Spoonbender

Telekinesis is nowhere near as cool as people seem to think, except for maybe those times when you’re feeling too lazy to reach for the remote, or you want to take the condom off without having to touch it. The amount of concentration, the sheer mental energy, makes much more than that impossible. Parlour tricks, tiny life hacks, that’s all.

That’s why I keep my act small. It’s not entirely limited to cutlery, as the name might suggest; there are some pretty nifty illusions in there, most of which have more to do with sleight of hand than with anything paranormal. It started when I was about eleven; I would put on little shows during lunchtime at school. It didn’t win me any friends, but a sense of uncanny fascination kept most of the bigger kids from beating me up. I was still a virgin when I left school, but I had my misdirection down to a fine art.

Not that there’s much call for a spoon-bending act these days. This was all the rage back in the Seventies, but I wasn’t even born then. Now if you mention telekinesis, people are sceptical, like yourself. Either that, or they expect you to be able to levitate a person or an ice cream van like they’ve seen a hundred times in superhero films. Inevitably, people find me, if not disappointing outright, then a little underwhelming.

Still, it’s a living, or at least half of one. I mostly do street performances in Camden and Covent Garden, making paper cranes float on the breeze between buskers and living statues. Every now and then I’ll do a small show in a pub, in exchange for a few drinks, pork scratchings, and my taxi fare.

Like two months ago, at The Black Swan. That’s where I first met Cara, which I suppose is the part you’re the most interested in. After all, that’s why I’m sitting here, isn’t it. By the way, do you mind if I smoke? Of course you do. In that case, could I trouble you for a black coffee. No sugar, thank you.

It was after I finished my act. I was nursing a Jameson’s and wondering if I had enough money for a kebab on the way home, when she came right up to my table and sat next to me. She said she liked the show, and god bless her, she looked like she actually meant it, although her fellow audience members had found greater pleasure in making flatulent sounds throughout the duration of my performance.

She told me her name, and then before I could introduce myself, she offered to guess mine. It was her own magic trick, she said. I glanced up and around at the posters all over the pub that advertised my stage name, but she just shook her head, leaned in, and whispered my real name in my ear.

“Come on,” she said. “Let’s get out of here.”

Just like that. I’d never been propositioned by a woman in that way before. Having a superpower, no matter how admittedly lame, hasn’t impaired my sense of reality; one look at her confirmed she was out of my league. Later on, Cara told me she loved me for all kinds of reasons, but I know she came over to my table that first night simply because she knew my act was for real, and it had made her feel less alone. She’d never known anyone else besides herself who could do strange, almost impossible things.

She called them surface thoughts. That nagging feeling that you’ve left the stove on, or the mental arithmetic you do while queuing for the supermarket checkout. Like my own parapsychological oddity, Cara’s talent had its limitations. She couldn’t tell you anything about yourself that you weren’t concentrating on in that very moment. Nothing that aroused too much suspicion; if anything, her gift could be dismissed as an aptitude for reading body language. It made her an exceptional poker player, and she had leveraged this talent into a career as a very petty crook.

Nothing too dangerous, she insisted, and nothing malicious. Just some light gambling and low stakes cons which didn’t hurt anyone in the long run. She wasn’t out to make waves, and she didn’t want people remembering her. For all her confidence, there was something skittish about Cara too — one eye was permanently fixed on the door. Like any girl living off her wits, she had a past; the kind of past the kept her moving from bedsit to bedsit across our fair capital, until she landed in mine and never left.

She told me one morning, not long after we met, while we were enjoying a post-coital cup of tea, exactly what it was she was running away from.

“I lived with a man,” she said, “who wanted to kill me.”

He never laid a finger on her — she was adamant about that. But he would fly into these rages, and then anything within reach got thrown, torn, crushed. He would sink to his knees after, and weep, and beg for her forgiveness. He would promise to get help; anger management, counselling, hypnotism, whatever it took.

And so she would forgive him every time. She would see leaflets scattered throughout the flat, offering helpful tips on controlling anger. Breathing exercises and meditation and helpful advice which very often amounted to little else other than ‘just don’t get angry’. But the presence of these pamphlets assuaged her. He was trying. And she would think no more of it.

Until the night that she saw her own death.

She was lying in bed, cradled in his arm, on the verge of sleep, when the image came to her. Her own face, eyes bulging, skin reddening, as a pair of hands squeezed the life from her.

Her entire body froze. Glancing up, she could see his eyes were wide open, fixed on the ceiling. This wasn’t a dream, some unconscious mirage. This was a fantasy.

She packed a suitcase the next day, and was gone before he got home from work.

When I thanked her for telling me, only able to imagine how hard it must have been, Cara replied that she’d never intended to tell another living soul about what she saw in her lover’s head. And she might have never said a thing, might have taken it to her grave, had she not seen the same vision while queuing for a glass of wine in the pub on the corner.

This time, her face was broken and bloodied; he’d had time to embellish the daydream, like a painter who isn’t quite content with their work. She scanned the bar and couldn’t see him, but she knew he was there. As soon as I came back from the gents, she grabbed me and dragged me into a taxi.

Sat up in bed, tea long cold, I promised her that I would protect her. We swore to each other that we would both be careful, that as soon as we had more than two pennies to rub together we’d go away, somewhere he would never find us. I’ll always love her for that. For allowing me to believe, however briefly, that a skinny twerp with feeble psychokinetic powers could keep her safe.

Of course you already know what those promises were worth, don’t you, inspector. The rest of the story is familiar enough to you. How Cara simply disappeared. How she’s almost certainly dead, even though no trace of a body has been found. Because what kind of self-respecting con artist does a runner without packing a bag, without at the very least taking her purse?

She would never have gone anywhere without me. That’s what I can’t get the police to understand. Yes, we were only together for a handful of weeks, and yes, I was punching above my weight, but she loved me. I know she did. And I loved her, more than I had ever known I was capable. For a short time, I wasn’t a loser any more. For a short time, she stopped running.

If she hadn’t sat down next to me that night, of course, she would have kept moving, she would have been safer. And so it’s up to me to live with the fact that my love, and the tiny world we carved out for ourselves in my flat, made Cara forget to be afraid. In the end, loving me got Cara killed.

I didn’t resent being a suspect. I’d watched enough crime shows to know that the boyfriend almost always finds himself in the frame. The only error here was which boyfriend you chose to question first. Naturally, I told you all about him. Told you how Cara had run away from him, fearing for her life. I told you how he had tracked her down, how he had been following her. But how could I prove anything? He never touched her. And she never actually saw him that night in the bar — or if she did, it was only with her third eye, which is less reliant than CCTV.

When you eventually did get around to questioning him about Cara’s disappearance, I’m sure he was perfectly cooperative. And so after an hour or maybe even less in an interview room much like this one, you let him go.

And now he’s dead.

Once again, I don’t resent your suspicion. But even as I speak, you’re looking at me and wondering how such a scrawny streak of nothing could possibly overpower a man like him. A skinny boy with a penchant for magic tricks and no discernible upper body strength.

And you’d be right. I couldn’t. And as for those supposed supernatural powers of mine, well. It took all of my mental acuity to unhook Cara’s bra that first night we met, in the back seat of her Nissan Micra on The Black Swan’s car park. These days, I get a migraine levitating anything heavier than my keys, or a pair of sunglasses.

Or a knife.

That’s not a confession, by the way. It’s like I told you — parlour tricks, nothing more. And you yourself said, if I recall, you don’t believe in telekinesis. But any moment now, regardless of your scepticism, you’re going to ask for a demonstration anyway. To make that pen float, perhaps, or to skim that empty polystyrene cup across the table. You’ll ask me to keep my hands in the air at all times, and you’ll find yourself thinking how utterly silly you feel, how your colleagues must be sniggering and rolling their eyes behind your back, to even for a moment be taking this self-proclaimed wizard you have in custody seriously.

But what choice do you have? A man is dead, a woman is still missing, and you have a job to do.

You know that none of this will stand up in court. Can you imagine? My motive is clear, but the means and opportunity are aren’t, like the crucial steps in a magic trick which have yet to be fully revealed. I can just hear the prosecution now: “His fingerprints aren’t on any weapon, in fact he never touched it, but instead used otherworldly means…”

It would be like that case from a few years ago that was in all the papers — you know the one, the guy who tried to get away with murder by claiming he was under the influence of the hypnotist he visited to beat his smoking habit. I’m pretty sure that chap’s lawyer got fired, actually. I wonder what would happen to a policer officer who built an entire case on stage magic and wishful thinking.

The truth is, Inspector, I couldn’t rightly tell you what happened to Cara’s ex-boyfriend. But as far as I’m concerned, whatever awful befall him, it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving fellow. Now, if you don’t have any more questions, I really must be getting on. I have a gig tonight.