask anything.”

“Well, I have fifty, but I don't get paid until next week. And since you're offering, can I borrow twenty-five dollars for tomorrow?”

My turn to nod.

Apart from being extremely skeptical about the whole idea, I couldn't think of a good reason not to go through with it, so, Doug and I went to the college the next afternoon to register for the magician's class. The official name was Prestidigitation 101. Hell, I can't even pronounce that one!

We had stopped just inside the door to the admitting office when the one trait I'm exceptionally famous for (cold feet) made yet another appearance. I was about to ask him, for at least the second time, if he still wanted to pursue this crazy idea, when a girl that could easily have passed for Miss America walked in.

After smiling briefly at me (Doug said it was because my eyes were bulging) she proceeded straight to the secretary's desk and when she spoke her voice was like music.

“I want to sign up for Prestidigitation 101.”

“Like I was saying, Doug ol' buddy, this may not be such a bad idea, after all.”

I sauntered up to the desk and asked what I needed to do to enroll.

“Fill out these forms, sign every one and bring them all back to me. You may use one of those desks over by the door.”

She waved me in the general direction of the corner, dismissing me as a necessary evil of her job.

I saw only two desks, and the girl of my dreams had one, so I nonchalantly seated myself in the other. After picking my paperwork up off the floor. Guess I wasn't looking where I was putting it and missed the desk top.

She looked up at me and smiled again, and somehow, I knew that it was my calling in life to be a magician.

College enrollment forms never seem to change. I had been out of college for three years, but I'm certain the questions were still the same. I'll bet Benjamin Franklin had probably answered identical questions.




Next of kin.

Highest grade level completed.

Job status.

Classes interested in.

And finally, (read most importantly) How do you expect to pay for all this?

All of these in triplicate — carbon paper must be verboten.

Class cards, student handbooks, etc… etc… etc… While completing the pile of nonsense for this class, I did manage to notice that her name was Sheila. I couldn't quite read her phone number, but there would be plenty of time in class to obtain that information. I returned my registration cards to the secretary.

She took one, and without ever looking at me, proceeded to give fifteen minutes of directions on how to find the main office for incoming students. (I thought that's what the admitting office was for) One card here, another five minutes of directions to get from there to the finance office (the closest thing to the throne of God on any college campus). One card here, plus my seventy-five dollars (and, lest I forget, another twenty-five for Doug) and I would be completely prepared to become a magician.

Armed with my remaining class cards, my directions, and my soon to be empty checkbook, I went looking for Doug. I don't know how he managed to be waiting in the hall for me; maybe the receptionist felt that he didn't need a year's worth of directions. More likely, he'd probably expected me to get them anyway.

“What took you so long?𔄢, he asked. “I've been waiting out here for twenty minutes. What did you do, ask the secretary out on a date?”

“No. I just asked her what was next, and she proceeded to give me the entire run-down.”

“Come on, let's go,” Doug said.

We found the main office for incoming students and the finance office with no trouble. I wouldn't have needed all those instructions; they were the ones with the longest lines out in front. We must have stood in line for an hour outside of each office.

I kept glancing furtively around, trying to catch another glimpse of Sheila, but the room was simply too full to pick out a single face. Doug suggested that maybe she was hiding from me. I didn't think so.

Finally, the entire paper chase was completed and we left for home. I spent the following two weeks just readying myself to become a magician.

Obviously, there wasn't much to do except wait, but I did more waiting for that one class to start than anything else I could remember. I had never realized that magic, illusion, and all they entailed could interest me so much. Strange how we discover purely by accident what career choices excite us the most.

The Friday before class started, Doug called to say that he had dropped it. Gave me some flimsy excuse about getting transferred to nights.

Personally, I think Kim thought he was serious about learning to make her disappear and talked him out of it.

“Oh, and uh… since I can't make it, I had to cancel us for the lodge meeting — I was sure you wouldn't mind, especially since you don't like performing in front of a crowd. Have a good weekend, Brent.”

“Have a good weekend? Have a good weekend? You talk me into signing up for this stupid seventy-five dollar class, borrow twenty-five bucks so I can have the privilege of being part of some stupid magicians' team and then back out and cancel our first appearance?”

Sheila or no Sheila, this was an extremely serious matter — I had to recoup my losses.

“Just how do you expect me to get my money back? Hello? Hello? Bastard!”

After what must have been several seconds of deep soul searching, I reached a decision. The best option I could see was simply to call the college and drop the course. That way I could avoid the complete embarrassment of very possibly flunking. Making a fool of myself in front of people I knew was one thing — they expected it. But in a roomful of strangers … No, thank you!

Having reached this decision, I called the college.

“I'm sorry, sir, but regulations clearly forbid the refunding of tuition fees after the registration deadline. If you had read your student handbook you would have been aware of this.”

“I was never given a student handbook!”

“Sir, that is impossible. Everyone is given a student handbook when they register. I'm afraid I simply cannot refund your money after the deadline.”

Call me a fool; tell me I'm a born masochist — I couldn't help it. I had to know when the registration deadline was. Taking a deep breath, I plunged headlong into the turbulent waters.

“What was the last day for cancellation?”

“Yesterday. Thank you for calling, sir. Please don't hesitate to call if we can be of assistance in the future. We are here to help, you know. And, oh yes, have a nice weekend.”

I thanked her and hung up.

It was shaping up to be an absolutely fantastic weekend.

1 comment:

Magdalen Islands said...

Great start, Michael! Now you have me waiting and wanting more! :)