Charlie Boone

by Geron Kees

Hang THIS On Your Christmas Tree, Charlie Boone! - Chapter 1

© 2021 Geron Kees. All rights reserved.

This is a work of fiction. All characters and situations are imaginary. No real people were harmed in the creation of this presentation.

"Looks like the Christmas Bandits have been at it again," Kippy Lawson said, giving a nod towards the TV screen. The big flat panel had the sound muted, but the picture showed a busy scene outside a large brick building, with police cars present, and a reporter holding a microphone talking to someone in the parking lot. Below the scene, a banner across the bottom of the picture told the story: Christmas Bandits Strike Again.

"Even Christmas Bandits gotta eat," Charlie Boone replied absently, not really paying attention to the TV. "Turn that off and come over here a minute, Kip. Uncle Bob says he wants to show us a new magic trick."

They were in the conference room at the offices of Third Planet Inquiries, the boy's business headquarters in the Constantine building in town. The door to the outer hallway was closed, and the pains they had taken to have the suite soundproofed ensured them that they had no listeners. Not even Amy, their office manager, seated at her desk in the front reception area, could hear their conservation.

Kippy nodded, touched a button on the TV remote, and stood from the sofa as the screen went dark. "I'm always ready for magic!" he said, smiling. He crossed to the big conference table and took a seat next to Charlie, and reached over and grasped his hand and gripped it warmly. "Now I'm ready for anything!"

Uncle Bob had already risen on the other side of the table, waiting. Ricky Travers, Adrian Whitaker, and Horace Wingspanner, also seated around the rim of the circular oak table with Charlie and Kippy, all leaned forward to watch. The expectant air of his audience had Bob Travers smiling now, as he raised his hands before him.

" closely now," he said, holding up a silver dollar between his thumb and forefinger. He drew his hand slowly across an arc, showing the coin to each of the watchers in turn. It was an old Morgan dollar, Charlie could see, the last of which had been minted in 1921. That made it a century old, exactly, and Charlie gave a little smile at the idea. How many hands had held this coin in 100 years of time?

Bob completed the arc, and brought the coin back to the middle of the round conference table, and fixed his eyes on it intensely. "Abracadabra!" He raised his other hand and waved it theatrically at the silver dollar...

The coin vanished, just like that. It was never out of their sight, not obscured behind a hand, and not in any way possible handed off or hidden. One moment it was there, reflecting the overhead lighting; and the next moment it was simply gone.

Bob immediately spread his fingers to show that his hand was completely empty, and grinned at the circle of watchers. "What do you think?"

Ricky Travers, Bob's nephew, and no stranger to his uncle's sleight of hand, sat forward with a prominent frown on his face. "That sure didn't look right. I've seen you do the disappearing coin trick before, but this time you didn't cover it with your other hand. It just plain disappeared, right before my eyes!"

"It did, didn't it?" Uncle Bob looked both satisfied and mystified at the same time, a very odd combination.

"Where did it go?" Ricky persisted.

His uncle laughed. "Charlie, check your shirt pocket."

Charlie looked down at the winter flannel shirt he was wearing, and automatically patted the single pocket. It had been empty, and the flap buttoned. But now, as he touched the material, he could feel the solid weight of something small and flat within.

He smiled. "Really?" Charlie unbuttoned the flap, dug into the pocket, and withdrew the silver dollar and held it up.

"Awesome!" Ricky gushed, leaning forward. But then his eyes suddenly narrowed. "But a little too clean for me." He squinted at the coin, and then smiled at Charlie. "You're not shilling for him, are you?"

Charlie laid the silver dollar on the polished table top and held up his hand. "No." He turned back to look at Bob Travers. "That was very good. But it's only a little different from the coin tricks you've shown us before. Is there something special about this new version?"

The older man gave a small sigh, and then sat down. He laid his hands on the tabletop and looked around at the boys. "Yes." He pointed at the coin. "New version is the right word for it. The problem is, I have no idea how it was done."

Charlie stared at the man a moment, and then turned to Kippy. "Did you feel anything just then?"

"Yes. Very small, but a definite movement of skwish." Kippy leaned forward to look past Ricky at Adrian, seated on the other side of him. "Did you feel it?"

"It was small and very fast," Adrian agreed. "Something like that could be missed, unless you were looking for it, or at least focused on the cause of it." He smiled at Bob Travers. "You teleported the coin."

On the other side of Adrian, Horace Wingspanner, their resident ghost hunter, gave a little gasp. "Oh, my!"

Bob blinked, as if unable to believe his ears, and held up the hand the coin had moved from and stared at it a little wonderingly. "Teleported it? Are you sure?"

"I think Adrian's right!" Kippy said, laughing. "Uncle Bob, you're magical!"

"Aha!" Ricky shook his head a moment as if to clear it, and then sat back heavily in his chair, casting a pleased look across the table at his uncle. " runs in the family. Better get used to it!"

The magician shook his head in amazement. "But...I have no idea how I did it!"

Charlie frowned at that statement, and then propped his chin on his hand to look at the older man. "When you just did the trick...what were you thinking?"

"Huh? Oh. Well...I looked at the coin, and thought how wonderful it would be if it just magically went to your pocket. And it did!"

"This has obviously happened before." Kippy stated.

"Yes. I was in my garage the other day, just sort of playing around with the trick. You know - practicing? It's normally a sleight of hand trick, very simple. But for that very reason it has strict limitations. It's not normally possible to move an object to the possession of someone not either in on the trick or who you can at least be close enough to touch. I was thinking, wouldn't it be great to be able to just tell the coin to go somewhere, and have it happen?"

"And it did?" Kippy asked. His green eyes were bright with interest now.

"Yes. I had the dollar closed inside my fist when I was thinking that." Uncle Bob laughed. "I have a hand truck in the garage I use to move some of the bigger acts out to the trailer. I'd left my coat hanging on it, and I just sort of looked at, pretending it was a member of my audience, and I had the thought about the coin moving, and um--"

"And?" Charlie prodded, after a moment of silence.

"Well, I felt something weird in my hand, and when I opened my fingers, the coin wasn't there. For a second I was just dumbfounded. It was the last thing I expected to happen. I couldn't believe it!" Uncle Bob laughed. "My first thought was that I'd dropped it. I looked all over the floor, but I didn't see it anywhere. I got out my work light and looked under the benches, and under the know if you drop a coin, those darn things can roll anywhere!"

"But you didn't find it," Ricky suggested. "It was in your coat pocket?"

"Yes. I went and put my coat on, thinking I'd look outside the garage door, and I stuck my hand in one of the pockets...and there it was."

"What'd you think?" Ricky questioned.

The man shrugged. "My first thought was that I was going a little nutty. Wouldn't be the first time I've wondered that. But then I got to thinking, and thought I'd just try it again. So I held the dollar in my hand, and thought how nice it would be if it jumped over to the workbench...and it did. Right before my eyes!"

"You teleported it," Kippy repeated, smiling at Uncle Bob, and then turning to look at Charlie. "He's been around us, and he's been to Twombly, and to visit Nicholaas, and..."

"It woke him up," Charlie finished, smiling. "It woke up his skwish."

"Seems to be contagious these days," Horace remarked, a little dryly. But the smile on his face seemed to say that he was all for the idea.

"Have you tried teleporting yourself yet?" Ricky asked.

Bob Travers looked stunned by the idea. "Me? You're kidding!"

"The one goes with the other, according to Pip," Kippy said. "Teleporting small things is often part of being able to teleport yourself. And, teleporting is related somehow to moving things at a distance, like I can do." He sighed. "Though I haven't been able to teleport anything yet, either."

The older man frowned at that. "Don't you have to have an elf catalog of places to teleport, or something? I thought you couldn't teleport to places you've never been to before."

"That's just for places you can't see," Kippy returned. "An elf could technically teleport himself completely around the planet if he just went as far as he could see each time until he was back where he started. It would take a long time, but it could be done. But to go from one place to another that's not in a line of sight, they need to have been to the place before, or have the location in their book. But you could teleport yourself to the other side of the room, no problem."

Uncle Bob shook his head, but a new light of some sort was visible in his eyes. "Yeah, that's not a scary idea." He grinned. "Have you tried flying yourself yet?"

Kippy made a startled sound, and then looked at Charlie. "I haven't tried that yet!"

"Maybe you should." Charlie decided. But then he transferred his gaze back to Uncle Bob. "We can try experimenting with this. We have a room here just for that purpose. All sorts of things of varying sizes and weights you can try teleporting. Might give you a better idea where you stand just now."

"I never...I just..." Uncle Bob looked stunned. "Holy cow! Teleportation! Who would have believed it?"

"Us!" Kippy said, grinning. "We're all starting to wake up new talents. Skwish seems to be additive. Once you get a little going, it quickly builds into other things."

"Everyone that has skwish has some sort of built-in program for it," Adrian put in. "Talents vary from person to person. But it does seem to be true that certain talents are related, and that if you have one, you might have the other."

Charlie turned to Horace, who had been listening raptly "And what do you think about all this?"

The ghost hunter smiled. "I'm amazed, just as I always am. But not that surprised, actually. I've noticed the pattern of new talents building among you for more than a year now. I'd say that the more you use your talents, the broader and more powerful they will become."

Charlie got up from the table, signaling the others to also rise. He smiled at Uncle Bob. "Come on down the hall, and we'll see what we can learn."

Horace fell into step beside him as Charlie opened the door. "Um...I have been noticing a few new things, myself, Charlie."

Charlie froze in his tracks, and the others stopped right behind them.

"What?" Ricky asked, his voice now filled with humor. "You, too?"

Horace looked over his shoulder. "Oh, nothing like teleportation. But...I have really been sensing an unusual amount of...well, spiritual activity around here, lately."

Kippy circled the others to stand next to the ghost hunter. "You mean you're detecting more things like the phantom that hangs around Kinniston?"

"Pyewacket," Ricky supplied, and then shrugged when Kippy gave him a look. "Well, he has a name. How would you like it if we just called you 'that blond guy that floats around Charlie Boone'?"

Kippy looked surprised, and then a little bit annoyed. "I never float!"

"Not yet, anyway!" Adrian added, laughing. "But you really should see if you can!"

Kippy's eyes shifted to the other boy, and then he broke out into a smile. "You're a big help!"

Adrian nodded. "I just don't want to see an argument start!" His gaze landed on his boyfriend next. "Right, Rick?"

Ricky rubbed at his nose, but then nodded. "Uh, yeah. Sorry, Kip."

"I'm not upset. Lucky you!" But Kippy smiled at the other boy before turning back to Horace. "Um...we were saying?"

The ghost hunter chuckled. "I was saying that I have been sensing much more activity around us of late. It's making me wonder two things: one, if I am becoming more sensitive and aware of these creatures; and, two, if they are somehow being attracted by all the skwish activity around you boys."

Kippy turned to Charlie. "Is that possible? Could we be attracting the attention of creatures like Pyewacket?"

"Beats me." Charlie shrugged. "That's a question for an elf, if I ever heard one." He looked down the hallway towards the outer office area, and held a finger to his lips. "Not a topic for discussion just now," he said softly. "Let's wait until we get to the activity room."

Charlie spun around and went the other way down the hallway, and turned into a room there. He waited until all the others had entered the room and then shut the door. He smiled then, and pointed at the closed panel. "No reason to have Amy think we're any weirder than she does already."

"She doesn't think we're weird, Charlie," Kip said patiently. "She thinks the business we're in is pretty fascinating, really. I've talked to her, so I know."

"And she has a little bit of skwish herself," Adrian reminded. "Which is one reason I'll bet Max approved her to work for us."

"I like her," Uncle Bob said. "If that counts for anything. And I feel like I'm a fair judge of people."

"I rather like her, too," Horace admitted, smiling. "She strikes me as someone that is sympathetic towards the supernatural world."

"As long as it doesn't creep up behind her and grab her," Charlie stated, shaking his head. "I see no reason to parade ourselves in front of her just yet. The last thing I want is for her to run screaming from the office that ghosts or goblins are chasing her!"

Everyone laughed at that.

"You don't think that would really happen, do you?" Ricky asked. "Amy seems like a pretty level-headed person, to me."

"I think so, too," Charlie agreed. "I like her, and so far she has been perfect for the job. She's one of the most organized people I've ever met." He eyed the others pointedly. "Which means we should take care not to run her off, right? If she gets exposed to things a little at a time, she is much more likely to accept those things than if we dump a huge pile of them in her lap all at once."

"That actually sounds reasonable," Horace decided. "And responsible! Now...where were we?"

"We were going to see if my uncle Bob can teleport himself across the room," Ricky said.

"I thought we were going to see if Kip could fly," Uncle Bob countered, looking suddenly nervous.

"We can try both," Charlie decided, smiling.

The room they were in now was large, and outfitted in one corner much like a gym. There were a variety of weights in a rack by the wall, and an area with thick mats on the floor nearby. A line of six exercise bikes and a pair of treadmills stood in one corner, and another rack held balls of various sizes and shapes. Footballs, soccer balls, baseballs, golf balls, and even a couple of bowling balls. The place gave the appearance of having been outfitted by someone interested in exercising, but totally unprepared to focus on any one kind of activity.

Another corner looked like a library, with rows of bookcases filled with references of all kinds. Charlie and the others had exhausted themselves ordering books on every subject imaginable, from archaeology, architecture, and astronomy to Z-DNA, zero-point energy, and zoology. There was also a rack holding six laptops connected to the office network, a large shelved media library, and a square of comfortable seating designed to make reading enjoyable. The amount of information available to them was immense, and while the electronic sources were easily accessible, sometimes there was just no replacement for a good book.

There was another area in an opposite corner of the room, also equipped with comfortable seating, tables, and two huge, high-definition flat screen TVs hung one atop the other on one wall. Another rack there held more laptop computers and a variety of blank media to use with them. There were two large refrigerator-freezers, three microwave ovens, and a counter with a sink and a dishwasher. Other cabinets held a variety of items, all intended to assist them in group discussions and presentations of just about anything imaginable.

A large Christmas tree decorated with colored lights, shining ornaments, and red bows stood in the corner by the TVs, aglow even now with holiday spirit. There were presents beneath the tree, to be exchanged on the Thursday before Christmas, the last day the boys would be at the office. Christmas Eve day was for being with their friends, and hopefully enjoying whatever those friends - and their skwish - would bring them.

Also present, but not evident to the casual onlooker, was a complete interstellar communications system, custom designed and built by a friend of Durapar's on Engris, that could instantaneously place them in contact with any of their offplanet friends, and present the communication as holographic video with accompanying audio to any spot in the room. The intelligent interface simply looked for where people were present within the room, and offered them a chance to participate in what was happening. Private communications could also be designated, and shielded from others in the room. The room's lighting could also be controlled from the seating area, and the TVs offered complete access to the office computer network, and hence the online world.

Amy had rolled her eyes at her first glance at the room, smiling and pronouncing it a 'man cave', and thereafter not bothering them when they were inside unless the business was urgent. For that there was an intercom set up, hooked into the com system. It was controlled by the same tiny artificial mind that ran the communications system, and there was no way anyone could hear what was said in the room unless the contact was intentional. The room could also be shielded against the known spy devices available within the five galactic empires, and some elf magic provided by Max served to make the blackout total. No one was going to know what was seen or heard within the activity room, unless the boys willed it so.

Charlie smiled at the thought before continuing. "Kip? You want to go first?"

Kippy took a breath, released it, flexed his shoulders a few times, and nodded. "What do you want me to do?"

"Let's start simply. Just see if you can raise yourself up off the floor."

His boyfriend nodded, and Charlie watched as Kip closed his eyes and concentrated.

The results were not long in coming. Kippy emitted a startled squeak, and then rose towards the ceiling so fast that he put out his hands to keep from colliding with it. He need not have worried, however; just before his fingers contacted the overhead, he stopped.

"Thought I was going to crash," he said, grinning down at them.

"I would think your skwish knows what is dangerous for you," Charlie volunteered. "So far none of us have been able to hurt ourselves, and Frit and Pip have reminded us more than once that skwish is of a nature that protects us, and will not allow us to do things that are harmful unless we determinedly override it."

"Well, I was not determined to kiss the ceiling, so I guess it worked."

"Uh huh." Charlie smiled up at his boyfriend. "Can you fly around some?"

Apparently, he could. Kippy circled the room, looking absolutely delighted. "I always wanted to be able to fly!"

He returned to a point just above Charlie, and Charlie pointed at him. "Now, see if you can bring me up with you."

Kippy clapped his hands together in delight at the idea, and didn't even close his eyes this time. Charlie felt a sudden tug against his body, and in a moment he was floating near the ceiling a few feet from Kippy, who promptly sailed closer and kissed him. Charlie laughed as he returned the kiss, and then he took his hands and gently moved them apart. "Now, now. That's for later." He winked. "Like tonight?"

"I can think of some interesting possibilities, for later," Kippy whispered, his eyes dancing with little happy lights. "Like, tonight!"

Charlie felt a warm sensation inside at the idea, and immediately waved a hand. "Don't tell me now, I'm at work," he whispered back, smiling.

Kippy sighed, but nodded. "I know one thing. This will make putting the star atop the Christmas tree easy!"

"Having fun up there?" Ricky asked. He and Adrian had moved together, and both boys were grinning up at them.

Charlie nodded. "So far. "He looked over at Kip again. "Can you bring the others up with us?"

Kippy's eyes widened. "Well...that's a lot of weight!"

"Just try it. See what happens. It's certainly not as much mass as that tree you tossed around at Myer's field back at Halloween."

"Oh. That's true."

Kippy looked down at Rick, Adrian, Horace, and Uncle Bob, and grinned. "Want to join us?"

But before anyone could answer, all four of them lifted from the floor and moved slowly upwards to hang beside Charlie and Kippy.

"Wow," Charlie said then. "I wanted to know how many you could handle. I'm thinking ahead to a point where we all might need a rescue or something." He inspected his boyfriend a little more closely. "How are you feeling?'

Kippy licked his lips, and looked a little surprised. "I can feel the drain, but it's small. I think I could do this for a while, but I really have no idea how long."

"Well, keep us up here a few minutes, and see how you feel then."

Kippy nodded, and then grinned. All six of them formed into a formation and sailed slowly around the room.

"This is awesome," Ricky decided, after only the first circle. "I wish I could do this!"

"Nothing is impossible, Rick," Kippy offered back. "Frit and Pip have said that movement and teleportation are basic talents with all elves. If you have any skwish at all - and you do - you may eventually develop the ability to fly or teleport yourself. Just be patient."

"It would be a helleva trick to add to my magic act!" Uncle Bob agreed. "Look, mom - no wires!"

Charlie grinned at that, while some of the others chuckled knowingly. A trick like this would stump the critics, because it really was magic!

They circled the room a few more times, and Charlie looked at his watch then. "Five minutes, Kip. How do you feel?"

"Pretty good, Charlie. I'm pretty sure I could do this for a while longer before I started to get tired."

"Okay. Let's go down."

Their group settled gently to the floor again, and Charlie smiled at his boyfriend. "That deserves a hug later."

Kippy laughed. "I won't forget."

"That was invigorating." Horace said, smiling. "And I could see how a talent like that might be useful in chasing down a few ghosts. More than once I have been stymied by spirits that seemed to find the ceiling just as comfortable a place to inhabit as the floor."

"Give it time," Adrian said. "Skwish seems to have a mind of its own!"

"It acts that way," Charlie agreed. "Flying and teleporting would be very useful for all of us to learn. But if these are basic talents for elves, I'm a little concerned that we didn't develop them first."

"Anything can happen," Kippy reminded. "Keerby learned to manipulate time before he learned to teleport, he told me once. He said that sometimes, a gift manifests before the basics."

Ricky laughed at that, and turned to Charlie. "Which reminds me. I haven't seen you practicing your shape changing ability lately."

"Oh, he does," Kippy put in, before Charlie could answer. "He just usually does it in his bedroom, in front of the mirror. And me!"

Ricky gave a little pout at that. "Are you hiding it from Adrian and me?"

Charlie gave his friend a pat on the shoulder. "No."

Charlie concentrated a moment, felt that incredible sense of movement over every inch of his body as it magically reformed itself...and then Rick took a step backwards, looking shocked. "Hey! That's me!"

To all eyes present, there were now two Ricky Travers in the room. They were dressed differently, but otherwise appeared identical. Adrian sucked in his breath in surprise, but then looked delighted. "Oh, two for the price of one!"

Kippy clapped a hand to the side of his head in mock horror. "Oh, no! I can't deal with two of them!"

Uncle Bob stepped forward then. "Could you imitate me, Charlie?"

The second figure of Ricky nodded, and then flowed into a perfect copy of Uncle Bob, save for clothing.

"Wow," Horace breathed softly. "That is truly amazing!"

Uncle Bob looked delighted. "Oh, Charlie! Do you realize what this could do for a magic act? A magician could appear in two places at one time!"

The second figure of Uncle Bob laughed, and then flowed back into the familiar form of Charlie Boone. "Maybe later. I don't think I have time to go on the road with you just now."

Uncle Bob waved a hand. "Oh, I don't have a Christmas gig this year, anyway."

Ricky looked surprised. "I thought you had an offer?"

"I decided not to accept it. Susan and I will be spending the holiday at your house again. It's tradition." He leaned closer to his nephew. "And, I wanted to be with you boys, if at all possible. Christmas wouldn't be the same without it now."

Horace nodded. "I have to admit to feeling something very similar, Charlie. I've come to view you boys as my family." He winked then. "Well, along with Gretchen, that is."

Kippy gave a little sigh and grasped Charlie's hand. "Oh...that's so sweet. We see you and Uncle Bob as family, too."

"We do," Charlie agreed. "And you are both welcome, always."

"It's why I call you uncle," Ricky said to Bob, smiling. "Because you' know? Family?" He grinned at Horace. "We could call you uncle, too, if you like."

The older men both smiled, and Charlie could see them relax.

"So, what's on the burner for this year?" Uncle Bob asked. "Anything fun?"

"We don't know yet," Charlie answered. "Though fun would certainly be nice."

Kippy shook his head. "Christmas is still five days away. Something usually comes up, but so far it hasn't this year." He smiled. "It might be too early."

"We invited everybody," Adrian put in. "But you know how that goes."

"Yeah," Ricky added. "Everybody has lives. Go figure."

The entire group chuckled at that.

"We can count on the elves," Kippy figured. "I mean, at least seeing them. Max is really busy getting things ready for delivery, but he always manages to make time for us. And Frit and Pip - you couldn't keep them away!"

For a moment they all smiled, and no one said anything.

"Anyway," Charlie resumed, taking Uncle Bob by an arm, "we were about to see if you can teleport."

"Oh..." The man looked resigned then. "I guess I can try."

Kippy laughed, but it was meant to be reassuring. "It's not painful. And you can't get lost. You can't go farther than you can see, and this room is pretty large, but it's all in one spot, if you know what I mean."

Uncle Bob smiled. "I'm just a little nervous." But he nodded. "What do I do?"

Charlie and Kip looked at each other a moment before Charlie responded. "Well, I would try it like you did with the silver dollar. Pick a spot in the room, focus on it, and then want to be there."

The man looked surprised. "As easy as that?" He laughed. "I guess I was thinking I'd need some kind of incantation, or magic word."

"You didn't need that to teleport the coin," Ricky pointed out. "It doesn't work that way."

Kippy patted the older man on the arm. "Uh uh. Remember, we call this magic, but it's really a science. A science of the mind. It has to be directed. I think Charlie means that you wanting to move will be the same to your skwish as directing it to do something."

"Oh. I get it. Well..." Uncle Bob looked around the room, and his eyes settled on the Christmas tree. "Over there would be nice."

"Focus on the spot, and want to be there," Charlie repeated.

"Here goes nothing!" Uncle Bob frowned at the Christmas tree...and vanished.

And just as quickly reappeared by the Christmas tree, where his mouth fell open, and he gaped at them. "Oh, man!"

Ricky jumped up and down, grinning. "It worked! Uncle Bob - you're an elf!"

Adrian grabbed his boyfriend and twirled him around then, and they both fell into a hug, laughing.

Kippy grabbed Charlie's arm and hugged it to him. "This is just wonderful!"

Horace quickly crossed the room, took his finger, and poked Bob Travers. "What do you feel?"

Bob looked surprised. "That you just poked me."

Horace nodded, and screwed up his face, but did not raise his hand this time "What do you feel now?"

Bob stared at him a moment, and then smiled at Horace's expression. "Absolutely nothing."

Horace turned and smiled in Charlie's direction. "He made it in one piece!"

The boys all laughed, and then hastened across the room to congratulate Bob Travers. The man looked amazed, and Charlie couldn't help smiling at him. "Pretty cool, huh?"

"This will really change your act!" Ricky said, reaching an arm around his uncle to give him a quick hug. "And you think your illusions were good before!"

Uncle Bob suddenly frowned at that. "Oh. My act."

"Something wrong?" Kippy asked.

The magician looked unhappy. "I don't know if I should use this in my act."

Ricky looked astonished. "Are you kidding?"

"No." Bob looked pleadingly at Charlie. "It's...somehow, it wouldn't be fair. You know?"

Charlie smiled. "I know what you mean. You feel like it's cheating?"


Kippy gasped, and reached out to touch the man. "But you do a magic act. And this is real magic!"

Bob shook his head. "I perform illusions of magic, Kip. It's what the art is all about." He held up his hand and stared at it. "This is the real deal. It would be deceiving the audience."

Ricky put his hands on his hips. "You already deceive the audience, Unk. You make them think one thing is happening, when it's really something else. How could this not be better? It's real magic!" Ricky smiled at his uncle. "They'd really be getting their money's worth to see that!"

Bob looked like he was thinking about it, and then mirrored his nephew's smile. "Well...when you put it like that...maybe I can work it into a few of the smaller acts."

Charlie nodded. "If you feel it's deceptive, I can understand that. It's not what you've been practicing all these years." He considered his own words. "And, there is always some risk to performing real magic in front of people."

Ricky turned to stare at Charlie. "Like what?" But then his eyes widened, and he nodded. "Oh. Yeah."

"Risk?" Uncle Bob asked. "What risk?"

Charlie spread his hands. "For one, you'd be using skwish out in public. There may be more people out there in the world, like our new friends in Kinniston, who can detect that."

Kippy suddenly nodded in understanding. "Oh! The witches!"

"Other skwish users," Adrian put in, nodding. "I didn't think of that."

"Me, either, until Charlie said something," Rick admitted. "It might attract attention you don't want."

Charlie nodded. "There is also the problem of your act being too good. Once a trick becomes so good that it seems like real magic, others in your profession are going to take notice."

Uncle Bob sighed at that. "There was a time when I wanted that!"

"I know. And that's okay. You just don't want to go too far, like teleporting elephants to the back of the theater, or moving yourself from one side of the stage to the other in plain sight."

The magician laughed at that. "I'd never go that far, Charlie. That would be too much like telling!"

"Maybe you can use it in little acts," Ricky suggested. "And see how it goes."

"Might be a good idea," Adrian agreed. "Test the waters."

Bob looked from one boy to another, and then smiled. "I think I won't use it in the act at all. At least, not at first. Then I'll just see what happens."

Ricky emitted a huge, dramatic sigh. "Doesn't that just plain suck? You have a magic act, and now you have some real magic...and you can't use it!"

"Just use it wisely," Charlie counseled. "Keep the mystery there. Don't do anything out in the open. If people think it's an act, it doesn't matter what you do."

"I agree." Bob Travers rubbed his brow. "Quite a day, I think."

Ricky shook his head, turned to the Christmas tree, and gently plucked a golden ball from its branches. He held it in his hand and grinned at it. "Now, the only thing that could make the day better is if I wished that this ornament would move over to that counter by the sink, and it did."

They all stared at the golden orb, but it remained in Ricky's hand.

"It didn't work," Adrian said, looking disappointed.

Ricky laughed. "I didn't expect it to. But it made you all look, didn't it?" Ricky laughed again, and ducked quickly as his boyfriend took a playful swipe at him. "Aw, don't get mad!"

Adrian turned to the swipe into a grab, and pulled Ricky closer and kissed him. Charlie and the others grinned as Adrian laid one on his boyfriend, and then they laughed as the two parted and Ricky looked dazed. "Now...that was some magic!"

Kippy reached over and carefully took the glass ornament from Rick's hand, and hung it back on the tree. "Before something gets broken," he admonished.

They all heard a soft chime then, followed by Amy's voice as it gently filled the room. "Mr. Boone? There's a young man by the name of Kiernan Willman here to see you" Her voice dropped in volume. "He doesn't have an appointment."

"Speaking of witches!" Kippy said, his eyes suddenly lighting up.

"And cute ones, too," Adrian put in, grinning at Kip.

Because Amy's message was directed at Charlie, the comments by the others were muted by the AI, and Amy did not hear them. Fortunately!

"Oh, that's okay!" Charlie called. "Can you show him to the activity room?" Charlie blinked at an afterthought, and then smiled as he called, "And call me Charlie, okay?"

"Yes, Mr. Boone. I'll bring him right back."

"Thank you!"

Kippy shook his head then. "What is with that? Why won't she use our names?"

Charlie smiled. "I get the feeling she thinks it's too personal. Or somehow unprofessional."

"We'll break her of that!" Adrian said, grinning.

"May take some time," Ricky offered. "She's a tough one."

Charlie waved a hand at the door, and started moving that way. "I'm more interested in what Keirnan has to say. Come on!"

Horace fell in beside Bob as they followed the boys to the door. "Is this fun, or what?" the ghost hunter whispered, sounding delighted.

Bob Travers smiled. "Yes! And I get the feeling the day is just starting to get interesting, too!"

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