PROLOGUE: This Is Me Now
Time was running out. Everything was falling apart.
An army of slot machines dinged and whirled like a lazy, out-of-sync marching band. Corset-clad waitresses, faces layered in makeup, waited at the bar to pick up a fresh round of drinks. Off in the distance, tourists hitched up their belts, tossed fistfuls of chips onto horseshoe-shaped blackjack tables, and puffed on cheap brown cigars. I was almost jealous of them: the thrill of the big bet, the whizz and click of the roulette wheel, the ffffph of the card next dealt. But I wasn’t here to gamble.
I slumped low in my chair, nearly defeated, stewing in the stale air of the casino bar, crumpled cigarette butts piled in the ashtray in front of me. Orphaned playing cards—aces and threes and jacks, hearts and clubs and diamonds, dropped and discarded after a long week—littered the carpet at my feet, taunting me. It was our last day in Las Vegas and my big reveal was crumbling. I needed to improvise, to do something—anything—to pull off my scheme. I had been setting it up for weeks. I couldn’t let myself fail.
I was surrounded by magicians. They stood all around me—some of whom, over the past year, had become my best friends. There was Jeremy Griffith, the card junkie from Los Angeles; Xavior Spade, the no-bullshit sleight-of- hand master from New York City; and Chris Ramsay, the bearded and tatted-up YouTube pioneer—the guy who had gotten me into this mess in the first place. It had been a year since I first fell into the underground world of magic and became friends with its key players. Everything had been building up to this point. I couldn’t let it all come tumbling down. It was now or never.
We were in Las Vegas for Magic Live, the largest magic convention in the United States. Each August, thousands of professional and amateur magicians flock to the Orleans, a depressing casino a mile south of the main strip and a few years past its prime. Bits and pieces of the themed décor, or at least the lifestyle associated with the slouchy wetness of New Orleans and the Gulf states, peppered its game room floor, and all the magicians invariably gathered at the Mardi Gras Bar for drinks and talk. This little Bourbon Street–themed lounge had more or less been our home since we showed up a few days earlier. I figured that I had plenty of time to pull off my plan. I thought I was all set.
I had been keeping my secret for months, and it was nearly killing me. But I had devised a scheme and I was determined to stick to it.
“Ramsay,” I called out. He was chatting with Xavior. “Come over here. I want to show you something that I’ve been working on.”
He walked over, and I pulled a new deck of cards from my backpack. My heart raced and my hands shook as I fumbled with the box’s cellophane wrapper, my fingers effectively turning to useless nubs.
Ramsay chuckled sarcastically. “Let me know when you get that figured out, bud,” he said, turning to walk away.
“You open it, then,” I said. He took the deck from me, tore off the wrapper, and sliced through its adhesive seal with his middle finger—the symbol for the four of spades tattooed on its side, near the deepest knuckle. He handed the deck back to me and I took the cards out of the box.
Ramsay hiked up the sagging waist of his jeans, swiveled his baseball cap backward, stroked his beard, and waited for me to begin. My heart lodged itself in my throat. I wasn’t sure words could get past the dense pulse.
“Just point to a card,” I said, stretching the cards out like a ribbon as I drew my hands apart. Ramsay pointed to one near the middle.
“That one?” I asked.
“Let’s have a look.” I squared up the stack and turned it over, revealing Ramsay’s selection.
“The two of clubs,” I said. “Good choice. Now, let’s take your card”—I pulled it from the deck, held it in my right hand, and placed the rest of the deck on a table next to us—“and just . . .”
I ripped off the card’s top-right corner, a foot away from Ramsay’s face.
“. . . watch,” I said, slowly opening my right hand, which held the torn piece. I went from pinky to index, slowly lifting each finger one by one. But when my hand was completely open, there was nothing there. The piece had disappeared.
“Check your back pocket,” I said after a pause.
“No!” Ramsay shouted. He smiled, reached into his pocket, and pulled out the ripped corner. “Ah, man,” he said, laughing.
“Check it,” I told him. “Make sure it fits—that it’s from the same card.” He brought the two pieces together. The torn edges lined up perfectly.
“That was really good, man,” he said. “You got me. I’m impressed.”
“But here’s the thing,” I said, holding out my hand. “Let me see the piece.” He placed it into my hand, face up, the two and the club symbol, the card’s index, visible to us. “This is a special card.” I paused and looked up at him. His brow crinkled, unsure of what I was getting at.“Because this is me now,” I said. “I’m the Two of Clubs. I’m in.”
Excerpted from Magic Is Dead: My Journey Into the World Most Secretive Society of Magicians, courtesy of Dey Street Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.