With an assistant Upchuck felt he had enough of an act to move to the next level in the art of illusion. The next day he sought out Ms. Li on his lunch break. They were both shrewd in business, and he didn't waste time in getting to the proposal: a magic show set up exclusively for himself two weeks from this Friday night. In agreement for ticket sales, he asked only a small base fee for himself and his new assistant, who had reluctantly agreed to the whole affair. Ms. Li seemed to waver in this decision until Upchuck casually mentioned that she could use the earnings for something like tracking chips in the gym equipment to keep it from vanishing, or perhaps a new P.A. system. If she found a system good enough, he claimed, she could enhance "daily reminders" for the student body during the morning announcements.

That simple statement sounded outlandish but rather useful to the principal, who recognized subliminal messages for their worth. The idea of subtle suggestions for the students had never occurred, but she felt it was possible with their impressionable young minds. Thus the magic show was approved.

In the meantime, Stacy learned and practiced every evening. She learned the art of card prediction and the sleight of hand required for the infamous ten dollar bill trick. That was first; she insisted on it.

Upchuck taught her the tricks of the trade, tenderly, as he imagine he might teach her to be a gentle lover… though he dare not say it aloud. He knew well enough that she was too delicate for the ferocity of his lusting hands. He took care to stay at a respectful distance and looked her over when she wouldn't notice. He didn't dare brush his fingers against hers when they passed off a Two of Hearts, didn't dare touch her shoulder in their broad gestures meant to distract the eye from their routine. Purposely he relaxed his pretentious vocabulary during their practices, only putting on the grand dialogue to be used for the audience once he and his assistant grew comfortable with the routine. There needed to be as little confusion and as much coordination as possible. They learned partner illusions with enthusiastic naivety, each learning the other's separate role within all the trappings played out on the stage. Stacy allowed herself to laugh long and loud with Charles when they made mistakes, rather than fitfully fretting. Without being conscious of it, she became comfortable with him.

Once she was left each night he committed the lustful thoughts to his journal pages among the pure excitement of having someone to share the enthusiasm of magic, but remained a gentleman in the lady's presence. In the end he could not admit to himself that he was simply afraid of what to do if the other sex welcomed his advances.

Stacy noticed this tactful side of the boy. While she had originally expected his perverted commentary to soar when they were alone, she was surprised to discover that he was subdued. As nice as it was to not have the world's biggest creep on her case, she was a creature who measured her self-worth in her attractiveness. And if the world's biggest creep wasn't making a move on her, something was wrong. In the end she had to admit that he wasn't as creepy as she had suspected.

And so the tentative partnership went on: evening routines in the garage followed by Charles-crafted cold cut sandwiches before Stacy's departure. Initially she couldn't bring herself to even think of eating food that Upchuck had touched, particularly with processed cheese and ham. But the sandwich included plenty of vegetables, a side of sliced carrots and bell peppers, and once he offered to cook a quick pot of tomato bisque her stomach growled. It was during one such meal on the first Saturday afternoon when he revealed his plan. A large green trunk had stood ominously in the corner of the garage that day, but neither of them mentioned it during that first hour. At last he felt his nerves were ready.

"Stacy…" Upchuck said her name carefully. It wasn't often that he simply said a girl's name. He savored it. "It is time."

She looked at him with such sudden wonder in her eyes, she forgot to swallow the bite of sandwich she had been chewing. He found the look comically endearing.

"Time?" She squeaked around a mouthful of food.

"There is the ultimate trick that I wish to perform at the show. The final act. It is the one thing that truly requires assistance, the very reason I need you."

She relaxed a little. "What is it?"

With his forefinger beckoning in a come with me gesture he led her back out to the garage to fetch up one of his illusionary magic books. She got up as she finished the sandwich and paused at the sink to wash her hands. Charles had flipped to a dog-eared page with step-by-step diagram of a man and woman standing next to a large box and now handed it off to his partner as he fetched a very complicated garment from his aptly named bag of tricks.

"First, I am wrapped in a straight jacket!" He stepped over to the hold up his custom-fitted canvas and leather jacket as she followed along in the book. With the other hand he reached over by the tools and took a long chain from a nail in the wall.

"Then, my dear, once you ensure that I am unable to move-" he purred lasciviously, draping the chain over his shoulders, "you chain me up for good measure."

Stacy was already beginning to blush. She had heard people talk about whips and chains. Something to do with sex. This wasn't it, was it?

"But you must do it properly in order to facilitate my escape. Then!" Upchuck grunted as he laid down the trunk, unlatched the lid and flipped it open. He hopped inside, proclaiming dramatically, "You lay me down and lock me inside as I tell the audience that my oxygen supply is limited within the confines of this box. We shall have a password-"

"Ooh! Can it be 'daisies?'"

"Why in the world did you choose 'daisies' as the password?"

"I dunno, maybe because of those fake daisies that appear from the wand. I like daisies. It's the first thing I thought of."

Upchuck sighed, one part amusement, one part exasperation at her simplicity. "Fine, 'daisies' it shall be. It doesn't matter what it is, for you will conveniently forget once I am inside the box. Aside from the purposeful amnesia, the next part will require your finest acting."

"I don't understand," she shook her head, brow wrinkled in confusion.

"Exactly what we want the audience to think. Observe. Normal by all considerations. However," he knelt down to knock on the sides of the box. The side which hinged the lid sounded different. Flimsy, somehow. With a coy smile he unhooked the rear panel from the frame, folded it beneath him and exited the box via the opening. "A false back!"

Stacy was amazed by the intricacy of the trunk and the simplicity of the trick.

"At this point you are to distract the audience with your forgetfulness and your fear. They shall be watching you, expecting you for the next move as I crawl out the back to safety. Then, when the time is right, you give up the act and cast the attention to the floor. The spotlight follows and - ta-da! - it lands upon me unharmed and perfectly alive, a free man!"

Stacy looked from Charles to the trunk to the diagram in her hands.

"It won't work. Somebody will spot you!"

"With that attitude, yes. If we practice it until perfection then we have a chance."

A pause hung in the air as Stacy considered all the theatrics that would go into this final act. It would be a fantastic stunt if they could pull it off, and part of her craved the fame enough to agree to the task at hand. "So what do I have to do first?"

"Ah, this is what requires trust between the magician and the assistant." All the leer and lust was gone from Charles' eyes. They were terribly serious, constricted pupils darting back and forth between hers. "You must learn how to properly restrain a man in a straight jacket."

He held up the dirty white garment to explain how his arms crossed his body in order to be buckled above his elbows. Four straps on his back held the garment closed and one large strap ran between his legs from front to back. "This is why you must be comfortable and trusting enough to learn this through and through. I have enough flexibility to allow for escape, at least up to a certain point. If I am ratcheted down too tight I really cannot escape and the trick goes wrong."

He handed off the jacket for her to inspect. When she seemed satisfied with it she slipped it over Upchuck's outstretched arms. She began tightening the straps on the back. Once she reached the waist buckle she was pleased when he leaned to helpfully pull the crotch strap through so she wouldn't have to. That was all he did; beyond that he stood passively with his covered hands on his upper arms and directed her in how tight the restraints must be. Afterward came the locks and chains. It was a matter of trial and error, of course. Until this moment nobody had ever been willing to tie up Charles for any purpose.

++To be continued++