A Jolly Good Show – Episode 07

THEY tried it over and over. She had to stand in the centre, her arms across her chest. As soon as the door closed she stepped back in the blackness and slid into her secret space, her hands by her side, then stepped forward again, her arms across her chest.

Nesbo began to teach her how to move about the stage.

“I’ll be you,” he said. “Watch.”

He stood to one side, one leg slightly bent. His arms were held wide in an elegant pose. He had a wide smile. He moved sideways across the stage, toes pointed, arms held wide, tossing his head.

At first Kate felt rather ridiculous at the flamboyant poses and movements, but she gradually became more assured.

Then a voice called from the darkness.

“Bravo! Bravo! And even better when you’re in costume. You’ll distract everyone.” Johnny West walked forward. Kate blushed furiously.

Nesbo said, “An hour’s lunch. Then back here.” He walked off.

Johnny jumped up on the stage.

“There’s a pub round the corner that does a nice ham sandwich, if you’d care to join me?”

“That would be nice,” she said.

Over lunch she probed a little about Sally Swift.

“She’s awfully attractive,” she said.

“Oh, yes. Sally’s a knockout, and talented, too. You must catch her act.”

“Yes, I will.” After a moment she said, “I’m surprised she’s not married.”

Johnny shook his head.

“Our Sally’s got no time for that. She’s intent on being a top star. Has her mind set on a London show the West End. And she might be good enough if she gets the breaks, but time’s running out. Officially she’s twenty-four.” He winked at Kate. “Actually she’s twenty-eight and hers is a young girl’s act.”

He picked up another ham sandwich and continued.

“When you first turned up, I think her first thought was, is this a rival? She was relieved when she found you didn’t sing or dance.”

“Right,” Kate said. “Well, I’m not a rival. But I am a magician’s assistant and it’s time I disappeared. It was a lovely lunch, Johnny. Thank you.”

He reached across the table and touched her fingers.

“My pleasure, Kate. I think you’re a lovely girl.” They looked at each other for a moment then she grabbed her bag and disappeared.

Ten minutes later she was sitting with Nesbo in his dressing-room.

“The mentalist part of the act is difficult,” he said. “It’s all code, you see. I claim that I can see into your mind through Extra Sensory Perception.”

“Gosh,” Kate said. “It sounds rather weird.”

“I sit on stage, blindfolded, while you go among the audience. You ask someone to give you some personal item. You hold it up. I say what it is. Simple.”

“Is it?” she said doubtfully.

“Think about it. What’s in a woman’s handbag? A comb, a compact, a lipstick, a key, a diary? A man’s pocket? A cigarette case, a pipe, a wallet, keys, a pocket watch, a fountain pen.”

Kate nodded.

“Yes, I see.”

Nesbo went on.

“The code. You say ‘Nesbo’ and I know it’s a woman. You say ‘Great Nesbo’, I know it’s a man. You say ‘Nesbo, what do I hold?’, I know it’s a comb. ‘Nesbo, what do I have?’, I know it’s a compact. And so on. You see what I mean?”


He picked up a school exercise book from his dressing table.

“Here. It’s all written down. It’s our code book, Miss Flynn. What a phrase means, what a word means, even what a little cough means. Read it, study it, learn it, and we’ll practise. This is where you need quick wits. Do you think you can do it?” His sharp eyes gazed into hers.

Kate took the book and looked Nesbo in the eye.

“I’ll have a jolly good go,” she said.

Two weeks later, after constant practice in movement, in disappearing, in talking in code, Kate was ready to make her debut on a Monday night at the Prince’s Theatre, Coventry.

After some initial embarrassment she’d got used to wearing her stage costume, fishnet tights and a black and burgundy satin bodice. Enid Broom had helped with the fitting.

She sat in the dressing-room that she was sharing with Delia. She looked at the girl in the mirror, at the costume, at the stage make-up. Who was she?

There was a knock at the door. Her legs felt a little wobbly.

She opened the door. It was Johnny West with his smiling face.

“Hello. Nervous? You’ll be fine.”

He leaned towards her to kiss her. She thought it would be a kiss on the cheek, but he kissed her lips softly. Then a figure appeared behind him and Nesbo said, “It’s time, Miss Flynn. We’re on.”

She followed him, her heart thumping with the excitement of her stage debut.


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