This is something that I’m working on in my spare time. It kinda fits in between my 2nd and 3rd novels, or it could be a stand alone, haven’t decided yet.
The magician smiled. He knew that James had two queens, in fact he knew that they were both black. ‘How does he know?’ you ask? Well, he is a magician after all. An illusionist. A mentalist. His craft is based on deception. It is as much a part of him as the calloused fingers of a classically trained harpist, as consequential as muscles to a body-builder, and as innate as the balance of a gymnast.
Deception, manipulation, observation, and misdirection were all abilities that he no longer needed will to execute, no longer needed to perceive to understand, no longer needed to think about in the least. They were as natural and familiar to him as Für Elise is a to piano player. Actions and movements so practiced that his body no longer needed his brain to perform them.
James had two queens. Of that the magician was sure. The magician was unfazed and confident in the ace of spades and ten of diamonds he was holding. The three other players checked and raised for a few turns but eventually folded, however, to the magician, as always, that told him exactly what he needed to know. Only the River remained to be drawn. And beside himself only James was still in.
The Turn was a ten of clubs. That gave the magician a pair of tens. Not enough to beat the queens. The flop didn’t help much but two of the three cards were clubs and did offer the possibility of a flush for James if he indeed had the two black queens – which the magician was convinced he did – and if the River turned out to be a club as well. Coincidentally, just as if by magic it did.
The next card to be turned over was the ace of clubs. The magician smiled inwardly as he looked at James, taking in every detail of his facial expressions and body language while keeping his own under perfect control.
James looked at his cards. He looked at the Flop. He stared at the Turn. And after a long sigh he raised his eyes to the magician and with a knowing nod threw his cards away.
“Damn.” James swore under his breath watching the enormous pot get pushed towards the magician’s already considerable pile. “You had an ace-ten didn’t you, old man?”
The magician looked calmly at James and in his raspy alcohol and cigarette ravaged voice replied coolly, “You had two black queens.”
“Now how could you possibly know that, old man, you runnin’ something? You screwing us?” He stood up and aggressively slammed his knuckles on the green velvet tabletop. James was drunk. Which was why he was playing so badly, which was why he was so angry, which was why he was so easy to manipulate.
“Easy, Jimmy.” Came the low baritone of the 250-pound mafia dealer. “Mr. Zor has been playing this game at this table for longer than you’ve been alive. He’s one of the best in the world. Now, fool, get the fuck out of here and sober up. Maybe you’d play better.” The large black dealer leaned towards James, towering over the sloppily dressed sinewy twenty-year old. “Don’t make me ask again, Jimmy.”
“Is there a problem here?” Bobby, the number one mafia pit-boss, noticing the commotion, walked over and asked.
Jimmy, flushed and embarrassed, raised his hands in the air defensively. “No, of course not, Mr. Bobby, no… I was just taken by surprise at Mr. Zor’s excellent play. I…” The magician’s face revealed nothing, but inwardly he was laughing. People in expensive clothing were beginning to pay attention. It always made him laugh when tough guys acted like this. The frightened young man clasped his hands together before the large black dealer in fearful supplication as the magician raised an aging and fuzzy eyebrow. “I… Reacted overemotionally,” the young man turned to the old magician, his face pleading. “Mr. Zor, I apologize for my outburst.” The old magician tilted his head a little as the young man’s verbal cadence accelerated. “Mr. Zor, please, you played a good hand; I was impressed is all. Tell ’em. Tell ’em please. Mr. Zor? Tell ’em!”
Bobby Marcel snapped his fingers. Four extremely large security men appeared instantly at his side. They made the 250-pound six-foot-three dealer look like a child by comparison. Bobby Marcel, the most respected and feared pit-boss of the Italian mafia, looked to the old magician for guidance. The respect in his demeanor was obvious.
The old magician held the pit-boss’s gaze long enough to make James sweat a little. “Bobby…” He said in his old raspy voice. “ Bobby… It was indeed a good play. Don’t be too hard on the boy.”
“Yes, Mr. Zor.” Bobby Marcel turned to his security men and loudly ordered, “Take him home.” Bobby Marcel turned and approached the shaking young James, “If you ever show disrespect again to any of my VIP guests, I will castrate you.” Bobby Marcel straightened James shirt and patted him twice on the cheek. “I don’t care how rich you are or who your mommy is. Do we understand each other, Jimmy?”
James began sweating profusely and stuttering. “Yi-Yi-Yes… Yes, Mir-Mir-Mister B-B-Bobby.” He turned to the old magician sitting at the other end of the semi circular poker table, “Mir-Mir-Mister, Z-Z-Zor…”
The old magician raised a hand, “Breathe, relax, breathe young man.”
James took a breath and lowered his eyes. “Again, my apologies…” The young man shut his eyes tightly in frustration for a second, “I’d like to apologize for any misunderstanding, Mr. Zor. I was just trying to congratulate you on your play. Things got out of hand, is all, it was a privilege to play against you, sir.”
The old magician smiled, “Of course, son, no harm no foul.” To the old magician, even after all these years, there was nothing as satisfying as stealing money from a criminal, right before his eyes, and then being thanked for it.
A few more expression of gratitude followed before the four large security personnel escorted the young Mafioso from the table.
Bobby Marcel leaned close to the old magician’s face. “Is there anything we can get you, Mr. Zor? Name it, it’s on the house.”
The elderly magician smiled and shook his head, “No, no, my friend, but thank you. I’m tired anyway and my doctor would kill me if he knew how late I was up.” The old magician put a hand on Booby Marcel’s muscular forearm and used it to prop himself up. It took a while but no one hurried the old magician or offered help, to do so would be insulting. All eyes were on the old man yet no one looked at him directly, the old magician smiled, that was exactly how he liked it. “Thank you, Bobby, you’re a good man… a good man…” The old magician’s raspy voice was mesmerizing to all who heard it, which was also exactly how the old magician liked it. “It’s good to know that an old man like me can still count on men of honor such like yourself.”
“Not at all, sir, not at all.” Bobby Marcel helped the old magician stand by supporting the frail old man’s forearm with his own. “You are part of the family, Mr. Zor. As far as we’re concerned, what’s ours is yours.”
The old magician’s eyes sparkled as he chuckled in that trademarked raspy whisper of a voice of his. Shakily he raised his non-cane arm and put his gnarled hand on the large pit-boss’s shoulder. “Thank you, Bobby, you’re a good man, a good friend. I believe I’m growing tired. These old bones of mine… If you could cash me out and get me transportation, that would be more than enough, son.” The cynicism of the last word rings in the old magician’s mind only, that’s how good he feels today. To everyone else who secretly watches this scene unfold, the word sound genuine and true. It makes the magician a little sad and a little happy at the same time. People are getting dumber by the hour these days, the old magician thinks to himself as he begins to take a few steps forward, that’s a sad thing, but does it ever make my job easier.
Bobby Marcel is pleased at hearing the words spoken by this legend of an old man. “Of course, Mr. Zor, as always, we are at your disposal. This way, please.”
Twenty minutes and three hundred thousand cashed out dollen later, the old magician, now comfortably alone in his home, straightens his frame to its full height for the first time in over three weeks. He flings his cane into a trashcan-like container that holds other canes of various designs and styles as well as a few interesting umbrellas. He doesn’t really need to use a cane anyway. His almost eighty-year-old frame feels as natural to him as his thirty-four year old body did when he was at his prime. His intellectual faculties are sharper than ever, his skill, honed to perfection over decades, is as strong as ever, but, with daily regret he feels the end looming before him. Each rise of the sun and setting of the moon reminds the old magician painfully of the passage of time.
But he wasn’t always an old man – and the world wasn’t always such a dismal place. Despite everything, the old magician doesn’t miss his youth. What he misses is the motivation he used to have – the drive to change the world for the better. Above all, and he knows it – with every breath he takes and with every beat of his heart, he knows it; the old magician misses the feeling of hope.
Chapter 1: It pays to be smart
Way back when Vaklev Zor was very young…
“I bet you 10 dollen that I can prove to you that it’s possible to make a triangle using three 90 degree angles.” Young Vaklev’s eyes were sparkling with mischief as he spoke to his classmate.
“What? No way! We just learnt this, dude, like right now in class! A triangle has to have three corners and no matter how big or small you make it, they always add to 180 degrees.” Marek answered, predictably deferring to the teachings.
“Nah, I’m serious, here, I’m putting my money on the table.” Vaklev held his friend’s gaze.
“Wait… So you’re saying that you can make a triangle using three right angles? Like a square… Like a box with no top…” Marek tried to find an angle to the bet.
“No. What I’m saying is that I can prove to you that it’s possible to draw a triangle, three straight sides, all connected, all touching, and each of the three angles will be a right angle; 90 degrees.” Vaklev answered nonchalantly.
“That’s impossible!” Marek answered, obviously tempted by the bet.
“Wait… Let me try it out first. Can I? I have a pad here.”
“Go ahead. Take your time.”
“Ok… Three 90-degree angles… Wait… No… That’s just a square ‘U’… Let me think… No… I’m sure… It’s impossible.” No matter how hard he tried, Marek simply couldn’t make the three lines touch. Three 90 degree angles, three lines; there was no way to make a triangle thusly, of that Marek was convinced, and he really could use 10 dollen.
“So? Is it a deal?”
“Ok… We have a deal. Here’s my 10 dollen.”
“Shake on it?”
Vaklev smiled. “Ok. Now bear with me. Imagine two guys standing on the top of the world. At the North Pole. They position themselves at a right angle to each other, at 90-degrees to each other, and walk straight all the way to the equator. Once they make it there, all the while walking in perfectly straight line, they turn 90 degrees towards each other and meet in the middle. See? Three 90-degree angles make a triangle. Take a globe. Make a dude walk down the 0 meridian and another dude down the 90 meridian, once they get to the equator, make them turn 90-degrees and walk towards each other and they will meet at meridian 45, parallel 0. I researched it, it’s called non-Euclidean geometry.”
“How in the name of the unholy did you figure that out?”
“It was weird, you know? I only learnt it was called that after I figured out that something was off with straight lines. I don’t think straight lines exist. When I was little, maybe five, I was with my foster family in TokyoArc back then, well, we were putting up a picture on the wall, you know? So I took out my laser-level and it indicated that the picture was straight. Then, one day, I think it was on a Monday, I was putting up a picture here in Romarcologia. And it hit me, Mar, I somehow felt that the laser-level is wrong, but I didn’t know why. Only that, how can the level show me something is level on this side of the world and on the other? So I researched it on the Stream. I then stumbled on the word tangent, and since no one was monitoring the Stream, I went to a non-Church school’s database and searched some more and then fell on this non-Euclidean geometry thing. And that’s when I realized that the laser-level always creates a line that is perpendicular to another line that goes form where you’re standing to the center of the planet.”
“Don’t you understand, Marek? Space is curved!”
Marek’s eyes widened. “You just shut up Vak, ok? That’s Quantamancer talk. If the Sister Superior caught us we’d get beaten!”
“Sister Superior, bah, those old bags know about as much as my foot. They’re not teaching us everything, Mar, why? Why are other kids in other arcoes learning this and we’re not?”
“Because, you dolt! Knowledge leads to pride and pride is a sin!”
“So is gambling, but you had no problem there.”
“That’s different and you know it!”
“It’s not as bad. It’s not a deadly sin!”
“So there are levels of evilness, Mar? Is that what you’re telling me?”
“Of course there are levels! The world isn’t black and white! You’ve been taught all of this as well.”
“I don’t know, Mar… Something feels off to me.”
“Shh! Stop talking like that! Do you want the unholy to come and get you?”
Vaklev paused a little before answering. A slight shiver of apprehension coursed through his barely twelve-year old body, overwhelming his reason for just a split second. “Nah, I guess not. It was just a trick then, Marek. There’s no such thing as non-Euclidean geometry!” Vaklev tried hard to make his laugh sound honest, “You’re so stupid, how could you have fallen for that! I just made the word up! I tricked you good! Now give me my ten dollen and let’s get out of here. Curfew is in ten minutes.”
“Fine.” Marek handed over a little prepaid card. “Happy? That was my allowance for the whole week.”
“Very happy.” Vaklev took the card but halted pensively staring at it. “What do you think will happen after tomorrow, Mar?”
Marek smiled widely. “We become men!”
“But what does that mean? How can we be changed into men simply by going through the graduation ceremony?”
“I don’t know but it’s something everyone goes through. Once we pass through the secret ceremony of ascension after graduation we will finally be considered men. I can’t wait. The first thing I’m going to do is go for a walk outside the complex to see some girls.”
Vaklev blushed despite himself, his body reacting to his anticipation, “I can’t wait! Do you think they’re as amazing as they say?”
“The girls? Yeah. I think they are. They say that they do things to you.”
“Don’t you know anything you idiot? The girls! They say the girls do things to your mind and body.”
“No stupid sister will do anything to my mind or body. I don’t care what kind of power they have over us.”
“They say you can’t control yourself in their presence.”
“I’ve heard the older students say that the girls can suck your head dry.”
“How? What does that mean?”
“I don’t know, but I don’t want to find out.”
“Yeah, me neither.”
“What does it mean to be a man, anyway?”
“You’re stupid! It means that we are considered as equals!”
“So, what, tomorrow is the last day we’re allowed to have fun?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, have you ever seen a full brother have fun?”
“You’re stupid, Vak! If we don’t become men, then we can’t become Acolytes.”
“Yeah… That’s what I’ve heard. But I’ve never seen an Acolyte have fun either.”
“Fun is for children. I, for one, can’t wait to become a man. Now lets get out of here. I’ll see you tomorrow in class.” Marek stood up and made ready to leave. “I wonder if we’ll have time to hang when we’re men?”
“Let’s make a promise, Mar. No matter what happens, we’ll always be friends.”
“It’s a deal, Vak! Now let’s get out of here. The next time we meet we’ll be men!” Marek nodded to Vakelv, and Vaklev nodded back. A glimmer of seriousness flashed over their young faces. In no time, the boys made their way up the ladder that led from their secret hideout to the sewers. Once at sewer level both boys navigated the ancient maze of the old Roman underground to their respective dormitories for another night of prayer and sleep.