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The Magician's Daughter
A Valentine Hill Mystery
By Judith Janeway
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2015 Judith Janeway
All rights reserved.
I pulled a skunk out of my hat and looked shocked. The children squealed with laughter. I'd tried four times with intentionally escalating failure to produce a rabbit from my top hat. Making animals appear, even the plush-toy kind, wasn't my favorite kind of magic, but the exhilaration of making it happen seamlessly ended up being all that mattered to me.
At ten in the morning outside the Golden Pirate Casino, the clumsy magician-in-search-of-a-rabbit routine acted like a magnet for children and their parents. The casino liked it because it attracted the child-free adults to the blinking and blaring slot machines just through the open doorway behind me. Eddie the Wiz liked it because I advertised his afternoon and evening shows in the casino theater. And I liked it because I needed the money my audience dropped into the other top hat strategically placed in front of my immodest The Great Valentina banner.
I tossed the skunk onto the pile of rejects at my feet and jammed my top hat onto my head. "Not to worry," I told the audience while looking very worried. "There may be other forces at work here. Possibly there's another magician present who's working against me? Hmmm?"
I took my time to scan the audience, even though I'd been doing it automatically all along. I didn't like the looks of the guy in the torn jeans who kept oozing out of sight into the crowd every time my gaze locked onto him. I did another quick visual sweep. No sign of Jeff. I was winding down my performance and people had already dropped bills and coins into the hat as they moved on into the casino. Jeff should've been there watching the hat and looking out for the questionables like Torn Jeans.
I pretended to scrutinize the children standing closest to me for signs of magical ability. I narrowed my eyes at a little girl in jeans and pink tennis shoes who giggled and gripped her dad's hand with both of hers. "Could it be you?"
She shook her head emphatically. "No."
I moved my gaze past a few more children. A boy, maybe nine, took a half step forward.
"Aha! It must be you!" I whipped my cape close to my body as if trying to protect myself.
"No." His eager look said "choose me."
I would have chosen him, if a group slumming from the Bellagio hadn't tried to break up my show—a gray-haired man with an improbably boyish face, a blonde with equally improbable breasts, a big guy showing a lot of muscle, and a teenage girl looking like an escapee from a Japanese anime convention. She had short purple hair frozen into permanent windswept spikes above a polka-dot blouse, short plaid skirt, and white knee-high socks with lace around the top. The men wore designer sunglasses and expensive casual clothes that made the Golden Pirate folks in my audience look dowdy. They didn't join the audience but stood to one side watching both the crowd and me.
Anime-Girl said in a loud voice, "See Dad? I told you," and pointed at me. The audience shifted their attention to the girl.
The dad ignored his daughter. He pulled his sunglasses down his nose to stare at me with a flat gaze. I'd had a lot of experience with drunks and hecklers so they rarely fazed me. I'd even had a couple of stalkers, one of the reasons I gave Jeff a percentage of the hat. But this guy wasn't the stalker type. No, he snapped his fingers and people came to him. Why had he trekked over to the Golden Pirate to give me the once-over?
"I wanna see the rabbit," a child whined. People shuffled their feet and a few at the fringes drifted off without leaving anything in the hat. I'd lost my rhythm and was about to lose my audience. Time to take the situation in hand. I had no idea what the party-crashers wanted, but no way would I let them break up my act. Time for improvisation.
I tossed one side of my cape back over my shoulder and announced, "I, the Great Valentina, sense the presence of another force, a dark opposing force." I spoke louder and faster. "This dark force is hiding, but it can't hide from ..."
I gave a flourish with my right hand and a wand appeared in my left, "the Great Valentina's dark force locater." I pointed the wand toward the audience and moved it slowly to the left and right, making eye contact with as many people as I could. As I swung my arm at the intruders, the wand took on a life of its own, jerking my arm toward them and dragging me to where they stood. While the audience focused on the twitching wand, I palmed the flat circle of my collapsible snake from the inside of my cloak. A little marvel of sheer silk over a one-ounce titanium spring that I always kept handy as an emergency backup.
I flicked the wand back and forth between the girl and her dad. "The dark force is ..." I paused dramatically "here." The trembling wand pointed to the dad. "Don't blame yourself," I said quickly. "The dark force is cunning. But with my help, and with the help of this brave girl, we shall all be safe." I stepped toward the dad and his daughter. A big man with them growled and moved to block my advance, making it clear that he was a bodyguard. I fixed my gaze on the older man. Who was this guy?
His fingers signaled his bodyguard to let me approach. The bodyguard backed off. I stepped between the dad and the daughter, jostling him slightly as I did, so he didn't notice me drop my snake in his jacket pocket.
"We shall appease the dark force with a gold ducat." I turned to the girl. "Give this man the gold ducat," I commanded, pointing to her father.
"What gold ducat?" she asked.
I extended my hand toward her hair. "May I show you?"
She hesitated, then said, "Yeah. Okay."
I snatched a golden coin from her hair and held it high for the crowd to see, then turned back to her. "Now take the gold ducat." I pressed the coin into her palm. "Do you have it?"
I closed her fingers over it. "Are you sure you have it?"
"Yeah, I'm sure."
"There are strong opposing forces at work. Promise me you won't let go."
I couldn't wring more cooperation out of her than that. "Excellent." I dropped my hands and took two steps back. "Now show it to everyone."
She opened her fist and gaped at her empty hand. "I know I had it. Where'd it go?"
The crowd pressed forward to see. I had my audience back where I wanted them.
I shook my head at her in exasperation. "You promised you wouldn't let go. Did you carelessly drop it into his pocket?" I pointed to the dad, who stared at me fixedly. He straightened and glanced at his daughter.
"No way. I had it in my hand."
"You'd better check his pocket. But be careful." I took a step back. "Go on."
She stuck her hand into her father's jacket pocket, pulling out the flat disc which immediately exploded into a six-foot snake. She cut loose with a glass-shattering shriek and threw the snake. People in the audience screamed. I grabbed the snake before it hit the ground and shook it slightly, making it writhe convincingly. I staggered, finally wrestling it into submission. I dropped it to the ground where it lay still, turned and shook my finger at the girl. "I warned you to be careful."
The audience laughed.
"And now that I have conquered all opposing dark forces," I whipped my hat from my head and paused dramatically. The audience held their collective breath.
"We can now have the rabbit!"
I reached into my hat one last time, and with a grand gesture, produced a three-foot tall rabbit—another one of my titanium-spring wonders. The audience gasped, oohed in appreciation, and clapped.
"Thank you. You've been great." I bowed and scanned the crowd. I spotted Torn Jeans still moving along the perimeter, but no Jeff. He should've been here picking up my paraphernalia before the nosy audience looked it over too closely. "Don't forget that you can experience the amazing magic of Edward the Wizard in the Golden Pirate Casino theater." I waved toward the wide casino doorway with one hand and bent down to retrieve the snake and the rabbit with the other. Stuffing them hastily out of sight into the bag behind my banner, I beamed at those who stepped forward to drop money in the donation hat.
Anime-Girl and Dad approached me, with the boob-job blonde and bodyguard close behind. "You're very good." Dad gave me a full blast smile, but no money in the hat. I couldn't guess his age—over fifty but with very well-tended skin and hair. "Do you have a card?"
If I'd gone with my gut response, I'd have said "No." But Aunt June's number one rule had been "don't lie," and I'd promised I wouldn't. So I evaded. "I'm glad you enjoyed the show. Are you booking acts or looking for an act to do a private party?"
"Neither, actually." He shifted the smile to a boyish grin that probably got him his way—most of the time.
I turned to stow the rest of my gear.
"Ask her about Beth Hull, Dad," Anime-Girl said.
I froze in the middle of rolling up my Great Valentina banner. Beth Hull, aka Elizabeth Hill. Aka my mother. Hard to believe that Elizabeth would still rely on such an old alias. Beth Hull was her version of a soft-spoken, well-bred lady. When I'd last seen Elizabeth she'd been playing Liz Heldin, the exuberant, fun-loving babe in Miami. That was nearly nine years ago, and I was twelve, fourteen, or sixteen, depending on which date of birth Elizabeth thought most useful for the current con. She changed my age, her name, and our residence as often as most people change underwear. She went by Hill only when incarcerated. I'd been searching for her for five years.
"Hey, he's got your money!" the girl yelled.
I spun. Too late. Torn Jeans had already snatched up the hat and taken off at a sprint. I took three steps and stopped. Everyone else stood rooted to the ground, watching next week's rent disappear down the street. I'd known that guy was trouble. I couldn't catch him now, but I was going to kill Jeff when I got my hands on him. I turned back to packing my gear, jamming it in.
"Should we call the police?" the girl asked.
"No point," I said.
"So I take it that you do know Beth Hull," the dad said the way other people said "Gotcha."
"Take whatever you want. Everyone else has," I said without meeting his gaze.
"You know, you look just like her," he said.
I did know. Even nine years ago our eyes were the same pale blue, noses the same straight line, and ditto for jawlines. Both blondes, too, only my hair was frizzball and hers straight. What I didn't know was what this guy wanted. I could only guess that he wanted Elizabeth because she'd made off with the family silver and bankroll. He could get in line, because she'd taken more than that from me.
"You do look like her. I mean totally like her," the girl rattled on. "When I told my dad, he like, didn't believe me. He had to see for himself."
"Ash!" Her dad cut her off. I glanced up in time to catch the look he gave her, and it hit me why my gut had taken against him. Elizabeth used one of two kinds of men in her life, the Uncles and the Creeps. Uncles were marks, and Creeps were boyfriends. Creeps were never nice people. Deliberately and happily not nice.
Ash crossed her arms and gave her dad a sullen look, but she kept quiet. So did I. The last thing I needed was another one of Elizabeth's Creeps. Particularly not one she'd conned and robbed. I finished packing up.
"I'd like to talk with you for a few minutes," he said.
"I have to get to work." I picked up my gear.
"I'll make it worth your while."
"No thanks." It was easy to turn him down. Sure I needed the money, but money from Creeps always came at too high a price. Even those who didn't have a revenge agenda.
He would've persisted, but his cell phone beeped. When he pulled it from his pocket to check the number, I hoisted my bag onto my shoulder and marched toward the casino entrance. I faced a dilemma. I didn't want to talk to one of Elizabeth's victims, but I couldn't pass up the chance of getting on her still-warm trail. So as I passed by the daughter, I said, "I see you're into Japanese anime." That got her attention.
"Yes, I really love cosplay. How about you?" She fell into step next to me. Her dad watched us walk away, but kept talking into his phone.
Cosplay? I guessed that meant dressing up like an anime character. "A little." In fact, all I knew I'd learned when I'd done a street performance outside an anime/manga expo, but I needed to find out what she knew about Elizabeth. "You're called Ash?"
"Actually I'm Ashley, but Dad calls me Ash." We entered into the casino's sensory overload of frigid air conditioning and beeping, clanging, and light-flashing slot machines.
"I think Flame fits your persona better than Ash," I said. She flashed a brief grin, pleased. I hated being manipulative, but this was the closest I'd come to tracking down Elizabeth in five years. "Nice to meet you. I'm Valentine Hill."
Ashley's face fell. "Hill, not Hull? I thought for sure you were related to Beth."
"Definitely related. Her real name is Hill. How long has it been since she disappeared?"
"What do you mean, disappeared? She's in San Francisco."
I stared at her. "Are you sure?"
"Sure I'm sure. We saw her the day we left. She's my dad's girlfriend."
"So the blonde with him is just a Vegas moment?"
Ashley wrinkled her nose. "That's Marcie. She's his private girlfriend. Beth's his public one. It's complicated."
"Why does he need a public girlfriend?"
"He's Bobby Kroy. You know, Kroy's Doors and Windows? They have commercials on TV?"
She raised more questions than she answered. Like, why would someone who sold doors and windows need a bodyguard? What was public-girlfriend-Elizabeth really up to? The overriding fact was that finally I knew where Elizabeth was.
We reached the door marked Employees Only, and I turned to Ashley. "I have to go to work now. But can I ask a favor? Could I get Elizabeth's address from you?"
"Sure. I have it." She pulled out a cell phone and pushed some buttons.
I turned, grabbed a pencil and a ticket from the nearest Keno stand, and pivoted back to Ashley. "Okay, I'm ready."
Ashley held her phone against her chest. "First, tell me how you're related."
"Okay. But promise not to tell your dad or Elizabeth?"
"I want to surprise her when I get to San Francisco."
Ashley's face lit up. "Okay, I promise."
"She's my mother." And she'd be surprised to see me, but not happy surprised as Ashley assumed.
"Your mother? And you don't know where she is?"
"It's complicated. Like your dad and his public/private girlfriends. We can talk about it if I see you when I get to San Francisco."
"Okay, deal. But promise you'll come see me."
"I'll try. Very hard. That's the best I can do." I held the pencil over the paper, waiting for her to give me Elizabeth's address.
She frowned. "Don't you want to put it in your cell?"
"I don't have it with me."
"Forgot it, huh? That sucks."
"No, she didn't forget it." Jeff's voice came from behind me, "The Great Valentina lets her entourage—namely me—take her calls. She can't be bothered with non-magic-related technical details."
I whirled around to face him. "Where were you?"
"You're not going to believe it." He draped an arm around my shoulders.
I flung off his arm and glared at him. "I lost the hat, thanks to you. And you're not my entourage. You're my hat man, remember? Correction. Make that, you were my hat man." I'd definitely been too easy-going with Jeff in the past, but he'd been reliable for months before he started showing up late for my show.
"Sorry about the hat, but it's all cool. I got a gig." He turned to Ashley. "I'm in a band."
Ashley looked impressed. With his "I'm in a band" line, his long hair hanging in his eyes, his jeans' waistband at his crotch, and the natural charm of every narcissist, Jeff easily scored with naïve young women. He'd been persistent in hitting on me too, but I'd repeatedly made it clear I wouldn't have sex with him.
"You mean, you used to be in a band," I said. "You haven't worked as a musician for a year. Now stop hitting on an underage girl and go away."
"I wasn't hitting on her. Come on, Val, you know you're the only one for me."
"No, I'm the only one who won't sleep with you."
"That's not it. You have standards. I respect you for that. But it's all going to change now. It's like we talked about. I'd get a gig and you'd come with me. But we have to leave like—now."
Excerpted from The Magician's Daughter by Judith Janeway. Copyright © 2015 Judith Janeway. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Judith Janeway in her new book, “The Magician’s Daughter” Book One in the Valentine Hill Mystery series published by Poisoned Pen Press introduces us to Valentine Hill . From the back cover: Magician Valentine Hill always begins her act with: “Reality is illusion. Illusion is reality, and nothing is what it seems.” Valentine herself is a case in point: she is unquestionably real, but she has no legal existence. Her mother, a skilled con artist, has never revealed Valentine’s real age, birth place or her father’s identity–except to say that he was a magician. No grifter herself, the scrupulous Valentine has spent years searching for her evasive mother, desperate to learn the basic facts of who she is. Literally, to get a life. Robbed of her stake in Vegas, she chases it to San Francisco where a series of odd events reunites her with her mother who, Valentine is sure, despite her respectable façade, is playing one of the city’s super rich. And Valentine quickly enters a world where truly nothing is what it seems. A socialite is a ruthless criminal, a car mechanic a psycho killer, and a cab driver a seductive gangster. After a friendly FBI agent is killed, Valentine forces herself into playing a grifter’s role to put the criminals –and her mother –away. Or at the very least, get what she wants from mom. Will her skills as a magician prove enough to help her maintain the illusion? If you think about it for a moment being a magician is really no different from being a con artist. The magician deceives you by creating a false reality, so does a con artist. The real difference is that we want the magician to deceive while we do not want the con artist at all. Valentine is on a search to find out all her real birth information. For that she needs to find her mother. And she actually does. that is when she finds trouble. And a dead body. And it spirals out of control from there. The story hums along at a fast pace as Valentine is working to figure out just what is going on. Valentine is an amazing character. The pain she reveals about her past and the search for her birth details give real depth to her character. “The Magician’s Daughter” is loaded with twists and turns and red herrings that will leave you guessing all the while you are flipping pages to find out what happens next. Ms. Janeway has provided us with a marvelous character in Valentine and I look forward to reading about her next adventure. Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Poisoned Pen Press. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
The Magician’s Daughter is one of those “just one more chapter” books. I couldn’t put it down and ended up staying up ridiculously late as I was sucked into Valentine’s world—where looking for a jerk who stole from her ends up reuniting her with her mother who she hasn’t seen in years because she’s a professional con artist. Throw in magic acts, FBI, police, long lost uncles, and an inescapable childhood and you have a crazy ride that can turn in any direction. It isn’t a perfect book—you have to remember it’s fiction a couple times pertaining to law enforcement, a few times the dialogue goes into info dumping territory, and there’s the stereotypical “bad guy did bad things”—but it all ended up working together as a whole so well that it just didn’t matter, I was running along side Valentine also trying to stay one step ahead. *my honest review of a free ebook through NetGalley
Magician Valentine Hill can make lots of things disappear and reappear. Unfortunately that talent does not apply to the thing she wants most in the world. No amount of magic can produce her missing birth certificate. Without it, she doesn’t know the place or year she was born, and is skeptical her con artist mom told her the right day of her birth either. The only thing she has been told about her father is that he is a magician. She was raised with a mother that could step into any role from socialite to barfly depending upon the lifestyle of her current husband. She forced her daughter into the role of accomplice in a series of elaborate cons. She lived a nomadic life, always moving on, changing names and living with a new husband that Valentine was instructed to call “uncle”. This life blew up when Valentine was in her early teens so she moved in with her Aunt June. That was nine years ago, and the last time she saw her mother. June straightened her out by teaching Valentine the rules that she now lives by: Never lie Never swear Never hit anyone – unless they hit you first Purely by chance, she meets someone that can give her a clue as to where her mother is. She’s been searching for the elusive Elizabeth Hill since her Aunt June died. This could be the break she needed to locate her and somehow make her give up the information about her birth that Valentine needs. Instead of finding her mother, she finds trouble. And a dead body. The chain of events that follow are faster than a street magician’s hands. Before she knows it, Valentine is mixed up with mobsters, FBI agents and a very dangerous operation that could stop her search – forever. The Magician’s Daughter is the first in the series of three Valentine Hill Mysteries. This cozy series had me hooked from the first chapter. I love Valentine. She is spunky and smart. The pain she reveals about her past and the search for her birth details give depth to her character. The supporting characters are interesting, unusual and some of them are not who they seem to be. At one point, Valentine describes them as “What is with this family? All of them are gun-carrying crazies. Scary crazy at that…”. That tiny snippet of dialog spotlights the humor Janeway masterfully weaves into the plot. Just when you think you’ve figured out the next turn, she throws a smoke bomb on your theory with the grace of a natural magician – or I should say a very skilled writer. The nail-biting end comes to a satisfying conclusion, wrapping up the story right before the last chapter. But wait! There’s more! There is nothing better than a mystery that continues to the last pages and answers all the reader’s questions. I wanted this book to be longer, because the characters and story were so interesting. But knowing there are two more in the series coming soon is my consolation prize. I’ll be watching the bookstores to snatch up book two before the ink dries. Summer will be here soon and this is the perfect beach/vacation read.. If you can’t wait that long, take it on Spring Break. The Magician’s Daughter is a great anytime read. You won’t be disappointed, and everyone could use a little magic in their life. Copyright © 2015 Laura Hartman DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.