When we have a sufficient crowd and I’ve warmed them up with my honeyed words, I step aside so pa can begin his first act – a standard card trick which relies on a story to draw them in.
In a deeply sonorous voice – a surprising trick in itself, if you’ve never heard it before – he starts his speech. ‘Once, there was a lonely jester who tried to fit in.’ From his deck, he produces a joker card and displays it for everyone to see, before placing it on the table face down. ‘He wanted to win the hearts of his peers,’ he continues, taking a ten of hearts and placing it face down on top of the joker, ‘but none would take him seriously. So one day, he decided to appeal to the king.’ At this point, he draws the king of diamonds from the deck, shows it, and then replaces it.
‘After being escorted by the guards into the palace and made to wait all day,’ he says, flicking the top face down card over to reveal that it’s no longer the ten of hearts, but a jack of spades, ‘the king finally took his audience.’ Here, he turns the other face down card over, to show the king of diamonds instead of the joker. There are a few claps and appreciative gasps for both expositions, at which point I offer my hat for tips. A few contribute, but not as many as I would like.
‘He said to the jester that if he completed all the tasks he was set, of which there would be three, then the king would grant him a title and have him welcomed at court. The first task was to seek out where his diamond crown had gone.’ Now pa dips into his deck, seemingly at random, and pulls out the ace of diamonds. He keeps it held up as he goes on. ‘And so the jester searched. He found the crown of hearts.’ Pa flicks the card and it turns into the ace of hearts. He does it twice more, pausing each time as he explains, ‘The crown of clubs. Of spades. But no diamond. Fearful that he would fail in his task, he approached the queen and told her of his dilemma.’ He flicks the card a final time, and it turns into the queen of diamonds.
More applause, but I hold off collecting for a few more beats. Wait for it…
‘She laughed, and told him to look where he’d least expect to find it. And so the jester pulled off his own hat,’ he says, grasping his own top hat, taking a breath, and then lifting it, ‘and on his head sat the diamond crown.’
As the crowd lays eyes on the ace of diamonds on pa’s head and applauds more enthusiastically this time, I whip round and gather their offerings. There’s more people joining by the second.