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Magic Cat and the Girl in the Shadows
About the Author: Jack Bates writes from the back room of an old house. He is a three time finalist for a Derringer Award from the Short Mystery Fiction Society. He's also optioned a screenplay which won an award for writing.

Gia Marie Carroll had two college degrees though she didn’t use either in her current job as The Magic Cat. Nope. A Bachelor’s of Arts in English and a Master’s in Post Mayan Studies had very little value when she was materializing Doily, her pet Singapura, inside an empty cage at kiddie birthday parties. She wore a black cat costume with an attached hood that came down over her eyes and had little cat ears. Often times the dads came out of their caves or abandoned the barbecue to watch her act much to the chagrin of the moms.

Sometimes the tips were big. Sometimes they weren’t.  Gia had a feeling this job was going to be one of those where they weren’t. The mom, a woman named Stacie Maher who struggled with being the mom of a six year old girl at the age of thirty-two, had been okay at the booking. Things changed the minute Gia came out of the half-bath in her costume. Stacie’s demeanor cooled. Midway through the show, Stacie and a couple of the other moms slipped out the patio door for cigarettes and cocktails in red plastic cups.

One woman remained inside. She hovered over the tray of cut vegetables set out on the kitchen island. A moment later the birthday girl’s father wandered into the room. Gia had only met him that morning. There was a Prince Charming smile on his rugged face. He was the kind of guy who would roll around in the grass with a pack of puppies. All giggles and yips.

The woman smiled back. They spoke in low voices. He leaned his tall frame on spread-out arms over the island. She shifted a finger to touch his nearest hand. He lifted his pinkie and wrapped it over hers. The patio door slid open and the hands quickly shuffled apart as one of the outdoor moms came in for a refill.

“Am I interrupting something?”

The dad grabbed a stalk of celery. “No, Jane. You’re not.”

Jane pushed her glasses up on her nose. She poured from the strawberry margarita pitcher. Gia became her new target though Jane didn’t say anything. Gia heard everything Jane thought.

“And now, ladies, it’s time to bring Doily back!” Gia announced. She showed them an empty cage designed like a miniature, old fashion circus parade carriage. She swung a black and red cape over the cage. When she removed it, Doily, her tiny Singapura mewed at the girls.

Maddie, the birthday girl looked around the room.

One of the girls asked, “What are you looking for, Maddie?”

“Where Doily came from.”

The show over, Gia shed her Magic Cat skin in the half bath. She took a moment to freshen up secretly hoping the session would end with the dad. She found Mrs. Maher and her confederate, Jane, outside saying goodbye. Book bag over the shoulder of the arm she used to carry Doily’s cage, Gia approached the women.

“Well, thank you for the opportunity,” Gia said. “They were a very good audience.” Then again, she’d used an old form of spectator manipulation taught to her by her mentor. A snap or two of her fingers and repeatedly using buzz words like ‘watch’ or ‘listen’ or ‘see’ and quicker than she could make Doily appear that’s all the girls did.

“I like your cat,” the birthday girl said.  “Where does it go?”

“She lives with me.”

“Shelly Karnowski said the cat went to the shadows.”

“You mean when I make Doily disappear.”

The little girl nodded. “Shelly said it’s not safe in the shadows.”

“Go say goodbye to your friends, Maddie,” Stacie Maher said.

Maddie skipped passed her mother’s white SUV to a smaller car. Gia hated to see the child go. It left her alone with the women.

“The girls liked your tricks,” Jane said.

Gia smiled politely. She hated it when people said she did tricks. She didn’t do tricks. She did effects.

Gia produced business cards. “Well, if either of you have parties coming up—”

“Shelly wants a petting zoo,” Jane said.

Gia turned to a third mom. The woman smiled, reached for the card. A raised eyebrow from Stacie and Jane made the mom hesitate. She took the card and looked at it, and asked, “Do you just do kid parties?”

“No. I do corporate shows as well.”

Jane pounced. “In the same cat suit?”

“It’s part of my act.”

“Do you take a pole with you?”

Stacie Maher put an end to the exchange. “Thank you for coming out.”

No tip.

This story appears in our FEB 2018 Issue
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