The Lazy Writer

Peter Williams

"On Sunday, June the 28th a ten-stone man will stand, unmoving, unflinching and unafraid in the path of a 91-ton, speeding subway train! Certain death for anyone-- unless that anyone happens to be superstar-magician Jon Legerdemain!" the adverts had trumpeted from TV and radio as well as being plastered over the press and billboards for the last month until finally, the big day arrived.

Six-foot, six-inch-high scaffolding straddled the subway track topped by a stage from where the radio-miked magician looked down at the celebrity audience on the platform.

The crimson jumpsuit that clad his slim, six-foot frame sparkled under the playing spotlights. Gleaming, white teeth shone from a perfectly-tanned face framed by shoulder-length, lustrous, black hair. His vantage point put him head and shoulders above the twelve-foot-high, four-coach train that stood purring quietly a few yards away.

I'm Frankie MacAllister, by the way, and If that name doesn't ring a bell, then I can only presume you've spent the last year in a cave or a coma. Either way, I'm the investigative-journalist who became world famous for buying Saddam Hussein's secret diaries, which would have been great-- if Saddam Hussein had actually written them. After that, the only work I could find was as "showbiz correspondent" for a tabloid, which is basically a stalker with a press pass.

Ladies and Gentlemen your attention please, in..." Legerdemain paused to check the big, red countdown timer on the wall, "ten minutes and thirty-eight seconds precisely I shall make the pride of the subway system vanish before your very eyes."

He slid down the ladder and strode right up to the audience. "'What's the trick?' you're wondering," he stopped in front of a young woman. "No, it's not done with mirrors," she looked startled. "Or mass-hypnosis," he addressed a wide-eyed man further along.

Of course, it isn't. It's obviously a hologram! I thought as he stopped right in front of me. His cold, emotionless eyes burrowed into my soul and when he said, "And it's not even a hologram," it sent a shiver down my spine.

He turned to face the track, "There is no clever use of reflections, o high-tech lasers, no deception of any kind. But, please, check for yourselves," with a wave of a gauntlet-clad hand Crazy Train by Ozzy Osbourne started pumping out of the huge amps as all the doors opened in unison.

Five, fishnet-stocking-clad dancers jumped out of five doors and guided the eager crowd onboard. I settled back in the shadows and lit an illicit cigarette as crashes and bangs from the carriages testified to their authenticity. I knew enough about misdirection not to waste my time checking where I was told to.

It was perilously close to the ten-minute mark by the time they all got back on the platform. Legerdemain bolted up the ladder as the radio-controlled locomotive reversed the hundred-yards to the mouth of the tunnel.

Three assistants danced around him as the other two wrapped a heavy, steel chain from his chest to his feet (leaving only his arms and head free) and padlocked it to the scaffolding.

As the dancers started back to the ladder Legerdemain shouted, "Wait! What if the train hits me?" one of them turned, picked-up a yellow, hard hat and lobbed it, "Whew! I feel much safer now!" he said to the crowd's great amusement as he fastened the chin strap.

Electric motors whined as thick, black curtains closed on three sides, covering the scaffolding from the track up, leaving only his head and shoulders visible as he faced the distant train, "Ladies and Gentlemen, understand that what you are about to see is not mere conjuring but an insight into the true nature of the universe and nothing will ever seem the same again!" I couldn't help but think that speech was wasted on people who thought introspection was what x-ray machines did.

He checked the timer again and gave a dramatic wave. Souped-up diesel-electrics roared as the behemoth thundered towards the terrified magician.

The air was filled with the smell of burning oil and rubber from the over-revved engines as the nose of the loco thundered past the edge of the wildly flapping curtain. Someone screamed.

My brain struggled to cope as I watched 205-feet of stainless-steel and fibreglass vanish, inch-by-inch, leaving the magician untouched.

Silence fell. The only movement was the gentle wafting of falling fast-food wrappers sucked up by the passing of the now nonexistent train. I suddenly realised that I'd forgotten to breathe.

Once Legerdemain was freed, one of his assistants removed the hard hat as the other four supported him. Slowly and carefully he traversed the ladder back to the platform and managed a weak smile and wave in the direction of the crowd as he was ushered back to his trailer amidst tumultuous applause.

Jon Legerdemain, ladies gentlemen ... magician extraordinaire!" A voice boomed over the sound system. "Now if you'll make your way to street level a fleet of luxury coaches is waiting to whisk you off to our glittering, gala reception, where later on you can chat with the great man himself!"

I stayed in the shadows as the crowd dissipated. If I could get an interview and find out how the trick was done, I'd be back on top again. Unfortunately, he never talked to the media and the only door into his trailer was flanked by two musclemen so big that if trouble broke out, I wouldn't know whether to fight them or climb them.

I hung around long enough for it to become apparent that he was in no hurry to leave and the only hope I had of getting past his security was if they beat me to a pulp and shovelled me under the door.

Eventually, I decided that good, old-fashioned duplicity was the way to go, "Hi, Mr Legerdemain's agent sent me," I said, striding up to the door.

No, he didn't. Go right in, you're expected," one of the guards said as he opened the door.

For some reason, "Lions 1, Christians nil," came to mind as I cautiously crossed the threshold.

Inside was surprisingly roomy. Legerdemain sat opposite; his long, black hair looked wonderful as it spilt onto the dressing table, it would have looked even better if it had been on his head at the time. False teeth soaked in a glass beside the wig-stand. Obviously, the hard hat earlier had been less of a joke and more of a way of keeping him and his hair in the same neighbourhood.

Fresh from the shower, he was naked except for a towel around his waist. Eczema and psoriasis fought over the last few patches of healthy skin. The jagged scars that covered his arms, throat and torso pretty much confirmed the rumours of numerous suicide attempts. He looked old enough to pass for his stage persona’s father.

I surreptitiously activated the dictaphone in my jacket pocket as I glanced around the room. It was sparsely furnished, with the exception of an ostentatiously large glass tank that ran the entire length of one wall. Inside a colony of frogs hopped and ribbeted their way around an artificial pond and in and out of a fern jungle.

On the wall above it was a plaque embossed with a Latin phrase and the English translation beneath:

Votis subscribunt fata secundis
Destiny makes wishes come true".

Have a seat, Mr MacAllister," Legerdemain said as he started applying concealer and fake tan to his pallid features.

How did you know my--"

Name?'" he finished my sentence. "Have you forgotten my profession?"

I don’t—“

Believe in magic', Quite Right, No such thing."

Will you stop—“

Completing my sentences'. Sorry, bad habit. Go on."

It took me a second to compose myself, "I wonder if you'd care to enlighten my readers as to how that trick was done?"

Legerdemain gave a toothless grin,"Your readers? I understood that after your career nose-dived the only job you could get was writing for people who not only believe a London bus was found on the Moon but that Elvis probably drove it there!"

No comment' would have been sufficient," I muttered defensively.

Did you ever see Toy Story, Mr MacAllister?"

Sure. Buzz Lightyear, et all; funny movie," I replied reluctantly, still smarting from his last comment.

He paused to put his dentures in, "Funny? Tragic, surely." he continued as he started to fit his hairpiece. "I mean, no matter what their hopes and dreams those sentient toys were forever condemned to be someone else's plaything and not in the fun, 'Chase me! Chase me!' way."

Got it. Toy slavery bad. Free Nelson Mandela's action figure, etc. Now can we get back to the trick?"

We never left it, and it's not a trick," he said, standing up.

Please don't drop the towel! Please don't drop the towel! Please don't drop the towel! I begged silently as he dropped the towel.

Like my vivarium, Mr MacAllister?" I momentarily mistook that for the World's worst chat-up line, until I realised he was pointing at the tank.

Walking over to it he picked up a black suit-carrier that hung from a hook on the wall. "Do you think they even know we exist?" he pointed to some frogs as he started to get dressed.

I doubt it," I replied, not really caring.

You're probably right, but what if one day a frog was born that could read minds?"

I took the question as being rhetorical as he sat down to put his socks on. "Perhaps at first froggy could only tell when a plant needed watering or an insect was hungry, then gradually, over the years, he would come to hear the thoughts of others as clearly as you can hear me," he paused to fasten his dress shirt, being careful to hide any signs of self-mutilation.

Life would probably be good at first. He might use his talents to impress his peers and to seduce the lady frogs by always knowing the right things to do and say."

He put on what were obviously built-up shoes (as he instantly grew five-inches taller), finished dressing and checked his tux in the full-length mirror before continuing, "Then one day his powers might extend beyond the three-dimensional confines of the tank, and he'd touch an intellect so cold, so cruel, so vast that it would send him spiralling into suicidal madness."

He stopped and shuddered. "By the time froggy recovered he might be able to communicate with it, but only in the same way you communicate with your dog when you tell it to sit up and beg. Only it wouldn't let him roll over and play dead," he absentmindedly fingered the scar tissue beneath his shirt.

This isn't really about frogs, is it?" I asked, hoping the recorder was capturing it all.

There's just no fooling you is there?" he said with more than a hint of sarcasm. "Yes, it's more autobiographical than amphibial."

I didn't want to believe him, but even he wasn't screwed-up enough to make something like that up.

Legerdemain let out a sigh of relief, "For fifteen years I've been dying to tell someone ... anyone, but was too terrified of what agonies I'd suffer if the person I told were to be believed and I was no longer useful to it. Then the World's least-believable man came along."

Damn! If only I had some proof," I pretended to be annoyed as I checked the dictaphone in my pocket.

See that brown box on the dressing table, the one that looks like an answering machine?" he smiled, "That's called an Audio Recording Device Blocker, It emits a sub-audible tone that can't be detected by the human ear but drowns-out any audio on playback. You have nothing, Mr MacAllister. So be my guest, put it on the front page, right between the half-human/half-broccoli baby and the water-skiing halibut," with that he opened the door and nodded to the security guards, who left, presumably to fetch his limo to the top of the stairs.

Now if you'll excuse me," he said checking his watch, "in seventeen-minutes and 23-seconds a bus driver will fall asleep at the wheel, causing a five-car pile-up, and I'd like to get past that stretch of road before it happens."

" I yelled. "You give me the biggest story in the history of the World and then won't let me use it. Why would you do that to me?"

You still don't get it, do you, Mr MacAllister? I'm not doing anything to you," as he left, he looked back and smiled. "Oh, and since no-one's ever said it to you before: welcome to the vivarium."