Excerpt of The Vanished Man by Jeffery Deaver
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Greetings, Revered Audience. Welcome.
Welcome to our show.
We have a number of thrills in store for you over the next two days as our illusionists, our magicians, our sleight-of-hand artists weave their spells to delight and captivate you.
Our first routine is from the repertoire of a performer everyone's heard of: Harry Houdini, the greatest escape artist in America, if not the world, a man who performed before crowned heads of state and U.S. presidents. Some of his escapes are so difficult no one has dared attempt them, all these years after his untimely death.
Today we'll re-create an escape in which he risked suffocation in a routine known as the Lazy Hangman.
In this trick, our performer lies prone on the belly, hands bound behind the back with classic Darby handcuffs. The ankles are tied together and another length of rope is wound around the neck, like a noose, and tied to the ankles. The tendency of the legs to straighten pulls the noose taut and begins the terrible process of suffocation.
Why is it called the "Lazy" Hangman? Because the condemned executes himself.
In many of Mr. Houdini's more dangerous routines, assistants were present with knives and keys to release him in the event that he was unable to escape. Often a doctor was on hand.
Today, there'll be none of these precautions. If there's no escape within four minutes, the performer will die.
We begin in a moment...but first a word of advice:
Never forget that by entering our show you're abandoning reality.
What you're absolutely convinced you see might not exist at all. What you know has to be an illusion may turn out to be God's harsh truth.
Your companion at our show might turn out to be a total stranger. A man or woman in the audience you don't recognize may know you far too well.
What seems safe may be deadly. And the dangers you guard against may be nothing more than distractions to lure you to greater danger.
In our show what can you believe? Whom can you trust?
Well, Revered Audience, the answer is that you should believe nothing.
And you should trust no one. No one at all.
Now, the curtain rises, the lights dim, the music fades, leaving only the sublime sound of hearts beating in anticipation.
And our show begins....
The building looked as if it'd seen its share of ghosts.
Gothic, sooty, dark. Sandwiched between two high-rises on the Upper West Side, capped with a widow's walk and many shuttered windows. The building dated from the Victorian era and had been a boarding school at one point and later a sanatorium, where the criminally insane lived out their frazzled lives.
The Manhattan School of Music and Performing Arts could have been home to dozens of spirits.
But none so immediate as the one who might be hovering here now, above the warm body of the young woman lying, stomach down, in the dim lobby outside a small recital hall. Her eyes were still and wide but not yet glassy, the blood on her cheek was not yet brown.
Her face was dark as plum from the constriction of the taut rope connecting her neck to her ankles.
Scattered around her were a flute case, sheet music and a spilled grande cup from Starbucks, the coffee staining her jeans and green Izod shirt and leaving a comma of dark liquid on the marble floor.
Also present was the man who'd killed her, bending down and examining her carefully. He was taking his time and felt no urge to rush. Today was Saturday, the hour early. There were no classes in the school on the weekends, he'd learned. Students did use the practice rooms but they were in a different wing of the building. He leaned closer to the woman, squinting, wondering if he could see some essence, some spirit rising from her body. He didn't.
From The Vanished Man by Jeffery Deaver. Copyright Jeffery Deaver 2003. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the publisher, Simon & Schuster