A wire snakes from the EKG monitor, swoops past the rolling cart with the chocolate milk and orange wedges, up the bed, past the pink teddy bear and around Sarah's thumb.
Inside Room 504 at Rush Children's Hospital, the EKG monitor blips. Sarah's heart is beating normally, 88 times a minute."Hi, I'm Mike, the hospital magician. Would you like to see some close-up magic?"
Sure, Sarah says. She's 11, with sandy-blond hair and wire-rimmed glasses.
The heart monitor pulses--88, 88, 89.
Mike Walton hands her the four of hearts and asks her to hold the playing card between her palms. Walton is holding the jack of spades. Slowly, he waves his card in tiny circles--87.
Sarah turns over her card: the jack of spades. Walton is now holding her four of hearts.
"What the ...," Sarah says. "Holy cow!"
The heart monitor jumps--98. Instantaneously. Like magic.
Walton, 35, is not the kind to pull rabbits out of hats or saw assistants in half. He is a close-up magician, a one-man walking act starring only his two hands.
After most tricks, kids ask him, "How did you do that?"
But Walton never tells. The first rule of magic: Never reveal your secrets.
At the same time, there are questions Walton doesn't ask the children. Why are you in a hospital? Will you be all right?
Two kids he performed for died shortly after his visits. One girl's left arm was amputated at the shoulder just weeks after Walton showed her a card trick.
"I probably couldn't handle it week after week," he said. "My job is not to feel sorry for these kids. The focus is on the magic."
Walton left his futures market trading job two years ago to start his non-profit group, Open Heart Magic. He spends 50 hours a week performing, pitching to prospective sponsors and teaching the seven volunteer magicians who work children's hospitals throughout Chicago.
Walton saw more than 600 kids last year. He'd get his list of patients every week, perform for them, then leave.
Most kids are at the hospital for a week or two before checking out. Week after week, though, one name kept appearing on the list.
From the first time he met the 15-year-old in November, Walton knew he'd love performing for him. He digs that "Arthur laugh," and more important, Arthur hadn't figured out any of his secrets.