His name was Ehrich Weldon and this was his email to Repairing Hope.
Dear Mr. Repairman,
It is my sincerest hope that, as the name of your organization suggests, you will be able to help me in my quest to leave my current situation. I heard about your work through a mutual friend. He assures me that you would be just the person to assist me.
I am a gunsmith by training however, I’ve always been interested in the mechanics of illusions; how magicians create illusions or props for their shows. My real passion is restoring props used by the magicians of the golden age of magic (1850-1930). Two years ago I took a job with my current employer, who for now, will remain nameless. My contract with this employer states that I must work exclusively for the company.
Recently I’ve discovered that this employer is scamming other collectors and magicians out of money by falsifying records of provenance or authenticating items that are clearly not the original article. I’ve repaired or restored many of these items myself. My own reputation is on the line. I’ll admit that most are excellent quality work and are usually period pieces but have never belonged to anyone famous nor have they been part of any famous collection.
When I confronted my employer about this situation, he threatened me. He and some of his fellow “businessmen” said they would make sure that the crimes were blamed on me. They said they had false documents. I am in fear for my own life, yes, but I want you to know that the company has also threatened friends of mine within the industry. I must go to the authorities.
This coming week I will be at the biggest trade show for those who create, restore and repair illusions and props in all the United States and Canada, “The Real Magic and Illusion Conference”. It’s only for professionals, but I managed to get you an invitation as an expert on escape illusions. You’ll forgive the irony I’m sure. Attached to this email you’ll find your invitation, a photograph of myself “in costume” if you will, and the directions to the conference should you choose to assist me.
Ehrich (Eric) Weldon.
I’m Cary Alden. I’m known as “The Repairman”. I am chairman and founder of The Repair Hope Network.
I began making calls to confer with volunteers within The Repair Hope Network. Some of whom travel in the same circles as Eric. They informed me that he understated his situation. The people who buy these pieces pay handsomely for the privilege of owning the genuine article. When buyers find out they had been duped, Eric could be in very serious trouble.
The next day I replied to Eric Weldon’s email.
I received your email and contacted our mutual friend via the usual method. He assures me that your story is genuine and that we need to effect an escape as soon as possible. He will give you the particulars of our arrival.
Because our mutual friend has assisted us before in these matters there will be no further need for communication between ourselves. I suggest you purge these emails from your device and please do not keep hard copies.
I spoke with The Repair Hope Network board of directors the next day. Rhiannon Tremayne, who had been our most recent success story, had a brilliant suggestion as to how we might help Eric escape. The board voted to carry out her plan. Rhiannon would be at our base of operations and would make all necessary arrangements and serve as coordinator for this particular mission. Having herself escaped from a life of being the unwitting participant in a fraud, she was ideal. She understood the danger and would do everything possible to help him from our headquarters.
The plan was elaborate, but, we were dealing with people who are adept at tricks, illusion, and in some cases downright deceit. We would have to beat the trickster at his own game.
The team would need a wardrobe mistress, an animal trainer, and a few vintage props to pull off the escape. We’d need perfect timing, cool heads, and determination. Failure in this case could result in people being hurt. It was our responsibility to hit all of our marks.
One of our benefactors owns a private jet. Traveling with me was our animal rescuer and trainer Belle, her panther Adam, the wardrobe mistress Katrina, our museum curator Dirk, and an exceedingly valuable cage used by Mabel Stark. There were the usual bags, travel trunks, coolers full of food for Adam. When we land, we will complete our crew with various stagehands who will help us pull off the operation. It felt more like a military mission rather than an escape, but needs must.
We arrived at the private airport right on schedule. Katrina was putting the finishing touches on the costumes, our animal trainer Belle was looking after her cat, Dirk checked his watch for the umpteenth time. I assured Mr. Goldthwait that our contact would be prompt. The Repairing Hope Network members know that punctuality is a must unless there are extenuating circumstances.
A few moments later a car pulled up delivering Susan Shortbridge. Mr. Goldthwait nearly swallowed his bow tie when he realized the first of our contacts would be THE Susan Shortbridge, renowned the world over for her authentic painting and restoration of antique circus memorabilia.
“Here is a woman needs no introduction.” Dirk gushed, shaking Susan’s hand until her arm must have been numb.
She replied, “Mr. Goldthwait, you wouldn’t be The Great Goldthwait the master of the coffin illusion?” I looked at Dirk with a shocked expression. “There’s so much you don’t know, Cary,” He said with a smirk.
After finishing her chat with Dirk, Susan then joined me. “I understand you persuaded Dirk to allow you to bring an animal caravan cage used by Mabel Stark?” She queried excitedly “Yes! It’s been modified but essentially the artwork and cage itself are in amazing condition. Would you like to see it?” I replied.
Susan smiled, “Absolutely!”
The cage was just being offloaded from the plane as Susan and I walked up. “Susan Shortbridge, meet our team; Katrina our wardrobe mistress and Belle, our animal trainer and rescue expert. The animal in question is a black panther named Adam.”
“Hello!” Said Susan.
“After we’ve loaded the circus wagon onto the horse trailer, I think we should get to the hotel. We need to discuss the plan. We have just 24 hours to pull this off.”
“Horse trailer Cary?” Susan exclaimed
“The trailer is temperature controlled for both Adam and the antique, it’s also armored.” I replied .
Rhiannon had not only managed to find them a hotel with open rooms, but she also managed to reserve a suite for me. The rooms were perfect for their purposes. I ordered a light supper for all involved in the escape operation. We did not need any distractions. Eric would be here any moment.
There was a knock at the door. I admitted Eric Weldon to my room. The team began filtering in, including Adam the panther with a flare for a dramatic entrance. Adam gave a little growl startling Eric to the point I thought he’d faint.
“I’m sorry I should have warned you. Adam is Belle’s contribution to our escape plan.” I said patting Eric on the back.
“Don’t mind him Mr. Weldon. Adam is an old ham and loves attention. Adam this is Eric, Eric this is Adam.” said Belle introducing the two. The panther bowed low to the ground.
Eric bowed in return and laughed.
“Let’s begin shall we?” I said to the group while they ate their dinner. Eric ate as if he hadn’t had a decent meal in weeks.
I then introduced Eric to our team.
“It’s so good to meet you all,” he said “Thank you for doing all of this for me. I hardly seem worth the trouble. I’m deeply grateful”
“Cary, you must get on with the meeting we need to have a fitting,” said Katrina
“Yes of course Katrina,” I replied. “The plan begins tomorrow at 8:00 am. The team, minus Eric, will assemble here for breakfast and to go over the checklist. We will then travel over to the Conference Hall together. I have an invitation for myself and Katrina. Mr. Goldthwait really needs no introduction. He will have no trouble getting himself and Belle into the Hall under the guise of looking for pieces for the museum. Specifically from Eric’s employer.” I said
“Eric, you will go on with your work unless your employer or Mr. Goldtwait says something to you specifically. If the plan needs to be accelerated for any reason, Susan will inform you.” I answered.
“The next part of the plan will involve moving the Mabel Stark Circus Cage into the hall directly to your work bench area where Mr. Goldthwait will ask your employer to give a second valuation of the cage. Dirk will announce that there is an illusion installed after Mabel’s death,” I said to the group. “It is the famous lady in the cage illusion with which I am sure you are all familiar. The lady goes into the cage and moments later a tiger appears in the cage in her place.” I announced
“This is where Adam comes into play.” said Belle. “Instead of a full-grown tiger I’ll substitute Adam in the cage.”
Mr. Goldthwait turned to Eric and said, “To make this look legitimate, I’ll ask you to carefully examine the illusion. Susan will interject with a few questions then suggest we demonstrate”.
“This, Eric, is where Katrina has had a master stroke of genius. She has created costumes resembling a painting of Harlequin and Columbine,” I said
Katrina pulled out the costumes. Each had harlequin print pants and tunics, each using hook and pile fastener. “Eric, you and Cary will act as the assistants to Mr. Goldthwait wearing these costumes. First, you will be wearing the Columbine costume. She produced a hat with a wig attached and two identical black masks. “You will be in the cage. The panther behind the false wall. When the curtain closes around the cage Cary will enter. He will trade his tunic and hat for your tunic, hat, and wig.”
I added “Eric, once you come out of the cage I’ll slip into the trap door under the floor of the cage and lower the false partition. The curtain will come down, and you’ll be outside standing next to Mr. Goldthwait. Everyone will know how the illusion works, so it’s not a big secret. The trick is you’ve changed places with me. Once we begin to wheel the wagon out the door no one will know the difference.”
“It’s incredible! Brilliant!” exclaimed Eric.
“Let's try on those costumes.” I said with a big smile.
We stepped into the next room to change into our costumes. Katrina knocked on the door so that she could examine her handiwork.
“These are not perfect, but they will do. Now let me see you remove the tunic and make the switch. You should be able to slip them on with the hook and pile in the back.” She said as she slid her hand down the back of each tunic and closed them up. “See that easy, that quickly.” she stated with a little snap of the fingers for emphasis. You could hear just a hint of her Portuguese accent.
The meeting in my suite broke up around 7:30 pm. Eric had to get back to the Conference Hall or his employer would become suspicious. He had left work in order to examine a prop the local theater group had in their possession and to pick up some spare parts. He’d be missed if he were gone much longer. I reassured him we’d be there at 9:00 am as the venue opened.
The next morning everyone gathered in the main suite to go over last minute details. Rhiannon phoned to tell us that all the stagehands were in place for the illusion demonstration. She’d also made all the necessary travel arrangements.
It was time to go. The key to the success of our operation fell on Dirk Goldthwait, Belle, and Adam the precocious panther. Belle looked every bit the part of the beautiful animal trainer sequined red tabard, black camisole, red peg legged pants, high heels and elbow length black gloves. Dirk dressed as the dignified master illusionist. Tuxedo with gold stick pin and the obligatory top hat. If all eyes were on them that the rest of the team could move around the Conference Hall virtually unobserved.
I located Eric at his workbench. I nodded but did not speak to him. Susan, Katrina, and I were rounding up our stagehands while Mr. Goldthwait and the beautiful Belle were circulating. Belle kept Adam on a lead his black fur and green eyes glistening. Dirk casually looked at his pocket watch and whispered to Belle.
They made their way at a normal pace to Eric’s employer The Grotto of Mystery owned by the odious Lance Romanoff (Not his real name). He was every creepy stereotype rolled into one being. Dirk introduced himself and Belle to Mr. “Romanoff”.
“Lovely to meet you” said Belle as she held out her gloved hand
He shook her hand.
Not taking his eyes off Belle he asked Mr. Goldthwait what he could do to help.
Dirk replied “The museum owns an ornate circus wagon used by the amazing Mabel Stark. The cage has been modified to include the mechanics for the lady in the cage illusion. I’d like you to value the item, and I’d also like your man here to take a look at the inner workings to make sure it is safe for use. I need it done right now as I have to catch a plane. Don’t worry the museum has authorized a generous budget for this project.”
Lance Romaonff snapped his fingers in such an officious way it was revolting. Eric hurried over to his side.
“Yes Mr. Romanoff?” He said.
“Please assist these people in bringing the item for valuation into the hall.” He hissed.
The team, including stagehands gathered at the modified horse trailer. Everyone seemed to know what to do. Much to my relief we worked together like a well oiled machine. This circus wagon was incredibly valuable; any damage would be expensive!
“Well team, are we ready?” I asked
All nodded in assent.
“Let's go!” I exclaimed.
As soon as the cage was rolled into the venue there were audible gasps from the other vendors.
I could practically see the dollar signs in Lance Romanoff’s eyes. He looked at Dirk Goldthwait.
“Remarkable, unparalleled!” He said. “I couldn’t possibly put a price on something like this Mr. Goldthwait. I’m sorry.”
While Eric checked the mechanical parts of the illusion built into the wagon, Susan followed the plan for the rescue. She began to ask Dirk about the wagon’s origins and how the museum obtained it, who modified for the lady in the cage illusion.
Dirk replied, “Susan Shortbridge, I’d know you anywhere! How wonderful to see you in person!”
Susan thanked him and asked “Would The Great Goldthwait be willing to demonstrate the illusion?”
He looked at Belle. “What do you think? Shall we give it a try?” He asked
Belle grinned as she said, “Why of course Dirk!
Dirk looked at me. “You, my good man, would you and the young man looking over the illusion help us by being our volunteers? I believe we even have the perfect costumes.” he said. “The museum anticipates these eventualities”
I said that I’d be willing and Eric agreed that he would give it a try because it would give him a chance to see the mechanical parts in action.
“Okay gentlemen if you’d follow Ms. Katrina to the changing area we will begin.” said Dirk.
The stagehands prepared the wagon fastening the large gold cloth over the entire cage except for the door. Meanwhile, Belle fed Adam his favorite pre-performance snacks.
Eric and I came out of the changing area. We are nearly the same size and dressed in nearly identical costumes. No one could tell us apart. Everything was going to plan.
Eric stepped inside the wagon. Belle had already tucked Adam in behind the false wall. The gold sheet was wrapped around the cage door. I playfully ran around the wagon while Dirk described the illusion. I slipped under the gold covering and into the cage. We had mere seconds to trade costumes. Eric slipped out and stood beside Dirk. While The Great Goldthwait finished his presentation, I slipped through the trap door into a compartment under the wagon. I removed the pin that would lower the false wall releasing Adam into the cage. The curtain, once fully lifted, revealed the black panther standing alone, Eric had taken his position next to Dirk and I had completely disappeared. Illusion complete.
Without further ado we left the venue so that no suspicions would be raised. I said, as I rolled out from the door at the side of the secret compartment, “We have maybe 10 minutes to get on the road!” We made it just in time. I looked over my shoulder in time to see Romanoff running from the Conference Hall.
Eric was overjoyed. He was free and finally able to tell the authorities what he knew about his FORMER employer. The mission was a success.
Within 48 hours Eric was on a plane to Vienna, Austria to work with a small theatrical and opera company where his skills in repairing equipment, props and instruments would be invaluable. No doubt he will still work some magic in his new city of residence. After all, he was named after Harry Houdini.