Subcutaneous Magazine Fall 2016 - Page 30

Charlie Willett, my old partner slash mentor when I was on the carnival circuit, used to say that a man who can do cold readings will never starve. I didn’t realize how right he was until after the Donohue séance, but the Donohue séance convinced me to give up cold readings forever. Starvation’s not the worst thing that can happen to a person. What’s a cold reading? It’s a mentalist’s bread and butter. It’s a system for tricking the hopeful and gullible into believing that you can see inside their souls. There’s a million ways to pull it off, and each operator puts their own twist on it, but the gist of it is that you start off by saying things that are true about everyone, and then you watch your mark real hard to figure out what he wants you to say next. I’ll give you an example. This is how Charlie used to do readings when we first started working together. Charlie was on stage in a tuxedo and tails, with his hair pomaded into a glistening, impenetrable ebony dome, and his fierce, dark eyes ringed with black. I was his lovely assistant, strutting my stuff in a purple cocktail dress. I stood by the barker’s side before the show, supplementing his pitch with some old-fashioned sex appeal and collecting the dimes. Half of the dimes went into the kitty. The other half I stored inside a hollowed-out book, where Charlie couldn’t drink them away. I think Charlie knew that I was holding out on him, and that it was for his own damn good. “Ladies and gentlemen,” Charlie said. “You are here today to witness an experiment in piercing the veil between the worlds of the living and the deceased.” He didn’t speak too loud but he had a resonant voice that carried. More than that, when he spoke, people went quiet to listen. Charlie picked up attention like a magnet picks up nails. “My name is Dr. Franklin Illumina. For years I studied parapsychology at Harvard University, the finest school in the world. I was obsessed with proving that Professor Einstein’s scientific revelations about the nature of time and space relate to the spiritual teachings of those Oriental swamis who preach the immortality of the soul. Through rigorous study and training I learned to attune the electric energy of my brain waves to the vibrational energies of the great beyond, and communicate directly with the spirits of those long dead. But when academia proved too rigid and hidebound to appreciate my discoveries, I decided to travel the country to share my research with the common people. My friends, as a scientist, I ask only that you keep an open mind. If you are willing to suspend your skepticism and approach the unknown with a sense of wonder, then tonight you will witness a feat so extraordinary that most men think it impossible. But first, I must beg your silence, as I prepare to make contact.” He closed his eyes and crossed his hands and bowed his head as if in prayer. “Ommmmmm,” he hummed. “Ommmmmm. Ommmmmm.” Then he bowed his head as if in prayer. “Ommmmmm,” he hummed. “Ommmmmm. Ommmmmm.” Then he paused for a moment, a carefully calculated moment just long enough for the audience to get a little bit antsy. “I sense a spirit amongst us!” he shouted, shattering the tension he’d built, with his eyes rolled all the way back in his skull. “She’s whispering her name. It’s very faint – she’s so near to us, but so far away – but yes, I can hear . . . it starts with an M. Margaret, perhaps? Has anyone here lost a loved one named Margaret? A mother, or a grandmother perhaps?” Charlie usually started his shows by calling on a spirit named Margaret. I never did find out why he was so fond of that particular name. Perhaps he was chasing a ghost of his own. But it was as good a name for our purposes as any other. The laws of probability dictate that in any good-sized crowd there’ll likely be somebody who’s lost a friend or relation named Margaret, and if not, then someone’s bound to chime in on behalf of a Martha or a Mary or a Margot or suchlike. “You, sir, I sense that the spirit is calling out to speak with you!” Charlie proclaimed to the most promising-looking volunteer. “Please, let my lovely assistant Teresa escort you to the stage.” While I led the mark up, Charlie studied him like a specimen under a microscope. He assessed his age, his weight, his clothes, his gait, if there was a wedding ring on his hand, if there was a lodge ring on his hand, if there were calluses on his hands, what kind of shoes he was wearing, what shape his shoes were in, how he acted when a pretty girl in a skimpy dress took him by the hand, whether he was anxious, whether he was used to public speaking, and about a dozen other things as well, all in the time it took him to walk across the tent. Charlie could read a person by sight like a mechanic picking out cars by their make and build. Let’s say the mark was a young hayseed in overalls with a wedding band, a common enough type amongst carnival-goers. “Young man, what is your name?” Charlie asked. The answer to this question, of course, was different every time.“I’m Mark,” the mark might say, and sometimes he’d slip out a few more valuable tidbits about himself by way of introduction. “Mark, I sense the presence of a spirit who wishes to speak with you very badly. But even I can only hear the spirit world in whispers and echoes. I’ll need your aid in order to interpret the message. Will you help me?” This appeal got the mark some skin in the game. Now he wasn’t just an audience m Ȱ݅́ѕѼ́и) ɱЁͽѡɽݕ剔Ё݅́ѡˊe)ձЁЁ́ݸ($+q9ܰ5ɝɕа݅́͡ȁѡt ɱͭ)Օѥ́ѡݕɔхѕ́ͼѡݕ((0