NEXT morning, after breakfast, Kate arrived at the Royal Court and was admitted by a little man in overalls when she said she was meeting Mr Nesbo.
“He’s already here. You’ll find him on stage.”
After a few false turns Kate found herself in the wings and stepped out on to the stage. It seemed huge and bare. She could hear her own footsteps and in front of her were rows of empty seats rising slightly as they receded towards the back of the auditorium.
She looked up to the balcony, a gilded semi-circle of seats lost in the gloom. Would she ever have the courage to step out here in front of hundreds of people and assist Nesbo in his trickery and deception?
“You’re prompt, Miss Flynn. Good.”
Kate jumped. Nesbo seemed to have appeared out of nowhere.
He stood looking at her, hands on hips. The overcoat had been discarded and he was dressed in rather crumpled trousers and a baggy sweater. He carried a long ebony, ivory-topped stick.
He walked towards her and stopped just a couple of feet away. His sharp black eyes looked into hers.
“Before we begin, there is something I want to say to you.”
“What you learn . . .” his voice was intense “. . . is secret. You tell no-one. This is my livelihood. You understand?”
“Yes, of course,” Kate replied. “I promise.”
He continued to look at her for a moment, then he nodded.
“Good! Now, let’s make you disappear.”
From the wings he pushed a tall cabinet on stage. It was on castors, the base of it about 12 inches from the floor. It was painted in a black lacquer and decorated all round with silver stars of different sizes.
“The Disappearing Lady Illusion is very simple,” he said. “You step inside the cabinet. I close the door, mutter some mumbo-jumbo for three or four seconds, open the door, and you’ve vanished. I then repeat the process, open the door and you have reappeared. With any luck,” he added with a mischievous smile.
He walked round the cabinet. He struck each of the four sides with his stick. There was the solid sound of stick on wood.
“Solid, you see. So how is it done?” Without waiting for an answer, he opened the door of the cabinet. The interior was painted black. “Step inside,” he told Kate.
She took his hand and stepped up into the cabinet.
“Now,” he said, “for now just stand straight, put one hand behind you and reach back. What do you feel?”
“Cloth!” Kate said, surprised, expecting to find a solid wall.
“That’s right. The cabinet is a little deeper than it looks. The back of the interior is covered in stretched black cloth. Now if you feel, you’ll be able to find a slit in the cloth, like an envelope. The space is narrow, but sufficient for a slim young lady, and you’re not in there for more than about ten seconds. I close the door, you slip into the overlapping cloth. I open the door, you’ve gone. Then you return. Abracadabra!”
“It’s so simple,” Kate said.
“Most illusions are. People think they are seeing one thing when really they’re looking at something else. We delude ourselves, Miss Flynn. Shall we try it?”