The Clockwork Conjuror: Chapter 5

Sir John and Marie settled into their seats in the nearly empty theatre. Seated next to them was a man coughing intermittently and a young man with a paper bag of sweets, that rustled loudly. Sir John kept glancing at them.

“Been a while since we went to the theatre,” he said. “When was the last time?”

Marie pulled a moue and looked away.

“Wait, was it when we were in Manchester?” said Sir John. “When that man had a funny turn?”

He looked at his wife who had a tear running down her face.

“That was me,” she said.

“Oh,” said Sir John, “Oh. Oh. Well at least tonight should be free of anything supernatural, just a good old fashioned puppet show.”

He glanced around guiltily to check no-one had heard.

“Nearly let the cat out the bag,” he whispered to Marie.

“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls,” said an invisible announcer, “I present to you… the Clockwork Conjuror and his Amazing Automatons.”

There was a smatter of applause in the theatre as the lights dimmed. The Conjuror walked out on stage, followed by a troupe of 23 automata.

“Good evening everybody,” he said, “and welcome to the show.” 

There was an attempt to disguise his rich west midlands accent, but it was the elocutional equivalent of a small fake moustache. The show then commenced with the automata making a series of elaborate tricks. Sir John looked moderately amused but Marie was rapt.

“Seems a bit obvious when you know how it’s done,” Sir John whispered to Marie.

“Where are the strings?” said Marie.

Sir John looked puzzled. 

“Well.. maybe they’re on sticks” said Sir John.

“Then where are the sticks?” said Marie. “Something is strange here.”

“Well we are quite a way from the stage and I imagine they do a good job disguising it,” said Sir John, as a duo of automata jumped through a hoop. “A very good job.”

Marie turned away from the show for the first time and pushed her face close to her husband.

“Something is amiss here, I can feel… I can feel something magical,” she said.

“Are you sure?,” said Sir John.

By way of answer Marie took off her pendant and let it dangle. It rotated gently for a moment until she half closed her eyes. Then the pendant shot horizontal, pointing toward the stage. It spun about wildly in all directions pointing to the whole of the stage.

“Good Lord,” said Sir John. “What is that? Did you learn that in France?”

“No, I taught myself,” said Marie. “I used it before, when… never mind. It detects magical force. And it’s all over the stage.”

“Are you sure?” said Sir John, looking perturbed at the pendant.

“That’s a good trick miss,” said the man with the sweets.

Marie shot him a look and gathered up the pendant. She turned closely to her husband again.

“Those aren’t puppets,” said Marie, “they are magical beings.”

“Well then,” Sir John said, swallowing hard, “we’d better pay the Conjuror another call.”

The Clockwork Conjuror: Chapter 4

The room was gloomy with decoration so tired it was practically snoring. In the centre was a middle aged man with a paunch, receding hair and the look of one who had seen too many late nights and not enough early mornings. At least not from the right direction. He was dressed in a garish costume which had food stains and was engrossed in a book on stage magic. Around him were various puppets or toys that looked mechanical in nature..

Suddenly there was a knock at the door.

“Open up, this is the police!” said Detective Symonds.

The man jumped up, looked shocked and cast his eyes around the gloomy room. He shrugged, went to the door and opened it. Behind it stood Detective Symonds and Sir John Jennings.

“Are you the… Amazing Clockwork Conjuror, Master Magician of Devices,” said Detective Symonds, reading from a flyer.

“Oi am” said the Conjuror, in a strong Black Country accent.

Detective Symonds looked puzzled at the man and then looked at the flyer and the man in quick succession.

“Artistic loiciense,” said the Conjuror. “Do come in and make yo’self at home.”

The two men came in, looked at what passed for furniture and remained standing.

“We wish to speak to you about a disappearance,” said Sir John.

“Which one?” said the Conjuror.

“You mean… you’re aware of more than one disappearance?” said Sir John aghast.

“Of course, I make two or three people disappear every night,” said the Conjuror.

“Arrest this man!” said Sir John to Detective Symonds.

“I believe,” said Detective Symonds, “that Mr… that the gentleman… is referring to disappearances as part of his stage act.”

“Of course,” said the Conjuror. “What do you mean?”

“A… man has gone missing,” said Detective Symonds. “We believe one of his last social engagements was at one of your performances.”

“Well a lot of people come to my shows,” said the Conjuror. “Sometimes.”

“His name is Phlebotomous Bosch,” said Sir John.

“Oh, him!” said the Conjuror. “Yes he wrote to me to say he was coming, but I never saw him.”

“Do you have the letter,” said Detective Symonds.

“It will be in the fan mail,” said the Conjuror, looking into a nearly empty box. He produced a letter and handed it to Detective Symonds, who read it with a confused look on his face.

“I was quite glad that I didn’t see him to be honest,” said the Conjuror. “I would have had to confess my secret and I think he would have been disappointed.”

“Your secret?” said Sir John.

“Yes,” said the Conjuror, “that these aren’t really mechanical devices, just puppets. I’m not really a technical wizard. In fact I’m not even that great a magician. But put together a bit of a magic show with some ventriloquy, give it a mechanical flavour and throw in a few jokes, and voila, the crowds come flocking. Eventually.”

“This looks like a red herring,” said Detective Symonds. “We’ll need to work back from the theatre.”

“Talking of which,” said the Conjuror. “Do accept these complimentary tickets to the show. There are only a few left, so these are like goldust.” He picked up another box filled with slips of paper and handed two to each man.

“Well, thank you for your time,” said Sir John and the two men left.

After he shut the door, the Conjuror sat back in his chair and sighed. One of the heads of the puppets began to turn to face him.

“I don’t like the sound of this boss,” said the puppet to the conjuror, with a strong Brooklyn accent.

“Me neither,” said another. “I smell trouble brewing.”

A Wonderful Book on Stage Magic

The Clockwork Conjuror: Chapter 3

The room was darkened from black drapes on the windows and there were a number of laboratory tables covered in mechanical objects and notes in spidery writing. On one was a cup of cold coffee swimming in a small sea of black liquid next to a pile of equally cold, slightly burnt, toast. Occasionally there was a whirr or a tick, like a broken clock. But there were no sounds of living beings.

From outside the door there came a knocking.

“Mr Bosch?” said Sir John through the door. “Phlebotomous? Are you alright?”

More knocking followed, then an exclamation and the sound of a ringing bell. As the bell rang a sign lit up in the room saying VISITORS! The ringing and sign lighting continued for a little longer. Then Sir John spoke again.

“I don’t think he’s here, Detective Symonds,” he said.

“It’s good you called me,” said the Detective. “I’ll need to force an entry.”

“Oh will I get to see one of those skeleton keys?” said Sir John, sounding enthusiastic. There was then a loud thump in the door and it swung open. Detective John Symonds and Sir John Jennings walked into Phlebotomus’ house.

“Ah,” said Sir John. “Not a key.”

“Not as such,” said Detective Symonds, rubbing his shoulder. “My god, this place is in chaos, it must have been ransacked.”

“Actually,” said Sir John, “I’ve been here before, this is fairly normal.”

“Let me check the bedroom in case he’s…” said Detective Symonds heading off.

“Actually, he’s already dead,” said Sir John. He saw the lake of coffee and mountain of toast.

“Hmm,” he said. “What’s this?”

“He’s not here,” said Detective Symonds returning. “But there is an unusual perfume in the bedroom.”

“I think that’s normal too,” said Sir John. “Mr Bosch is fastidious about personal hygiene, but has no sense of what scents match well. It’s not unusual for him to smell like the perfume floor at Harrods. But look, there’s some breakfast machine here that’s been running for days. It suggests that he hasn’t been here for a while.”

Detective Symonds inspected the coffee and pile of toast. He stuck his finger in the coffee cup and licked it quizzically then spat rapidly.

“Poison!” said Sir John.

“No, sugar,” said the Detective. “I suspect three of four spoons of it.”

“Ah, yes,” said Sir John. “He has a sweet tooth.”

“Let’s look for a clue as to where he went,” said Detective Symonds “Does he have an active social life?”

Sir John snorted.

“Not as such… oh, what’s this,” he held up a flyer for a theatrical performance. Detective Symonds came over.

“The Clockwork Conjuror presents his latest show of technological wonders and robotic marvels,” the detective read. “All are invited to this spectacle at the London Palladium on October 18th.”

“Three days ago,” said Sir John. “That’s exactly the sort of thing Phlebotomous would be excited about.”

“Then we need to speak to this Clockwork Conjuror,” said Detective Symonds.