sleight of hand n:
an effect performed by manipulating the objects in one's hand; requires impressive manual dexterity
Bernetta pedaled her bike furiously, her long, frizzy braid whipping out behind her, strands sticking out at every twist. The second Saturday in June, she decided, was far too late in the year to be wearing a trench coat while riding a bicycle. She'd have to keep that in mind for the future.
Bernetta dumped her bike outside the Trunk Number Eight dinner club and hurried into the lobby. She raced past the trick guillotine in the corner, the wax statue that waved as she passed, and the box that appeared to hold a coin until someone stuck a hand inside to grab it, only to come back with a fistful of air. The photos that lined the walls sped by in a blur, but Bernetta had seen them so many times, she could have drawn them from memory. There was Harry Houdini hanging upside down from a skyscraper and wearing a straitjacket, the great Alexander Hermann floating a five of hearts in midair, and Harry Blackstone slicing a lady in half with a buzz saw. Right in the center, just below the sign that read Trunk Number Eight's Very Own, was Bernetta's favorite photo of all. The man with the flop of brown hair and the thick-rimmed glasses, holding a tiny yellow canary, was Bernetta's father, Herbert Wallflower.
At the door to the dining room Bernetta reached into the pocket of her coat and pulled out a glittery pink headband, complete with a neon pink feather, and slipped it over her forehead. She cocked the feather at what she could only hope was a jaunty angle, took a deep breath, and turned the doorknob.
The room was bursting with diners, but Bernetta quickly spotted her father performing his famous napkin-into-feathers trick at table eighteen against the far left wall. She made a sharp right and hoped her father wouldn't notice her as she crossed to the stage.
She leaped up the stage steps and slid behind the thick red curtain. The clock on the wall read six forty-one. Nineteen minutes until show time. With any luck, her father wouldn't notice her until she was already onstage, holding out an empty birdcage for his very first trick. Once the show had started, a magician couldn't just tell his assistant to go home, could he? Even if she did happen to be grounded.
Bernetta slumped out of her trench coat and adjusted her bright pink sequined dress, tugging it at the hips. Maybe when her grounding was over and she was back on everyone's good side, she'd suggest that her father's assistant wear a less hideous dress.
Bernetta whirled around and found herself face-to-face with Bram Mitchell, Trunk Number Eight's oldest and friendliest waiter. He wrapped her in a giant bear hug.
"Hey there!" Bram greeted her. "I thought your dad said you weren't coming tonight."
Bernetta shrugged. "I decided to make a surprise appearance," she told him.
"How was Elsabelle's graduation this afternoon? Valedictorian of her class, huh? That's big stuff!"
"Yeah," Bernetta said. "Big." Bernetta didn't feel like explaining that she hadn't actually gone to her sister's graduation. That when a person gets suspended on the last day of school—even if she doesn't deserve to be suspended—she is barred from attending any and all school events.
"Well, I'm glad you made it. Otherwise Todd was going to fill in as assistant, and frankly I don't think he looks half as pretty in the dress. I'll let him know you're here. Also, I've been working on my latest trick, and I wanted you to be the first to see it."
"Oh, yeah? How's it coming?"
Bram snapped his fingers by Bernetta's right ear and produced a small red rubber ball.
"Pretty good," she told him.
"Not really. It was supposed to be a live alligator." Bram's smiling face quickly melted into grandfather seriousness, all concern and wrinkles. "But really, kiddo, is everything okay? You look troubled. Any problems I can help with?"
Problems? Bernetta almost laughed. How about a backstabbing ex-best friend, an unjust school suspension, and an unearned summer-long grounding? She'd like to see how troubled Bram would look with problems like those.
"I don't think you can help," she said.
"No?" Bram replied, rolling the ball between his fingers. "I'm pretty good at fixing things."
Bernetta thought about it for a moment. "Actually," she said, "maybe you can help."
"What do you need me to do, kiddo?"
Bernetta pulled back the stage curtain an inch and peered out into the dining room. Her father was still at table eighteen, but the other side of the room was clear. She turned around and looked at Bram.
"I need a basket of bread," she told him. "Table seven."
Bram's thick eyebrows shot up, like two furry gray caterpillars arching their backs. But all he said was, "Pumpernickel or sourdough?"
Bram tossed the red rubber ball to Bernetta, and she caught it. "Good luck," he said.
Bernetta waited a full minute, running through the steps in her head, but when the clock read six forty-six, she knew it was now or never. Making sure her father was still occupied, she ducked out from behind the curtain and scurried down the stage steps, clutching a deck of cards in her right hand.
She hated to admit it, but she was just the slightest bit nervous. She'd been working the Saturday-night show as her father's assistant for over a year now, but she'd never done any close-up work before. Maybe if she dazzled everyone at the club—showed them all what she was made of—her parents would forget about the whole stupid grounding thing. At least as far as Saturday nights were concerned. She couldn't imagine a whole summer without Trunk Number Eight.
Excerpted from The Life and Crimes of Bernetta Wallflower by Lisa Graff Copyright © 2008 by Lisa Graff. Excerpted by permission.
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