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You’re listening to The Storage Papers. Episode 6: The Magician’s Apprentice
What is it about magic tricks that mystifies us? We all know that they’re primarily optical illusions or some kind of deception, and yet we watch, amazed, most likely because someone has been able to fool us without us knowing exactly how. I would argue that the majority of people don’t believe actual magic is real – that someone can possess unique knowledge or that physical objects can be moved with the mind. But then again, if you look at stories within most religions, wouldn’t you classify many of those things as “scientifically impossible”?
This summarizes an age-old argument between science and religion, between skeptics and believers. The belief that something thought to be impossible may be achievable is not so far fetched. Governments across the world, including our own, have invested millions of dollars in research into psychic phenomena, ESP, and other abilities. You have to wonder what their research has found. Unless you believe your government is forthcoming and shares this kind of information with the public.
Today’s episode comes in the form of interrogation notes of someone who claims to be able to perform the impossible, yet he claims it’s not magic.
Interrogation of Preston Nicholson, recorded by Special Agent Victoria Almeida, FBI, 19 May 1997:
Background – Mr. Nicholson had been detained by the local jurisdiction, and I was briefed by Detective Mark Anderson upon my arrival. I recently issued a warrant for his arrest for grand theft, or more specifically, potential links to multiple accounts of theft across the country. He has had a few prior accusations by several various local law enforcement agencies across the country, but has never been charged or convicted according to my records.
Mr. Nicholson is a Mentalist. That is, he travels across the country with his act, visiting dozens of county fairs between the months of April and September each year. He appears to make a decent income with what the fair pays him, but he also accepts tips, which appear to exceed his annual income. If anything, we may be able to get him on tax evasion. But that’s not why I brought him in.
Last year I became aware of a pattern of petty theft occurring, which is not normally within the jurisdiction of the FBI, but when you combine the total of cash being stolen, by who I believe is Preston Nicholson, this could be a significant amount for a grand theft charge if I can link him to it. It is my belief that he is getting greedy, and that’s typically what ends up getting a thief caught.
The FBI has allowed me to be a part of a field test group for new software, which the agents all refer to as “the brain,” which I find a little cliche’. It’s apparently connected to a wide network of law enforcement agency databases, and continues to connect to new ones each day. It’s programmed with an algorithm to do one thing: find patterns and report data. The data then goes to an FBI analyst, and then whether or not it’s perceived as something significant, they then assign an agent to pursue further investigation. I’m told this is a joint FBI-CIA project, but I have yet to see how the CIA is involved.
During my actual interrogation of Nicholson, his story aligned with what I knew about his current work, traveling with the county fair. In fact, he nearly admitted to stealing money, and he was really kind of cocky about the whole thing. What he told me was… interesting, to say the least. He was smug, but I didn’t believe he was lying.
I decided to ask him about how one becomes a Mentalist. He explained that he had a fascination with magic ever since he was a child. He practiced card tricks in his spare time, and his parents always encouraged him. When he was about to graduate high school, he attended the Yavapai County Fair in Prescott, Arizona in the late 1980s. He said he witnessed the best magic act he had ever seen. The venue was at the outskirts of the fairgrounds, bordering the pine trees. To his surprise, there were only a few people in attendance, but he thought it was likely due to the lack of flashy lights or music that would normally draw peoples’ attention.
He said there were multiple performers, all doing tricks that he thought were fairly novice. But the last performer in the show performed “real magic”. He didn’t name the performer, and I am checking records to see what I can dig up. There’s got to at least by tax records from the fair to look into.
The magician invited 5 people on stage with him, then he proceeded to sit in a chair in the middle of the stage. His assistant set up 5 bar stools in a circular pattern around him, and placed a bowling pin sitting upright on each stool. Then he instructed the 5 volunteers to pick a bar stool to stand next to. When they did, he invited them to pick up the bowling pin and make sure nothing was attached to them before returning them to the chair. Then he invited them to examine the bar stools. Once they all agreed there was nothing attached, he closed his eyes, and began to levitate each bowling pin. I thought he was using magnets at first.
His assistant walked around the circle instructing the volunteers to try to grab the pins. When they did, the pins moved out of their grasp. One of the volunteers appeared flustered, and continued grabbing for his pin, but the pin moved in multiple directions. This alone excluded magnets as a possibility for me. The magician sensed his frustration, and invited him to try once more, stating he would not pull it away again. He was able to grab it, and he examined the pin again before shaking his head and releasing it back into the air. He was obviously upset, and tension grew as he began shouting obscenities at the magician. The man called him a phony and challenged the magician to move something else.
With all five bowling pins still in the air, the magician held out both hands, extending his index and middle fingers, then placed them on his temples and closed his eyes. It was great showmanship. Then he instructed the man to reach for his pin again, which was suspended above his head. As he reached for it, the pin rose higher. The crowd gasped, which confused the man, but also drew his attention to the fact that he was suspended in mid-air as well, about two feet off the ground. The magician asked in a theatrical voice, “do you still doubt my powers?” I couldn’t tell if he was just being dramatic or if he was becoming angry. The man, obviously frightened at this point, said “no” as he panicked, flailing his arms in an attempt to lower himself.
He was gently lowered to the ground and the volunteers were dismissed. Though the small crowd had risen to their feet in a standing ovation, I watched as the magician lowered the bowling pins back onto the stools, and the man walked quickly to the exit, eyes welling up with tears. I stuck around after the show hoping to chat with this magician. I wanted to learn from him, and I was eager to see if he would take on an apprentice. He refused, of course. But I followed him to three different fairs before I warranted any kind of consideration.
He agreed to meet me in a public place on a day that he wasn’t performing. We ended up going to a local diner where he asked me one question. “Do you believe magic is nothing more than deception?” When I said yes, he smiled. We had a long talk about my life goals, my family, and a bunch of personal things before he agreed to take me on as his apprentice. Then he showed me real magic.
Through spending time with him, and as a result of his training, I began to develop abilities beyond anything I could imagine. You see, he claimed to be part of a secret government project earlier in his life. He had been identified through his medical records as an ideal candidate for experimental espionage, having a specific family history and some unique genetic attributes that he wouldn’t discuss with me. He explained some details about the program, saying that a lot of the information had gone public, so he wasn’t violating any nondisclosure agreements by telling me.
He claimed to be a part of something called “Project Hydra”, which carried out the training through some government shadow agency, most likely the CIA, and various supporting teaching institutions. They used specific curricula to teach three levels of psychical abilities. The first level was telekinesis, in other words, moving objects just by thinking about it. Level 2 was remote viewing. Once telekinesis was mastered, a person is more susceptible to activate other parts of your brain, unlocking additional abilities. They trained him to observe sights and sounds outside of his immediate location. The more practice he had, the farther away he could view. Level three was interactive projection. This was considered the most advanced by the CIA at the time, with only a small number of people successfully being able to do this. It includes all the skills of telekinesis and remote viewing, but in addition, projection allowed other people to see him and communicate with him in remote locations.
He quickly became their star student, and spent much more time than anyone else undergoing medical examinations of his brain, getting blood drawn, and experimenting with his abilities. He was eventually given a security clearance and was utilized as a remote spy to assess nuclear threats and enemy military technology. What they didn’t know was he continued developing capabilities beyond their knowledge and understanding.
He described a fourth level of development, which he referred to as translocation, which added the ability to physically interact with objects in remote locations as if he were present. This further developed into being able to interact with multiple objects simultaneously, as I had witnessed at the magic show when I watched him perform. He began getting severe headaches when he practiced this for prolonged periods, so he reserved his performances and only practiced from time to time.
And finally, he achieved a fifth level of mastery. He was eventually diagnosed with a brain tumor and was given brief life expectancy, which he never divulged specifics about. He called this fifth level “ethereal”, and said he could do everything in levels 1-4, and in addition, he could cause physical objects to translocate as well. There was a distinction to be made though. He could cause an untrained person to experience what it’s like to project, and they couldn’t interact with the physical environment. Or he could actually translocate inanimate objects,permanently if he desired. In other words, he could steal cash money from the pockets of everyone who attended his shows by simply thinking about it. He’d remove it from their wallets and place it all in an undisclosed location with his mind while they watched him perform his “magic” tricks on stage. That’s how he got away with it.
He said he found the whole scenario ironic. People show up expecting to see magic, which most often includes some kind of misdirection. Within his magic trick being performed on stage, which was its own form of misdirection, there was the inception of the trick itself actually being the misdirection. It was beautiful. A “trick within a trick”, so to speak. He paused to tell me to consider an additional level of inception. He told me to consider how the FBI was trying to figure out how he could have possibly pulled off theft. Then he, not so casually, suggested that may have been its own form of misdirection to keep them busy while he pulled off something else… something unthinkable. And nobody would ever know.
Mr. Nicholson must have noticed a facial expression I was making at this point. I thought it was a great story, but there was no way I was buying it. He said he knew I didn’t believe him and grinned, but I urged him to continue.
He went on to explain that he currently had abilities up to level three… interactive projection, where he could communicate with others in remote locations. His mentor believed he could learn level four within the next few months. He never admitted to stealing money himself, but he explained that his mentor would relieve his audience of a small amount of cash at each show, never going above $400. It was the perfect scenario. People attend the county fair with cash on-hand, and they were relatively close in proximity, so taking the money was easier. He knew that he could get away with it because depending on the state you’re in, any theft above $400 or $500 was considered grand theft instead of petty theft. Local law enforcement agencies would never start looking outside their jurisdiction for small potatoes, and he didn’t believe anyone would notice.
I asked him why his mentor didn’t just steal credit cards. He said it was because there was an electronic record anywhere credit cards were scanned, and the authorities could easily track you down with security camera footage and other new technology. He was confident that small amounts of cash taken from various locations would be the ticket to remaining undetected. Then he said his mentor actually attempted taking credit cards a couple of times in the past, and found that whenever he tried using them, the cards were demagnetized. This led him to believe that perhaps the act of translocating a physical object may create some sort of electromagnetic field that caused demagnetization of the card.
He spoke of the brilliance of the plan, and practically begged me to charge him, knowing that I have zero proof of any of this. I asked him why he was providing me so much detail, and he said he just wanted to be able to share all of this information with someone, and that keeping it a secret was eating him alive. He was so confident that he couldn’t be charged for this, that the only way he could possibly be convicted was if he demonstrated his abilities before a judge and jury. And he wasn’t about to do that. He was right, and he laughed in my face as I released him from custody. He even thanked me for letting him get all of this off his chest.
Agent’s Notes: We believe he is going by a new alias now, and we have lost track of him after placing him under surveillance in hopes to lead us to his mentor or get caught with some kind of evidence such as a large sum of cash. I am reluctant to report this, but the team that had been monitoring his hotel room where he was last sighted consisted of three seasoned men. They said they watched him enter the room, but never saw him leave. They had been monitoring from three rooms over, and had ordered takeout from a local delivery service. When the delivery arrived, they were unable to pay the fee because all three of their wallets were missing. When they checked the room, he wasn’t there.
This leads me to two possible conclusions about Preston Nicholson, the magician’s apprentice, assuming what he told me was true. Either his mentor aided him in efforts to evade us, or he truly did have mastery of all five levels of psychical abilities that he described. Of course, there’s a possibility that this is all an attempt at deception, and I have been duped. I am concerned about the future of my career at this point, as his entire statement is on record. I have no other potential explanation for these events. If none of this is true, and all of this was an elaborate deception, I’d still be impressed.
Additional Note: Our search for any records of a “Project Hydra” has been unsuccessful according to our CIA counterparts. Tax records received from the Yavapai County Fair produced no records of payment to any magician. They produced all records between the years 1985 and 1990, which we later cross-referenced with IRS records, and they matched. We were also able to reach the head of operations for the fairgrounds during those years, now retired. He couldn’t recall there ever being a magic act at the fair during his years of employment.
Thank you for listening to The Storage Papers. I would love to hear your thoughts on the cases I’ve brought forward so far. You can reach me by social media or email. I’m on Twitter and Instagram @StoragePapers. Make sure to reference the episode. Today’s is Episode 6, The Magician’s Apprentice.
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