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THE WORLD ACCORDING TO HOOTER MCCORMICK -- NOW YOU SEE HIM…PART III

by: Wes Ishmael

The Great Squeakdini—formerly known as Squeak the Clown—a.k.a Squeak Jablowski, was wowing the crowd in Apache Flats with his magic show. Readers new to this adventure should know that Hooter first got acquainted with Squeak a couple of decades ago when Squeak lost his nerve for riding bulls, switched to bull fighting, then was so overcome by fear at seeing a bull that he simply disappeared. By the time Squeak flashed back into Hooter's world he was one of the most popular children's entertainers in the Southwest. But, he aspired to become a world-class magician. Squeak enlisted Hooter to help him put together a local theatre, the props and management so that he could practice his routine.

Each performance drew a larger crowd than the previous one. It was rumored that at the finale Squeak would even attempt one of Houdini's classic illusions: hiding an elephant.

Actually, it was more than a rumor. In the very beginning, Squeak told Hooter to build the necessary stage and secure the requisite materials. “But I don't know as I can come up with an elephant on such short notice,” said Hooter.

“It doesn't have to be an elephant,” said Squeak. “Just something alive, easy for the audience to recognize, and big. As my manager, I'm sure you'll think of something.”

Squeak proved to be a master showman, equally adept at presenting his stage illusions as well as baffling demonstrations of sleight of hand:

Squeak picked up a fishing pole, dipped his hand into a bait bucket, attached a worm and flipped the line out over the audience. When he reeled it back in the folks were amazed to see a goldfish at the end of the line, which Squeak deftly unhooked and placed into a large clear bowl. By the time he was done, there were at least 10 of the critters swimming merrily in the tank.

He made Hooter appear—decked out in Tuxedo with his hair and beard slicked back—from a recently empty faux-outhouse, assembled moments before in front of the audience,

He let Aunt Pinky shuffle cards, choose three, and then told her exactly what they were. He made Nelda Isselfrick's heirloom diamond ring disappear then reappear inside a fresh plum, which was inside Norvis Underwood's pocket, and Norvis swore he'd never seen it.

Next, the Great Squeakdini motioned to Hooter who picked up a small hinged wooden crate. He lifted it over his head, then dangled it by the handle from one finger. Hooter popped the latch and showed the crowd the empty interior; closed it, lifted it again then set it on the stage.

“I need a volunteer interested in making a thousand dollars,” beamed Squeak. As hands raised, he added, “I need a volunteer who feels strong enough to lift this box from the stage, even just an inch from the stage.”

Seeing that Izzie Franklin was the largest and notoriously strongest of anyone for miles around, he was an easy choice. Izzie approached the box with the satisfaction of man already spending easy money. He reached down, grabbed the handle on top with a finger as Hooter had done. Nothing. He pulled harder, still nothing.

“By all means, use the handles on the sides if you'd like,” smiled Squeak.

Izzie leaned over the box, grabbed the handles and lifted for all he was worth, still nothing. He huffed, puffed, turned red, grunted and groaned. Finally, the box didn't move, but the handles did, tearing themselves from the bolts that held them. In fact, if it wasn't for the front row acting in self-defense, Izzie would have done a backward somersault off the stage. As the laughter died, Squeak said, “Really, it's not fair. I forgot to give you the magic word. Again sir, please try, but only after saying hocus-cadabra.”

Duly embarrassed, Izzie repeated the word disgustedly. Rather than try to pick up the box, though, he gave it a mighty kick. The box sailed backward, ricocheted off a wall, and then spun innocently. Again, the crowd went nuts.

Next, the Great Squeakdini told the audience he'd demonstrate one of the oldest, most classic illusion in all of magic—the three card Monte. He caught Lonnie Johnson rolling his eyes in disgust.

“Why sir, you seem unimpressed. What's the problem?”

“Nothing, go on.”

“No sir, I won't. Perhaps you've had a bad experience in the past.”

“He's had lots of them,” hooted Izzie.

“Not like that last little display of yours,” grumped Lonnie. Once he realized everyone was waiting for an explanation, he said, “Well sir, that there's just a carnival trick where you move your hands so fast nobody can keep up. That's not real magic like the rest of what you've been doing.”

“True that some carnival workers offer a version of this,” beamed Squeak as he effortlessly fanned the deck of cards in his hands. “True also that some think they know what they're doing but don't. I'll make you a deal, Mr. Johnson. Keep an open mind. I promise you I won't be fast with my hands at all, and when I'm finished if you're still dissatisfied I'll give you your money back.”

“But the show's free shouted,” Izzie.

“I mean this money,” said Squeak, reaching into his pocket to retrieve Lonnie Johnson's billfold, which Lonnie hadn't realized was missing. The crows went wild, but nothing compared to the applause as Squeak's hands seemed to move in slow motion with just three cards—a couple of deuces and the Queen of Spades. He'd move the cards and drop them face-down, ever so slowly and gracefully it seemed. All anyone had to do was guess where the Queen was. Nobody could do it. Finally, Squeak flipped all of the cards face-up again. The deuces and the Queen were in the same position as when he'd started. He flipped them face-down again, then immediately face-up. Now all of the cards were queens. The crowd was stunned. Even Lonnie stood up and bowed slightly in respect to the magician.

Poof!

A couple more classics, then Squeak announced: “Finally, I'm going to share with you an illusion made famous by the Great Harry Houdini himself. Few will speculate on how he accomplished it, and no one can know for sure. But, Harry Houdini made an elephant disappear at the famous Hippodrome Theatre in New York. There, in front of thousands of people, Houdini had a trainer lead the elephant into a giant wooden box, turned the box, and poof, both the trainer and the elephant were gone.”

The buzz of anticipation commenced.

“Back when we first started planning this show, I asked Hooter to build a stage, the box and also to get and elephant,” explained Squeak. “Hooter said he didn't know if he could find an elephant. I just told him to find something large and alive.” There were a few chuckles.

“Come to think of it, I never did ask Hooter what he came up with, so I'll be as surprised as the rest of you,” chuckled Squeak, brimming with the confidence of a high school senior. “If you'll join me in what used to be the backyard of this magnificent old home, we shall see.”

No one would have been surprised to see an elephant. After all, Hooter was the one who got his hands on a camel for the Christmas pageant. He was the one well versed in white armadillos and other mythic creatures. In this case, though, Hooter had come up emptier than a hobo's wallet at a train station. Between animal health rules, freight costs and paltry supply, there just weren't any to be had.

Then Hooter had an epiphany: Old Teddy.

That was what Hooter called the retired rodeo bull Aunt Pinky had purchased a few months hence with the notion of breeding and selling rough stock. Teddy grazed and lounged around Hooter's place, gentler than rain drops on deerskin gloves. Teddy was a giant, though, even by bucking bull standards—massive and tiger striped with bucket-sized ears. Whether it was the ears or the overall size, Hooter guessed that's how the bull had come by his rodeo name: Dumbo's Revenge.

Now, Hooter knew Squeak had left the rodeo because he'd turned scared of bulls, but he figured that was a lifetime ago. Plus, he figured, it wasn't like Squeak was going up against the bull. Cousin Charlie would have Teddy on a halter some distance away. Besides, there was no way Hooter could know that it was Dumbo's Revenge, in his prime, who had driven Squeak Jablowski into the soggy arena at Steamboat Springs and sent him over the edge.

As soon as Charlie led Teddy on to the stage, though, Hooter knew something was amiss. There was a look in Teddy's eye Hooter had never seen before, and the Great Squeakdini seemed to become a lot less. Quietly and mechanically, Squeak stuttered, “W-w-well he certainly s-s-seems large as an e-e-elephant.” A few chuckles. “H-H-Hooter, if you'll just have your assistant, w-w-well…” He motioned toward the ramp leading into a giant wooden crate on wheels. Hooter gave Charlie the high sign and Charlie led a cooperative Teddy inside.

“N-n-n-now, Hooter, if you'll just c-c-close the gate, I m-m-mean the door and t-t-turn the ch-ch-chute, I mean the box around.”

As they'd rehearsed, sans elephant or bull, Hooter and a couple of other assistants pushed the crate slowly around until the door was once again facing the audience. Also, as they'd rehearsed Hooter swung open the gate with a flourish. Unlike they'd rehearsed, though, instead of an empty box, the audience was looking at Charlie, still holding the halter and Teddy.

“It didn't work,” shouted someone. “They're still there,” echoed someone else.

“Oh yes it did,” said Hooter. “As you can plainly see, the Great Squeakdini has disappeared.”

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