art by Seth Alan Bareiss
by Gabriel Murray
When he looks at you it's obvious he has no idea what manner of fellow you are, and that is how you know that you've got him. No one likes knowledge, after all, least of all curious individuals like Spencer. Oh, certainly he thinks he does--why else would he collect all those fine books, that beautiful blue globe in his conservatory, and all the planets strung on iron rings in glass?--but you're familiar with the tang of curiosity. Mr. Spencer likes not knowing. The pleasure is in the chase, as with copulation; he wants to be puzzled. You're happy to oblige him.
So when he studies you, you meet his eyes and look away. Johanna introduces you with a brave little smile: "Geoffrey, this is my friend Claude," she says to him. She's winding a little strand of tea-colored hair around her index finger while she speaks. Poor Johanna: she is a poetess, after all, and the Spencers believe in free love, but you can see the knot of worry for his disapproval in the tendon of that finger. Even a happy wife would know whose name was on the deed of that house, and you're well aware that Johanna Spencer is not a happy wife. "Claude is a friend of Mr. Partridge's; I met him at the Partridges' salon, in the city. Have you ever thought of coming?"
You can tell that he hasn't. "I'm often busy here. I regret that I haven't had the pleasure…?" He holds out his hand to shake. His fingers are stained at the tips from black ink and blue paints. It makes them look gangrenous.
You take it. He has a strong, steady handshake, one accustomed to sealing business. His fingers are rougher than yours. You linger over them. You meet his eyes--brown, creased around the edges--again briefly, then look away; ah, yes, that's it. He looks troubled already. "Claude is a magician," Johanna is saying. "An illusionist, I mean. He's very gifted."
"Yes?" Spencer lets go of you and flexes his fingers. "How remarkable. Professionally, you mean? Perhaps you'll favor us with one of your--" He pauses. He does have quite a mellow baritone voice, colored with honey. You understand Johanna's love a little better now, and thus also the pieces of her heart. "Tricks," he says. "Before you leave."
You smile. You know the power of your own smile. It makes rows of gentlemen in coats and expensive hats fail to see what's right in front of them. "I endeavor to be," you say. "I understand that you're an astronomer?"
"I am," he confirms with a flash of his teeth. Men love to have their passions identified, just as they hate to identify their passions.
"Then perhaps you'll find a star for me," you say in jest, and know from the way both Spencers quickly look in opposite directions that you've struck the right vein.
Spencer does not try to seduce you in the darkened conservatory. He comes upon you there, however, which is enough to tell you what he is thinking about. You grin and straighten up from your inspection of the planets and pretend that you didn't hear him coming.
His shirt is open in the front. Johanna's likely in bed. "I have seen you perform," he says, and from the wondering way he tilts his head, you can tell that's why he sought you out. "I remember now. You play at Covent Garden, don't you?"
"Every magician plays at Covent Garden," you reply and fish out your pipe; you strike a match. You look at him briefly up over the flame, through dark lashes. "But that doesn't mean that you haven't seen me perform."
Spencer smiles, charmed and chastened. He has a tuft of dark hair under his shirt. "You were convincing," he says. "You make people disappear."
"Gang lords in Camden make people disappear," you correct him through a puff of smoke. "I make people vanish. But thank you."
He's a very bold man in some respects, for he tilts his head at you and asks, "Where do they go?"
You raise your eyebrows. "Where indeed?"