by Mark Wetzler
“Welcome, welcome! Gather round! That’s it, closer now. Closer now, everyone, don’t be shy. The show’s about to start. You there, why don’t you come just a hair closer? Just a step! You’ll have a much better view. I can guarantee you don’t want to miss this. And you there, sir, if you wouldn’t mind putting your phone away. I need your full concentration. What’s that you say? Well, yes, it is a free country! You’re exactly right about that. You’re free to miss the show, though I can guarantee you’ll regret it. Oh, you’ll see soon enough. You’ll all see. Now gather round, that’s it, just a bit closer. Miss, are you going to watch? I don’t mean to be rude but I’d prefer you to either watch or distance yourself a bit. Can’t have bystanders around. No, that won’t do. That won’t do at all. Yes, of course I know what I’m doing! No, you don’t need a permit for this. It’ll just take a second. Sir, I’m going to ask your one last time, please put your phone away. Pardon me? I would gladly, sir, but I’m not much of a fighter. Maybe next time. I need to concentrate now.”
Hector was the first to notice him. “The magician’s here again,” he said to the captain. “Would you like me to shut him down?”
“No, no, that won’t be necessary.” the captain said. “I quite like watching him. We could even make some tea and go sit on the balcony.”
“Sir, need I remind you a young girl was burned last time?”
“No, Sergeant Bilkes, actually you needn’t remind me. I remember it quite well. I was the one who called her mother.”
“They were third degree burns, sir.”
“Indeed they were. Indeed they were,” the captain said, staring off into the plaza.
“I can’t take anymore of this,” Hector said, starting for the stairs.
“Sergeant Bilkes! If you shut him down, I’ll have recommended for demotion. How would you like that?”
Sergeant Bilkes stopped still, his head cast down.
“I wouldn’t like that, sir.”
“Then let the man work. Every town needs a magician, you know. Besides, it’s Christmas.”
“It’s March 14th, sir.”
The two watched as the magician readied a top hat and waved a magic wand over it. The crowd was gathered around close, trying to peer into the hat. The man who’d been on his phone had now put it down and was gazing over, his phone limp in his hand like a dead brook trout.
“And now,” the magician said, “For the moment you’ve all been waiting for. From this hat, I will make spring something you’ll never believe you’ve seen with your own two eyes, something you didn’t think even existed on planet earth!”
Ooh, this is a good one, the captain thought, taking a sip of his tea. The last one had been good, too. Were the child’s burns lamentable? Yes. But there was a price for genius.
“Come on! Come on!” shrieked a boy in the front. “What is it?”
Shut up, you stupid boy, the captain thought. The magician hated to be rushed. The captain saw a momentary snarl flash across his face, and then he regained his composure.
“Oh to hell with it,” Hector said, and started out the door.
“I shall count to three,” the magician said, “and the mystery will be revealed. A sight beyond your wildest dreams, a feat accomplished by no other magician on earth…”
Hector flew down the stairs, hands on the banisters, his legs churning. He wasn’t going to let this madman do anything. Last time the little girl’s cries had been sickening. The ambulance took 45 minutes to arrive. The doctor said her face would be permanently disfigured.
The captain made a mental note to have Hector recommended for demotion, if not dismissed from the force.
“One!” the magician said.
The crowd hushed. Hector had exited the police commissary and was half a football field away.
The captain took another sip of his tea. It was Tetley’s. He drank nothing else.
“Three!” the magician crowed, just as Hector arrived.
There was a popping noise followed by a cloud of smoke and the magician disappeared, along with the crowd. Hector stared, his mouth open. Slowly, the smoke began to clear. Hector heard them before he saw them, their faint quacking noises. He saw about twenty of them, huddled around a bigger one, and the bigger one had plumage that resembled a cape. One of them was standing off to the side, preening itself and pretending to not be interested.
Hector tried to shout for help but it caught in his throat and the only thing that came out was a small, perfunctory “quack.”
He heard clapping coming from the balcony and turned around.
“Bravo,” the captain was shouting, standing now, “Bravo!”