“You look like a guy in show biz,” said Jack. “You look like someone who belongs in a magic show, which is what people expect.”
“I look like I belong in a '70s variety show … and I don't even know how to get down and get funky.”
“I'm sure it will be very simple, Andy,” said Jack, suddenly tightening my tie. “All you have to do is be a prop for the illusions to be done around.”
“Do I have to burn everyone's eyes out as I do so?”
Jack lined up several items on the console table in front of me. “I've been working in the lab,” said Jack. “You have your choice of hidden camera devices, depending on the situation.”
I suddenly felt like Bond with his Q … a more flamboyant parody on Bond, either that or Batman, not the Dark Knight, but the Knight in White Satin, with his Alfred.
The first item was a paper coffee cup with a lid and cardboard cuff, the kind that we would pick up at the Salvador Deli. Jack showed me where the miniscule hole was for the camera and how to further conceal it by the placement of my hand on the cup, as well as turning the camera on and off. “You can spy on Zarelda or anyone else while seeming to take part in an all-American past-time.”
Jack then demonstrated a secret camera in a classy pen. “You can use this while writing, pointing and gesturing, or it can just film the goings-on from your shirt pocket.”
I didn't exactly have a shirt pocket available in my current couture, but the upcoming rehearsal would not be a dress one.
The final item was a pair of glasses with dark plastic earpieces and a thin dark plastic frame on the top side of the lenses.
“I wear contacts,” I said. “She's never seen me wear glasses.”
“You can claim to have lost one,” said Jack. “This here is a screw.” Jack pointed to a small screw on the thick plastic end of the right earpiece that was facing front. “But this … “ He pointed out the parallel position on the opposite side, “is a hidden camera, which can be switched on and off here.” He indicated a small button on the inside of the earpiece.
“Okay then.” I said, sighing. “Here goes.”
That night I went, costume-less, to the rehearsal with Zarelda, with a lightweight drawstring backpack that held my spygear. Jack was partly right. My role as a magician's assistant wasn't utterly brainless. I didn't feel like the male counterpart of Vanna White. I did have to think about where to stand and position myself and find hidden compartments, but I was more comfortable with the idea of concealing or partially concealing myself than breaking out into a song and dance routine on center stage.
The vanishing trick for the show's finale involved me escaping through a secret hatch in the back of the box and merely hiding behind the contraption. Zarelda assured me the audience would be awed when I disappeared and she magically appeared in my place.
After rehearsal, Zarelda accompanied me as we both moved some things to a basement prop storage room. The mysterious area seemed part fun house and part medieval torture chamber, with mirrors and brightly-colored sorts of boxes crafted and painted like gypsy wagons on the one hand and swords, knives and assorted weaponry – whether genuine or faux I couldn't be sure – on the other.
Standing by the steps we had just descended, I noticed a couple of braided leather bullwhips which were coiled and hanging on the wall and thought briefly of my mission. “Why do you have whips? Do you ever use those on … on animals?” I had conjured up an image of an old-fashioned circus lion tamer. I put on my spyglasses. It seemed like a natural moment to do so, as if I needed them for distance vision.
“On animals, darling?” Zarelda stood along the wall below the items of my interest.
I wasn't sure if I alone had earned the title of “darling” or if that was how she addressed all men. Even thinking it was more likely the latter, I rather liked it. She pulled one of the whips from the wall, and I felt a cold tingle down my spine. She suddenly seemed unpredictable.
“These belong to Rodrigo, darling.”
“Rodrigo?” The creepy feeling hadn't quite left me, and I almost wanted to brace myself against a ninja-like attack from the mysterious Rodrigo who might manifest himself from one of the surrounding props.
“Rodrigo, my former assistant.”
“The one you fired.”
“Yes, darling.” Suddenly, she put the whip through a lot of energetic gyrations, making rhythmic sounds as the whip hit the floor. “Rodrigo incorporated a bit of malambo into the act, an Argentinian gaucho dance, and he used the whip like so. I don't know how to do it like he did. It's not a dance for ladies. It's a gaucho dance.”
Rodrigo, apparently, had some performance art skills, and yet I was hired to replace him almost on an impulse, and I had no talents at all … at least none that translated to the stage. More questions raised themselves in my mind, but I did not know how to ask them without raising her suspicions, so I didn't pursue anything further.
Several days later, on the day of my showtime debut as her assistant, I got a call from Zarelda while I was out with Jack for lunch.
“Darling, I have a favor to ask of you.”
“I need you to pick up an order for me at Houdini's Magic Shop. Please, I need this order. Please pick it up and bring it to the theater before the show tonight..” She gave me the Newark address for the shop.
I was beginning to feel more like a gopher than a magician's assistant. Was this part of the normal job description? Would I be compensated for this task? “Excuse me for asking, but is this merely a favor or will this be included in my time working for you?”
“Oh, you will be paid very well, darling.” She said it in such a way as to make me think I'd be paid overtime or enormous tips or something similar.
Alone, driving the SUV to Houdini's Magic Shop, I contemplated Zarelda and the elusive Rodrigo. Why was the talented Rodrigo fired and why was I hired? Why had Zarelda hired me after such a brief conversation, hardly what could be called a proper job interview? Were my looks irresistible? As much as I might like to think so, it seemed unlikely. Was it – I hated to consider it – my submissiveness that was appealing? What had she asked Rodrigo to do that he had refused? Was he an egotist showman or did she ask something that was unreasonable or morally wrong? Was she convinced I was so smitten with her that I would blindly do whatever she asked? And finally, just exactly what was I sent to pick up? At the end, I was so nervous I had all three spy devices on my person when I arrived at the Houdini's Magic Shop.
To be continued ...
© 2016 Susan Joy Clark