It could not really be said that Jeremy had been devoted to magic all his life but he had always maintained a sort of passing interest. However, it was only when he was in this late thirties that he finally became sufficiently captivated - by what he then recognised as being “illusions” (rather than the harnessing of some form of mystical magical power) - to begin studying the craft in any depth.
Looking back, he could trace his first childhood exposure to “magic” from a book his Brother had possessed. It was called “Simple Magic Tricks” and contained a number of illustrations and explanations about how to perform tricks. Unfortunately, it was badly translated from the original Italian and, try as he might, Jeremy could never really make head or tail of what the text and the pictures were trying to convey. That is probably why his brother, Gordon, gave up with this magic manual too! His small fingers were quite unable to master the level of dexterity required and the book eventually languished on a shelf, to be ignominiously discarded when the family moved house around Jeremy’s tenth birthday.
His next encounter with the world of prestidigitation was a couple of years later on a visit with his parents to London. They were in the children’s department of Selfridges in Oxford Street and a man there was giving a demonstration of card tricks. He was using a specially prepared pack in which the height of every other card was fractionally different than its neighbour and each of the differently sized cards displayed the Queen of Hearts. This meant that thumbing the pack one way showed cards which were all different but thumbing it the other way showed cards which were all the same! The special packs were for sale; one was procured and Jeremy had a brief time thereafter mastering a few card tricks. However, his interest soon waned as the great reveal to each trick always resulted in the same answer: the Queen of Hearts!
Like everyone who watched them, Jeremy enjoyed viewing the television magicians but there was little connection between their entertaining mega-illusions and young Jeremy’s then world. It was only when he was older and working in his firm’s marketing department that he came into contact with some professional magicians who were employed at various exhibitions to draw people to the exhibitors’ stands and to involve them in some memorable magic. Jeremy, detailed to man his company’s stand at such events, began to realise that misdirection was a skill which had to be learnt and he recognised, too, that seeing illusions - albeit small scale ones - standing behind the magician presented an entirely new perspective on how some of these were executed. In the performances, Jeremy was sometimes allowed by the magician actually to be involved in one or two tricks, being surreptitiously passed cards or coins or other objects for him to place out of view of the particular spectator whose attention was focussed on the magician, only for the items to be revealed in due course inside a container at some unlikely location. Like the magician, Jeremy started to get a buzz from the reaction of the audience when the trick was revealed: the dropped jaw, the “How on earth did you do that”, the “No, that’s impossible” comments.
Then came those “exposes” on television and on the internet, revealing how the tricks are actually carried out, from close-up magic to the full scale illusions. Jeremy became fascinated with these as they reinforced the importance of timing, misdirection, suggestion, deception and the fact that, for many of the big illusions, the magician himself (or herself) sometimes did very little other than put on a sheer performance; it was often the assistants or the stage-hands who carried out the real work whilst the illusionist merely waved the arms around, pronounced a few “magic words” and generally appeared to be in a position of power and control, which was indeed an illusion!
Out of all the magic he had seen and, latterly, studied in greater detail, there was one type of trick which appealed to Jeremy more than any other. This is what came to be known as “teleportation”, whereby the illusionist would appear to make the female (they were always female!) assistant disappear at point A, only for her to reappear a few seconds later at point B. He particularly remembered this type of illusion from watching the television magic shows of his youth and - before Jeremy’s innocence contemplated the possibilities of camera or technical manipulation - he used to lie in bed sometimes and contemplate this trick. At what point after the screen was put up did the assistant disappear? Straight away? How did she make her escape unnoticed? How could she reappear on the other side of the stage in the short time interval? Was there a secret tunnel? Did she just run through the shadows, unseen by the cameras? Why was she never out of breath? More excitingly, could the magician really influence or defy time or space in some way?
When he was a little older and had put some of his childlike thoughts aside, Jeremy used to watch the television screen intently during such illusions, trying to spot the clever edit - but he never could. In its absence, he began to propound other theories, the most ingenious of which involved two large mirrors which reflected the image of the assistant over to the second position when, really, she was still in the same place from where she had been seen to have apparently “disappeared”. It had to be two mirrors, of course, because one alone would reverse the image of the assistant, whereas a second one would right it again. Or was that why she always looked so symmetrical in appearance - hair, costume etc - so any image reversal in a mirror would not be apparent?
Finally, at the age of forty, Jeremy discovered how the illusion really happens and he physically blushed at the wild notions he had entertained about it in his youth. More than this, though, the revelation of its secret made him appreciate why that particular form of magic was so personally appealing. Now he thought about it again - but this time in quite a new way. Its methodology opened up possibilities which, with hindsight, had perhaps all along been somewhere buried away in the back of Jeremy’s subconscious.
Adopting the approach of all good magicians, Jeremy decided
to sit down and carefully plan out how he could himself bring off this illusion
and use it to best effect. It took a few weeks - planning when time allowed -
but eventually he had worked up what he considered to be a foolproof blueprint.
Before putting it into effect, though, he needed to talk with this brother. He
and Gordon had always been close and many of the major decisions in the
brothers’ lives had been taken in consultation with each other.
Finally came the day when Jeremy was to unveil his own take on the illusion. Gordon rang him to wish him well and the plan was put into operation. For the trick to work, Jeremy had to be quite visible. He had remembered an old ‘Father Brown’ story by G.K. Chesterton where the hero had left a trail of confusion which was bound to be picked up by somebody and he set out to replicate this but in a rather less dramatic fashion. So, on that evening, he left the hotel on the outskirts of Bedford where he was staying, caught a bus into town - where the illusion was to take place - and, precisely at ten o’clock, in the middle of a busy pub, he pretended to trip over, measuring his length across the only free space on the floor and holding his wrist badly, as if he had sprained it. Some onlookers at first simply assumed he was drunk whereas others were more sympathetic and rallied round, assisting Jeremy to a chair and offering words of comfort. One person even bought him a drink! After a while, when the hubbub had subsided, Jeremy slipped outside and, weaving his way through the warm spring night outdoor drinkers, he joined the queue in a nearby fish and chip shop. He had soon struck up a conversation with some of those there and even discussed the merits and de-merits of pickled onions sold in such establishments. Then, walking away with his cod and chips, Jeremy made for the bus station, where he sat down and consumed his provisions, watching the passengers embarking for their journeys home after a night out. Jeremy politely - and much to their surprise - said “Good evening” to those who passed near him. His food consumed, he climbed aboard a the returning bus, took an inordinate amount of time to locate his return ticket - much to the driver’s frustration - and a little later had to be asked en route by other passengers to quieten down because he was whistling rather loudly, for which he apologised. By the time the bus reached its last stop, Jeremy had vanished from the interior.
The trouble, Jeremy realised afterwards, about undertaking this sort of large scale illusion is that it was not immediately apparent how successful it had been. To have seen it in all its completeness, one had to have been a spectator, one of the onlookers. Jeremy had only seen one side of it and it was impossible to gauge straight away whether it had come off successfully. For all the planning, it was hardly the sort of thing that would be commented about on the local news the following morning, although Jeremy did watch that (it was mostly about a robbery at a local betting shop) but later he heard from Gordon and was somewhat cheered by his brother’s encouragements.
Having invested a good deal of time, effort, energy and money towards this enterprise, Jeremy was content not to repeat it for some while and, in the meantime, intended to think up ways of perhaps improving or enhancing it.
A few weeks later, early one evening, just after Jeremy had
finished a hasty bachelor evening meal, the doorbell rang. Answering its
summons, he was surprised to find a two policemen standing on the doormat.
“We have reason to believe”, said the first officer, “that you were in the town of Bedford on the night of the third of May”.
Jeremy scratched his head for a second or two and then replied “Yes, I was. I had a meeting with a client and stayed over at the Holiday Inn on the outskirts”. In answer to further questions, Jeremy gave the name of his employers and the client he had visited and added “But what has this raid to do with me? I saw it on the local news at the hotel the next morning but didn’t see or hear anything at the time. I don’t even know where this betting shop is”.
Rather disconcertingly, the interviewer did not engage with this dialogue but ploughed stolidly on: “Could you tell me sir, please, where you were between the hours of nine pm and midnight on that evening?”.
“Well, let me see”, Jeremy responded, marshalling his thoughts. Then he stopped. “Hang on a minute”, he enquired, “Do you suspect this robbery, or whatever it was, has anything to do with me?”.
The policeman’s answer was conciliatory. “We thought perhaps you might be able to fill in a few gaps for us, sir, or might possibly have seen something if you were in the vicinity or maybe even have spoken to somebody who had noticed anything amiss”.
“Oh, I see”, said Jeremy. “How did you know I was even in Bedford at all then?”.
The policeman looked Jeremy straight in the eye. “To be quite candid, sir, a number of individuals we have interviewed already have provided descriptions of people seen that night in the vicinity of the crime and one of those descriptions fits yours. In fact”, he went on - it seemed to Jeremy - a little threateningly, “the descriptions given agreed so closely that we had little trouble in building up a photofit identity and once this was circulated to the local hotels, the Holiday Inn readily identified you and supplied this address”.
“Good heavens”, cried a genuinely surprised Jeremy,
“I had no idea I was such a wanted man! Yes, I was in Bedford town centre that evening and I’m not surprised lots of people saw me. I
caught the bus in from the hotel about quarter past nine and wandered around a
bit and went in a pub. When I left there, I bought some fish and chips and ate
them in the bus station while I waited to get a bus back. I suppose I got back
to the hotel about half past eleven. Actually, I think I might even still
have the bus ticket somewhere”.
“Well sir, the account of your movements chimes in to some extent with what we have been told but you will appreciate that we needed to have your corroboration. You certainly were seen that night by many individuals and it would be helpful if you could provide a some more details and timings”.
policeman produced from his pocket a map of Bedford town centre and Jeremy was asked to indicate, clearly and carefully, on this
the route he had taken and the places he had visited. He was shown the location
of the betting shop and asked, particularly, a lot of questions about whether he
had walked near there at any time and, especially, where he was at around ten
o’clock that evening, which was apparently the time the raid had taken place,
just as the shop was closing. Jeremy suddenly remembered: “Ah, I couldn’t
have been your robber because at ten o’clock I was in the pub. In fact, the
ten o’clock news was just about to start on the big television screen they
have there and I was looking at that, wondering what the headlines would be,
when I fell over something and measured my length on the floor”. Jeremy rubbed
his wrist in memory. “
"No sir, not everybody. We do have, though, in addition
to witnesses, access to certain CCTV images which appear to show you - or, at
least, somebody very like you, from what we can tell from the images - in the
vicinity of the betting shop that night around the time of the raid”.
“Well”, he replied, “I think you have been following the wrong scent. I clearly have no end of witnesses to show where I was practically the whole of that evening. It seems to me you might have been sidetracked in trying to pin down my movements whilst the real villain has somehow eluded you. Presumably the betting shop people gave you a fairly accurate description of the raider”.
“They did, sir, even though the raider tried to disguise his appearance in the bookmakers. However, he was seen plainly enough beforehand on his way to the shop by the cameras and eye witnesses but curiously”, the policeman’s speech slowed down: he was thinking out loud to himself now, “we couldn’t seem to pin him down afterwards, he just seemed to have disappeared. We suppose he must have put on a second disguise or just hid somewhere until the coast was clear”.
Jeremy smiled. “Oh dear, bad luck - but I suppose if I were going to rob a bookmakers I too would wear some sort of disguise. However, officer, it was not me and while I’m impressed you’ve managed to track me down and are clearly being thorough and diligent in your enquiries, I’m afraid I’m not able to be of any help to you. Sorry”.
“It does look that way, sir. Thank you, though, for your co-operation and if we do have any further questions I presume we can find you here”.
“Most evenings, yes, except for when I might be travelling back from late client meetings or staying over somewhere on business”.
“Very good, sir. We’ll say goodnight then”.
Jeremy showed the policeman to the door and closed it behind them, somewhat thoughtfully.
“Can’t be him, Charlie”, said Policeman A to his colleague, as they climbed back into their car. “How can one man be seen by CCTV and witnesses to be in one place and then suddenly appear a few seconds later over a quarter of a mile away?”.
“Tell you what, George”, replied Policeman B, “it’s like one of those magicians you see on television. You know, in those illusions where they have an assistant and they make her disappear and then she magically reappears almost at the same time somewhere else”.
“Oh hell, yes”, exclaimed Charlie. “I wonder….”
One evening, a fortnight later, Jeremy’s doorbell rang
“No, sir, we’ve come to arrest you”.
Jeremy stood stock still, rooted to the spot.
“I don’t find accessory to theft a laughing matter, sir. You see, we know now how it was done. It was something my colleague here said after our first visit to you. Of course, the internet helped. Amazing what you can find on there about how magic is done, about how those illusions are really staged. Do you know, there is one they call “teleportation” where somebody disappears from one place but then pops up somewhere else at almost the same time. Very clever”.
“What on earth has that got to do with me?” enquired Jeremy.
“Who has confessed?”
“Your brother sir - your identical twin”.
© Richard Farquharson, Maulden, Bedfordshire May 2016