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The Illusionist Chapter 1

Chapter 1

 

 

SOFT GRAY SWIRLS of mist drifted across the stage like the fog from an old Boris Karloff movie. A chill spread through the restless crowd. The appearance of a shadowy figure moving toward them brought an eerie silence to the makeshift amphitheater.

 

Tall, with dark flowing hair, the costumed figure walked out of the mist and into the light. Blue leather slacks, with a silver wavy stripe running up her thigh, emphasized long, muscular legs. A white satin blouse unbuttoned at the collar, silver sequined vest, and mask completed the outfit.

 

The performer’s face was framed with short bangs and the incredible long black hair. High cheekbones and a chiseled jaw provided tantalizing hints of the woman’s beauty and strength. The lips, turned up at the corners, exposed slightly elongated canines. Otherwise, the teeth were perfect. Pale, ice-blue eyes peered through narrow slits. A cool gleam contradicted the warm smile.

 

Every seat was filled. A few people leaned against the back walls. Motioning for an attendant, the performer leaned down and whispered something. The attendant scurried off, signaling for two ushers to follow. Within minutes, they returned carrying fold up chairs.

 

“Thank you, Suzanne. Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.” The voice was a husky whisper. Seductive was a better description. A faint exotic accent caressed each word. The audience unconsciously leaned forward in their seats, their ears craving for more. “I am Yemaya, The Illusionist. For those curious, it is my real name. I was named after the West African  goddess of  the  moon  and  the  oceans.  Blue  and  silver  are  her colors. Tonight’s illusion honors her.” The Illusionist strolled across the length of the stage, twirling a couple of times to display her beautifully tailored outfit. “Tonight, I promise you an evening you will not forget. Before we start, there are a few facts I will share with you about this facility.”

 

Pivoting slightly, she motioned for the curtains behind her to be opened, revealing an enormous sea aquarium.

 

“First, I thank the management of this beautiful ocean display for giving me the opportunity to use their facility. Few places have this capability. To insure the audience has a clear view of my illusions, cameras are strategically placed throughout the room. Display screens to the left and right will allow everyone to watch my every move.

 

For those concerned about the resident sea life, the largest have been transferred to the secondary system. They are quite safe and comfortable. Now, I direct your attention to that corner of the aquarium.”

 

All eyes followed the direction of her hand. Slowly, a semi-transparent door slid sideways, exposing a dark chamber.

 

“Behold, Shezara!” Yemaya swept her right arm toward the chamber. When nothing happened, the crowd groaned, some sitting back in their seats. Laughing, she turned back to the audience. “She is bashful tonight. Perhaps we can entice her out.”

 

A young woman, dressed in gray, walked to the steps leading to the top edge of the glass. In her hands was a platter covered by a dark red cloth. Climbing to the platform at the top of the steps, the assistant uncovered the platter, revealing an enormous chunk of meat.

 

“Let us see if this will get her attention,” The Illusionist said.

 

The meat was unceremoniously dumped into the crystalline water. The crowd leaned forward, only to jerk back. From the dark corner, almost faster than the eye could follow, an enormous shark surged upward. Mouth open, thousands of razor sharp teeth glistening under the lights, the creature scooped up the morsel and swallowed, then turned its enormous length away from the glass window, missing it by a mere three feet.

 

Ah, Shezara, I sense your need. This will be your last performance, old friend. The Illusionist’s hand caressed the glass before turning back to the audience. Her eyes wandered around the room, and then halted on a woman in the fifth row. You are back. Yemaya’s eyes gleamed. Perhaps tonight you will have your answers. Perhaps not.

 

* * *

 

Dakota Devereaux pulled out her pad and pencil, scribbling down the date and time. The pencil tip snapped, poking a hole in the page. Cursing, she dug in her handbag, hoping she had another.

 

Thank God!

 

The relief of finding a pen was almost exhilarating. Trying to memorize the details would have been a hassle.  Halfway through describing The Illusionist’s costume, the ink pen skipped.

 

“Damn! Damn! Damn!” she muttered, unaware others had turned to look at her. Placing the tip between her lips, she sucked hard.

 

It was several seconds before she noticed the silence. Dakota looked up. People were staring at her in amusement. Glancing toward the stage, Dakota was mortified to find the Illusionist watching her.

 

Oh great! The journalist pulled the pen from between her lips, slipped it under her pad and raised her eyebrows. Okay, so I’m busted.

 

* * *

 

Yemaya’s lips twitched. Giving the woman a faint nod, she turned back to the audience.

 

“Ladies and gentlemen, as you see Shezara is a Great White shark, the only one of this size in captivity. She was rescued from fishermen, but injured in the process. Now that she is well, she will soon be released. This part of my tour will be her last. Some of you will have questions about her or about me. I will answer those that I can.  Please do not ask how I do my illusions or about my personal life.”

 

“That doesn’t leave much now, does it?” an older gentleman, sitting in the first row grumbled.

 

“Never underestimate people’s imaginations, sir.” Looking around, Yemaya saw a small hand waving tentatively from the seventh row. Pointing to the child, she smiled. “Hello. What is your name?”

 

“Sandy.”

 

“What is your question, Sandy?” “Well, um...do you have any kids?”

 

“Sandy, Sandy, Sandy.” The Illusionist laughed, shaking her head. “That is very

personal. Remember, I “

 

“But, that’s not pers’nal, Ms. Yemaya. Kids ain’t pers’nal, you know. Everyone has them, so how can that be pers’nal?”

 

Pretending to think about the answer, Yemaya nodded sagely. “You have me there. No, I do not have any children.”

 

“Gosh, that’s awful.” “Why is that?”

 

“Well, you see, you’re very pretty. And real nice too, for someone so old.” Yemaya placed her hands on her hips and leaned forward.

 

“Old? How old do you think I am, young lady?” Blushing, the girl hid her face behind her hands and mumbled.

 

“Sandy?”

 

“Um... mommy says you have to be at least thirty. That means you’re older than her,” Sandy replied, peeking between her fingers.

 

“I see.” Turning to look at the woman sitting beside the child, Yemaya smiled sympathetically, as the mother sank lower in her chair. “Well, Mom, it appears we have something in common. Both of us are old. Obviously, this question session needs to be speeded up before I become too decrepit to finish my performance. Anyone else?”

 

“Yeah, I got one,” a male voice yelled from the shadows. “How’d you get to be a magician?” The sarcasm was unmistakable. The audience glanced angrily at the annoying individual.

 

Crossing her arms, Yemaya resisted the urge to punish him for his insolence. The audience’s reaction was enough.

 

“My title is The Illusionist. Were I a magician, I would call myself The Magician. I do not possess magical powers. No sleight of hand or pulling rabbits from a hat. I do not cut people in half and put them back together. I create illusions. Your job is to figure out how.”

 

The Illusionist answered several more questions before ending the session.

 

“As much as I am enjoying this, it is time to start the show. Shezara grows restless. One of my assistants is about to drop another chunk of meat in the water. It will distract her so I can enter the water safely.

 

Once she is aware of my presence, I expect her to attack. She is quite capable of swallowing me whole. I assure you I have no intention of letting that happen. I have an important appointment after the show,” she joked.

 

“One of us will disappear, but not in the way you may imagine. If I am wrong, Shezara will have a very scrumptious meal, and I will miss my appointment. Please excuse me while I change into something more suitable for the water. This will not take long.”

 

Walking off stage, Yemaya glanced again at the woman in the fifth row. She was scribbling on her pad, almost oblivious to her surroundings.

 

Glancing up from her notes, Dakota’s green eyes collided with those of the masked woman. Embarrassed at being caught a second time, the journalist slid the tablet into her purse, sat back in the seat, and crossed her arms.

 

Crap!  Well,  I  don’t  care  what  you  think.  Dakota  stared  unblinkingly  at  the entertainer. And I’m not crazy or a stalker.

 

* * *

 

Yemaya felt uncomfortable, something she hadn’t experienced in years. She first noticed the woman at a performance in California, then again two weeks later. Her essence was unmistakable. At five hundred dollars a seat, three shows were costly. The illusionist suspected she was a journalist. She was always taking notes.

 

Recently, several attempts had been made to access Yemaya’s personal files, files that  were  sealed  from  prying eyes.  Invisibility  was  not  only  important  in  her performance, but in her private life. The latter was not for public consumption.

 

Pushing those thoughts aside, Yemaya nodded to the journalist before disappearing behind the curtains.

 

* * *

 

Dakota exhaled slowly, her hands trembling. Eye contact with the performer was unnerving. She had followed the illusionist for months, gathering information for her article. Originally, it was to be an exposé. The tricks of the trades type thing.

 

After attending shows by four internationally known illusionists and magicians, she was ready to write. Then she saw an editorial in a prominent New York paper about Yemaya Lysanne.

 

From the moment the woman stepped on stage, Dakota was hooked. Six feet tall, with long dark hair and eyes as silvery blue as a glacial lake, the illusionist was what men fantasized about, most women wanted to be, and everyone secretly desired. Her performance mystified the audience. After the show, Dakota called her boss requesting an extension and additional funds.

 

Because of the high cost of the tickets, it took a bit of persuasion to convince Johnson to front the money to continue her research. She emailed him several reviews that had recently appeared in the well-known Magician’s Magazine, and a few trade journals, along with a photo of Yemaya in costume. Dakota was pretty sure the photo did the trick. Who could resist a good mystery, especially such a stunning one? Yemaya was both.

 

No amount of investigative research had turned up anything significant about her background. She didn’t own property in the US. She did pay taxes but all government records were sealed, except for her passport information. The Illusionist had powerful connections.

 

What few facts and rumors Dakota managed to dig up were vague at best. Once a show  concluded,  Yemaya  simply “disappeared.”  At  least  that’s  how  the  stagehands described her exits from the building. The journalist suspected everyone was coached to say that. Not surprising considering her occupation.

 

Attempts to interview her or her close assistants failed. The Illusionist was reclusive. Her assistants were closed-mouth and loyal. “No comment” was their mantra. It was their dedication, as well as Yemaya’s skills, that made Dakota more determined to find out who this woman was.

 

Her passport stated she was from Moldova, a small agricultural country near Romania. It was a poor nation, offering little to attract tourism or trade, with one exception. The Carpathian Mountains. The legendary home of Dracula and werewolves attracted a lot of interest.

 

* * *

 

The crowd watched the young assistant climb the stairs. She stood on the Plexiglas platform. Walking back and forth, she appeared to be inspecting the surface. When she neared the edge overhanging the water, the woman kneeled, running her fingers across the smooth surface. She then signaled for a second attendant to join her, and whispered in her ear.

 

Something was wrong. No one doubted that. So intent was the audience’s attention on the aides, they didn’t see Yemaya walk on stage dressed in a blue and silver wet suit and matching diving mask. The Illusionist ran up the steps and knelt down. Running her fingers along the same area, the three conversed quietly.

 

* * *

 

The Great White’s back arched. She flicked her tail, launching her body upward. Like a torpedo, her snout exploded through the platform, throwing bodies and pieces of Plexiglas into the aquarium. People jumped up screaming as water splashed downward and chunks of plastic fell onto the stage below. Sharp teeth scraped against the hard material. Several people shivered, afraid that the picture window would be next.

 

Shezara was hungry. Startled from the impact of hitting the invisible barrier, she swam angrily to the back of the tank and stopped. Her intended meal was floundering well within striking distance.

 

Yemaya was as startled as her assistants when she felt the platform heave upward and shatter, throwing them into the water. Immediately, she yanked her mask down over her eyes and cleared it. The imposing fish hovered at the back of the aquarium. For how long, Yemaya didn’t know.

 

She turned to see what had happened to her two assistants. One was already being pulled from the water by aides. The other, Suzanne, was lying on the bottom of the aquarium. A cloudy red mist swirled around her head.

 

“A blama!” Yemaya swore, looking back at the shark.

 

Cold, expressionless black eyes were focused on the unconscious woman.

 

Not tonight, my friend. Suzanne is not on the menu. Stay back!

 

The command would only affect the primitive mind for a few minutes. If the shark attacked,  Yemaya  could  deflect its attention  at  least  once  by striking the  nose,  and hopefully push off from the enormous body. After that, her last option would be to reveal a power she preferred to keep secret.

 

Grabbing her assistant’s right arm, she kicked toward the surface, powerful legs propelling her upward. Two attendants kneeled on a small remnant of the shattered platform. A splash to her left made Yemaya glance around nervously.

 

Good thinking.

 

A crimson cloud swirled slowly through the water as the meat sank to the bottom. Hearing the splash, Shezara looked toward the sound. The scent of blood passed through her nostrils, making her hunger intolerable. Food was not a conscious thought. It was a need. She dove at the meat, scooped it up and swallowed. Tasty, but not satisfying. She wanted more.

 

Yemaya’s head  and  upper  body broke  through  the  water’s surface.  She  shoved Suzanne into outstretched hands. Taking a deep breath, the illusionist sank back down, wanting to locate the shark. It had just swallowed the last chunk. Resurfacing, Yemaya felt hands grab her arms and yank.

 

No one noticed the shark moving rapidly in their direction. Lips were peeled back to expose pink gums. White teeth flashed brightly under the stage lights, and a mouth more than three feet in diameter opened wide. The head and jaws of the beast exited the water. A human could simply disappear through the cavernous mouth, that is, if it wasn’t cut in half by the razor-sharp teeth.

 

* * *

 

Dakota watched in awe as the illusionist retrieved the limp body lying on the coral bed of the aquarium. Mesmerized and terrified, her attention was suddenly distracted by a bright flash of light reflecting off the glass window. Looking over her shoulder, she saw a man with slightly balding brown hair, blue jeans, and red-checkered shirt standing near an exit. A small camera was raised to take another photo. When Dakota made eye contact with him, he scurried out the exit.

 

“Asshole!”

 

As a journalist, Dakota had no use for paparazzi. She turned back in time to see Yemaya push the injured woman onto the broken platform. Two paramedics carried the limp body down the steps and laid her on the stage floor. Yemaya’s arms were then grabbed by two attendants and the illusionist was yanked from the water. The Great White was only inches away.

 

“No, no, no,” Dakota whispered, her heart pounding.

 

* * *

 

Yemaya felt an intense pain in her right shoulder as her body was hauled onto the shattered ledge of the platform. Only her wet suit saved her from being injured on the sharp edges.  At the same time a burning sensation slammed through her right  calf, causing her to gasp, followed by a mountain of water inundating her and the others. The platform shook and groaned ominously.

 

“Quick! Off!” Yemaya yelled, shoving at the two people who rescued her. Everyone scrambled down the steps. They collapsed on the stage, exhausted. The crowd, which had been eerily quiet, erupted into cheers, and then slapped their neighbors on the back.

 

Ignoring  the  injuries  to  her  shoulder  and  leg,  Yemaya  hobbled  over  to  the paramedics attending to her assistants.

 

“How is Suzanne?” Raking her hand wearilythrough her wet hair, her voice was husky from concern and pain.

 

“Her vitals are good,” one medic responded, pulling off one pair of surgical gloves and replacing them with another. “She swallowed some water, but her lungs appear clear. We’ll transport her to the ER for a thorough checkup. In the meantime, we need to take care of your leg. That laceration looks serious.”

 

Glancing at her right calf, Yemaya saw blood oozing from a six-inch gash along the backside. The snug wetsuit was acting like a compression bandage, keeping the seepage to a minimum.

 

“Futui!” she groaned, and then grimaced. “This will need stitches.”

 

“Afraid so, Ms. Lysanne.” The paramedic gave her a wry grin. “Sorry. I’ll wrap it for you,then you can ride along with us to the ER.”

 

Yemaya shook her head.

 

“I need to send the audience home. Leave the tape.” The paramedic nodded. “I hate needles,” she muttered, turning to look at the two attendants who were throwing beef chunks in the water. The shark cruised the bottom, scooping up each morsel.

 

“Great job, everyone,” she called out, waving her hand. “Give her another hundred pounds.” Waving back, they dropped two more chunks into the aquarium.

 

“Ladies and gentlemen,” she said turning to the audience. “This is not exactly what I planned on. I apologize. Please leave your information with any member of the staff. We’ll arrange your refund. Suzanne is going to be fine.

 

“A few days off and she’ll be back in the spotlight,” Yemaya joked to ease the tension. “Now, I have an unexpected appointment with a doctor, right…Benny?” she added, glancing at his name tag and winking. Everyone laughed, applauding loudly.

 

Blushing, the paramedic nodded. Then he helped Yemaya limp off stage into the shadows.

 

“My chauffer will drive me to the hospital,” the illusionist said once they were out of the audience’s view. “Thank you for everything.”

 

Benny wanted to object, but knew it was useless. Disappointed, he sighed.

 

“Okay. Here’s a wrap. Not too tight. You are coming to the hospital, right? I mean, this isn’t your way of getting rid of me, is it?” he joked, half-heartedly.

 

Yemaya patted his shoulder.

 

“No. I need to check on Suzanne, and make sure your boss knows what a great job you did here. I am in your debt.”

 

Reluctantly, Benny gathered his equipment and left.

 

* * *

 

Dakota climbed into her small Volkswagen, intending to go home. As she backed out of the parking space, she decided to make a side-trip to the hospital. If she was lucky, she might find someone who would talk to her about the injured assistant and the illusionist.

 

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