The worst job I ever had was in a theatre, a few years ago. I had to look after Uri Geller. Where's the bad part of this, you're thinking. Sure, Geller comes across as a bit loopy, but he's not that bad, is he? It was my job to feed him and clean out his cage.
The manager of this theatre, Mr. Bowyer, had a thing about psychics, mediums and the like. He'd book them for a night, get them in, lock the doors and then force them to prove their talents were real. No tickets were ever sold, they were private performances for Mr. Bowyer and a few of his larger associates.
Margaret, who ran the confectionery shop in the foyer, said it was all because his wife had left him after consulting with a clairvoyant. She was told this by Doris, the cleaner, who was never one to gossip.
Slander maybe, but never gossip.
Brian, one of the ushers, said it all stemmed from Mr. Bowyer's father - who owned the theatre before he passed away, God rest his soul. He had been conned out of a week's takings by a faith healer. She'd pronounced him free of cancer, and run off with the cash before he could see a doctor. Old Tom in the pub had told Brian this, so it must be true. Brian spent a great deal of time in the pub.
Derek, the part-time projectionist who came in on cinema nights, had been told it was Mr. Bowyer's religious beliefs that drove him. That all this contacting the dead and seeing the future business was an affront to God, and he'd taken it upon himself to put a stop to it. Derek usually smelled of cider and had a penchant for conspiracy-theory films.
I stayed out of it, only nodding and oh-really-ing when the subject came up. None of my business, I told myself.
Word got out among the "gifted" practitioners of the mystical arts that our theatre wasn't a good place to attend, unless you happened to like being beaten senseless, bundled into the boot of a car, and dumped on waste land on the outskirts of Watford. Of course, that only applied if you failed to convince Mr. Bowyer of your claimed talents.
By the time I started work, as an assistant to Mr. Bowyer, the psychic bookings had all but dried up. One of the first things I had to do was
book "someone who's got some sort of supernatural talent", as Mr. Bowyer put it. Thinking nothing of it, I phoned around a couple of agents.
All of them turned me down. The first one laughed and slammed the phone down. The next two threatened to get the police involved if I phoned again. Some politely declined, and offered other types of act.
Now, this was just a small, rural, theatre. One hundred seats and the
dressing room doubled as a broom cupboard. I'd only been phoning small-time agents, and was getting nowhere, so with a bravado born out of desperation I went to the top. The biggest, most famous, psychic act I could think of. His mortgage payments must have been due or something,
because to my astonishment Uri Geller's agent took the booking.
I met Uri at the stage door and guided him to the dressing room. He asked if we'd sold many tickets for tonight, as the car park had been quite empty. I said I'd have to ask at the box office, although I'd been wondering when people were going to start turning up myself. It was unusually quiet in the theatre, considering we had such a big name on. I told him I'd be back in about half an hour to take him onto the stage, and to use the internal phone if he needed anything.
Mr Bowyer was in the foyer, talking to a group of about half a dozen burly men, and he beckoned me over.
"Here he is, the man who's made this evening possible," he put his arm around my shoulders, "Should be a good night tonight, let's see what Uri's got up his sleeves."
"There don't seem to be many punters, Mr Bowyer. Is something wrong?"
"No, no, lad. It's just a ... private performance. For me and my associates here."
"Oh, I see. Should I let Mr Geller know? Only he was asking where everyone was."
"Oh, don't worry. Did you get that prop sorted?"
"Yes, it's on stage. Brian gave me a hand, it weighed a ton."
"Thank you, my boy. You go and get Uri on that stage, then you can go home."
"Oh, er, okay. Thanks."
When I got in to work the next morning Mr Bowyer was already there. He was dressed in the same clothes as the night before, and seemed to have spilt red wine on his shirt.
"Got a little extra work for you, boy. Nip over the road and get some burgers, and take them to the dressing room. Here's a tenner."
"Yes. Mr Geller's going to be staying with us for a little while," he said, rubbing the knuckles of his right hand with his left. They looked bruised and swollen.
"Well, son, we don't take too kindly to frauds and charlatans here. Mr Geller is staying until he proves he can bend spoons with the power of his mind."
"You can't do that! What about the police?"
"Nobody's going to tell the police, " he looked straight at me, "Are they?"
"Especially not the person that's responsible for bringing Uri here in the first place."
"Yes, son. Now go and feed Mr Geller. He's had a busy night."
"What about his agent?"
"Mr Geller was very thoughtful and phoned his agent last night, telling him he was going on a short holiday. Off you go. Don't fuck this up, and there'll be a little bonus for you in your wage packet. Fuck it up, and you're someone's spirit guide."
I couldn't really believe that Bowyer had Uri Geller trussed up in the dressing room, this was surely all a wind-up. I bought some burgers anyway, and headed back to the dressing room.
The door to the dressing room was shut, and I hesitated before opening it. I wanted to run away, but I wasn't even sure that Geller was in there. I turned the handle, then pushed open the door.
In the corner was a cage, about a metre on each side. Just big enough for Uri Geller to sit up inside. Which he was doing, his head resting on his raised knees. He looked up as I closed the door, but didn't say anything. I offered him a burger, but he just shrugged and looked over his shoulder. I noticed his hands were tied behind his back.
"Oh, sorry, " I mumbled, breaking off a piece of burger and feeding it to him through the mesh, "Here you go."
His eyes were dull, he looked like he'd resigned to his fate. Well, mainly he looked like a man who'd been comprehensively beaten by several large men. He didn't look like he wanted to talk, so I examined the cage as I fed him. Where there would normally be a padlock, someone had threaded a teaspoon through the loops. Evidently, Mr Geller hadn't managed to bend the spoon to escape. I mentioned this to him, and he stared at me. I got the impression he wanted to disembowel me, probably with the spoon.
I told Uri not to worry, that I'd get him out somehow, and left the dressing room. If I'd been any sort of hero, I'd have come up with a cunning plan to expose Mr Bowyer, free Uri and make the girl fall for me. The only problem being that I wasn't a hero, I had no plan, and the only girl likely to fall for me was Doris, the cleaner, and that was only because she was 64 and had a dodgy hip. Falling was something she did quite regularly.
So, I ran away, and phoned the police from a call box. Discretion is the better part of valour, and all that.
[Please note: no psychics were harmed in the making of this post, nor do I endorse the brutalisation of fraudsters, charlatans and hucksters.]