The Volunteer

An unknown saboteur tells the story of how he infiltrated the stage show of Vik Filanzo, master of illusion, and turned it upside down.

The perfect illusion is just a mediocre illusion with a perfect disguise. With enough practice, any schmuck can palm a ball or bottom deal aces or vanish a scarf. But it's the art of misdirection that separates legends from hobbyists and birthday party clowns.

Seven years ago, Raymond T. Spencer had his name legally changed to Vik Filanzo. With his new name came a new identity, a carefully crafted stage persona that he also wore offstage and everywhere he went.

Spencer had developed the character for nearly a decade before becoming him. Every mannerism was scripted and rehearsed, from the brooding scowl on his face to the exaggerated way he tied his shoes. Vik Filanzo spoke with a subtle, stuttering accent; he walked with the slightest of limps. He was flawed and human and very deliberately so.

Vik Filanzo performed four shows a week before a modest audience in a modest theater with a modest set of illusions. Or so they always seemed. The truth was always, without exception, far more elaborate than anyone imagined.

To the average spectator's eyes, Filanzo stood on an empty platform with only a card table, two stools, and a small box of props. No assistant. No frills. What invariably escaped notice, however, was the spiderweb of magician's floss dangling from the rafters, through his interlocking metal rings, around the chain of his pocketwatch, looped between his legs and fastened snugly behind his left ear. Or the four trapdoors positioned strategically around the stage. Or the old-fashioned coat he wore with pockets stuffed full of items to-be-appeared that he swapped for an identical coat, rigged specially for his levitation bit, halfway through the show.

Nothing is ever as it seems.

Filanzo himself was an intense personality with a peculiarly trimmed beard and a shock of inky black hair. Every motion he made was a theatrical pantomime, every word he spoke was calculated for maximum dramatic effect. Some said he channeled a faustian, sarcastic James Dean.

The man's skill was in hiding what was in plain sight and drawing attention toward nothing at all. His setup banter was weighty talk about mortality peppered with paradoxes and an inclination toward the macabre. It pretended to be a humble, unassuming little act, with astonishingly mind-bending bombshells that exploded when you least expected them. Though the illusions appeared at first to be traditional magic fare, they often veered abruptly in unexpected directions. It was a successful show.

I also know a thing or two about the business. On Thursday, August 12, I paid the Vik Filanzo Magic and Mystery Show a visit, clad in a wardrobe even more deceptive than that of Filanzo himself. A tiny pair of mustache shears in my front pocket. A wad of clay on the sole of my shoe. A prepared deck of cards, the same brand as Filanzo's, up my sleeve. There was no illusion of his I wasn't prepared to confound. The real question was if I'd be able to do it undetected -- to fool the fooler.

You don't know me; Vik Filanzo probably does, although he showed no sign of recognition. I've never had a show of my own, except for the Vik Filanzo Magic and Mystery Show on August 12, and you'll never hear of me again.

But for that one night, when the stars aligned and I took the stage, I accomplished wondrous things. I was a performer for performance historians to remember. I was The Volunteer.

The End

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