JACK DAVIS WAS at rock
bottom when Maria came into his life. He had just finished performing his
solo magic act at a show put on by the Strollers, a club consisting chiefly
of veteran Hollywood hangers-on.
As his agent had promised in urging him to
take the job for all but nominal pay, “It'll be a great showcase for you,
kid. You get out there and knock 'em dead, and you'll be the talk of every
studio in town tomorrow.”
It had been a showcase, all right. And Jack
promised to be talked about on the morrow around Hollywood, all right.
Just about everything that could have gone wrong had gone wrong.
He couldn't understand it. Producing a crushed
and very dead canary in the birdcage trick was a one-in-a-thousand possibility.
It could happen, however unlikely. But having the needles emerge from his
mouth in a packet instead of neatly strung out at regular intervals, having
the handkerchiefs turn into polka-dotted flags, even having the card tricks
Not to mention being unable to escape from
the straitjacket at all...
That was what had rung down the curtain on
the prolonged agony. They had had to cut him out of it with a knife.
To top everything, it was raining, and Jack
had come out for the evening without a coat. California, he thought dismally,
as he stirred his coffee in a nearby cafe where he had sought refuge, here
In his state of near-absolute depression,
Jack barely noticed the girl who slipped into the opposite side of the
booth--nor was Jack the sort of healthy, red-blooded American male to let
any young female pass unnoticed under normal circumstances.
It merely went to show how depressed and perplexed
he really was. Not that Maria, at that time, was a girl to command masculine
attention at first sight. The curves of her figure lay concealed beneath
a chalk-white trench coat, and her dark red hair was covered by a navy-blue
Jack might not have noticed her at all had
she not picked up the sugar dispenser and held it on the table in front
of her. As it was, he barely looked up, said, “Please.”
The sugar floated across to him, an inch or so above the tabletop,
and tilted of its own volition to pour.
“Say when,” said a soft contralto. It poured
until Jack said, “When.” Then it righted itself and returned to the table.
Somewhere across the restaurant, there was a middle-sized crash as another
sugar dispenser fell over and dropped to the floor and shattered.
The noise snapped Jack out of his fog of misery.
“Hey!” he cried. “That's a pretty neat trick.”
“I rather thought so myself,” said the girl
with a pardonable trace of smugness.
He looked at her then.
He saw satin-smooth, pearlywhite skin arranged
intriguingly around a full, sensual mouth, a nose with a slight curve and
a pair of long, narrow, luminous green eyes. He saw gently arched auburn
eyebrows, a broad, low forehead, wide cheekbones and a chin as firm as
it was softly rounded.
Behind the unspectacular facade, in short,
he saw a dish, a platter, a seven-course meal!
“I caught your act just now,” she told him
when his inventory--taking seemed to preclude his opening a conversation.
Jack winced. “Let's forget about that,” he
“On the contrary, let's discuss it. I think
you could use an assistant.”
“Assistant to what--a nothing?” he countered.
“If you saw, you know.”
“Has it occurred to you as a student of magic,”
she remarked, “that the laws of chance are two billion, three hundred seventy-six
million, four hundred fifteen thousand, seven hundred sixty-nine against
your having such a string of disasters in one performance?”
“I hadn't figured it out so exactly,” he said.
“I have.” He couldn't decide whether she was
ribbing him or not. “Consider these odds.”
“Two billion and something…” he murmured.
Then, his eyes lighting with comprehension: “It's virtually impossible.”
“As a matter of pure chance, yes.” “Are you
suggesting sabotage?” he asked incredulously.
“But that's impossible, too,” he said, growing
angry, “I set up the tricks myself--no assistant, thank you.”
The long, narrow, very beautiful green eyes
regarded him steadily until he began to squirm. Finally, he said, “How?”
“That,” she told him, “is my little secret.”
“You!” he exclaimed. She nodded.
She leaned back against the wall of the booth
and toyed with a fork, twisting it like spaghetti in her apparently gentle
fingers. She said, softly, “As usual, there are two reasons--a good one
and a real one.”
“What's the good one?” he asked.
“Oh, let's say I have certain powers I'd like
to keep tuned up without causing a lot of damage.” Across the restaurant,
a late diner called a waitress, growled,
“What's the idea of serving me steel spaghetti?
I damn near broke a tooth!”
Unheeding, Jack thought about the sugar dispenser
that floated through the air and poured out desired amounts by itself.
He regarded the fork, which was now plaited into a braid. He said, “What's
the real reason?”
“I'm in love with you,” she replied quietly.
“For God's sake, why?” he countered, disbelieving
“If I knew that, I'd probably shoot myself
in the morning. I've been in love with you for more than six months now,
ever since I saw you perform for the Shrine benefit last October. Heaven
knows I've fought against it.” Resting a hand on his sleeve, she added,
“Can't we carry on this conversation somewhere more private? Say in my
“I'm not in the mood for that, I'm afraid,”
he told her.
There was mockery in her smile as she said,
“You will be, darling. I'll see to that.”
In his current condition, Jack decided he
might as well go along with the gag. After all, what did he have to lose?
AS SHE snuggled close against him in his battered
MG, softly directing him to her hillside house, Jack became aware of two
things. One, trench coat or no, this girl had a body. Two, she had a scent
unlike any perfume he had ever sniffed. It was sweet without cloying, sharp
without biting, heavy without musk.
In two words, it was indescribably sexy.
He may not have been in a mood to explore
cosmic delights, but by the time he pulled to a halt on her gravel driveway,
he was feeling the urge as never before in his twenty-seven years.
She knew it, too. He could tell by the glint
of triumph in her narrow green eyes as she slipped gracefully from the
car and moved toward the door of the little house. It opened without sound
or touch as she approached it.
Inside, she removed her beret, let it float
to a hatrack built on the wall. She shook out luxuriant, shoulder length
dark red hair, turned to face him wearing a Mona Lisa half-smile. The indescribably
sexy scent of her enveloped him as she slipped into his arms.
The touch of her lips upon his was like the
shock of a half-hundred electric eels-yet wonderfully, magnificently pleasant.
In the bedroom, with its panoramic view of
the night-rain sweeping Los Angeles, he watched her remove her clothing.
First the trenchcoat--revealing a willowy dancer's body in a gray woolen
sheath. Then the sheath--revealing soft yet firm female flesh, slender
of hip and thigh, yet full of bosom, clad only in a black lace dance set.
“I wore them for you,” she said with a blush.
Then, with a little cry of dismay, “Oh, darling, why didn't you wait? I
wanted to help you undress.”
“I couldn't,” he said. “So help me, I couldn't
He was upon her, reaching for the elastic
of her black lace panties. They slipped off as easily as butter from a
hot roll. Her bra unfastened itself, and both garments drifted slowly to
join the rest of her clothing, which had neatly folded itself upon a chair.
Her body was silk against his. Her lips lifted
to meet his again; her tongue penetrated the yielding barrier of his teeth.
He caressed her breasts, reveling in their yielding firmness, in the fact
they didn't flatten out as she rolled over on her back.
He united with her, and for a long, delightful
moment, their bodies joined, they lay absolutely still. Then, as with a
single impulse, they began to make love. Slowly their tempo increased,
until, at the climax, it was a joint madness Jack had never even dreamed
Only when it was over, did it occur to him
he didn't know who she was. He asked her name, and she told him. “Maria--Maria
“Maria Bella,” he mused, “Bella Maria. That's
how we'll bill you.” She took his acceptance of her in stride. She said,
“Bella Maria--why didn't I think of that?”
“Don't tell me you haven't,” he replied.
She sat up on her heels, her hands on her
thighs, and made a face at him. “You're going to be a hard man to fool,
“Not very,” he replied: “I don't have a jealous
nature--nor a suspicious one. Tell me, darling--are you really a witch?”
She nodded. “Ninth generation. Both sides
of the family.”
“Then, since you love me, why didn't you come
to my rescue tonight, instead of sabotaging me?”
“Because you'd have thought you did it yourself
if I'd let everything work right. You'd never have noticed me. You'd have
brushed me off,”
“You could have bewitched me anyway.”
She shook her head. “There are rules. Laws,
really. Besides, I had to get your attention. And you'd never have given
it to me. Not if you'd stayed at the club, drinking and accepting compliments.”
“It could cost me--what you did, if you did
it,” he said. “My agent and I were counting on that date.”
“Peanuts,” she said contemptuously. “Together,
you and I are going to shoot for the moon.”
He reached for her, and she fell into his
arms, laughing her soft contralto laugh. She wrestled him back onto the
mattress, took her will of him, showed him varieties of sexplay he had
never known existed. She was unbelievably supple-and sexy.
When they came up for air, he said, “You mentioned
laws. What about them, honey?”
“They're very real,” she said gravely. “The
most important one is a lot like Newton's Second Law.”
“You mean the one that says every action must
have an equal and opposite reaction?” he asked.
She nodded. “But with complications--for witchcraft
is very complex.”
“I don't follow.”
“You remember when I floated the sugar dispenser
over to you in the restaurant?”
“You may not have noticed it, but in compensation
a dispenser fell to the floor from a table across the room. And when I
got nervous and twisted up that fork like spaghetti, a man on the other
side complained of getting steel spaghetti.”
“I remember that,” said Jack thoughtfully.
“He said he almost broke a tooth. What about your clothes?” He nodded toward
the chair. “What compensated for their folding themselves so neatly?”
“Oh dear!” Maria looked lightly distressed.
“I suppose half the clothing in Mrs. Klotz's closet is lying on the floor
“Who's Mrs. Klotz?” Jack asked.
“My nearest neighbor,” said Maria. “That's
why I have to be so careful. I mean, if I did something really big, God
only knows what would happen.”
“And what about me--you and me?” he asked.
“Don't tell me you didn't use witchcraft--a little. Not that you needed
it,” he added hastily.
Maria again looked distressed. “Some lovers
up on Mulholland Drive are probably wondering what they were fighting about.”
“They've made up?”
“They've made up. I only used my craft to
get you in the mood.”
“You wonderful little devil,” he murmured,
again drawing her close.
WITHIN THREE months, Jack Davis & Bella
Maria were playing the lounge of one of Las Vegas' most fabulous caravanserais,
receiving more a week for their performances than Jack had ever made in
a month before.
Six weeks after that, they hit the Copacabana
in New York City and won instant acclaim as the most fabulous magic act
since the heyday of Houdini. They played the Chez Paris in Chicago, headlined
at Hollywood's Moulin Rouge, then returned to Vegas to star in the big
show of the hotel where they had played the lounge a half-year earlier.
They were riding high--onstage and in bed.
Thanks to Maria's talents, they had no need
of costly illusions and the usual elaborate magician's paraphernalia. It
was the beautiful, baffling simplicity of their act that stunned audiences
and critics alike.
Where Columbus made one egg stand on end by
breaking the yolk inside, Jack stood a dozen eggs one on top of the other-leaving
Where, traditionally, most magicians saw a
woman in half by dividing her at the waist, Jack sawed Maria both across
Where sleight of hand artists conceal cards
up their sleeves and across the backs of their hands, Jack simply made
them disappear and reappear at will--and climaxed the trick by making an
entire deck remain motionless in mid-air, all 52 cards separate.
Where he had formerly made a canary disappear,
he now caused a vulture to vanish.
Where Dominique, the great French pickpocket,
removed one man's suspenders without his knowing it, Jack disrobed an entire
Although eggs broke inexplicably in surrounding
kitchens, although hitherto tight-fitting girdles developed unexpected
ill-fitting looseness, although poker games went sadly awry and vultures
appeared in out-of-the-way places, although a number of ladies found themselves
fully clothed while taking their baths--whenever the act went on--nobody
connected these events with witchcraft's laws of compensation.
Nobody could. After all--witchcraft didn't
It was a ball, a romp, a glorious game.
Late one night in Vegas, while Jack and Maria
were resting between bouts, Jack said thoughtfully, “I've been studying
your magic, darling. You're not clairvoyant, are you?”
Maria shook her head, pushed dark-red hair
back from her temples. “Hardly,” she replied. “No witch alive has the complete
range of wild talents.”
“Your powers seem limited to telekinesis--to
an ability to make things move by mental power.”
“Are you complaining, darling?” Maria countered,
green eyes narrowing.
“Hardly.” He laughed and caressed her lissome
body. “Just trying to compute your limitation against ideas for new acts.”
“As long as that's all you're thinking of,”
she said, frowning.
“What else?” he offered, kissing her. “My
“I have another gift or two,” she murmured,
but he failed to heed her.
Scowling, he said, “I wish you'd let us level
with you as a witch. Trying to explain your gifts to the press is getting
increasingly difficult--especially since they all think I'm the one who
“You're sweet, darling.” Maria kissed him
lingeringly, letting her breasts brush his ribcage. “But no thanks. My
people had enough trouble when the world believed in them. All those burnings--ugh!”
She shuddered, causing her coral-pink nipples
to stand erect. Massaging them gently, he said, “Who'd believe it anyway?
I'd like to see you get the credit that's coming to you.”
“No thanks, dear,” Maria repeated. “I'm edging
our laws enough by letting you seem to do the tricks. I'd a lot rather
stay in the background--and right here.”
Her beautiful dancer's witch-body caressed
him, enveloped him, and another red-letter night moved delectably forward...
IT WAS DURING the team's second Las Vegas tour
that Dora Jennett entered the picture. Dora was spectacularly rich, lushly
beautiful, three times a divorcee, and thoroughly accustomed to getting
what she wanted.
Being between lovers and husbands alike, Dora
took one look at Jack and decided he was just the male oasis she needed
to relieve the current desert of her love-life. The fact that Jack proved
hard to get only added impetus to her wooing. Dora occupied a down-front
table twice nightly for the act, making a spectacular exit the moment it
was concluded. After sending a stream of invitations to Jack's suite, she
took to waylaying him in the lobby and corridors.
It became something of a joke at least to
Maria. Once, when Dora was sitting out front wearing a lofty, and elaborate
coiffure, Maria yielded to a mischievous impulse and caused all Dora's
bobby pins to fall out at once, resulting in a spectacular disarray.
“…and the hair came tumbling down,” she chanted
in the dressing room later, to the tune of Joshua Fought the Battle of
“Don't do it again, darling,” said Jack a
“Don't tell me you go for that empress-sized
she-wolf,” said Maria, her eyes dancing with mockery.
“All right, I won't,” said Jack, unaccountably
irritated. “Besides, it's bad for business.”
Marie yawned. “I'm going to bed. How about
“I think I'll taper off first,” replied Jack.
“Besides, I want to catch that Hawaiian fire-eating act in the lounge.”
“Don't get burned,” said Maria. Dora Jennett
was waiting for him there. Jack had known she would be. She had sent him
a verbal message to that effect via the ugly-looking little hunchback who
operated the night shoe-shine concession. She had sent him similar messages
every night for the past week.
Jack looked at Dora's blue-black hair, now
combed out and hanging to her bare shoulders. Nodding toward the dining
room, he said, “I want to apologize for what happened in there.”
“It's all right,” she replied, her luminous
eyes glowing from between their double-stockades of mascara. “Actually,
it was quite a trick. What did you use-magnets?”
“Something like that,” he replied uneasily.
She leaned toward him, displaying a magnificent
cleavage above her plunging neckline. Her lips were agleam with moisture.
She said. “I have a bottle of champagne on ice up in my room.”
He was a gone gosling. If Maria hadn't ruined
Dora's coiffure, if she hadn't been making the cracks about her, he might
have resisted. The combination, plus Dora's flamboyant charms, was too
much for him. Besides, he had been playing monogamy game with Maria for
almost a year.
It was, he thought, time for a change, if
only a brief one. Besides, it wasn't as if he and Maria were husband and
wife. He wasn't breaking any laws written or otherwise.
Still, thoughts of Maria's parapsychological
talents troubled him. When Dora kissed him, he shivered and looked quickly
over his shoulder. And he was notably nervous when they first got in bed
“You act almost afraid,” she smiled.
“Me--afraid?” He laughed raggedly. But the
laugh relieved him, and he and Dora got down to cases in a hurry.
It was almost dawn when he got back to his
suite. He was so spent he faked drunkenness so that Maria wouldn't wonder
at his condition.
When he awoke, Maria had departed. Jack had
a half-memory of waking to see her looking down at him with thoughtful
green eyes. He felt like the world's biggest heel and spent a full half
hour in the shower trying to wash away his guilt.
Downstairs, in the main lobby, the ugly little
hunchback approached him and whispered, “Mrs. Jennett called and asked
me to tell you the same time tonight.”
Marveling at the little cripple's ugliness,
Jack resisted an impulse to rub his hump for luck. He looked up to see
Maria regarding him thoughtfully through a gap in the stockade of slot
machines that rimmed the lobby. She was standing at one of the roulette
tables with a monstrous stack of counters in front of her.
Jack went to her hurriedly, whispered, “That's
cheating, honey.” The long green eyes looked at him furtively.
Maria said, “Well?”
Jack felt a shiver roll up his spine…
AS THE EVENING rolled on, Jack's sense of guilt
transferred itself to resentment at Maria's behavior. He knew she knew
he had been unfaithful to her with Dora Jennett. Her “well?” at the roulette
table proved the point beyond quibble.
He had no idea where he had slipped up, but
it didn't matter. Maria knew. Since she was an authentic witch, there was
small point in worrying about the how of it.
Having transformed his remorse into resentment,
Jack found his desire rising to resume his amour with the flamboyant Dora.
When he left her, he had felt like not looking at another woman for a month.
Now, less than 24 hours later, he was primed and ready to go again.
Both he and Maria dressed rapidly, non-committally.
Jack paid a visit to the toilet to remove the last of his makeup. When
he returned, an excuse ready on his lips, his partner had already departed.
Odd, he thought--but it saved his having to
lie himself black in the face about what he intended to do.
As he walked the carpeted corridor toward
Dora Jennett's room, Jack felt actually giddy with anticipation--so giddy
he had to lean, briefly, against a wall. But it quickly passed, and he
proceeded to his forbidden fruit, smiling to himself and thinking, Eager
Dora received him with open arms, nude and
If anything, she was even more exotically
delightful than the night before. It was over an hour between their first
embrace and the time when, spent at last, their sweatgleaming bodies drew
Jack looked adoringly at Dora, murmured, “Darling!”
Then his eyes widened, and his muscles stiffened.
“Surprised, darling?” Maria said, her
green eyes mocking.
He could only gulp and goggle as he realized
that he was in his own room, in his own bed, with his own mistress. His
first reaction was rage, but it passed quickly. Maria had managed things
too neatly for anger. He said, “You little devil--you witch!”
They kissed, affectionately, not passionately.
“How'd you do it?” he asked.
“I told you I had a gift or two besides telekinesis.
You're not sore?”
“Only my stomach muscles,” he replied. Maria's
lips curved in a smile, and then they both began to laugh. They clung together
for long minutes, close to hysterics.
“You won't do it again?” she asked when control
“What's the use?” he countered. “Besides,
if you can be any woman I want, we should never run out of possibilities.”
As they reveled in the new game, the law of
compensation took effect. In another wing of the hotel, screams rang out
as Dora Jennett, fondly believing herself in bed with Jack, discovered
she was embracing the little hunchback from the shoe-shine parlor downstairs.
This calamity bothered Jack and Maria not
in the least. They were much too busy with the witchcraft of love.