It was when the girl picked up the knife that Chuck stopped what he was doing. Chuck knew it was only a first rehearsal, but the entire magic act had been second rate at best. The Amazing Francos, constituted nothing more than one middle aged man with a thrift store top hat and cape, one teenage girl with a ruffled shirt, and some second rate tricks. Chuck had read enough books and done enough magic himself to know how every illusion was done. When the magician did the old 'pull handkerchiefs from his sleeves' trick Chuck just rolled his eyes. But it was when the disappearing cabinet shook as the girl exited through the secret panel in the back that Chuck had stopped watching all together and turned back to taping down lighting wire for the small community center hall.

But now - now the girl had taken a knife and the magician had taken his place in front of a painted plywood target. The magician took a large balloon, stuck it between his teeth and bent over so that the balloon was covering the bull's-eye.

"Do I have to, Dad?" the girl asked. It was the first words Chuck had heard the girl speak the whole rehearsal. She was probably about his age, 14 or so. She was skinny, with long blond hair down to the middle of her back and a gap between her front teeth. Chuck hadn't noticed the gap before, probably because the girl hadn't smiled.

"Just like in practice, darlin," the magician said encouragingly through clenched teeth.

Chuck felt a hand on his shoulder; it was Morgan. "Chuck, you done running the stage lights yet, I've got the spot…"

"Shhhh," Chuck said, indicating the stage. "It's finally getting exciting."

The girl raised her knife and paused. "But what if…"

"Becky! Just do it," the magician snapped.

The girl nodded her head, took a breath and held it. Chuck took a breath too, involuntarily, and then POP! It had all happened faster than Chuck could see: a quick flick of the wrist and then the knife was sticking out the board.

The magician spat the balloon out of his mouth and waved his cape as he bowed.

"Wow, that was pretty good," Morgan said to Chuck. "Maybe you and me should try that some time."

"Um…no. You about ready to plug these babies in?" Chuck asked indicating the lighting cables.

"Yeah, let me run the extension down here." Morgan turned and headed up the aisle.

"And now for the big finale," the magician announced with a flourish.

"Can't we skip this one?" the girl asked. Chuck thought she looked a little pale.

The magician walked over and grasped the girl by the chin, pulling her eyes up to meet his. "Nerves of steel, remember? People will see your fear; they can smell it. Don't you forget that." He let go of her and, reaching in his belt, pulled out several knives and handed them to the girl.

Chuck heard the girl muttering, "nerves of steel," over and over under her breath as her father took his position in front of the target.

"Just like we've practiced, now. Quickly. 1, 2, 3 and it's over," the magician called out. He raised his arms and legs spread-eagle over the bull's-eye. "And darlin, don't' forget to smile." Chuck thought he saw him wink.

The girl raised a knife in her right hand, fanning out the others in her left. Chuck counted five in all. She was shaking at first, but then she waited, one heartbeat, two. He saw her take a deep breath and hold it. Calmness seemed to overcome her; her eyes focused on the magician with a cold look of determination.

"Ha!" the girl puffed out as the first knife hit the board and then another. Thuank! Thuank! Thuank!

POP! FLASH! POP! POP! "AH!"

Just as the girl was throwing the fourth knife, the lights flashed a blinding blaze accompanied by loud pops and sizzles and then all the lights in the hall went black. It was the magician who had cried out.

Chuck, imagining the worst, dropped his gaff tape and stood, but in the sudden darkness, could see nothing but white flashes before his eyes. He heard the clang of a single knife on the floor and the rushed footfalls towards where the magician had been. "Daddy, are you ok?" the girl called out.

What followed was a long series of profanity; some of the words Chuck didn't even know.

A single fluorescent emergency light hummed to life above Chuck's head. He could see the grey image of the magician rushing towards him.

"What the hell did you do!" the magician raged, "You could have gotten me killed! Do you think this is some sort of game!"

Morgan came up behind Chuck. "Sir, It wasn't his fault. I plugged the spot light in and the thing just exploded."

The magician was close enough now that Chuck could see a small red spot of blood soaking through his white shirt and a tear at the magician's sleeve.

"If you two thought this little trick would be funny…"

"I'm really sorry," Chuck interrupted, "But it was an accident. I didn't even do anything. I was just watching."

"The wiring in this place is what, a hundred years old?" Morgan added.

The magician paused for a moment; Chuck could see him calming down. "Well, next time you see a knife throwing act, wait until it's over before you go plugging things in. Okay, kids?"

"Yes, sir," Chuck mumbled.

Morgan jerked his thumb over his shoulder. "I'll go find the circuit breaker."

"And I'm going to the car to find a new shirt." The magician fingered the hole in his sleeve. "Be back in ten minutes," he said, turning to the girl who had followed behind him.

"Ok," the girl replied. "I'll start cleaning up."

"That's my princess." The magician kissed her on the forehead and walked towards the exit.

Chuck turned to watch the man as he pushed his way through the doors.

"His bark is worse than his bite."

"Hu?" Chuck turned back to the girl.

"I said that his bark is worse than his bite….when he was yelling just now."

"Yeah, I'm just glad he wasn't killed."

"It was his own fault."

"What was?"

"That he was cut. He's the one that moved, not me. I don't miss."

"But you looked so nervous."

"Stage fright; I hate people looking at me," she explained.

Chuck glanced around at the rows of empty chairs. "There was just me. Oh, and Morgan."

"You're people." She smiled shyly and then turned to go to the stage.

Chuck didn't know why, but suddenly he felt very glad that this girl considered him "people".

He followed her up to the stage and held out a flashlight to her. "Here this might help."

"Thanks." She clicked it on. Between the flashlight and the emergency light, Chuck could see well enough.

"So," Chuck said, "been in the magic business long?" The question sounded stupid, even to his own ears.

"It's something we do sometimes," she answered as she began picking up props. "My dad has always liked sleight of hand, that sort of thing."

"And you?" Chuck asked. He started adjusting the foot lights. He'd already set them, but it gave him an excuse to still be there.

"Not really, but he's my dad, so I go along."

"And your mom?" Chuck asked.

The girl turned from him to pack away some props in a brown leather bag. "She's not around."

"That's tough."

"Yeah, it is," she agreed.

" My mom took off a couple of years ago; so I know how it sucks," Chuck added.

She still didn't turn around, but she hadn't moved to put anything more away either. "Yeah," she finally said. "That's a good word for it." She quickly shoved the last of the props in the bag and, picking it up, turned to face Chuck.

"So are you like the stage crew guy around here, or what?" she asked, indicating the lights he had been fiddling with.

"Not really. When they needed help with the variety show fundraiser, we just volunteered.

"But you seem to know what you're doing,"

"Yeah, well, we're in the Audio-Visual club at school. Morgan's the president."

"Morgan?"

"Yeah, my friend. He went to go look for the circuit breaker."

"That short kid?"

"Yeah, that's him."

The girl started to walk off the stage. "I guess I better go find my dad. Thanks for the flashlight." She held it out to him.

"Yeah, sure." He reached for it, and his fingers brushed hers as she handed it to him. "Sorry again, about the lights thing."

She shrugged. "At least it made things exciting." She smiled at him.

Chuck's stomach did a flip flop. "Yeah, it did."

The lights in the hall clicked on and Chuck had to blink to adjust his eyes.

"I'm going to go find my dad now," she said.

The back door swung open and Morgan came walking in. "I found the box, and let me tell you, that thing is a mess; no wonder it blew," he called out to Chuck.

The girl passed him as she walked towards the exit. "Thanks for your help, Morgan."

Morgan smiled. "Anytime… um… what's your name?"

She spun to face them. "Becky, Becky Franco." Then she turned back and pushed her way through the door.

"Bye, Becky." Morgan called out to her. "That's one strange girl," he said softly turning to Chuck.

Chuck was still watching the door as it clicked closed. "Yeah…strange…" He shook his head, breaking himself out of his trance. "Well, I guess we have more work to do."

"You've got that right!" Morgan started up the aisle. "I'll go back and see if I can sort out the circuits, maybe we can put the spots on a different one. Hey, do you think we have an extension cord that could reach the bathroom?"

Chuck decided he better check all his connections one last time to make sure none of them were exacerbating their problems. As his eyes traced the wires down towards the stage, he caught sight of something blue against the grey carpet. He reached down and picked up what he recognized as one of those friendship bracelets the girls used to make back in elementary school. He marveled at the hundreds of little knots that made the pattern. It must have contained at least five different shades of zigzagging blue. It was right in the walkway and it hadn't been there before, so this must belong to the magician's daughter. Somehow he couldn't picture that a girl who threw knives with such deadly accuracy would have the patience to make something like this. It was just another facet to the mystery that was Becky Franco.

"Hey, Chuck," he heard his friend call, "can you give me a hand."

Chuck looked at the bracelet one last time, quickly shoved it into his pocket and headed towards the door.


I haven't been around fanfiction for awhile but in honor of the ending if Chuck, I thought I'd dust off this unfinished story from my hard drive. I'm breaking my own rule and posting it unbetaed. I hope you enjoy. -MSB