It was George’s turn to work with Otis. The menagerie had become used to him wandering in for a chat, especially at times when Michel was busy with a client. Luckily for Michel, that was happening more often lately. But it was hard on Otis who really needed to talk his way through his experiences, but couldn’t really do that in front of outsiders.
Michel’s typical clients would not react well to a talking dog, usually being of the more fragile and flighty sorts.
One of the rats had taken great joy in relating a tale of the time that one of them had spoken to a client. She had her eyes closed at the time, and was deeply engrossed in the small séance that Michel had cooked up. So when the rat had spoken, she had assumed it was a voice from beyond and fainted dead away. Later she explained it to herself as some sort of trickery (it was, really) and been pleased enough to send three of her friends to Michel for consultation. But as the rat told the tale, he had killed one of Michel’s clients by sticking his head in and asking if there was any pizza left, so the rats were certain that it was a bad idea.
George approached Otis differently. He set out to teach him an illusion he could perform. Partly this was because George was nothing if not maniacal these days about perfecting his act. But also it was because he could tell that Otis simply needed time for his mind to heal, and work to do as a distraction while that time passed. Noticing the animal’s problems and finding a cure was something that George had always done, so Otis was only different because he could talk to human people other than George.
They worked for days on the timing of the piece, which required George, Otis, and one of the cats to move in a precise choreography to present the illusion to the audience that the cat was replaced in his cage by George, who was replaced by the dog, who made a show of teasing George with the keys to the locked cage. But George was powerful, so he was still able to wave a wand from inside the cage, causing Otis to vanish in a puff of smoke leaving the keys just out of reach. One more pass of the wand summoned the cat who merely looked disdainfully at George, and shook her head while standing on the keys. A final pass dropped a curtain in front of everyone, and by the time it hit the floor the cat was back in the cage and George was stepping over it to take a bow, Otis at his side.
Finally, Otis noticed something. “Those keys, they taste familiar.”
“Well, they are heirlooms. They were once owned by Houdini,” replied George. “They and the lock on the cage were sold to me from his estate. I never learned if they had been used in any of his performances.”
“Houdini. Imposs—” Otis sat down for a moment, thoughtfully chewing on the keys. “That wasn’t really his name, though, was it?”
“Well,” began George, “No. He was Erik Weiss. But he is remembered by most people by his stage name.”
“And he was married to Bess, and died on Hallowe’en.”
“Otis, why do you know that?”
“I think I lived with him for a time. Or her. I remember her fondly. They weren’t like you and Michel, though. I only spoke to Eric a few times, and only when we were alone. I knew better than to speak to Bess. I know she didn’t take his death well.”
Otis sat for a while, lost in thought. Then he spoke up again. “I remember a bright orange ball, a warm hearth, and someone pecking incessantly at a typewriter. It’s all foggy, though. The typewriter must have been Bess.” He faded out there and sat for a while, then went on with the rehearsals.
George caught up with Michel a day or two later.
“I’ll have the rent for you—” began Michel who was as usual behind on the rent.
George waved him off. “Otis is remembering things. He remembers living with the Houdinis for a while, and knew details about their home and life that ought not be known widely at all since they weren’t mentioned in any of the official biographies. He still has long gaps in his memory, and isn’t sure where he was before he woke up beside you in that elevator.”
“You don’t suppose that we need to worry about him being planted with us by someone?” wondered Michel.
“I’m not certain yet. He might well have been placed where you’d find him. But unless he remembers more, we won’t know for sure. Or unless your gift cooperates and delivers a more lucid than usual vision.”
“Lucid. You know my limits.”
“I do, and I’m not complaining. I’m just wishing you could see the near future or recent past, rather than always being stuck with the long view.”
“You aren’t the only one. I guess time will tell. Or maybe our wayward friend with a different point of view will turn up. Heard from her lately?”
“No, Tina is back to being inscrutable. I’ve left word with the birds to let her owl know we’d like to chat if he’s spotted. They’ll find him eventually, but who knows what the message will actually say by the time they do.”
With that, Michel went back to losing at chess with Otis, and George to work through the show again and decide whether to use the bit with Otis in their next gig.
And Tina stepped back from her scrying bowl, deliberately stirring the inky water to break the connection, and decided it was high time to drop in on the boys for a chat.