Billy Sunday cover

A Billy Sun­day Kind of Love
Chap­ter 1
Mem­phis, 1933
When Calpur­nia Waters vol­un­teered to let the Amaz­ing Waldo make her dis­ap­pear, she never dreamed it would be for good.
Mas­ter con­jurer and dis­ci­ple of the mys­ter­ies of the most ancient of sor­cery and magic, the illu­sion­ist came to the Bluff City “Direct from the grand stage of the Hip­po­drome in New York!,” as his posters pro­claimed. In these hard times, dozens of Mem­phis men thanked him for the three days of work it had taken to raise his vast tent on the fair­grounds, spread cubic yards of fresh saw­dust under it, stock it with hun­dreds of wooden fold­ing chairs, and sus­pend the mul­ti­tude of twin­kling lights under which the magi­cian now performed.
Suave in tuxedo and white tie, his Dou­glas Fair­banks mus­tache neat and his inky hair slicked back smooth against his skull, the Amaz­ing Waldo held his audi­ence spell­bound. He had already trans­formed a rab­bit into a dove and trans­ported his leggy assis­tant Matilda to the very back of the audi­ence from a box on the stage that he had stuck swords clean through, chang­ing the color of her span­gled out­fit from crim­son to gilt for good mea­sure. On this Sep­tem­ber Sat­ur­day after­noon, every one of those fold­ing chairs was filled, and every man, woman, and childin them strained for­ward to see what mirac­u­lous illu­sion or leg­erde­main would come next.
Now, good peo­ple of Mem­phis assem­bled here, are any of you so dar­ing as to risk being trans­muted into energy, trans­ferred to another dimen­sion, and then restored to the fel­low­ship of your rejoic­ing fam­ily?” Waldo said from the front of the stage.
He motioned to Matilda, who with the help of two burly stage­hands wheeled an enor­mous Egypt­ian mummy case to the cen­ter of the stage. “Who among us here tonight would not embrace immor­tal­ity?” he said. “From the dawn of time, the promise of eter­nal life has enrap­tured mankind. Untold ages ago in the sto­ried val­ley of the Nile, the ancient Egyp­tians pre­pared their dead for the after­life. To earn a place on the great god Ra’s boat for the jour­ney to the land of the Two Fields and that ever­last­ing life, they believed the bod­ies and organs of the departed must be pre­served. They would need them again after their souls trav­eled safely through the underworld.”
Waldo stepped to the case and rested his hand against its side. “First, the heart of the deceased had to pass scrutiny in the hall of the god­dess Ma’at, who placed it on a bal­ance to be weighed against a feather. To board Ra’s boat, one’s heart had to be light. Only the kind, the gen­tle, and the upright who spent their lives doing good were light of heart.”
He stalked back to the edge of the stage and regarded the nowquiet crowd. “Those whose hearts could not pass Ma’at’s test were denied a place on Ra’s boat and van­ished from the face of the earth for­ever.” He struck the spot over his heart with his right fist. “Now, I know that there must be many among you who live vir­tu­ous lives. This antique case once housed the body of a great pharaoh, a king wise and good who no doubt found his rest in the after­life.” Right palm now open, he ges­tured toward the case. “Which of you is will­ing to enter?”
The crowd stirred. This time, fewer hands went up than had appeared when the Amaz­ing Waldo first issued his challenge.
Calpur­nia turned to her friend Hat­tie Tay­lor where they sat on the sec­ond row of the col­ored sec­tion. “I’m going.” Calpur­nia waved her hand in the direc­tion of the stage.
Cal, what on earth makes you think he’s going to pick you?” Hat­tie gave her a you-have-clean-lost-your-mind grin.
This right here.” Calpur­nia tapped the brace on her right leg. “You know it’s always bet­ter if he can get a crip­pled girl up on the stage. Makes the audi­ence feel sympathy.”
Hat­tie snorted. “Honey, it’s been a good while since you were a girl. And how is he sup­posed to know you’re crip­pled? You know he can’t tell that all the way over here. ”
Calpur­nia elbowed Hat­tie. “Hush, and help me up. I’m going to step out into the aisle. And any­way, he’s a magi­cian, isn’t he?”
All right.” Hat­tie shrugged and handed Cal her two canes just like the ones Mr. Roo­sevelt used. She braced her­self with them, rocked for­ward onto her feet from her seat at the end of the row, and shuf­fled side­ways until she stood in the mid­dle of the aisle. There, she waited for the con­jurer to notice her, the only woman stand­ing in the colored section.
The Amaz­ing Waldo gazed out over the audi­ence, many of them lan­guorously wav­ing paper fans dec­o­rated with pic­tures of Jesus knock­ing at the sinner’s door that Watkins-Fish Funeral Home had handed out at the entrances. Mem­phis was still warm in September, and with all the human­ity crammed in under the tent, it got hot even with the sides opened at inter­vals to let the air in.
Are there so few who dare?” he said. He stretched out his hand and swept it to encom­pass all the audi­ence. “No strong young man eager to prove his valor? Come, there is noth­ing to fear. I thought the proud peo­ple of this city were made of sterner stuff than this. ”
Around the audi­ence, a few more timid hands had gone up. At the back, a group of teenage boys stood, jostling each other, whether com­pet­ing for notice or per­haps doing their best to push their friends for­ward, he couldn’t tell. Waldo locked eyes with a sassy-looking blonde  in the mid­dle of the crowd. She smirked at him as though to say, “I know what you’re up to.” He was tempted to call on her, but the hulknext to her with an arm around her shoul­ders dis­cour­aged him.
Then, he saw her. A frail Negro woman, a cane in each hand, standing erect and quiet to the far right of the stage. She would do, and bring­ing her up would shame all the coun­try yokels whose girl­friends and wives pushed them toward the stage while they pre­tended to be too sophis­ti­cated to con­sider such fool­ish­ness. Waldo crossed to the stairs, strode down them to the woman’s side.
Think you’re up to it?” he asked her in a low voice.
Yes, sir.”
Waldo threw his hands in the air. “At last, our intre­pid vol­un­teer. I will escort her to the stage to face the per­ils of the unknown. Matilda, prepare the chamber.”
The magician’s assis­tant pulled open the front of the mummy case, entered, tapped the sides to show they were solid, and walked out again, waiting while Waldo and the vol­un­teer made their way up the steps and across the stage. The woman’s gait was delib­er­ate, the tap of her canes on the wood floor mark­ing her progress. The clamor that had greeted her died down so that by the time she reached the case, there was com­plete silence.
Waldo faced the audi­ence again. Remov­ing the black star-bedecked cloak he had draped over his shoul­ders, he whirled it over his head and let it fall into a fan shape at his feet. “This man­tle once belonged to a mas­ter of the occult arts, a mage so pow­er­ful that it is said that at his death, not only did his immor­tal soul cross over but his mor­tal body did as well, leav­ing behind only this cloak, a papyrus so ancient that itcrum­bled at the touch of my hand, and this ring.”
Turn­ing the back of his right hand toward the crowd to reveal what appeared to be a gigan­tic ruby set in an ornate gold-and-enamel band, Waldo stretched his left arm out at a right angle to his side. Gradually, he extended his right arm as well until he seemed about to embrace the crowd. “As the one true heir to that power, the cloak and the ring passed to me. I will call upon their power to make Miss .…” He turned to the petite woman wait­ing by the case.
Calpur­nia Waters.”
… Miss Calpur­nia dis­ap­pear. Are you ready?”
Yes, sir.”
Then, let us begin.” Waldo reached into the case and rapped with con­sid­er­able force on the sides, again show­ing that they were solid. He clapped his hands twice, and Matilda appeared at his side with a mask and strips of cloth. “You afraid?” he whis­pered to Calpur­nia, who shook her head. He winked at her. “I’ve got you.”
Not only did the faith­ful of the Egypt of yore believe that one must be light of heart, but they were also con­vinced that they must pre­serve the body after death if the departed were to achieve immor­tal­ity. Thus was born the art of mum­mi­fi­ca­tion, an art so grisly to our mod­ern ears that I shall refrain from explain­ing it out of def­er­ence to the ladies in the audi­ence and to any gen­tle­men who may be par­tic­u­larly del­i­cate of constitution.”
He held out a hand to Matilda, who placed in it the mask.
When the body was pre­pared, it was ban­daged in strips of clean­li­nen like those the lovely Matilda now holds aloft in her hands, but we will spare our coura­geous Miss Calpur­nia that ordeal.” He lifted the mask toward the crowd. “No doubt you have all heard of the fab­u­lous trea­sures of King Tut dis­cov­ered in the leg­endary Val­ley of the Kings not so very long ago. As he slept in his royal tomb, Tut wore a golden mask and rested in a case pro­tected by sor­cery like the one that awaits Miss Calpur­nia here. The mask I hold in my hand is an exact replica of the one that safe­guarded Tut through the mil­len­nia. I will now place it over her face to ensure that she, like that ancient pharaoh, will be returned to the light of day.”
With the mask in place, Waldo picked up his cloak from the floor and draped it over Calpurnia’s shoul­ders. Tak­ing one of her canes, which he passed to his assis­tant, he grasped her now empty hand and ges­tured for her to enter. Calpur­nia hob­bled in, turned to face the crowd, and braced her­self against the back. Waldo released her. He and Matilda stepped to either side of the case.
Matilda!” Waldo said.
His assis­tant swung the cover of the case closed and latched it. Waldo struck the front with the ring. “Can you hear me, Miss Calpurnia?”
Yes, sir,” came the muf­fled answer.
Then I will strike the case three more times before I open it again.”
Yes, sir.”
Over his shoul­der, the Amaz­ing Waldo gave the audi­ence a long look. It was as quiet as a church­yard under the tent. He raised his right hand over his head and swung it down sharply so that the crack of the ring strik­ing the wood echoed through­out the space. He struck it a sec­ond time, and a third. Then he gazed out over the crowd again, arms stretched over his head. “Are you ready?”
Yes!” an old man some­where in the mid­dle yelled out, and everyone laughed.
The assis­tant unlatched the case and swung the lid open again. It was empty, except for the magician’s cloak, which lay in a pud­dle at the bot­tom. There was a gasp from sev­eral quar­ters. Waldo snatched up the gar­ment to reveal the gold mask, which he held up to show to the audi­ence before he handed it to Matilda. With his man­tle draped over his arm, he stepped into and out of the case and walked around it, tap­ping the sides. He crossed to the front of the stage, swirled the man­tle over his head, and let it fall to his shoul­ders before he bowed deeply.
The crowd erupted into applause.
No one clapped louder than Hat­tie Taylor.
Stand­ing in the near dark­ness at the back, medium Joseph Cal­en­dar did not applaud.
And, now,” said the Amaz­ing Waldo, “to return Miss Calpur­nia to her loved ones.”
This time, he closed the lid of the case him­self. He rapped it once and opened it. There was no one inside. He paused ever so briefly before turn­ing a bril­liant smile on the house. He closed the case and struck it three times as deci­sively as he had to make Calpur­nia dis­ap­pear. But when he opened it again, it was still empty. Behind him came mur­murs and the sound of peo­ple shift­ing in their seats. He turned to face them.
There’s noth­ing to worry about, my friends. It seems Miss Calpur­nia is reluc­tant to return from the other realm, so we will wait for her to do so on her own terms.” He closed the lid again, exchanged a glance with Matilda, and nod­ded slightly.
She crossed to a stand at the side of the stage and brought back along, latched box, which she opened and held out to Waldo. From it, he with­drew two ornate curved swords that glinted under the lights.
Now,” Waldo said, “who will allow me to pass these ancient scim­i­tars through his body? Com­pletely with­out harm, I assure you.”