A young magician will risk his soul to learn the secrets of the universe
Though he bills himself as the Greatest Magician in the World, Michael Hawke is painfully aware that he’s nothing more than a sidewalk. He plies his trade outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, entrancing passing crowds with feats of conjuring and sleight of hand. One afternoon, he plays a trick on a shabbily dressed man whose beard is twisted and whose glass eye gives him a sinister leer. Offended, the man responds with magic of his own, casting a spell that causes Michael to hop like a frog, maniacally splashing in the fountain until the police have to haul him out.
When he recovers from this trance, Michael knows that he has encountered a true magician, one whose secrets he will give anything to understand. But this is black magic, mysterious and deadly, and pursuing it will mean a confrontation with an evil older than civilization itself.
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By Thomas Tryon
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1995 Thomas Tryon
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Saskia in Tears
The man approaching the Metropolitan Museum of Art, on Fifth Avenue at Eighty-first Street in New York City, was seedy, tall, scarecrow gaunt, clad in indifferently fitting preacher black, despite the heat. His head bobbing, he strode amid the crowd, shadowed by a large black silk umbrella as if shunning the light, like a parasol-shaded spinster. His spare form seemed to gather mass by a trick of the eye, optically, like a desert mirage, undulant, damply vaporous in the convection currents rising from the steaming pavement, a discernible aura emanating from the dark outline of his spidery figure, wobbly, insubstantial, all of it wavering in the heat.
His caricature of a nose ended in a bulbous knob, red, as though not even the umbrella had managed to protect it from the sun, and the growth of hair curling outward from around his dark red mouth—mustache and beard, both curly—glistened with perspiration. His expression was vague, abstracted, one might say almost blank, his heavily Semitic features made more striking by the eyes, one of which, if careful notice were taken, drew fine light to itself even under the umbrella, while the other was dim and lacked sheen, skewed off in its alignment, as if seeking its separate way or viewing the world askance.
The lope-gaited, awkward figure reached the museum steps, which he took two at a time, and bounded through the wide doors, loose-jointed, long, manipulative fingers swinging jerkily like slack-strung puppet's hands, his gangling stride neither taking space nor assuming it, but seeming rather to encroach upon it as he came. One might have thought that, spiderlike, he had let himself down on an invisible filament to dangle there and, after the habit of arachnids, could retract himself with ease at any moment.
He looked around over the heads of the crowd and moved across the Great Hall to the checkroom, where he rid himself of his umbrella and a large paper shopping bag: the words "Big Brown Bag" printed on its side identified it as coming from Bloomingdale's. Then he crossed to the ticket booth, his steps resounding emphatically on the marble floor. It was his shoes and his curious way of walking in them that caused this emphasis. They were hardly what might be called ordinary footgear, but of a peculiar sort, ankle-high, in an old-fashioned gaiter style with inserted elastic panels. The worn patent leather was cracked and seamed across the instep, soiled with long wear but not so much that the blunted toes did not gleam when he moved; and he moved in a peculiar way, splayfooted, with toes turned out, each heel striking the marble first, then the sole coming down, producing a splat-splat splat-splat sound, an almost comical rhythm that rebounded acoustically in the hushed hall.
An off-duty flatfoot? A burlesque comedian? Who could tell?
At the ticket booth he paid the suggested admission fee of five dollars, pinched the small tab button he received onto his jacket lapel, and entered the Egyptian wing, where he inspected the antiquities displayed in the jewelry room off the main corridor, while the uniformed guard locked the backs of his knees against fatigue. Glass cases held, on illuminated shelves, an array of gold bracelets and necklaces, other cases contained talismans and amulets, including a number of scarabs carved from semiprecious stones—lapis lazuli, jade, obsidian, rose quartz—some raised over little squares of mirror so that the writing on their undersides would be legible.
Reading, the man had a peculiar way of holding his head canted to one side, with the left eye askew in its socket, as one might regard a single object from two separate points of view, the white of the one walleye gray and pallid, the iris lackluster and obliquely angled, hardly matching the right one, which peered with the intensity of a magnifying glass focusing the sun's rays down to the point of combustion.
His was an unhurried survey, interested but not too interested (the guard, though bored, was watchful). One could safely say moderately interested: the man seemed to mutter something as he bent to study, amid the collection of scarabs, an Eye of Horus painted on an azure fragment of faience. His thick gray brows contracted as he peered through the glass; he put his ear to the protective wall, compressed his lips more tightly. He placed his spread palm on the glass, silently shook his head. The guard came meandering in; the man ignored him, gazing at the fragment as though considering a swap, an eye for an eye, as Scripture says, that ancient visionary Eye for his more recent but sightless one.
The guard ambled out. The visitor might ponder these pharaonic treasures with impunity; there was no one to disturb him, the room was now quite empty. Today, the larger share of the museumgoing public was upstairs on the second floor, attracted by the famous Rembrandt portrait recently placed on exhibition in the European Painting wing at the head of the grand staircase, now thronged with art lovers going to view or already having admired the portrait of Saskia. The appertaining brochure printed under the museum's imprimatur for the occasion stated that the priceless work, on loan from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, had been painted in 1637, just after the artist's first marriage. It hung in solitary splendor against one large red wall in the second gallery to the right, the space before it cordoned off with velvet ropes.
There it was, the partially nude figure, full of warmth and tenderness, well composed, offering a serene harmony of flesh tones, a deft handling of the brushstrokes, whose rich impasto brought a luminous quality to the features, captured in the subtle chiaroscuro the artist controlled so well, while the contours of the figure softly receded into shadow. Though bare breasted, she seemed chaste and maidenly, her features reflecting a pensiveness, even a melancholy.
Caught in her spell, the viewers gazed in awe. They spoke in hushed tones. They peered closely to examine details or stood well back to appreciate the whole, lost in the reverie that an indisputable masterpiece can evoke. And, strangely, so substantial was the artist's talent that he was able to lend that thoughtful expression a lachrymose, grieving air, a quality falling just short of tragedy. It was as if Saskia, in the bloom of youth and health, already contemplated her impending decline into illness and death: the tear just there, in the corner of the eye, how real it seemed, how wet, a single, sparkling drop of moisture, poised at the duct to roll down the face. And—more strangely—it fell, leaving behind a shining trickle visible on the canvas. It fell, to be replaced by another tear, and yet another. Tears in both eyes, and those falling. Saskia was crying. The sitter in the portrait, Rembrandt's wife, was crying.
"Saskia in Tears" was what she would be called before evening, the famous "weeping painting." The curious spectators surged forward, their voices rising in volume. In the general confusion, guards from opposite ends of the gallery hurried to restore order among the crowd. The guards halted, also staring in disbelief. In the hubbub no one noticed the bearded man with the red nose who likewise had been viewing the work, aloof from the rest, standing to one side, one eye askew, the other fixed not precisely on the portrait itself, but obliquely, possibly upon the faces of those looking at it.
Soon after, he left. Presently he would arrive at the place where he was meant to be.CHAPTER 2
Michael into Frog
It was the Thursday after Labor Day, a noontime of record-breaking temperatures, when the city lay sprawled as though poleaxed under the stunning heat, when people's clothing stuck like wet wash to their backs, and under a poisoned sun New Yorkers were already exhausted and cranky. Michael Hawke was performing at the corner of the park, on the plaza, under the blindingly golden statue of General William Tecumseh Sherman.
While Saskia is weeping, while the minutes are ticking by and Hawke's own wristwatch recording them, while the man with the black umbrella is approaching and Michael is working the lunchtime crowd, it will not hurt to use this time to discover some facts concerning him. Name, Michael Hawke. Age, twenty-six. Born, Buffalo, New York. Tragic childhood, parents believed dead. Brought up in Ohio by mother's older sisters. Resident of New York for almost five years. One more aspiring actor lacking prospects. His greater aspiration: to be a magician. Not merely a magician, but the Greatest Magician in the World. He bills himself as Presto the Great and dreams of doing presentation shows for large corporations; what more fitting employment for the Greatest Magician in the World? An appealing young man with an engaging smile, earnest in his belief that he has overcome his past and is on his way to Great Things, he is confident, possessed of all the requisites: talent, dexterity, imagination, audacity. Plus the necessary guts and fortitude, and a nervy ambition to succeed. Last but not least, he has a deep-seated curiosity, a personality trait that, as we know, killed the cat.
Today, Michael was in whiteface, doing mimes. He was a street artist worthy of the name and a not uncommon attraction in this quarter of the city. Since returning from a season of summer stock, he had staked out his turf at the southeastern tip of Central Park, across Fifth Avenue from the Sherry Netherland, across Central Park South from the Plaza Hotel and the fountain, its rim dotted with idlers defying the heat, while here, in the brick-paved area margined with low hedges, the benches were filled, and all around the side gathered a catch-as-catch-can audience of watchers.
Here was Michael: an enviable helmet of dark hair, thick, shaggy, glossy, looked-after. A trained-down body, lithe, agile, quick to respond to the mental impulse, controlled by the sharply honed precision of the athlete and nurtured by the vital enthusiasms of the young. He was dressed and accoutred for his trade in close-fitting black trousers, soft black shoes, a top hat, and an oddment of costume resembling a grenadier's jacket, with gilt frogging front and back. This coat was a necessary part of his act, for the lining was a labyrinth of sewn-in pockets and cunning flaps where he had cached his store of sleight-of-hand materials, including his trick wallet, one compartment of which held the money he had saved all summer and which must that afternoon be deposited in his account before the bank's closing time.
He had a thin, almost feral face, washed out with a coat of dead-white makeup; its sweating planes and turnings were smoothed to a matte glaze, its features accented with dark pencil, outlining, widening, exaggerating the size of his eyes, his mouth painted a dark carmine, which did not precisely follow the beveling of the lips: the classic tradition of the pantomime mask, followed in every detail.
Moving, darting, dancing even, his shadow a perfect replication in this hot city high noon, he was by turns antic, doleful, mocking, manic, outrageous; but in its brief moments of repose his face reflected the look of one in control of serious, even important, matters. His talent was not in question, only his ambition, and it required but scant perusal of his audience to determine that they were responding here not to the hack but to the artist at work.
They had encountered him, a stranger, some in hilarity, some in mild humor, some against their wills, even in apathy, and from their remoteness and boredom he had fashioned—for this was his true métier—something they would remember for a moment, an hour, a day, but something that in some infinitesimal way would alter them, reveal them to themselves. For it was not Michael's desire that they should see him but rather themselves; he wanted to ignite the flash of insight that would awaken them to their own persons. It was a combination of his natural intuition and his intellect that made him a keen perceiver of individual natures and foibles, but in another fifteen minutes now, twenty at the most, he would commit a grave error regarding the man with the umbrella.
Until then, however, there was time enough for him to have some fun, and collect a little money in the hat, too. The pretty girl on the steps of the statue, the one with the flute, was Emily Chang, Michael's girlfriend; that is to say, Emily was in love with him, though Michael, whose intuitive gift for reading emotions, inclinations, desires did not always extend to his own, was not certain that he totally reciprocated Emily's feelings. He loved her; he was sure of that. But "in love" ...? That was a different matter and called for commitment he wasn't sure he was ready to make. Yet he appreciated her generous heart, her loyalty, her exotic good looks, her talent. She played the flute beautifully, and Michael enjoyed having his mimes orchestrated. But like all pipers, Emily must be paid; Michael thought he'd been spending more and more time with her by way of making up for the paltry sums that fell to her share, but the truth was that he enjoyed her company more than anyone else's, even his own. So they spent many of their nights together, and two or three days a week she was there with her flute, improvising accompaniments for his act and passing the hat afterward. She was bright and willing and nice to have around. Everyone in New York should have someone around.
Michael was doing one of his slow-motion routines, Emily was making music, and down the steps of the Metropolitan Museum the tall man in black was coming, holding his umbrella above him as though the sun were anathema, turning right and beginning his journey south, down Fifth Avenue, lost in thought, moving with his odd, splattering gait, halting for the light, heading toward the plaza and the eventual, inevitable encounter.
Michael and Emily working, then, and the man approaching, still unseen. And someone else en passant: a matron come from shopping at Bergdorf's. Middle-aged, stout, carelessly dressed, perfunctorily accessorized, hot and tired—and how long since a man had kissed her, publicly kissed her? Unaware of what was about to happen, she passed through the crowd, Michael's audience. In a trice he lunged for her in wolf-prowl crouch, spun her to him, and made a mock assault on her person, becoming a lecher, Groucho Marx, flicking an imaginary cigar, wiggling an imaginary mustache, leering, then Harpo, squeezing obscene quacks from a rubber duck produced from his jacket. Then he embraced her with comic passion, while she, first alarmed, then with a flush of embarrassment, swatted at him with her plastic bag, yanked away in anger, looked around at the faces, feeling a fool. Emily, trilling her flute, bobbled three notes as she laughed. Everyone was laughing except Michael, looking innocently rueful behind his makeup. In spite of herself the woman laughed too. Michael swept her a bow and regally escorted her on her way, Emily interpolating eight or so bars from "Pomp and Circumstance."
In a flash, Michael abandoned his victim for another, darting through the crowd to sidle up beside an Uptown hipster shagging along on stiltlike platform shoes, black and sassy, a cat, and Michael in whiteface mimicking his slouch, his sassy blackness, his feline self. The man, unoffended, showed a row of pearly teeth and good-natured recognition of this unexpected mirror image, stopping for a fraternal exchange of Harlem Hi-Baby hand slaps, elbow knocks, hip swings, butt bumps, while Emily piped out some jive. She finished the riff and noodled some off-key notes as Michael attached himself to a derelict drunk, instantly making himself a pal, a fellow inebriate, jabbering soundless inconsequentials, staggering, nodding, listening in blind stupefaction to the drunk's sodden queries, agreeing and disagreeing alternately, until, taking his cue, the drunk produced a pint of Four Roses and offered it, but Michael-drunk had his own, an imaginary bottle from which he guzzled blissfully.
Abandoning the drunk, Michael-sober sped to the curb to lie supine on the fender of a limousine, arms locked behind his head, knees crossed, a man of leisure. The chauffeur, concerned about the paint job, honked his horn, and a rear window rolled down, a face appeared.
Excerpted from Night Magic by Thomas Tryon. Copyright © 1995 Thomas Tryon. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsPROLOGUE: The Sorcerer,
CHAPTER ONE: Saskia in Tears,
CHAPTER TWO: Michael into Frog,
CHAPTER THREE: Slide Show,
CHAPTER FOUR: Kindred Spirits,
CHAPTER FIVE: Up on the Roof,
CHAPTER SIX: The Retentive Host,
CHAPTER SEVEN: Stakeouts,
CHAPTER EIGHT: The Mechanical Man and the Disappearing Duck,
CHAPTER NINE: Dreams and Revelations,
CHAPTER TEN: The Eye of Horus,
CHAPTER ELEVEN: Lost and Found,
CHAPTER TWELVE: Face to Face,
CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Help Wanted,
CHAPTER FOURTEEN: Night School,
CHAPTER FIFTEEN: All Hallows Eve,
CHAPTER SIXTEEN: The Sorcerer's Apprentice,
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: Come into My Parlor,
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: The Incident in the Garden,
CHAPTER NINETEEN: Hail and Farewell,
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