Welcome to my Free Short Story. I’ll be putting a new one up every month so be sure not to miss it.
Here’s the story for April:
They suspected Daniel Dynamic because he was a Magician. He could pull a rabbit out of a hat or make a woman disappear. It was this last trick that caused all the trouble. If it hadn’t been for Alain Du Beck, the female impersonator, he’d have got away with his shenanigans.
It was the week of the Bournemouth Festival. The manicured lawns, magnificent fountains and flower beds of Lower Gardens had been transformed into a Victorian Pleasure Garden. It was to be a week of glorious spectacle including classical concerts, music hall entertainments, animal acts, exotic street performers, magicians, dining, dancing, fireworks and even a hot air balloon; a step back in time, an atmospheric and appropriate tribute to the forerunner of today’s theme parks.
Daniel and Maggie booked into the nineteenth century Bella Vista Hotel where they were impressed by the warmth of the welcome. The staff couldn’t have been more friendly and helpful. The hotel boasted a genuine Victorian fireplace in the lounge. Another attraction was the promise of an exhibition showcasing a collection of Victorian Jewellery, including a replica of the sapphire and diamond brooch given by Prince Albert to the Queen which she wore on her wedding day. That was certain to be worth a look.
It had been a long drive and Daniel left Maggie to freshen up in their room while he went to the theatre to check the arrangements. He’d hoped to unload the van and leave his props there, but to his horror found there’d been a mix up and they couldn’t take anything in until the next morning. He didn’t want to leave his stuff in the van overnight as the locks were a bit dodgy, so to his dismay, his precious props would have to be stored at the hotel.
“You can leave them in my office,” the hotel manager said and gave Daniel a key.
Daniel sighed with relief. “You’ve saved my life,” he said. The thought of lumping his stuff up the stairs to their room on the third floor had made his heart sink. An elderly porter and the young man on Reception helped with the unloading and storing in the office.
Afterwards, on his way up to his room Daniel ran into Alain Du Beck. They’d both been in the business for longer than Daniel cared to remember and Alain and his wife were like family.
“Daniel,” Alain said. “I didn’t know you were staying here. Is your charming with you? You must both join me for dinner.” Daniel blanched. His wife had never in her life been charming but it was an invitation he could hardly refuse from someone he’d shared a stage with on so many occasions.
Daniel and Alain ate in the hotel restaurant. Daniel gave his wife’s apologies, “She’s a bit under the weather,” he said. “So I’m afraid you’ll just have to put up with me.” Alain’s wife never travelled with him.
The evening passed pleasantly enough as they talked about the Festival where they would performing. Daniel had a steak tender as a lover’s heart and Alain had the salmon. Daniel had a sandwich sent up to Maggie in their room.
The next morning dawned bright and sunny. At breakfast Alain remarked again upon Daniel’s wife’s absence.
“She’s still unwell,” he said.
“Perhaps you should call a Doctor?” Alain suggested.
“No, I’m sure she’ll be fine later on. A touch of summer flu, nothing serious,” he lied without even blushing.
After breakfast Daniel and Alain went into the lounge for coffee. The curator of the exhibition was there and a couple of ladies also enjoying their morning pot of tea. The Jewellery had yet to be put on display.
Feeling sociable Daniel decided to entertain his fellow guests with some magic tricks. He turned to the curator of the forthcoming exhibition, took his hand in greeting and surreptitiously slid his gold watch from his wrist. The curator looked properly chastened when Daniel produced his watch, wrapped it in a hanky and smashed it to smithereens against the Victorian fireplace. Then he persuaded one of the ladies to give him her antique aquamarine dress ring.
“You’re not going to smash that up too are you,” she said, laughing nervously.
“No. It’s too beautiful for that,” he joked. He wrapped it in a hanky and made it disappear.
They were both suitably impressed when the ring reappeared in the curator’s jacket pocket and the intact watch was found in the young lady’s handbag. They chortled with relief as their items were restored. Daniel thrilled at the ease with which he had fooled them.
“Must be a heavy responsibility,” the young lady said to the curator. “I mean, security and that. So easy to lose one’s jewellery isn’t it?” she said wistfully looking at her newly returned ring.
The curator smiled. “No problem,” he said. “All locked away in the manager’s safe. I put it there myself.” He oozed reassurance. Daniel thought he looked a bit shifty.
After coffee, ably assisted by the staff, Daniel carried his gear out to the waiting van.
“Blow me, this ain’t half heavy,” the young lad helping said. “What you got in here – a body?”
Daniel chuckled. He was just about to get into the van for the drive to the theatre when the hotel manager came running out.
“There’s been a theft,” he said. His face burned so bright you could have toasted crumpets on it. “I’ve called the police. Nobody leaves. Everyone will be searched.”
He ushered all the guests, including Daniel, into the lounge.
“It’s the Queen’s Sapphire – it’s gone,” he said. “When the curator opened the safe this morning the brooch had gone – vanished into thin air.” He glared at Daniel. Daniel knew exactly what he was thinking.
The police interviewed all the guests and searched them as well as searching the hotel from top to bottom. They checked everyone’s whereabouts. They even searched Daniel’s van, pulling out his precious equipment, dumping it in the road and going through his hampers and boxes in what Daniel thought a most insulting manner. They found nothing, except that Daniel’s wife was missing.
“I haven’t seen her since she booked in,” the Receptionist said.
Alain said he hadn’t seen her at all – in fact no one had seen her since she arrived. A police constable checked Daniel’s room. There was no sign of Maggie anywhere. All her things had gone. She’d disappeared, just like the Queen’s brooch. Apart from the curator Daniel was the only one who’d been in the manager’s office that morning.
All eyes swivelled to stare at Daniel. He felt the red hot daggers of suspicion headed his way. What could he say? He couldn’t tell them the truth about marvellous Maggie, how she’d left in a huff when he told her she’d have to stay in the room as he couldn’t afford for Alain to see her. Alain would tell Daniel’s wife Edna about Maggie and all hell would break loose.
“You liar,” she’d screamed at him. “You promised me a week of fun and frolics. You said we could spend time together. You said you loved me. You never said I’d be holed up like some fugitive or someone you was ashamed to be seen with.” Tears streamed down her face twisted in rage. She’d thrown the lamp at him, the kettle, the teacups, the cushions. He’d beat a hasty retreat and when he returned after dinner she was gone. He had hoped that when she’d calmed down she’d see reason…
He couldn’t even tell them his wife was safe at home in case they rang her. Cold sweat ran down his back. If Edna found out about Maggie her retribution would be brutal, life threatening even, no, he couldn’t risk that.
“She’s probably gone for a walk,” he said, heart pounding.
“What with her suitcase? Her clothes are gone – so’s the missing brooch.” The police Inspector eyed him sceptically. “I think you’d better come with me.”
Daniel glanced around helplessly, looking for some support. None was forthcoming.
He knew it was Maggie. She’d set him up. Stupidly he’d left the keys to the manager’s office in his room when he went out to dinner. This was Maggie’s revenge … she’d learned a thing or two on the circuit. The safe in the manager’s office would be a doddle to an expert like Maggie. Her father was a safe-cracker. Daniel’s heart turned over, his mind raced. If only he could get out of this cell, he could find her and prove it. All he needed was a way out – shouldn’t be too difficult, he thought, after all he was the master of misdirection, the illustrious illusionist, the Magician.
If you enjoyed this story there are many more in my Short Story Collections here.
“Ow!” Steve grimaced as he banged his knee. “Will this be here much longer?” he said. “I don’t mean to be awkward, but it’s been months.”
Maggie sighed. He was right. Her mum’s old treadle standing in their narrow hallway, was more than a minor irritation. “I’ll get it moved as soon as I can,” she said.
She groaned inwardly. It had meant so much to Grace, Maggie’s mum, and had been part of her life for more years than anyone cared to remember. Maggie’s childhood revolved around her mum’s work at the sewing machine, night and day it seemed now. Memories of falling asleep to the soft whirr and rhythmic pounding of the treadle in the next room echoed in her brain. A dressmaker by trade, her mother made all their clothes. She made curtains and sewed shirts and sheets. She even made the rag rug on the floor from cuttings and left over material. Grace and her sewing machine were inextricably linked in Maggie’s mind. Still, Steve had a point, in the hall of their modern bungalow it was an eyesore and an obstacle.
“If I can’t find a home for it by next week I’ll take it down the tip,” Maggie assured him, but disappointment churned in her stomach. When Grace moved in with her and Steve they’d had no room to keep much of her stuff, only the small nick-knacks and photos she could keep in her room. All the big stuff had had to go. It was hard enough for her to give up her tiny flat, she’d always been so independent, but they all knew it was for the best. Still, it tore Maggie’s heart out to see her mother’s life disappearing into the back of the charity shop van. Every item held a precious memory. Her favourite armchair, the sideboard where she kept her best china, the everyday crockery, cherished over years. Everything seemed so much part of her. Maggie saw her Mum’s lips quiver and tears fill her eyes when the men brought out the treadle.
“Can’t take that,” the driver said. “No market nowadays for old relics.”
A look of relief flitted across Grace’s face, swift as a dragonfly, but her happiness was short-lived. They both knew it would have to go.
“I’ll find a good home for it,” Maggie promised, leading her away. “Somewhere it will be appreciated.”
Grace smiled gratefully and nodded.
The man at the museum had a kind face. Tall, with a ginger moustache, he reminded Maggie of the young chap who used to call on her Mum every couple of weeks, bringing her bundles of work and collecting the finished pieces. Most days she’d be sewing well into the night.
“Just think,” she used to say. “My dresses are being sold in the top fashion houses in London.” Her face would shine brighter than the sun in August. Maggie felt hopeful.
The man sighed when she explained the reason for her visit. “Just the treadle, you say. No actual sewing machine?”
She shook her head. “The machine was electrified. It went years ago, but Mum kept the treadle.” She remembered it, just as it used to be, under the window in Grace’s tiny sitting room. She’d kept it covered with an embroidered cloth and her favourite photos stood proudly on it. Some days she just sat in front of it, staring at the world out of her window. “It’s an old friend in a changing world,” she used to say.
He shrugged. “Follow me,” he said. He took Maggie to a room at the back of the museum. A line of sewing machines, dating from the earliest Singer up to the present day, stood along one wall. “Might have been of interest if you’d had the machine,” he said. “But, not just the treadle.”
The man in the Antique Shop wasn’t much help either. “Just the base?” he said. “Now, if you had the machine as well…” He raised his eyebrows. “Sorry,” he said.
They all squeezed past it for a couple more days, Maggie patting it each time she passed. “Don’t worry,” she said, “I’ll find you a good home,” but she was rapidly losing confidence.
The next day Steve came in with two trays of tomato plants for the garden. He struggled to pass the treadle. He didn’t say anything, but Maggie saw the flash of annoyance in his eyes when several lumps of soil fell from the trays onto the carpet.
She tried the local retirement home. A nostalgia piece she called it and described the ornate ironwork on the legs and the solid oak top with the hollow for the machine. “Bound to bring back memories for some of your residents,” she said, hopefully.
“Might be worth something for the ironwork,” the Matron said. “Try the scrap yard.”
Maggie’s face fell and her heart somersaulted in her chest. She imagined the look of horror on her mother’s face. She’d wring her hands and tears would fill her eyes.
“No thanks,” she said. “I’d rather stick it in the bathroom and sit on it.” She couldn’t of course: it would never fit.
She wandered the streets for a while, trying to find a solution. Steve was a wonderful, patient man, but he had his limits.
She walked home, full of dread, feeling like she’d let her Mum down. “That treadle saved us from starvation,” Grace used to say. Maggie’s dad died far too young and her mother’s work had been their saviour. Her earnings kept the wolf from the door. Her face would soften with affection when she looked at the treadle. Her sentimental attachment was obvious. It was more than wood and metal to her.
Maggie arrived home just as the young man from the garden centre pulled up in his van. “I’ve got that compost you ordered,” he said. “I’ll bring it through.”
Maggie’s heart sank. He’ll never get two enormous bales of compost past the obstacle in the hall, she thought.
She thought wrong. He hoisted the first bag onto his shoulder and strode up the path, leaving her in his wake.
“Wow,” he said when he saw the treadle. He swung the bale of compost onto the floor and crouched down gazing at it. He ran his hands over the ironwork and inspected the still intact leather belt. “How fantastic,” he said. “Just the thing for the garden.” His eyes shone like fairy lights.
“The garden?” Maggie said, puzzled.
“Yes. Paint it white and put plants in the hollow where the machine used to be.” He grinned. “Make a great talking point,” he said.
He was right. The treadle looked a treat standing under the kitchen window, brimming with Grace’s favourite red geraniums. That summer Maggie sat with her mum on the patio, sipping tea. She couldn’t help but smile when she saw the twinkle of pleasure in her mum’s cornflower blue eyes.
“I’m glad you found a home for it,” she said. “Moving in with you was difficult enough without giving up all my treasures.”
If you enjoyed this story there are plenty more in my short story collections here.