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The Great Callisto


Stephen Collicoat

'What a mess,' Frank Vestey groaned. 'Here, give me a hand with this.'

Robin, his wife came over and together they pushed a heavy tea-chest against the wall. They squeezed past it down the corridor.

'Do you think there's a market for this stuff?' she asked doubtfully, taking in room after room crammed with posters, sepia or black and white photos, mirrored boxes divided into three, long knotted scarves, a stuffed rabbit, packs of playing cards, dusty top hats and scrapbooks bulging with yellowing advertisements or articles.

'I hope so,' Frank said feelingly, 'Otherwise, I'll have it all carted to the tip. Until we get rid of this junk, we can't even think of selling Uncle Arthur's house.'

He pointed at a large poster of a magician. 'What a joke,' he laughed scornfully. ' "The Great Callisto'' Arthur Vestey - born and died in Collingwood - ''International Man of Magic'' '.

'It seems sad,' Robin mused. 'Was he good at magic?'

Frank shrugged. 'I don't know. Made a living I suppose. My father said he was very successful up until the end of the nineteen sixties. He had an act at the "Tivoli'' and when that folded, went on to give solo performances at ''The Princess'' and ''Her Majesty's'' Theatres.'

'That must have been ages ago. Why did he retire while he was still young?'

'Well, I don't know. There's a silly story in our family concerning his last performance. It's said he called for a volunteer from the audience. A woman jumped up and went onstage. Uncle Arthur went through his usual Mumbo Jumbo and she disappeared. Trouble was, she never came back. Her husband was terribly upset.'

Robin giggled. 'How awful! What happened?'

'Can't say. Police were called in. The press were very severe. Called him a threat to public safety. A lot of nonsense, I'm sure. The woman probably eloped. Might have gone off with Uncle Arthur for all I know. It's said, he had an eye for the ladies.'

'Did you know him well?'

'No. I only met him once or twice when I was growing up. Funny old coot. The odd thing is I didn't think he even liked me. Then he finishes up leaving me this.'

Frank cast a critical eye over the Edwardian house.

'Terrible wreck,' he decided. ' Best to bulldoze it down. Nice, big block though. A developer would probably pay 750 grand for the land alone. This windfall will set us up for life.'

Frank wandered into the next room while Robin examined one of the scrapbooks.

'Darling, come in here,' he called excitedly.

She went into the room. Frank was posing in front of a full-length mirror. He had draped a black silk cape over his shoulders and wore a tophat at a jaunty angle. Beside him on a small table lay a purple, velvet-covered box.

''What do you think,' he demanded. 'Very fetching? Worthy of ''The Great Callisto'' ?'

'You look very silly,' she laughed. 'What's in the box?'

He opened the box with a flourish and took out a long, thin stick. It had a silver head, while the shaft was made of black lacquered wood. It was shorter than a baton, but a quarter the length of a walking stick.

'Why, this is my wand of course.' He waved it above his head. 'What's a conjurer without a wand?

'Abracadabra,' he intoned.

He looked up and frowned.

Robin wasn't there.

Typical, he thought irritably. She always leaves before the punch line.

After a while, he walked through the house, calling her name.

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