The phone rang. Dagon Emberly, my magician boss, twirled an imperious hand.
“Hullo,” said I, picking up the black receiver.
“Is this Emberly?”
“I need to speak to him.”
“The Demon Box.”
“Who is this?” I asked.
I was speaking to my boss’s hated rival, the world’s greatest magician, Harry Keller. I handed the phone to Dagon. “It’s Harry Keller,”
“What does that little shmuck want?”
Minutes later, Emberly hung up. “He…he wants to sell The Demon Box…”
Keller wanted to sell his best trick? To Emberly, his detested rival? “But…why!?”
“He says he needs $10,000 immediately. Tonight.”
Dagon went alone to pay Keller. I took advantage of his absence, as usual, to give Barbara Emberly a massage. I told her about Keller’s call as I worked on her gluteals.
She shivered. “The Demon Box? That’s…creepy. The stage manager at the Bijou said it’s haunted. He hears moans coming out of it.”
“Nonsense. Let’s screw.”
The Demon Box was delivered the next day, knocked down. I assembled it myself. “Check everything,” Dagon said. “Then check it again. It’s got to work like a Swiss watch.”
We rehearsed for weeks, synchronizing everything: I come onstage dressed like Mephistopheles. Dagon enters The Box. I lock the doors. Thunder! Flames from the top, smoke from the sides! I laugh and screw spiked panels into each side. Dagon screams, begging for mercy. Fake blood cascades into a trough.
Next, enter Barbara, dressed like an angel. She makes me open the box. It’s empty. I go open the back so people can see through. I return. Barbara asks me where Dagon went. I shrug. She waves her wand and there’s a puff of smoke. When it clears, Dagon stands there in his tux; I’ve disappeared.
At our press conference, Dagon announced the new act, saying “I’ve insured my life for a million dollars because of the perils of The Demon Box.”
Before a record audience on the big night, Dagon really got into it. His pitiable cries were especially shrill, his groans magnificent. I grinned and cranked the spikes in with fiendish glee. It was great. Until I opened the doors. Dagon hung there on the spikes, dead.
Hundreds had seen me kill Dagon. “A tragic accident,” the policeman said first. Later, “Who assembled the Box?” Eventually, he got around to, “Aren’t you and Mrs. Emberly lovers?” I barely escaped the electric chair and am doing seventy to life. Barbara remarried and doesn’t write.
The Demon Box? Keller bought it back, rebuilt it, changed the name to ”The Box of Death.” It draws huge audiences.
But I’ve figured it out. Before the show, somebody left a wet towel on the plywood floor of the box for several hours, softening it enough that Dagon’s 250 pounds made it bow down in the middle, up on the edges, jamming the escape hatch. Later, Dagon’s blood concealed the dampness. Did I mention that Barbara was Dagon’s beneficiary? And that she’s now Mrs. Keller?