KATE and Nesbo’s entrance music began, and they were on.
Their act proceeded as usual. Kate was very conscious of the fact that she mustn’t let her preoccupation with the cribber detract from the normal act.
Everything went well and they reached the mind-reading finale to the act. Kate, as Zara, went down among the audience and, using their code, managed successfully to convey their telepathic messages to the Great Nesbo.
Then Nesbo removed his blindfold and walked to the front of the stage.
He addressed the audience.
“This evening, ladies and gentlemen, I must warn you.” He paused. “Tonight I intend to make a member of the audience disappear.”
There was a murmur of excitement and perhaps a little uneasy nervousness.
“Zara will find our volunteer. Zara!”
Under a spotlight Kate moved along the front row. She pretended to move to one person, then changed her mind, and then to another and changed her mind. One was mightily relieved, another disappointed.
Then she reached the end of the row, and pounced.
The thin-faced man shrank back into his seat.
“Oh, no,” he said. “No, thanks.”
Kate gave him her beautiful smile.
“Please, sir.” Again he shook his head. She had to get him on the stage or the whole thing would be a fiasco.
She grabbed his hand, still smiling. He resisted. She had to do something. She appealed to the audience.
“Give our volunteer some encouragement, ladies and gentlemen.”
The audience began to clap enthusiastically.
Kate felt the man yield under the pressure and the next moment she was leading him firmly by the hand on to the stage, leading him to Nesbo.
“Good evening, sir. Tell me, have we ever met before?”
“No,” the man muttered, looking ill at ease. The last thing he’d expected that night was to be on stage. Kate went and picked up the blackboard propped against a chair and stood next to the victim.
“Now, sir,” Nesbo continued, “we have never met. I have no idea who you are. What I want you to do is close your eyes for five seconds. I want you to imagine that a blackboard is in front of you. Your name is written on that blackboard. I am going to attempt to read your mind. Close your eyes!” Nesbo commanded.
Completely dominated, the man did as he was told.
Nesbo took a piece of chalk from his pocket and began to write on the board.
“Concentrate!” He finished writing. “Now, open your eyes!”
The man’s eyes blinked open in panic.
Nesbo pointed dramatically to the man.
“Your name is Percy Hatton. Am I correct?”
The man nodded, mesmerised.
“How do you know that?”
The audience applauded. Nesbo bowed then held up his hand to command silence. He spoke slowly, calmly.
“I am now going to reveal Mr Hatton’s occupation.” He paused. “It is written on this board.”
He suddenly held the board high for everyone to see. On the blackboard in bold white chalk was the single word, Thief. There was a gasp
from the audience. Then Nesbo’s accusing finger stabbed at his victim.
“Thief!” he called.
The man’s eyes went glassy, his mouth opened and closed like a landed fish. Nesbo gave him no respite.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Percy Hatton has for weeks been copying and stealing the material of our comic genius Lennie Douglas and selling that material to other comedians.”
Nesbo had made sure that all the other members of the company were now part of the audience and it was probably Johnny West who first shouted, “Shame! Thief!” Then there was booing and hissing from the audience.
The man was looking round wildly. In the hubbub Kate glared at him and said, “You’ve been caught, Percy.”
Nesbo held up his hand to calm the audience.
“What Mr Hatton probably doesn’t realise is that Lennie Douglas, normally the mildest of men, used to be a professional boxer. And he’s annoyed, Mr Hatton. He’s very annoyed.”
At that moment, from the opposite side of the stage, Lennie marched out in a menacing, purposeful manner.
Percy Hatton took one look at him.
“I’m off!” He gulped, scuttled off the stage and headed briskly towards the exit, the audience booing and clapping in equal measure.
Nesbo took Kate’s hand and they advanced to the front of the stage.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I intended to make a member of the audience disappear this evening. And so it is done.”
There were peals of laughter and wild applause and when Kate came off stage she was tingling with excitement. She turned to Nesbo.
“You were right. There’s no substitute for live theatre. That was dramatic. What a show.”
Nesbo gave a rare smile and nod of acknowledgement.
“You did well, Miss Flynn. I was not wrong in engaging you.”
Encouraged, Kate said, “You know what I’m going to do, Nesbo? I’m going to write an account for ‘The Stage’. That might stop it happening again. Do you think they’ll print it?”
Nesbo gave a slight shrug of his shoulders.
“I’m the illusionist, Miss Flynn. You are the writer.”