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About the Author
Copyright © 2010 by Jack Stratton
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
Writing Dirty Press writingdirty.com
The office of the small town newspaper was always abuzz with something. Gossip, local dramas, sometimes even real story might trickle down from one of the big cities. Latham was a sleepy New England hamlet. A travel guide once wrote that it was “a community that seemed completely composed of bed-and-breakfasts.”
Penelope wore about four different hats at the Latham Ledger. Being the youngest person in the office by nearly twenty years, she would review any movies deemed “targeted to young people.” She also kept track of scholastic news for the local high schools and the small junior college, as well as working the phones and taking down things like classifieds. It was in this last capacity that she met a most interesting fellow one autumn morning.
The phone rang at nine, which was unusual for a Monday.
“Latham Ledger, Penelope Miller speaking,” she cheerfully answered.
“Good morning. I am sorry to trouble you, but I wish to place an advertisement in your classified section,” said a crisp voice on the other end. He pronounced “advertisement” in the British manner and that made her smile for some reason.
“Of course, sir. Can I have your name or the company’s name?”
There was a slight pause and a short sigh.
“Might I ask you, young lady, if you are a trustworthy sort?” The man seemed suddenly serious.
It was Penelope who now paused.
“I suppose? I mean, this isn’t a... I mean... what is the manner of this classified ad?”
The man scoffed loudly.
“I assure you, my intention is not to request something perverse... though some might argue.” He drifted off for a moment. “Magic, miss. Magic. I am a magician: illusionist, mystic, prognosticator, hypnotist, and escape artist.”
Penelope smiled as she jotted down these facts.
“Well, I hope you aren’t planning on advertising all of those titles or it will cost you a pretty penny.”
“A pretty penny? Perhaps you’ve been called that? Penelope, Penny, eh? Ah, but that is neither here nor there. I am called Asmirac. The Astonishing Asmirac, or so my former manager dubbed me. As I’m sure your newspaper is familiar, alliteration is an arrow into memory; but we have digressed. My name is Ambrose, Anderson Ambrose, and I only asked if you were trustworthy because I don’t tell my real name to many.”
“Oh, well I’m honored then, Mr. Ambrose. Now how can I help you?”
“I procured a one-page ad in your periodical for my show, which is a fortnight from now at your civic center. I also need to run a classified ad to find a new assistant. I’m afraid my current one has taken ill and is returning to her home in the west.”
Penelope was intrigued. A magician in their little town? He must have been doing a tour of the little New England towns.
“I can help you with that. Do you have a specific wording you wanted for the ad, Mr. Ambrose?”
“Of course. Oh, and please call me Anderson. And you are, as you said, Penny?”
“Penelope? Never Penny? Pretty pennies placed on drug store counters can purchase precise if piquant peppermint pleasures; no?”
“I’m sorry?” She was confused by his little poem, though the images of childhood and innocence made her smile a bit.
“Never you mind, just another alliteration lingering in my thoughts. Anyhow, the ad should read thusly: ‘Wanted: Magician’s Assistant. Must be female, early to mid-twenties. Fit, attractive, fearless, and able to take direction. A background in drama a plus. Must be willing to travel around the country and possibly the world. Pay is abysmal and you will sleep in a cramped trailer or, when the pay is good, a dingy motel, but it will be the adventure of a lifetime.”
Penelope typed it out as he repeated it and then she read it back.
“I’ve got it, Mr.—I mean Anderson. It doesn’t sound like you’re going to get many takers in this town, but good luck to you.”
“We will see. It is always surprising, those flowers that grow in hidden fields. Some people would jump at the chance for an adventure.”
Penelope shrugged, but found herself still smiling at the man’s charismatic nature.
“The most fragrant and festive flowers are found foremost in frightening and forlorn fields, don’t you find?”
Every word was enunciated perfectly and Penelope was left silent on her side of the phone.
“Isn’t that true, Penny?” the magician asked, pointedly.
“Um, I suppose,” she whispered.
“Isn’t it time you had an adventure, Penny?” His voice was deep, but melodic.
“I... I would like to go on an adventure, but I’m not an actress,” she said, now picturing a life of travel and fun. She imagined the roar of a crowd and her face illuminated by spotlights.
“Poor pretty Penny. Perhaps pondering, pensively, a particularly precarious and provocative job preference... Tell me, Penny, are you fit and attractive?”
She instincts told her to say no, flat out, but this was serious, this was a job interview. She blushed a little as she looked at herself in her slight reflection in chrome of her typewriter.
“I’m... I mean, I’ve been told I am attractive. I’m relatively fit. I mean, I’m not overweight. I’m a bit curvy, though, I’ve been told I’m finally getting out of my awkward phase...” she trailed off, realizing she was babbling on.
“Perfect,” was the only reply.
She felt decidedly odd, but the idea of adventure suddenly thrilled her. She was sure she couldn’t do it. She was taking library science correspondence courses and her mother counted on her far too much.
“Penny, you may have saved me the cost of a classified ad. I’ll tell you what, why don’t you hold off on the ad for a day and you can meet me for a drink tonight and we can see if you are right for the job? Yes?”
Penny looked down at the notes she’d taken. She nervously shuffled papers as she held the phone to her ear with her shoulder.
“Oh, I couldn’t, I mean, I have a job and I’m very busy-”
“Nonsense. One drink couldn’t hurt, could it? Could a curious chat, a compendious little conversation, really confuse your calm and collected life? Surely it couldn’t hurt to talk about it.”
She wanted to say no, but the barrage of words left her dizzy for some reason.
“Excellent, I’ll see you at six. The pub next my lodging seems to have a well stocked bar and a fairly competent cook. The Pig and Whistle, I believe it’s called? I’ll meet you there. I will be the man with the red handkerchief in his pocket.”
With that, the Amazing Asmirac hung up the phone, and Penelope blinked a few times trying to figure out what had just happened.
After the call Penelope’s day seemed to fly by. Her mind was focused on getting through the monotony so that she could be her best, make her best impression, during the strange interview she had coming up. She even went to the length of rushing home at lunch so that she could change her clothes. She opened her closet and rummaged through everything she owned looking for something that looked “adventurous” or “daring.” Anything to stand out in this little boring town.