The Last Magus

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A big break

Joe stood with a triumphant smile as he finished his magic show and Draco resumed his shape as the heavy golden statue. Joe watched the children at the party, his magic show had been a resounding hit! He listened as the children all filed into the kitchen to get their party food and paper plates talking excitedly about his tricks and illusions, some of the older ones were trying to guess how he did it but the youngest went in with stars in their eyes filled with ideas of magic. The children overall were absolutely awed and, if Joe were honest with himself, it gave him a warm glow of pride to hear them. As he started packing his things away and folding up his little table Ginnie’s father approached him, beaming with appreciation.

“That show was…well just astounding!”

“Thank you!” Joe replied simply.

“I thought I’d seen just about everything that could be done in magic but you are something else Mr Winstanton.”

“Call me Joe…Mr Winstanton always makes me think of my father.”

“Well…Joe I work in television. Some of those tricks of yours would be just amazing for TV. Have you ever considered trying a TV show with your magic?”

“No, you think it would work out then?”

“You’re joking, that little tree trick of yours with the fruit, or the light show with all those fairy lights dancing around you.”

“They weren’t fairy lights, at least not like you’d use on a Christmas tree.”

“Quite…but that dragon toy of yours would just leave audiences in awe man.”

“Don’t let Draco hear you calling him a toy.” Joe tapped the side of his nose knowingly, “he gets upset at people that don’t believe in magic.”

“Yes…go on…just between us, you and me, I won’t tell a soul I swear! How do you do it? That dragon was a toy wasn’t it?”

“I told you and the children…it’s magic! Not like Paul Daniels or his son but it’s real magic!”

“Oh now come off it Joe, that might work with children like my Ginnie, but we’re adults here…magic?” Mr Curlew scoffed, though not loudly enough to be overheard. If he was honest there were many, if not all, of Joe’s tricks he could not even begin to explain.

“It’s magic Mr Curlew, plain and simply put…it’s all magic!” Joe snapped his little table closed and folded up the legs, “Would you expect me to give away my secrets? Where would that get me? I perform a show everyone knows it’s done with mirrors and trapdoors, the magic is lost! If I tell you Draco is the most intricately crafted model dragon ever created…you’ll see him as that model from then on! Whereas if I say he’s a real living breathing gold dragon then there’s the magic, the other tricks are also magic. You can explain all of them with that one word. It is all real magic…Now I have to go, I have something I need to be doing so about the money for the performance?”

“Ah yes I agreed the fee with your agent, the sexy brunette with the hazel eyes, when I booked you. I’ve got to say you are developing a magnificent reputation, the word of mouth recommendations were astounding.”

“Natalie.”

“What?”

“The sexy brunette with the hazel eyes, her name is Natalie…”

“Yes well, it’s a shame you didn’t have her on as an assistant.”

“Sometimes I do…sometimes, as this time, I don’t. It depends on the magic spells I’m going to be using…today the magic didn’t need an assistant.”

“Quite! Plus the audience makes a difference I imagine. If you get a more adult audience than eight year old kids she’d be a real eye popper in a swimsuit and fishnet stockings.”

“She happens to be my girlfriend too…sir.” Joe knew that his relationship with her was just in the fledgling state at the moment but he didn’t like the gleam in Mr Curlew’s eyes.

“Ah! Is she?” Mr Curlew looked crestfallen as his eyebrows rose in surprise, he nudged Joe in the ribs with an elbow, “you lucky dog!” he whispered, “Any way I agreed with…Natalie…the fee so here is my cheque for one hundred and fifty pounds, signed sealed and delivered and may I say cheap at twice the price! I shall certainly be recommending you to anyone else who needs a magic show…and if you want to think about that TV show let me know. Let me give you my mobile phone number, call me OK? I think you could be bigger than anyone else out there.”

Joe smiled as he took the proffered cheque, one hundred and fifty pounds easy money, he looked the cheque over briefly and then folded it neatly before slipping it into one of the secret pockets sewn into his robe. In other pockets he had stored all manner of spell ingredients, each pocket was marked so he could identify the contents by touch. Some he used for the illusions of these shows others were for his more serious magic use. He had for example, acquired a small quantity of fine white sand that he kept in a drawstring bag with a small pillow like parcel of silicon granules to keep it absolutely bone dry. If he needed to drop anyone to sleep now he was ready. Other pockets contained other equally strange and in some cases noxious ingredients, some certainly had a rather heady aroma. A pocketful of bat guano that he’d acquired from the local safari park was not exactly his favourite item, after all who walks around with a pocketful of bat shit? He was also sure to store it as far from his sulphur powder as he could. After a few obvious comments Natalie had deposited pot pourri parcels in the pockets that smelt the strongest it hid most of the aroma thankfully.

Joe packed up his belongings and with a broad smile and a hearty “Goodbye, hope everyone enjoyed the show…” he left the Curlew’s house to the sound of a rousing three cheers. In the weeks since he’d started these shows he’d considered transport and maybe learning to drive, but Natalie was an accomplished driver so she took him where he needed to be. As he stepped out of the Curlew’s curving driveway a small Fiat car sounded its horn and flashed its lights at him. Joe gave a wave and the car drew up next to him.

“Hi Nat!” Joe said as she wound down the passenger window, “thanks for coming to pick me up...as usual.”

“Hi Joe, no problems…like I’ve got better things to do!” She smiled broadly and winked at him. “How’d the show go? Typical rousing success? Glowing acclaim...and more importantly a one hundred and fifty pound fee?”

“Yep…should have seen the birthday girl. When I got her to come up for Draco, she couldn’t take her eyes off him. As they all went in for food I heard her saying she was going to ask her dad for a pet dragon!”

“Ha ha ha! I think she might be a little disappointed, dragons are a bit thin on the ground…”

“Yeah I know… and they need loads of space too!” Joe looked wistful for a moment, if dragons paired up then he wished there could be a nice female dragon somewhere for Draco. Draco had said he could sense other dragons if they were around, as yet he’d felt nothing. Joe put his stuff into the back seat of the car and climbed in sitting on the passenger seat, he was especially careful to rest the golden statue of Draco on his lap. “I got the cheque from her dad, it’s in a pocket of my robe.”

“Isn’t everything in a pocket of that robe? Some of that stuff you’ve got in there…seriously Joe you use that?”

“Spells have material ingredients you know that. By the way did you know he, Mr Curlew, was something in Television?”

“No, he never mentioned it, why?”

“He gave me his number and reckons I could be a real hit on TV. He made the usual dad remarks about you…”

“Men! Look good and they think you’re available. I hope you put him straight?”

“I told him you were my girlfriend and he stopped dead. Look he found me through word of mouth recommendations but he says some of the tricks I do would look amazing on TV.”

“You mean another Paul Daniels magic show? It’s Saturday night and welcome to the Joe Winstanton show!” Natalie laughed raucously

“Something like that!” Joe was laughing too, “only he reckons I could be bigger than all of them, have David Copperfield and all of them begging to know how I do it…I just told him my magic is real, we both know my magic is real, there is no trickery!”

“Might be worth considering as an option though, the money would be really good.”

“Yeah I suppose, but I never thought I’d say this…there is more to life than money Nat! I enjoy watching the faces of the children. Just seeing the looks of awe and hearing the intake of breath as I get those dancing lights circling me or them, it gives me a real kick you know. I wouldn’t get that facing some TV camera. Plus I can leave the audience believing in real magic while a TV audience will be left believing it was all camera trickery.”

“CGI you mean? Yeah suppose there is that.”

“I don’t want to demean or belittle anything I do. These shows allow me to practise my illusions and that’s fine, while I’ve got my new spell room for the more dangerous ones.” Joe had used his house of intentions to call up a tall thin room that should have fitted the length of his whole garden at nearly fifty metres in length and risen two floors above the roof of his house. He’d decorated the walls of the room out in the firebrick clay come stone used in a fireplace, it would have cost a fortune normally but thanks to the nature of the house the room had been created practically overnight; floor walls and ceiling covered not one square centimetre left, even the backside of the door! Then he set up targets, including suits of heavy armour, sheet metal shooting targets and large stone blocks, at one end while a bench type desk closed off the door end. The desk had one of those shop counter flaps so Joe could walk down to his targets to inspect any damage. He used the room like a shooting range, he would lay out his ingredients on the desk and then would conjure the most lethal of elemental spells. Fireballs, Bolts of lightning and magic arrows of raw elemental energy. He’d surprised himself the other evening when he’d summoned his magic missile spell up and three missiles had shot from his hand.

“Yeah OK Joe!” Natalie looked a little annoyed, “it was just a thought, don’t bite my head off! How’s the practise going by the way I heard you booming away before I went home?”

“Good, you should see me, my fireball skills are definitely improving. I hit the targets about half the time now…”

“With a ten foot exploding ball of fire you don’t need to be that accurate Joe.”

“True, but there I like to be as accurate as I can, there may come a situation where I need to be really accurate.”

“What about that new one Draco taught you the other day?”

“Lightning bolt, God preserve us did I have a real job getting that electric eel! Bloody thing keeps trying to shock me too much! But I think I’ve got the hang of it now, I even started chaining the bolt…”

“Chaining it?”

“You can hit one target and then leap the bolt to another, and another and so on. The bolt decreases in energy with each leap.”

“How many targets can you hit?”

“Comfortably…four, it takes masses of mana to leap it. I can push it so I think I can hit six.”

“Wow you’ll have to show me…”

“Well just stay behind the desk if you want to come watch, those spells are devastating. I let loose last night with an acid arrow and it turned a two inch thick metal target dummy to a pool of green goo! I’m going to have to call up another one.”

“I can see you are not the sort of man to come at unaware Joe. I’ll have to remember to warn you or I might get a bolt of lightning as a response.”

“I’d never do that!” Joe had never considered using his spells against living targets, at least not as yet but the thought of some of the powers he was acquiring made his blood run cold. Draco was and had been an excellent teacher and Joe just seemed naturally adept.

Natalie, true to her word, quit the bank with the start of the next week, she handed in her notice, much to the chagrin of Mr Jolly. When she said she would be working with Joe in future he’d flown into a rage and come very close to hitting her. She had stayed for the week to serve out her notice period and then nine o’clock Monday morning two weeks to the day after the robbery had arrived on Joe’s doorstep dressed as if attending a job interview. Pinstripe jacket, with a straight cut skirt, crisp white blouse and her hair in a neat bun. Joe had simply asked if she was comfortable like that, assured her she didn’t need to dress quite so formally, beautifully attired as she was. Nat had made some explanation about trying to appear professional but the next day she had turned up in her denim jacket and jeans looking just as ravishing. It had taken her a few hours to get used to the idea of moving inside the house without necessarily changing rooms. Joe had called up and set her up an office area she could work from. It was a spacious room maybe twice the size of Jolly’s office at the bank and Nat had been so thankful they’d spent the day decorating it in a colour scheme of her choosing, sometimes it just felt better to do the decorating yourself. Furniture wise was all ultra professional and with the front room redecorated that had become a reception area for anyone who wished to visit. Nat’s first task was she had started on the advertising for Joe’s magic shows, the response was surprising, after only a couple of days there had been some interest. Joe had done his first show the next day. Nat had attended and had left with the cheque and such profuse thanks that she was left speechless, the show itself had stunned her to silence.

With Joe’s growing powers she had started compiling spell books for him too. She would take notes and then carefully hand write out the pages according to Draco and Joe’s instructions in her finest copperplate handwriting, even she was delighted and amazed by the craftsmanship she had managed, simply beautiful pages it would have been nice to have them illuminated with designs like the medieval manuscripts, but that might be overdoing it. Each page she wrote out as a separate spell, listing the material ingredients, somatic movements with diagrams where appropriate, incantations and sigils or wards that were required along with a brief description of the spells effect and any special notes at the bottom of each spell. She would append a table with approximate ranges of effect, areas covered where they possessed such features. Joe had thanked her profusely on seeing the first pages and now had a bookshelf in his growing library that was solely given over to the spell books. Natalie had even taken evening classes in book binding and as a surprise bound each spell book in fire red leather with gold leaf lettering embossed into the surface, genuine works of art! The feeling of magic was contagious to her but Natalie was more pleased about a project she had started on her own, it being the twenty first century she had started to introduce Joe slowly to the concept of computers. He’d been a little resistant but she’d patiently shown him how to use it. Her project though was the concept of a spell database that she was developing. Just like the spell books she would transcribe each page and would file each spell, all spells were categorised according to its school along with links to components, other spells that would use the same components; it was a fully searchable and interactive setup and she had to admit a glow of pride when Joe used it the first time finding a spell based solely on the materials he had. With the power of the internet added she could provide locations where his components could be found in situ as well as listing alternatives where a component was especially hard or downright impossible to locate.

Joe had to especially admit when Natalie said she was good at organisation she meant it! He had been so impressed with Natalie’s skills in that area, she had effectively and efficiently taken over the mundane side of his life leaving him to concentrate on the magic. Thanks to Nat’s drive and efficiency he now never missed an appointment was always on time and thanks to her careful instructions never arrived unprepared.

Financially, things could not be better for Joe, after his cheque from Lin had cleared he had actually asked for an appointment with Mr Jolly, a first! In that meeting, with a bank examiner sitting in, Joe had agreed settlement figures for ALL of his debts…he was debt free after signing the cheques! The weight that was lifted improved his mood so much that even the pain he still suffered started to be not so much of a concern to him. Being debt free was of course much to the annoyance of Mr Jolly, Joe was pretty sure he’d left that meeting to the sound of grating teeth and howls of protest. Mr Jolly was becoming increasingly incoherent in his dealings with Joe, mumbling and growling. Some days later Joe had then received a letter from the bank head office, for some reason they were apologising to him! Joe had had to read the letter several times to get it clear in his head. The bank were apparently apologising to him because of the examiner’s report, the examiner being the one in Jolly’s office that day. The examiner had uncovered financial irregularities in his account transactions. Joe wasn’t sure what they meant, there had been several irregular administrative charges, late credit payment processing with early processing of debits, multiple months worth of them stretching all the way back to Joe’s redundancy! They were indeed greatly apologetic for any inconvenience suffered but far from being broke Joe was apparently comfortably liquid in his account status and always had been. The bank was initiating an investigation into the matter and would inform him of their findings at some later date. Joe shrugged and handed the letter to Nat to file, she read it over and raised an eyebrow.

“I think this is saying old Jolly was maybe stealing from you Joe!” Joe smiled, he wondered when Franklin Moffett Jolly had suddenly become old Jolly in Nat’s eyes.

With his new found wealth Joe had refurbished his house top to bottom, repairing and refurbishing the shabbiest parts on the outside while redecorating every room inside. Magic had helped him of course with building work that needed doing, completing in minutes what builders took days to do. While he had redecorated every regular room, mostly with Nat’s help on some of their evenings together. Joe was reticent to try employing builders or interior decorators given the nature of his unusual house. Nat and he had been developing as friends in the best possible ways and the redecorating served as a bonding process. She was becoming a regular visitor in the evenings and would spend comfortable, even enchanting evenings with him, the last few she had ended up curled up in his arms on the sofa. They would listen to music or he’d read some of the fantasy stories to her. If the wizards in the stories used a particular spell she’d ask him if he could do that too yet, if he couldn’t or didn’t know of any spell like it she’d look across at Draco as if saying “anything like that available?” Draco was exceedingly comfortable in Nat’s company and would freely transform in front of her, cat, dog, mini dragon, statue and anything else he felt he needed to be at the time.

Joe and Nat had also been out together several times and their relationship, if that’s what it was, was certainly growing much closer. Nat would almost always end up locked arm in arm with Joe and he had to say he enjoyed having such a good looking young woman at his side. There had been a few comments from some people, mostly young men, but most just saw the look of deep contentment on both of their faces and accepted it. Their trips to the cinema were a regular recurring event, once a week he and Nat would curl up in the upholstered seats and share a box of popcorn while the latest blockbuster played on the big screen. The staff at the restaurant they went to after had also come to know Joe and Nat as regulars and always made sure they had Chow Mein available. When Nat said she liked Oriental food she hadn’t been joking, Joe was at times amazed by the sheer quantity she seemed to get through and the fact she never seemed to put on any weight either.

Joe had not as yet pressed the idea of her actually being or becoming his girlfriend. He considered this possibility but as yet she was still a friend who just happened to be a girl, a very beautiful twenty one year old girl with ravishingly good looks and the sexiest eyes he’d ever imagined. Thus for the time being he was happy with her as just a friend, if she wanted more she could let him know! And knowing Nat, as he felt he did now, he was pretty sure she wouldn’t be backward about coming forward on that subject. The summer was approaching and secretly Joe hoped he could book Nat and himself a holiday in the sun somewhere and get her into one of those micro bikinis! Although each time they passed the travel agents and he would stare at the girl in the advert smiling Nat would look from him to the picture, huff and say “Men!” before pulling him away.

Across the road Mr Jolly’s actions at home and at work had started to raise questions. Every time he looked out from his house across what should have been his impressive grand vista…there was that blot with Joe’s now newly refurbished house. Jolly would grind his teeth in annoyance. His wife on the other hand was impressed with the way Joe seemed to be improving his lot at last, he had made a real difference to his life, she had commented to her husband about it one evening. Jolly’s demeanour had changed dramatically, his temper, normally placid, had become short and explosive! He would stalk out of the room at the mention of Joe’s name, then sulk in rooms for hours or as with his wife’s mention of Joe had thrown a brandy balloon explosively into the fireplace with a furious scream, before stalking out in a fuming temper. This show of temper had so scared his wife that when he tried to go to bed that night he had found the bedroom door locked and thus had had to sleep in the bath!

At work Jolly’s behaviour was becoming even more of a concern, even the head office big wigs were asking awkward questions about his suitability. The examiner’s investigation was not going well for Jolly, they were finding all sorts of irregular transactions he’d done. It wouldn’t be too long before they figured out about his secret account he’d set up. For the time being they just knew he’d been shifting money away from Joe but not where it had gone to. In fact almost all of the money had been transferred into this account for his own use, a slush fund. If that little bitch Natalie had been more amenable to him he’d have been setting up an apartment for her with the money, an apartment of course that he would retain a key to. Rumours were flying that any day now the investigation would finish and he would be hauled off in police custody…fraud and embezzlement charges rapidly following behind. Jolly considered himself to have been so careful, how could it have all gone so wrong? As a result of this stress he would now fly into spontaneous rages at the mere mention of Joe’s name, he would tear into one bank clerk or another in full sight of the public over minor details leaving his staff scared witless about how he’d react next. Joe was told about these outbursts by the male teller, who was still there but looking for somewhere new. But Joe could not imagine what it might be that had upset Jolly that much, he had no inkling that it was he himself that was the cause. Mention of the robbery would provoke explosive expletive filled outbursts of “Joseph Winstanton…a hero? Don’t make me laugh!” It had even gotten to the point that when Joe appeared at the bank, standing patiently in the queue. Jolly might spot him, visibly pale like the blood had suddenly drained from him, then stalk to his office and skulk there until Joe left, refusing to see anyone! In his office he would strut or prowl around, like a big cat in a cage. Or he would fall into deep black moods; one member of staff had brought him a cup of tea to help calm him down and found him rocking in his leather chair staring at a blank wall mumbling “Joseph bloody Winstanton…bastard!” over and over, his tablet computer on his lap and Joe’s account details on the screen.

Things finally came to a head when the same staff member had found him staring at the same wall only now it had “Joseph Winstanton” scrawled in black marker pen at the top in three inch high lettering and the word BASTARD! scrawled at every possible angle all over the remaining space. At that point the big wigs had stepped in, they had of course been sympathetic shaking their heads as they had given Jolly a leave of absence, a sabbatical, to help get his head clear. Clearly the stress of his position was too much for the man. Of course that had only worsened his mood as this now left him brooding at home, almost constantly standing at the window watching Joe’s house, watching nothing, oblivious to everything else going on around him…he hated Joe with every fibre of his being, he loathed Joe, he despised Joe…but most of all he hated the apparent success he was making of his life, a success that Franklin Jolly had tried with every conceivable breath to destroy! He seethed with fury, all his dreams, all his schemes destroyed by that man, that despicable man because he’d found…magic! Of all the most ludicrous, ridiculous things…Magic! Something would have to be done…something drastic Franklin Jolly just had to figure out what!

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