MysteryCoverSmall

Every Mystery Unexplained
Lisa Mason
1
“As long as the human mind delights in mysteries, so it will love magic and magicians. I would say to all beginners, ‘Keep three things in mind:
First–Practice constantly new sleights, novel devices, and invent new combinations of old feats. You must always have something new wherewith to dazzle.
Second–Make your work artistic by clothing each illusion with all the glamour and shadows of fairyland and the suggestions of incantations and supernatural powers in order to prepare the observer’s mind for a mystery.
Third–Leave every mystery unexplained.'”
–Harry Kellar, “The Greatest Magician in the World,” 1887
My father is done with the doves and colored scarves by the time he gets to the spirit show. “And now, ladies and gentlemen,” Uncle Brady announces, his voice as sonorous as a Shakespearean ghost, “Professor Flint will endeavor through his astonishing, miraculous, and mysterious psychic powers to establish communication with the Spirits of the Dead!”
“Endeavor to establish communication with the Dead,” I whisper to Mr. Pannini, the booking agent for the Tivoli Theater, as we watch from the wings. “A pity he seldom endeavors to establish communication with me.
The audience shifts and titters, restless in the early evening, which is awfully cold and gloomy even for fog-haunted San Francisco. Gaslights flicker, leaking fumes into the chill, damp air. A smell of mold clings to the dark velvet curtains, a sepulchral odor that leaves me uneasy.
“The old man is a boiled shirt, is he?” Pannini says with a grin. He is a dapper, clove-scented, well-oiled dandy in fancy gabardine and a velvet bowler, a massive mustache curling over his lip. Some ten years my senior, I suppose, with the air of the rake about him. My father dislikes him intensely. “Nothing a young gentleman like yourself cannot handle, I’ll wager.”
“I endure,” I say, “the dutiful son.” I like Pannini. He slips me a Mecca cigarette. I light up, quick and guilty. My father has forbidden me to smoke.
My father has forbidden me to grow a mustache till I reach the age of one-and-twenty, which has been a source of more contention between us than cigarettes, since extravagant mustaches are all the rage for gentlemen in our year of 1895. A requirement of fashion that occupies many of my thoughts despite other concerns, such as the bank panic, massive unemployment, and civil unrest throughout our great nation of America. What lady will consider me without a mustache? I chafe at each passing day of these next nine months, shave the scant fuzz from my lip–dutiful son–and speculate pessimistically on what poor bristles may be produced when Pop’s injunction has expired.
“And what will you do, Professor Flint,” Uncle Brady is inquiring onstage, “if you should encounter the Grim Reaper Himself?”
“I shall challenge Him to a duel!” my father replies.
“A duel?” Uncle Brady says, inviting the audience to marvel with him.
“A duel to the death!” my father declares.
Onstage, my father arduously prepares himself to establish communication with the Spirits of the Dead. Of Pop’s many talents, this is one of his best, the dramatic preparation for impending dire difficulty. Uncle Brady assists him, yanking off Pop’s cutaway coat, ceremoniously withdrawing the dueling sword from the trunk. My father effects much rolling of eyes, rolling up of sleeves, girding of loins. He kneads his forehead, unleashing psychic powers.
A pity he had not prepared so well for my mother’s death.
Someone snores in the audience with an exaggerated gargle. A heckler? A pack of hoodlums in scruffy top hats tip rotgut in the back row. There has been an air of uncertainty, of desperation, since we arrived in San Francisco. No one in the far West honors paper money. You must pay in gold or silver coin. Only half the seats in the Tivoli are filled tonight.
“He ain’t Houdini,” Pannini says, not unkindly. “With a switcheroo act.”
No, Pop is not that dare devilish young rascal, the dexterous Harry Houdini. No one can top Houdini who, with his wild antics, has spoiled audiences from St. Pete’s to Nome. Everyone is clamoring to see “Metamorphosis,” during which the monsieur and the mademoiselle, each bound at wrist and ankle, exchange places in the box in three seconds flat.
“No, but I know how Houdini pulls off ‘Metamorphosis,'” I say. “I know exactly how he does it. The box trick has been around for a hundred years.”
“The box trick?” Pannini raises his eyebrows.
Over the years, the box trick has been vastly improved, ingeniously improvised, and presented again and again, fresh as the morning dew. But I bite my tongue. I cannot reveal how Houdini’s “Metamorphosis” is pulled off, not even if I wanted to.
“You know all about the box trick, do you?” Pannini prompts, intrigued by my hesitation.
“Sorry,” I say. “We magicians have a code of secrecy. We’ve all sworn not to reveal how an illusion is accomplished. Even if we’re not the ones performing it. Especially then.”
“Ah, a code of secrecy,” Pannini says with a shrug. “Well, don’t look so glum, Danny. It’s a fair crowd for the Tivoli. For a magic act.”
Now I shrug, and draw deeply on the Mecca.
“The old man has got to get himself a pretty heifer onstage,” Pannini says. “That’ll draw ’em in.”
“Oh, we had a beautiful lady in the act.”
“Did you?” Pannini says, suddenly animated. “Well, trot her out, sir.”
“She died,” I say. “Last spring.”
I fling the Mecca to the floor, stamp it out. My father will raise Cain when he smells tobacco on my breath.
“Sorry,” Pannini says.
When I look again, he’s vanished.
As it is, my father has got a good act. Not a great act, perhaps, not a spectacular act like Harry Houdini’s, but a very good act. He’s worked on this act, in its various permutations, for all the twenty years I have walked upon the earth and before then, too, according to Uncle Brady. My father is no dare devilish robust rascal, but a well weathered man, lean of flesh and spare of hair, whom some people mistake for my grandfather. Yet Pop has not lost his touch, in my opinion. In my opinion–and as his only son and heir apparent, I’m entitled to my opinion–it’s a lousy crowd for the astonishing, the miraculous, the mysterious Professor Flint.
Then again, nothing seems right since my mother died.
Now my father takes up the sword, commences feints and thrusts. In the sulfuric glare of the limelights, I can see sweat pooling over the starched wing collar that throttles his throat, soaking through his threadbare brocade vest like a bloodstain. I used to worry about Pop’s health. He always was a scrawny bird, and scrofula and consumption ran in his family. Sometimes it seemed to me that the exertions of the stage, not to mention the financial uncertainties of magic, would do him in.
I don’t worry so much about Pop anymore. He turned out to be the strong one. Which only goes to show you. You never can tell from the look of things what the truth is or what, an illusion.
With a swift, decisive jab, my father thrusts the sword–back into its scabbard. That’s right. This preliminary action sequence is intended to arouse any flagging interest among gentlemen in the audience. Gentlemen are by nature discontent and easily bored, not to mention skeptical. Sure enough, one of the hoodlums in the back row shouts, “Bloody well get on with it, man!”
But my father never concedes to a quick, cheap thrill. No, there are ladies and children in the audience–usually there are, anyway, though such tender persons appear to be singularly lacking at the Tivoli tonight. Ladies and children of sensitive sensibilities may become alarmed by Professor Flint’s aggressive antics. They may pause, they may press gentle pale fingertips to their pale throats, they may wonder if the next mystery will be too much for them to bear.
It is for this portion of the audience that my father sheaths the sword. A portion deserving, as my mother used to say, of a performer’s special courtesy. A portion endowed themselves with the power of trembling lips, of fluttering eyelashes, of little cries of joy or alarm, of those gentle pale fingertips just as she, my mother, was so amply endowed.
It is for them that my father now trots out the dancing handkerchief.
“But first, ladies and gentlemen,” he announces, “before I challenge the Grim Reaper to a duel to the death, I shall endeavor to prove that the power of Life goes beyond Death. Beyond the grave itself!”
To be honest, I personally think the dancing handkerchief is the silliest of illusions.
I’m always astonished at how much the ladies and the children and the gentlemen love it.
Need I say that all of the Tivoli’s stagehands, Mr. Pannini, and anyone and everyone not privy to our techniques, have been banished from backstage. Need I say that Uncle Brady and I sprint like souls possessed to our respective positions at each wing abutting the stage. Need I hint that the dancing handkerchief illusion works much like a marionette. Need I add that we gleefully seize the wonderfully simple and devilishly clever devices. For they are devices. There is no person on earth once clearly shown who would ever mistake the technical application of wrist and wire for the appearance of something supernatural.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Pop is saying, “I will endeavor to demonstrate the miraculous Power of Life utilizing the most ordinary of personal accoutrements.”
My father has got one of those masterful voices and the ability to project his ironic personality out into a crowd. Yet I worry how well he will project his personality tonight, for the air feels thick in the Tivoli Theater. I feel a chill sweep through the room, like a draft from a back door left carelessly ajar.
“Does anyone,” Pop says, “have a handkerchief? Of purest white silk, if you please?”
In this surly crowd, reeking of cheap whiskey and unwashed clothes, I fear no person in attendance is genteel enough to possess the requested accoutrement. The chill deepens, and a cloud of bay fog drifts in. Clear across the stage I can see Uncle Brady twist his head around, glancing behind himself, at me, out there. He’s working up a fury for the stagehands. Some rotter has left a door open, taking petty revenge, perhaps, for his banishment from backstage.
One of the very few ladies in the audience stands, works her way to the aisle, and approaches the stage. I heave a sigh of relief. Across the stage, Uncle Brady pantomimes wiping his brow. What a lady she is, too, tall and slim, in a ruffled burgundy dress. Her coiffure tilts above her forehead at a saucy angle, a curl coiled on the high curve of her cheek. She smiles at my father, who bows graciously, and glances around at her neighbors, seeking their approval of her boldness. Her dark eyes light upon me, as I peer out from the wing. I can smell her perfume, a rich musk of red roses. She holds forth a white silk handkerchief in her elegant fingers.
Da,” she says in a purring contralto, “I have handkerchief.”
And then she winks at me.
Oh, Lord. I duck out of sight. Pop will have my hide if he should notice that someone in the audience has spied me skulking about in the wings. He proceeds apace with the illusion, however, deftly knotting one corner of the lady’s handkerchief. When he’s done, the handkerchief looks just like a little ghost, with a pert peaked head and a drooping shroud. He tosses the handkerchief on the stage, casually leaning over to rearrange the silk and attach the fabric to the—ah, never mind.
It’s a mystery unexplained.
Much like a marionette, as I’ve said. That’s all you need to know.
“Thus I shall prove, ladies and gentlemen,” my father says, “that within each small thing, even a mere handkerchief from this beautiful lady, the Spirit of Life can come alive.
And off we go, Uncle Brady and me at opposite ends of the stage, making that little ghost come alive.
First, the handkerchief raises its head, struggling to become animated, then (pardon me) gives up the ghost, and falls slack again. My father coaxes it, by turns tender, then stern, and the handkerchief rises, rises, growing more vigorous by the moment, finally standing upright and positively lively. The ghost leaps into Pop’s hands, leaps down again, and capers across the stage like a maniac. Pop gives chase, captures it. It swiftly escapes, and he gives chase again. At last he seizes the handkerchief and hands it to the lady, still bobbing and wiggling like a hooked fish. She cries out. Pop takes the wiggler back, unties the knot, and, with a murmured apology, releases a lifeless handkerchief.
The lady beams and displays her erstwhile ghost. Everyone in the front rows leans forward, entranced, applauding wildly.
Like I said, they always love the dancing handkerchief.
“Thank you, madam,” Pop says. “What is your name, please?”
“I am Zena Troubetzskoy.”
“Bloody well get on with it, man!” the hoodlum in the back row yells again. His pals guffaw.
“Madame Troubetzskoy, I am charmed,” my father says, ignoring the hecklers, and takes her handkerchief yet again and produces from it a fresh red rose. He regards the rose as if it is a wondrous treasure and hands silk and bloom to her.
Zena stares, openmouthed. As I peer from the wing again, I see a flush infuse her cheeks, staining her face as if with a sudden fever. “Can you really communicate with the Other Side, Professor Flint?” she asks.
“I certainly can,” Pop says.
Liar, I think. The enmity between stage magicians and spiritualist mediums revolves around this very point–what we each claim we can do. No one has actually established communication with the Spirits of the Dead. No one has proven that the soul survives. Yet spiritualist mediums deceive people with cruelties–and with illusions any stage magician can readily replicate. Maskelyne, the Royal Illusionist, exposed the Davenport brothers’ spirit cabinet as nothing more than the good old box trick. Anderson, the Great Wizard of the North, produced better table-tipping and spirit raps than the Fox sisters, who have bilked many a silver dollar from the bereaved.
If my father really could establish communication with the Other Side, don’t you think he would have contacted my mother?
But what else is my father supposed to say? No, not really? He cannot say that, not in front of an audience in a theater. A magician must never reveal the secrets of his illusions, must never explain the mystery though there is no mystery. That is our code of secrecy.
Still, I am uneasy with Pop’s charade, his disingenuous answer. Is he any better than a deceitful spiritualist medium?
If Zena Troubetzskoy is perturbed by my father’s lie, however, she gives no sign. “How marvelous,” she says and returns to the darkness beyond the limelights.
Now our rented orchestra strikes up a sprightly tune. Uncle Brady rushes onstage to assist Pop, while I pull the ghost getup over myself, head to toe, and sprint to my appointed place before the pane of plate glass. The pane, which the audience cannot see, is situated just so, in relation to the activities onstage and the activities offstage, and to a strategically placed spotlight. When light and darkness are arranged precisely right, when the physics of reflection and refraction are manipulated correctly, you will see an apparition appear out of nowhere onstage with Professor Flint. You will see the apparition joust with him in a death-defying duel. You will see him pierce the apparition clear through with his sword. At which point, you will see the apparition perish amid much pathos, and disappear before your very eyes.
All right, the ghost duel is not actually so death-defying. Not like the real stunts of that dare devilish Houdini, who trusses himself up like an animal bound for slaughter and swallows needles. Nor is the ghost duel original to my father. Professor J. H. Pepper pioneered the illusion, and many others have presented it in various permutations such as “The Blue Room” or “The Room of Mortality,” in which a skeleton in a coffin transforms itself into a young woman, then withers again into bare bones. Still, I think the ghost duel is the high point of Professor Flint’s act.
I never tired of watching this illusion back in the days when my mother played the ghost. When I was a kid, I used to love it. Uncle Brady would intone his Grand Invocation of the Spirits of the Dead, and the ghost would appear–just like that!–floating over the stage. And you could feel how the audience began to believe. Ladies would weep, and children cry out. Some gentlemen would toot their noses, while others would gasp, with fear or shock or the wonder of it all. One time in Cheyenne someone called out, “Praise the Lord!” and someone else answered, “Amen!”
What a ghost my mother played! Pop would fling down a leather glove in challenge, whip his sword from its scabbard. The apparition would fling down its own white silk glove, defiantly produce its own weapon. And off they would go, leaping and sparring. My mother was so charming and spritely and graceful that the ladies would stop their weeping, the children would laugh, the gentlemen would stop tooting in their handkerchiefs. These hardy people of our young American nation, who faced death daily by consumption or childbirth or fever, they would gaze at that graceful ghost and they would smile. I could see joy stealing into their hearts, and it was magic.
I am not nearly as charming a ghost as my mother once was, but I can spar, I can feint, and the duel has got this audience warmed up at last. From the location offstage where I accomplish my part of the illusion, I can hear the cheers and exclamations of encouragement. Pop pierces me through the heart, I perish and vanish, and it’s over. I fling off the ghost getup, and dash up onstage. The audience stands and applauds. Mr. Pannini gives me the thumbs-up.
I can see the relief on my father’s face. Pop is the sort of man who makes a meticulous accounting of each triumph and especially of each failure, however small. The failures disturb him far more than the triumphs ever give him satisfaction. Uncle Brady beams and bows, but he gives a little shake of his head, a sort of cringe to his shoulder, and I know what he’s thinking. He’s thinking nothing has seemed right since the accident took my mother’s life last spring.
The woman in the burgundy dress rushes up to the stage, clapping furiously, the red rose tucked behind her ear. Zena Troubetzskoy says, “How marvelous! Oh! How marvelous!”
2
First light of the dawn, and I smell wood smoke and the bitter, bracing scent of coffee. The flicker of a fire pries my eyelids open. Uncle Brady is already up, bending over our campfire, brewing coffee in a dented tin pot. I have spent the night out of doors, in the fog and the gloom, and I am aching all over, I am shivering, and my mouth tastes of stale cigarette smoke.
“Rise and shine, Danny,” Uncle Brady says. “You look like Pepper’s ghost warmed over, son.”
I do not doubt it. We have been on the road for a long time. I’m accustomed to sleeping on the ground or in the back of our wagon, accustomed to roots and rocks and rough boards assaulting my spine. But that doesn’t mean I no longer feel pain. Years ago, my father invested in a Henderson freight wagon with a canvas top. The thing is enormous, a regular cabin on wheels, built for durability, not comfort or speed. We require a team of four sturdy draft horses to pull it. Most of the customized interior is devoted to the transport of our equipment. I know well the narrow confines of my bunk, the sweltering heat or the numbing cold, the lack of a moment alone–but that doesn’t mean I relish each nightly ordeal any more than when Pop first started us out.
For months I’ve yearned for this engagement in San Francisco. For months I’ve hoped our stay would bring me some relief. There are magnificent hotels in San Francisco, hotels as fine as the best in New York City or Paris. What I would give for just one night at the Palace or Lucky Baldwin’s. For a stuffed mattress, a down pillow, a blazing fireplace, and a hot bath. For a cup of coffee brewed by one of the hotel chefs whose culinary reputations are repeated among vagabonds like us in the reverent tones reserved for legends and miracles.
But though it’s likely Pop could afford just one night at a magnificent hotel, though Pop suffers from arthritis in his hips and surely yearns for a hot bath and a soft mattress more than I do, the magnificent hotels will not permit Uncle Brady to stay in a suite with my father and me.
Which is a mystery to me.
For Uncle Brady is as deft with my father’s craft as any of our finest illusionists. He assists my father with our books of account and the management of our tour as shrewdly as any Harvard-schooled mercantilist. He is my dearest friend, and he was my mother’s faithful companion in the years before she and my father married.
But Uncle Brady’s complexion is the same rich brown color of the coffee he’s brewing. The magnificent hotels will insist that Uncle Brady stay in the servants’ quarters, and that is unacceptable to my father. When it comes to Uncle Brady, Pop has never tolerated anything but treatment equal to the hospitalities offered himself or me. He may be a boiled shirt, but my father has insisted upon this policy ever since he met Uncle Brady and my mother. And that was at the end of their journey from Georgia, in the terrible year before I was born.
So we’ve camped out for the night in the weedy field at Fourth Street and Mission, side-by-side with the medicine shows and quack peddlers and dime museums. The field is a carnival by day and a shindig by night, hosted by some of the most disreputable scoundrels in the far West. I have spent the dawn hours sitting up against a wheel of our wagon, wrapped in a reeking, buffalo-skin blanket, a derringer in one hand, and a large brass bell in the other. My father does not actually expect me to kill or even fend off a would-be horse thief. If our horses are accosted, I am to shoot into the air and ring the bell like mad, and Pop and Uncle Brady will make their appearances with our revolver and our shotgun. Instead vigilance, however, I fell into a poor facsimile of sleep, my slumber tormented by a dream of the gypsies we encountered in Cheyenne last spring. I dreamed of Leilani, taunting me.
My father extracts himself from our wagon with all the brittle dignity of a nobleman come to survey his hinterlands. Does he say good morning as I am painfully rousing myself? Does he inquire about my comfort or well-being or the restfulness of my slumber?
“You smoked a cigarette last night, Daniel,” is the first thing my father says to me. He seizes the mug Uncle Brady offers him and tosses scalding coffee down his throat. He does not wince or grumble at the taste or heat.
“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned,” I mumble.
“When you turn twenty-one, you may do as you please, sir,” he says in a tone that leads me to suspect I will have little more freedom then than I do at twenty. “You may give over your health to wrack and ruin. You may cast away all I have taught you, cast away your livelihood, cast your very soul to the Devil. But till then, sir, till then, as long as you are in my company, you will abide by the rules.”
“Professor,” Uncle Brady says before I can summon up another disrespectful retort. “May we please discuss the state of our affairs?”
I collect my own mug of grit, crouch by the fire, and brace myself for the bad news.
“We’re broke,” Uncle Brady says. “Nearly broke.”
“I thought we cleared ten thousand dollars in Tacoma,” Pop says.
“An agent from Tacoma showed up yesterday afternoon,” Uncle Brady says.
“I saw no agent,” Pop says.
“I try not to worry you, Professor, before a performance,” Uncle Brady says. “He said the theater wasn’t insured. The fire cleaned them out.”
“It wasn’t our fault!” I say, though I know that’s not strictly true. Pop keeps kegs of methylated spirits for fireworks effects. A cigarette discarded by some careless stranger sent everything up in flames, including a good deal of our equipment. Worst of all, the accursed pane of plate glass, which we cart about in the wagon swaddled up like a newborn babe, was ruined. Uncle Brady had to wire ahead to San Francisco for a new pane, which we employed to such good effect last night.
My father is impassive. “You reimbursed him?”
“Of course,” Uncle Brady says. “We must do that if we’re ever to play Tacoma again. Then there’s the new glass, and the extra charge for an expedited order. There’s all the equipment that has to be replaced.” He pulls a list from his vest pocket, fits spectacles onto his nose. “The magic portfolio. The vanishing birdcage. The enchanted demon’s head.”
“Not the enchanted demon’s head!” I say.
Uncle Brady shoots me an exasperated look over the top of his spectacles. “The flip-over boxes and the feathered bouquets. Then there’s the costumes. I was only able to salvage three or four of them.”
My father grunts, I groan, and my stomach emits a sound resembling the utterances of a rabid dog. I’ve not eaten a thing since yesterday noon, and that was a meal of pemmican washed down with hard well water. The water had a smell to it that much reminded me of a cesspool. Traitorous thoughts fill my head. Perhaps I could secure employment as a waiter at one of the famous restaurants of San Francisco. At Coppa’s, say, or the Tadich Grill. At least then I could get something decent to eat and drink.
My father only says, “I’m grateful our suppliers have been so prompt, trustworthy, and courteous. We could not have gone on with the show without them.”
“Nevertheless,” Uncle Brady says, “we’re broke. Nearly broke. I’ve got a bill here for fifty dollars.” He wets his thumb and leafs through a stack of invoices. “It’s forty days overdue, Professor. We’ll get no more credit from the Chicago Magic Company if we don’t pay it at once.”
“Pop,” I say, “I’m hungry.”
“Go feed the horses,” my father says, unmoved. To Uncle Brady, “Pay it. And the take from last night?”
“The theater was half-full,” Uncle Brady says. “At this rate, our engagement here won’t cover our traveling expenses from Tacoma.”
Our engagement here is to last three weeks. “Oh, that’s splendid.” I pull myself to my feet. “You may both go and starve and good luck to you. As for me, I’m tired of magic. I’m not cut out to be a magician, anyway. I shall seek my own fortune in San Francisco.” I strike a defiant pose. “I shall go wait tables.”
“Perhaps the boy should go find some day work, Professor,” Uncle Brady says. “We’ll have to rehearse without him.”
“If you’re through with your coffee, Daniel,” my father says, ignoring the both of us, “go feed the horses like I told you.”
“May I remind you, Uncle Brady, I’m a person of twenty years, not a boy.” And to my father, “I will take no more orders from you, sir. I will abide by no more of your rules.”
“Comport yourself like a person of twenty years and attend to your animals, sir,” my father says. “They cannot feed themselves, whereas you can.”
“This squabbling won’t pay the bills,” Uncle Brady says.
“The bills,” I say. “Always the bills. You can take the bills and go–”
“I beg your pardon, gentlemen,” says a purring contralto. “Forgive me for interrupting your breakfast.”
We all turn, mouths gaping. Zena Troubetzskoy strolls up our campfire, smiling serenely. She is composed and fresh in her burgundy dress, the red rose tucked behind her ear. When I meet her gaze, she gives me that wink of hers.
“What breakfast,” I mutter but my anger vanishes like magic before her flirtatious wink. She is no girl of my age, but a woman older by a handful of years, and my pulse quickens in her presence.
My father casts a look at me that could choke a horse. He stands and bows, ever gracious. “Good morning, Madame Troubetzskoy.”
“You remember me, sir?”
“But of course. What on earth brings you to this unwholesome campground, madam?” He flips his hand at me; go get her a stool to sit on. I hop to it, retrieving one from the back of our wagon.
She sits, warming her hands over the campfire. “Professor Flint,” she says, “last night you said you can communicate with the Souls of the Other Side. Didn’t you?”
Uncle Brady and I trade glances. My father clears his throat. “So I did.”
“Then, Professor Flint, I must ask if you would attempt to communicate with my dear husband. There is something I urgently need to tell him. I cannot find peace till I do.”
My father takes her hand. “My dear Madame Troubetzskoy.”
“Please call me Zena.”
“Zena. I am a magician, Zena, a stage magician. Not a spiritualist medium.”
“Whatever you wish to call yourself is fine with me, Professor.”
“Zena.” My father kneels at her feet and lowers his voice. “We are not before an audience, so I must tell you something in the strictest confidence.”
“Yes?” Her eyes shine with anticipation.
“I’m a magician, as I’ve said. What I do, what we do–up there on the stage. It’s only an illusion.”
Her face darkens. “Oh, please, I implore you, Professor.”
“All an illusion, madam. It isn’t real.”
“But you told me you can communicate with the Other Side. You told me you have psychic powers. You told me.”
My father glances at Uncle Brady and me, and his mouth puckers up as if he has bitten a lemon. Pop does not consider anything he does in his act to be a lie. He never misrepresents himself. The audience knows it’s stage magic. The audience knows it’s an illusion. But this lovely woman in a burgundy dress has taken him at his word. And he does not want to confess that he lied, even if he did fudge a bit. He does not want to admit to false pretenses, however fleeting. He cannot bear to be exposed as a hypocrite like poor old Anderson, the great Wizard of the North, who so effortlessly discerned people’s intimate secrets onstage, but got so addled with drink that he often could not find his own way home.
“I said I endeavor to communicate with the Other Side,” my father scrupulously corrects her.
“Then endeavor for me,” she says. “Oh, please, won’t you try? You’ve got more psychic power than you know, Professor.”
Bosh,” my father says, but he glows with pleasure at her praise, nonetheless. Account for each triumph, however small; that’s Pop. I roll my eyes at Uncle Brady, but he shrugs and looks away.
“I shall pay you, of course.”
Whereupon she rummages in her burgundy satin purse and pulls out two gleaming gold coins.
Need I say our eyes bug out?
“Mercy,” Uncle Brady whispers. He helps himself to the coins in Zena’s outstretched palm, gives one to me. It turns out to be not a coin, at all, but a fat, irregular lozenge of pure gold, soft to the tooth and heavy in the hand, without the smell of inferior metals. The sort of unmarked token gamblers, robbers, and prospectors prefer to carry in the far West. Better than minted money because you can cash it in at any assay office or bank. Or you can trade such a token for goods or services at any respectable establishment or, for that matter, with any corsair or brigand. No questions asked. The piece I hold in my hand could be worth fifty dollars, or much more. Enough to pay the Chicago Magic Company in full, and then some.
My father clears his throat again. “Madame Zena,” he says, “would you like to sit at a séance? Is that what you would like to do?”
“Oh, yes, please!” she says.
On the one hand, I’m disgusted with my father for stepping over the ethical line drawn between stage magicians and spiritualist mediums. On the other hand, I’m proud of him for this small sacrifice of his integrity he’s willing to make for the sake of our show. For the sake of his family. I don’t really want to wait tables. I am Danny Flint, the eminent Professor Flint’s only son and heir apparent. I have been immersed in the wonder and the business of prestidigitation my whole life, starting when my father plucked me in my diapers out of a folding portfolio and told me to wave at the audience. One day he will pass the mantle of magic on to me.
Need I say that Uncle Brady and I dash to the wagon like souls on fire as my father serves Zena coffee and chats with her, commenting on the new day and the alarming direction of ladies’ fashions. Pop has made his decision. Uncle Brady and I trade grins. We are not displeased.
“This is going to be tricky, son,” Uncle Brady says. “We don’t know a thing about her.”
I hold up the gold piece. “We know this.
Make no mistake, spiritualist mediums who convince the gullible that they actually communicate with the Dead undertake plenty of research before they work their illusions. They make it their business to discover intimate details about those who come to sit at a séance. They possess the con artist’s knack of parlaying what they discover in the heat of the moment into more information, more confidence. Mediums employ the “Room of Mortality” illusion; they employ the good old box trick. Let no one ever be deceived about that.
We feverishly set up the tiny dining area at the back of our wagon, rearranging our shabby little table and four chairs. We position false walls gleaned from our backdrops. I’m feeling better and better about this turn of events. In truth, rigging up a parlor to produce a fake séance for an audience of one is absurdly simple for us. Excitement chases away the last dregs of my discontent. Gold. The lady has got gold.
“What else do we know about her?” Uncle Brady quizzes me. When my father is hard on me, Uncle Brady is forgiving. When my father is a boiled shirt, Uncle Brady is the soul of kindness. When my father imposes his rules and injunctions, Uncle Brady gently takes me by the hand and leads me down the paths of new knowledge. I respect my father. I love Uncle Brady. I have always called this distinguished, dark-skinned man Uncle Brady. So did my mother. For that matter, so has Professor Flint.
I grin, intrigued by his new game. “She was married.”
“And widowed,” Uncle Brady coaches me.
“She’s Russian,” I say. “Plenty of Russians in California, aren’t there?”
“Russians settled in this territory forty years ago,” Uncle Brady says. “A lot of them gold miners.”
“She wears some expensive perfume, a wonderful scent of red roses. Nice touch, Pop giving her that fresh rose. Where did he get it from, anyway? We haven’t paid a florist, have we?”
Uncle Brady shakes his head. “The mysterious Professor Flint has got a few tricks up his sleeve, I guess. Her dress is very pretty, but not quite in the height of fashion. I’d say she’s frugal.”
“I’d say she’s rich. Perhaps she owns a gold mine.” I rub my fingertips on the token. Let no one dissuade you that the sight of pure gold cannot send a lustful thrill through your very marrow.
“They’re coming.” Uncle Brady ducks behind the false walls, leaving me to brush bread crumbs from the table. I take Zena Troubetzskoy’s hand as she climbs into the wagon. My father climbs in after her, gallantly producing a red silk rose, a prop quite the worse for wear, kept in our inventory far too long.
“Oh, no thank you,” Zena murmurs, patting the bloom tucked behind her ear. The red rose, the real one, is dewy and fresh, as if it has just been plucked from the bush. “You need not try to amuse me with parlor tricks, Professor Flint. I want to speak with my husband.”
My father glances at me, and I see the frisson of panic in his eyes. He’s out of his depth, and he knows it. “Go get us a candle, Daniel.”
“Yes, Father.” I unobtrusively relieve Zena of her burgundy satin purse, excuse myself, and duck behind the false walls as my father continues to chat with her. Uncle Brady seizes the purse. We have no intention of relieving the lady of any more gold than she has freely relinquished. Instead, silently, carefully, we empty the purse, searching for information.
A lady’s purse typically contains a calling card, a monogrammed handkerchief, perhaps a ferrotype of the dearly departed. A pressed corsage would be superb, a letter even better, but I would settle for any sort of personal effect that would provide a clue as to who Zena Troubetzskoy is. Cosmetics, liver pills, a receipt from her dressmaker, the label on the purse itself. All I require are a few clues, which I will convey to my father through the simple method of coded. . . .never mind. Suffice it to say, we have methods of conveying information to each other which Zena could not possibly detect.
But there is nothing. Nothing but the purse itself–no label–and the plain white silk handkerchief she lent to my father last night. And gold. More gold tokens, quite a trove of them.
I slip back into our makeshift parlor, restore the purse to the lady, set candlestick and candle in the center of our table. I signal my father regarding the paucity of our findings. I sit. My father lights the candle and closes the canvas flap over the back of our wagon, plunging the parlor into darkness dimly lit by candlelight. We three join hands.
“I shall now endeavor to establish communication with the Souls of the Other Side,” my father says, cleverly borrowing her own words. He throws back his head and closes his eyes, hoping to unleash psychic powers. Uncle Brady sets to work behind the false walls, producing a fitful breeze that causes our candle flame to flicker convincingly.
Zena’s hand begins to tremble violently in mine. “Oh, Nickie,” she whispers under her breath.
Before my father can utter a word, I murmur, “Nickie?”
“Oh, yes!” Zena cries. “Nickie, is that you?”
“‘Tis I, my rose,” I say, unable to stop myself. “‘Tis Nickie.”
My father blinks at me, but he dare not scowl.
“I’m so sorry, Nickie,” Zena says. Tears burst from her eyes. “I never meant to leave you. I never meant to leave you in the mountains, the terrible mountains.”
“The terrible mountains,” I say.
“And here I am in my dress with a rose in my hair,” Zena says.
“You look beautiful as always,” I say.
“I never cared about the gold, not really. I just wanted to be near you. Yet I abandoned you, Nickie. I’m so very sorry.”
“I forgive you, Zena,” I say. “I know you did not mean to abandon me.”
“Do you, Nickie? Do you really?”
“Of course, my rose.”
“All I’ve wanted ever since is your forgiveness.”
“I forgive you, Zena,” I say. “Always and forever.”
She begins to sob in earnest, withdrawing her hands from mine and my father’s, and covering her face. My father blows out the candle, and stands, and throws back the canvas flap. Morning sunlight and fresh chilly air pour into our wagon. Zena finds her white silk handkerchief in her purse and dabs at her eyes. My father is impassive. I cannot read his face when he glances at me.
“Thank you,” she says to me, pressing my hand. Her touch is as cool and light as the brush of a bird’s wing. “Thank you so very much.”
“I am honored to assist you, madam.” I confess I am wildly pleased with myself, despite the lady’s distress. I read her like a book. Perhaps I am cut out to be a stage magician, after all.
“May I return tomorrow morning?” she says to my father. “There is so much more I want to say to my husband.”
“Oh, I think not, Madame Zena,” my father says sternly. “As I’ve said, we are not spiritualist mediums.”
“But do you see how talented your son is? Oh, he’s quite amazing! I knew he would be.”
“Yes, but this is not his calling or mine,” my father insists. Do I detect a small sour note of envy in his tone? Only a moment ago, he was the amazing Professor Flint. “We must rehearse. We are expecting an important shipment of new equipment, which must be unpacked and made ready. We must go on with the show, madam. I’m sorry.”
“Oh, please, Professor,” she says so plaintively that only a man with no heart at all could refuse her. She dips into her purse, pulls out another gold token. She tucks it into my hand, closes my fingers over it. Only a fool would refuse her.
My father is no fool. “Very well,” he says. “Tomorrow morning.” And off she goes, the hem of her dress rustling over the damp grass.
Uncle Brady tears down the false walls and stacks them carefully around the plate glass. I linger at the table, mulling over my small triumph. It’s odd, but I’m sure I felt something. A sort of stirring when I’d taken Zena’s hand.
“Daniel?” my father says.
“Ah, yes, the horses,” I say, and scramble to my task. I’m ashamed of my earlier outburst. Perhaps my father will let the incident go unremarked, but, knowing Pop, that’s not likely.
“When you finish with the horses, sir,” my father says, “go downtown.”
“I didn’t mean it, Pop,” I say. “I don’t know the first thing about waiting tables.”
“They say those fancy restaurants will stiff a new waiter,” Uncle Brady says. “Profit from his labor, then pinch his penny.” He throws a look of sympathy in my direction.
“Go downtown,” my father repeats and shakes his finger at me, but his eyes hold something new. “She’ll want more than a con artist’s tricks from you tomorrow morning. You’d better go and see what you can dig up on our Madame Troubetzskoy.”
To discover what Danny finds out about Zena and the dark secrets of his past, read the complete story of “Every Mystery Unexplainedand join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206. Thank you for your help while I recover from the Attack. I’ve posted delightful new and previously published stories, book excerpts, writing tips, movie reviews, original healthy recipes, and more!
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MysteryCoverSmall

In 1996, the (now-late) editor, writer, and my dear friend, Janet Berliner had a hot streak. She wrangled excellent deals for three anthologies with Big Publishers, for which she commissioned me to contribute three stories, including this one for the anthology, David Copperfield’s Tales of the Impossible.
Yes, that David Copperfield, the handsome stage magician who appeared frequently on television in the 1990s and has a long-running show in Las Vegas (still, I think). From the San Francisco Bay Area where I met her, Jan had moved to Las Vegas, crossed paths with David, and convinced him (she could be very convincing) to put his name on the anthology. He contributed a story, as well.
The gorgeous hardcover anthology was published by HarperPrism (a division of HarperCollins) in 1996, then also in a mass paperback edition, and in several foreign countries.
Jan’s proposal could not have come at a better time. I’d recently finished The Gilded Age, a time travel which takes place in 1895 and in 2395, as well as Celestial Girl, A Lily Modjeska Mystery, a four mini-book series and a passionate historical mystery which takes place exclusively in 1895. I was conversant in that time period in San Francisco and I was fluent in my Victorian voice, which is a bit different from my modern voice(s).
The project was also ably suited to my resources at hand.
It turns out that Tom Robinson, the abstract symbolist artist and studio jeweler (and my husband), was fascinated by stage magic as a boy growing up in Los Angeles. He collected stage magic magazines and books, acquired magic tricks from a local curio shop, and invented a few tricks himself.
He and a friend were wandering through their neighborhood in the Los Angeles hills when they came upon a fence surrounding a warehouse. In the backyard were placards and instruments and strange devices. Tom recognized them at once. “Those are stage magic tricks!” He hopped over the fence and met John Guaghan, the premier stage magic illusion-builder in the world, purveyor to Blackstone and probably to the young David Copperfield. Tom worked for Guaghan while he was still a teenager in high school, building and decorating stage magic illusions.
he opening quotation of “Every Mystery Unexplained” (and the title) is from one of Tom’s magic books and the ebook cover of “The Great Socar”, a stage magician from India, is a charming illustration from one of Tom’s carefully preserved magazines.
My story, “Every Mystery Unexplained”, is the only stage magic story in Tales of the Impossible. I expected other authors to turn in stage magic stories, but they didn’t. Mine is the only one!
Here’s what one critic had to say:
“This is the type of story I was hoping for from these anthologies: a blend of fiction and magic history . . .  Mason knows her magic history (the title is from a Harry Kellar quote) and she knows San Francisco. My favorite story of the year!”
-Katherine Nabity, The Writerly Reader
To read the complete story of “Every Mystery Unexplained”, join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206. Thank you for your help while I recover from the Attack. I’ve posted delightful new and previously published stories, book excerpts, writing tips, movie reviews, original healthy recipes, and more!
Donate a tip from your PayPal account to lisasmason@aol.com.
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10.18.17.TGOA.BOOKS

At her mother’s urgent deathbed plea, Abby Teller enrolls at the Berkeley College of Magical Arts and Crafts to learn Real Magic. To support herself through school, she signs on as the superintendent of the Garden of Abracadabra, a mysterious, magical apartment building on campus.
She discovers that her tenants are witches, shapeshifters, vampires, and wizards and that each apartment is a fairyland or hell.
On her first day in Berkeley, she stumbles upon a supernatural multiple murder scene. One of the victims is a man she picked up hitchhiking the day before.
Torn between three men—Daniel Stern, her ex-fiance who wants her back, Jack Kovac, an enigmatic FBI agent, and Prince Lastor, a seductive supernatural entity who lives in the penthouse and may be a suspect—Abby will question what she really wants and needs from a life partner.
Compelled into a dangerous murder investigation, Abby will discover the first secrets of an ancient and ongoing war between Humanity and Demonic Realms, uncover mysteries of her own troubled past, and learn that the lessons of Real Magic may spell the difference between her own life or death.
The Garden of Abracadabra is an ebook on BarnesandNoble, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords.
On Kindle in the U.S., the U.K., Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, Japan, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Australia, and India.
The Garden of Abracadabra is in Print in the U.S., the U.K., Germany, France, Spain, Italy, and Japan.
“So refreshing. . . .This is Stephanie Plum in the world of Harry Potter.”
Goodreads: “I loved the writing style and am hungry for more!”
Amazon.com: “Fun and enjoyable urban fantasy”

This is a very entertaining novel—sort of a down-to-earth Harry Potter with a modern adult woman in the lead. Even as Abby has to deal with mundane concerns like college and running the apartment complex she works at, she is surrounded by supernatural elements and mysteries that she is more than capable of taking on. Although this book is just the first in a series, it ties up the first “episode” while still leaving some story threads for upcoming books. I’m looking forward to finding out more.”
So there you have it, my friends! I’m delighted to announce The Garden of Abracadabra is in print and an ebook worldwide.
Join other patrons on my Patreon page and help me after the Attack. https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206. I’ve got delightful new and previously published stories, writing tips, book excerpts, movie reviews, original healthy recipes, and more!
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Please disregard any ad you see here. They have been placed without my permission.

We’re mildly disappointed in “Avengers: Endgame.” At over three hours, the film is a mishmash of numerous superhero Marvel universes. The producers have actually taken out a full-page ad in The Hollywood Reporter tauting the film’s “seamless weaving of several storylines.) And I *like* complex films (and books and stories) with several storylines interwoven.
But A:E presupposes fluency in the *all* the characters and universes brought into play. That’s not us. We’ve seen a number of Marvel movies, but by no means all. And even with fluency, the over-all story is slow, full of unexpected sadness, and laborious, culminating in a violent blow-out battle typical of all Marvel films. Only combining all those characters and universes like a stew made of leftovers.
The result is dissatisfyingly unfocused and diffuse. And they take a full hour to get around to their (plot spoiler alert) time machine! Sheesh. I nail down my time machine on the first page of Chapter 2 of Summer of Love and on the first page of Chapter 1 of The Gilded Age, both of those chapters told from the point-of-view of the respective time travelers.
Mostly for diehard Marvel fans, though reasonably entertaining.
CHROME is in U.S. print as a beautiful trade paperback. Also in U.K. print, in German print, in French print, in Spanish print, in Italian print, and in Japanese print.
The ebook is on US Kindle, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Apple, Kobo, and on UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, India Kindle, Germany Kindle, France Kindle, Spain Kindle, Italy Kindle, Netherlands Kindle, Japan Kindle, Brazil Kindle, and Mexico Kindle.

‘Tis the Season! Join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and help me while I recover from the Attack. I’ve got lots of goodies for you—delightful stories, writing tips, book excerpts, movie reviews, recipes, and more. Plus you can send up to 1K words for a critique.
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CHROME.MED.295.KB

CHROME
Lisa Mason
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright 2019 by Lisa Mason.
Cover, colophon, and art copyright 2019 by Tom Robinson.
All rights reserved.
PUBLISHING HISTORY
Bast Books Ebook Edition published July 9, 2019.
Bast Books Print Edition published August 13, 2019.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage or retrieval, without permission in writing from the publisher.
For information address:
Bast Books
Bastbooks@aol.com
Thank you for your readership! Visit Lisa Mason at her Official Web Site for her books, ebooks, screenplays, stories, interviews, blogs, cute pet pictures, and more. Enjoy!
Excerpt 4:
4
Jimi Kinyonga
If only Jamboree would last forever, he could be happy forever.
But the last giddy hours of Jamboree are winding down and ol’ Jimi, he is going to make the most of ‘em. There’s no better place on all of Chrome to make the most of Jamboree than Club Namib. Especially in the last giddy hours.
A chameleon girl sidles past, goggling her left eye. Pink and orange pixilated patterns flow and swirl over her slim little arms. In a commendable color juxtaposition—to his discerning aesthetic sensibility—green arabesques ebb and flow around the scarlet Tatt on the back of her hand. She’s snugged the rest of her slender self in black faux-leather as tight as a second skin. Her elegant tail coils up at the curve of her butt.
Pretty, pretty.
She sways her slim little hips, sashays out onto the dance floor all by herself. Goggles her right eye at Jimi Kinyonga. Come keep me company, the goggle says.
Creepin’ cryptids. On this glorious night of Jamboree, every order of reptile Blend Chrome has to offer crawls or slithers through Club Namib. Three drunken rattlesnakes gleefully shake their rattles to the pounding music, an obnoxious clatter like off-beat castanets. Two alligators in tank tops and sweat pants, boasting the musculature of professional wrestlers, swagger over. Long, toothy jaws frowning. Scaly fists clenched.
“You wanna muzzle that racket, mutant?”
“You wanna make me, geek?”
“You don’t want me to make you, beastie boy.”
Some pushing. Some shoving. The rattlesnakes knock it off, the alligators back away. And then it’s over.
Everyone is much too happy for fisticuffs.
No jackassery on Jamboree, the Blends like to say.
Plumes of real steam drift up through vents in the dance floor, bathing the club in a fetid humidity.
“Oh, pretty,” Kinyonga mutters, “very, very pretty.” Goggles his left eye at the chameleon girl. The one and only Jimi Kinyonga is a chameleon himself. He is capable of all kinds of cool tricks. He erects his hair off his scalp in stiff blue spikes. Erects the yellow spikes of his beard off his chin. He pulses scarlet and turquoise pigments up his well-muscled arms, around the glittering black Tatt on his right hand. He pumps up his biceps. Oh, yeah. He’s about to sidle out onto the dance floor and join the girl when a demanding hand seizes his elbow.
“Buzz off, you mockery,” Kinyonga protests. Pulls his elbow away. “I am occupied.”
The cold, stifled voice of the Big Boss hisses in his ear. Who else would have the nerve to barge in on his fun? “Shut your jaws. Your only occupation at the moment is having a drink with me. We need to talk.”
“You buyin’?”
“When do I not, you scrawny fubar?”
Fubar. Huh. Kinyonga, he don’t dig that. But he shuts his jaws.
The Big Boss aims one of his blood-chilling glares. Hauls Kinyonga off to a secluded spot along the stretch of black granite of the bar. There the Big Boss’s chauffeur stands guard over two shots of expensive whiskey. With those wide, glassy eyes beneath the cap and a coral-and-black complexion like a nasty case of psoriasis, the chauffeur has got to be a Gila monster.
“Hey, Pancho,” Kinyonga says, “thanks for watchin’ my drink. That’s real monstrous of you.”
The chauffeur opens his maw, thrusts an insolent black tongue in his direction.
Kinyonga grins. He pities the quarryman. His own tongue is long, pink, quick, and sinewy, and he knows just how to use it. The Gila monster’s tongue is—how else to put it?—skanky. Pancho won’t win over many reptile girls—or boys—with that tongue of his. Let alone bedmates of other species. Maybe he can score with a Gila monster girl, but those Blends are scarce. The Tweakers didn’t engineer too many Gila monsters. With good reason.
Then again, maybe Kinyonga has got it all wrong. What does he know about the latest craze among crisper youth? Maybe Pancho’s black tongue is the hot new thing. No telling what a reptile girl or an amphibian boy or even a rodent girl may take a fancy to. Chromian youth are a mystery packaged up as wonderlanders. Kinyonga is just edging out of that wonderland himself and he doesn’t understand them.
Anything goes on Chrome, the Blends like to say.
“Sit,” the Big Boss hisses.
“Sure.”
The Big Boss isn’t actually Kinyonga’s boss but Kinyonga allows him to think he is. Jimi Kinyonga works for no one but Number One—that would be him. He waits for whatever tasty tidbit the Big Boss will throw him. A tidbit he can exploit somewhere else, with someone else. He slides his skinny butt onto the barstool, coils up his prehensile tail. Mutes the multicolored patterns swirling over the coffee-brown skin of his human ancestors. Down come the flamboyant blue spikes from his scalp. Up the yellow spikes on his chin.
Muted, he looks like any other lizard Blend impossibly poured into a human being. A slavery ring had sold his human ancestors cheaper than cheap—a crew of Somali pirates—to Emirk Corporation two-hundred-and-fifty years ago.
Jimi Kinyonga is a darting, devious, mercurial chameleon man with chameleon tastes. Having a fine time with that sometimes. Not so happy with himself other times. But making the most of it all of the time.
What else is he supposed to do with his manimal life? Shrivel up and die? Weep bitter tears? He was born this way. He’s at peace with his ancestral beast. Not exactly a Feralist, not a Reformist, either—and that will have to do.
He grasps the shot of whiskey, his two front fingers curling around the curve of the glass, his three hind fingers steadying the opposite side. He flings the thick, potent liquor into his capacious throat. And waits for the payoff.
“So what’s up, Big Boss? Ha, ha, you kill that chickie-bird?”
“Yes, I did.” The Big Boss sips his whiskey, his tongue darting in and out of the amber liquor. What a tongue he has, too. A long narrow shiny piece of scarlet muscle with a dark fleshy fork at the tip.
The forked tongue of the Big Boss kind of freaks Kinyonga out. So does the Big Boss’s confession. He killed her?
“She was greedy and stupid,” the Big Boss adds at Kinyonga’s sidelong glance. “She had no clue what she was getting into. No clue at all. I had no choice but to eliminate her. She would have fouled up my plans. Fouled up the Great Work. I can’t let that happen.”
“Yeah, chicks. What a hassle,” Kinyonga says agreeably. But a shiver of dread tickles his spine. “Well, someone had to set it up for you.” Reminding the Big Boss in case, in the press of his So Very Important Duties, the Big Boss neglects to remember Jimi Kinyonga’s invaluable services for this secret evil endeavor.
A secret evil endeavor that started out like this.
Zena Kinski, the famous ostrich dancer—overrated in Kinyonga’s balletomaniac opinion—threatened the Big Boss with blackmail. She approached him over the Instrumentality. In a carefully stitched wink she notified him she had confidential information. Incriminating information. Ruinous information. She demanded to trade her silence about this information for free-trade credits. But strictly at a distance.
A lot of Chromians prefer things that way. On the Instrumentality, no one knows you’re a worm, the Blends like to say.
The Big Boss was having none of it. The Big Boss needed to know what Kinski had on him. How. Why. Through whom. He needed to question her. He needed to reason with her. He needed to impress upon her the importance of his big-deal secret evil endeavor.
The Big Boss needed to meet her in the flesh. Could Kinyonga arrange it?
Piece of cake.
Jimi Kinyonga didn’t know what Kinski’s incriminating information was. He didn’t want to know. That was between her and the Big Boss. The less he knew about the Big Boss’s secret evil endeavor, the better. Jimi Kinyonga didn’t like complications. He could walk away from the deal at any time.
That’s what he thought at first.
After her performance that night at the Megametro Theater, he joined the fans crowding around the stage door, clamoring for Zena Kinski’s autograph. To her credit, the ostrich dancer graciously signed photographs and theater programs and ereaders for them all. Even the cold bloods, the reptiles and amphibians. Her bodyguard or boyfriend kept a watchful eye. Kinyonga wasn’t sure what the guy’s status was. The way he looked at her suggested he was more than a hired hand. A homely, balding vulture shacking up with the glamorous Zena Kinski?
It could happen. On Chrome, love is blind, the Blends like to say.
Okay. So there was this vulture bodyguard or boyfriend hanging around. When Kinski turned toward Kinyonga, he camouflaged himself as one of the fanboys in the crowd. A floppy-eared, blue-jeaned, adoring dog boy with a glossy, full-color photo of Kinski clutched in his paw. Which he held out for her scrawl. The acne sprinkled on his cheeks was a nice touch.
“He needs to speak with you,” Kinyonga murmured as she signed, taking the photo back with an innocent smile. “In person.”
“What did you say?” She widened her huge eyes, fluttering her false eyelashes. Or maybe they were real, the eyelashes. She was an ostrich Blend.
“At the Hedgeway mansion. During Jamboree. He’ll meet you on the third floor. Midnight. Be there. Or you won’t squeeze one single free-credit out of him.”
She stood, gaping at him, as he darted away. She called to the vulture, “Gorge, detain that boy.”
The vulture was tall with a longer stride than Kinyonga’s. He strode into the alley. Searched the crowd.
Kinyonga pressed his spine against the dark brick wall and camouflaged himself. Thrust his hand in his jacket pocket, fingered his blowgun loaded with a poison dart. He was prepared to act, and act fast, if the vulture discovered him. Got nasty
But Gorge saw no trace of Kinyonga standing two steps away, pressed against the bricks, suppressing snickers. He peered, his little yellow eyes perplexed. Squinting at the wall, at the fanboy crowd, back at the wall. Then he shrugged. Strode to his post by the door.
“What was that about, Vinnie?” Kinski whispered and the vulture replied in low, stuttering tones he didn’t know.
Kinyonga waited, very quiet and very still, until Kinski, the vulture, and the fans emptied out of the alley. When at last he was alone, he shook off his camouflage. Crept away into the night.
These details—there was a bodyguard or boyfriend, a vulture Blend name of Vinnie Gorge—Kinyonga does not disclose to the Big Boss. The Big Boss hired him to contact Kinski and arrange the meeting. He has done exactly that. Additional information about what he saw and heard is not included in the fee they agreed upon.
This is how Jimi Kinyonga looks out for Number One.
The Big Boss glares at him through the antiquated eyepiece over his right eye. An Earthian affectation. A human affectation that does nothing to flatter him, in Kinyonga’s sartorial opinion. Kinyonga doesn’t dig the glare. “Yes, you set it up, fubar.”
Does the Big Boss sense his disloyal thoughts? Wayward thoughts?
Scarlet and turquoise swirl up his arms. Kinyonga silently chants his Zen mantra—om mani padma om, om mani padma om—struggling to still the storms of his heart. He admits it. This is his one and only flaw as a ruthless mercenary. A chameleon’s thoughts and feelings, disloyal, wayward, or otherwise, have a way of showing up as swirls of color on his skin.
The Big Boss says nothing more. Laps up his whiskey. A lot of relationships are dicey on Chrome and their particular relationship is very dicey. Kinyonga is a predator and also prey. His ancestral beast hunted, killed, and ate smaller specimens of the ancestral beast of the Blend seated beside him. Same for the Big Boss, both predator and prey of Kinyonga’s crowd.
The instincts go way, way back.
Kinyonga grins around his shot glass. “So, like, there’s another problem?”
“Yes, there is another problem. Kinski got her information about my endeavors through someone else. I told you there had to be someone else and there is.”
“There’s always someone else,” Kinyonga says pleasantly. Should he sell what he knows right now? Ask a good price? Or dangle a lure? There was a guy with Kinski at the stage door. But not his name. Scoring the name, that would be the next job. The guy’s Blend, too. Maybe the alley was too dark. Maybe Kinyonga didn’t get a good look. A sweet job it would be, too. Kinyonga loves raking in credits for information he already knows. He’s about to propose a new deal when the Big Boss volunteers more information.
“Someone else,” the Big Boss hisses, “in a place I know of.”
“Kinski mentioned the place?”
“That’s what I’m telling you, geek. Are you freakin’ listening to me?”
“I’m all ears, Big Boss.”
Kinyonga goggles his right eye at the Blend seated beside him. The Big Boss is a commanding manimal, tall and thin. Kind of handsome, if your definition of handsome doesn’t object to the bald head, the mottled olive complexion, the distinctive feature at the back of his neck. A feature he covers up with an expensive gray cashmere scarf.
Kinyonga has seen the Big Boss’s distinctive feature in action once and only once. He could live the rest of his days without ever seeing that feature again.
And if your definition of commanding doesn’t object to the sibilant voice, deep and masculine, but emerging strangely strangled out of his mouth. Kinyonga knows why that happens, too, the speech pattern. He’s seen this other distinctive feature of the Big Boss in action once and only once.
He could live two lifetimes without ever seeing that again.
*   *   *
To learn more about what Jimi Kinyonga’s new nefarious job from the Big Boss will involve, read the rest of Excerpt 4 at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206!
‘Tis the Season! Join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and help me while I recover from the Attack. I’ve got lots of goodies for you—delightful stories, writing tips, book excerpts, movie reviews, recipes, and more. Plus you can send up to 1K words for a critique.
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CHROME is available at CHROME is in Print at https://www.amazon.com/dp/108732727X
CHROME is on US Kindle at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07TTD7FKS.
On Barnes and Noble Nook at https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/chrome-lisa-mason/1132307377?ean=2940161461488
On Smashwords at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/947267
On Apple https://books.apple.com/us/book/chrome/id1471596301
On Kobo https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/chrome-7

Petrossian purveys all kinds of caviar, plus smoked salmon and other smoked fish, smoked duck breast, wild boar saucisson, and other exotic meats, blinis and breads, macarons, cookies, and candies, and gift sets for the holidays. Check out Petrossian.com.
Back in the days when now-vegetarian Tom ate a bit of fish, he spurned caviar. “It tastes like bait,” he said.
Because of the fishiness, they want you to put a spoonful of caviar on a dollop of crème fraiche, all of that on a blini or a toast point. Which kind of makes for a . . . glorified tuna salad sandwich.
There, I said it.
Seriously, though, I *like* caviar. When presented with the opportunity, I eat caviar straight up. None of that sissy crème fraiche on a blini stuff.
Some years ago, Avon Books held a party in San Francisco for local authors and other bookish folk. The trade paperbacks of Arachne and Cyberweb were published by AvoNova (the hardcovers were published by William Morrow), so Tom and I got an invite. I met the publishing heavy-weight Carolyn Reidy, who was very gracious, and other New York publishing folk
Avon Books put on quite a grand spread, including caviar. While I was piling cheese and spooning caviar on my paper plate, Charles Brown (I always called the founder and publisher of Locus Magazine “Charles,” not “Charlie” like everybody else did) said, “Every freeloader in town is here.” And he proceeded to fill his plate.
After the party, Charles took Shelly Rae Clift, Tom, and me to a Japanese restaurant down the street and treated us to sushi. There was a center island where the chefs prepared the sushi and loaded each piece on a little boat. The boats traveled on a narrow water channel around the prep island. We diners sat on a bench around water channel and island and plucked the sushi we wanted off the boats as they floated by.
It was a wonderful, memorable night.
Meanwhile, Arachne and Cyberweb are once again available as ebooks and trade paperbacks.
ARACHNE is in print in the U.S. at https://www.amazon.com/dp/198435602X
In the U.K. at https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/198435602X
In Germany at https://www.amazon.de/dp/198435602X
In France at https://www.amazon.fr/dp/198435602X
In Spain at https://www.amazon.es/dp/198435602X
In Italy at https://www.amazon.it/dp/198435602X
In Japan at https://www.amazon.co.jp/dp/198435602X
Arachne (a Locus Hardover Bestseller) is also an ebook on US Kindle, UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, Barnes and Noble, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords.
On Kindle worldwide in France Kindle, Germany Kindle, Italy Kindle, Netherlands Kindle, Spain Kindle, Mexico Kindle, Brazil Kindle, India Kindle, and Japan Kindle
CYBERWEB is in print in the U.S. at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1984356941

In the U.K. at https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1984356941
In Germany at https://www.amazon.de/dp/1984356941
In France at https://www.amazon.fr/dp/1984356941
In Spain at https://www.amazon.es/dp/1984356941
In Italy at https://www.amazon.it/dp/1984356941
In Japan at https://www.amazon.co.jp/dp/1984356941
Cyberweb is an ebook on US Kindle, BarnesandNoble, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords.
Cyberweb is also on UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, Brazil Kindle, France Kindle, Germany Kindle, India Kindle, Italy Kindle, Japan Kindle, Mexico Kindle, Netherlands Kindle, and Spain Kindle.
‘Tis the Season! Join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and help me while I recover from the Attack. I’ve got lots of goodies for you—delightful stories, writing tips, book excerpts, movie reviews, recipes, and more. Plus you can send up to 1K words for a critique.
Donate a tip from your PayPal account to lisasmason@aol.com.
Visit me at www.lisamason.com for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, reviews, interviews, blogs, roundtables, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, worldwide links, and more!

First of all, I wish you and yours a very Happy Thanksgiving. Be safe, be warm. We’re going to be indulging in the traditional Feast: mashed potatoes, corn, whole wheat bread dressing with onions, celery, and garlic, mushroom gravy with fresh mushrooms, turkey for me, vegetarian sausage patties for Tom (who is a strict vegetarian, and the sausage patties are delicious and pair well with the meal), and whole berry cranberry sauce. Some people add yams and dinner rolls—that’s a little too much carbohydrate for me. Some people add various appetizers. My mother always served shrimp cocktail, and I might add that, too.
It’s the time of year when I bake a pumpkin pie, with a whole wheat crust, from scratch. When the pie is baking, our home is filled with scents of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves.
I’m aware that some people decry Thanksgiving as an evil holiday, a celebration of white European colonialists—Dutch, British, French, German, and Irish—invading the tribes of indigenous people’s land and genociding those people.
If you’re one of those people, please get yourself a copy of GOTHAM, by Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace (Oxford University Press), a 1,500 page hardcover (with ten-point type) that I’m slowly working my way through. The book is rife with anecdotes about the friendly relations between the first European settlers and the indigenous people, often inter-marrying (or inter-mating), and sharing their respective technologies.
The first Thanksgiving Feast owed much to the wild turkeys in the new land and East Coast cranberries and stale bread. Potatoes are from South America, and corn is too, and both plants took decades of cultivation to become fit for human consumption. So I doubt mashed potatoes and corn were a part of the original Thanksgiving Feast. I don’t when those dishes were added, but for me they’re an enduring part.
History shows that deadly, violent hatred between the European colonialists and indigenous people arose when (like in Jamestown) the indigenous people became aware that there were a lot more Europeans who wanted to settle in the their land to escape religious persecution and economic hardship in Europe and they would be competing for resources, defending their lives.
If you’re one of those people who decry Thanksgiving and your family goes back four hundred years in this country, or two hundred years to slavery, and your ancestors took part in genociding the indigenous people or owning slaves, go ahead, fast in shame, wear black on Thanksgiving.
But don’t lecture me that it’s wrong to enjoy a wonderful family celebration.
My grandparents immigrated to the U.S.A. in the early 1900s, my maternal grandparents from Lithuania, my paternal grandparents from Croatia. They fled the bloody Bolshevik revolution. I’m thankful they had the courage and strength to leave their homes, their remaining families, and their friends behind to come to America.
My family had nothing to do with genociding the indigenous people or, for that matter, with slavery. I strenuously disagree that you decriers should stick my family with those dark pages in America’s history.
My parents were first-generation Americans. I’m thankful that my father and my mother were good parents. My father fought in World War II to free the world of Nazis, and my husband was drafted in the Vietnam War.
Every Thanksgiving, for as long as I can remember, our tiny family congregated in my Granma Mary’s house and she cooked the traditional Thanksgiving Feast, sometimes adding a ham and her specialty, lemon meringue pie. She baked the stuffing inside the turkey cavity, which I never do—stovetop for me. But her stuffing was memorably delicious.
I’m thankful for those memories.
I’m thankful that I’m a woman, a second-generation American, alive in the U.S.A., 2019. Next year, 2020—a term for perfect vision—will be the 100th anniversary of the national law granting American women the political vote. A hundred years is not the long, historically. Should I blame you men living now for denying women the vote for one hundred and forty-four years since the founding of this country? Do you men think that would be fair?
I’m thankful that I’m woman who was given an education—primary school, college, and professional school. It was not that long ago when women were denied entrance to colleges and especially to professional schools. I’m thankful that my education enabled me to secure good jobs that helped support my family.
I’m thankful that as a woman I can drive my car. In some countries today, women are not allowed to drive.
I’m thankful that as a woman I can sign contracts on my own behalf. I remember in my Contracts 101 class in law school, the professor said that in certain states women were not allowed to sign contracts without their fathers’ or husbands’ co-signature. He was met with a loud chorus of BOOs from us woman students. He threw up his hands and said, “I’m not making this up. That’s the law.” In my lifetime.
I’m thankful as a woman that I can open my own bank accounts, get my own credit cards and loans, buy my own investments, own real estate, and inherit equally with male family members. In my lifetime, those things were not always possible.
It’s still difficult to this day competing in the various Boys’ Clubs—law, business, technology, politics, publishing, science fiction publishing. But I’m thankful as a woman I can at least compete.
So Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you have much to be thankful for. I know I do. Please pass the pie.
I’ve got a new book! CHROME is in U.S. print as a beautiful trade paperback. Also in U.K. print, in German print, in French print, in Spanish print, in Italian print, and in Japanese print.
The ebook is on US Kindle, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Apple, Kobo, and on UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, India Kindle, Germany Kindle, France Kindle, Spain Kindle, Italy Kindle, Netherlands Kindle, Japan Kindle, Brazil Kindle, and Mexico Kindle.

Join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and help  me while I recover from the Attack. I’ve got lots of goodies for you—delightful stories, writing tips, movie reviews, recipes, book excerpts, and more.
Donate a tip from your PayPal account to lisasmason@aol.com.
Visit me at www.lisamason.com for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, reviews, interviews, blogs, roundtables, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, worldwide links, and more!