THE performance was not as slick as usual. Kate’s mind was in the clouds, perhaps floating over the white beaches, green hills and blue lakes of Nova Scotia, whilst Nesbo’s mind was on Delia and his future with or without her.
The disappearing woman in the cabinet was simple and straightforward. Kate could have slipped into the concealed hiding-place in her sleep. It was the mind-reading part of the act that faltered and stuttered with both their minds preoccupied.
Sometimes even with their extensive and well-practised code they went wrong, and that evening a member of the audience produced from his pocket a black rubber bath plug. Perhaps, Kate thought, he was a plumber. She was nonplussed. Eventually she guided Nesbo to identify a round, black object, possibly a small purse, which was rather an anti-climax.
Fortunately, sawing Kate in half was as successful and popular as usual. Then Nesbo announced that he required two strong men to bind him in chains, and as usual Kate went down into the audience to persuade shy or reluctant men on to the stage. On this occasion two strapping youths were more than keen to assist her. Waving their arms to the cheers of the audience, they bounced on to the stage.
Nesbo sat on a chair in the centre of the stage, coils of chains by his feet.
“Thank you for your assistance, gentlemen. I want you to take the chains and wrap them tightly about my torso.”
The young men, under Kate’s direction, wound the chains around Nesbo from the waist up and around his chest.
“Now,” Nesbo said, “pull them tight
and . . .” Before he had finished the sentence the lads both yanked hard and closed the padlock.
Kate saw Nesbo wince. She handcuffed his hands across his chest. He was in trouble, she could see that.
“Are you all right?” she whispered anxiously.
“Get on with it.” He grunted.
She placed the screen around the chained Nesbo. She encouraged the audience to count to 10 with her.
“One. Two.” She made the count as slow as she reasonably could. “Three. Four.”
She knew he hadn’t been able to take the breath he needed.
“Five. Six.” She should have done something. “Seven. Eight.” But what? “Nine. Ten!” She waved her hand dramatically towards the screen. Nothing happened.
She was just about to rush over to it when the screen collapsed and Nesbo was standing by the chair, one hand resting on it, the chains on the floor. He was swaying and his face was white.
Kate bowed to the audience to acknowledge the applause, and as she walked towards Nesbo she looked into the wings and frantically mouthed, “Curtain.”
For a few seconds nothing happened, then the curtains swished together as Nesbo crumpled and collapsed to the floor.
Kate fell to her knees beside him. Will Griffiths came rushing out of the wings and took one look at the motionless man.
“I’ll get a doctor.” He turned away.
Lennie Douglas had gone on stage. It was unreal to hear waves of laughter as Nesbo lay sprawled there, not moving.
Kate touched his face. He was cold. She patted his cheek. Nothing. Then he opened his eyes.
“Too slow,” he murmured. “I was too slow. Didn’t get a deep breath.”
There was a burst of laughter beyond the curtain.
Kate was opening his collar as Delia arrived.
“Leo!” She kneeled beside him.
Nesbo struggled to sit up.
“I don’t need a doctor.” He gasped.
“Keep still, Leo, please,” Delia pleaded.
She took his hand. Colour was returning to his cheeks. His breathing became easier.
“It was my mistake I was too slow. Careless. I’m all right. No need to fuss. It won’t happen again.”
“You’re quite right,” Delia said. She was crying. “It won’t happen again! Oh, Nesbo, do you want to make me a widow before you make me a wife?”
Nesbo’s dark eyes opened wide.
“Do you mean . . .?”
“Yes. I’ll marry you, my dear Leo!”
Kate stood up and moved away a little, and left Delia and Nesbo sitting together. Then Will Griffiths hurried on stage from the wings with a tall, balding man.
“This is Doctor Fergus.”
“Help me up,” Nesbo said to Delia.
“The first thing is to check your heart,” Dr Fergus said as Nesbo got to his feet.
“No, Doctor,” Nesbo said. “The first thing is to clear the stage. Even Lennie Douglas will run out of patter eventually. And I can assure you that my heart is fine.” He looked at Delia. “It’s never been better.”