Sci-Cops: The Trouble with Magicians

The following text is an excerpt from the posthumorously released manuscript, "Memoirs of a Sci-Cop: 101 Things I Did To Save the Earth" by a former Sci-Cop known by his code name, Agent Zeta. You should have already reviewed the "Introduction to Sci-Cops" and primary excerpts from the memoirs before reading the following section, which treats the special problem of MAGICIANS.

Excerpt from Chapter 8 of Memoirs of a Sci-Cop

Magicians - The Bane of Sci-Cops

We Sci-Cops don't take kindly to magicians, needless to say. All that presti - ... presti - .. whatever they do, just turns my stomach. All my instincts tell me to bust them, but our Rules of Engagement hold me back (yeah, we got rules - and I hate 'em). Magicians deserve special contempt - but instead, we're forced to give them special treatment. Whether their powers are real or fake, anyone claiming to violate the laws of nature is a criminal in my book and ought to be doing time. But let me explain the problem - and it's a doozy.

Back in Sci-Cop Boot Camp (held in secret underground labs at Los Alamos), I told my trainer (a disgruntled geneticist whose code name is Gene Splicer) that I really looked forward to busting magicians. He smiled - the same way he always does when messing with the DNA of small animals - and asked why. I told him:

"Come on! They're a bunch of geeks claiming to have psychic power, telekinetic potential, time traveling abilities, and host of other lurid gifts that violate the Big Handbook itself. Listen, if we're looking for crimes against the laws of nature, there's no richer vein to mine. But surely you know that?"

His lips turned up another notch - the kind of satisfied grin he always shows when a chemically-induced mutation turns out to be something really gross. He said:

"Listen, Zeta, you've got some pretty naive ideas that could put the force to shame unless you wise up. You spend your time busting magicians, and you're gonna find your own veins diverted to the zeta-gauge, understand?"

Took me a few seconds to bend down and pick my jaw up off the floor. I could see that I was due for a paradigm shift. "Shoot, Splice. Clarify my thinking on this one."

Splice took me over to the chairs by the electron microscope and had me sit with him. He relaxed and began to pontificate. Splice wasn't exactly the fatherly type, but he seemed downright patriarchal this time.

"Look, Zeta, there are two things we're after in the Force. Things, and people. We're out to destroy anything that violates the laws of nature - perpetual motion machines, anti-gravity shields, free energy generators, you know the list. And of course we bust the people behind them. But on top of that, there's a special breed of criminal we want - those that have powers that just don't belong in the universe as we know it, powers that violate the Laws. Them we call Violators. But Zeta, you gotta know that this world is full of crooks and phonies and charlatans that want to be Violators - or pretend to be Violators - but these phonies are just ordinary humans out to make a buck. So we got a problem here. If someone is doing something that seems supernatural, are they a real Violator, or just a Phony?"

"Why take a chance?" I said. "Bust them all and keep the universe safe."

"Yeah, that sounds good on paper, but there's one heck of a problem in practice. It's this: Phonies got clout. They're visible, they're wealthy and they're connected. Anybody who has mastered the art of deception rates pretty high with Congress and with a lot of other politicians. When I first joined the Force, before I'd picked up on all the rules, I busted Blackstone the Magician. Only had him locked up for a day or two when major heat from D.C. came our way. Almost lost my job - and if any bones had been broken, you can bet I would have been sent back to the university in a flash. We had to pay him off big time - bought him a couple of elephants with a years' supply of food. And my own lab funds were cut 50%."

"You see, he was a Phony. Didn't have any real magical power. That floating handkerchief wasn't an anti-gravity manifestation at all. I even found thumb tips on him during questioning - but I didn't understand their significance until later. Anyway, after that little fiasco, the Secretary [of Treasury] declared that no magicians could be busted without definite evidence that they were Violators. That's right - had to be clear evidence of guilt BEFORE we could bust them. I know it sounds awful - but there are good reasons for this exception."

"How are we supposed to know the difference?" I asked.

"It's not hard. There are two grand principles which will guide you. I call them,

"The Gene Splicer's Guide to Detecting Phonies."

Splice continued: "Now think about these principles. They're profound. I should know - I've got two Ph.D.s and over 95 publications, not including 12 invited lectures, plus I was chair of the Fourth International Conference on Mutagenic ...." I'll skip the supporting evidence, but the guy had major credibility. Splice started straying a bit here, leaving me to fill in a lot of blanks on my own. But here's the gist of what he was talking about:

Principle 1. If someone really had a supernatural power, they could show it over and over again to impress people and get their money or adoration or whatever. The power could be shown anywhere, anytime. But the phonies - like most magicians, for example - won't repeat the same trick twice to the same audience. Why not? Because they don't want to be exposed, they don't want people to figure it out. They've got something to hide, and it shows. And a real Violator also wouldn't worry about angles or lighting people standing around him. Most magicians do. That's a dead giveaway that they're phonies. Doesn't make what they're doing any less disgusting - it's just not illegal.

Principle 2. Direct profit rather than indirect - it is a profound principle. A real psychic - a Violator - wouldn't have to run a 24-hour 900 number to eke out a living. He'd spend a few hours in Vegas, a few days playing the stock market, maybe drop a few thou into cattle futures - and bingo, he'd be calling the shots from then on. Likewise, a real faith healer - the kind with the faith to be a Violator - wouldn't have to beg his audiences for donations. He could just charge his patients 10 grand or so per miracle. Hey, if someone really could cure terminal cancer on command, the guy wouldn't have to depend on little old ladies mailing in their social security checks. And if a magician were a true Violator, why not just produce gold? Why humiliate yourself doing birthday parties, restaurants gigs, or even network TV? Of course, some real Violators may do shows just for the glory and not for profit, but then Principle 1 would still apply: can they repeat a trick over and over?

Anyway, Splice's little lecture was a good one (though he did break two of my ribs during the pop quiz later that day). And when Boot Camp was over and I had defended my research project (a genetics topic, picked by my trainer, entitled, "Two Headed Alien Elvis Clones: A Threat to Genetic Equilibrium of Homo Sapiens?"), I felt ready to deal with Violators and Phonies, all according to the rules. I was ticked that magicians couldn't even get technical lectures without special permission, but I was committed to being a good Sci-Cop.

Ran into a few magicians after that, all reeking with telltale signs of being Phonies. In fact, as far as I could remember, every magician I had ever seen was a Phony. Not repeating tricks, seeking for gain in indirect ways like county fair performances, and sometimes goofing up so the whole audience could see how it was done.(One guy had this dorky die box where a big die slid from one side to the other - you call that a vanish?! I walked out in the middle of the trick, feeling sick at how my intelligence had been insulted.)

I had pretty much given up on finding a real Violator among all the phonies of magic and instead focused my career on busting thermodynamic violators. These criminals are the ones who invent fuel saving gadgets that give cars incredibly high gas mileage, sometimes even producing more energy than they consume. Messing with the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics is about as low as you can get, and Mr. Rockefeller had made it very clear to the Secretary and all of us that these violations were especially severe when they dealt with our most vital national asset, petroleum. Life was too good for criminals like that.

But then, at my fateful 1984 Sigma Xi chapter picnic, I saw what would prove to be no ordinary magician. Everything about him said that he was different from the rest that I had seen on TV, at restaurants, at biochemistry conventions. No fancy props, no glitter, no babes, no doves, no snazzy clothes, no polished routine. An untrained observer might have thought the guy was strictly amateur, maybe doing a free show just for the exposure. An ordinary civilian might have watched the show for just a few minutes before writing the guy off. But I saw something entirely different - something ominous. First, the guy had some kind of a chopping device like a little guillotine. He put carrots in the two holes on the chopper, pushed the blade down, and the carrots were chopped in half. Then he had a lady put her finger in one hole, carrot in the other. He slammed the blade down, chopping the carrot but leaving the finger in tact. It was amazing, all right, but nothing to worry about - yet. But then I'll be if he didn't get out another carrot and call up another volunteer and do the same thing again. TWICE IN A ROW - carrot chopped, finger intact. AND THEN A THIRD TIME! I recalled the words of the Gene Splicer, and started sweating. I just couldn't believe that a Violator would have the gall to perform at a Sigma Xi party. Fortunately, most of my suspicions were eased on his FOURTH REPEAT. This time, the finger was seriously injured. Maybe this was just an incompetent magician - or was it a real Violator just playing it safe by acting like a poor Phony?

The finger problem caused only a momentary brouhaha and the show went on. I think the scientists in the crowd thought the hurt finger was part of a phony act - but I recognized the real thing. The magi then went into his second act, and that's when I really got worried. He had this perfectly ordinary coloring book. Flipped through the pages, showed them all colored. He asked the audience what would be the odds of magically making all the color vanish? Someone said "a million to one." "O.K.," said the magician, "I'll bet you a dollar I can do it." Said some magic words, opened the book up, and the color was gone! "Now you owe me a million dollars!" he said. The guy making the bet protested. "No - there is still black ink on those pages. You've got to make the color black vanish too!" Now get this - I am not making this up, I swear on all the laws of nature - the magician then snapped his fingers, opened up the book, and now ALL THE PAGES WERE COMPLETELY BLANK. Here was a classic case of using supernatural power for DIRECT PERSONAL GAIN - one million dollars! I was too stunned to move - leaving the magician time to REPEAT the miracle. He snapped his fingers again, now the COLOR WAS BACK! Said a magic word, and the color was gone from the black ink drawings. Again, and the pages were all blank. Then he started over and did the whole routine a THIRD TIME, a FOURTH TIME, and a FIFTH TIME. "That's five million dollars you owe me!" he said.

Suddenly I came to my senses. I had encountered a true Violator - one who met the Gene Splicer's profound criteria. The laws of nature were being forcibly violated and I had to act fast. I tackled the guy before he could do any more presti- .. prestigi - whatever it was he was doing and had him pinned and cuffed in seconds. I flashed a BATF badge and drew my weapon to hold off any sympathizers. "Special Federal Forces - this man is under arrest for, uh, weapons violations." (We flash BATF or IRS badges when in public situations like this one to avoid unnecessary publicity for Sci-Cops.)

I dragged the guy into my vehicle and took him into Central. Sarge was going to be proud of me for this one. One of the first magicians to be legitimately busted. I had brought along the key evidence - the chopper and the coloring book - for the peer review process and to cover my rear if any heat came down from Washington. Turns out the heat was on my tail. The magician's brother - the stooge who had made the million dollar bet - had shadowed me all the way to Central and now was pounding on a desk demanding an explanation.

Before I could even begin my interrogation and technical lecture on the magician, Sarge was on my case. He took one look and my evidence and nearly broke my jaw with a direct blow from his HP 41 CV calculator (with a math pack AND a stats pack). Sarge, like most engineering types, wasn't big on finesse. "You moron, Zeta. Bet you're gonna tell me that this magician was a real Violator, aren't you?" Sarge picked up the coloring book and flipped through the pages: all colored. Then he flipped through them again: the color was gone! Then all the pages were completely white! I'm not a religious type, but I instinctively crossed myself and held up my fingers to form a T. "Get back, Satan!" was all I could say. Felt like I was in one of those classic horror movies, like Curse of the Ninja Mummy.

I passed out. When I awoke several hours later, tied down onto a cold lab bench, I was calmed by the familiar setting and mostly by the sight of my old trainer Gene Splicer, smiling - almost looking kind. Gene told me it was all a trick and showed me the coloring book, explaining the simple secret. Turns out Sarge had been an amateur magician once and knew all about the coloring book trick. (And no wonder he was so soft on magicians! Biased.) I felt like I was drowning in my stupidity. "And the chopper?" He had it there too, with a carrot in it. He put my finger in the other hole and pushed. The finger was spared. He showed me the secret. I tried it myself - and nearly took off my pinkie. "So the magician was just incompetent," I gasped.

This was a steep learning curve for me. A real paradigm shift. I never busted a magician again - at least not on duty. But my distrust of them has been replaced with genuine anger. Someday, when I'm calling the shots, magicians aren't going to get special treatment from Sci-Cops anymore, no matter how many Congressmen they can pull out of their hats. Anyone who claims to violate the laws of nature is pleading guilty in my book, and ought to do time.

Sci-Cops: Introduction

Sci-Cops and the Case of the Time-Traveling Lawyers

Sci-Cops and the Case of the Missing Programmer

Sci-Cops and the Case of the Healing Needle

Sci-Cops Expose the Ultimate Terrorist Threat!

Details About the Ultimate Terrorist Threat!

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Jeff Lindsay's magic page and resources

More (or less?) of J.L.'s cracked humor

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Last Updated: Dec. 29, 2000
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