A 1993 profile of Ricky Jay, one of the world’s great sleight-of-hand conjurers, historian of unusual entertainments and confidence scams, and bibliomaniac; who rarely performs and never for children.
A single mother and her children attend an Alaskan cruise ship magic show.
"The magician from Luxembourg did his tricks, which seemed more sophisticated than those of his predecessors. Maybe because they involved roses? Before him there had been merely carnations. The roses, this was a step up. Women holding roses appeared in boxes, boxes on wheels, and the man from Luxembourg turned these boxes around and around. Then he opened the boxes, and the women were not there; they were somewhere else. Behind screens! In the audience!"
A farmer's marriage to a Native American woman is plagued by problems and supernatural phenomena.
"The other thing about Lily that half-annoyed and half-charmed me was her belief in all sorts of supernatural horseshit. I figured she couldn’t help it, for the most part, being unavoidably disposed to things like honoring her dead ancestors and crop ceremonies and who knows what else; but every once in a while she took it too far. One of the biggest arguments we ever had came after I found her tacking up little bundles of bones and animal guts over all the windows and doors of the farmhouse. She’d gotten it into her head that the farmer’s spirit was still wilting around in the rafters of the front porch. He was just melancholy now, she said, she could feel it; but he might turn malevolent if we didn’t communicate to him that he didn’t live here anymore, that he needed to cross over."
Memories of the magical, enlightened daughter of a religious leader.
"It was in this moment that we began to wonder when her father might sense these happenings and descend upon us; when we turned to look, he had only just begun his approach, had only just caught sight of his daughter. He betrayed no surprise but drew himself up, preparing to mete judgment, and quickened his step as though eager to commence the necessary violence—"
Workers and diners in a British cafe experience a small act of weather-related magic.
"None of the others notice Tommy pull up a chair and seat himself next to the counter, his eyes level with the cup. The furious churn of the storm grips him. He hears a hurried tinkling as tiny fists of hail sugar the bottom of the cup. For the first time in years he does not think of Alice. The storm’s rumble elongates, thunder and lightening overlapping. A tinny crescendo rattles inside the ceramic shelter of the cup."
Loss, redemption, and magic highlight a friendship between two different men.
"He was standing beside the Cutlass, looking at Billy with an old man's expectant smile, waiting for him to unlock the door and hold it for him till he'd placed his still-calcium-rich but nonetheless old bones in the passenger seat. Billy stared at him, trying to figure out what was at risk if he unlocked that door. Then he snorted a tiny laugh, unlocked the door, held it for Gaspar as he seated himself, slammed it and went around to unlock the other side and get in. Gaspar reached across and thumbed up the door lock knob. And they drove off together in the rain."
A profile of Apollo Robbins, widely regarded as the world’s best pickpocket.