By KB HURST
Three years ago, I was in a class of highly respected magicians — every sleight of the hand, a trick of the lightning I have seen and replicated. I once even won a large sum of money on one of those television programs as a runner up.
I had a gig for 20 years, where I worked in a small venue in Las Vegas on Tuesday nights, and I made a decent income doing bachelorette parties during the rest of the time.
I finally retired shortly after my 56th birthday because no one wants to watch an old man try to crawl out of a locked barrel. It was firmly set in stone when I tripped over one of the bars we used in the former I can make you levitate routine.
So I retired and decided to get a non-entertaining gig, RV sales, which often required a different sleight of hand.
I was discussing what could be a perfect sale for a used RV when a young man interrupted my conversation. He was lanky and had shaggy light brown hair he was annoying on first glance as he stood there he smoked a cigarette blowing smoke in my direction all the while holding a cellular up to his ear.
“Hey you’re that guy from The Blue Room ain’t ya?” He asked snapping a photo of me with his cellphone. “Oh man, I got great news! Talk soon!” He said into his phone and quickly tossing it into his pocket.
I had been recognized before, and usually, I’d just pull out my deck of cards, do a quick trick, they’d have a good laugh and move on.
So I said excuse me to the gentleman I was trying sell the flashy RV with all the bells and whistles too and asked the customer if he could be so kind as to wait while I finished with this gentleman. Nodding, he kept his eyes on me intensely as he watched me from behind the sign next to our business.
I finished the sale, which only took me thirty-five minutes, as the customer paid in cash, and then I watched the customer drive off in his new RV. I turned back, and there was the guy still waiting for me.
I laughed and pulled out my deck of cards while I twiddled my white mustache.
“Pick a card young man.”
He just stared at me, and instead of picking a card, he looked right at me intensely.
“I have other tricks up my sleeve.” I joked.
“He’s perfect.” The young man said to no one.
“It’s about my lunchtime,” I said mildly annoyed by this brief interaction. “Here’s my business card come back if you are interested in buying an RV.”
I was getting tired, and my stomach growled. I began walking away when Dan put his arm out in front of me, stopping me in my tracks.
“You like it here? I know a way you could make a huge sum of money! Better than what you make in sales here!”
“Look, I’m about to go to lunch maybe come by another day,” I said, trying to blow him off.
“Let me introduce myself. I’m Dan Carter, and I remember seeing your act a few years ago. Where are you going for lunch? It’s on me, just let me have 30 minutes of your time.”
I was too hungry to care if this guy bought me lunch. If he wanted to spend money on a stranger who was I to stop him? Luckily, the RV dealership was next to a 24-hour diner, and so we met there taking a booth by the front of the crowded restaurant.
A waitress came right over and took our orders, and then it was time to interact with this oddball.
“You are a magician by trade. The great Eddie Cavalier!”
“Was. I’m now retired.”
“That’s fine, but my boss is always on the lookout for new talent. We are in the business of some of the greatest showman you will ever meet. I’ve already consulted my boss, and he likes your portfolio of work. He remembered seeing you at The Blue Door. Your phantom act was particularly of interest to him. What luck finding you today!”
“Look, I’m sure your boss is a great guy, and I’m sure he pays as good as the next venue, but I’m retired from the entertainment industry.”
“Well, we aren’t in the entertainment industry. We are paid, paranormal investigators. The only difference is we create illusions for our customers to get out of certain types of contracts.”
I looked at this young man squinting in confusion. “I don’t think I understand, Dan.”
“Well, it’s pretty simple. We have clients that pay us for what we can do with ghosts, landlords mostly. I can tell by the look on your face you are still confused. Let me start from the beginning.”
I listened to him as he explained to me how it worked – here was the basic breakdown; when landlords couldn’t get rid of squatters in buildings or non-paying tenants, they were called as a bit of a last resort — most of their customers finding them through word of mouth. Even with the typical 30-day evictions, the tenants lingered or would trash the homes and apartments as a form of retaliation. Scaring them into disappearing on their own was the best, or so Dan said. I tried to keep my face from showing how amused I was listening to this insane proposition. Living in Vegas had taught me that nothing was too crazy.
“How do you do it? I mean, how is it the tenants don’t know you’re there?” I sipped on my coffee, listening intensely.
“We get keys from the landlords and hide in areas of the homes often setting our equipment up when they were at work. Sometimes we hide in basements or attics. When 3 am rolls around, the witching hour, as they say, that’s when our show begins. Once we laid in wait for hours until a husband and wife had fallen asleep with rats running across our feet while we were hidden the attic of an old apartment building.”
I listened and just as I was about to thank him for lunch, (he paid) when he said something strange.
“We make a lot of money. We charge by the job, and the last one made us over 100 grand just for a small apartment building. The most recent job we have taken on is a rather large apartment building. Tenants need to be out so the property can be sold for a new hotel that was going in its place and there are a few hangers-on that won’t leave. The last job we scared them good with our tricks.” He chuckled and then shoved a significant bit of hash browns and gravy in his mouth.
“Isn’t it dangerous?”
“I mean you’re pissing people off. What if you scare them so bad they attack you? What if they don’t believe in ghosts?”
“I understand your concerns. That isn’t usually an issue.” Dan grinned cocking his head slightly.
“I find that hard to believe, young man.”
“Let me just show you a trick.” He said winking.
I sat there and watched him. He asked the waitress to come over. The older woman came over smiling, and he pulled out his hand. It was completely missing. Just a bloody stump appeared in its place. I knew it was an illusion, and even if there hadn’t been blood, it still would have been unnerving.
She was holding a pitcher of ice water and promptly dropped it upon viewing the stump. Standing up to help the waitress, I noticed on the floor by the puddle of water; there were cockroaches in place of the ice cubes crawling around.
Dan pulled out a handkerchief from his shirt sleeve and handed it to her. She wiped off the water from her cheek and when she looked down the cockroaches were gone and so was the bloody stump. Now using both his hands, he helped her pick up the ice.
She looked distraught and had a hard time composing herself. I could see the confusion on her face.
“I’m sorry I’m not feeling well.” She said, and one of the other waitresses helped her towards the back of the kitchen.
I looked at him, and I smirked. “How?”
“Magic.” He smiled
“Not all tricks should be shared.” He stood up and tossed me his card, walking out of the diner.
It was my turn to feel bewildered.
That evening I sat in my study thinking about what had transpired. I didn’t know I needed to bother calling, however, it was around noon the following day dealing with some asshole customer who couldn’t decide if he wanted to buy an RV because he still loved his old one when I thought maybe I could be doing something else.
Some hours later, I found myself sitting in the same diner, staring into a cup of coffee. I pulled out the card and looked at it. I called Dan. He arranged a meeting over the phone within minutes, and I was to meet his boss the next day to discuss things. I had to get the approval of Dan’s boss before he deemed me worthy of taking me on.
The meeting took place inside an old pawn shop on the edge of the city. I entered the tiny building, and it smelled of too many cigarettes and wasn’t well lit. A bleach blonde-haired woman in her late 40’s met me, first with a handshake. I noticed her long red nails and her cleavage. She wore a bodysuit with a palm tree pattern and blue jeans. She told me to wait in the lobby and “Big Sam” would be with me shortly.
She chewed gum loudly, and I guessed she was the receptionist.
“You’re older than I thought.”
“Thanks,” I said perplexed.
“No honey, don’t take it personally. Big Sammy has this way of recruiting kids off the street, and most aren’t finished with high school. It’s nice to see someone that isn’t a kid. He’s going to love that.”
“Why is that?”
“Because the young ones don’t last. They always disappear after payday.”
I stood there looking at her as she licked stamps and stuck them on envelopes.
“You can sit.” She said, pointing to a pink chair.
I looked down, and there was an orange cat sprawled out in the chair.
“Oh, that’s Elvis you can move him.”
I smiled and looked at him again. The cat opened one of his eyes, which was emerald green looking at me as if to say don’t you even think about it!
“Oh, Elvis! Get up! Go chase mice!” She said, popping her gum loudly picking up the fat cat and placing him in the back of the office. She resumed her place at her desk licking stamps and loudly chewing her gum. I took off my jacket and placed it on the chair before sitting down. The chair was ragged, stained, and covered in lumps of cat hair.
I took a deep breath and played on my phone while I waited. It must have been another twenty minutes when the man they referred to as Big Sam finally came out. Sam was very tan and had long black hair, which was in a ponytail with bits of sweat pouring down his forehead. A thick gold chain necklace of a crucifix was hanging from his chest, and bits of black curly hair stuck out from the top of his unbuttoned dress shirt. Big Sammy looked like every old mafia guy you had seen in the movies. He handed a pile of papers to the receptionist and then eyed me.
“Marti,” he turned to the blonde woman. “We have the great Eddie Cavalier in our presence! Please, sir, it is a great pleasure meeting you! Please come to my office.” He shook my hand heartedly, and I followed him. “This is a real pleasure. I can’t tell you how often I used to watch you in the Blue Room! Vegas is a town of many illusions but you being in that RV lot that day Dan found you were one of the best yet! Maybe I should pinch myself!” He laughed loudly.
I smiled at him but wasn’t entirely sure what to say.
“Dan explained what we do here, right?”
“Yes, although I’m not entirely sure what I’ll be doing.”
“No issue there. My boys will show you the ropes. Not that there are many you don’t already know.”
“When would I start?” I asked.
“Tonight. I’ll make sure you get a cut of the payment when I’m paid in full.”
“Does it usually take a long time to get paid?”
“No, I can advance the payments if need be, but you have to stick it out no matter what. Big Sam doesn’t like to get double-crossed.” Big Sam spoke of himself in the third person as though he held himself in high esteem.
So this was the racketeering operation they ran. I wasn’t sure what brought me here, except for the promise of a hefty paycheck. They were like supernatural loan sharks. I wasn’t sure about all this, and I could tell by the look on Big Sam’s face he meant business. I wondered if that is where some of those teenagers had disappeared. Did they leave or did something else happen to them? I didn’t want to think about it. This is the most exciting thing that had happened to me in a long while, and I missed performing. This crazy scheme was probably the closest I would ever get to getting paid to perform magic tricks. I thought about it, and then Big Sam reaching into his drawer, pulled out a large wad of cash. He handed me a chunk of it.
“There’s five thousand there. To keep you quiet about this just in case you don’t want to join our little troop. If you do, the crew meets at Midnight at this address.” He wrote down an address and slid it across the table toward me.
I smiled at Big Sam, and he winked at me.
“So it’s a deal?”
“Yes!” I exclaimed none too happy to take the large sum of cash in front of me.
We shook on it, and that was the initial meeting. I half expected someone to jump me upon leaving because of the cash, but I managed to get to my car safely and five thousand dollars richer.
I decided I’d be going to meet these illusionists before I was handed the address of the location. I felt o owed myself that much. Who knew it could be fun, maybe.
At exactly Midnight, I pulled up towards an old warehouse. I expected there to be a small crowd of cars, but I didn’t see anyone else.
I turned on my brights to see if anyone else was around and then I got a loud bang at my passenger side window startling me. When I looked over, I realized t was Dan.
“Turn off the lights!”
I complied and turned off the headlights. Dan juggled the handle to my passenger door, and I caught the cue and unlocked it. He got in and sat down and didn’t say anything for a moment, looking around. That is when he told me to drive around the corner of the lot and park my vehicle.
We sat in silence for another few moments, and then he addressed me.
“Never park in front of the place in question. Never use headlights or make noise. We are scoping out the place tonight. We got to get a feel for what the schedules are of the tenants so we can have when the best time is to set up and begin our operation.”
“I think I’m finally starting to understand how this all works. How long does it take to gauge?”
“On average, a couple of weeks, but this place here should be empty. There are a few stubborn assholes who wouldn’t take a payout, so it’s up to us to scare the living shit out of them.” He laughed hysterically.
“Where is everyone else? Big Sammy said I’d be meeting some other guys?”
“You will. After we all finish our shifts in a week, we compare notes. Our shift is Midnight to 5:00 am then the next guys show up and so on. When the week is up, we meet with Big Sam and try to decide when to go in and set up.”
It was mainly a heist minus the theft. I sat there with Dan watching the building until my eyes began to droop. He shook my arm, and I looked down at his hand.
“A little pick me up?” He held out a small bag of cocaine, and I shook my head. “What about Adderall?”
I looked at him and laughed, pulling up the coffee I had next to me. “Strictly caffeine guy. At my age, I may die of a heart attack.”
“Suit yourself.” He popped two Adderalls and then sat back. Dan focused on the old looking building, and I just tried to remain alert. What seemed like days instead of hours passed, and then the sun began to come up. That is when two headlights met my vehicle head-on. Dan was watching the building with a dazed expression upon his face.
“I think we have company.”
“Huh?” He mumbled and then looked at me.
“Oh yeah, that’s Marcus and Jet. We can go. I’ll see you tonight same time same place.” With that, he got out of my car and disappeared into the early dawns light.
I drove home in a daze perplexed at what I had just done for the last six hours. I wasn’t sure I hadn’t completely lost my marbles. They all made what we were doing seem natural.
The following night was the same as was the next. After a week of stakeouts, watching a few of the tenants that were still living in the building, Dan declared it was time to set a plan into action.
Initially, I was told Big Sam would hold a meeting to decide when to go in the building and set our equipment up. Dan seemed to have his own ideas.
Dan called a meeting nearly a week and a half later and declared Big Sam gave his okay on our entering the building. I was a little uncomfortable going ahead since I hadn’t seen Big Sam say it was okay myself, but Dan seemed to run things from the beginning. Dan was Big Sam’s right-hand man in charge, and he had found me and set up the meeting with Big Sam. I decided not to question it. We met in an old storage unit not far from the town surrounded by desert.
Inside were hundreds of props used in magic shows. I recognized them all. They had a levitating table, hundreds of “magic” mirrors, fog machines, and multiple notebooks and blueprints; which I guessed were for the building layouts.
“Thanks for coming guys,” Dan said, pulling out a small bag of pills and popping three in his mouth and proceeded to open a beer and chug it down. He took a deep breath and then belched loudly.
No one seemed to find it as obnoxious as I did. The other guys looked as shabby as Dan. Dan wore a black leather jacket with black boots and goggles on his head.
Jet was a tall, lanky guy with a black Snoop Dog t-shirt on and tight black jeans. He wore saddle shoes like everyone used to do in the ’80s. He wore red-rimmed glasses and kept a green comb over his ear. He had leather gloves with the fingers hanging out.
Marcus stood tall and full long blonde hair shaved in a Mohawk wearing a long black raincoat and a white tank. He too looked like a misfit of fashion, and all three combined looked like an awful steampunk band.
I sat in a short sleeve dress shirt, polished brown dress shoes with matching slacks. I felt overdressed.
“We haven’t seen anyone there in two nights,” began Marcus “But the old bag lady is still there with her nephew.”
“I think there are two others, but they are in a gang. It’s going to be hard to keep track of the gang activity coming and going at night.” Jet said, rubbing his chin deep in thought.
“We can go in later today. I think if we dress as fumigation workers, no one will pay attention to us. We can easily get in.” Dan said pacing.
“That’s suspicious. Three or four random workers all in fumigation masks?” Marcus asked.
“Like Ghostbusters.” Jet laughed.
“Not funny,” Marcus said, rolling his eyes.
“Technically we are fumigation workers, just of people.” Jet said, adjusting his glasses. He pulled up a deck of cards and made them dance by themselves on the table in front of him. I watched him while I tried to figure out how he was able to move them so quickly. It wasn’t your typical card trick. The cards flew out of his hand and onto the table and back into his hands.
I shook my head blinking, and then I thought of it.
“Painters. It’s not unusual for painters to come in multiple numbers.” I suggested thinking it sounded as stupid as their idea.
“That’s awesome!” Said Dan clapping his hands.
The others smiled nodding in agreement.
“Good job, old man!” Jet said, patting me on the shoulder.
Were they serious? It was a half baked idea if I ever heard one.
Dan grabbed a rolled-up blueprint off the floor and began mapping out where and how we would set up our magic tricks.
They gathered everything up, and I noticed they didn’t take any supplies with them, except for a medium-sized chest.
“What do you want me to bring? What sort of tricks do you want me to perform?”
Dan patted me on the shoulder. “Everything we need is in this box.”
I was confused, but being new I didn’t question it.
We all got into what Dan lovingly called the Shaggin’ Wagon. We through on some painters t-shirts and baggy pants. We drove to the building and parked the shaggin’ wagon in the back.
Dan put his steampunk goggles on, and they seemed to suit him even in his painters uniform. He carried the blueprints under his arm, and Marcus carried the chest under his arm.
Jet had a small backpack, and he pointed to a ladder from the back of the van for me to carry.
I looked at Jet, confused.
“It has to look authentic. What painter doesn’t have a ladder?” He laughed.
I shrugged it off, grabbing the ladder and walked up to the building following the others.
We were able to enter the building utterly undetected by any of the tenants that were left. The building already felt abandoned even though we knew of at least seven or eight people that were still living on multiple floors of the apartment building.
Walking down the halls, I couldn’t figure out why anyone still chose to live there. The walls were cracked and the ceilings leaked. Ants were everywhere, and on a few occasions, while walking, I saw more than one roach scattering across the floor. Parts of it had garbage piled up from where the other tenants had already moved out and left it as is. No wonder the owner was selling this property to have it bulldozed.
Dan found an entry to the attic area of the building that had a sign marked HAZARDOUS AREA.
Dan parked the box on the floor, and the others settled in around him as they made themselves at home.
Dan lit a cigarette, and the others sat around him doing their own thing. I stood watching them trying to figure out where I fit in.
Finally, Dan looked up at me and smiled. “Eddie we are going to be here for a while. Why don’t you show us one of those cool card tricks.”
The others chuckled to themselves as they watched me. I nodded smiling, ready to show them my “card on fire trick.”
Dan picked a card, and after I shuffled it, I grabbed a lighter from Marcus lighting the first card on fire, knowing it wasn’t Dan’s card. Burning it turned into the card Dan had selected. I did the trick at lightning speed. It was a simple trick of bait and switch. I watched the others watching me, and as they laughed, I felt suddenly like an amateur.
Marcus took out a coin, and then he put it behind his ear. Looking over at Dan, he pulled the same coin from Dan’s mouth. I chuckled as I had never seen the trick done so carefully. We killed time showing each other magic tricks back and forth, then as we got tired, Dan took a look at his watch. It was nearing 3 am, and we could hear people yelling and laughing just below us in the hallway. Dan looked around the room and had an excited look upon his face, like the one you would see on the Joker.
Marcus stood almost jovial, taking off his painters uniform to reveal winged tattoos on his back that glowed in the dark. Marcus put on a black shirt with a strange symbol in white on the front of it. Dan did a line of coke and a few pills to pump himself up. I had gotten used to Dan’s usage of drugs during the last couple of weeks.
I anxiously watched them all changing clothes as though they were going into battle. Dan handed me a dark blue sweatshirt, and I put it on. I guessed the theme was to wear all dark and blend in with the night.
I looked over at Dan and Jet, who also wore symbols on the front of their shirts. They were different from the one Marcus had on, almost like Sigils. I didn’t understand what was going on, but I followed them as they grabbed the chest they brought with them.
I watched as they all three snuck down from the ceiling in the dark hallway. There was barely any light because the landlord had most of the lightbulbs removed as a deterrent from staying longer. I slowly followed them as they stood in the center of the hallway, and all three seemed to form a triangle. Dan was the first to move, and he opened the chest slowly pulling out a pair of ten-sided polygon dice.
Dan proceeded to roll the dice, and when he did, that is when I realized what he was doing. There was a light that appeared from the pair of them. The sides closest together moved in closer and connected. After they moved in, the light went out, and that is when I could see it. Down the hall were two tall shadows. Jet then pulled out a mirror from his backpack, placing it in the center of where the dice were. The reflection of the dice in the mirror faced the direction of the two shadows at the end of the hall. The flickering lights were now completely off and the hall pitch black.
I heard a hissing, and then I realized the shadows were slithering like snakes up the walls and into the vents of the apartment building.
Screams came from inside the walls all around us. Terror bellowed out from every direction, and then I heard doors slamming and people running.
I heard rattling above me in the ceiling where the vents were, and then I listened to a gust of air as though someone turned on the central air.
Then the sound stopped, and I heard nothing.
End Part 1