KATE’S legs were shaking. Her chest felt tight. How had she come to this, from a Woolworths assistant to a magician’s assistant? From Aunt Norma’s dismal house to the gaudy stage of the Palace Theatre, Coventry, standing next to a tall, dark man in a dress suit, a black cape lined with burgundy silk draped over his shoulders.
She was about to step out in front of hundreds of people wearing fishnet tights and a bodice of burgundy silk and black lace. Nothing seemed real. But it wasn’t real, this was the theatre this was magic and illusion.
She felt Nesbo’s eyes on her. She looked at him.
“Smile, Miss Flynn. Smile and distract, bewitch and beguile.”
On stage Lennie Douglas was introducing their act. In the opposite wings she saw Delia Desmond, who smiled and waved. Then the orchestra struck up and they were on.
Kate preceded Nesbo on stage, trying to walk and hold her arms as she had practised for hours, and smiling. The audience was a blur of faces in the darkness. She removed Nesbo’s cloak and draped it over an ornate red plush gilded chair whilst Nesbo began to make a silk handkerchief float in the air. Then he rolled it into a ball, opened his hand and it was gone.
Applause washed over them.
Kate placed a slim pedestal by Nesbo’s side. He gave her his top hat which she showed to the audience, inside and out, and put the hat on the pedestal.
Nesbo reached into the hat and began to draw out coloured handkerchiefs, each knotted together in a long rainbow rope which he passed over to Kate. She knew that the hollow pedestal was packed with the handkerchiefs and both the hat and the pedestal each had a hinged top.
Now it was time for Kate to vanish. She helped Nesbo to manoeuvre the black, silver-starred cabinet to the centre of the stage then handed him an ivory-topped stick. He struck all four sides of the cabinet to show it was solid and then it was time for Kate to step inside. She must get this right.
Nesbo helped her to step up into the black interior. She waved, then stood, her arms across her chest, waiting for Nesbo to close the door. She mustn’t move a muscle until the door closed. Bang!
Quickly now! She was desperately feeling to find the slit in the tightly stretched black cloth. Her sliding fingers found it. She slid into the narrow dark envelope, holding her breath. Nesbo opened the door and she heard applause.
Bang! The door closed again. She stepped out, the door opened and Nesbo was helping her out of the cabinet to loud applause. She’d done it! She gave the audience a genuine smile. But then she had a sick, empty feeling in her stomach. It was time for the mind-reading part of the act.
Nesbo stepped to the front of the stage.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I am now about to attempt what everyone would deem impossible. I am about to read a woman’s mind.” There was laughter.
“We are stepping into the realms of the paranormal, the world of extra-sensory perception.” He paused for a few seconds. “For many years I studied with the wise men of the East, in India, Persia and China, and tonight I will attempt to read the mind of my beautiful assistant, Zara.”
It was the first time Kate’s stage name had been pronounced in public.
She felt a different person, like a character in a novel. All eyes were on her.