By John McDonnell
Petey and Muggs sat in the back of the Orpheum Theatre and watched The Great Mesmeroni and his assistant, the lovely Fifi, perform magic for the matinee crowd.
“I hope he don’t saw her in half,” Muggs said. “I don’t like to see a girl get sawed in half.”
“It’s a trick,” Petey said. “She ain’t really going to get sawed in half.”
“How do you know? Maybe she will.”
Petey sighed. “Don’t you know it’s all done with mirrors? It’s a trick, that’s all.”
“Well, she’s a pretty girl, and I wouldn’t want to see her get sawed in half.”
The girl wore a red sequined gown that shimmered in the stage lights, and long red gloves, and she had a mane of cinnamon colored hair. She had a ballerina’s posture and graceful arm movements.
The Great Mesmeroni pulled pigeons out of his top hat, yards of silk handkerchiefs out of a shot glass, and playing cards out of the air. He got giggling audience members to come up on stage and he pulled coins from behind their ears. For the finale, he wheeled out a large polished black box and put the lovely Fifi in it, then sawed her in half. Muggs did not look at this, holding his bowler hat over his eyes.
Afterward, Petey led the way back to the dressing room, and Muggs followed, anxious to make sure the girl was all right.
She wasn’t in the magician’s dressing room, however, and Muggs was disappointed. The Great Mesmeroni was taking his makeup off, and was sitting naked from the waist up at a dressing table in front of a greasy mirror. He looked smaller without his tuxedo on, and he had a potbelly.
He was not happy to see them.
“Gentlemen, please,” he said. “This is my dressing room.”
“We just came to talk,” Petey said. “Mr. Donovan sent us.”
“I know very well who sent you. I told him my answer. I don’t work for gangsters and bootleggers. I am a man of integrity.”
“Now, that ain’t very white of you,” Petey said. “Mr. Donovan loves your act, and he thinks you’d be a big hit at his club.”
“You can inform Mr. Donovan I’m not working at his speakeasy. Why is that fellow staring at me?”
“That’s my friend Muggs. He don’t like the way you treat women.”
“Why’d you saw that girl in half?” Muggs said.
“My dear boy, I didn’t saw her in half. You saw her standing upright at the end of the show, didn’t you?”
“Muggs closed his eyes,” Petey said. “He couldn’t watch.”
“Well, I’m sorry you believed it. It’s all a trick, my boy. It’s about smoke and mirrors, about misdirection, about putting up a diversion so the audience doesn’t see what you’re really doing.”
“You’re lying,” Muggs said.
“God help me, I think you mean it,” the magician said. “Well, I’ve no answer for stupidity. Now get out of here, the both of you.”
In the Packard on the way home, Muggs said, “He shouldn’t saw girls in half.”
Petey whistled, long and hard. “I didn’t know you could bend somebody’s arm at that angle,” he said. “He ain’t going to be sawing nobody in half for quite a while now. Mr. Donovan won’t be happy.”
“She was a pretty girl.”
“Aw, you big ox, you just don’t get it, do ya? Everything about show business is fake. I know a guy who works at the Orpheum, and he says she’s 60 years old if she’s a day. With all the face paint she wears, and the wig, and the stage lights, they make her look 30 years younger. She’s long past being a girl.”
“I don’t believe it.”
Petey shook his head. “It must be nice to be so thick-headed. I bet you believe in Santy Claus, too.”
“I ain’t sayin’.”
Petey shook his head. “Gimme that flask, willya? I need a drink to take the edge off.”
THE END Copyright John McDonnell 2010