Part 1, Chapter 1: The Story of a Lifetime
The upside to global warming was that there was less dirty, sticky snow in Portland this February. The downside? Rain. Lots of it. Which, for some reason, meant that the bus drivers had to drive slower but stop just as suddenly and take turns just as sharply as a sunny, dropless day.
Cadence Conway stood grasping onto a pole for dear life as the bus hydroplaned and bounced over potholes this particular gloomy morning. She wrapped her arm around it, holding her caramel Frappuccino in one hand and a rival newspaper, the Portland Tribune, in another. The sixth page read, “UFO Spotted on the Outskirts of Town.” It might not have sounded newsworthy to many people, but for Cadence it was something to pay attention to. Direct competition.
The bus screeched to a stop in front of the Portland Post (not to be confused with the Multnomah County Post), and Cadence shoved her way passed people to jump off the steps onto the puddle-ridden sidewalk. The glass doors of her work welcomed her, as did the desk-woman, Elena. Five stops up the elevator and she reached the floor where all the magic happened.
It was barely eight o’clock, but people were already buzzing around, papers flying out of stacks, others running, doors opening and slamming. Typing overtook most of the frantic whispers to get the last edition of the week out on time. The room already smelled like ink and warm paper even though the printing presses were on the ground floor: it was editing time.
“Cadence!” cried an excited voice straight ahead. She offered a smile despite the mood the morning put her in.
“Why are you so excited on a crummy day like this?” she asked the ginger man that towered over her. His face was alight with daydreams and his bright green eyes were opened wide like a child’s.
“I just saw this magic show last night, and let me tell you—it was weird—”
“Let me guess,” she interrupted, shrugging off her water-logged jacket and slipping it onto her desk chair, “he pulled a quarter out of your ear?”
“No,” he corrected with a face that forced her smile to fade, “it was something else. His show was…different. Otherworldly. He did stuff I can’t even begin to explain.” Cadence furrowed her brows.
“What do you mean?”
“Conway! In my office, now!” Not even a minute into work and the Editor-in-Chief wanted her attention. Cadence fought the urge to roll her eyes.
“What’d you do now?” Rupert joked, accepting the Frappuccino from her.
“Nothing that I know of,” she answered as he took a sip from her drink. He choked it down with a disgusted look, but she ignored it and started to the door to her left.
“Conway!” Alec shouted again.
“Whatever you think I did, I blame it fully on Rupert,” she started with the moment she stepped into the doorway. Alec sighed, and she shut the door behind her. The blinds rattled against the window on the door.
“I swear you two are like children.” Alec rubbed his graying beard, then shook his head and gestured to his couch against the wall as he took a seat behind his giant mahogany desk. “Take a seat.” Cadence lowered herself, careful to avoid the empty chip-bag on the arm of the upholstery. “It’s a new story.” Even though Cadence had rarely gotten in trouble with her boss, she still felt relief rush through her. “Rupert’s been talking up a storm about that magic act he saw, and he’s not the only one. It’s becoming news-worthy.” The relief disappeared. So this was Rupert’s fault.
“You want me to do a review on a magic show,” she confirmed with a flat voice. That wasn’t her normal assignment. If she was given an assignment today, she figured she’d be put on the UFO story everyone else went on about. No one annoyed the scientists quite as well as she did.
“You’re my go-to bizarre-o girl,” Alec continued. “And from what I understand this isn’t a normal act. I just want a review on the show, an interview with the magician, how he does his tricks. Easy story. Easier than the story on that senator that I put you on last week. I figured you deserved a break.” Cadence had to agree. Senator John Elton was a radical man that was hard to get a hold of. Cadence actually had to find a way to go undercover to even talk to his secretary—and after two weeks of dialogue she finally got a hold of his “public” financial expenditures. Turned out the senator was spending state-allocated money on fortune-reading, which, although the fortunes ended up actually happening, was a misappropriation of funds and illegal. Senator Elton found a way to weasel out of it, apologized and never got any reprimands for it. The typical.
“What is it about this magic show?” she asked, adjusting in her seat.
“That’s your job. Here’s a ticket for this weekend.” Cadence rose to take the blue and purple stub from him, and after a few words of dismissal she returned to her desk to start writing preliminary thoughts.
The rest of the day went on un-extraordinarily. Rupert spilled mustard on one of the papers she edited, and she had to redo it with a new copy, but aside from that the day droned on, a little boring. Commas here, hyphens there, malapropisms everywhere.
“Do you have a new assignment yet?” Rupert asked when the clock dinged five. “Alec’s had you editing for three days already. You must be bored.” She attempted, poorly, to hide her grin.
“Oh, just a story on that new magic show you’ve been raving about. Nothing big.” Rupert choked on his Root Beer, which gave her enough time to grab her jacket and purse without any bombardment of questions.
Sunday rolled around, but five o’clock took much longer to arrive, especially because at nearly half-past five, Cadence sat at a red-draped table next two an elderly couple, notebook in hand, with her eyes glued to her wristwatch. The show was to start at five. This mysterious magician had yet to show up, and her scowl grew more and more pronounced. To her surprise, not a single person stood up to leave despite the lateness. Children with their grandparents, couples, even a few lone stragglers like herself all remained in their seats, patient, though excited. Cadence extracted the ticket stub and examined it again. Five o’clock. Maybe her watch was fast….
The lights dimmed, and only the electric candles in the middle of every red-velvet table shone.
“Sorry, sorry!” came an out-of-breath voice. Cadence, and the rest of the audience, spun around in their chairs to look toward the main entrance. Over the stage, they could hear a large projector screen screeching down. A cameraman rushed up to a tall, slender man in jeans and a plain tee that strode through the theatre doors. His face appeared on the screen, spotlight illuminating his look of embarrassment. “I’m sorry I’m late!” Was this the magician? Cadence picked up her pen and started to take notes, but her confusion didn’t dissipate. “I’m having the worst luck lately.” The dark-haired man jumped up onto the stage Cadence sat right in front of. The cameraman crouched in front of him so as to not block anyone’s view to show his face on every wall. Cadence could see sheen of sweat on his neck just from where she sat, and he breathed heavily. He’d been running. She’d sat here for nearly forty-five minutes to try and get a good seat, and this guy was almost twenty minutes late to his show. So late that he had to run and he was still late.
“First, I lost my bird, Henry,” the magician started, seemingly distressed, “and then I lost all of my decks of cards. What kind of magician loses all of his cards?” What kind of magician wears jeans? Cadence asked herself, scribbling down his lackluster first impression. The rugged, I-just-got-out-of-bed look might have worked if he was going out to the movies with friends, but this was his stage. Jeans and a wrinkled red tee from the top of the dirty hamper didn’t quite fit.
“Anyway,” the man continued, “I’m Antony Devrue. Thank you for coming to my show. I see a lot of familiar faces already.” His light eyes scanned the audience, nodding to some particular faces. “And some new ones,” he continued. Antony’s eyes fell on Cadence and seemed to catch him by surprise, but he quickly covered his tracks by dropping his gaze to the wooden stage beneath him and shoved his hands in his pockets. “Well, that’s odd,” he said quietly. The magician pulled a brand new deck of cards out of his front pocket and began to unwrap it. The moment he popped open the cardboard seal, a small, white bird head popped out. Cadence jumped at its chirping.
“Henry!” a few children in the audience cried. This must have been the bird he supposedly lost. Everyone here seemed to know him, too.
“Henry, how did you get in there?” The bird wiggled its way onto his hand and ruffled its feathers. “Stranger things have happened. Well, Henry, it’s time to start the show. Want to kick us off?” The bird didn’t respond, and instead spread his wings and leapt off the tanned finger of his master. Purple and blue glitter trailed behind the dove as he flapped onward, diving over the audience. A few younger kids jumped up to try and catch him, but instead got fistfuls of glitter. The crowd applauded, seemingly already forgiven the dark-haired Devrue.
“He’s grown to be quite a show-off,” Antony explained when the bird took off to hide behind the curtains, undoubtedly into a cage full of treats. A few courteous chuckles rang about the room, which now seemed brighter and lighter with the added sparkles amongst the tables. Cadence glanced to the electric tea-light, where a small pile of glitter accumulated around the plastic wick. The glitter shone brighter and brighter, before it disappeared with a little flick. If she hadn’t been so focused on writing down every detail, she would’ve tried to justify how he got the glitter to disappear. Heat-activated sugar, perhaps.
The man jumped off the stage and onto the floor without a sound and extracted the cards from the box he still held. The cameraman followed to allow everyone to see what he was going to do up-close.
Cadence eagerly scribbled more descriptions down, noting his looks, the slightly wavy, slightly too-long hair, his average height and how he somehow paid attention to every soul in the room all at once as if they were old friends. As she wrote this last detail down on her yellow pad of paper, though, Antony Devrue walked up to the table and stopped in front of her. She glanced up and noted his smirk with one of her own. He seemed to appreciate it, and winked. Cadence stifled her smile by biting her lips together.
“Enjoying the show so far?” he asked her innocently. She attempted to cover the pad with a hand, laying it flat. A few chuckles erupted from the audience. “I was hoping I could get some help from a lovely lady for my first trick. Do you mind?” Cadence hesitated, but shook her head. “What’s your name?”
“Hi, Cadence, it’s nice to meet you. I’m Antony. Now, Cadence, have we met before?” She shook her head. “Are you a paid actress to help me out with my show?” Again, she shook her head. Antony smiled at her. He rifled through the deck and handed the cards to her. “Would you mind checking these, Miss? Make sure they are ordinary, normal, shuffled and all of them are there.” She took them gingerly after setting her pen down, feeling for a double-back or wet ink, but it just felt like a slippery new deck. The cards were all the same thickness, there was an appropriate number of everything required…and no sign of a bird ever being among them.
“This lovely lady sees that there’s nothing abnormal…about the cards, anyway,” she added with a laugh. He beamed at her and accepted the deck of cards back.
“The deck is normal. I bet you’re implying that I’m not?” Thankful that the lighting was dim enough so that he couldn’t see her blush, she crossed her arms and settled with a small smile. Antony hummed. “Well, let’s do a couple more checks with this deck, just so everyone knows that I’m not doing anything to them.” Cadence sat up a little straighter in her chair, and scooted her notebook out of the way so he could use her red-clothed table as a part of his act. “I’m going to deal these out in piles of ten, and if everything is normal like what Lovely Lady Cadence has said, there will be five piles with two cards left over, and two jokers.” The audience nodded and waited patiently as he dealt the cards out. The closer he got to the goal of five little packs, the louder the snapping of his counting became. He was quick with them, as a person who used cards daily should have been, but he moved slowly enough so that Cadence could see that he worked with exactly one card at a time. When he finished, he glanced to Cadence, holding the four extras. “Fifty-two cards and two jokers, yes, Cadence?”
“Yes,” she answered with an accompanying nod.
“We have here a brand new deck, fresh from the seal, with fifty-two cards and two jokers.” He gathered the piles and squared the deck away, and continued, “That’d be thirteen of each suit, yes? Spades, clubs, diamonds, hearts?”
“And two jokers,” the elderly man said next to Cadence. She’d nearly forgotten he was there and offered a polite smile.
“And two jokers!” Antony agreed, gesturing to him. “Now, Cadence, would you mind fishing out the jokers for me, please? Sometimes they’re useful, but for this next part of the show we won’t be needing them.” He handed the deck back to her, but before she started to rifle through them, he stopped her. “Go ahead and have them all face-up so the audience can see on our handy-dandy projector.” He grinned at the camera man, who zoomed in on his face for a moment. Cadence shrugged to herself and spread out the cards to peer at them. One joker sat in the center of her fan, so she plucked it out, and the next one near the end of it.
“Two jokers,” Antony repeated with an approving nod. “Now, let’s shuffle the deck again.” He gathered the cards and bridged them, mixed them up like a child messily putting together two puzzle pieces, and shuffled them again. “Mixed?” He addressed the small group in front of him, and the elders nodded. “Now, Cadence, would you mind finding the two jokers in the deck? They won’t be needed for the next part of the show.” Cadence blinked, and looked to the elderly man, who fixed his glasses.
“I already did,” she said, gesturing to the two jokers that lay face-up on the table. Antony glanced at them.
“Yes, but see, I shuffled again. Every time you shuffle, it’s like there’s a new deck! You’ve got to check for jokers.” He handed it to Cadence, and she humored him by fanning out the deck face-up on the table. Two jokers sat next to each other near the left side of the fan. Slowly, she pulled them out to join the others. The audience let out a chorus of chuckles when she glared at him. He wore an innocent expression on his face as if he’d just robbed a bank and there was no proof to arrest him.
“Are you doubting that there were a total of fifty-four cards in that deck?” Cadence nodded. “All right, fair is fair. Let’s count again. Go ahead and deal out five piles of ten of the remaining cards.”
She wasn’t as quick as Antony was when dealing out the cards, but she managed to get the first two piles out in a reasonable pace, but hesitated as she counted out the third. The large deck in her left hand wasn’t getting smaller.
“Go on, three more piles,” Antony encouraged. She pursed her lips and shrugged, then continued. The deck refused to get any smaller, even once she finished dealing out the fifth pile of ten. The audience scooted closer in their seats.
“So there were two decks,” Cadence surmised, mostly to herself.
“Now, let’s look.” Antony reached over to the piles of ten, collected them, and fanned them out. “Look like a complete set, sir?” He addressed the elderly man in glasses beside Cadence, who leaned forward to look.
“Looks complete to me,” the man said with a sniff. “What are all those, then?” He shakily gestured to Cadence’s left hand, which still held, what felt like, a full deck of playing cards.
“What are all those, then?” Antony repeated, gesturing to Cadence.
“I don’t know,” she admitted before flipping them over. The audience let out a collective gasp, a few laughs, but overall let out a massive round of applause. In her hand seemed to be a complete deck of jokers.
“Well there’s your problem!” Antony realized, clapping his hands delightfully. “Well, then, we can’t use that deck. It’s full of jokers.” Cadence laughed and set all the cards down on the table to join in the applause.
“Impressive,” she said. The man beamed at her as he reveled in the applause, seemingly more appreciative in her comment than anything.
“I’d like to try something similar, if you wouldn’t mind helping me out one last time?” he asked. She shrugged, and he collected all the jokers together on the table. “Go ahead and take the normal cards as your deck.” He took all the jokers in his hands, and she followed his instructions. The cameraman panned over to look over Cadence’s shoulder, so everyone could see what she did. “Now, pick your favorite card, then cut the deck so it’s mixed in somewhere random in the middle of your deck.” She did as instructed, and for some reason, he looked at his deck of jokers, extracted a card, and cut his own deck. Cadence pulled out the Ace of Diamonds and showed it to the camera, then cut the deck to mix it in as he told her to do.
“This trick is called Do as I Do, and it’s to identify a special connection with someone. Please swap decks with me and find your favorite card again.” She furrowed her brows, even gave a side-glance to the cameraman, but accepted his deck as he did, hers. He went through her original deck and found the card he was looking for, then brought it to the top and waited for her.
“Go on,” he urged. Cadence looked at the deck of jokers in her hands and glanced through the cards, but hesitated near her right hand. Amongst all the jokers was the Ace of Diamonds. She glanced up to him in shock. The audience gasped and erupted into applause. She pulled out the card, discarding all fifty-one jokers and showed him. Antony winked at her.
“I thought so. Go ahead and keep the card. I think you’ll find something you’ll like on it.” He hopped back on the stage to perform his next trick, taking the regular deck with him. Cadence glanced back down to her Ace of Diamonds, and right before her eyes, his signature appeared on it. The cameraman got an angle of it, allowing the audience to continue cheering until he spoke up for another trick.
Cadence laughed to herself when the cameraman went back to focusing on the star of the show. His words drowned out to the back of her mind, and her smile faded. Right underneath the signature, a number and street address scrawled on it, as if Antony was standing in front of her and writing it, himself. Before the old man next to her could look at it, she folded it in half and stuck it in her skirt pocket, taking a mental note to look at it later when her heart slowed down.
The rest of the show continued to be just as spectacular, growing steadily more and more surreal as Antony Devrue bounced around the stage. He made cards stick to people, to walls by simply throwing them, then hung specific cards right over peoples’ heads without a thread in sight.
When he abandoned the cards, he switched to water glasses that melted into an audience member’s hands without harming them, changed colors in another’s, and grew impenetrable the next moment. Cadence’s hand started to cramp, but she refused to stop writing. He started off with classic card tricks, but now—now he messed with physics. Had she not been paying so much attention to details to capture for the article, she would’ve sat there, trying to find out how he did any of it.
To top it all off, Cadence was fairly certain that he showed up wearing a red shirt, but now it was white. He never once stepped off stage for a quick-change, it just seemed to gradually get lighter and lighter the more he danced around. It must have changed with heat or sweat or something.
When the clock struck six-thirty, he stepped center stage and addressed the crowd for his goodbye.
“You’ve been a wonderful audience, as usual. I suspect I’ll see most of you next week.” The crowd murmured agreement and laughed, which he bowed to. When he returned upright, he held two lit candlesticks that weren’t there before. “Good night!” And, once he clicked them together, smoke poured out of the ends and covered the stage. Audience members stood to give him a standing ovation, but when the cloud dissipated, they were disappointed (and unsurprised) to find that he’d vanished.
Below the stage, the magician lay on a mattress, out of breath and grinning widely to himself.