The audience grew still, eyes wide for the fan of crisp one-pound notes raised above the head of The Great Magento. The sounds of the circus outside the tent seemed to fade, the music of the whirly machines and the calls of the hawkers giving way to the gentle wood creak of the low stage beneath the magician’s bright black leather boots.
He lowered his hands to his chest then turned side on to the audience as he faced the helper he had plucked from the crowd, this any old Irish navvy in a sea of grubby faces and rumpled tweed come to sleep off pay day in the quiet of the magic tent. This specimen hugged the lectern to his chest to stop himself falling and The Great Magento was forced to stoop to bring the money close to the taper held in one of the man’s quavering hands.
The flame was dancing, seeming with a mind not to bite the paper, until The Great Magento began to anticipate the navvy’s quivering hands and brought each note to the flame in turn. Now when he held his arms aloft they were crowned by a fan of flame, the crowd hushing as the flames ate lower, seeking out his flesh.
One last flourish, one last burst of light and with a cry The Great Magento spread the fan of unburnt notes above his head.
The crowd cheered, but fell into silence at the thump, thump of a book against the lectern top. The navvy had found the battered bible kept in the top shelf and now he was pounding it against the top.
‘If you’re so good magic man, resurrect this.’
The crowd cheered their approval.
The Great Magento flourished then showed his empty hands to the audience. The audience murmured disdain for this old hat, a muttering cry beginning to grow, burn it, burn it.
The Great Magento shrugged, and reached for the bible. Cradled in his left hand, he used his right to take the taper and carefully light the corner of several pages. The hushed crowd watched as the flames took, and they cheered as the burning bible was held aloft in triumph.
The navvy protested. ‘Faker!’
He made a wild leap and seized the bible. He began to wave it at the crowd.
‘See! It’s not real! It’s-‘
He screamed in agony as the fire bit through his booze fuelled haze. The book slipped from his grasp and he puddled to a ball of weeping agony.
The Great Magento raised the book once more. It became a ball of flame that took his hand and then flourish, the flames gone, the bible unburnt. The Great Magento laid down the bible on the lectern top. He accepted their applause and then strode from the stage to exit at the rear
Safe in his caravan he peeled back the protective coatings from his hands then poured water from a jug into two bowls which he set on tables either side of his armchair. He was sitting here, hands in the cooling water when Morgan climbed into their caravan a little while later.
Morgan said, ‘Not a bad night.’
The Great Magento scowled. ‘You almost blew it again. What have I told you, shirt buttoned all the way. You want someone to see that tattoo and figure it out?’