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THE FLOATING LIGHT BULB
An Eli Marks Mystery Book 5
BY JOHN GASPARD
Murder at the Mall of America
When a magician is murdered in the midst of his act at the Mall of America, Eli Marks is asked to step in and take over the daily shows–while also keeping his eyes and ears open for clues about this bizarre homicide.
As Eli combs the maze-like corridors beneath the Mall of America’s massive amusement park looking for leads, he also struggles to learn and perform an entirely new magic act.
Meanwhile, the long-time watering hole for Uncle Harry and his Mystics pals is closing. So in addition to the murder investigation and the new act, Eli must help the grumpy (and picky) seniors find a suitable new hang out.
“The primary difference between you and me,” I said, “is you go out of your way to see magicians perform. While I do just the opposite.”
“Ah yes,” Uncle Harry said with a grin. “A familiar trope: The self-loathing magician. You make your living from an art, but despise it in others.”
We had taken our seats on a bench that turned out to be just as uncomfortable as it looked. We attempted to settle in and then quickly had to slide further down for a young mother toting three tots, all unfortunately in that squirrelly five-year-old age range.
“Despise is a strong word,” I countered as one of the squirming tykes elbowed me in the ribs. “It’s just a question of how I choose to spend my spare time. Do attorneys sit in on other lawyer’s trials? Do surgeons observe other doctor’s surgeries?”
“Yes, I would imagine the best ones do. How else do you get an accurate pulse on the well-being of your industry?”
“Ha,” I snorted. Yes, actually snorted. “Have you checked the pulse of the magic community lately? I think the correct medical term is that it’s flat-lined.”
“Ebb and flow,” Harry murmured as he took off his glasses and gave them a cursory and probably unnecessary wipe with his ever-ready handkerchief. “Ebb and flow. Magic is always either on its way in or on its way out. But be that as it may, turning up and watching their show is what you do for others in the magic fraternity. I promised Billy I would give his new show a look and offer any suggestions for possible improvements. And you,” he added, as he gave me a cautious look over his glasses once they were again perched on his nose, “are in a crabby mood today.”
I was about to offer a response, the tone of which would have instantly proved his point, but at that moment the lights suddenly dipped to black while music began to blast from speakers on either side of the stage.
For better or worse, the magic show was about to begin.
The small theater we found ourselves in was located in one corner of a large indoor amusement park, which itself was found in the center of an unwieldy shopping center known to the world as the Mall of America.
Locally it had been christened the Mega Mall, but steady work on the part of the mall’s PR department had gently persuaded the nearby citizens to refer to it by its full name. In its early years, the huge mall had been merely sprawling, but recent additions had expanded the enterprise to the level of a behemoth. It now covered several acres in what had once been the sleepy suburb of Bloomington, Minnesota.
Like many a local landmark, it was more popular with tourists than with natives; amazingly, visitors flocked from around the world to marvel and gape at how many Gap stores could actually be found under one roof.
Just as New Yorkers never visit the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building, I was an infrequent visitor to the Mall, possibly based on my late Aunt Alice’s loathing for the place, in both concept and reality. Her dislike was partially based on the fact the new mall had been built on the site of her beloved Metropolitan Stadium, home to her cherished Minnesota Twins. The double whammy of losing the open-air stadium and then watching as the team was moved to a soulless domed stadium in the heart of downtown Minneapolis was enough to make her swear off both the Mega Mall and indoor baseball in one fell swoop.
Uncle Harry didn’t hold the Mall in the same disdain as his late wife. In fact, he and his new bride-to-be, Franny, frequently joined other octogenarians prowling the shopping center in the early hours, where they used the wide-open, empty corridors for walking, safe from ice and snow and other weather-related elements. Consequently, he had a comprehensive knowledge of the layout and brought us to the small theater in the corner of the amusement park via the fastest and most direct route.
Given how little I wanted to see this magic show, it was puzzling how quickly I had agreed to attend. Perhaps it was the promise of a gentle respite from the doldrums of running a magic store, with its dimly-lit, dusty environment and infrequent and elusive customers. It also occurred to me that the prospect of freshly-made, hot mini-donuts might have been my primary motivator. I was nearly through the small bag I had purchased on the way in and was beginning to think we might need to stop back at the donut stand on our way out. And then the show had begun.
About five minutes in, I realized this was going to be less of a unique magic show and more of a ploddingly-paced excursion through magic’s greatest hits. As the ceaseless music pounded away at us, the young bearded magician–William Blume, aka Billy–moved quickly through all the clichéd classics. An appearing cane turns into a candle! A red silk becomes blue and then a rainbow of colors! A rope is cut and then restored! All of which he completed with a competent but cheerless execution. It was just one trick after another, with hardly a pause between effects, like he was attempting to beat some imaginary Guinness World Record for cheesy magic.
On and on it went. There was a swift levitation of an attractive but dour assistant which lacked any spark, followed by an equally zestless Zig Zag Girl effect. Then a Zombie Ball routine with a light bulb that was equally dull and–due to the small size of the bulb and the distance from the stage–hard to see. And then a short routine involving the disappearance of doves from an ornate wooden cabinet, a performance which was not nearly as eye-catching as the box itself.
By the time he wheeled out what appeared to be a cheap knock-off of Jim Steinmeyer’s classic Origami effect, I was ready to call it a day. However, looking from side to side, I realized there was no easy way out, as I had wiggly urchins to my right and Harry on my left.
Clearly trapped, I settled in as the act limped interminably ahead, my ears ringing from the incessant music, which was doing little to enhance the perfunctory performance. While there is a notable history of silent magic acts performed to music, Blume didn’t seem to know how to time his effects to the rhythm of the soundtrack, or–more importantly–how to connect with the audience as each magic moment unfurled. Everything was done at such a monotonous pace that, as far as I could tell, some of the effects had come and gone before many in the audience realized anything magical had transpired.
The audience–which appeared to consist of an equal mix of young moms with kids in tow and brightly-dressed, wide-eyed out-of-towners–sat mutely throughout the laborious performance, which provided no respite in the action for even an occasional laugh or applause break. Many of these folks may have ducked into the magic show to avoid the constant roar of the amusement park just outside the theater’s doors, only to be surprised by the even louder and more persistent din to which they were now being subjected.
The climax of the show, if you can call it that, was a substitution trunk routine, clearly based on (or, let’s be honest here, flat-out lifted from) the famous Metamorphosis act perfected by The Pendragons. This illusion was a particular favorite of mine; I had literally worn out a VHS copy of the act Harry had given me when I was a teenager. The moment of magic in the routine was sublime and despite multiple slow-motion re-viewings, I was never able to see the trick’s seams.
Blume’s presentation was nearly identical to that of The Pendragons, although he lacked the physical grace of Jonathan Pendragon. Blume’s assistant, an attractive East Indian woman, seemed to possess the dance skills and the elegance he didn’t, but I suspect her innate skill at the routine was lost on the audience.
With little fanfare, a large trunk was pushed onto the stage. Blume opened the trunk’s lid and pulled a large canvas bag from within. Stepping into the chest, the assistant–wearing a bright red dress–then stepped into the bag, which Blume pulled up over her head. He then quickly tied the bag shut, adding an oversized padlock to the securing process. The assistant, now ostensibly locked in the bag, curled into the trunk as Blume shut the heavy lid.
Another large padlock was produced and snapped shut on the hasp on the front of the trunk. Assured the box was now sufficiently fortified, Blume awkwardly leaped on top of it, grabbing a large piece of fabric as he did. Standing on the trunk’s lid, he pulled the fabric up, covering himself entirely for just a split second. Then the fabric dropped, revealing the assistant –now sporting a bright blue dress–standing atop the trunk and that Blume had vanished.
The duo’s timing was not nearly as amazing as The Pendragons’–and really, who could top them?–but it was more than serviceable and provided the first truly magical moment of the morning.
The strength of this routine was not lost on the audience, who reacted audibly for the first time, their response masked by the thumping music. As the assistant gracefully jumped off the trunk and began to unlock the large padlock, I glanced around the small theater, anticipating the trick’s climax.
In real life, John’s not a magician, but he has directed six low-budget features that cost very little and made even less – that’s no small trick. He’s also written multiple books on the subject of low-budget filmmaking. Ironically, they’ve made more than the films.
In addition to the five books in the Eli Marks mystery series, John is also the author of the thriller, The Ripperologists.
John lives in Minnesota and shares his home with his lovely wife, several dogs, a few cats and a handful of pet allergies.
Links to John’s website, blog, books, etc.
Barnes & Noble: https://tinyurl.com/y9ghax5q
Thanks, John, for sharing your book with us!
Don’t miss the chance to read this book!