Why couldn’t the great escape artist escape?

Harry Blackstone, senior, a master magician and illusionist
Harry Blackstone, senior, a master magician and illusionist

HE WAS A LITTLE OLD MAN with a soggy face and an armload of newspapers.

He sat near the doorway of the Worth Hotel in Fort Worth, and, for as long as anyone could remember, he sold afternoon Star-Telegrams to those leaving work and heading home.

He never made change.

Give him a dollar bill or a ten-dollar bill, and he stuffed it all in his coat pocket.

Thanks for the tip.

You could see it in his smile.

He was always smiling.

Amon Carter was the newspaper mogul and genius who started the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

He knew celebrities.

He dined with celebrities.

He drank with celebrities.

He probably was a celebrity himself.

But every day, when the first Star-Telegram rolled off the press, Amon Carter left his office, walked out of the building, made his way next door to the Worth Hotel, and bought his afternoon newspaper from the little man who was always smiling.

Big tipper.

Thanks for the tip.

Amon Carter could fire editors and reporters with the snap of his fingers.

Maybe he didn’t like you.

Maybe he didn’t like your writing.

Maybe he didn’t like your attitude.

It didn’t matter.

To Amon, only Monroe mattered.

He took care of Monroe.

That’s what we called him.

I’m sure the little old man had a last name.

None of us who scattered words throughout the Star-Telegram knew what it was.

I don’t think he needed a last name.

Monroe was famous.

In an earlier time, he had been selling his newspapers while darkness settled down around the street of Fort Worth.

The day was dying.

The sidewalks were empty.

Monroe still had a stack of newspapers.

Next door at the Worth Theater, the neon was blazing with multi-colored lights, proclaiming the appearance of Harry Blackstone, senior, the worlds foremost Vaudeville magician and illusionist.

He was a man of elegance.

He was a man of fashion.

He sawed women in half.

The movers and shakers had all bought high-priced tickets and packed the seats of the Worth Theater.

They were ready to be shocked and stunned.

They were sitting on the edge of their seats when the curtain was raised.

Harry Blackstone fooled them all.

No one minded.

They had come to be fooled.

His final act was his greatest.

The magician removed his tuxedo jacket.

He unloosened his white tie.

He climbed inside a trunk while his crew wrapped it chains and leather straps.

No one could escape.

Blackstone smiled.

He could.

And the crowd waited to be fooled one last and glorious time.

Blackstone invited anyone from the audience to come down and make sure the trunk was securely fastened.

Anyone, he said.

Come on down.

A deathly quiet fell over the crowd.

Here came Monroe.

He shuffled down the aisle with that crippled little gait of his.

And he was smiling.

He walked on stage.

The smile became broader.

With him, Monroe had brought a sledgehammer and a handful of railroad spikes.

He walked off stage.

The crowd stood.

Surely, it was all part of the act.

They waited for Harry Blackstone to make his sudden and miraculous appearance.

Thirty minutes later, they were still waiting.

There was no magic involved.

There was not even an illusion.

It took crowbars and claw hammers to free Harry Blackstone from the trunk that night.

By the time the crowd had all gone home, Monroe was out of newspapers.

But he had a pocket full of paper money.

And his smile had not faded.

Thanks for the tips.

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