FREDDIE RUSTLER AND THE MAGICAL MEAL
Here’s something you might not know: If you’re meeting a magician for breakfast, you must never order soup.
The act is very much like using an umbrella to kayak stormy waters or dressing in clown costume to mow an unsightly lawn. It is simply not done.
Some say the soup rule originated with Binkler Jaminoo, a famous slight-of-hand master burned to death on stage by a cup of chicken noodle, (even if magical texts describe his death as the result of a Ring of Fire trick and an assistant gone wrong). The more practical no-soupers explain there’s nothing behind it other than a courtesy to the magician with whom you’re about to dine.
And so, when the mawkish waitress with one eyebrow leaned just a little too close to Freddie Rustler’s right ear, – What would you like to eat, my honeydoodle? – he took one look at the magician sitting across the way and said, “Tomato soup.”
Here’s something else: Freddie Rustler didn’t care.
To Freddie’s surprise, the magician gave no indication of tomato-soup disapproval. Instead, he smiled for several long seconds at the one-browed waitress, who raised her eyebrow in arched frustration and tapped her pen on the tabletop, waiting for an order.
“Ah! My turn is it?”
She harumphed. Freddie sighed. Magicians are so stupid, he thought. Ugly and stupid. This one smelled of carpet cleaner and wet rabbit, with no hair to call his own save a small blotch of brown perched below two wispy lips now readying to speak.
“I’d like one and one half pieces of whole wheat toast with orange marmalade spread thinly on top and a sprinkle – just a sprinkle and not a shower! – of brown sugar around the crust,” he finally said, one thin wrinkle growing thicker across his forehead as he sat, thinking. “Oh and Delilah?” He tugged at the waitress’ checkered sleeve, licked at the left corner of his upturned mouth and pointed a long, blue-veined finger toward Freddie. “He’ll have the same.”
Here’s another thing: Freddie Rustler was not often impressed with magicians. However, this one seemed a little more … magical than the rest. Maybe it was because he carried no wand in his belt loop, attempted no card tricks at first greeting or gave no inkling that he would, at any moment, pull a coin from Freddie’s ear.
“I know what you’re thinking,” said the magician, with the assertive air of one who did.
“Oh?” Freddie leaned closer across the breakfast table, knocking over the salt shaker and allowing the magician a better look at him. Freddie knew he was extremely handsome, even unsettlingly so. He was, to use the words of a woman he met four nights ago in a dark corner of an even darker bar, “A man who looks like the placeholder picture you remove from the frame before the real thing takes its rightful spot.”
Even if his face worked to get the girl – was her name Misty? Sissy? – it had no such persuasive effect at the breakfast table today. The magician appeared bored at the prospect of being so near to Freddie’s warm-blonde-haired, gemstone-green-eyed beauty.
“I really do know what you’re thinking,” the magician repeated. He smiled and the wrinkle in his forehead split into two. “Right now your mind asks, ‘But how does this magician, new to the area, know the waitress’ name?’”
Here’s the truth: Freddie’s mind didn’t care.
“Exactly right!” He exclaimed with faux-admiration. “My gosh, you’re a magician and a psychic!” Freddie didn’t mean to sound so very sarcastic when he said this but he couldn’t help it; sarcasm was an ever-present tone in his voice, stashed there for use in negotiations when to be unflustered meant to win.
“Mockery is the step-sister of jealousy, my friend,” the magician spit out, again licking at his mouth. “But Delilah … How do I know Delilah?” Freddie thought he heard the magician make a sound almost like a cluck. “Well, Delilah attended one of my shows. She laughed from the back row of the theater and screamed ‘phony!’ loud enough I could hear it as I cut a man in two and put him back together again. After the curtain fell, I had an usher bring her backstage. She refused at first, of course, but she was brought to me anyway no more than five minutes after the request was made. Then, while I sat removing my makeup – because I always wear quite a bit at my shows – I turned to Delilah and asked to see her eyebrow. She was confused and it didn’t matter; at my request, her right eyebrow leaped into my pocket. I guess the thing hasn’t grown back since but this happened just last week so I wouldn’t imagine it should.”
As he finished the story, the magician placed a curved strip of hair, matching exactly the one still sitting above Delilah’s eye, at the top of the spilled salt pile between them.
“I don’t like people who do wrong by others,” he said and Freddie was sure the magician no longer spoke about Delilah. “I know you’re the only one who sells to the magicians around here.”
Freddie nodded and the magician’s forehead-wrinkles went from two to three.
“What is it? Sickly doves? Swords that won’t bend? False sleeves with poorly sewn pockets? Handkerchiefs made from paper? I’ve heard all the complaints even if my show has only been in this town two weeks … “
“Excuse me!” Freddie interrupted, suddenly overcome with an urge to run after Delilah and tape her eyebrow back on before she served the toast. “All of my supplies are top quality! I have the best buyers in the business and my prices are … competitive.”
Here’s Freddie’s definition of competitive: He was the only supplier of magical materials within 50 miles of this breakfast place and marked his items up tenfold (and then some), in order to accommodate demand. Capes worth $10 sold for hundreds, harnesses were priced at no less than $250, and tigers, always old and lazy, cost a magician upwards of $50,000, or double if the creature was white.
“Mmm,” said the magician. “The trouble is you were the only game in town. I’ve arranged for my supplier to set up permanent shop here. He’s got a family and jumped at the opportunity. Kipper Donovan’s new shop will be financed by me and prices at Donovan’s Magic will be set along the lines of fairness. He’s on the train now and I should warn you to stop selling before he arrives, at the risk of losing an eyebrow … or worse.”
Freddie tried to respond, to defend whatever lies he might’ve told, but with a final lick to his mouth, the magician vanished from right where he sat – without gray smoke or ceremony – and took Delilah’s eyebrow with him, leaving only a few salt grains behind.
“Here’s your toast, punkinface.”
It was Delilah who pushed one and one half pieces of marmeladed toast beneath his chin and Freddie could only stare at the missing hair above her eye. Delilah blushed and put a hand to the place where a brow should’ve been.
“Yes, I know. Sort of strange. I had a little accident with the hot wax last night,” she said, nuzzling her chin against her neck.
“How unfortunate,” Freddie replied, feeling like an audience member at a magic show, unaware there were mirrors behind the wall. “Listen, can I just have the check? I’m really not in the mood for toast.”
“Sure, sugarbottom,” Delilah said, setting the check on the table.
Freddie reached for the money in his pocket, ready for this meal to end.
But here’s one last thing: Freddie’s wallet was gone, replaced by a handful of hot tomato soup.