THE MISER'S DREAM

THE MISER'S DREAM

by John Gaspard

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781943390137
Publisher: Henery Press
Publication date: 10/27/2015
Pages: 254
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.53(d)

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CHAPTER 1

"I'm a hack."

Holy crap, did I say that out loud? My intention had been to whisper those three words silently to myself, but apparently my brain hadn't properly communicated that goal to my mouth. Consequently, I must have said it out loud, if the stern look from the lady in front of me was any indication. I put a hand over my mouth and cleared my throat, trying and failing to give the impression I had simply coughed. I turned to my right and recognized a puzzled look from Megan.

"Are you okay?" she whispered, effortlessly speaking at the appropriate volume.

I nodded without conviction and returned my attention to the performer who had inspired this brutal self-assessment.

His name was Quinton Moon, and he was killing me.

Quinton was awesome, and not in the flawed and grossly overused current use of the expression. He inspired awe. I was in awe. He awed me, which is no small feat, particularly since we are both magicians. I've seen plenty of magicians in my lifetime. But not one like Quinton Moon.

I had resisted when my Uncle Harry had offered us the tickets because, as a magician, I can honestly say that I may have already seen enough magicians in my lifetime. But Harry had wisely made the offer in the presence of Megan. He had also suggested we dine at Christos in the Union Depot in downtown St. Paul as part of our evening out, and before I knew it, my fate was sealed. Parking was the usual downtown St. Paul nightmare scenario, but dinner was delightful, the hummus to die for, and the wine and the conversation flowed. For a while I almost forgot that my primary goal this evening was to see, of all things, a magician.

Megan declared our walk from dinner to the St. Paul Hotel a "winter wonderland romp," but in reality it was a wet slog through yet another in a series of recent snowfalls. None of the merchants had shoveled and the snowplows had not effectively cleared the streets from the last dusting of snow, so crossing at each intersection became a high-tension thriller all its own. By the time we made it to the classic hotel's ornate lobby, my shoes were soaking, my feet were freezing and my mood was grim. For her part, though, Megan couldn't have been bubblier.

"This is going to be fun," she gushed as we were directed to the single elevator which offered access to the top floor suite.

"You remember we're seeing a magician, right?" I asked as the doors slid shut.

An hour later, my shoes were dry, my feet were warm and I had been transported to a Victorian drawing room and a performance of chamber magic that would, in many ways, change my life.

Quinton Moon appeared as if he had stepped directly out of the pages of a Jules Verne novel. Thick sideburns framed a ruggedly handsome face with piercing green eyes and a warm and inviting smile. It was hard not to like him immediately, but I will say I gave it a valiant effort.

He greeted each guest as they arrived, ushering us to our seats while keeping up a steady patter about the room's history, the night and the snow which continued to gather on the leaded glass windowsills.

The living room of the suite was set with about thirty chairs, all facing the front of the room. The majority of the audience was better dressed than I was, with several gentlemen even sporting tuxes. For his part, Quinton wore a tailored coat, which he removed at the top of the show, revealing a tastefully colorful vest and cummerbund combination.

He was an effortless performer, but I understand enough about the trade to know you only get that relaxed on stage if you've really done your homework offstage. The seventy-minute show was an even mix of illusions I'd seen a thousand times before and tricks I was witnessing for the first time. But in Quinton's hands, even the most clichéd illusions sported a brand new shimmer and shine. Hoary old chestnuts, like The Linking Rings and The Miser's Dream — tricks which are staples of kids' birthday parties, for God's sake — took on an entirely new flavor in his hands, and I watched them all as if for the first time.

The breaking point for me came when he did a seven-minute routine using thimbles. Thimbles! He actually did a routine with thimbles that not only held my attention but transported me. I was transfixed, and my amazement and self-loathing grew concurrently as the evening progressed, until I finally uttered my inner monologue aloud.

"I'm a hack."

The second time I said it (and every subsequent time, of which there were legion), I was able to keep the words inside my head, which I felt was a victory of sorts. But it didn't change how I was feeling, with my primary emotion being one of complete impotence.

Megan, of course, was feeling none of this, but responded to each new miracle with the oohs and ahhs which are the lifeblood of magicians. She spent most of the performance literally sitting on the edge of her seat, leaning forward in anticipation of each new illusion. And she wasn't alone; Quinton held the crowd confidently in the palm of his hand.

His interactions with the audience members were real and genuine and he was never thrown, even when a trick seemed to go slightly awry.

In fact, he got more out of the mistakes that occurred than I generally am able to get when my entire act goes right. Which is rare. Or hardly ever. Let's call it never.

Speaking in an indefinable accent — was it British? German? Baltic? No, turns out he's Swiss — Quinton was consistently charming and engaging, often seeming to enjoy the illusions as much or more than the audience. His delight was infectious and the act, which was brilliantly structured, built to a final climax that left the audience stunned.

We sat in silence for several long moments before the small crowd burst into applause, giving him an instant and heartfelt standing ovation — a real one, not the obligatory ovations Minnesotans proffer to virtually any performance which safely reaches its conclusion.

As he had done at the beginning of the evening, Quinton spoke personally with each of us as we left, creating an immediate if affable traffic jam pileup at the suite's door. Due to the confined nature of the space, I was able to hear his answers to all the questions put to him while we moved closer and closer to the exit.

"Is this the first time you've done this show?"

"No, I've performed similar shows in London, Zurich, Berlin, and Madrid."

"Why do it in a hotel suite, couldn't you make more money in a large theater?"

"Yes, but then I would miss the — how you say? — intimacy of interacting with each member of the audience, such as I am doing now."

"How are you enjoying Minneapolis?"

"We're in St. Paul." (Laughter.)

"What brings you to the Twin Cities?"

"I have a corporate engagement in town and thought this would be an ideal time to present this show as well. Murder a couple of birds, as it were."

And then it was our turn.

"It was wonderful," Megan gushed. "Truly wonderful."

"Thank you," Quinton replied, turning his thousand-watt smile on Megan, and then on me. Megan grabbed my arm and pulled me forward. "This is my friend Eli. He's a magician too!"

I hadn't thought it was possible to feel any worse about myself, but it turns out I was wrong. I suddenly felt about a foot tall. Quinton, however, seemed oddly delighted by the news.

"Not Eli Marks?" he asked.

"Yes," I said tentatively.

"Brilliant. I had the very great pleasure of meeting your uncle, Harry Marks, at the show last night."

"Really? He hadn't mentioned it."

"Charming gentleman. We had a wonderful conversation. He even talked me into doing a lecture at your magic store."

"Odd. He didn't mention that either."

"He's quite persuasive."

"He is that."

"I must tell you, it certainly was a thrill to finally meet Harry Marks. Something of a legend, isn't he?"

"He likes to think he is."

"Well, thank you so much for coming tonight. I look forward to seeing you at your shop."

"We can't wait," Megan said before I could respond.

Quinton smiled at her and then at me and then we were out the door.

The drive back to Minneapolis was a quiet one. I did my best to convince myself this was because the roads were treacherous and I needed to concentrate on my driving. But Megan sensed something was amiss.

"He was really good," she ventured at one point.

"Yes. Yes he was."

A few more moments of silence passed.

"Did you enjoy the show?"

"Sure."

Another pause.

"It doesn't feel like you enjoyed it."

"Is this a psychic perception?"

"You don't have to be psychic to sense you didn't have much fun."

She had a point. "It's hard," I ventured, "to watch something that good and not feel bad about it. I mean, if you're in the same business. If that makes any sense."

"But he's not better than you," she said. "Just different."

"No, he's better. A lot better." I turned off the freeway and made a left on 46 Street, moving us as quickly toward Chicago Avenue as the traffic and snow would allow.

"Do you want to hear a joke?"

I turned to look, her adorable face peeking out of a too-big parka, and couldn't help but smile. "Sure. Tell me a joke."

"Okay, let me remember how it goes," she said, biting her lip while working out the joke in her head. "Okay, I got it. How do you climb off an elephant?"

"I don't know. How do you climb off an elephant?"

"You don't. You climb off a duck."

I furrowed my brow and gave her a long look. At least, as long a look as I dared give as the car slipped and slid along the snowy roadway. "Honey, I think you told it wrong."

She shook her head defiantly. "Nope, that's the way I heard it."

"I think the actual joke is, 'How do you get down from an elephant? You don't, you get down from a duck.'"

"That's what I said."

"I don't think that's what you said."

"My way makes just as much sense as your way."

"No," I began and then stopped, glancing at her again. "Are you doing this to take my mind off the show we just saw and my completely understandable feelings of total and utter inadequacy?"

She shrugged. "Maybe."

I couldn't help but smile. "Thanks. It's working. But you still got the joke wrong." Before she could object, I pulled the car into a parking space in front of her duplex.

After a quick kiss goodnight and a final word from her on the subject ("You're still my favorite magician"), I deposited Megan safely at the front door to her duplex and then crossed Chicago Avenue and began the short and slippery trip down the block to my place. The sidewalk in front of Megan's building had been recently shoveled, but the owners of many of the apartment buildings across the street had apparently given up. Due to the frequency and amount of snow we'd received so far this year, it was hard to blame them, but even harder to navigate across their sidewalks.

The businesses on the block had done a far better job of keeping up with the various snowfalls than the apartment houses. Consequently, by the time I hit Pepito's restaurant, I was feeling much steadier on my feet. It was still early enough that the restaurant was going strong, but the Parkway Theater next door was dark and apparently closed for the night.

I glanced up at the theater's marquee and was amused to see it had changed since that afternoon, when it had read Séance on a Wet Dog Day Afternoon. Now the letters spelled out Big Trouble in Little Chinatown.

The theater had recently undergone a management change and the new manager delighted in putting together what she called Parkway Double Plays, but what my uncle Harry had come to call "Dopey Double Features." These were pairings of movies which had no actual connection to each other except that the words in their titles could fit together in weird and wonderful ways. Other favorite past Dopey Double Features have included Murder By Death on the Nile, Dr. Strangelove and Death, Boyz in the Parenthood and The Citizen Kane Mutiny.

Chicago Magic was next door to the theater and I slipped quietly into the store and silently up to my third floor apartment. I stopped briefly on the second floor landing but saw no light under the door, which confirmed my suspicion that my uncle Harry had already gone to bed. I made a mental note to discuss Quinton Moon and his alleged impending lecture in the morning, and then headed up the last flight to my apartment.

I was tired and ready for bed, but old habits die hard and before I knew it I found myself at my desk, scrolling through my new emails, sorting the cream from the spam. As I waited for one particularly large email to open, I glanced out my window and was surprised to see there was still one light burning at the Parkway Theater next door.

My apartment overlooks the projection booth in the theater, and even though it's very much an obstructed view, I have often enjoyed peering into the room from my odd vantage point, trying to figure out what movie is playing by the way the lights bounced off a mirror on the far wall of the booth.

There was no movie running at the moment, but something else immediately grabbed my attention. I stood up to get a better view and confirmed my worst suspicions. Even from this new angle there was no denying my first impression had been correct.

There was a body on the floor of the projection booth, lying in what appeared to be a small pool of blood.

CHAPTER 2

I considered, for one brief moment, not calling the police. Not because I didn't want to do my civic duty, but because I've probably called the police about dead bodies a few too many times in my life. People were beginning to talk. Common sense won out, of course, and I quickly placed a call to 911 and did my best to outline what I had seen. This resulted in the almost immediate arrival of a squad car, and several minutes later two patrolmen and I were peering through my window and trying to determine what we were actually seeing on the floor of the projection booth at the theater next door. We agreed it looked like a body and that the body looked dead.

The patrolmen quickly, in their terminology, "escalated the event" and fifteen minutes later Homicide Detective Miles Wright stood next to me as we stared through the window.

"It's a hell of a thing," he finally said. Wright has the gravelly voice of a lifelong smoker and the yellow teeth to prove it.

"Shouldn't we be, I don't know, doing something?" I asked, trying to nudge him toward some form of action.

"Patrol guys are all over it," he said, turning from the window and looking around my apartment. "You are far more inclined toward action than I am. He's dead. It's cold outside. It's warm in here."

He pulled out his glasses and studied the spines of books on the bookshelf. "Besides, the theater is locked up tight. We've got a call into the manager and the patrol guys are working on opening the front door. He'll still be dead when we get in."

He sat down heavily on my couch and took out a pack of gum, offering me a piece. I shook my head.

"What do you think of all this snow?" he continued, as if we were just a couple of guys hanging out, shooting the breeze. "Gotta be some kind of record, don't you think?"

"So you think he's dead?"

Wright glanced at me and then at the window. "Yeah. He looks plenty dead."

I returned to my vantage point and studied the form splayed out on the floor of the booth. I had to agree with Wright — he looked plenty dead. I turned back to the detective, who was seated comfortably on my couch. "Where's your bitter half?"

"You mean better half?"

"You've known him longer than I have."

He nodded in agreement. "Yeah, you were right the first time," he said as his phone began to buzz. "He's on his way." He reached into his coat and pulled out his phone, listening for a few seconds before hanging up. He turned to me as he pushed himself up from the coziness of the couch.

"We're in," he said.

"Okay, it looks like there's 'in' and there's 'in.'"

Wright and I were standing at the base of the stairs to the theater's projection booth. The patrol officers had forced the theater's front door open, and one of them was now struggling with the projection booth's impressive metal door. He turned and looked down at us.

"It's locked," he reported. "There's no keyhole on this side. Looks like it's locked from the inside."

Wright snapped his gum. "Any other way in?"

The patrolman shook his head. "There are some square holes on the front wall for the projectors, but they're barely a foot in diameter. And the window we saw the body through is barred, tiny, and two stories off the ground."

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "The Miser's Dream"
by .
Copyright © 2015 John Gaspard.
Excerpted by permission of Henery Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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THE MISER'S DREAM 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Carstairs38 More than 1 year ago
Eli Marks Must Solve a Locked Room Mystery One of the staples of the mystery genre is the locked room mystery because they add such a great twist to the mystery. I know I always find them intriguing. And that’s exactly what we get with The Miser’s Dream, the third Eli Marks Mystery from John Gaspard. Eli Marks lives in a third floor apartment above the magic shop he runs with his uncle in Minneapolis, Minnesota. From his window, he can see into the projection booth of the theater next door, and he has long enjoyed trying to guess the movie based on the reflections he can see. This night, however, he seems something completely different when he looks into the projection booth – the dead body of Tyler James, the projectionist. Naturally, Eli calls the police, but they have to break into the projection booth since the door locks from the inside and there is no key for the outside. When they do, they not only find the body, but also a gun and a large stack of cash. Eli is perfectly content to sit this one out until an outside force begins to pull him in. Accidents only make him more determined to solve the crime. But can he figure out how Tyler died and why? I really enjoy these books because of the bits of magic that show up in them. Eli being a magician is a creative hook for the series. In fact, there is an entire sub-plot involving Eli’s jealousy of a fellow magician that winds up playing into the main mystery. And the main mystery is great. Naturally, there is the question of how the murder took place as well as who the killer is. I’ve got to say that both were so expertly explained at the end, I couldn’t believe I didn’t piece it together myself. And the characters are wonderful. We actually meet a fun assortment of people here. They are a bit eccentric, but it fits the book. The series regulars are as great as ever, and I enjoyed seeing the growth we got here in Eli. The Miser’s Dream is the best book yet in the series. Eli’s fans will be happy with it, and those new to his adventures will find themselves looking for more.
Linda__ More than 1 year ago
Our favorite magician, Eli, glances out his window and sees a dead body in the theater next door. He reports it to the police and quickly finds himself in the middle of a murder mystery not dissimilar to a magician's trick. The author has created an engaging cast of characters. Eli is a very likeable, but deeply flawed character - from his jealousy to his apathetic approach to magic. And not Eli Marks mystery would be complete without his ex-wife Deidre and her new husband, Mediocre Fred. Eli has an unorthodox approach to solving they mystery and has the assistance of the bizarre Mr. Lime. Each possible suspect has serious secrets of his/her own, but which would would kill to protect them? This is a wonderful novel that kept me totally engaged until the very last page. I strongly recommend it to all fans of the genre.