LINE 878

      

       Despite the money poured into the big, brand new county library headquarters, Connor Pruitt walked inside from the summer heat to see the patrons, predicably, sitting front of rows of personal computers. Partly blocking  his way was a worn-out book cart with older books taken of circulation available for fifty cents. One had a gray cover entitled “The Giant Book of Magic.” The  illustrations of black-tie conjures on the cover did not familiar to Connor so he sat down to take a closer look.

 

       He discovered it had been published in 1976 so this was before his time. The pages were discolored, yet strong enough to suggest the book had not been borrowed much at the previous demolished building. Since chapters appeared to consist of diagrams of how to perform various card or table tricks,  Connor went to the  index. There was nothing starting with letter ‘Z’ for the Zig-Zag Lady illusion which surprised him considering the time the book was written. Going back a page, Connor found there was information about the Sawing A Woman In Half illusion including on page 114 which was in italics.

 

       Whoa! Connor thought to himself at the sight of a large black and white picture that took up most of that page. This was new to him. A lively, beautiful woman probably no older than her early twenties was on a stage in two half-sized boxes. She was clearly having a lively exchange with the magician who had done this to her. The caption read:

 

 

      For more than 50 years P.T. Selbit’s famous Sawing A Woman In Half illusion has astounded audiences and displaced volunteers just like in this recent New York television production.

 

 

       To say this ‘displaced volunteer’ spoke to Connor was an understatement. Her obvious vivacious personality screamed of the page and jumped into his imagination. Despite having admonished others in the internet community about no magic video ever turns out as good as the mind tantalizes, a giant plate of crow awaited him. This may be a notable exception.

 

        Unfortunately, there were on other pictures, Connor did not recognize the unnamed performer and unless this was broadcast locally, he could not place what traditional talk or variety shows were still being taped up there by then. Ironically, in this century of instant information, Connor doubted could find out much more.

 

       At least his morning had been enlivened considerably. After taking one more lingering look, Connor got up. At least his wife could not quarrel over him spending his pocket change on it.

 

       “You are holding an item for me. I’ll take this too…here’s my card,” he told the librarian. She located underneath the counter the fortieth anniversary Blu-ray edition of the movie “Blazing Saddles” waiting for him.

 

       “It looks like another hot one,” she commented.

 

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       Heather Anne McCowan had left her hotel ready for what was forecasted to be the hottest day of the year so far dressed in noticeably short denim shorts. Still, she was glad to be standing underneath the marquee waiting in line in front of the Elyse Theater in New York City. Jack Morrison, her boyfriend, stood next to her with a newspaper checking the theaters and showtimes for “Blazing Saddles.”

 

       “Maybe we can get in at the 4:30 show tomorrow.”

 

       “I already told you – why go to a movie here when you can see it at home?” Heather took the folded newspaper from him and came closer. “Besides, I may want to spend any layover in our room instead.” Red headed, spirited and sexy as all get-out, tall, introverted Jack knew how lucky he was.

 

       They were spending a few days in New York. Today’s itinerary included attending the taping of a daytime talk show pilot starring journeyman broadcaster Regis Philbin. The tickets had come from Heather’s aunt who did public relations for the production company. This show was a major attempt to jump start the cities moribund television scene that now chiefly consisted of a few game shows since Johnny Carson and Merv Griffin had moved to the West coast, never to return. The producers wanted a loud, full house to give the taping every advantage.

 

       Heather had put the movie listings in her purse when a man with curly hair who appeared to be a just a few years older than the two of them introduced himself.

 

       “Hi. I’m Morty. I’m a production assistant for the show.”

 

       “Hi.  I’m Heather. This is my boyfriend Jack.”

 

       Jack smiled in way that sarcastically said  ‘sorr-ee.’ This Morty’s disappointment was obvious. “What brings you two here?” he nonetheless asked.

 

       “We just finished our junior year at the University of Missouri Columbia and are on vacation.”

 

       “Great. I’ll get to the point – how would like to be on TV today?” Morty asked.

 

       “Me - how?” wondered Heather.

 

       “One of Regis’s guests is a new magician from here. For the show, he wants to have a lady from the audience be his assistant for one trick. A pretty girl like you would be perfect,” explained Morty. Heather and Jack equally surprised.

 

       “What would I do?”

       “Sorry. A good magician – or his talent coordinator – never gives away anything,” Jack noticed how this guy had now dropped two different TV titles in front of his girlfriend. Nevertheless, Heather was obviously flattered by the attention.

 

       “So, can I tell Randy you’re in?” he pressed.

 

       “Sure. I guess. I always like to try something different,” she replied in her usually bubbly way.

 

       “Yes, she does,” commented Jack.

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       Heather and Jack watched from their front row seats a nice but rather bland daytime talk show. Regis was on the ball when speaking with his guests Charlton Heston, Suzanne Pleshette, David Brenner and finally magician Randy Valentine and his assistant named Ying. After their winning act, Heather checked Jack’s watch wondering if there was any time left for her.

 

       “Before we go, Randy has one more trick up his sleeve you won’t want to miss folks,” announced the host before going to the last commercial break.

 

       “Sorr-ee,” Jack informed Heather. Being an impromptu magician’s assistant did not sound as fun to her as it did over an hour ago. The music stopped. The stage manager gave the ‘on air’ signal.

 

       “Welcome back. Before we go, we have a surprise for you. A young lady from our audience, Heather, agreed before the show to assist Randy for one more trick. We are you Heather?” inquired Regis.

 

       A single studio light fell on her. Heather waived.  

 

       “Where are you from dear?” Due to the absence of the boom microphone, her answer was inaudible to most.

 

       “Great. I’ve been there many times in fact. All I have to say Heather is don’t shoot the messenger, because right now Randy is going to saw you in half,” Regis revealed.

 

       The audience reacted with enthusiasm. In contrast, Heather turned to Jack, covered her mouth in genuine shock and nodded her face repeatedly to say ‘no!’

 

       “Oh yes, can you please come up here with us!” Randy asked getting up with Regis. Stage lights suddenly fell on the middle of the stage, as if to inform Heather this was real. A theater page came down escort her over. With her head spinning Heather stood up. Seconds later Regis Philbin and Randy were introducing themselves. After the handshakes, Heather tightly crossed her arms over her feeling embarrassed being up there and a little freaked-out.

 

       “I don’t think anyone needs convincing that Randy and Heather have not rehearsed anything,” declared Regis . Heather’s nervous body language increased to the nth degree when the stage curtain parted to reveal Ying waiting with a horizontal, fire engine magic box.

 

       “Would you please step in the box?” the magician asked with a gleam in his eye.

       “But I don’t want to get into the box!” she shrieked.                          
             

       Everyone laughed.  Jack was especially finding this all very entertaining so far. Due to her hesitation Randy began to chant “Go Heather, Go Heather,” which sparked a chain reaction from some in the studio audience. Soon, Heather nodded very slightly to agree, or more accurately accept with the utmost reluctance, what she had indeed volunteered for.  

 

       “If I do this, can you promise I’ll go home in one piece?”

 

       “Promise! We want the audience here and at home to be able to see you from head to toe the entire time, so how about taking your shoes of first,” asked Randy.

 

       “I can’t believe I’m about to this. You wouldn’t to trade places with me Ying, would you?” Heather asked. Ying indicated she did not.

 

       “Randy, are you one of those guys?” Regis sly asked when the magician personally set her wedge sandals aside.

 

       “So, are you ready to be my assistant now?”

 

       “Yes,” she replied using an exaggerated, small voice that amused the audience. With their assistance she climbed into box. “So, I just lay down?”

 

       “Yep,” confirmed Randy. Heather glanced at her boyfriend who had a big smile on his face. Jack found what she had unknowingly agreed to amusing in a quirky kind of way.

 

       “Here I go,” she anxiously said. Once reclined, the pair latched every panel door leaving pretty Heather trapped. Inside, she barely had any room to move her legs or shoulders, so she just placed her arms over her middle. This was really happening!

 

       “I’d be a bad magician I if didn’t add one more level of….safety for Heather,”  teased the illusionist.  Ying showed the audience two stockades meant to secure both ends.

 

       “Ready?”

 

       “Yes,” Heather replied in the same tiny voice. Once her neck was secured she turned to the audience as much as the stock permitted.

 

       “Help!” she joked. Amid the viewers chuckles Heather felt the other stock fall over her ankles, capped off by Randy quickly clutching a big toe to indicate he was finished.

 

       “Doing okay so far?”

 

       “It’s really comfy in here,” she answered sarcastically.

 

       “I know there isn’t much room, but it’s actually a little larger than an average New York studio apartment,” Randy countered. Heather faced Jack in the distance again.

 

       “If I don’t make it, you can have my car!” This provoked the biggest laughs so far from the crowd, along with deserved catcalls. Regis walked closer slightly embarrassed.

 

       “You’re not going to use a chainsaw on this young lady, I hope?” he asked.

 

       “Chainsaw no….cold blades of steel, yes!” declared Randy, holding them high for the television camera in front of him. Anticipation raced through the theater. “Oh, I can’t watch this,” remarked Regis the moment one was was being set in between the two boxes.

 

       “No! Don’t you dare - ouch!” she shouted. The attendees gasped at the sound of the blade working its way straight through her.
      

       “That thing feels like it went right through me!” Heather exclaimed when it was over”

 

       “You think? Ready for the next one?” the magician inquired, seemingly unfazed by it all. This time she closed her eyes and clutched her toes beforehand.

      

       “I’m ready.”  Randy used more restrain when sliding the second blade in.

 

       “Ah….ah..” Heather nonetheless squealed. After a few seconds passed a completely stunned expression cascaded over her face. At the opposite end her bare feet now twitched nervously. The magician leaned forward to check on his assistant.

 

       “The worst is over now Heather, I promise. Care to share what being cut in half feels like?”

       “Ah..its really not comfy!” Heather revealed. She felt the magician gently guide her arm a side door he’d just opened. Ying did the same to showcase her great legs. As for Jack , let’s say he was glad to be witnessing all this sitting down instead of being up on camera. Regis spoke up.

 

       “Were short on time.”

 

       “Then say no more!” Heather realized that her two halves were about to be separated. She deliberately kept her attention focused on the celling. “Just take a deep breath.” The illusionist suggested quietly. Suddenly, the overhead lights were moving away from her!

 

        The crowed was astounded! Heather strained to see her legs until Ying set them within her view. Amid the commotion, she waved both her hands and feet in synch in front of the cameras bereft of an explanation. Jack found seeing the young woman he could one day marry so utterly restrained surpassingly sexy. On the stage, Randy leaned over her again.

 

       “Is this a little better?”

 

       “It is actually….except I can feel a really strong sensation aright around here.” She playfully emphasized where the blade was anchored. Laughs, ‘oohs’ and more catcalls resulted. Heather spotted how excited Jack immediately became.

 

       “Let’s get this poor girl back together!” insisted Regis partly due to the time of day his proposed show would air. Randy and Ying attached the two parts of her body, out came the blades amd finally out came Heather to big cheers.

 

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       It wasn’t long when Heather and Jack were standing in another line to now exit the studio. “You’ll find having me one piece has its advantages tonight,” hinted Heather. It was fun to see how her boyfriend was still quite agitated.

 

       “How about having that layover now…I think we’ll get there faster walking,” he added given his pent-up libido.

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       Later that year Heather learned from her aunt she was not going to be on TV. Simply put, there were not enough takers for Regis’s show. This did not disappoint her. Ever since coming back from New York Heather found it hard to explain her mind-blowing experience to others. Watching this wouldn’t make it any easier going forward.

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       Two years later, Heather was visiting her family over the long bicentennial weekend. On Saturday, she was walking by the Waldenbooks location at Westroads Shopping Center. Among the new releases, she noticed one called “The Giant Book of Magic”. Being on stage in front of hundreds of people locked inside that baffling magic box came to her for a moment. But regrettably not long enough to pause and open the book.

 

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       Regis Philbin finally became the host of a nationally syndicated talk show live from New York in 1988. By then Jack was married to a woman named Nina. Her becoming pregnant with their son Pete had accelerated the processes considerably. Coming home one night the only greeting he received was being informed from the kitchen that something came for him today. Jack took the package to the dining room for privacy. It was a heavy alumni directory spanning all four of Missouri’s universities.

 

       Opposites may attract at first, but Jack had painfully learned a long time ago that extremes in interests and temperaments can become too big a hurdle for a lasting relationship. Yet time had healed enough for him to order this.

 

       Jack paused, collected himself, and went to the surnames starting with ‘Mc.’ There was Heather from the class of 1975 with a mailing address in the state he did not recognize along a single telephone number. Unliked other entries, there was no indication of her marital status or occupation. Sadly, Jack knew that despite what he had told himself, this was not bring him the closure he wanted.

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       Ten years later he was both divorced and officially middle aged. One weekend he was dropping of a few unwanted books for the book drive at his kid’s school. Since both storage bins were full, Jack simply set his contribution on the top.

 

        Suddenly, one book fell and hit the floor hard. It was called “The Giant Book Of Magic.” Jack thought of his trip to New York with Heater at the start of the Beame administration, so he began to leaf through it.

 

       His heart jumped when he saw page 114.

 

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       That nigh Jack sat on his couch with the old alumni directory in front of him and the cordless phone next to him. He had been thinking of the one that got away often lately, especially because both may be older and wiser now. Jack dialed Heather’s number.

 

       “Hello.”

 

       “Is this Heather?”

 

       “Yes.”

 

       “Hi. It’s me….Jack.” He feared the worst during the next quick, awkward pause.

 

       “Hi!” she soon said in warm, friendly way.

 

       “Hi back.” A sense of joy overcame him.

 

       “You’ll never guess what made me think of you today.”

 

 

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       Several years later, after his wife had gone up for the night, Connor again opened his new book to page 114. He gazed at that curious, compelling picture of the beautiful woman wondering about her just like many guys before had. Although no one outside the studio audience ever got to see Heather be sawed in half, it managed to still reach the right audience (and in one notable instance, the right person) after each passing decade.

 

 

                                                                                                                                                       THE END