The bartender poured a generous amount of the clear liquor into a short, heavy glass, added a dash of bitters and, “Aye, Sir!” he called as he sent the glass slithering down the length of the highly polished, oak bar.
At the far end of the bar, plucking the glass from the slick surface, Garibaldi brought it to his mouth in one fluid motion.
Taking flight, the second glass was caught as neatly as the first by Matthew Flizzer, whom, looking at the bartender, nodding his head, held two fingers upward.
“So, Eric,” downing his drink, “you been following the articles in the Chronicle by that new chap? Uh, what’s it called? Oh, yes! ‘Sketches by Boz.’”
Catching the flying drink, Garibaldi took a swallow, then, turning his head, looked at his longtime friend and drinking companion Matthew Flizzer of “Flizzer & Flizzer, Jugglers Extraordinary,” “Yes, Matt, I been reading them.”
Climbing Boy: 14; London, England; December 24, 1843
Slapping the empty glass on the bar, “A flash in the pan,” he held his hand up, two fingers extended.
…“‘Flash in the pan’? What’s ‘A flash in the pan’?”
“That new writer chap. What’s his name?”
Contemplating, Garibaldi looked at the ceiling, while at the same time catching the flying drink. “Ah, yes! Dickens! Charles Dickens.”
“I don’t know…” Matthew said.
A few moments passed.
Puzzled, putting his glass down, Garibaldi looked at his friend, who was sipping his drink. “What don’t you know, Matt?”
Turning his head, putting his glass on the bar, signaling for two more, “I don’t know, uh…” Flizzer giggled, “what I don’t know, Eric.” Looking at him vaguely, “What we were speaking of?”
“ ‘What we were speaking of’ … Damned if I know.” Garibaldi began to laugh, stopped, thought, then, “Oh, yes! That new writer on the Chronicle, uh…?”
“Dickens? Who the dickens Dickens?” Garibaldi snickered into his hand.
“Yeah!” replied Flizzer. “I say to dickens with Dickens!”
“Yeah!” Garibaldi began to laugh again, “The dickens with Dickens!”
Flizzer joined in, and the two drunken comrades put their arms about each other’s shoulders and, as drunks often do, laughed, if for no other reason then to laugh.
They stood, the magician and juggler, drunkenly leaning into each other in front of the highly polished bar of the Boar’s Tooth Pub directly across the street from the theater.
Feeling a gentle tug on his sleeve, Garibaldi turned.
Standing closely by his side, dressed in the rough clothing of a laborer, was a tall, gangling, friendly-faced youth of about nineteen.
Jerking his sleeve from the young man’s fingers, “Yes?” Garibaldi asked harshly.
Smiling at Garibaldi, the man glanced over his right shoulder, to some people sitting at a nearby table, then, looking back at Garibaldi, “Ya b-be G-G-G… the m-m-magician from the th-th-th-theatre?” he stuttered.
“Yes,” Garibaldi looked at him, at Flizzer, and back at the young man. “I be G-G-G the m-m-magician,” mimicking the youth.
Becoming red with embarrassment, the young man’s face contorted with the effort to speak. “Me an’ m-me f-f-friends,” motioning over his shoulder with his head, “saw your sh-sh-sh-show t-today.”
Turning from the man, Garibaldi looked at a table about ten feet from the bar, where, all poorly dressed, a man and two women sat watching them.
Seeing Garibaldi look at them, smiling, one of the women raised her glass in friendly acknowledgment.
Garibaldi lifted his glass, too, and with a false, frozen smile, making an exaggerated motion, waved back. “So, w-w-what can I do f-f-for you?” he teasingly asked the young man.
They had enjoyed the magician’s act and, trying to impress his friends, and most especially his girlfriend, the young man had summoned all of his courage and made—what was to him—a supreme effort by getting up and going forward to speak to Garibaldi. But now, realizing that the magician was making fun of him, his friendly smile fading, becoming angry, leaning belligerently towards the older man: “M-m-me ‘n m-m-me f-friends thinks ya b-be n-n-nothin’ b-but a f-f-f-fake!”
Momentarily taken back by the young man’s change from friendly to antagonistic, the older man moved back a step but, immediately recovering his drunken composure, “What is your name?” Garibaldi demanded.
His head jutting forward, “L-Lewis!” he answered.
“Well, L-Lewis, would you believe…” looking away, Garibaldi motioned for the bartender to send another round of drinks for himself and Flizzer, then, turning back, looking at Lewis’ friends and speaking loud enough for all in the bar to hear, “that I don’t give a rat’s ass w-w-what y-y-y-you or y-y-y-your f-f-f-friends think!”
Dismissing him, turning back to the bar, Garibaldi placed his cupped hand on the surface in front of him just in time to catch another gin and bitters as it came sailing towards him. This time, though, the trip from the bar to his mouth was interrupted by another, harder, tug on his sleeve causing the liquor to slosh over the rim of the glass. Putting the glass down, he glanced at the barkeep—who reached under the bar for a club—then, all pretense of friendliness gone, the magician turned back to Lewis.
His eyes narrowed to angry slits, turning from Garibaldi, looking at his friends, forcing a smile, bringing his attention back to the magician, “‘ow’d’ya d-d-do it?” Lewis’ anger causing his stutter to become even more pronounced, “‘ow’d’ya g-g-g-get a b-b-bloody C-C-Christmas tree into th-th-that ‘at?”
The magician’s top hat had been sitting on the bar, at his elbow. Now, grabbing the hat, Lewis put it on his head, then, for the benefit of his friends, made a deep, exaggerated bow.
Angrily snatching it off the young man’s head, Garibaldi put the hat back onto the bar.
Reaching over the bar, grabbing Lewis by the sleeve of his jacket, “Here! You!” jerking him around, the barkeep held the club in plain sight.
Holding his hand up, “How’d I do the trick?” motioning the barkeep to stop. Loudly, sarcastically, answering Lewis’ question. “How’d I do the trick? L-L-Lewis, my b-b-b-boy, that’s the m-m-magician’s worry, to keep the likes of y-y-y-you, and your f-f-f-f-friends…” scornfully emphasizing the words ‘you and your friends’, “from knowing how m-m-m-magic is d-d-d-done.”
All eyes on Lewis and the magician, the entire pub had gone silent.
Smiling at Garibaldi, pulling his sleeve from the bartender’s grip, “Ya ol’ f-f-fake! Ain’t n-n-n-nothin’ m-m-m-magic ‘b-b-b-bout’j’ya!”? Reaching forward, taking the magician’s hat from the bar, turning it in his hands, studying it, “N-n-no-sir! No m-m-m-magic!” Lewis stuttered. “W-W-What’j’ya ‘ave on t-t-t-t-the s-s-stage, a ‘ole in the f-f-floor? Ya ol’ f-f-fake!”
Glaring at the younger man, standing away from the bar, “All right, Lewis,” his voice dropping, taking the same strange, sinister tone it had on the stage, “if it’s magic you want…”
Looking from Lewis to the barkeep, turning, slowly, his black eyes slowly touching each person in the pub, lingered longer on the three at the table, who begin to squirm under Garibaldi’s intense gaze…
“…It’s magic you’ll get.”
“Lewis,” the magician’s black eyes boring into those of the younger man, holding his right hand forward, “give me the hat.”
Slack jawed, his smile gone, unblinking; Lewis stood staring wide-eyed at Garibaldi.
“The hat, Lewis. Now!”
Now! Feeling, somehow actually feeling the one word command, compelled, The hat, Lewis, now! Holding the hat in both hands, Lewis obediently handed it to the magician.
Setting the hat, brim up, on the bar, “Lewis,” Garibaldi asked, “are you sure that you want to see my magic?”
The young man neither spoke nor motioned.
Smiling malignantly, taking a handkerchief from his breast pocket, Garibaldi ran it through the ‘O’ made by his thumb and forefinger, dramatically snapped it in the air and then laid it over the hat. “Lewis, if you would,” speaking in his soft, yet commanding tone, “put your hand into the hat and tell us what you feel.”
Lifting a corner of the handkerchief, “Come, my boy. You don’t want your friends…” glancing over his shoulder, to the trio sitting at the table behind him, “…to think you a coward. After all, ‘It ain’t m-m-magic! I’m nothin’ but an ol’ f-f-f-fake.’”
Lifting his arm slowly, moving his hand slowly, hesitating, his arm hanging in midair, he stopped.
“Lewis,” a malevolent look came to the magician’s devilish face. “‘It’s only a t-t-trick’!”
Staring at the triangle of black space beneath the handkerchief, moving his hand, Lewis hesitated, again.
“Yes,” cajoling, “that’s it, my boy. Just put your hand inside.”
Haltingly, Lewis’ hand went into the dark triangle.
His fingers touching the silky lining, he felt the round hardness of the hat’s inner crown. Shaking his head as though coming out of a trance, his glazed eyes focused and… knock—knock. He rapped his knuckles on the hard surface of the hat and the bar beneath. Smiling, he looked up into the magician’s face… and his eyes. “Yeah! Ya b-b-be’s nothin’ b-b-but a ol’ f-f…”
The young man’s smile disappeared as suddenly the crown of the hat and the bar beneath fell away, and his arm sunk to the elbow.
The people in the pub gasped, for the distance from the tip of Lewis’ fingers to the crook of his elbow was approximately eighteen inches. The hat was no more than eight inches in height and yet, even though he stretched and wiggled his outstretched fingers, he was still unable to touch bottom; a look of disbelief came to his face.
“Come, come, Lewis…”
The hollow voice seemingly coming from a long distance away…
“…It’s only a ‘t-t-t-trick.’”
Obediently, Lewis moved his arm downward, past his elbow, until he was leaning over the bar, his armpit just above the rim of the hat…
He touched something…
The tips of his stretching fingers felt… what?
Bewildered, it was…
Familiar. Smooth and rounded, and there was a fissure…
Lewis’ bewildered look was replaced by pleasure, because… soft… what he was feeling was soft and warm and his hand caressed it, familiarly.
“Silbie!” Lewis looked stupidly over his shoulder, at one of the women at the table. “Silbie! Lord, if’in it ain’t your arse!” This said without a hint of a stutter.
Laughter rippled throughout the pub.
But now, the smile slowly faded from his face, because…
The feel of smooth, warm flesh was replaced by…
Bewildered again, looking at Garibaldi, “What is it?” Lewis asked softly, but…
Garibaldi said nothing.
“What is it?” His voice rising, questioning, “What is it?” Lewis repeated, his fingers touching, he felt… he felt a cool dampness.
But no, what Lewis felt was not damp, it was dry. It was smooth.
But no, it was not smooth, not really smooth.
His probing fingers touched a small aperture, and another.
Moving his fingers a bit lower he felt a slight, dry tickle on the web of flesh between thumb and forefinger. Stretching… Stretching. Compelled, Lewis moved his arm lower…
“No! Oh, Jesus!”
Suddenly, his eyes opening wide, filled with terror, Lewis looked at Garibaldi.
Smiling his sardonic smile, “A trick, Lewis?” Garibaldi whispered.
Jerking backwards, “Oh, Lord,” trying to pull his arm from the hat.
“‘elp me!” Pleading, “‘elp me!” the young man looked from Garibaldi to Flizzer to the barkeep. “‘elp me!”
Suddenly, moving in a wide circle, the magician’s hat began to shake violently.
Lifting his glass of gin and bitters, with a quick flick of his elbow, Garibaldi swallowed the contents.
“It’s got me! ‘elp me!” Begging, “It’s the snake!” Pleading, he turned to his friends at the table, but, frozen in their chairs, their mouths agape, his friends were powerless to help, even if they had the nerve to help.
“Save me! Jesus ‘elp me! It’s got me arm!”
To be continued