Welcome to day four of my short story experiment. One thing I am learning from this is I am not so good at the short story. I want to use ALL THE WORDS. This one will definitely get a rewrite and be turned into a novel. Because the whole time I was writing I couldn't stop adding little bits in my head. So, definitely.
WCRP is a magician's trick handed down in a family. The cabinet is...picky about the volunteers it will select. The short story is a low grade urban fantasy type deal. The novel is certain to wind up paranormal romance.
The Wondrous Cabinet of Resplendent Perspicacity
Agnessa tugged at the collar of her coat. A ruffle of wings stilled her and she moved more slowly through the crowd of people. The house lights went down as she found her seat in the middle of the crowd. A single spotlight came up on the stage and the murmuring grew to a swell before it died. Purple smoke burst in the air along the front of the stage and when it cleared Ruslan appeared.
The audience applauded, a couple of drunk frat boys even cheered. Excessively. A little smoke and a trapdoor did not deserve cheering. The cheering would be earned later. Ruslan bowed and looked around on the stage. His strong voice carried without the aid of a microphone. His exaggerated accent made Agnessa smile. They’d been born in the U.S., but in the show they both used Russian accents learned from their grandparents.
“Where is she? Agnessa? I do apologize, ladies and gentlemen. My sister, she is never on time. Most likely doing her hair.” He shrugged, but only so the women in the audience noticed the cut of his white shirt. He always rolled up the sleeves to show off his tattoos. Market research had shown women adored men with tattoos. Close cut beard, black hair, black eyes; Ruslan was hot. Or so all of Agnessa’s friends used to say. Since they were twins she shared his good looks. Other than the beard. Her parents had not approved of her tattoos, but she thought it added to their look.
She swore she could hear women swooning. The house lights came up and she stood with slow precision. One arm raised and covered her eyes.
“Agnessa! You are late!” Ruslan scolded her and she leveled a gaze at him to draw out his smile for the audience. “Come! We are starting the show!”
Agnessa snapped her fingers and the house lights went down. The spotlight almost missed her and she scolded their cousin in her head. Bats flew into the room and there were several shrieks as they scattered. Agnessa grinned as the spotlight landed on Ruslan once more. She slid into her spot as the spotlight split. The timing, off again, made her consider threats against Yuri.
“So sorry, Ruslan,” Agnessa said before kissing her brother’s cheek. They didn’t speak often when on stage. Part of their shtick involved the so-called twin bond. Years of practice had left them very believable. Agnessa and Ruslan had been performing the same tricks since they were ten. Oh, the flash changed, but the tricks were the same. Twenty years in two days. Agnessa tried to forget how close to thirty she was and, instead, focused on the black cat trying to claw her leg as she worked it into the trick.
Part of it could be attributed to nerves. She could feel the finale in her blood. Ruslan felt it as well. Which was why they’d been doing this since they were ten. The show had chosen them. At least, the final trick had chosen them. In much the same way she chose the final volunteers for their shows. The main difference being her and Ruslan had walked out of the cabinet.
Her hands always shook at this point. Ruslan knew of the affliction and he always tiered the tricks down toward the end of the show. After the penultimate trick she carried off the shows’ bits and pieces before wheeling out the final trick.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Ruslan said as he stroked his mustache. “I am not sure. Perhaps. Yes, Agnessa, this is not a good night for the trick. I do not believe the stars have aligned like planned.”
The crowd booed and cajoled. The frat boys screamed and the women didn’t quite toss their underthings onto the stage, but it was close. Agnessa still shuddered whenever she was teased about the garish, latex bra she’d been hit in the face with one night. The hotel had barely enough hot water to cover the shower she’d taken. The cabinet, now on stage, received the attention of the spotlights instead of her and Ruslan. They exchanged a look, the same one as always. Excitement lit their black eyes even as the small frown they shared showed a wearier resignation.
In the old days, they were told, this trick had been easier. Before everyone could be tracked so easily. Agnessa walked off the stage into the audience. She turned Ruslan out, letting the cabinet flow through her. The act, done for so long, took no effort. Agnessa thought she could pick out the volunteer without the cabinet’s help, but she didn’t want to accept responsibility for that moral choice. She wasn’t ready.
On stage, Ruslan told the tales. In the audience, Agnessa closed in on the target. She stood within two tables of the man who practically screamed, “Take me! I deserve it! Take me!” Once she’d stopped, Ruslan ended the stories.
“And now, beloved audience. I will need tonight’s special volunteer. Is it you? Do you want to enter the wondrous cabinet and see the magic for yourself? Stand up, right now, if you think you should be the one.” Ruslan’s voice spread over the crowd like a seductive wave. Even Agnessa felt the lure tossed into the sea of potential, but she knew of the hook hidden within. The chosen one stood within seconds of Ruslan’s command. So did a dozen others.
“Agnessa, dear sister, we must narrow this down. So many willing volunteers. Truly, an audience for the ages!” Ruslan stepped to the cabinet and opened the top door. It was as garish inside as out. Stars, moons, strange occult and alchemical symbols with no meaning had been lovingly stroked into the wood for generations.
Agnessa watched as several people sat back down. Slowly, with a palpable disappointment to their actions. Her choice, the magic’s choice, sat down abruptly. Soon no one stood and the room waited in silence but for loud, frat laughter. None of them had volunteered. Agnessa’s leather boots clicked across the tiled floor, a meandering path to bring her closer to the man who shone. Ruslan saw her signal and gave his own. Yes, this man, the cabinet’s choice for tonight.
“You, sir,” she whispered. “You sat so fast. Undeserving, you thought, of the gifts of the cabinet and its magic. But it’s not true. You deserve it.” He moved as if in a trance, limbs slowly pulling themselves inward before his legs launched him from the chair in a flurry of need.
“Ah, such a generous soul!” Ruslan said and the audience applauded. “For his generosity, my sister and I shall donate one thousand dollars from tonight’s show to the charity of his choice. What say you, brave volunteer?”
“Children, yes?” Agnessa said to him as she took his sweaty, thin palm in her fingers. “You would donate to the children. You’re so helpful to them.”
“Yes,” the man said. “I love the children.”
“Of course you do,” Agnessa replied as she helped make his way languidly onto the stage.
“Ladies, gentlemen, those of you trapped in between,” Ruslan said to laughter and catcalls. “You must give a loud cheer for our volunteer. Call down the attention of angels to witness this most dangerous trick! We must stand with our friend here as he discovers the wonders of the cabinet.”
Agnessa hated this part. She helped the man into the cabinet as it shared the knowledge of what would be done. More importantly, why it would be done. Ruslan, who always had a better poker face, let her turn away from the crowd at this point in the trick. The upper door, still open, allowed her a final sight of the man inside. As the fear in his eyes caused his breathing to quicken and his body to rock back and forth, she whispered, “Rot in hell.”
The door closed. She and Ruslan began to chant as they spun the box. It rattled as it turned. The screams of the man inside did not carry past the stage. The audience cheered and the small trickle of blood leaking between the doors was only seen as part of the trick. Not the volunteer’s judgment by something, if not better, then greater.
Ruslan opened the cabinet and the audience burst into applause at the sight of the black cat within. Agnessa disliked the cat beyond belief and the feeling was mutual. Of course, when Ruslan reached in, the cat began to purr. Agnessa had wanted a rat, but Ruslan said it would never work. Rats, in his opinion, were too small.
All of these thoughts rushed through her mind as the swell of thunderous applause washed over them. Ruslan set the cat atop the box where it began to lick itself. He took Agnessa’s hand and they bowed before exiting the stage. The house lights stayed down, the spotlight on the cabinet. Then, the lights all died and when they came back up the cabinet had vanished as well.
“Yuri, I swear to the gods if you miss your cues because you’re sexting that moron in Scottsdale I will tell her your syphilis has advanced to the stage where your penis fell off.” Agnessa lifted the cage cover and checked on her bats. They were eating. The smallest, Fury, she’d named him, came over and nuzzled her thumb. Grinning, she dropped the cover down. Bats, so much better than cats. “I should get my back piece finished. Did you find a decent artist in town?”
“There’s nothing decent in this town,” Ruslan complained as he shucked off his clothes and stomped towards the shower in their tiny dressing room.
Agnessa reached over without looking and jerked Yuri’s phone from his hands.
“Hey!” he complained. As she began to type a sob inducing message about Yuri’s recent death due to an overdose of ED drugs, someone knocked on the door. Agnessa let Yuri answer it, he was the stagehand, and ducked behind the screen to change. The door closed as she tugged off her second boot. Stage costume removed, she breathed more easily before unpinning her hair. Maybe this time she would cut it off and the show be damned. Ruslan kept his hair short.
Black and purple waves fell down her back once the last of the pins were out. She refused to shower in the dressing room. The one time she’d considered it the walls had been questionably stained. Worn jeans were tugged on before she looked around for her shirt. Not there. “Fucking Yuri,” she muttered as she heard the door open.
“Yuri, you useless mother fu-“ Thinking it only her cousin she’d left the screen’s privacy in her jeans and bra. Yuri was there, but he had another man with him. Forcing herself not to stammer and dive for cover she crossed the room and reached around the stranger, cop she believed, to grab her shirt.
She caught a whiff of soap when she stood close to him and her body surprised her with urges she knew were a bad idea to indulge with law enforcement. Fool me once, and all.
“Excuse me,” she said, accent fallen back into place. Standing less than a foot in front of him she tugged her tank top on with precise movements to drag the moment out. “That’s better.” It wasn’t. The rush of the show always left her turned on. She’d already picked out a mark for the evening, but if the cops were here she could forget it. Her brain whispered suggestions involving the cop in front of her. Her brain started by suggesting they go somewhere private and lose their clothes.
“Agnessa Popov?” he said and she cursed his lack of interest in her. “I need to speak to you and your brother.” Perhaps Ruslan would get a rise from him. Cops were always easier to deal with if they were attracted to at least one of them.
“My brother is in the shower. Would you like a drink? Yuri, fetch us some tea. Surely this second rate theater can provide tea?”
Yuri grumbled, but left. The cop was his type to a T. Short blonde hair with hints of red, no beard, blue eyes behind glasses. Agnessa dropped into the lone easy chair in the room. The cop watched her, more amused than transfixed, damn his pretty eyes.
“What can we do for you, officer?”
“Detective. Detective Metz.” Ah, German. A shame. Her family carried grudges at least five generations. Yuri or Ruslan would share the news if she dallied with a German. Well, at least Yuri would have to keep his hands off him as well.
“Detective Metz. Were your parents’ prescient?”
“Cute, Miss Popov. Do you know an Everett Beach?” He had a notebook. How…quaint. Agnessa watched his fingers grip a pen and imagined them on her body. Hopefully, Ruslan would be out soon and help her crawl out of the gutter she wallowed in. “Miss Popov?”
“Agnessa.” Cursing the man in front of her and the way he made her voice drop lower, inviting him to step closer, she kicked her feet onto the ottoman to keep him away. “Please, you must call me Agnessa.”
This time he looked at her. The subtle widening of his eyes and the way his fingers tightened on his pen let her know how well he saw her. Really, shouldn’t they bury decades of bad blood? As surrogates for their ancestors’ homes. Before she could suggest such a thing Ruslan came out of the bathroom.
“Oh, I wasn’t aware we had company.” Ruslan toweled off damp hair dressed in nothing but a pair of tight leather pants. He clearly had a mark for the evening as well.
“Ruslan,” Agnessa said, “This is Detective Metz.” Her brother had heard him already as he’d used his stage accent when speaking.
“Prescient parents?” Ruslan asked her with a wink.
“I didn’t come here for the stage show.” Detective Metz sounded annoyed. Agnessa kicked the ottoman across the crappy carpet towards her brother as Metz watched. Ruslan sat and she looked back at the cop.
“We can get you tickets to tomorrow’s show. For you and your wife.” Dammit. She was fishing. Ruslan would be as aware of this as her. Agnessa closed her eyes and took control of her brain functions back from her groin. It took longer than she’d have liked.
“Everett Beach,” Metz repeated. His lips pressed into a firm line and the way his cheek twitched she thought he might be biting back a rude comment. He handed Ruslan and photo and Agnessa’s lingering lustful thoughts died as she felt her brother’s concern.
“Ah, the volunteer,” he said. Bare shoulders shrugged as he looked at Agnessa. “Did you learn the man’s name?”
“We never do,” she reminded her brother.
Metz brought the photo to Agnessa and she breathed in the scent of his soap again. Look at the photo, she told herself. Not him. Her eyes flickered to the photo and back up to Metz. She caught him staring down the front of her tank top. Her body responded predictably. More importantly, she thought, his did as well. If only her brother were not in the room. Family. They were such a pain.
“Miss Popov?” Metz sounded interested.
“Agnessa!” Ruslan sounded annoyed.
Well, he had her annoyed. With him. For not leaving. Agnessa shook her head and looked at the photo again. Same slimy fellow.
“He was our volunteer, yes. The stars fated his visit to the cabinet. What has happened?”
“He’s not been seen since he stepped into your little cabinet.” Metz stepped away from her as he spoke and she mourned the loss while being thankful for it at the same time. “I need you to talk me through the trick.”
“Impossible!” Ruslan stood and threw his towel on the vanity. “It is a family secret. The Popovs have performed the Wondrous Cabinet of Resplendent Perspicacity since before your people marched into our country.”
“My people?” Metz asked.
The hostility in the room could lead to someone in handcuffs so Agnessa stood. “Nonsense,” she told her brother with a warning look. “Let me walk the detective through it.”
“Yes, let him examine the inside as well as he’d like.” The threat in his tone couldn’t be missed. Agnessa’s eyes narrowed at her brother.
“Detective Metz, come with me. Ruslan, Yuri should be fetching tea. Do be sure he hasn’t found some poor waitress instead.” Shaking her head, she laid her hand on Metz’s arm. “Yuri does like to pester. Please, come with me. It’s next door.”
The cabinet stood in the dimly lit storage room next door. Once they’d finished, Yuri would load it up for the night. They did not leave it stored. Ever. Not since their mother had thought it safe. Six people. They still feared going back to Little Rock. Some organizations had long memories. Agnessa and Ruslan had been the first to venture to Atlanta since their great grandmother. None of which mattered.
“The trick does not work in here,” Agnessa offered. Despite misgivings she opened the bottom door of the cabinet. Crouching down she showed the lever on the side. “You see? The bottom opens and then the person inside climbs down. The theater has someone waiting to escort them out.” Agnessa looked up at Metz and smiled with a shrug. “I do not know the name of the person. Why do you care?”
Metz looked at the cabinet. Now. She would have sworn on her father’s good name he had been looking down her shirt again. He stepped closer to her and the magic.
“Everett Beach is the owner of Beach Tech, the single largest employer in the city.” His words came out sluggish and Agnessa’s inside twisted.
“Metz?” she whispered as she stood to get between him and the box. “Detective? We should go talk somewhere else.”
“Let me see the inside.”
“No,” Agnessa said. “Let’s go back to the stage or the dressing room. Hell, we can go back to your car and get naked.” Ah, he had enough control to feel lust. A shame his eyes never left the cabinet. The door. If she could close the lower door it would help. Agnessa didn’t know why the cabinet called to him, but she fought the urge to let him inside.
“I need to see the inside,” Metz said. He still clutched his pen and notebook.
“I don’t know."
Are you a bad man?” Agnessa knew it shouldn’t matter to her. She didn’t know him. Sexual attraction didn’t convey any moral superiority. “Metz? Beach was an evil man. The things he did…Please. Let’s go somewhere else.”
Metz reached around her and touched the edge of the cabinet where the gold trim gave off an alluring sparkle. Agnessa dug her nails into her palms and continued to fight the temptation of opening the cabinet. The box wanted him.
“You can’t stop it.” Ruslan slipped into the room and closed the door. “You know you can’t stop it, Agnessa. You have to let him in.”
“No.” Agnessa, trapped between Metz and the cabinet, looked at her brother. “We can’t risk it. Two people who will be missed? It’s too risky. For us.”
“Is it that? Or is it you’ve been fooled again?”
Her brother always had been an ass. Agnessa wanted to wail and he only stared at her in silence. She knew he thought Portland would repeat itself tonight. Now she wished Ruslan had not shown up, but deep down she’d known he would. The cabinet flowed through him as well as her.
“Fine,” she said. “Metz? Step back. Detective? Do you want to see the inside?”
“Yes,” Metz answered. His attention shifted from the cabinet to her. “Show me.”
So, she shoved him back and, tears blurring her vision, opened the top door as well. No audience meant no reason to do anything as he stepped inside. Ruslan tried to close the doors, but Agnessa stopped him.
“Aggie, this isn’t a good idea.”
“I want to see.”
“Leave if you don’t like it.”
Metz screamed and they traded a worried glance. The audience normally dimmed the sounds.
“Go tell Yuri to distract anyone curious.”
Ruslan didn’t want to leave, but Agnessa was seven minutes older. Before he left he drew her against his body and kissed the top of her head. “Aggie.”
“Go. Yuri’s not smart enough to do this on his own.”
He left and she locked the door behind him. Inside the cabinet, Metz stood still, holding his notebook and pen. Agnessa feared what would happen, but nothing did. Nothing visible. The sadness this brought could not be denied, even if she could not determine the reasons for her emotion. Lifting her tank top, she scrubbed at her eyes.
Agnessa stood, unsure of how much time had passed. Metz stumbled from the cabinet and she barely managed to steady him before they both fell. What had happened? Metz’s fingers dug into her bare arms after his notebook dropped.
“I- Miss Popov?”
“Agnessa.” What had happened? She had to call her mother. Find out what in the hell happened. “Detective Metz?”
He jerked away from her and picked up his notebook from the floor. His pen had rolled under the cabinet and he didn’t approach the box to retrieve it.
“I need to get a warrant for Beach’s house.”
“Detective, we should talk.”
Metz shook his head and headed for the door. Agnessa should have stopped him, but found herself unable to do anything. Ruslan found her standing in the empty room. He closed the doors to the cabinet and moved her out of the way as he opened the loading bay and wheeled the cabinet out with Yuri’s help.
Ruslan led her to the truck and had her sit between him and Yuri.
“Where are we going?” Agnessa frowned as they drove to the highway onramp. “Yuri? Turn around.”
“Mom said to come home,” Ruslan told her.
“We can’t leave things that way. We don’t know what happened.”
Ruslan shrugged. “It’s not our job to understand the decisions of the cabinet.”
Not that she had a choice. They would go home. The first thing she planned to do at home involved scissors and her hair. The second thing involved her resignation from the act. Let Yuri prance around in skimpy outfits and deal with the cabinet. All lies, but comforting ones on the long drive. If they made it home was up to the cabinet. Agnessa was unsure if she’d rather go home or to another show.
Either way, she worried over poor Detective Metz. She’d probably never know what happened to him.