Tonight’s the big night, the grand openin’. The boss, Al Capone himself, called Joey Two-Bits, Sally Boy, and me to join him for dinner at this new place, La Magia. You can’t say no to Capone, so the four of us are here gettin’ the royal treatment. Why we gettin’ the red carpet? It went down like this…

 When Capone heard Gino Spats wanted to open an Italian restaurant to support his family and to help with, you know, neighborhood business, the boss rounded up a few thugs, I mean associates, and called on a few friends to squeeze, I mean collect, some cash to pass on to Gino. Gino was the guy who would front, umm… manage, La Magia, over on the South Side. They made a contract. Not in writin’, see, just a handshake and their word. Part of the deal was that Capone’s favorite, spaghetti with walnut sauce–olive oil, bread crumbs, toasted nuts, and some cheese–had to be on the menu. The prices? Eh, just a little high so people think they’re gettin’ somethin’ special and so there’d be enough in the kitty to write Capone a small check once a month. The boss isn’t involved in the place, just the money guy. Gino is runnin’ the operation at La Magia. So, it was Gino and his brother, Angelo, who got the place set up and hired the help. 

It’s some openin’ night. What a crowd. Gino is seatin’ Capone personally. We follow, but he don’t give us a second look. He brings us to the best table in the joint. I hear Gino say to the boss, “Grazie.”

Capone waves his hand. “No need.”

Then, Gino opens a bottle of the best wine in the house and pours a glass for the boss first, then us guys. He tells Capone, “Couldn’t do it without your help. You’re a generous man.”

“What can I say. I’m a kind person. I’m kind to everyone, but if you are unkind to me, then kindness is not what you’ll remember me for.” Capone reaches for an envelope in his jacket pocket, and I could tell Gino caught sight of the .38-caliber revolver the boss always carries, a Smith & Wesson Model 10. That and the scar on his face are the boss’ trademarks. Capone sees Gino’s face freeze. He says, “A smile can get you far, but a smile with a gun can get you further.” Capone hands Gino the fat envelope. “A little bonus.”

Gino just stands there movin’ his thumb over the wad of cash inside. He tells Capone, “You did a lot for this neighborhood, all of us. Me, my brother, my whole family thanks you.”  

Capone winks. “Public service is my motto,” he says. “I’ll go as deep in my pockets as any man to help any guy that needs help. I can’t stand to see anybody hungry or cold or helpless.” 

The boss has a big heart. He does. Not everybody knows how much scarola he throws at charities. They only talk about the other stuff. I want to say somethin’, but nobody talks when Capone is talkin’, and he wasn’t finished talkin’. 

“As for business? I am just a businessman, giving the people what they want.” He scans the room. “Listen.” He calls Gino to lean in closer. “Be careful who you call your friends. I’d rather have four quarters than one hundred pennies. Capeesh?”

Gino nods.

“Good. Now stay out of trouble.”

  “Won’t be no trouble here. Angelo and me checked out every hire personally. And if something does happen, you got my word it won’t come back to you.”

“Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. But it usually does. Every time a boy falls off a tricycle, every time a black cat has gray kittens, every time someone stubs a toe, every time there’s a murder or a fire or the marines land in Nicaragua, the police and the newspapers holler ‘Get Capone.’ I’m sick of it.” Capone tears off a crusty piece of bread. “I’m the boss. I’m going to continue to run things. They’ve been putting the roscoe on me for a good many years, and I’m still healthy and happy. Don’t let anybody kid you into thinking I can be run out of town. I haven’t run yet, and I’m not going to.” He points at Gino. “Now, you got work to do. Where’s my waiter?” Capone swipes the bit of olive oil from his plate with the last piece of crusty bread in the basket. “We’re gonna need more bread here.” He looks around the table at us. We all have our mouths full but mumble and nod so he knows we agree. We agree Capone ain’t gonna run or get run out of town. We agree we all want more bread, too.

Gino calls our waiter over. A short guy shows up, couldn’t be more than 5’5″, with hazel eyes, dark hair parted down the middle, and a receding hairline. He don’t look Italian. You know, the guy doesn’t look like much at all, not for a classy place like this. He’s no baby grand but seems, I don’t know, like a fella who’s no flat tire either. I got the feelin’ this guy knows his onions. He don’t come off like no waiter. Somethin’ about him looks familiar. I swear I saw that guy before. 

“Take good care of these guys,” Gino says to the waiter. Gino nods at Capone and leaves for the kitchen.

When the waiter says, “We have specials tonight that might interest you,” I could tell the guy needed to see a dentist. His teeth look bad enough to ruin my appetite. 

“Let’s hear them,” Capone says, “and give us a menu while you talk.”

The waiter waves his arm. “You already have them.”

Sure enough, we look down, and there is a menu, a big, red, leather-bound thing, sittin’ right in front of each one of us. We look at each other. Capone says, “Nice work.”

We’re lookin’ at the menus while the waiter is tellin’ us the specials. Capone stops him. “First, you’re gonna bring some spaghetti with walnut sauce, enough for everybody. Okay, keep talkin’.” When the guy finishes, we all order, and the boss says, “Bring a pitcher of water and clean glasses for everybody.”

“That I did already,” the waiter says.

You can take me to hell right now if there wasn’t a fresh pitcher of water in the middle of the table and a new glass in front of every one of us. I ate at lot of restaurants over the years, but I never saw nothin’ like this waiter. “Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle,” I says.

“Applesauce!” Joey Two-bits says. I agree. I don’t believe it either. 

Sally Boy looks the guy in the eye and says, “Ain’t you kinda fluky for a waiter?”

Get this, the waiter takes a bow, like we was gonna clap or somethin’.  I was waitin’ to see what the boss was gonna say about this one, but he didn’t say nothin’. 

We all tell the waiter what we want, and he says, “Can I get you anything else before I put your order in?” 

Capone is starin’ at the guy. “Put the order in. Make it fast.” 

Somethin’ didn’t look right. I know the boss, and I know he thought this guy was fluky, too. 

If you ask me, I don’t think there is a faster waiter in all Chicago, maybe even in all the world. Me and the boys can’t stop talkin’ about how he got those menus on the table without us seein’ it happen. And right in front of us, the guy makes a pitcher of water show up, a whole pitcher. Either this guy is some kind of magician, or maybe I swallowed a bad batch of hooch. Capone, he doesn’t make a peep. Every time our waiter walks by, though, the boss asks for somethin’–a new napkin, ice, take away a used fork. Every time, the damn thing appears or disappears. I’m still waitin’ for the boss to say somethin’, but not a peep. And then I remember. Me and the boys was down at the pier one night last week takin’ care of business. There was this hubbub. I heard the trouble was somethin’ about a guy puttin’ on a show on city property without a permit. Big crowd. I remember there was a guy, about this waiter’s height, in cuffs, a few coppers around him. The guy got away. Seems he slipped right out of those cuffs like they was mittens. Yeah, that’s where I saw him. I think he was the guy.

Capone calls the waiter over again. He picks up the pitcher of water and points it at the waiter like a gun. “How do you do that?”  

“Some say I do it this way, others say I do it that way, but I say I do it the other way,” the waiter said.

“Wise guy,” Capone says.

“No, a showman, and the secret of showmanship consists not of what you really do, but what the mystery-loving public thinks you do.” 

“What makes you think I’m a mystery-lover?” the boss says.

“Everyone is.”

“You think so?” Capone puts the pitcher down and shifts around in his seat. 

Yeah, this was the guy. I was sure of it, but I figured I better not say nothin’. Anyway, not many people hold their own with the boss, and this guy was doin’ a good job of it so far. 

Capone keeps his eye on the guy, see, and he asks, “What is it with you and all this appear-disappear, all these old tricks?”

With a straight face, eyes like ice picks, no smile, no nothin’, the waiter says, “Old tricks? An old trick done well is far better than a new trick with no effect.”

“You some kind of a magician? You’re paid to be a waiter,” the boss says.

“I’m both.”

The boss looks around the table at us guys and says, “Get this, he’s a magician.” Capone laughs. “Well, I don’t believe in magic.”

The waiter put a pile of four new napkins on the table, and I swear I didn’t see them comin’. Then, he says, “Anyone who believes in magic is a fool.”

“I ain’t no fool,” the boss says.

“I can tell,” the waiter says.

Finally, Capone asks, “What’s your name?”




“Sounds Italian.”

“It’s my stage name.”

Capone nods real slow. “Stage name.” He looks the guy up and down. “So, you got a career on the side with these tricks?”

“Somewhat. I do well, but I do think I have a bigger future.”

“You think you’re pretty good,” Capone says.  

I elbow Joey and I says, “I think he’s pretty good.”

The boss looks at me. “Did I ask what you think?” Then, another table needed somethin’, and the waiter had to leave. Capone asks a bus boy to have Gino come to our table. Gino shows up and the boss says to Gino, “This guy only waits on us tonight. Give his other tables to another waiter. I’ll make good for his tips. Hear?”

“We only got just so many waiters on tonight, I don’t think–”

Capone slips a sawbuck into Gino’s hand. “Make it work.”

Gino pulls our waiter aside, and I guess he explained the deal. Next thing I know, the spaghetti with walnut sauce is on our table. The waiter says, “I’ll have your salads out shortly.”

“Get a chair,” the boss tells the waiter. “Houdini, right?”

“Yes, Harry Houdini.” 

Houdini pulls a chair from a nearby table, and we scooch a little so he could have some room. I really had to go iron my shoelaces, but I was holdin’ it in ‘cause there was a line for the bathroom, and I didn’t want to miss anythin’.

“I wanna talk to you,” the boss says.

“I’m sure your salads are ready, and I’ll have to check on your entrees,” the waiter says.

The boss calls a bus boy again. “Tell Gino to bring our salads and entrees himself. Got it?” The kid nods.

 “So, where do you do this magic? The circus? Kids’ parties?” the boss asks.

Houdini shakes his head. “No, never try to fool children. They expect nothing, and therefore they see everything.”

“Hmmm.” Capone rubs his cheek, not the side with the scar. “So, you know a lot about this magic. You’re good enough to make people, people who aren’t kids, believe this stuff?”

“It’s my skill. What the eye sees, the ear hears, and the mind believes.” Houdini puts his head down a little and stares right at the boss, what a weird look, like he was cuttin’ right through him. Then, he says, “Never tell the audience how good you are. They will soon find out for themselves.”

Gino shows up with the salad, and Capone brushes him away, and he don’t even look at him. 

“Can you make people disappear?” Capone says.

“I can.”

“Seems we are in the same line of work, so to speak, but I never called myself a magician.” The boss laughs, so we all laugh, too. “You make things appear. You make things disappear. What else can you do?”


I see Capone’s eyebrows go up. “Escape? Now that’s a talent I can use in my organization. Tell me more about this escape work. Escape from what?”

“Anything. On land, in the sky, underwater. I am an escape artist. I like to say the greatest escape I ever made was when I left Appleton, Wisconsin, but my Chinese Water Torture Cell escape is one of my most famous feats.”

Sally Boy puts his fork down. “What the hell is that?”

This Houdini guy says, “My assistant locks my ankles into a steel frame. They wrap me in straps and chains until I can’t move, and I dangle upside down over a tank of water. They lower me head first into the water and lock me in place. And I escape.”

Joey Two-Bits nearly drops his fork. “Aw, says you.”

Houdini looks at him and smiles, not like he’s happy, a smile that was more a threat. He says, “No prison can hold me; no hand or leg irons or steel locks can shackle me. No ropes can keep me from my freedom.”

Now this is where the boss perks up. He says, “No prison can hold you?”


Here comes Gino again with our food. I guess he knows not to pipe up. He puts our plates down and hightails it.

So, the boss says, “Let’s just say…you’re working. Say you do something, and maybe it’s something the cops don’t like. They get out their handcuffs, and–”

The waiter pulled a pair of cuffs out of his back pocket. I swear. Then, he says, “Handcuffs are simple.” 

I knew it. He’s definitely the guy from the pier. He asks me to put the cuffs on him, right there at the table. I look at the boss, and he nods, so I do it. I hear the click. I know that sound pretty well. Me and handcuffs have some history. Those cuffs were locked. He holds his hands up and jiggles them, tries to pull his hands away from each other, but they’re cuffed all right. Then, he asks how we liked our spaghetti and the salads, and he asks if we live in the area, and small talk like that. Then, I swear, he was talkin’ with his hands, and the cuffs was danglin’ from his finger. He was out! I’m tellin’ ya he was out of the cuffs right in front of us. Joey and Sally Boy and me, our jaws was hangin’ in our plates. We all look at Capone.

“I could use a guy like you,” the boss says, “and there’s some big clams in it for you.” He takes a few bites of his veal. “I’d like you to teach a few of my guys these escapes, these tricks. This kind of skill could go a long way in my line of work. You in?”

“I am in until I am not.”

“What kind of answer is that?” Capone shrugs. “Once you’re in, there’s no out. If you’re in, you’re in.” 

“For a man like me, that’s a challenge I can’t refuse. I’ve already told you, nothing can hold me.”

 “We both have our skills, Mr. Houdini. And you don’t know mine yet.” Capone takes a few more bites of veal. “I think we can bring your skills to a whole new kind of business. Do some big things together, really big things.” 

“My mind always has the thought that next year I must do something greater, something more wonderful,” Houdini says.

“Oh, it’s going to be wonderful, Houdini, real wonderful.” Then, the boss tells a bus boy to bring Houdini a dish, a whole set-up. “So wonderful, we’ll both go down in history.”

Maureen Mancini Amaturo, New York based fashion/beauty writer with an MFA in Creative Writing, teaches writing, leads the Sound Shore Writers Group, which she founded in 2007, and produces literary events. Her fiction, essays, creative nonfiction, poetry, and comedy are widely published. Maureen was nominated for The Bram Stoker Award and the TDS Creative Fiction Award in 2020 and again in 2021. A handwriting analyst diagnosed her with an overdeveloped imagination. She’s working to live up to that.