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First, We Need A Free Trip to Las Vegas

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The camera starts blurry, then focuses on a smaller man with shifty eyes and shiftier hands, wearing a short sleeved white button down and tight black jeans that could conceal very little other than his legs. He produces a deck of cards and riffles them, offering the camera a grin that changes his face from quite unmemorable to outright charming.

"I'm Locke Lamora, and this is my partner, Jean Tannen."

The camera goes out of focus again and is hastily turned to show a blurry glimpse of a bearded, bespectacled man with an amused expression, then turns back to Locke.

He produces another deck of cards and shuffles the two together, then begins flicking cards into the air with one hand. With the other, he plucks at the flying cards and each one seems to disappear into thin air.

"We're traveling ah, street magicians, originally from the United Kingdom, and go by the moniker the Gentlemen Bastards. We've never actually worked on a stage and with all the lights and cameras before-" A polite cough that sounds like it is definitely muffling a laugh sounds and Locke's eyes brighten, "-but we're quite certain that even with that small inexperience, we can fool misters Penn and Teller."

Locke shoots the last few cards of the deck into the air and the camera jostles as several glinting objects fly from off screen and neatly pin each card. The added momentum sends the cards and knives whipping towards Locke's face. He brings up his hands and, just before impact, the cards stop.

Neatly impaled upon each, four of them, faces toward the camera, are one of each of the aces. Locke parts his fingers and his grin peeks through.

"Now Jean and I are firm believers in danger. Part of the mystery of magic is the element of danger, if not actual, physical danger-" He pauses, grabs the daggers and neatly plucks them from his cards. The cards disappear as Locke fans the daggers and waggles them, "-then the danger of the trick going wrong. We incorporate more improvisation into our work than is commonly seen, increasing the stakes and thus, the eventual payoff."

Locke casually hefts one dagger and gives it a twirl. "Anything to add, Jean?"

"Well," says a voice, softly, from very near the camera. "I suppose we'll just have to try our best to impress."

The video goes to static and ends.

 

The audience erupts into applause, and Jonathan Ross steps out onto the stage. "Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome, the Gentlemen Bastards!"

Practically on his heels is the same Locke from the introductory video, in precisely the same outfit, waving enthusiastically at the crowd and grinning full on, his dark fringe flopping over his forehead in his enthusiasm. At a more subdued pace follows Jean, bigger than Locke in stature and heft, in the same outfit of tight black pants and white shirt, though he wears an open black suit jacket over it.

Locke takes center stage with Jonathan and Jean settles further away, slightly back and to Locke's left.

"So," Jonathan says. "Why don't you tell us a bit about what we'll be seeing here tonight?"

"It would be a pleasure," Locke replies with obvious relish. He pushes his fringe back from his forehead. "Myself and my lovely assistant will be showing a card trick. Of course, there's nothing particularly exciting about a card trick on its own merits, so Jean and I will be providing some slightly more dangerous entertainment as well."

"Dangerous!" Jonathan exclaims, taking a step back and giving the audience raised eyebrows. "How do you mean?"

"Oh now, now, dear Jonathan, I assure you, no one will be in any danger but myself. Magic, you see, at least the magic of the Gentleman Bastards, is about creating an impossible situation and then providing your audience with a miracle. The danger could be a deadly poison or venom, a barrel full of horse piss, simple blades- the point is the the escape, the results, the thrill. And," he pauses, sweeping his eyes over the crowd before giving them a low bow, "ladies and gentlemen, we do mean to thrill you."

"Well then!" says Jonathan. "Let's have another round of applause for the gentlemen and I'll just get well out of the way!"

The audience claps and Jonathan vanishes himself with admirable alacrity. Locke and Jean are left on stage alone.

"Well then indeed!" Locke says, and claps his hands once. "Now, I'm sure most of you are used to the magician putting his lovely assistant to the knife, or the cage of hungry rats, or whatever other strange psychological torture he's come up with. However," he pauses, lifting his hand to his mouth as if to cover a cough. He jerks his shoulders convincingly, but when he drops his hand, a fan of cards has appeared in it. There is an appreciative smatter of applause, and Locke waggles his cards at Jean.

"However!" He says again, raising his other hand. A thin stiletto pops into it, seemingly out of nowhere, and he turns towards Jean, pulling back and then letting fly. The knife tumbles and flies harmlessly past Jean's head, and thunks against a tall board brought on beforehand. It fails to stick, falling to the ground. "As you can see, my aim is beyond poor and my throws wobbly. Disgraceful. Can't even stick the poor bastard in the eye, and even if I tried, I'd likely only break his spectacles."

"So instead," Locke continues, "my lovely assistant assists me by providing the danger."

Jean sweeps back his jacket, revealing that the inside is lined with a great many short throwing knives.

"Now then." Locke neatly folds his fan of cards back onto itself, turning it so that the audience is provided with a view the very thin pile it makes held between his thumb and forefinger. With his other hand, he taps it lightly and then there are no cards at all. He grins.

"For the trick itself, I'll need a lovely assistant who isn't completely in on the trick, that is to say, someone other than Jean. Master Teller?"

He tips his head inquiringly. Down below, Teller puts his hands to his chest and raises his eyebrows in perfect confusion. He gestures to Penn.

"No, no master Teller. I require an experienced assistant, not another leading man."

Penn laughs and pushes at Teller, who stands and, reluctance in his every move, takes the stage next to Locke.

"Thank you so kindly, my dear master Teller. I assure you, I won't have Jean pointing anything sharp in your direction."

Teller wipes at his forehead, his features pure relief. Locke laughs and gives him a friendly pat on the shoulder, coming away with a sealed deck of cards. Teller expresses surprise as Locke offers it to him.

"Master Teller, if you would simply examine this to verify that it is in fact a sealed deck of cards?"

Teller looks it over thoroughly, then gives a nod.

"Excellent, thank you. And if you could open it, look the cards over to your own satisfaction, then thoroughly shuffle them for me? Preferably just the fifty two, but jokers and all if you'd like. I do love having it be a bit of a mystery as to whether the trick will work or not."

Teller does so, flicking through the deck top to bottom, then turning it and examining the backs. Seemingly satisfied, he begins shuffling them. He gives them twelve full shuffles then looks back to Locke.

"Beautiful work, master. It's almost as if you've done this before!" The crowd gives an appreciative little laugh.

"Now then, if you'll look at the top card for me? Contemplate it if you wish, otherwise simply remember it, flash it to the audience, and then give the deck another full and proper shuffle."

Teller looks at the top card for a moment, and Locke watches his eyes the entire time, smiling slightly as Teller turns it carefully so the audience can see it. Then the cards are shuffled and Teller passes them to Locke.

"Thank you kindly," Locke says, taking the deck and holding it in full view of the onlookers. "You'll likely want to stay here, master Teller, because from here on it's knives out. Or knife, I should say."

He walks across the stage to stand in front of the board, about fifteen feet from Jean, and waves the deck of cards.

"Now, master Teller, master Penn, ladies and gentlemen, believe it or not, Jean knows precisely which card was on top of the deck. We do not have ear pieces or any other sort of private communication happening, all of this is quite above board, I assure you. It's simply a knack my dear Jean possesses, which we will now demonstrate to all of you lovely people."

Locke turns to face Jean, the deck still held in his hand. "Jean?"

Jean looks at him, tilting his head to the side slightly. "Yes?"

Locke rolls his eyes with feigned exasperation. "The knife?"

"Ah, yes. Of course." Jean flips a knife into his hand, somehow acquiring it without reaching into his jacket. The audience gives a soft 'ooh' as he tosses it in the air and catches it in a throwing hold. "At your leisure, Locke."

Locke begins flicking cards off the top of the deck, slowly at first, launching them into the air just above his head. Black and red faces and blue backs flutter around him as he flicks them upwards with gathering speed until Jean gives a soft, "ah!" and lets his blade fly.

Locke tosses the rest of the deck in the air as soon as Jean begins his throwing motion, and there is suddenly a dizzying flurry of cards around him. Jean's blade strikes one and pins it to the board face down, just to the left of Locke's head, maybe an inch away from his ear. Locke turns slowly and regards it, his eyebrows high as cards softly fall to the stage. "Cutting it a bit close, eh, Jean?"

Jean gives a little shrug and half smiles. "Well, you know. I could have caught it there, or when it was directly in front of your forehead."

Laughing, Locke shakes his head. "My lovely assistant's sense of humor leaves something to be desired, I think. Anyway. I see the card is pinned face down. Master Teller, if you would?"

Locke crooks his finger and Teller approaches, Jean following behind him.

"Go ahead and pull the card yourself, master Teller. I wouldn't want you to think I might interfere!"

Teller grasps the hilt of the knife and pulls it free. He turns it so they can all see the face of the card, and Locke gives a huge grin. "The eight of spades, is it? A fine enough card, but is it yours, master Teller?"

His eyebrows almost comically high, Teller nods and the audience bursts into enthusiastic applause. Teller gestures the blade towards Penn and Locke gives him a deep bow.

"Of course, master Teller, you may consider it a souvenir. Jean has plenty more!"

Teller makes his way back to his seat and Jonathan returns to join Locke and Jean where they stand watching Penn and Teller's deliberations. "That's quite a trick," Jonathan says, smiling for the crowd. "Although I'm glad I wasn't in your shoes, Locke. No knife play for me, thank you very much."

"Oh, it's perfectly safe," Jean says, "I haven't missed yet."

"Quite right," Locke agrees. "Although we may have had some trouble if master Teller's card had been a joker. Jean always gets them mixed up with my left shoulder, you see." He rubs a spot just below his collar and gives an exaggerated grimace. "But I suppose I did leave myself open for that little surprise."

Jean gives an apologetic shrug and Jonathan laughs.

"Well, I think we've given Penn and Teller enough time to deliberate. What's the verdict, then?"

Penn and Teller come apart from their furious whispered conference, and Penn folds his hands across his lap.

"Well, I first have to say that I loved the back and forth between the two of you. It reminded Teller and I very much of old vaudeville acts, if you take my meaning?"

Locke gives a little wince and Penn smiles. "We thought so. That said, the meat of the trick, that is to say, how you knew the card to begin with- you left the cards in Teller's hands any time you could have done something sneaky, and he shuffled his card back in before handing the deck off to you, which seems to indicate you knew it from the beginning. But the deck, again, was in Teller's hands, and you didn't pull anything that made it seem like you could have peeked."

Teller nods enthusiastically and Penn spreads his hands. "Your showmanship is great, your back and forth is great, all of the sleight of hand with the cards and knives was truly excellent, and the trick- fooled us."

The crowd applauds again and Locke and Jean bow deeply in perfect unison. "Thank you so much for having us on, it was truly a pleasure!" Locke says. "And thank you for the lovely compliments. Jean?"

"Thank you, master Penn, master Teller, it was an honor."

"Ladies and gentlemen, let's have another big round of applause for the Gentlemen Bastards!" Jonathan cries. Locke and Jean take one last bow before exiting the stage.

"Do you think," Jean whispers, as they make their way back to the performer's room, "that they'll consider the stage light bit legitimate?"

Locke shrugs. "I can't imagine why not. Magic is magic, after all. It's all trickery and misdirection, no different from picking pockets. A dirty business, all around. I imagine they'll applaud our creativity."

"Hm," Jean murmurs, reaching up to scratch at his chin. "They saw right through the coded phrases. I was certain it wouldn't be noticed."

"It's their job to notice that sort of thing, Jean, don't take it badly. Anyway, didn't the young man in the book you got the idea from see right through coded phrases?"

"Well, yes, but he was supposed to be a devious criminal genius."

Locke laughs and pulls the door open for Jean to pass through. "And professional magicians are in essence devious criminal geniuses. They've likely pulled precisely the same bit."

Jean crosses the room and settles himself on an unoccupied couch, and Locke follows, casting a curious glance at the heavily made up woman wearing a feather boa who had preceded them.

"A fair point. Well, I suppose the first part of your plan worked. Trip acquired. Soon enough, we'll get to the good part."

"Oh yes," Locke sighed, closing his eyes and smiling. "We'll leave the states very rich men indeed."

"Provided we can really put this opportunity to the use you have in mind."

Locke shrugs. "We can always improvise. I think fastest when improvising, anyway."

Their conversation is cut short by the return of the fellow who went on after them, looking as downcast as anything. Locke nudges Jean and they share a smile. Following behind the man is a harried producer Locke and Jean had met with prior to their performance.

"You two," he says, pointing to them. "Penn and Teller are ready for you."

Locke and Jean get to their feet and follow at the man's heels to the private dressing rooms. He knocks at one, then opens it. "Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen," he calls in.

"Send them on in," Penn calls back.

The producer steps aside and waves them in. "I'll be back with your paperwork," he says as Locke and Jean skirt past him.

"Thank you," Locke says, but the door is already swinging shut.

He smiles across the room where Penn and Teller are both sitting in comfortable chairs, half-full glasses in their hands.

"So," Penn says. "Contractual obligation time. What's the trick?"

Jean looks to Locke, who gives the other two men a sheepish look. "I practiced reading cards out of people's irises under bright lights, like stage lights. They can't be wearing glasses or the effect is too muddled to read, hence my choosing Teller to assist, blue and green eyes are a bitch, and obviously, it doesn't really work under diffuse light. I'd be happy to demonstrate."

"Seriously?" Penn asks.

"Yes, quite," Locke replies. "If you'll permit Jean to hold a lamp above our heads, I'll show you the trick of it."

"Sure, let's see it. We haven't heard this one before," Penn says enthusiastically, setting his glass aside. Jean moves across the room and picks up a small desk lamp set just next to Penn's chair. Locke settles himself across from Penn and pulls a deck of cards out of his pocket.

"Stage angle, Jean," he says, and Jean tilts the lamp so it shines down in a fair recreation of a stage light. "I'm going to look at a card. Watch the dark parts of my eyes very closely until you can begin to make out the reflection of what is in front of them."

Locke flicks through the deck and pulls the two of diamonds, shielding the face from Penn with his hand, and stares intently at it. "You'll be able to note the color the easiest. I started learning with only red cards, because they stand out a bit more. Do you see?"

Penn leans closer, looking straight at Locke's eyes. After a few moments, a slow smile spreads across his face. "It's damn hard to catch, but yeah, I see it. Two of... diamonds?"

Locke flashes the card and grins. "Perfect. Spades and clubs are harder to discern, sevens, eights, nines, and tens were a nightmare to get the hang of reading quickly. The brighter the lights and the closer you are to the person you're trying to read from, the better. Satisfied?"

"Oh, hell yes," Penn says, leaning back. "How long did you have to practice?"

Locke shrugs. "A few months. Most of the time was spent getting fast enough at it that it didn't seem as though I was falling in love with whomever I was making eye contact with."

"Although that question does remain," Jean says, carefully setting the lamp back in its pace.

"Seems pretty simple," Penn muses.

Locke gives him an almost apologetic look. "Well, they say the best tricks are. Thank you again for the opportunity."

"Well, you two put on a good show. Like I said, that was some of the smoothest sleight if hand I've ever seen. We're not even certain where your knife came from, or where it went."

Jean laughs softly. "Legerdemain is ever our primary specialty. The rest of it is Locke showing off."

"Isn't that the truth," Teller says, looking pointedly at Penn and rolling his eyes. Penn rolls his eyes right back while Locke and Jean look on, dumbfounded.

There is a soft tap at the door and Penn waves them toward it. "Well, you'll be hearing from us soon, gentlemen. We'll work out the details of your opening for us. Enjoy yourselves until then," Penn says.

Locke gives Jean a slow smile. "Oh, I think we will. Thank you."

Together, Locke and Jean step back out, spend some time doing tedious paperwork, and leave.

"So. Next, the vault at Bellagios, eh," Jean says quietly.

Locke claps him on the back. "You don't need to sound so gloomy about it, you know."

Jean laughs. "I suppose."