By Erwin K. Roberts
Kansas City, Missouri
The man emerged from the vehicle with a cane in each hand. Worn much by age, but still sturdy, the one in the left hand qualified, as they used to say, as a gentleman’s walking stick. The other featured a nicely done wood grain finish which could not hide the fact that it had four feet.
With a slow but firm stride the old man stepped toward the metal doors. Two small boys sped ahead of him. The youngest pulled the outer door open with some difficulty. He held it firmly open as his great-grandfather stepped through. The older boy easily kept the inner door fully open. He obviously wanted to say something, ask something. He remained quiet as his father told him to.
The old man stopped ten steps into the huge Rotunda. For the first time he allowed his eyes to rise above the floor in front of him. He gazed at the familiar spaces now looking as they did in 1914 when he first saw it. He had been five years old in the year Union Station opened. He vividly remembered the awe in his father’s voice while asking him to hold one of the same doors for an older man with a Civil War pin in his lapel.
The family gathered in a semi-circle behind him. They watched his head turn in all directions. The younger door holder pulled on his father’s sleeve. With a finger to his lips the man knelt beside his son.
“Why is Granda crying Dad?” the boy whispered.
“Remember, this is where he worked for more than thirty years keeping people safe. Now they’ve made it look like new again. I guess he feels something like you and your brother did when your puppy turned up again after being missing three weeks.”
The old man stretched his shoulders then resumed his walk. He headed to where the cavernous North Waiting Room branched off from the Rotunda. He paused to tip his fedora to a young woman dressed in the uniform of a Fred Harvey waitress from more than half a century ago. Finally he stopped in the center of the juncture of the two huge rooms. Two cars could have passed safely on either side of him with room for a motorcycle and sidecar to spare.
He stared into the waiting room for a moment. Then slowly he turned to his family, “Here we are,” he said firmly. “The crossroads of the whole mid-west. The meeting place everybody in the city could find. Under the clock at Union Station.”
“You must have seen a lot of people here, Granda,” said the older boy as everybody settled on some of the benches.
“Right you are, Sean. I once did some figuring. In my time here I must have personally seen about a million people. Met a fair number of them, too. Ordinary people. A President, or two. Lots of celebrities. Knew Walter Cronkite when he first started out. Once, down by that next gate, George Chance, the master magician, and my team, caught a crook who turned kids your age to crime. That was about sixty years ago…”
The illuminated clock across the street read 2:47 when George Chance stepped on to the sidewalk that November, 1938, early morning in Kansas City. In the dim streetlights he looked as if he was smoking until the light wind dissipated the fog of his breath. Behind him the slow and easy jazz music continued. Continued as it probably would until after dawn.
His body felt as if it should have left much earlier. His mind wanted to stay until the last note faded away. Too bad I’ve got the kids’ show this afternoon, he thought. Five hundred kids, eager, curious, and under-privileged. A magician’s dream. Or worst nightmare. Sometimes both, he mused as he headed west on 18th Street.
Then a breeze originating back on Brooklyn Street spun around him. The smell of meats in the smoker at Bryant’s Barbecue made his mouth water. Another stop he needed to make in this wide open town. He chuckled. Success in his profession meant he could both order ribs and sit in a jazz club. He’d first come to town at the height, or low, of Prohibition. Back then some of his eating money went for his love of jazz, instead.
Crossing the divided Boulevard known as The Paseo he pulled on his gloves and adjusted his fedora more firmly. He thought about the last few hours. Seated at the club’s bar he’d nursed a few drinks. He struck up a conversation a time or two. Or he’d just let the music flow over him. And nobody recognized him. Not a chance. For George Chance, master magician and illusionist, had entertained the hoy-poloy at a major charity fund raiser earlier in the evening. Then he’d joined some of the wealthiest members of the community at the Kansas City Club until at least midnight. That George Chance should be sleeping at his suite at the world famous Coats House. The Hotel of Presidents.
Now the real George Chance, wearing a different face walked down 18th Street, headed for the rail yards. As yet he didn’t have a permanent name for the face he wore. That would come. That would come.
Glenn Saunders, his new and secret double, slumbered in George Chance’s hotel suite. And the rightful tenant of that suite walked toward the city’s crossroad and his private coach on Siding Seven.
Chance paused before crossing Gilliam. Days sometimes blended together while on the road. But now he remembered. Just one week from this chill morning was Thanksgiving Day. Back when, George spent a few wretched Thanksgivings in cheap soulless hotels or boarding houses. Suddenly he laughed out loud. He remembered the year that the Horwitz brothers and their pardner Fienberg took pity on him. They dragged him to a friends’ place in Cleveland. There he feasted on turkey with all the Kosher trimmings. And genuine compassionate hospitality.
And when success came to him George Chance paid the guys back, and then some. Plus he always tried to pass their generosity on to others. What form that would take this year, he did not yet know. That too would come.
South on Main Street he walked. In fact, he went further than he needed to. On the up-ramp of the viaduct over the rail yards he looked up from a passing freight on the ever busy tracks. Looked up beyond the backside of Union Station. For on the hill beyond the rail yards stood a sight that rarely failed to thrill him. Near the hill’s top stood a tall retaining wall with two low buildings atop it. Centered between them a lighted stone tower reached over two hundred feet into the stars of the night sky. Atop the tower glowed an Eternal Flame.
George Chance doffed his fedora. He always did. For this was the Liberty Memorial. Built by public subscription, this shrine honored all who fell in the cause of freedom during the Great War. The War to end all wars.
George could not have told you how long he stood there. But finally he retraced his steps to enter the Warehouse District adjacent to Freight Yards of the Terminal Railroad Association. Near Twenty-Second Street and Wyandotte he skirted a long single story storage and transshipment building. A chain link fence with a watchman’s shack blocked direct track access. Over the fence and a long block west lay his private coach and baggage car.
He carried a letter of introduction from George Chance matching the Illinois Driver’s License he carried under the name Roger Carter. If necessary he could call Glenn Sanders at the Coats House for verification. He ambled up to the watch shack.
It was empty. Not surprising, in the wee small hours. With few visitors the guard spent most of his time walking the fences and tracks. George settled in to the pool of light around the shack to wait. Then he noticed something. Or thought he did.
Out of his pocket came a tiny flashlight. He placed the lens against the shack window and squeezed the switch for an instant. An instant turned out to be all he needed. First, he verified that the shack door lay open an inch or two. No guard would leave the door ajar in this weather. Second, the phone connecting to the Union Station switchboard lay on the floor. Bare wires showed the instrument’s former connection to the side wall.
George swarmed up the ten foot chain link fence like a sailor climbing a sailing ship’s rigging. An instant later he vaulted the top to drop back to the ground. His fedora almost left his head as he rushed to the shack. Under the work desk panel at the front he found a bound body. A live one, fortunately. George slipped the small knife out of his sleeve. Seconds later the man slumped into a more comfortable position. Out cold, thought George.
The phone turned out to be too busted up to reconnect. He twisted the wires coming out of the wall together. That ought to set off the switchboard’s buzzer off. Help should come quickly. With that he checked the guard’s breathing again, then ventured out into the rail yards.
Quietly he hurried to his own cars. A quick inspection showed no sign of tampering. Not surprising. His special alarms followed no known pattern. Tripped they played march music that could be heard all the way to City Hall. Not to mention setting off skyrockets.
His eyes now used to the semi-darkness he scanned the yards. This fenced off section served several bonded warehouses on the nearby streets. Special shipments waited here. And special cars, like his own.
The freight train he’d seen earlier now rumbled distantly in the direction of St. Louis. He listened for other sounds. He heard nothing but everyday rail yard sounds, at first. Then came another sound in the direction of the corner of the fenced area past his cars. The sound of breaking glass. Followed by the faintest of sounds that probably indicated muffled cursing.
George rushed past the end of his baggage car. Two tracks over, near the big track gate in the fence sat a metal covered boxcar. The car was not there when George had last visited his own rolling stock. In the dim light he could see several short figures moving between the center of that car and the northwest corner of the fence.
Glancing around he spotted a track switch a bit nearer the boxcar. Fishing in the pocket of his sports coat he pulled out the small Lica camera he’d used earlier to take pictures of the Duke and those who sat in with him. This he balanced on the flat handle of the switch. Ever so carefully he worked the lever that left the camera’s shutter open.
Now he stepped to the side. Reaching under his left arm he removed a tube from the harness strapped there. He thumbed the tube open to roll one of four spheres into his hand.
Hand in throwing position, he yelled, “Hey RUBE!” as he threw the sphere. All motion at the boxcar stopped for an instant. And in that instant the sphere exploded in front of the tableau with a huge flash of light.
Hand covering his eyes, George waited out the flash. Then he jumped back to the switch to close the camera shutter and re-pocket it. By that time a gun spat flame in the direction he had yelled from.
“Get moving, dammit!” came the gunman’s hoarse shout as he fired another round. The muzzle flash outlined the man as he stood in the open door of the boxcar. Down came George’s hand as he threw his sleeve knife. An outraged cry of pain filled that part of the yard a second later.
Now George heard rushing footsteps from the direction of Union Station.
“Circle west. On the double!” rumbled a voice from the same direction. George recognized that voice. Help had arrived.
The day before…
George’s party arrived in Kansas City nearly two hours late. The passenger train pulling them struck a car near rural Warrensburg, Missouri. The hand wringing manager of the Midland Theater grabbed his star attraction almost before the train stopped rolling. Up Main Street they roared to be fashionably late for their own press conference.
A few hours later Tiny Tim Terry, his road manager told him, “The Head Bull at Union Station says he knows you. From Nicaragua, of all places. You ever been to Nicaragua, George?”
“Not officially,” he replied with a shudder. “I went to Costa Rica for the State Department years ago. Then I got caught up in a big political conspiracy. And I do mean caught. Got spirited over the border with somebody really important. Took a squad of Marines to blast us loose. Then everything got hushed up. Navy Intelligence threatened to fry me to a cinder in my own lard if I talked about the affair. What’d this guy look like?”
“Big guy,” replied Tim. “Bit over six feet. Shoulders too wide to go through a narrow door. Brown hair parted down the middle. Darkest blue eyes I ever saw. Near black, they are. Walks with a bit of a limp. Might have a barker’s voice, if he wanted to. But very well spoken, by the small sample I heard. Know him?”
“Everything but the limp points to the Marine buck sergeant that led the rescue. I’ll have to look him up.”
George Chance flashed back to the here and now. Right description. Right voice. And all business. So Ol’ George had better have the right answers for him. He dug out his letter of introduction. Fortunately he’d had the foresight to emboss a snapshot of the face he wore onto the letter with the official seal of his magic show.
He held the letter aloft with one hand while shining his small flashlight on the paper with his other. Three sets of footsteps approached. Spread out like a skirmish line, they were.
“Good morning, gentlemen,” he enunciated clearly. “I am Roger Parker with the Chance Magical Extravaganza. I am holding my credentials.”
“Keep your hands in sight,” replied the familiar voice. “Fred, leave me a clear field of fire while you check out that paper.”
“Looks good,” said Fred a moment later. “Just like the sample that Tim Terry gave us. Got this guy’s mugshot on it.”
“We will accept your identification, Mr. Parker. Provisionally! What happened here?”
George gave a concise recital of the events. “I think I nicked the Rube shooting with my knife. More important, I may have a picture of some of the gang. I can develop the film in Mr. Chance’s baggage car.”
An approaching disturbance interrupted. Three men in work clothes and fedoras dragged five smaller forms into the light. The five all wore shapeless robes with hoods. Lowered hoods revealed the five to be boys, or very young men.
“Dammit!” exclaimed the familiar voice. “Fagin again! All right, men. Get the on call doctor to come look Harry over. Then finish the cleanup. And look for a knife near the sealed car. I’m going to assist Mr. Parker in the dark room.”
As the two men headed for his private cars, George said, “I don’t think I got your name…”
“Oh, can the corn, Chance!” came the low reply. “You know very well who I am.”
George chuckled. Not much got past Grant Rockwell, formerly of the United States Marine Corps. “So, Rocky, what gave me away?”
“Sorry, George, that nickname doesn’t fly around here. It’s what they call the Station manager behind his back. Like having ‘Rocks in his head.’ Thank the Lord I work for the Terminal Railroad, not the Station directly. That and the senior Red Cap, who helps make my job a lot easier, goes by Rocky.
“As to what gave you away… You’re the right size and shape. You move like you’re on stage. Just like you did in the flaming middle of nowhere tropics. And you haven’t changed your voice enough. Plus, somehow, I don’t think your whole crew carries razzle-dazzle magic gear at all times. Or a throwing knife. What’s with the new face, anyway?”
George stayed quiet as he unlocked his coach, then led the way into the baggage car. As he opened the tiny darkroom he began, “The face’s an experiment. First, I’m getting recognized too often in public. Can’t have that. And the why is Top Secret, friend. I now have a near perfect double. In fact, he performed in my place tonight. For the first time. Have to keep that a secret.
“Second, a friend on the New York City Police Commission is pushing me to take up solving some of the weird mysteries that baffle regular cops. Don’t know yet if I’m going to take him up on that. But, I sure would not want to do that sort of thing wearing my own face. Now, let me concentrate on getting this film developed…”
Some time later George pulled an eight by ten print out of the Fixer Tray. He placed it on a heated dryer as he shuffled other prints around in the chemicals. “I can take the negative to a professional place and get the figures blown up larger. If you think that will help, that is.”
“Can I open up?” asked Rockwell. “Great, I can really see the print now. You caught the crooks in the shot. Now let’s see how focused it is. Say, not bad. But I don’t see anything particularly useful. You sure scared the one kid looking directly at the camera. I don’t think he’s one we caught.
“This gang operates mostly with street kids. Some are crooks in the making. A few of those are already damn dangerous. Others are just trying to help their families make ends meet. Naturally the adult leader got called Fagin. Somehow, most of Fagin’s teams have a boy from a wealthy family on them. The ones where somebody’s caught the whole team, anyway. Then a little grease from the upstanding family gets applied at City Hall and the whole crime seems to vanish. ‘Cept for those who got robbed.
“Say, take a close look here. You can just see it. This kid’s wearing braces. Those definitely don’t grow on trees. I’m going to see if I can identify him.”
The sign on the door of the small storefront read “Christopher Williams, Photographer. Weddings & Graduations a Specialty. Custom Enlargements.”
“Are you Mr. Williams? People tell me you do the best enlargements in the region. I’m George Chance. That’s right, the one that’s appearing at the Midland. And I am prepared to barter tickets for the best seats to my magic show for a bit of your assistance with your best enlarger.”
Precisely at 9:00am Grant Rockwell completed his walk from Union Station to the Kansas City Star Building. A moment later he was ushered into the small office of the paper’s Society Editor. The door closed on the sound of dozens of typewriters and teletype machines. Almost as bad as the rail yards, he decided.
After exchanging greetings and amenities Rockwell got down to business. “Mr. Harkness, my people are trying to identify a young man. Probably from a pretty well off family. He’s gotten in with those child hijackers you may have heard about. We do not want to arrest him. We want the scum of the earth that recruits the kids. Anybody’s kids! If we can get to this lad secretly I hope we can stop the organization completely.”
George Chance strolled into the lobby of the Coates House. He walked up to the front desk to check for messages.
“Good morning, Mr. Chance,” beamed the clerk. “I didn’t see you step out. How may I help you?”
“That’s because I appeared in a puff of smoke by the back door to walk and get some coffee. Anything new for us?”
Even though he carried a key, George picked the lock on his suite. For practice. A moment later he shook the end of a luxurious bed. “Get up, sleepy head,” he said quietly. “I need my face back.”
Glenn Sanders opened his eyes just a bit. He started to roll over. Then those eyes popped wide open. He spun to a sitting position. “Morning, oh master magician and pub crawler. I figured you’d still be asleep in the car. Enjoy yourself?”
“I did. How did you fair? The Kansas City Post carried no headlines about George Chance getting bested by his own tricks. That’s always a good start.”
Now on his feet, Sanders replied, “I successfully protected both your professional and personal reputations. The show went just fine. The substitute girl did a great job, in her brassy sort of way. I further kept you in Miss Merry White’s good graces by turning down the ardent advances of both a high society matron who likes younger men and a slightly tipsy debutant. Seemed like the right thing to do, darn it.”
Another piece of George Chance’s Thanksgiving fell into place. And he remembered how much he missed Merry White. She was the perfect magician’s assistant. Her beauty distracted the audience when needed. She smiled at him while he sawed her in two. Her bubbly personality helped relieve everybody’s boredom on long trips. And she loved George Chance as much as George Chance loved her. But she had gone to spend Thanksgiving with her family near Omaha. He missed her smile, and everything else about her.
Glenn Sanders put on a disguise before he slipped out of the hotel. George took a nap before temporarily slipping back into his own life. After the kids show he and Grant Rockwell would compare notes.
Grant Rockwell told the taxi to wait among the denuded trees on the campus of Rockhurst College, in the suburbs at 53rd and Troost. The wind bit into him a bit as he made his way to the area housing Rockhurst High School.
Soon he found the man he sought. He left with several suggestions to pursue. Now the taxi began taking him to various spots around the region.
Back in his suite after the kids’ show, George Chance threw his over-magic-stocked tuxedo coat over a chair and kicked off his shoes. What a show! Kids often didn’t buy into the misdirection that kept adults from making good guesses about how illusions worked. This group had been no exception. But even those trying to figure out the tricks seemed to be enjoying themselves. A lot.
Tiny Tim Terry pushed a hassock over the the main room’s bar. He climbed atop the thing. A moment later he presented George a Highball fixed just the way he liked it. He managed to get just one sip before somebody knocked on the suite door. A knock about as subtle as a drumbeat. Somehow George was not surprised to find Grant Rockwell waiting on the other side of the portal.
“I’ve got a lead on the boy,” said Rockwell as soon as he stepped inside. “You want to come along?”
“Tim…” began George as he started to shuck out of his formal attire.
“I know. I know. Tell Glenn he’s going on tonight… And for who knows how long after that.”
“Thanks, Tim. And here are some notes I made about Thanksgiving. Grant, I’ll be about five minutes changing my face.”
Less than thirty minutes later the two approached the rear of a house out some ways out on Ward Parkway. “I scouted this earlier, George. This monster of a house still maintains a Tradesman’s Entrance. Coming over that wall should keep anybody from seeing us at all.” He gave a slow tug to the bell lanyard as he pulled out an identification wallet.
“Good evening, Mr. Tracy. My name is Grant Rockwell. I am head of security at Union Station. As a part of the job my men and I are required to be Deputy Sheriff’s for Jackson County, Missouri. My associate and I need to talk to you about your son, Reginald.”
“Well, now we know how they get their ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ cards,” growled Rockwell as he shifted gears on the way to the heart of the city. “Threats! This time they threatened to hurt the kid’s crippled friend. Scared him too much to even go to his own parents. Lord Above, do I want to get my hands on this low life…”
“When we get to your office I’ve got something to show you,” replied George.
“Chris Williams, the photographer, knows his stuff,” began George as he sipped a surprisingly good cup of coffee in the Union Station security office. “We turned his enlarger on its side so we could project on his studio wall. He rigged a barrel extension and an extra lens or two to get a good focus.
“In fact I’m paying to have that wall painted after all the push pins I stuck into it. Used them to position photographic paper over portions of the enlarged picture in the dark. My flash pellet discharged as he reached for his gun under his robe. That opened the robe enough to reveal some of what he wore underneath. Take a look at these two glossies.”
“Better’n I expected,” rumbled Rockwell. “Weapon under his regular jacket, so that’s pulled back, too. Well, I’ll be a Costa Rician gigolo. That’s a conductor’s ticket punch in its carrying case. No wonder Fagin targets the rail yards so much. What’s on the other still?”
“His belt buckle. Not nearly as well lit. Maybe, if you squint, you can make something out of it.”
“Hummmm… Lenny! Find me the uniform picture album.”
Five minutes later he concluded, “If I hold my mouth just right, I’d say this was a Missouri Pacific belt buckle. Now, let’s figure out who might have been in town when Fagin hit us.”
They almost looked like a military dress parade. Four Missouri Pacific passenger train conductors stood in a straight line just past the Fresh Fruit & Candy shop next to the entrance to Union Station’s North Waiting Room. On the balcony in the rotunda of the ticketing area several people stepped into the Traveler’s Aid office.
By prearrangement, Miss Ferguson, the manager, shepherded the small staff out the back way. Smitty, one of Grant Rockwell’s associates, handed a pair of binoculars to Reginald Tracy as his father looked on.
“Don’t step any further forward that you need to see over the window sill, Reginald,” he cautioned. “Give all four of them a close look. We know you didn’t get a look at Fagin’s face. Now, take all the time you need. Try to pick out some mannerism or gesture that you’ve seen before. Also look for anything that might eliminate any of the four.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll do my best. One thing, right off. The man on the left doesn’t look heavy enough to be him.”
“That’s a good start. Keep at it,” replied Smitty. “Grant,” he whispered into the phone on Miss Ferguson’s desk, “he’s pretty much eliminated Number One.”
Standing on the left side of the line of MoPac conductors, George Chance wiggled the sign standing next to the four men. “Ask the Missouri Pacific line a question” read the neatly lettered placard. Supposedly a trial balloon from some head office whiz kid, the regional manager told them to stand fast for two hours and meet the public.
And a few people did ask questions. Questions about the line. About railroads in general. And, the most popular query? Directions to the rest rooms. The three old MoPac hands seemed to accept Roger Parker, newly hired from the Baltimore & Ohio line. (“Don’t worry,” George told the MoPac manager. “I’ve both ridden First Class and hopped freights all over the B & O.”)
Between questions George tried to keep a conversation going. Was the suburban shopping area called the Country Club Plaza worth a visit? Did a Kansas City Monarch’s player really hit a baseball all the way to the tracks from Municipal Stadium? The talk among the four became animated in a subdued sort of way.
All the while Reginald Tracy kept watch.
At the far side of the ticketing area George saw one of the Harvey Girls change the menu sign in front of the Fred Harvey restaurant. The paper was red. He spun the Ask MoPac sign around twice in reply.
Two minutes later a commotion broke out at the open air shop just across the entrance to the North Hall. A clerk grabbed a poorly dressed man and hung on as he yelled for help. Not a moment later two of Grant Rockwell’s men converged on the scene. They took charge of the suspect.
As the three men crossed under the six foot clock something strange happened. Two Red Caps pulled a large cart piled high with baggage between the two groups. When the cart passed a fourth person stood in front of Rockwell’s men. A short figure wearing a black robe with a hood pulled around his face.
He pointed at the center of the four conductors as he yelled, “That’s the man who led the robberies!”
Almost instantly the number three man in line grabbed the second man’s arm. “I’ll hold him for you, Officers.”
The security men froze in confusion for just a split second. By then the third man whipped around virtually hurling the second man into them. Then Fagin used his momentum to sprint for the gate next to the staircase leading down to the tracks.
George took off after him. So did the short robed figure. In a flash Tiny Tim Terry dodged the flying conductor. He cast the robe behind him revealing the modified sheet-rocker’s stilts that augmented his three foot ten inch height. He covered ground just about as fast as George Chance.
Fagin cleared the first double sided bench in the waiting room like a track hurdler. George did an arm vault over it split seconds later. Tim Terry leaped high, tucked his body into a summersault, and sailed over less than two inches above the hard wood.
Out of the corner of his eye George glimpsed someone running like Hopalong Cassidy between the next two benches. Just before Fagin could crash past the frozen ticket taker at gate five Grant Rockwell bounded to the top of the heavy wooden box at the end of the benches. He dived down to tackle Fagin at the knees. Half a second later George and Tim Terry landed on the rest of the crook.
As the security men hauled Fagin to the their office George Chance caught a snippet of conversation between an off duty Fred Harvey waitress and a shop keeper with a Marine tattoo on the back of his hand.
“The Sarge did it again, Shirley. Whatcha think of ol’ Granite Rockwell?”
“Don’t you mean Grant Rockwall?”
The following day George Chance and Tim Terry finalized the troop’s Thanksgiving plans.
“We’ve made donations to the Salvation Army, City Union Mission, and a couple of other places to help with their Thanksgiving meals. Father Flanagan is due down from Boy’s Town on Friday to take charge of the non-violent kids Fagin had locked away. I’ll give him a check to more than cover their keep. Have you reached all the vaudevillians performing in town?”
“Sure have, George. And the dinner car you hired should be hooked on to this car in plenty of time to get the kitchen up and running for the big day. The entertainers and the worker’s at Union Station are all set to visit in shifts. That just leaves doing something for Glenn Sanders.”
“Tim, isn’t Kansas City where that woman who’s crazy over clowns lives?”
“Not here, George. Just a long trolley ride north in St. Joseph.”
“And I’ll bet you’ve still know how to reach her… Come on, old chum. Why else would you have packed all that greasepaint? Please ask her to join us for Thanksgiving dinner.”
Glenn Sanders decided that behind the heavy makeup of a clown was about the only way he could hope to publicly appear in the same room as George Chance. Awkward at first, he soon fell into the swing of entertaining those who had to work on this special day.
As the afternoon wore on Glenn wondered who the mystery woman playing hostess might be. Above her Mae West body she wore a jaunty hat with a thick veil covering her face.
George said a few words about Thanksgiving to each group. He explained how men he barely knew adopted him one year. He asked them to do the same, when they could. Then Glenn would get himself in a mess by being too close to the hand magic George did.
With the last group seated something went wrong on the final trick. Glenn found himself shrouded in thick smoke. He stumbled back.
Then gentle hands touched his arm and shoulder. A light contralto voice whispered, “I’ll take you to clear air, Mr. Clown.”
A moment later he found himself in Merry White’s tiny Pullman suite. Except Merry’s things seemed to have been replaced by a well stocked bar.
“You’ll be fine here, Mr. Clown,” said the lady as she closed the door.
“I find clowns so very exciting, except for one thing,” she continued as she unclipped his huge bow-tie and began undoing his massive shirt buttons. “They all seem to wear far too many clothes.”
Just before Glenn Sanders lost all interest in his surroundings his eyes fell on a spirit writing slate in the corner of the room. For a few seconds three words appeared in the surface: “Happy Thanksgiving, Glenn!”