Escape

 

Sometimes I think about Edward the magician, no more than a magician. He combined mentalism, conjuring and acting into a strong, powerful and unique performance. Cards appearing from nowhere and sleight of hand routines are for kids parties. Edward’s work was a blend of conjuring and mentalism which few have been able to surpass. It is not that other mentalists did not have an inkling how he worked the act, it is in the way he performed the routines which made him tower above the rest. His expertise was concentrated upon startling the audience. In the early years he did not display the narcissistic attitude of many entertainers, far from it, the young man was empathetic to his audience and even when he took chances during his act which failed to produce the desired results he was able to turn the outcome around with a simple “That’s life… We cannot win every time.”  His audience loved him.

Let me provide a little insight to my knowledge. Given time I will work out the methodology of ninety-nine percent of conjuring, card sleight, mind-reading and mentalism routine’s. I care not a jot if it is Derren Brown, David Nixon, Tommy Cooper, Steven Shaw or David Blain, this writer knows the process’s involved. If it is performed I can work out the methodology being used! Mr Sherlock Holmes used to say something like. “Once one has eliminated all possibilities, the remaining probability, no matter how unbelievable will be the answer.” I respect the unwritten ethic of the illusionist. I would never exorcise the spirit of the routine. The skeptic may argue I cannot prove the statement I have just written. Indeed I cannot and I can only answer that those who harbour doubts in their mind are of little concern to me. Winners accept life, losers constantly question it.

I watched Edward perform on many occasions and even with my own knowledge of the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the routines his shows were nothing short of miraculous. Although, I could see two flaws beginning to effect his personal life which would eventually cause him problems. For the time being he was on a roll and because of my ability to make very specialist ‘props’ he seemed to be a good friend. A deck of cards can be adapted in many ways. Wooden boxes are ‘aged’, lined, weighted and magnetised. Bags, hats and clothes can have many deceptions sewn into the linings. Photographs taken today easily become sacred artefacts. Pictures framed with specialist adaptations, maps drawn. If the entertainer requires a specialist ‘prop’ he will come to me. If it can be sketched on a piece of paper, I can make the idea come into reality, very often improved beyond the original idea. I once was a stage hypnotist and then mentalist. Sadly too many wish to tread the boards the competition is strong and my ability to make specialist props and unique objects became more lucrative than any stage show.

Mentalism is easily learned and difficult to perform well. So if one wishes to impress, the need for rehearsal and hours of practice is paramount to success. And once the performer believes he or she is able to demonstrate the routine woe betide him if he is fool enough not to follow the teachings of those who precede him.

We all know many of life’s greatest lessons are learned the hard way! I still carry a deck of cards, pen and post-it note book as there are times when I enjoy baffling the odd drinker at the bar, these three simple items can provide some intriguing entertainment. The rule to ‘never’ demonstrate the same routine twice was broken one evening to a know all landlady in a City pub. I have no problem with admitting the anger I felt toward myself after she worked out the routine. She was a drunken know all who took the greatest of pleasure proclaiming her ‘victory’ to those in the bar “Your no magician, its just a cheap card trick.” The surrounding customers laughed, a humiliation I found more distressing as it was my own fault. What I had done, is ruined a great routine used by many other mentalists to incredible effect and I had let every one of them down, in truth I deserved the punishment. There is a karmic end to this… Life sometimes turns! I confess to being amused when I watched a video of the land-lady’s drunken ‘exploits’ a few weeks later. Commenting to the group watching the explicit recording with a sarcastic “This does not take much working out either.” Seemed to redress the balance for a time. Am I ashamed, I filmed her? Perhaps I am… Just a little. However the two events became tied together in one of my greatest illusions, you may have seen it performed. Its is known as “The Landlady’s Shame”. A routine which would become part of Edward’s fall from grace.

Edward’s fame was a direct result of his dedication to his art. For a year of so he was a regular on television shows, he excelled as expected. And I was not alone in believing he may have climbed to dizzy heights, I suspected the chinks in his personality could scupper this lucrative avenue. He had begun his career like most, in humble beginnings, local bars, wedding receptions and corporate ‘gigs’. It was becoming evident, if he were not to change his attitude or find an extraordinary routine, the bars and pubs could become his principal source of income yet again. He had climbed the ladder and his attitude was pulling the rungs away. Fame should have been his certain fate. Unfortunately seeds of arrogance were growing within his personality and it became apparent he did not understand or wish to fulfil the rules which are a real part of long term fame and success in the entertainment industry. Like so many performers before and after, he believed the ‘act’, the routines and ‘the star’ would guarantee fame and fortune.

Outsiders think the ‘star’ gets to the top because of their talent. Yes, talent is much of it, but only very few are stars because of an absolute uniqueness. The ninety-nine percent who work occasionally or never at all have to struggle for every penny they earn. They allow the ego to blind them to the truth, success is founded upon the ability to work well with producers, directors and writers who are the ones who pay the bills. All the star is, is the ‘front’ or ‘product’ which the production teams sell. Once the star is at the top there is a ‘slight’ shift of security, there is though a limit as to how far they can go. The star is a product, nothing more, nothing less. I recall talking to a producer of a well know television show ‘Why did xxxx leave the show?’ I asked ‘Became difficult to work with, a prima-donna, we do not care who they are these days, if they become troublesome we will write them out.’

I digress. Work began on ‘The Landlady’s Shame’ in the spring of 2009 and it was finally perfected during the winter of the following year. As any who has seen it performed will know, the idea that no secret is safe is turned into a powerful effect. Four clients were selected to watch the nine minute demonstration. Each one having to sign the agreement to silence. This document is like the official secret act, those who break it become traitor to their art. The process works like this. A routine is developed it is performed to potential clients, who will decide if they are able to facet the rough gem into a sparking diamond. My fee is twenty-thousand pounds for the exclusive first year rights, ten thousand for the second and five thousand for the third. If the performer wants it for three years he will pay thirty-five thousand and it is his until the end of that time. One last option is when he wishes to purchase the exclusive usage rights to the illusion and put his name to it, the fee is fifty-thousand. Expensive? Not really, a Las Vegas illusionist paid one hundred thousand for what was no more than a magnet. A British performer paid one hundred and fifty-thousand for an electronic device which stunned audiences in a London West End theatre for a two year run. When one is pulling in six hundred people, twice a day, six days a week at twenty-five pounds a ticket, thirty-five thousand is nothing in this great pool of wealth. Do not fool yourself, everything you watch is an illusion created by people like me. I am the best there is.

Mr Green loved the routine turning down the option as he did not feel he could fit it in with his present show. Mr Red did not like the ‘adult’ theme. Miss Violet called it sexist!  Edward wanted the illusion, but wished to pay for it in instalments. This does not work as once performed the cat is out of the bag and another performer will not pay a premium price for what is no longer an exclusive product. If the instalment are not paid on time, I have lost one or two years work and the value of the product.  Mr Orange purchased the one year option and introduced it to his show after three months of rehearsal. As I watched him from the wings at the premier tears welled in my eyes. The audience applauded for three minutes and eleven second’s at full crescendo, by the time they were sitting back into their seats Mr Orange, already a famous entertainer, had become a world famous legend.

‘What’s happening?’ Mr Orange’s fiery temper set my iPhone alight ‘Sorry?’ ‘What’s happening? Edward demonstrated my routine on television last night’ My body weakened, the pain in my chest was terrifying, I felt sick and dizzy ‘Give me a moment Mr Orange, I will call you back in an hour’ ‘You better had…’

This news would result in three certainties. One – I would have to pay thirty thousand back to Mr Orange. Two – My reputation could be ruined. Three – Edward would be reminded of the agreement to silence he’d signed. I was right on the first two counts. Edward did not see my side of what would become a legal wrangle which cost me everything. The boy wonder did not get away either, Mr Orange had many friends in the entertainment industry and saw to it Edward never entered a London television studio or theatre again.

The ‘Magic’ World has a thirst for new ideas. Most so called new innovations are in reality recycled old ones. Whilst an audience may marvel at the international ‘mind-reader’ most often nothing he or she does is either difficult or unique. Many of the routines rely on electronics and are so simple it is only the performer who makes or breaks the overall effect. Those at the top are personalities first, entertainers second, mentalist or conjurer last. Cynical? No. This is the fact. A failed fool is forgotten, a failed genius will be forgiven and in the passing of time my ability to conceive and design the best of illusions had to rise to the surface. Edward although never admitting his mistake did his very best to make amends. He turned half of his working week to raising money for good causes and a cancer charity. It would not be long before the public had forgotten he was a plagiariser and thief of my intellectual copyright. In the facade of righteousness Edward was back in the public eye. Theatres would be his domain for the time being, but he needed a stepping stone to get back into television.

I received an e-mail from Mr Orange. ‘I could not do anything about this one. Edward has entered a television ‘Magician of the Year’ competition. There is a possibility I could influence the outcome, however I feel this involves too many risks for my reputation if it were to be discovered. Sorry my friend, I’ll have to let this one go.’

The escapologist needs to make a somewhat difficult choice. He can free himself from handcuffs, straight jacket, chains, ropes and bindings. Or he can enter the arena of freeing himself from sealed containers, prison cells and the holy grail of the art, the deep water tank. The audience knows the problem is not the removal of  the restraints. The difficulty is removing handcuffs, ropes or chains and freeing oneself from the water before being drowned. In effect the routine is the possibility of death. In the same way as the ‘Bullet Catch’ has the same morbid attraction.

I had worked on a water tank escape for some years. The problem as I saw it was that the ‘tank’ was never made to look ‘clean’. The water vessel looks like a oversized fish tank, its steel frame and the methodology of the escape necessitates tanks which are oversized. The escapologist is lowered into the water by a lifting device and then it is sealed by assistants. One of the most satisfying options is to restrain the escapologist in a lions cage and lower this into the tank of water. To my mind this had become ‘old hat’. No, something new was required and whilst diving in Australia a seed of an idea became the routine many know as ‘The Water Cylinder’. I perfected the idea in less than four months. I demonstrated it to Mr Orange knowing he would not want the ‘prop’ for himself. ‘Its the most terrifying version I’ve ever seen my friend… Can it go wrong?’ ‘Its possible. Let me describe the effect. It is a three meter high perspex tube, wide enough for a the performer to slide into. He is weighted with lead boots and does not have the room to bend down to remove them. He has to undo his wrists restraints to be in with a chance of freeing himself before drowning. There is no sealed lid as his head is over a meter under the water. A cover slides over the top of the tube to hide the method (an accepted part of the effect) which is removed four or five minutes later. And the escapologist has freed himself.

I decided to let the past go and e-mailed Edward for a preview. He adored the effect and could see how he could introduce his showmanship to it. ‘What are the terms?’ ‘The same as in the past thirty-thousand for a years exclusive rights.’ Knowing full well he was as good as broke I watched his face drop. I did not-want him to think I had in someway lured him to my workshop just to tease him and in some way punish him for the past. ‘No problem Edward, I will allow you to demonstrate the routine. It’s so good you can build your reputation on it. You will have to agree to pay me at the end of the year.’ The contract was signed and with the escape he won the competition which was televised live in the autumn. Within a year he had his own show in the Midlands, far enough away from Mr Orange so as not to cause any problems.

On the morning of August the thirteenth I received a call from the City police asking me about the prop used by Edward’s for his escape act. ‘Why is there a problem?’ ‘Yes, Edward was drowned whilst performing the escape last night’ Imagine my feeling as I considered the mayhem in the audience. Six hundred people out for an evening of entertainment. Edward slides in to the tank and is submerged, the top of his head over a meter away from the life giving air. He hold’s his breath until the cover slides down over the perspex cylinder and the moment he knows he is out of sight the gimmicked boot laces release his feet and the air in the wax cotton straight jacket lifts him to the surface. The four minutes are sufficient time to free himself from the other restraints and as the cover is lifted Edward stands atop of the cylinder and listens to the rapturous applause.  Only this time the cover is lifted and there is Edward drowned, his long locks floating above his head. which is tilted to one side. Arms still bound by the canvas jacket and his body weighted down by the heavy boots.

During the inquest I had to endure a one hour marathon of wits with the superior coroner Ms Lynn Davison who at one point told me I was clearly lying as to the methodology of the illusion. ‘It’s no illusion madame’ I protested ‘It’s a highly thought out routine which for some reason Edward had failed to perform correctly’ She became adamant ‘You are lying to hide the true method of escape because you wish to profit from the so called ‘escape routine’. Try as she might Ms Davison could not crack my resolve. When Mr Orange gave evidence as an ‘expert’ witness, he confirmed the routine was in his opinion ‘foolproof’ although on this occasion he had to admit Edward had in some way been ‘fool-hardy’. The coroner’s court is no place for joviality, which was fortunate for myself as Mr Orange’s sarcastic quip drew attention away from my good self.

I conceived the routine with three possible methods of escape, two being fool proof and one which had a seventy percent chance of failure. This more dangerous method I’d demonstrated to Edward. And the similar but one hundred percent foolproof escapes to Mr Orange, there would clearly be a possibility of my being found a contributory factor in his drowning if this were known to the case. In the event Ms Davison recorded the drowning as misadventure. I still laugh when I re-listen to their exchange in my mind ‘So, Mr Orange are you saying the routine is one hundred percent safe?’ ‘I am Ms Davison’ ‘Then how was it on this occasion Edward drowned?’ ‘I can only think he took some water into his lungs as he was submerged into the tube, being a showman he’d not want the audience to see this mistake and believed he’d be able to hold his breath for long enough to free himself from the straight jacket’ I had suggest this to Mr Orange during an earlier conversation about the tragedy. Truth to tell Mr Orange was describing his foolproof version of the escape, not the one used by Edward.

And now the routine had killed a man it became worth six figure’s, due to the morbid curiosity of audience’s who wished to see the actual ‘prop’ in use and will  pay a premium price for the privilege. Mr Orange and agreed a half million pound five year deal. Which will double when the sole rights of the routine return home at the expiry of the contract.

Edward had broken an unwritten rule of magic. He’d stolen another magician’s routine.  There are others who do this and they will stay at their own level, which is the bottom of the entertainment pile. Pubs, bars and weddings. Edward should have risen above the mundane, greed and impatience overwhelmed his moral and professional obligations. When he crossed me and Mr Orange he took a chance hoping for a shortcut to fame. Gamble with a card sharp? Only a fool believes he can win at that table. A perfect murder? Now that would be magic.

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