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February 5, 2018

7. The Deal

Magicians are a unique person. They are a kind of person that want center stage, all the attention, large crowds, and applause—but also must be behind closed doors to learn and perfect their performance, to study their craft in private. This public and private dichotomy can ignite frustration and friction, and turn amateur magicians away from magic entirely—or away from others. Some turn to darker arts to perfect their skill. Only a certain, very specific kind of person, can achieve public success as a professional magician. Some bridges must burn.

This is the story of a magician. Ricky Fingers, also known by his stages names Tricky Rick, The Trick, Golden Fingers, and The Golden Hand.

His magic spoke in tongues. Across languages and dialects, transcendent. He was a stage performer, he was a street performer. His magic could not be held down. The white gleam of his teeth and sharpness of his eyes were centripetal, pulling inward.

* * *

The stage lights dimmed. Skeptics and fans from the sold out auditorium whispered their rumors and feelings.

“Ricky Fingers isn’t his real name, is it?”
“I think he changed it in high school or something. Forever changed his genealogy.”
“Remember the children’s cartoon character, Snidely Whiplash?”
“Same silly mustache.”
“He’s just so tall!”
“This is my fifth time seeing him.”
“What a scarecrow up on that stage, isn’t he, so lanky.”
“His Wikipedia page says he has a pact with the devil. No source. Obviously.”

* * *

Raucous white noise of applause filled the auditorium. “Thank you, thank you,” he whispered after his signature opening act.
Best magician in the world! Head to toe and hip to hip, he was magical through and through. He was successful.

Goldie Fingers, his wife and assistant, would always wear extravagant gold earrings, necklaces, and bracelets on stage. One of Ricky’s acts was to address the audience, address Goldie, take off a piece of her enormous golden jewelry, and fit it within his closed hands. Then, with his hands clasped, he’d whisper in Goldie’s ear. She’d nod, smile, and announce a name. This time, “Tammy Baker!” Followed confidently with, “Please look in the left pocket of your red peacoat!” After only a moment, a scream of awe came from the balcony above. Tammy, apparently, stood up and waved the necklace from her hands in ecstasy. From below Ricky opened his now empty hands and grinned as wide as his lips and face would allow. Goldie smiled courteously and nodded. The crowd clapped, loved it. Some women would only attend with high hopes of being the chosen jewelry-subject.

For his encore Goldie left the stage. The lights dimmed and Rick went center stage. His ominous form enshrouded in darkness within the huge space of the amiptheater. His arms raised and his head bowed. There was absolute silence.

Theatrically the lights came back, at full blast. Everyone squinted from the sudden brightness. Suspense was thick in the air. Was this planned? Rick’s head popped up, surprised and disappointed—this was not his plan. He looked around confused. There, just ten feet away was a man, casually standing on stage. In street clothes he stood out improperly next to the magnificence and beauty of Rick.

“Charlie,” Rick whispered. “What are you doing here?” Horror spilled over Rick’s face.

The man did not move. He only bowed his head. The lights shut out. Audibly they cut completely. A collective gasp. Darkness once again blanketed the theater. Eyes from all of the audience could not adjust in time before emergency lights kicked in. The stage was now empty.

Goldie rushed this stage. She knew the script and this had gone wrong. Where was Rick? And where was that man? No time has passed for any kind of escape. The audience murmured. Some stood up for a better view. This was clearly not planned. The curtains fell slowly. Goldie at center stage—speechless, confused, and frightened.

* * *

Two days later, Rick made his way back home. Rick had woken up in his stage attire, in a cabin ten miles up the road. Authorities were helpless: no injuries, no foul play, no suspect. Rick had no recollection of what had happened or how he’d gone from the theater of hundreds to a drafty house off a beaten path miles away. Every major news outlet ran something on the night and Rick’s disappearance. Goldie thought he was dead until he walked into his own house again.

Ricky Fingers made a public appearance the next day, a press release. He acknowledged something mysterious and onerous, and called out the anonymous perpetrator, threatening legal action and serious consequences. Shortly after, more tour dates were announced and Rick was back in the magic spotlight. Things had smoothed over.

* * *

“Who was that man?” Goldie finally ventured. Enough time had passed that she felt comfortable breaching the subject of Rick’s traumatic and mysterious disappearance. He was a stage magician and had been strangely teleported in a show of stronger magic. And somehow he seemed to recognize the man. He had shown it in his face when Rick saw the other man on stage.
“An old friend.” Rick was candid. “We practiced magic together in college. He was a real friend. Then Charlie—that’s his name, Charlie.”

“What happened while you were away? I mean, those two days, do you remember any of it? How you got there or if this Charlie has anything to do with it?” Goldie felt herself ask more than she wanted. It just flew out of mouth after these recent weeks of holding in all of her thoughts and questions.

Rick turned his face. He stared out the window to gather himself. “In the five years I’ve been performing—successfully, I mean—I haven’t held up my end of the deal.”

“What ‘deal’? Is this a legal issue?” Goldie softened. She was sympathic. “We can pay whatever it takes.”

“Charlie died in car accident. He was 22. But a body was never found. It was his car and another car, a real collision. But no Charlie. We had a funeral. A real funeral. I attended my friend’s funeral. In the back of my mind I wondered if it was a trick. Some impassioned magic scheme. But he never showed up. I thought he was dead. For two decades I've thought my friend was dead.” Rick was visibly shaking. “The Charlie that I saw, on the stage and at the cabin, he was still 22. He hadn’t aged a bit. I can’t tell if it was a ghost or if it was some elaborate hoax—that sounds so stupid.”

Goldie was speechless.

“Before Charlie died we made a pact. A deal. Whoever was successful between he and I, we’d bring in the other as a support act, help the other out. I’ve thought about him every night since then. But how do you include your friend in your success when he’s dead—when he’s been gone for so long?”

This piece started as something a little silly with a caricatured magician who has it all. Even Goldie is a bit cartoonish. Then I threw in some mysterious tension with Charlie and things got a little suspenseful. I also considered swapping the names of Rick and Charlie to better match their personalities. I never really corrected some of the tonal inconsistencies but I really like the general plot. In an effort to move on and write another story, this one is incomplete. I might amend this to “part 1” and add a new, separate story as “part 2.”