Reported by Robin Dawes
• Photographed by Dale Farris
(Editor's Note: this
report is reprinted verbatim from the front page of the Batavia
Times-Picayune-Bugler, a newspaper owned and operated by Mr. Franklin
Firkin Fossorius Frogmorton.)
citizens, it is time to lay before you a full account of the remarkable
events that convulsed our fair town during the latter part of April.
Some of you may find this story improbable, perhaps even preposterous,
but I stand upon my honor that every word is based on personal
participation, relentless research and interminable interviews with
those involved. If any word of this report is false, then my name is not
F. F. F. Frogmorton.
The sun was setting
in crimson glory as a weary rider paused on the crest of the hill
overlooking our fair town of Batavia. (Now some folks might claim that
Batavia is in upstate New York, but we know better: Batavia belongs out
where the stars at night are big and bright... deep in the heart of
Texas.) The evening breeze carried a few tumbleweeds ahead of him as he
guided his lean dark horse down the trail into town. Few marked his
arrival. Those who did saw a tall, weathered man wearing a long coat and
a broad-brimmed hat with a feather. In the dim light, nobody noticed
that his coat and hat were purple, purple as the purple sage on the
The town was quiet
as he rode slowly down Main Street, his eyes scanning the darkened
doorways -- the only sounds came from inside The Dribble Pass Saloon. As
he swung down from the saddle, light from a window glinted off something
metallic on his belt -- three cups that shone like gold! He hitched his
horse to a rail and slowly pushed open the swinging saloon doors.
The honky-tonk piano
stopped instantly and there was a moment of total silence. The stranger
surveyed the crowd with a cool and steely gaze. Someone dropped an empty
Lota vase and a lotta water splashed out of it. Then a hoarse cry went
up from 200 throats, "Oscar!" Yes, Oscar Muñoz, 2015 Guest of Honor, had
arrived at Obie's FFFF Convention (The Original Close-Up Convention).
Sheriff Obie O'Brien stepped forward and shook Oscar's hand firmly, then
drawled, "Oscar, I'm mighty glad you made it. We've been a-waiting for
FFFF 2015 was an
impressively international posse: Obie had invited cowboys from Canada,
buckaroos from Britain, fast-draws from France, gallants from Germany,
champions from China, and scores of others from all parts of the world.
It was a happy gathering of a huge conjuring clan -- not one of whom had
any inkling of the cataclysmic disaster that loomed so close ahead.
Just after chow-time
Obie called everyone together with a whistle and opened the festivities.
He made it clear that he wanted to see good magic, not bad magic, or
else things would get ugly. He himself had no idea of how ugly things
would get before the convention was over.
Sheriff Obie had put
together a passel of shows to entertain and elucidate the assembly. The
first show was called the German Gala, on account of that being where
all the performers hailed from. The MC was IBM President-Elect Joe "Tarnation"
Turner, and he kept things moving smoothly. Der erste Darsteller of
the whole shooting-match was young Jan Logemann. He showed
everyone a playing card, asked someone to name any other card, and the
card in his hand changed to the named one. Fantastic! Then Christian
Schenk (the original Cardshark) took two packets of cards, shuffled
one, and showed that the other packet had magically rearranged itself
into the same order as the shuffled packet. That was beautiful magic!
Next up was Freidrich Roitzsch, who spun a card high in the air
and caught it in the deck -- where it split a previously signed card
nearly in half -- mighty fine shooting! Denis Behr showed that
with sufficient quantities of beer it is possible to memorize a shuffled
deck in less than two seconds -- the barkeep was right pleased about
that! Then Jörg Alexander showed how easy it is to get mixed up
when counting money. He was followed by David Pricking who did
beautiful magic with coins and cards. Then Clemens Ilgner did
some mind-reading with a trumpet. Patrick Lehnen followed with
strong card magic, including colour changes and sandwiches. Closing the
show was Pit Hartling, sharing a very romantic card routine.
appreciative applause had barely abated when Sheriff Obie brought back
Jörg Alexander to give a lecture. Jörg taught just two routines
but he taught them so thoroughly, with so much deep thought on how to
make the magic as strong as possible, that many of those hard-bitten
bull-whippers said it was the best lecture they'd ever heard.
That was the end of
the formal functions for the first night but you can bet your
branding-iron that almost everybody stayed up until the cows came home.
They were pontificating and prognosticating and prestidigitating and
generally having a good old Texas whoop-up. Oh, had they only known what
was transpiring in a run-down shanty a few miles outside town.
at the ranch...
Four men sat around
a table in a room lit only dimly by a guttering candle. The table was
strewn with greasy playing cards, battered brass cups and crumpled silk
handkerchiefs. The eldest of the four was saying, "Boys, I've had it.
This is the twenty-fifth year in a row that Sheriff O'Brien has turned
me down for FFFF. I ain't gonna take this insult no more!"
The speaker was
Angus McUndercut, and the other men were his sons Skunk, Weevil and
Scooter. All four were known throughout the county as terrible
magicians, notorious for inflicting the 21-card trick on unsuspecting
children and cattle, most of whom were left emotionally scarred for
Skunk asked, "What
are ya gonna do, Pa?"
"I ain't sure yet
... maybe I'll start a nasty rumor on the Magic Cafe ..."
Scooter said, "Pa,
what if I can tell you a way you'll be top on the list of FFFF invitees
for next year? And you don't need to practice or learn a new trick or
anything crazy like that... Pa, do you remember the story of Guy
"Dang it boy, your
sainted mother brought you up to never use that kind of language around
"No Pa, I said
Fawkes," said Scooter. "Now listen to what I got in mind." His voice
dropped to a low murmur and he sketched something on the table. Soon the
shack was filled with the sound of evil laughter and wicked glee.
next morning Obie rousted everyone out of the barns and cattle-sheds and
herded them into the big stockyard owned by the Wonderful Cattle
Company. Actually that Wonderful Stockyard isn't so great -- in this
reporter's opinion it's no more than an ok corral.
Obie announced that
the day would start with two lectures from four people. The first
lecture was presented by two Hungarian honchos, Astor and
Galambos -- they took turns teaching some mighty fine magic.
Astor explained some of the amazing equipment he has designed and
built for mental magic. Galambos taught his version of the
McDonald Aces (which uses a blank deck) and an excellent ring and rope
the posse spread out and searched the town for grub. They discovered
that prices had gone up overnight -- a plateful of beans now cost a
fistful of dollars.
Just on the stroke
of mid-day, a grubby street urchin greeted Sheriff O'Brien (actually the
moppet said "Hi" at noon) and handed him a dirty scrap of paper. On the
paper was scrawled in crude letters "Watch yer back. Angus McU. is up
ter something awful." O'Brien crumpled the paper and said nothing, but
there was cold anger in his eyes as he gazed out into the hills.
The second lecture
was given by Freidrich Roitzsch and Jan Logemann, two of
the desperadoes from Deutschland. They also took turns, but each one
kept a timer on the other so they got exactly equal time. Jan
taught an incredibly natural and casual card force based on necktie
second dealing. Freidrich taught the card-splitting effect he had
performed the night before, and proved he may be the fastest
card-spinner in the West.
The late afternoon
brought everyone back into the corral for another show-case -- the
Kick-Off Show, MC-ed by Steve "Bronco" Beam. Some of the cowpokes
were expecting to see a bull-riding competition but they were treated to
outstanding magic instead. Martin Braessas was the lead
performer, showing some magical things that can happen at the breakfast
table. Howard Hamburg, a mighty man of magic, made a card rise
out of a cased deck. Juan Carlos Rodarte did a coin matrix using
a mirror -- it was one of many matrix routines performed at FFFF 2015
and one of the most beautiful. Will Fern brought his lady friend,
a mind-reading mermaid -- she was really pumped up about performing (she
was actually an inflatable doll). Andi Gladwin was next with an
incredible magic square that still worked when he turned it upside down.
Then Michael "Six" Muldoon (or is it "Six-Shooter"?) showed that
his prediction matched the card at a freely chosen position. Michael
Kaminskas followed that with an elegant rendition of the Coins and
Cylinder in tribute to the great John Ramsey. Darryl Rose
involved Oscar Muñoz in a routine in which a freely named card matched
one sealed in an envelope. Kenrick "Ice" McDonald found a
selected card inside a fortune cookie with the hilarious assistance of
Ray Roch. Joshua Jay closed the show with a magical tale of love
and fate that had many grizzled cowpunchers secretly wiping tears from
There was a short
chow-break so that the hungry wranglers could keep belt-buckle away from
backbone. There's no appetite in the world like the appetite of a Texas
cowboy who's been watching magic all day. Prices were up again -- every
biscuit-roller in town was selling meals for a few dollars more than the
day before. One solitary cowpoke didn't go for dinner -- he just sat by
himself, putting his deck into Tamariz order... I presume he wanted to
be the Lone Arranger.
After dinner Obie's
deputies (the Back-Stage Gang) lit torches and he called all hands
together for another exhibition of laudable legerdemain, this one
featuring nine courageous caballeros, all speakers of Spanish. Woody
"Ambush" Aragon did the MC duties.
El primer artista
was Angel San Martin-Gil, presenting a cups and balls routine
that also involved his hat, tie, vest and shoes. Then Miguel Gea
showed that if you memorize only part of a deck, the rest of the cards
fade away. Marcelo (Tango) Insua was able to separate a shuffled
deck into colours even while blindfolded. Jaque followed up with
cups and balls, and a coin matrix routine, infectiously infused with
high energy. Then came the moment all had awaited -- Oscar Muñoz,
Guest of Honor, took the stage. Oscar astounded all with classic
conjuring, including his much-loved linking ring routine. He was
rewarded with a vigorous standing ovation from the assembled multitude.
After a brief break,
Woody Aragon performed an amazing card prediction involving the
whole audience. Then Miguel Puga magically changed one card to
match three selections in turn. Mario Lopez -- who surely has
some elfin ancestry -- performed the cups and balls with an invisible
cup! Dani DaOrtiz closed the show with Christian Engblom's
assistance. Dani performed characteristically chaotic card magic --
somehow an entire deck changed into duplicates of a freely named card.
Late that night,
Sheriff O'Brien and Oscar Muñoz were out in the yard, leaning on a
fence-rail and listening to the prairie canaries howl at the full moon.
As if by magic, Angus McUndercut was suddenly beside them. He said in a
low voice, "This is your last chance, Sheriff. You can add me to a show
tomorrow, or you can pay the price... and it won't be cheap."
It was Oscar who
replied. "I've seen your audition video, Angus. I hate to say this, but
you suck. You want to settle this now?" He pushed back his long coat and
revealed the gold cups on his belt. But as he turned to face the other
man, Angus faded away into the shadows.
The dawning of the
new day (more or less) found all the buckaroos back in the corral, eager
for the Patrick Page Memorial Workshop. The PPMW was conducted by
Mike "Peacemaker" Powers. There were seven items taught, and they
were all outstanding -- I can only call them the Magnificent Seven. The
theme of the workshop was "Sticky Stuff." The teachers were Tony
Gerard, David Neighbors, Gene Gordon, Mike Powers,
and Bruce Kalver. The workshop was full of inspiring ideas that
had jaws wagging all over town -- they were not only creatively clever
but also admirably adhesive -- the cowboys were certainly stuck on them.
Meanwhile, back at
the McUndercut ranch Angus was accumulating a pile of barrels. Skunk and
Weevil were filling bags with dark powder, and Scooter was braiding long
fuses. "Har har har," they all laughed in evil unison.
The next event was
tres chic: the French Gala, MC-ed by Monsieur Boris Wild. Le
premier artiste was Canadian cowboy Ray Roch, who performed his
trademark Impossible Box routine. Then Rémy Robert cracked open a
light bulb and found inside it a selfie that had been taken just moments
earlier. William Watt took a photograph of a volunteer and zoomed
in on her eye -- in which could be seen a tiny image of her chosen card.
After that, Bébel surprised everyone by performing cups and balls
-- one of the finest renditions your humble reporter has seen. Yuri
Kaine showed the powerful mathemagical properties of playing cards
as a 10 transformed into an 8 and a 2 then back again. Edouard
Boulanger performed with coins that were on fire! Boris Wild
reincarnated as Bornak le Magnifique, and did a hilarious Q&A act with
Gene Anderson. Then Lawrens Godon did some amazing contact
juggling. Finally, Boris Wild found a signed selected card inside
There was a short
break so that everyone could step out back to water the corn, then it
was back to the corral for another show. This one featured a mix of
familiar and fresh faces. David Corsaro made his MC debut and did
a bang-up job. First up to the line was Mike Hrab, who
entertained with a pencil that would only balance on end for him. Roy
Eidem was next, with elegant coin magic. Gyula Czili showed
his expertise with rings and ropes. Don Wiberg made a dollar bill
vanish, then found it in a randomly chosen bag of peanuts. Chris
Pilsworth invited Oscar Muñoz to fly a paper air-plane across the
corral -- the exact length of the flight was predicted on the plane
itself. Bill Cheung did a wonderfully visual card sandwich
effect. Dan Sylvester followed up with a knee-slapper of a
routine involving red balls and tomatoes, and earned a standing ovation.
Sergio Starman performed magic in an office setting -- it seemed
like everything on his desk was out to torment him. Closing the show was
Jimmy C. Jimmy always has something new up his sleeve but this
year he outdid himself by doing something that has never been performed
at FFFF before: a wedding! Jimmy is an ordained minister, and right
there in front of 200 grizzled, hard-bitten witnesses he united
Amanda Farrell and Roger Nicot in holy matrimony! Cheers were
long and loud, and there was not a dry eye or unlumped throat in the
house. Even Sheriff O'Brien was seen to be dabbing at his eyes with his
Obie had laid on a
fine spread of vittles for dinner, and the hungry horde made quick work
of it. You could feel the increasing momentum, the heightened energy,
the growing thirst for action as the bold band of buckaroos gathered
back at the corral for the evening show: the Asian Gala, with MC Meir
"Yippee-Ki-Yay" Yedid. Dì yī gè biăoyăn was Sean Yang, who
was able to cut to a selected card using only his mouth. Micky Wong
was next, with a series of optical illusions that suddenly and magically
transformed into reality. Shimpei Katsuragawa magically produced
all suits in order from a thoroughly shuffled deck. Daly was up
next -- he had two cards chosen, then made their corners transpose.
Yukimasa Moriya started with Oil and Water and ended with incredible
card transpositions. Hide Kimoto performed a beautiful linking
rings routine with small rings. Then Horret Wu made magic with
cards that changed their size and cards that changed their faces. The
amazing Toto had his thumb and forefinger securely taped
together, then passed rings and watch-bands into the sealed loop. The
final performer was Kelvin Chow, who performed the slow motion
printing of a freely named card.
After the show
Sheriff O'Brien called a meeting of all the cowpokes. He told them about
the written warning, and about the sinister meeting with McUndercut.
Then he said, "I think Angus is all shuffle and no deal, and normally
I'd just ignore him. But things have changed now -- we have to think of
Roger and Amanda. I have to protect those happy kids. So tomorrow
morning I'm riding out to the McUndercut ranch. I'll deal with this."
Oscar spoke up. "No
Sheriff, I'll go. As Guest of Honor it's my right and my duty. Besides,
we both know my pass is faster than yours."
After that everyone
wanted to go, and there was a whole lot of bold talk. By the time all
the arguing was done it was decided that nobody would ride out, but that
everybody would be extra-vigilant the next day.
There was a change
in the air, and it wasn't just that the wind was no longer blowing from
the direction of the out-houses. With the happy newlyweds in the group,
the mad melange of magicians of just one day earlier had coalesced into
a cohesive company of conjurers! No longer a wild bunch, they were eager
to support their local sheriff. Metaphorically speaking, the battle
flags were ready, and all were resolved to hang 'em high.
Just out of sight,
McUndercut chuckled quietly to himself. "Oh yes," he muttered. "It's
like Niagara Falls: the newly wed... and the nearly dead! Har har har!"
sunrise spread the refulgent rays of father Sol across a silent town.
Not a coyote howled, not a bird tweeted, not a card riffled. Laundry
hung still on the lines behind the houses. What had happened? Where were
the 200 bold buckaroos of the night before? Had they absquatulated en
masse to avoid facing Angus and his sons? Would Oscar and Obie stand
alone to face down the pestilential practitioners of putrid
prestidigitation? Take heart, gentle readers, for such was not the case!
At sunrise the 200 were sound asleep since most of the night had been
spent sharing magic in hospitality suites spread across town.
Oh, alas that none
had stayed awake, for if they had they would have seen four furtive
figures scurrying about in the half-light, hiding barrels full of bags
of black powder, laying fuses and saying "Har har har" in muffled tones.
By 11 AM, all the
cowboys were awake (or at least open-eyed) and assembled for a lecture
by Pit Hartling. This was the last lecture of FFFF 2015, and it
was a brilliant one. Pit took as his theme "Method as Presentation" and
illustrated the concept with a series of superb applications of a
memorized deck. This was just the thing to get the crowd powered up,
enthusiastic, and ready for whatever the day might bring.
As soon as lunch was
cleared and all the broken crockery swept up (some of the cowhands got a
little exuberant), Obie called up Gary "Montana" Morton to MC the
next show: Magical Moments. The show started with Garrett Thomas,
who did the world's only 3 card monte with 6 cards. Next up Daryl
Harris produced four signed cards from four pockets. Then that wily
westerner Randy Wakeman made magic with 4 aces. Eric Jones did a
strong coins across routine using a volunteer's hand. Karl Hein
let a volunteer choose a dollar bill from a spread of cash -- the
volunteer chose the only bill with "Loser" written on it. I'll bet that
was fun for him. Then Astor made magic with coins of copper,
silver and brass. Alexander Great borrowed a ring and magically
transported it onto the stem of a wine glass. The energetic Joe Monti
performed a hilarious cups and balls routine with a live mouse.
Andost closed the show with a creative routine in which a chosen
donut contained an envelope predicting 12 selected cards.
With nary a moment
to spare, the next show followed fast on the heels of the previous one.
The "Prairie Dew" Painters, Christian and Katalina, MC-ed
Fechter's Fabulous Follies. First up was Keith Fields -- he
recruited 7 volunteers but then "ran out of time," so the volunteers
completed the magic without him! Rune Carlsen followed with
clever coin conjuring. Lodewijk de Widt magically predicted the
mix of black and red cards in a shuffled packet of cards. Geoff
Williams showed true cowboy chops with a magical sliding knot. Then
Christian Engblom made jaws drop with a super-clean, no-moves
triumph routine. Justin Willman printed a prediction on a
table-top printer, which itself turned out to be just a printed piece of
paper. The final performer was Jacob Schenström,
who presented a powerful cups and balls routine involving a clear glass,
smoke and water.
Dinner that night
was uproarious -- most of the cowpunchers had completely forgotten about
the threat from McUndercut. As the ancients put it "ignorantia
sunt faustitates" -- ignorance is bliss. But outside in the dark, Angus
McUndercut lit a match and touched it to a long fuse -- a three-hour
fuse (a three-hour fuse).
Obie himself MC-ed
the Final Gala. Before the performances commenced many members of the
group took the opportunity to present Oscar Muñoz with awards and
gifts to show appreciation for his contributions to close-up magic.
Oscar is one of those people you always look forward to seeing again --
a great magician and an outstanding person.
The first buckaroo
on stage was Michael Dardant, who showed off his antigravity
ring. Then Galambos performed his excellent cups and balls
routine. Paul Gertner used high tech to deliver a magical routine
full of deep human truth. Shawn Farquhar presented his new ACAAN
routine, and his incredible Dancing Hank. Closing the first half was the
inimitable Rocco, who presented his trademark style of organic,
free-form, poetic magic.
After a short break,
Simo Aalto took the stage, presenting his unique version of the
cups and balls, using bells and small chimes. The audible dimension made
the magic very strong. Alberto Lorenzo performed a magical 3
shell game, in which eventually everything turned green. Henry Evans
delivered one of the most incredible, powerful effects of the entire
weekend: 13 volunteers with 13 decks shuffled and discarded and cut to
the 13 Diamonds, in order! Presenting the final magical moment of FFFF
2015 was Shin Lim, performing his unique style of intense,
mysterious card magic. Closing the convention as always, Steven
Bargatze and Rick Merrill filled the corral with laughter.
No-one was exempt from their sharp and trenchant observations on
performers and events. This year Steve and Rick were themselves a bit
non-plussed when Jimmy C. came onstage and married them to each other.
That was the end of
the show, but not the end of the story. As the performers took their
final bows, a thin yet piercing voice rang out from the top of the
water-tower near the corral. It was Angus McUndercut. "O'Brien! Muñoz!"
he yelled. "You had your chance! You should have invited me... now
you're all going to die, and next year FFFF will just be me and my boys!
You're surrounded by explosives, and the fuse should reach the powder
Nobody heard his
next word because there was an extraordinary explosion, a deafening
detonation, a brobdignagian blast! But it came not from the corral where
all the FFFF cowboys were standing, but from directly under the
water-tower! A thick cloud of smoke enveloped the tower, and when it
cleared there was nothing to be seen -- no tower, no Angus McUndercut.
All the cowboys looked at each other, wondering what had happened.
Then a voice spoke
up. "Sheriff O'Brien? It's me, Weevil McUndercut. I sent you that note.
When you didn't take any action, I knew I had to do something more... I
may have accidentally-on-purpose misled my Pa about where we put the
looked at the young man. "You saved all our lives," he said. "How can I
"You could invite me
to FFFF 2016."
O'Brien was silent for
a long Texas minute, his face impassive. Then he smiled and said, "Not a