Part One

"And a round of applause for our wonderful magician, the great Magnifico!"

Nigel gave his young audience a curt bow and flashed them a broad smile. He had to admit, this wasn’t so bad. The real Magnifico was in jail, arrested for his part in an international smuggling ring. Since it was Nigel Bailey and his boss, Sydney Fox, who exposed the operation, it was only right that they complete the one apparently legitimate magic show the old man had scheduled.

Magnifico – whose real name, ironically, was Bob Smith – coached the British scholar in the performance of the tricks, and Nigel now had only one more trick to complete the show for the children’s hospital. It was the grand finale, and one he still had problems with during practice. Only there had been no more time, and Sydney assured him that he could do it.

Now, looking down on the sea of small, awestruck faces, he believed he could do it. They believed in him, and he would not do anything that would betray their belief, not for the world.

In this case, his British accent was an advantage. He overheard one of the nurses commenting that it was a lovely detail, adding mightily to his mystique. He rather liked the sound of that, having never been attributed before with mystique. "Ladies and gentlemen," he announced broadly, "I will now attempt to separate my lovely assistant into three pieces – "

At the children’s fearful reaction, he was reminded that for this audience, cancer patients and victims of disease and disfigurement, being cut apart was a reality. In a conspiratorial aside, he whispered loudly, "Don’t tell anyone, but I don’t really think it will work."

That elicited the desired round of giggles, and he began the sequence. "Miss Fox, if you’ll step into the Box ?" He paused and remarked again to his audience, "Hey, that rhymes!" Again, laughter rippled through the young crowd. With that sort of encouragement, he improvised his patter, throwing in more than a few one-liners, all aimed at keeping the light tone he’d created. "As you can see, Miss Fox is all put together now. But I am not altogether happy with things as they are. I think we can do a bit of interior decorating, shall we?"

He counted to three, but before he could slide the steel into place, Sydney’s hand pushed open one of the windows. "Nigel? I mean, Magnifico? Could I have a word with you?"

"Now?" he asked in exaggerated annoyance. "Are you frightened of being separated, Miss Fox? I assure you, we’ll get together for tea later." Under his breath he asked, "What’s wrong?" His words went unnoticed beneath the sounds of more audience enthusiasm.

"Tea sounds lovely!" she replied loudly and cheerfully. Dropping her voice so nobody else could hear, she explained hastily, "Remember the missing assistant? The girl, Daphne? I found her. Or more accurately, I found what’s left of her. I think I also found a clue to the missing relic."

To his credit, he kept the smile on his face. "What do I do now?" he asked out loud. "My assistant is a chicken!" To emphasize his point, he brandished a rubber chicken, one that appeared to have been drawn from the box.

"I don’t know! Improvise!"

He slapped a hand against the small wooden door and went on with the trick as originally planned, pushing each of the two metal plates through the separating segments. There was a muffled cry at the second, and he caught his breath. A second later the plate snapped into place, seemingly of its own accord.

Only when he opened the box to show the rearranged Sydney, all three boxes were empty. His heart sunk.

The audience applauded wildly, an applause that increased when his partner strode in from the nearby nurses’ station. He took his bows, sweeping the ridiculously oversized cape around them both. The children had no way of knowing that he hugged his partner out of relief to see her rather than enthusiasm of performance.

Go to Part Two.

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