An excerpt in celebration of Easter


There’s a Trick to It


As usual, Piper was up before the sun. And as usual, she climbed the stairs to her uncle’s library where she could explore his vast collection of books without disturbing Aunt Bess.

She and Bess had grown even closer since Houdini had left to dazzle Chicago with his feats of daring and wonder. On Easter Sunday, Bess had taken her into Manhattan where she and two hundred-thousand other people flaunted their new spring clothing in the parade along Fifth Avenue.

So when Piper strolled into the kitchen for breakfast and spotted a familiar head of peppered curls poring over a newspaper, she hesitated.

Aunt Bess was removing a steaming flat-bottomed dish from the oven. When she saw Piper, she smiled and said, “Guess who decided to grace us with his presence?”

Seated in his customary chair as though he’d never been gone, Houdini lowered the paper and smiled. “Come give your uncle a big birthday hug,” he said, opening his arms wide.

“I didn’t know it was your birthday,” Piper replied, making timid steps toward him.

When they embraced, she couldn’t tell if she sensed tension between them or if it was just her imagination. After all, how could he have known for sure that it had been her in Margery’s parlor? The only thing he could possibly have seen was a pair of glowing stars, which wouldn’t be out of the ordinary in a weird room like that.

As much as she tried, Piper couldn’t put the events of that day behind her. Miss Fortune’s unexpected return to the detention hall had forced Sal to abort the teleportation spell. By the time he was able to reset the Kefitzat Haderech, Piper had already been collared by Rand and his mother.

She had seen him beckoning her through the mirror and had inched her way across the room. But the air of glamour surrounding Margery had so entranced her that she could barely take her eyes off the woman.

Sal had taken a huge risk by reaching his arms through the Kefitzat Haderech to rescue her. And though he successfully retrieved her with each of their boy parts and girl parts intact, Piper’s gratitude had been anything but profound. Margery had been about to reveal something about her past when Sal’s eager hands had snatched her away.

Piper wondered why Margery hadn’t come crashing through the mirror to pursue her. Sal rejected the notion with a shake of his head.

“She can’t use it,” he said calmly. “Only kids can. Another failsafe built into the mirror. Once you reach the age of eighteen, pffft. You have to wait in line at Grand Central along with everyone else.”

That was over a month ago. Since then Piper had spent no time with Houdini. Maybe that’s why his embrace felt so cold. With an impassive pat on the back, Piper stepped away and sat down across from Houdini.

“This morning, shirred eggs for the birthday boy,” Aunt Bess said, placing a silver serving tray on the table in front of her husband, “oatmeal, fresh squeezed orange juice, toast, and a big glass of milk.”

“And for you, young lady,” Bess said, pouring Piper a bowl of Uncle Sam Cereal, “Uncle Sam wants you to eat right, be strong, and keep regular.”

“Aunt Bess!” Piper groaned and rolled her eyes.

She caught Houdini trying to hide a smirk behind his newspaper. He took a sip of his juice and turned the page. Then he made a clucking sound with his tongue and stiffly set the paper down over his breakfast. His smile was gone.

“Remember that woman I bumped into on the boardwalk?” he asked Piper with a sullen look in his eyes.

“The nice lady with the, umm…” Piper caressed her jawline with her fingertips.

“Krao Farini,” Houdini choked. “She passed away.”

Piper gasped. “What? But she seemed so healthy, so full of life!”

Houdini shook his curled head. “Says here she died from influenza. Maybe she caught something that night in the rain.”

Or maybe something caught her, Piper thought.

“Such a shame,” Bess said, consoling her husband with a gentle pat on his shoulder.

“If anyone has gone to heaven, that woman has,” Houdini said, laying his hand over his wife’s.

“Right next to your mother?” Piper said, shoveling a spoonful of Uncle Sam flakes through her lips. As soon as the words left her mouth, she wished she had swallowed them instead of the cereal. She could see Bess holding her breath and staring at Piper with eyes as wide as saucers.

Houdini neatly folded his newspaper, leaned across the table, and looked his niece in the eye.

“So, my dear, have you been practicing your magic?” he said in a cheerful manner, clearly trying to change the subject.

“Her studies have been keeping her very busy,” Bess said, the tension in her body visibly easing now that the conversation had shifted.

“Oh, I doubt homework would keep this one busy for long,” Houdini said with a note of pride in his voice. “She’s a fast learner.”

Bess leaned in close and said, “Then maybe tonight she can help you with your spelling while I visit my mother. Poor soul hasn’t been feeling well.”

“What a splendid idea, my darling. It’ll give Piper and me a chance to catch up—maybe teach her a new trick or two?”

Houdini smiled hopefully at his niece. But there was something about his request that made her uncomfortable.

“I gotta go. I’ll miss the bell!” Piper grabbed her knapsack and rushed for the door.

“Tonight! My study! Six o’clock!” Houdini called after her. “Don’t be late!”

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