It’s unlikely that my affable father would ever have riled up anyone enough to make him hate him, but I wanted to find some company in this war I’ve entered with Beefcake.
“Did you ever have an enemy, Dad? Or did the magic shop?” I’m helping him out again for the weekend rush, if you can call eighteen customers instead of five a rush.
“A competitor, you mean?” Dad is polishing the brass knobs on a trick cabinet, a vintage one where a fully-grown chicken is meant to disappear and reappear. The smell of the chemical he’s using is so strong it overwhelms the stink of the popcorn machine he’s placed out front to lure in customers. “Let’s see, let me think about that.”
“Not a competitor, exactly. Maybe more of an archrival. Someone who wanted to do you harm.”
“You know, Janie, I can’t think of anyone. I’ve been lucky, I guess.” He abandoned the cloth he was using—it was almost entirely black now—and picked up a new one. I recognized the material of the rag as coming from a tablecloth we had on our dinner table when I was in grade school. “Your grandfather, though, Shazaam—that was a different matter. He never made a friend that he couldn’t turn into a mortal enemy in six months or less. How he ever managed to be decent to Mom for thirty-five years is a mystery.”
“Shazaam is different. He was famous. Celebrities make enemies,” I say. “See, the thing is, I kind of have this guy…who’s threatening me. And my business.”
Dad turned the entire cabinet upside down. Fake drawers on hidden hinges swung open. He started to work polishing the decorative base of the piece. “Why is he messing with you of all people? You’re a healer.”
“That’s the thing, Dad.” I could feel my face growing hot. “You know I’m not really a healer. And he knows it, too, or at least he suspects. I mean, I never took acupuncture classes.”
“You didn’t?” He lifts his gaze from the cabinet for a minute to look at me. “I thought maybe you had.”
“Not so much, no.”
“But you have a lot of clients, right?”
“A couple dozen. Usually I have at least one appointment a day.”
“Well, you must be doing something to help them feel better or they wouldn’t keep coming back.”
“This guy has been paying zombies to picket the place,” I say. “They’re out front of Chicken Soup every morning now with these horrible signs.”
I take my camera out of my purse, and flip through a few pictures. I show him one of the zombie holding a sign that implies I was the one who killed him and turned him into a zombie.
Dad lets loose with one of his long, low whistles. “That’s a doozy, Janie. That is really unkind.”
“The guy is psychotic, Dad. I don’t know what to do.”
“Take care of the zombies first. They don’t like loud noises, you know.”
“I know. I thought of that. I jumped on some bubblewrap next to them yesterday. They eventually left, but it took a while. Plus, I look like a lunatic while doing it.”
Dad walks into the storage room. It’s a poorly lit space, with dark-stained cabinets lining all four walls. This is where we secure our springs and batteries and joy buzzers and interlocking rings and foam balls in eleven different colors and other items useful to magicians. Altogether, there are seven hundred forty-seven drawers, each one labeled using an arcane system Shazaam’s first assistant created. Dad returns to the front and sets two items in front of me on the countertop.
I lift up a dusty box. The label says it has a police siren inside. “Nice.”
The other box I recognize without needing to pick it up. It’s one of our bestsellers, a trick that’s sort of like an amped-up whoopee cushion. If you sit down on a chair with one of these gizmos hidden underneath it, it makes the sound of a thousand firecrackers going off.
“This ought to work for the stick,” Dad says. “Now we just need to consider the carrot.”
Jill Riddell is a writer in Chicago. She teaches at the School of the Art Institute and has a weakness for nature, magic, and pennies abandoned in sidewalk cracks.