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Nevermore by William Hjortsberg (Excerpt)

Nevermore by William Hjortsberg (Excerpt)

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Published by OpenRoadMedia
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini team up to search for a literary-minded killer
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini team up to search for a literary-minded killer

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Published by: OpenRoadMedia on Mar 01, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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By William HjortsbergHOCUS POCUS
THE MAGICIAN STOOD ALONE in the shadows backstage. Short,stocky, and middle-aged, he parted his dark shock of wiry gray-flecked hair straight down the middle. A surprising number of men still sported this Gay Nineties barbershop quartet look at the start of the Jazz Age, the brave newtommy gun decade when flappers and bathtub gin became as American asapple pie and the G.A.R.Despite impeccable tailoring, the magician’s evening clothes looked perpetually rumpled. He had never been known as a fashion plate. When justa teenager first starting out, he wore suits several sizes too large, like a kid inhand-me-downs. Perhaps this was deliberate, a misdirection worthy of amaster in the arts of deception. Watching him, one never suspected thestarched dickey and wrinkled soup and fish concealed an athlete’s bodyhoned by years of diligent exercise.It was not his nature ever to be idle. Waiting in the wings before histurn, listening to the house orchestra play an Irving Berlin medley, he kepthis hands busy with a pair of lucky silver half-dollars. He rolled them fromknuckle to knuckle across the backs of his hands, a flourish as difficult asany known in magic. The coins moved with delusive ease, round and round, propelled by an imperceptible flexing of his tendons. His eyes slid shut. His
head slumped forward. He looked like a man in a trance, the rotating coins part of the deepest meditation.The magician was the headliner, the most famous name on the big-time vaudeville circuit, topping the bill at the Palace, one thousand, eight-hundred simoleons a week for two shows a day. He listened to the applausesurging and crashing beyond the footlights like storm-driven surf. Theorchestra’s string section trembled on the last notes of “A Pretty Girl Is Likea Melodyas if overwhelmed by the frenzied clapping. “Conrad andSpeers,” the ballroom dancing team, were getting an enthusiastic hand. Themagician had never seen their act, but the reaction to their finish gave himgreat pleasure. A warmed-up audience meant his own reception would beenormous.“Dapper Dave” Conrad and Violette Speers traipsed off hand in hand, pausing behind the stage right tormentor. Draped in shadows, the magicianwatched them exchange hissed insults, their faces sudden savage masks of hate. In a moment, it was time to waltz back on for a final bow, and thefrozen smiles snapped into place like instant makeup.Conrad and Speers were an act in one. They performed on the apron between the footlights and a painted drop, making entrances and exitswithout a curtain, timing their calls precisely. Smiling, ever-smiling, theyswirled into the wings in each other’s arms as the applause died and themajestic house curtain descended.A stagehand hauling the show drop aloft whispered: “You two were a panic. Knocked ’em dead.” Conrad and Speers stalked past him without aword, heading for their dressing room dour as prisoners walking the last

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