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
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,
“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.
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
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
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