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.”