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We were asked to write about something fake.I discussed it with my wife and she came up with the basic idea that lies behind this story. So I've included her name as a collaborator. I must confess, I'm not completely happy with the story -- I do like the idea, but I'm not best pleased with my implementation of it. My wife, on the other hand, likes it a lot. Perhaps I'm just too close to the words at the moment...

Tricks of the Trade


Alan Robson and Robin Clarke

The applause was loud and long as the stage magician who billed himself as the Magnificent Maurice took his bow. I joined in the applause with enthusiasm. His was the best performance I’d seen for many a year, though I felt I had an insight into his technique that the rest of the audience did not share with me. Too many years of watching magicians perform, I suppose. He straightened up from his bow and gestured to the wings. His beautiful assistant Beth joined him on the stage and the applause got even louder. She looked pretty and poised and unruffled, quite a feat considering that for his last trick, Maurice had sawn her in half. The blood that had dripped on the stage seemed very realistic and her screams had been the stuff of which nightmares are made. She curtsied, smiled and blew kisses to the audience then she too took a bow, acknowledging the applause. I was mildly surprised that she didn’t fall apart into two pieces. Clearly Maurice had done his job well.

The applause died down. Maurice and Beth left the stage and the master of ceremonies came on to introduce the next act. I slipped away and headed backstage towards the dressing rooms. Nobody tried to stop me or enquired as to my business. I made very sure of that.

I found Maurice’s dressing room without any difficulty. I knocked on the door.

"Come in!", he called.

I opened the door and went in. Maurice was sitting in front of a mirror removing his stage make up. He frowned as the reflection of the door swung open in his mirror, puzzled that he couldn’t see me coming in. He swung round to face me, looking mildly surprised as he realised that there was someone there after all. "Hello," I said. "My name is Jonathan Varley. I’m the secretary of the Magic Circle and I think that you and I need to have a long talk."

Maurice looked worried. "I’m not a member of the Magic Circle," he said.

"No," I agreed. "But perhaps you should be."

"There’s a pub across the road," said Maurice. "Beth and I will meet you there in about twenty minutes."

"All right," I agreed, and he went back to removing his make up. He watched the door open and close in his mirror, but he didn’t see me leave.

* * * *

The pub was quite crowded and there were no spare tables. I bought myself a beer and then I made certain arrangements. A table quickly became vacant and I sat down to wait for Maurice and Beth. They saw me as soon as they came in. Maurice nodded to me and they went to the bar to order drinks. A beer for Maurice and a gin and tonic for Beth. I made sure that they were served immediately. The sooner we got our conversation out of the way, the better I’d be pleased. They joined me at my table. "Thank you for coming," I said.

Maurice took a big gulp of beer. "What do you want with us?" he asked.

"I was very impressed with your act," I said. "Most stage magicians depend on smoke and mirrors, sleight of hand and misdirection. You don’t do any of that."

Maurice and Beth exchanged a wary glance. I could see that they were still uncertain about me. "What do you mean?" asked Maurice.

"I mean that generally speaking, stage magicians are fakes," I said, "because, unlike you, they don’t use real magic."

Beth choked a bit on her gin and tonic, but she said nothing. Maurice said, "So real stage magicians are fakes because they are not using magic, and I’m not a real stage magician because I do use magic. Therefore I’m a fake stage magician. Is that what you mean?"

"That’s right," I said, "though your syntax leaves a lot to be desired."

Beth spoke for the first time. "That’s quite a paradox," she said. "He’s fake because he’s real and the others are real because they are fakes." She laughed. "Pair of ducks," she said.

"What makes you think there’s real magic involved in my act?" asked Maurice.

"I belong to the Magic Circle," I said. "Only real magicians are allowed to join. Therefore you can be sure that I know real magic when I see it. I’m here to extend an invitation to you."

Maurice shook his head. "I think not," he said.

His beer glass was empty now. "Do you want another?" I asked him.

"Yes, please," he said.

I glanced around the pub. I spotted a man who had just sat down with a fresh pint. I transferred the beer from his glass to Maurice’s. The man looked rather surprised. Had he really been drinking that fast?

"Thank you," said Maurice, "but I’m still not going to join your Magic Circle."

"Why not?" I asked.

"Because by your definition, I’m real," said Maurice, "so I’m not eligible."

Beth leaned across the table and took hold of my ears, one in each hand. "Quack, quack," she said softly and she pulled a duck out of my left ear and another duck out of my right ear. She put them both down on the table. "Pair of ducks," she said, and sat back in her chair again. The ducks looked a bit surprised, as well they might. And that’s when the penny dropped of course.

"So you’re the actual magician," I said. "Maurice is just your assistant even though you pretend otherwise on stage."

"That’s right," said Bess. "I’m just a bimbo as far as the world is concerned. So I can’t join your Magic Circle either. It would ruin my reputation."

"Quack, quack," said the ducks, but nobody heard them. One of the ducks tried to take a drink from my pint of beer. I moved the glass out of its way and then, feeling annoyed, I nailed both the ducks to the wall; ceramic ornaments flying in formation, what a cliché. Perhaps I should paint a mural while I was at it.

"It would certainly lead to problems," I admitted. "The Magic Circle is exclusively male."

"I thought it might be," said Beth. "These things generally are. I think perhaps you’d better go back to where you came from now, before you make me do something I’ll probably come to regret."

Everybody in the pub watched as I left, but nobody saw me go.

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