Prologue

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May 15, 2013

Eliot Randall was overseeing the final preparations for the night when he heard sounds of panic erupting behind him. The master illusionist turned around just as a member of his stage crew reached him.

“It’s Leighton,” he said, catching his breath and pointing behind him. “She’s out on the stage – she’s down – knocked out like the others.”

“How is that possible?” Randall asked, turning to the man on his left.

“I don’t know,” Chase Walker replied. “You go. I’ll get her. We’ll come up with an explanation later.”

“No, I’ll do it.” Randall reached down and pulled a black cloth off a body lying on the floor next to him. Wrapping it around his shoulders, he walked quickly toward the stage giving orders as he went.

“Where is she, Ed? Anyone near her?” he asked the crew chief through his stage mic. He listened for a moment. As he approached the stage of the open-air auditorium the music grew louder.

“Okay… Listen up. Keep the area near her clear. The blimp – reset it… yes, cut the sound… now.” He could hear the music stop. There was silence all around him. “When I get into position at the back of the platform,” he continued, “run the five-note again, then stop…Enough of a diversion? We’ve got nothing else… Yes… I’ll get her to the top of the platform. When I reach my mark, I’ll look up. Start a five-count and then restart the departure sequence. Use drapes. Drop the lights if you have to… just get us off the stage.”

He finished speaking just as he reached the back entrance to the stage. He lifted the cloth over his head and held it closely around his face.

“I’m set. Run it now!”

Loud musical tones, a well-known 5-note phrase, synchronized with flashing lights, blared from a large blimp high above the audience in the night sky.

Randall climbed up the five long steps to the top of the circular platform on the stage. As he reached the top, he dropped the cloth behind him. The sequence ended and silence filled the auditorium.

Looking down, he saw Leighton crumpled in a heap on the stage floor to his left. He ran down the steps towards her, knelt down on one knee and turned her over. She was unconscious, but breathing. A lump was beginning to form on her forehead over her right eye. He draped her arm around his neck, and lifted her into his arms, hoping that the full-length white dress she was wearing had not caught in the track around the platform. It wasn’t. A sharp pain emanated from his left knee and flowed down the length of his leg as he stood up. He turned and drew in a deep breath before quickly ascended to the top of the platform, each step bringing fresh pain.

Reaching the top, he turned around and stood still, looking straight out over the audience. He could feel thousands of eyes resting on them. Leighton stirred slightly in his arms. Relief mixed with pain caused a moment of unsteadiness so that he had to step back onto his right leg to regain his balance. He firmed up his grip on Leighton and stepped forward onto his mark. He turned his gaze up into the night sky above the auditorium and began counting off the seconds…