Sleight of Hand Ch. 01byvelvetpie©
sleight’ of hand’, n. skill in feats requiring quick and clever movements of the hands, esp. for entertainment or deception.
The advertisement at the back of the psychology magazine said that the potion came from a secret location in the deepest, darkest reaches of Indonesia. That was the first thing that caught Ryan’s eye. He raised his line of vision to the top of the ad and read downward, his heart pounding in his chest.
It was Dr. Virago’s Magic Potion, a concoction made from a secret tribal recipe and held in a spirit-blessed cave of generational deceased for thirteen days. During the decanting moon light ritual, the brew was transferred from clay vessels that had been buried deep in the earth and carefully poured into kiln-fired glazed pots and sealed with midnight blue wax.
All this could be Ryan’s for a mere $350.
Ryan Eastman set the magazine on his desk and sat back, deep in thought. He was thirty-two years old, vice-president of his law firm and lonely as hell. Damn! He slammed his hands down on the desk and jumped up, striding to the window and admiring the impressive view of the Space Needle. Seattle had been his home for eight years now, ever since he’d left the wilds of New York for a more sedentary existence.
Everyone had been surprised when he left Sutton, Milburn and Sutton. Hottest rising star, personal friend of the Mayor … but he was as empty inside as most of the media-hungry New York City population was. And Abner Sutton, head of the law firm, wanted him to be the law firm’s media superstar. His rock star good looks propelled that decision and Eastman found himself fodder for not only the tabloids but also for various attorney publications.
It was over before it ever really started. Once Ryan had realized what was happening to him, he had resigned. He wanted success, but on his terms. He couldn’t stand to be used and the Seattle offer had given him the perfect out. So he’d left New York and had settled in the Pacific Northwest, looking for someone he could love. Unfortunately, he was still alone. The few young ladies he’d dated had been more interested in his law pedigree than his heart and he got frustrated quickly.
Ryan turned and looked at the ad again. The words Dr. Virago stood out in bold, red letters, beckoning his immediate attention and he just shook his head, barking out a laugh. A magic potion. What the hell was he thinking of? If there was such a thing, that person would be the new Bill Gates. He swept the magazine into the trash can, grabbed his briefcase and beat a hasty retreat to his waiting hunter green Expedition and the newest Foreplay CD.
His favorite watering hole, The Cargo Hole, looked pretty busy by the traffic in the parking lot. He found a space near the kitchen entrance and sprinted through the kitchen, drawing the ire of chef Adam. Burly owner Andre welcomed him with a fatherly look and ushered him over to a table where his friends Chet Baker and Morley Atkisson waited.
“What’s up, wodie?”
Ryan just shook his head. Lately, Chet had taken to learning hip-hop lingo. That would not have been a problem had he not been a British citizen. African-American slang and a Liverpool accent went together like oil and vinegar. “Hey, Chet. New word this week, eh?”
“Yep and damned proud of it!”
Morley ignored Chet, shoving a beer over to him. “He’s really gone crazy about this hip-hop shit.”
The blond with spiky hair threw a glare at the red head. “Just ignore him, Ryan. He just doesn’t understand what it is to become one with Reverend Run.”
Ryan chuckled, lost in his thoughts as his two friends laughingly bickered back and forth. “So what are you going tonight?”
“I don’t know. I have a couple of briefs to file on Monday … “
“For Gods sakes, Ryan! It’s Friday! Don’t tell me you’re going to work all weekend again!”
Ryan swallowed past the angry lump in his throat, trying to ignore the plaintive tone of his friend’s voice. Morley knew that Ryan spent his free time working. Too much, he had said. Too much and too often. Morley knew his friend was lonely but he had no true idea as to what was going on in Ryan’s head.
“I’ll be back.”
Ryan finished his beer, caught the waitress’ attention, asking for another, and headed down the long hallway to the bathroom. The entire journey there reminded him of why he hated bars. The girls were mostly dressed in Narciso Rodriguez originals with their manicured feet shod in Manolo Blahniks. Their Chanel-scented necks craned his way, coquettishly winking Maybelline lashes and pursing Revlon-limned mouths in faux kisses as he waltzed towards the loo. fake, Fake, FAKE!
URGH! Ryan threw himself into a chair in the men’s room and covered his hands with his face. Why did life have to be so hard? He was a smart guy. He’d done everything his parents had advised him to do. Get good grades in school, don’t smoke, watch the drinking and have a good time. He had sailed through high school, reasonably cruised through college and had graduated with honors.
And in between, he’d had his fair share of ladies, all inevitably with the same result. No intelligence, no personality, no passion. At least none that he sparked within them and certainly nothing that came to life within himself.
“Damn!” He swore, rubbing his eyes and lifting his head up, he was surprised to see an advertisement for Dr. Virago’s Magic Potion in a magazine that was lying open near his feet. All this could be his for a mere $350. It would make him feel better. BUT IT”S A POTION! He remembered the Charles Atlas ads in the back of the comic books he used to read. He was the skinny guy who got sand kicked in his face at the beach. He’d never be the stud that won the beautiful girl.
The rest of the night went slowly. He returned to Morley and Chet, drank more beer and a couple of shots and ambled home in a semi-inebriated state. His house was the same as he had left it: quiet and static, lifeless with dust motes and the hum of electrical appliances steadily suckling the AC/DC current. He tossed his keys onto the foyer table, dropped his briefcase at the door and sprawled on the couch, thumbing the remote to the sports station so he could hear the baseball scores.
The commentator segued into a commercial and once again, he saw an advert for Dr. Virago’s Magic Potion. He was stunned into silence for a moment and then laughed. Whoever owned this company was going to make a killing! How many guys would spring for a magic potion that would capture the attention of the woman of your dreams? He made a mental note to call his broker in the morning and find out if the company was public.
The next thing he knew, he was asleep.
She had big brown eyes. That was the first thing he noticed. Huge, chocolate irises surrounded by creamy cappuccino skin and just the lightest dusting of freckles across her nose. She smiled at him, the smile of a confidant, of a friend, of an intimate. She reached out and took his hand, enclosing it in both of her own and rubbing the furred backs with her thumbs. She was saying something. He couldn’t quite understand what she was saying but he had a feeling of being welcome, of belonging. To her.
Then suddenly, her words were as clear as a window pane. “Ryan, I belong to you. Are you going to claim me?”
Work began as usual the next day. Ryan awoke, confused to find himself on the couch but was happy to remember that it was Saturday. He left his suit on the chair with three others that he was planning to take to the dry cleaners and showered, enjoying the crisp sting of cold water on his slumberous skin and his lethargic mind. He scrubbed on auto-pilot, unconsciously trying to remember a dream that he’d had the previous night. A girl with big, brown eyes and freckles, almost like an image from one of his animé movies.
He followed his Saturday schedule. Exercise. Two hours, naked on the treadmill. Breakfast. Three egg whites, two slices of wheat toast and a glass of skim milk. Shower. Quick and cold. Work.
The office was quiet. Ryan heard the typewriters in a couple of cubicles but he went directly to his office, unlocked the door and closed it after he walked in. His secretary, Carolina, had his work laid out for him. Briefs for courts, letters that needed replies, messages that had arrived after hours that she wanted him to see. He grabbed the message stack first, scanning each and assigning a priority to it, if necessary. Most were from fellow lawyers, apprising him of various decisions that had been handed down or changes in scheduled meetings. Nothing that really couldn’t wait to be dealt with until Monday. He took out his steno pad and jotted down notes about each and moved to the next stack.
Again, with the letter stack, he perused each item, highlighted areas and jotted notes in the margins for Carolina. At the bottom of the stack was a letter with a yellow sticky note attached to it from Carolina. If we could buy the patent, we’d be rich! C. It was a glossy advertisement that had been torn from a magazine. Dr. Virago’s Magic Potion. Ryan just stared at the paper, his brain working to process the information. This was just too strange. He slid the envelope from its paper-clipped jail and looked it over. It was blank, except for a postmark, a stamp and a printed label with his address information. Really strange …
He extracted the paper clip and dropped the ad and envelope into the trash, moving on to tackle the briefs and various other legal papers that required his attention. Ryan worked steadily for nearly four hours before the lack of blood in his ass and the stiffness in his back made him stop and take a walk over to the window. It was a beautiful day outside. Cottonball clouds lazily moved overhead, obscuring a deep blue sky and the sun exploded through in lambent rays that warmed his chilled heart.
On an impulse, he opened the pane and closed his eyes, sighing into the caress of the wind on his face and in his hair. He was a just a boy, he thought. A lonely boy that needed someone to play with. He had never felt his loneliness that acutely until now. Down below him, everywhere in the city, hundreds of couples were enjoying each other’s company, making love, playing Frisbee in the park, taking ferry rides, planning futures … everything that should be happening in his life but he seemed to be cursed.
Just then, a gust of wind swept through the room, twirling the contents of his trash can up into the air and depositing the Dr. Virago advert in his hands. Ryan held his breath for a moment, glancing from the basket to the paper in his hands. All this could be mine for a mere $350. Feeling as if he were moving in slow motion, he reached for the phone and dialed the toll-free number on the bottom of the ad.
“Hello, Dr. Virago’s office.”
“Uh … I called to order the magic potion.”
“I see. Your name, please?”
“All right. Hold on a moment, Ryan. I’ll connect you.”
“Can I ask … “ The receiver filled with music and he suffered through a horrid orchestral version of Tom Jones’ Sex Bomb before a deep resonant voice assaulted his ear.
“I am Dr. Virago. I understand that you are interested in buying my potion.”
“Yes. Why do you want to buy my potion?”
Ryan thought for a moment. He’d never been asked that question before, not for anything he’d ever bought. “I thought it would help me.”
“What is it that you need help with?”
“My life.” Ryan admitted wearily. “My whole, entire fucking life.”
“And what’s wrong with your life?”
“Dr. Virago, no offense, but I don’t feel like playing psychiatrist/client just now.”
“I can understand that, Mr. Eastman, but my potion is very special. I don’t just sell it to anyone.”
“You don’t? You’ve been advertising it like crazy.”
“Have I, Mr. Eastman? Do you still have the advertisement?”
“Is there anyone else in the office with you?”
“Um, I don’t know. I think there were a few people earlier but I don’t know about now.”
“Take the ad to someone else and ask them to look at it.”
“Let another person look at the ad. When you’ve done that, call me back.”
“But … “ The line went dead in his hand, leaving him staring confusedly at the receiver. As he hung up the phone, he glanced down at the ad and leaped to his feet. It took him twenty minutes of searching but he finally found someone still in the office. Judy Evans, one of the stenographers, was still in her cubicle, busily translating some documents and singing Barry Manilow. She smiled when he poked his head in.
“Hi, Mr. Eastman.”
“Hi, Judy and it’s Ryan, please.”
“Yes, sir. What can I do for you?”
“Would you take a look at this?”
“Sure.” Ryan closely watched her features as she scanned the paper he had given her. When she was finished, she looked up at him. “Okay.”
“What do you think?”
“I don’t really like the dress but she’s a pretty girl.” Judy grinned. “Are you interested in her?”
Ryan grabbed the advert from her fingers and looked at it. The African mask imprint was still there, along with the information about Dr. Virago’s potion. There was no girl in a dress. He handed it back to Judy. “Judy, tell me what you see.”
Judy laughed. “What?”
“Judy, please!” Ryan shouted, then took a breath. “Just tell me what you see on this paper. Describe it to me.”
“O-Okay.” She took the paper squarely between her hands. “It’s an advertisement for a Vera Wang wedding dress, probably out of Vogue magazine, judging by the quality of the paper. The dress looks very lacey with some kind of Spanish-looking headdress and she’s wearing blunt-toed, square-heeled white shoes. She’s in a park or open space with lots of trees and a pond surrounded with old, dark bricks.” She started to hand the paper back. “Oh, and she had a bouquet of white tulips, hydrangea and baby’s breath.”
Ryan stood there, completely flabbergasted. While she was describing what she was seeing, he had been looking over her shoulder and what he saw never changed. It was still an advertisement for Dr. Virago’s Magic Potion, not a Vera Wang display piece.
“Is that what you wanted, Ryan?”
“Yes, Judy. Thank you.” Ryan numbly found his way back to his office and shut the door, finding his chair and plopping down into it. What the hell was going on He lifted the phone and dialed the numbers.
“Hello, Dr. Virago’s office.”
“Uh, yes. This is Ryan Eastman.”
“Yes, Mr. Eastman. Dr. Virago is expecting your call. Hold on a moment.” More bad on-hold music. This time, they were butchering Heart’s These Dreams. Thankfully, Dr. Virago came on before the second chorus.
“Did you do as I asked?”
“Do you understand why I must ask you the questions that I ask you?”
“I think so, sir.”
“You must understand or I will be forced to conclude that you are not worthy of the potion.”
Ryan fought with himself. He didn’t understand. He didn’t know why Judy saw something different than he did. Was he sick? Crazy? Both? “Dr. Virago, will you answer a question for me?”
“If I’m able.”
“Am I crazy?”
“No, Mr. Eastman. You are not crazy.”
“Then how … “
“You are special.”
“Yes, Mr. Eastman. That’s all I can tell you. Now, would you answer the question I asked you earlier? What’s wrong with your life?”
Ryan rubbed his forehead, covering his eyes as if that would shield him from his own truth. “I’m alone.”
“Everyone is alone in this world, Mr. Eastman. You’ll have to tell me more than that.”
“I’m lonely, okay?” He couldn’t help yelling but he was confused and upset. “I have a great job, great friends, a great apartment and I’m ALL ALONE!”
The other end of the line remained silent for several moments. “And what do you think my magic potion will do for you?”
“Help me find a wife.”
“Is that what you want? A wife?”
“Not a quick fuck or a piece of ass.”
“No, sir.” Ryan had never been a guy that had been interested in a quick fix. The relationships that he’d had had all been long term, probably because he was looking for a replacement for the mother he’d lost to cancer years earlier. He wanted that same comforting, nurturing environment that he’d had with her. If he had to be stressed and stretched in a million directions at work, he wanted to be emotionally pampered at home. “I want a wife, a best friend and a lover all rolled up into one.”
“Do you have any particular preference?”
“No, sir. I just want someone who loves me. Not my money. Me.”
Another long few moments of silence passed. “All right, Mr. Eastman. I think you qualify for the potion.”
Ryan released a deep breath, feeling as if he’d just passed the most important test of his young life. “Thank you, sir.”
“Be at your office at 5:34am EST tomorrow morning. If you are not there precisely at 5:34am EST, the deal is null and void. Bring the $350 fee in cash. You will receive a receipt for the payment and you will receive my potion.”
“I’ll be here, sir.”
“Fine. Good luck, Mr. Eastman. The potion will find you what you’re looking for and will uncover your baser desires if you are not true to your heart. Have a good day.”
The phone went dead in his hand.