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There was a warm fire crackling in the fireplace. The sound of popping wood and the light smell of smoke was comforting on the cold night. Earlier in the day it had snowed hard, but now snowflakes drifted lazily down from an inky sky. The dark seemed impenetrable and nights like this assured that no one would be out and about causing trouble or visiting. The sole occupant of the small flat poured a small glass of cognac from a crystal decanter. He carried the fine crystal glass and set it down on a shabby side table next to a leather chair, which sat right in front of the fireplace. The fire had warmed the leather, making it feel like the embrace of an old friend. The man picked up a small leather journal, a newspaper and a pen. He settled into the chair with a heavy sigh. He could feel the weight of the week leaving him. It was nearly Christmas and Inspector Andrew Wickensham was very happy that he had wrapped up some of the worst cases he had seen in his career as an Inspector with the local police force. These cases were like the serial stories in the pulp magazines of the day. Each discovery led to more murder and sickness. Each story got worse, like those that could only be conceived by an author, only these weren’t works of fiction. It was like it would never end. The paperboys had carried on for days about the grisly murders and the strange goings on. The entire town was in an uproar. While the papers had reveled in revealing every lurid detail, they also said that Wickensham was a hero. He took some small comfort and quite a bit of pride in that. He looked out the window pane absentmindedly, as he cut out a newspaper article to paste into his journal. He kept a journal that chronicled his exploits. He liked to image that maybe one day he would get his memoirs published and so he kept a journal of the newspaper articles and is
personal reflections. His work as an inspector had taught him that memory is a fleeting and ever changing thing. It was as amorphous as a dream and could be misinterpreted like one as well. As he looked out the window, he noticed that the flicker of the gas street lights made little golden halos in the frosty windows. This cheered him somewhat. He thought of Renaissance paintings and how those designated as holy always had the gilded halos surrounding them to denote them as sacred. Maybe God was showing his satisfaction with the work of Wickensham. Maybe the halos were a sign. He was actually looking forward to Christmas now. Wickensham finished pasting the article in the journal and he set it aside for a moment. He wanted to think about what he would write in the journal before he put ink to paper. Wickensham struck a match and lit his pipe. He pulled in sharply as the warm, vanilla, woody taste filled his mouth. He exhaled a thick ring of smoke that circled his bushy head. Again, the smoke reminded him of the halo. He must be blessed. Wickensham had wiry red hair and a large moustache. His equally bushy eyebrows were unruly and he had long ago given up on containing them. He had a slight frame and was strong but thin. As he caught his reflection in the window, he started to reconsider the holy figure that he was imagining for himself. He supposed that one day he might actually look like St. Nicholas, once his hair turned white and assuming he developed a paunch in his old age, like most men did. That would be more likely than Christ. Wickensham was not a man who spooked easily. He had seen it all. Eviscerated bodies, decapitations, unmentionable cruelty were all a part of the job. As an inspector, he had worked many homicides. However, he had been obsessing over the whole sordid affair for several weeks. Livingston’s murder wasn’t particularly gruesome. It was just that the entire incident was bizarre. Perhaps if it had been more gruesome he would be less troubled by the whole ordeal. Lilly Williams’ murder was easy enough to understand, but something had still bothered him about the whole ordeal. He took a few more deep draws on his pipe and then emptied the ash and set it on the table beside him. He pushed the thoughts out of his mind. These cases were over, he reminded himself. He started writing in his journal. He wanted to document the very strange ordeal he had been through. This was a good night indeed. The ink flowed smoothly from the pen and he had to go back to the ink well repeatedly. The story seemed to flow from the pen of its own accord. He sat and sipped on the cognac while he wrote. An hour went past while he transcribed his thoughts onto paper. He noticed that he had drained the cognac. He got up to pour another drink. Wickensham didn’t have much in the way of nice possessions in his flat, but he was proud of the crystal decanters and glasses, which was all he had left from his father. He noticed the weight
and quality and smiled to himself. The only nice thing his father owned was a bar set, which was fitting, since drink was all the man had cared about. He was smart and driven, but cold and often addled with drink. Nonetheless, Wickensham couldn’t help but to smile as he thought about his father. As is often the case, when thinking back, once tends to remember the good things and push out the bad. Suddenly, mid thought, his smile froze and turned into a frown. He smelled something. He smelled smoke. He turned and looked to his side table by his chair. Though he had just emptied his pipe, it clearly was smoking. He went to the side table and picked up the pipe. It was cool to the touch and was not smoking no, but he knew he saw it and the smell still lingered. Something was strange here. Maybe the cognac was just getting to him. After all, he had eaten no dinner. He shook his head to clear it, and sank back into his chair. Obviously, the case had gotten to him more than he thought. Once the story was all written down, maybe the haunting memories would leave him alone. Wickensham opened his notebook to where he had left off. He had just finished filling a page before he rose to get the cognac. Now, he turned to a blank page to continue his writing. Though he was sure had written nothing on it, there was now spidery handwriting across it. It said, “Help me…LW.”
This is a good story for the good old smoking pipe trick. It is covered with several different variations in Modern Chemical Magic by John Lippy, Jr., an easy to obtain, if somewhat dated text. The chemicals used are ammonium hydroxide and hydrochloric acid. You may be thinking, where am I going to get these chemicals? Never fear though, regular household ammonia will work. Also, look at the local hardware store for concrete cleaners. Most of them are nothing more than hydrochloric acid. Maybe the use of chemicals isn’t something you want to do. How about introducing the smell of pipe tobacco or smoke for the suggestion of a smoking pipe? How could you do this? A box filled with pipe tobacco that is surreptitiously opened may work well. How about using a self emptying glass while telling the tale about the cognac? While you are telling the story, you can cover it with a cloth and then show it empty. In the alterative, a simple mirrored glass would work just as well. Another alternative is to cut a piece of colored plastic film and insert it into a nice glass, making it look like it has liquid in it. Then, cover the glass. When removing the handkerchief, carry the plastic film away with the handkerchief, showing the glass empty. How about the writing in the book? You could use the Svengali book principle. If you are somehow unfamiliar with this, it is covered in Mark Wilson’s Complete Course in Magic in “The Sorcerer’s Stamp Album” on page 352. This would be a lot of work, but would look pretty cool to have an empty book, or one with pasted newspaper articles. Then when you finish the story, you show it again and every page has “Help Me” scrawled across it. If that is too much work, then how about using the Out to Lunch principle to make the writing appear? I am going to assume that you are familiar with Out to Lunch. If not, again go to one of the great general texts, Mark Wilson’s Complete Course in Magic. This is covered in the routine “The Genii Saves the Day” on page 170. This would be very simple and could work well with the story.