This wouldn’t be his last case. His last case would be his first case. Gone cold like the uncanny L.A. winter. The chill swept in every night like a revolving scythe, sending the citizens to kneel before gas heaters that blew dust, like waking a forgotten god from a deep slumber. Quinn’s first case swept in on cold memories every night and forced Quinn to kneel before the aging crime scene photos. The thirteen-year-old victim had a collection of Tiffany jewelry. She had died violated and strangled in a rage. She felt everything before execution. A silver chain was twisted around her throat so tight that it cut into her neck. Her head wobbled like a Dodgers bobblehead when the coroners lifted her body. Quinn felt sick as the Alice’s murder swept in, the twenty-five-year-old vampire he invited on a nightly basis. The jewelry Alice’s parents could not account for, let alone afford. Her closest relatives from father to uncles had alibis. His part in the case was twenty-five-years-old, but he had uncovered connections to similar murders stretching back even more. Alice had been thirteen. Quinn was now sixty-five. Alice was his first case when he earned his detective’s badge in the LAPD. Luck of the draw. He had closed every case to come his way except for Alice’s murder. Quinn promised himself before the mirror every night that he would catch Alice’s killer. He had made the same promises whispering into his ex-wife’s ear as she slept in his arms for ten-years. Divorce and a grown daughter who became independent gave Quinn the freedom to indulge in detective work full-time. That’s what made him so good. Quinn ditched his humanity to help others keep theirs, or at least allow their families to do so.
He dreamed of searching without fear of never finding. He wished to play games with children and not with the bad guys or the dead they left behind.
A thirteen-year-old with $30,000 worth of designer gear. It was the only clue worth investigating, everything else about Alice was precious and innocent. Quinn made a fist and pounded his knuckles into the wall between the bathroom mirrors. From hidden speakers a ridiculous fart issued throughout the tiny restroom. The Magic Castle was full of gags and hidden gems. It was supposed to be night of wonder and awe with his daughter and her friends. But now there was a dead body out there and Quinn had the place locked up tight. No one left or entered, so the guests, magicians, and waitstaff were all acting out a real murder mystery dinner. Quinn was law and order in a den of illusion and mystery.
If Alice wasn’t my first case maybe I would’ve found her killer.
Quinn cleared his throat aggressively, tucking his tie inside his button down. He walked out into the bar and for a split second he was confused as to where in the Magic Castle he was located. The castle was really a mansion, and the mansion was really a maze. From moment to moment Quinn wasn’t confused, but once he thought about the next room, or hall, or the whole building’s interior, Quinn found that he couldn’t understand it. He felt the same way about Los Angeles.
The magician’s body was on the floor surrounded by blood. Everything was cooling now, the blood turning black, the body would cool to room temperature and rigor mortis would set in within hours. Quinn had tried to save the man’s life, but Precio, the dead magician, was a goner. The next course of action had been to close off all the exits, hopefully trapping the killer inside. The only people allowed in were uniformed cops to guard the exits and one medical examiner, Jeff.
“Knife wounds to the jugular and carotid arteries. No defensive wounds.” Jeff said.
Quinn revolved around the body, studying the blood spray. He stepped into a clean space, orbiting closer and closer to the body. Crip walking in slow motion through the crime scene’s negative space to avoid the bloody arcs. If he still had hair it would have popped in a full afro from the electricity thumping through his veins. People forgot he had degrees in sociology, psychology, criminology, and art history. People saw an old black man, which made him invisible, and Quinn was fine with that.
Jeff’s eyes opened wide, like he was seeing what Quinn was seeing; a skilled killer who moved in the slim spaces where the blood was absent. No bloody footprints, either, no discarded knife. It was as if Precio fell through evaporating razors. “Suicide, though? Maybe?” Quinn offered.
“The wounds could not be self-inflicted.” Jeff looked around. Cameras were embedded in the moulding around the ceiling, tucked into corners. The security video gave Quinn nothing. Quinn saw it for the thousandth time in his head, visualizing both the security video and his own memory side by side – the same thing, but different angles. He saw Precio grip his throat, then blood spouted, then Quinn was shoving his way through guests and bouncers and got there just in time to see the man’s eyes cloud over.
“Nothing was caught on camera.” Quinn said. There were cameras all over the mansion. The murder happened on-screen in a room full of people drunk on stiff cocktails. The angle was askew, the crowd too thick to catch anything but the aftermath as people scrambled to get away from the spraying blood.
Given the laws of nature there were an endless range of combinations formed from only a handful of tricks. This is true of crime and magic. Unfortunately, magic tricks reminded Quinn that he could only deduce the solution after he was tricked, just as he could only solve a crime after it had been committed.
Alice’s killer was the greatest magician to ever live, according to Quinn.
Quinn came here originally to celebrate his daughter’s thirtieth birthday. He didn’t believe in magic, yet it was magic that his daughter had a membership to the exclusive club. He must’ve done something right as a single parent. He checked in on her frequently over the hour that passed as the police inside and out helped him narrow down who killed Precio, the world famous magician he had never heard of in his life.
“Let the guests walk. This was an inside job.” Quinn told a uniformed officer and she relayed the order into a radio. This would narrow down the suspect pool significantly, and keep anyone from live-streaming the gore, but if he was wrong the killer would go free. Quinn raced up to the second floor dining room where his daughter had been in the middle of her party after the main stage show. A surge of men in fine suits and women sheathed in thin luxury shuffled out the fire exit. Everyone but his daughter, Gwen, and her entourage of friends were leaving.
“Kid, you don’t need to go home, but you can’t stay here.” Quinn said with a smile. He knew what was coming. It was the same argument Gwen had taken up with him since she could rebel against bedtime. He noticed that the bottle of bourbon he bought from the bar for her, rare aged Bib & Tucker, was still sealed. Disappointment seeped into his gut.
“We’ll be quiet, promise.” She said, and her tipsy friends giggled. Gwen was sober, he was sure of that. Gwen was a shade of black that accented red in a sudden flash of light, like she was slowly burning from within. It was like she was on something more potent than alcohol or drugs tonight, something Quinn lacked.
When he first arrived three hours ago, Gwen gave Quinn a bear hug. The only hug she knew how to give because he had raised her. All upper body strength and a mix of I love you and I’ll kill you. She introduced him to her friends, a mix of artists and entrepreneurs and Quinn could smell who would succeed and who would fail. He kept these clairvoyant thoughts to himself. Even a little bit of hope steers people away from bad behavior. Knowing one’s future always changes people for the worse. That’s why Quinn and his wife split up. After Gwen made them parents his ex-wife saw their lives stretch out in predictable mediocrity. She refused to condition Gwen to a lifestyle that was just enough and safe. Quinn’s wife became reckless in her rebellion while Quinn stuck to fatherhood and the job. Quinn arrested his ex-wife for a number of substance violations and endangerment/corruption of a minor. That was a shitty night. Gwen remembered bits and pieces, she was too young to process the details. Gwen never asked and Quinn never told.
Quinn was granted custody for his stalwart adherence to the status quo. Ironically, splitting up saved Gwen in the end. His ex-wife cleaned up and found a great job at UCLA. When Gwen was old enough she moved to her mother’s and earned degrees in business and finance for nothing. If they had stayed together life would have been duller if not harder for Gwen, and it would have been a life without risk. It took grit to move in with her mother and work for her own life, it was a great risk to become independent of either parent in a culture that taught people to be worthless.
Quinn worried that getting closer to his daughter would somehow ruin her. It seemed his ex-wife felt the same way; she wasn’t here tonight and she never talked to Quinn. What would happen to Mars if her moons got too close?
“Do we really need to go?” Gwen said.
“Just stay up here.” Quinn said. A bouncer came by to ask how much longer this would take. Quinn sent him away with look.
Quinn waited for the first interrogation of the night. He was thinking of his suspect list, the most likely culprit was Precio’s assistant, a thirteen-year-old girl. At the top of Precio’s act, a thirteen-year-old girl in a tuxedo stood center stage with a ghost light shining on half her skeletal body. Her hair was pulled back tight and stuck in place with spikes that fanned out in a halo. Renegade wisps of hair framed her face like delicate vapor. He had already checked the spikes and none of them were sharp enough for murder.
Quinn thought of Alice, except this girl wasn’t a victim. She was the number one suspect.
Quinn recalled the main stage magic show…
“Ladies and Gentlemen, may I introduce the master of illusion, Precio D’avila!” The girl said and stepped aside into the darkness, but no one was there. Her hands remained in the light and then the stage and house lights faded up. Her hands did not move, fingers outstretched with palms up, but in the time it took for the lights to fade up her hands had become an old man’s, and where she should have been standing was now the old magician, Precio. Quinn had no idea he’d be puzzling out Precio’s murder instead of the tricks Precio pulled on the stage. In retrospect, Precio’s face looked dead under the stage lights, like if he sweated too much it might slip off revealing a clean white skull.
Precio looked around, wondering where his assistant had gone.
“I must do everything myself.” He said in a fake Italian accent. Precio walked to a table that had been hiding in the shadows. He unwrapped a new pack of cards and began to shuffle with terrible skill. Precio was a dud, but maybe it was part of the act.
“Since my apprentice has decided to vanish I find myself in need of a volunteer.” Quinn grabbed Gwen’s hand and lifted it up. Her mouth fell open and she stared gleeful daggers at her father.
“You!” Precio laughed and threw a card at Quinn. Quinn flipped the card onto Gwen’s lap and helped her stand up.
“Happy birthday.” Quinn said and Gwen went on stage. There was a hesitation on Precio’s part, as if he really wanted Quinn onstage instead of Gwen. The moment passed without remark at the time, but now Quinn wondered what Precio had wanted. The look in the magician’s eyes was somehow personal. Quinn had never met the man before, but Quinn still felt a crawling de ja vu.
Gwen did her best to follow Precio’s instructions that became more and more complex. It was part of the act for her to fail. Precio feigned frustration when Gwen could not shuffle the cards and come up with aces. Precio needed his assistant. Precio grabbed the deck of cards from Gwen who was laughing so hard with her friends she could barely stand. Precio attempted a shuffle and failed.
“I can’t work under these conditions!” Precio shouted and threw the cards into the air. In the scatter of hearts and diamonds the spades and clubs seemed to freeze for a split second, suspended in the shape of a person, and when they fell the girl was there in the midst of the fallen cards.
They all clapped. Quinn shook his head. He’d never figure that one out, but he saw something more important. A look that the girl gave Precio as they shared a bow. A look that was criminal, intimate even, and then they both looked at Quinn. Quinn raised his half-empty glass to them. Later, Quinn realized the girl was the true magician and Precio was the assistant. This made Quinn think of the girl’s motive: was Precio holding her career hostage? Quinn felt for certain the majority of the magic show’s illusions were the girl’s invention, but the only way for her to perform them was to give them to a famous magician.
After the show the party moved to the dining room for a light dinner and more drinks. Gwen held Quinn close, she was so glad he made it. She had him talk about past cases, to tell them of the few funny things that happened on the job and the even fewer good days where justice worked without a hitch.
The conversation switched to Gwen’s personal life and she blushed.
“Stop, you guys! It’s not time!” She said and that’s when the screams echoed up from the lobby bar. Quinn sprang into action, got there just in time to see Precio grip his throat, the blood rush, and the body fall. Quinn grabbed a bouncer and got them to secure the whole building, then the cops took over.
Now, Quinn was back upstairs sipping club soda and ignoring Gwen’s questioning eyes. They had all seen Precio’s final show. Quinn wondered how much of Gwen’s excitement was shock. Her friends seemed like they wanted to go, but it was Gwen’s night to lead this dance macabre.
“So… it must be a magician’s quarrel?” Gwen said, putting together pieces of Quinn’s puzzle.
Precio’s teenage assistant stood at the top of the stairs at the other end of the dining room. She was wrapped in a blanket, she still wore her tuxedo, and her stage make-up was turning to mud. She looked wet-kitten-pitiful.
“I gotta go. You sure you don’t want a real drink? Could be a while.”
“No, club soda.”
“Ok. I’ll be back.” Quinn said and Gwen rolled her eyes. She knew she and her friends would be going to the bar themselves. Quinn had work to do and that work had nothing to do with entertaining them. Quinn went to the girl with a kind smile and took her hand. She was scared, she knew she was a suspect. Quinn was conducting interviews in the seance room, which was on purpose to unsettle nerves. Shutting the door, they were alone with a round table carved with runes. There were sconces on the wall, a Ouija board with planchette, a crystal ball, silk handkerchiefs, ancient animal taxidermy that watched over them with glass eyes. The girl had been here hundreds of times, but this time it spooked her. There were no more games tonight, no more illusions. This was Quinn’s castle tonight.
“You need to have a parent or guardian present. Is there anyone I can call?”
“There must be someone? It’s after midnight.”
“Who are you? My truant officer?” She said and Quinn was surprised. She huddled in the blanket, shivering, eyes wide and scared. All the physical signs of an unsettling shakedown, but mentally she was cast iron.
“What’s your name?” Quinn said, using his phone to record the interview.
“Eleanor Rimbeaux.” Eleanor said with French lean on the “aux.” Quinn saw that she was growing more comfortable and confidant. Her testimony would be null if she didn’t have a parent or guardian present. I gotta call someone.
“Am I under arrest?” She asked.
“Am I free to go?”
“Yeah.” Quinn said, feeling sick for even thinking she was a killer, for picking her in front of everyone. Why her? There are at least seven male suspects. They hadn’t lead her up here in cuffs, but whenever cops took someone away it never looked decent. Quinn had chosen her to be first because of that look they gave each other and him during their show. Quinn felt sick because he had no evidence to tie anyone to the murder. It felt like trying to find Alice all over, again. I don’t have the evidence yet, Quinn thought and realized he told himself the same motivators for Alice’s murder. He was a broken record that had been skipping for twenty-five-years.
As if reading his mind Eleanor rolled her eyes and spat out a telephone number. Quinn dialed on his phone. Eleanor crossed her arms and leaned back in a huff.
“I’m just protecting you, Eleanor.”
“It’s not your job to protect people, you’re the one they call when protection fails.” She said and Quinn got a taste of just how sharp Eleanor was, like seeing a blade slip from a dull sheath.
Finally, Quinn connected with Eleanor’s grandfather, Serval. He agreed to come down from the Hills to rescue his granddaughter. He was also a lawyer and made sure Quinn knew as much. Quinn hung up on him.
“Need anything? Soda, sandwich?” Quinn said and she shrugged.
As they waited and the minutes ticked by slower and slower, Quinn saw that Eleanor was getting antsy.
The seance room door opened and Jeff leaned in.
“Quinn?” Quinn went to the medical examiner. “Two blades were used, one in each hand. Nothing we’ve collected from the kitchen or the staff could make these cuts, though. We’re talking extreme velocity and precision with hand-stropped razors. I’d need a red hot scalpel and several seconds to cut four arteries so finely, and that’s during autopsy. Your perp did this in one double-stroke on a standing, living victim. Also, it’s a short blade, no more than three inches long.”
“What’re you saying, Jeff? Someone has knives for fingers?” Jeff didn’t have time to answer. An old, distinguished gentleman huffed up the stairs and charged towards Quinn. That was fast… Quinn thought, feeling his suspicion rise like he was being taken for a sucker. He couldn’t say why, though, but he felt like he was still in the theater watching the magic show. Maybe it was a stupid idea to hold interviews in this hokey room.
“I’m Mr. Rimbeaux, Serval Rimbeaux. Her Grandfather.” Serval introduced himself, he was tanned and suave right angles. A face that was paper-stiff and at the same time ready ooze. Expensive rings adorned his fingers. Gold rings. Quinn thought of Alice. He looked at Eleanor and for the first time noticed she wore jewelry, too. Silver bracelets and a black leather choker with a diamond stud. He had tried to ignore jewelry on girls because it always sent him back to the one clue in Alice’s murder. Jewelry; cold, calculated metal and stone that was supposed to signify love. Alice’s jewelry would have broke the case if Quinn could only connect it to someone.
“Mr. Rimbeaux. You’re Eleanor’s legal guardian?”
“Do you have access to a lawyer?”
“I am a lawyer. Eleanor, what in god’s name are you doing here?”
“I’m a magician.”
“Detective. Did you to inquire about this before you involved my granddaughter in a murder?”
“While I don’t believe she committed the murder, Mr. Rimbeaux, she knows something.”
“That does not give you the right to hold a minor in custody. Especially on a school night, doubly so for someone so young with delinquency issues. You understand what I’m saying?” Serval said as if Eleanor was not present.
“She’s an unreliable witness.” Quinn said.
“I resent these comments, let that be known!” Eleanor yelled into Quinn’s phone.
“Can we begin?” Quinn said, pushing to keep everyone in the room and talking.
“Not until you answer two questions. Is Eleanor under arrest? Are we free to go?” Serval said and watched as Quinn struggled to come up with detailed answers for the record. Quinn could find no way to keep Eleanor here in the seance room. She was obviously not the killer. She was too short to slice Precio’s neck, and even in the grainy security footage Quinn felt he still would have noticed a teenager schmoozing with adults in a bar.
Serval rapped his rings on the table, a high-pitched gavel that made Quinn flinch. Quinn found himself looking from grandpa to granddaughter. His detective’s intuition was sparking. It told Quinn there was a killer in the room.
Eleanor seemed to a be normal a girl; pizza on Fridays, concerts, middle school drama – unicorn pastel colors, bath bombs, selfies, birthday parties – all the staples of a life provided by loving and caring adult sentinels. Obviously, Eleanor found such an existence wanting, which was why she skipped school to learn magic. Quinn was no stranger to girls delving into the world. But what made Eleanor different was that the world wasn’t rejecting her.
“I intend to end this case tonight while we have the killer locked inside with us.” Quinn said.
Serval had turned pale, “You mean… oh, no, no, no! This will not do! The killer is here?”
“We’re safe. There are cops everywhere.”
Serval collected his granddaughter and Quinn had to let them go.
I’m going nuts. Her jewelry does not lead to Alice. Concentrate on the task at hand.
Quinn went to them, hoping to find the words to bring them back to the table.
“Wait!” Quinn reached for Eleanor, but Serval got her out the fire exit door and into the chilly Los Angeles night.
“I will not have my granddaughter subjected to a murder investigation. I recommend you erase the interview as it is proof of police misconduct.” Serval stood in shadow and smiled when he saw his words register with Quinn. The lawyer was right, Quinn who had played by the book most of his career was on unfamiliar territory. “If you would like to schedule a formal interview during more appropriate hours I will be happy to oblige.”
“There’s no time! It has to be done tonight. She knows something!”
The girl and grandfather glittered like gods under the moonlight. So much jewelry, silver for Eleanor, gold for Serval. Quinn got that feeling, again. He was looking at a killer, but which one?
“Just one more question, ok?” Quinn demanded. Serval didn’t move aside, but he did not leave, either. “Eleanor, what am I looking for?”
“You’re really asking a child how she would commit murder?” Serval pushed Eleanor to the stairs. She looked over her shoulder, stumbling down the metal stairs back to normal life.
“Solve the case like it was a magic trick, not a murder.” Eleanor said and Serval spun her around and moved her to the valet.
Quinn stepped onto the escape platform and watched the valet bring Serval’s Bentley. Eleanor gave a defeated shrug, her body was a glittering silhouette like the split second before she appeared from the falling cards.
“Hey!” She called, “Congratulations, grandpa!” Eleanor was talking to Quinn, not her own grandfather. Quinn let it slide, he was consumed with connecting Eleanor’s vague insight to the suspects he had left.
Serval didn’t look at Quinn as he got Eleanor inside the car and sped away. Quinn turned, his coat brushed the bannister and he heard a delicate ping on the asphalt below. Quinn glanced and saw silver down there. A cop guarding the first floor fire exit found the object and brought it up to Quinn. It was a silver ring shaped like a serpent. Eleanor’s ring. Quinn felt a single, numbing freeze take hold of his body as he squinted at the designer’s inscription on the inside of the ring.
The entire evening had been Eleanor’s steering him to this point.
Quinn grabbed the cop’s elbow.
“I want a lineup of every male apprentice. Let the women go, let the waitstaff go, let the headliners go.” The cop nodded and zapped off with electric motion. Within seconds people filed out of the mansion and Quinn was looking over an employee and guest list with every name crossed off except for seven. From over a hundred suspects down to seven in only three hours. Eleanor had set him up to finish her show.
Alice, justice is on the way.
There were six young men lined up on the main stage. All of them too young to be Alice’s killer. There was one man missing, Quinn called officers on his radio, everyone checked in; there was no one else in the mansion except the police, the six men, and Gwen with her friends upstairs. Gwen.
Quinn made his suspects wait, again. He rushed upstairs. “Ok, everybody outta the pool.” Quinn said and waved the women to the fire exit.
“Come on, Dad!” Gwen said, still drinking club soda. Quinn had memories of her drinking whiskey neat, she was particular to bourbon and yet the bottle of Bib & Tucker was still untouched. Of course, Eleanor had solved that mystery and the answer hit him hard enough for Quinn to forget about the dead body downstairs.
“You’ll need to catch up on sleep now while you can. You’ve at least ten years of insomnia coming your way.” Quinn said and the tears that jumped to Gwen’s eyes spoke volumes that pages could not contain.
“Oh, shit, Dad… how’d you guess?”
“I’m a detective, remember?” Quinn said and her friends were crying, too. They were snapping photos and selfies and filling their empty glasses with tears. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“You’re the detective. I thought it might be nice to figure out something different.”
“Want me to talk to the father?” Quinn said, and he knew the answer and didn’t care Dad was no longer in the picture. He knew Gwen was going to be fine. She was his rock.
“Don’t you dare!” Gwen laughed.
“Had to ask, kid.” Quinn said.
“You need us to leave? For real?”
“Yeah. I’ll call you when I’m done. We’ll have a proper celebration.”
“Just tell us one thing, we’ve been betting. You find him in a secret room?”
“What?” Quinn said. Gwen stood and her friends got up, too.
“Come on, Dad! It’s the Magic Castle!” Gwen said. Secret rooms. Quinn kissed his daughter on the cheek and waved goodbye to the party. He hated to see them go.
Quinn skipped stairs and cops pivoted out of his way as he sprinted back to the main stage where his suspects were under guard.
“Which one of you was gonna spill on the secret rooms?” Quinn said and knew why they didn’t answer right away.
“We don’t want to lose our apprenticeships for divulging Castle secrets.”
“Like… we know someone got killed, but I didn’t do it.”
Quinn let them talk over each other for a few seconds and kept a stone face for them. One by one they shut up when they saw they couldn’t wear him down.
“Each of you will escort two officers to every secret hideaway or passage or whatever you got around here and you will find the missing apprentice or so help me you’ll be trying to escape San Quentin with everything you’ve learned here.” The magicians and cops snapped to the task. Quinn revolved from group to group, amazed at the hidden extensions inside the maze-like mansion. They found the final suspect in a crawl space that still smelled like bootleg whiskey. Quinn helped a cop haul the small man out. He wore a leather fringe jacket, bolo tie, and spotless white cowboy boots. Southern preacher turned illusionist. He dusted himself off and smiled as if they didn’t find him inside a wall.
Quinn had the cops form a circle, enclosing him with this cowboy.
“Let the others go.” Quinn said. This cowboy was the killer. But he was too young to be Alice’s killer. Violence is hereditary, Quinn thought, knowing that once he revealed the evidence that connected the cowboy to Precio then Quinn would have complete freedom to investigate the cowboy’s family tree and uncover Alice’s killer. How did Eleanor know? How did she and Serval have the same discontinued Tiffany jewelry?
Quinn pushed away these thoughts as he circled the cowboy.
“He moves you shoot him, got it?” Quinn said to the five cops surrounding them. They responded by unbuttoning their holsters.
Quinn ignored the cowboy’s small talk. He replayed the security footage in his mind. The crowd was tight at that hour, hard to pick out the action and the actors until the blood sprayed and people fell away in waves. Quinn frisked the cowboy and came up with a wallet, cell phone, and no blades. He even checked business and credit cards for sharp edges. The phone had no removable plates and it wasn’t in a protective case. Quinn understood the guy still had the blades on him somewhere, that was part of the trick, making an audience believe in movement when nothing moved. The cops had checked everywhere from kitchens to trash cans. The blades must’ve returned to their sheaths. Quinn tore the fringe leather coat off the cowboy and turned it inside out. Nothing except pockets in the sleeves for cards and ball bearings. No knives.
“Hey, I can be kicked out for this!” The cowboy said, no longer good-humored. Quinn checked the man’s dress shirt sleeves and came up with nothing. Quinn frisked the cowboy once more, ignoring threats of sexual harassment. Eleanor isn’t wrong, he kept thinking. She had engineered the whole thing. Thinking about the coincidence of the jewelry and this cowboy who almost got away with killing Precio upstairs, it was like watching the close-up magic acts where the magician used three cups to disappear balls or make them multiply. It didn’t add up, especially with Quinn so close to the act and answer.
Getting close is part of the set-up, it doesn’t afford you an advantage.
Quinn took a step back. The cops tensed, thinking the cowboy was about to do something and Quinn got a premonition. The guy didn’t have anything in his coat, up his sleeves, and his bolo couldn’t hide anything.
“Hands up.” Quinn said and he saw that the cowboy had calluses on the thumb and forefinger of both hands, as if his hands had to adapt to sharp edges.
“Hold still. I mean it.” Quinn got in closer and felt the man’s collar. They looked into each other’s eyes when Quinn found the knives. They were the collar stays, three-inch steel slivers dimpled on one end for grip, tapering to an edge sharper than a scalpel. Looking at it straight on the edge vanished it was so thin, yet when Quinn pressed one into a wood-paneled wall the wall gave way like butter. “Take him away.” Quinn said.
The police cuffed the cowboy, his mouth trembled, his eyes betrayed something that made Quinn’s mind race.
“Hold it!” Quinn grabbed the cowboy’s collar, “Why’d you hide? You would’ve gotten away with murder if you didn’t hide.”
“Because… she told me I’d get away with killing’ Precio, but that’s not Precio!”
“What the hell are you saying?”
“She told me… Precio stole my tricks, she helped me plan revenge, but right when I… when I cut that man I saw he wasn’t Precio.” Quinn remembered the moment when Precio had tried to get him on stage. Precio was a terrible magician because the man on that stage was not a magician.
“Eleanor helped you?”
“Is that her name? She told me it was Alice…”
“Take him!” Quinn shouted and raced back to the body upstairs. Eleanor knew Quinn, knew about his police work… she knew about Alice and she had the same discontinued jewelry tonight. The killer had given Eleanor that jewelry, but she was too young… she’s related to the killer… Alice’s killer is Eleanor’s grandfather… was her grandfather. The old man he met tonight was Precio in disguise because her real grandfather is dead.
Quinn knelt beside the body and reached into the body bag. There was a ripping sound and then a final thwack and Quinn’s hand came up with Precio’s nose.
“Holy shit…” Jeff said and looked at Quinn. They both knew what had happened. Jeff had been preoccupied with the vicious wounds that had killed the man, and Quinn had been preoccupied with finding the killer on an evaporating deadline. Precio was still alive and this dead man was Serval. They had traded places. Quinn took the handkerchief from the dead man’s suit pocket and wiped away the rest of the make-up. The dead man must be Serval. Which means Precio was playing the part of Eleanor’s grandfather and lawyer so they could get away with the murder.
“Eleanor set it all up.” Quinn said, “This man here is not Precio the magician. This man is Eleanor’s grandfather, Serval. A man I’ve been hunting for a long time. She found out about him, found me, and put us all in this place.” Quinn said, lifting one of Serval’s dead hands and inspecting the rings. Tiffany jewelry, a discontinued set released back when Alice was killed. Serval must’ve spent a fortune on multiple sets and spent decades handing out these expensive trinkets to his would-be victims. The leftovers passed on to his own daughter, then to his granddaughter. Eleanor had grown up with a killer, she had received gifts from him all her life. She loved him until she discovered the gifts were the same things he gave to little girls like her. She got curious as to why her grandfather liked all little girls, but kept her at a distance. Quinn knew he’d never find out the concrete details because Eleanor was gone. She had set up Serval’s death and fled, a disappearing act she had learned from her serial killer grandfather. No wonder she broke child labor laws to work here, she grew up with one of the greatest magicians Quinn had been hunting for twenty-five years.
She got her grandfather to put on make-up. She made him think he would be arrested tonight and Serval could not give up the opportunity to brush so close with his hunter and escape. I wonder if he realized the betrayal when he died.
Finally, Alice’s killer has been brought to justice. Quinn had served the police force loyally, but tonight he was glad that Eleanor had taken care of Alice and dozens of other little girls. How did she convince Precio to help her kill her grandfather? Was it the thrill of creating the ultimate illusion? Was it blackmail for stealing tricks and using his assistants to fuel his fame? Eleanor’s scheme was as fragile as a spider’s web, but she managed to catch everyone in it.
Quinn told Jeff to forget it. The truth was too goddamn convoluted for the public. He dropped the prosthetic nose and grease-paint smeared handkerchief into the body bag and zipped it up. Quinn decided not to pursue Eleanor and Precio. Jeff nodded and got the idea. The cowboy killed Precio and even if the cowboy speaks the truth no one will believe it.
Eleanor had given Quinn the magic show of a life time, she had released him from the spell that Serval had put him under for twenty-five years. He wasn’t worried about Eleanor or Precio. They would take up magic shows somewhere else, cruise ships and Vegas under new identities, maybe, or they would part ways and create distance and new lives. Eleanor probably wanted to talk about the greatest trick of all time, but she had learned from Serval how to be quiet, how to nurse the pleasure of a secret.
Quinn guessed the cowboy was one more messed-up white man who would’ve killed eventually. Eleanor found him just as she discovered her grandfather’s dark secret. It was poetic that the cowboy, a blooming psychopath, was set-up to kill Serval, his future self.
She could have been a victim at any time. Quinn thought with horror as he pictured Eleanor growing up while Serval molested, murdered, and mutilated girls. No wonder she was able to kill him. No wonder she was able to set Quinn up just as Serval set up his many victims. She was a good psycho.
Quinn sent an email to his chief from his phone. He tendered his resignation, his retirement effective immediately. Quinn took a breath, shook hands with Jeff, and motioned for the cops guarding the main entrance to let everyone out of the Magic Castle. He took his gun and his badge and handed them over to a cop outside. The cool evening air woke him up with a kissing breeze.
Quinn thought of Gwen and found himself driving to the grocery store where he bought diapers, toiletries, snacks, water, aroma-therapy candles – anything that would curb pain, induce calm, spring warmth, and make the necessities of life no more than a walk down a hallway. As he piled things into his cart Quinn realized this felt more natural than the detective work. He missed being a parent and he had made the mistake of trying to be Alice’s guardian, trying to be the guardian of the dead instead of the living. It was so backwards that he laughed in the middle of the feminine hygiene aisle. It was a small miracle that he was alone at that hour of the morning. He drove off to begin his new job. He was going to be a full-time grandfather.
Quinn trucked the goods to his car and reached into his pocket for his keys. He felt the serpent ring Eleanor left behind. It was a perfect fit.