The Circus Comes to Town
“Hey, you, Dumb-ass, ya big gumba, get over there and help the rest of the dumb-asses get the big tent up,” the new Boss yelled across the yard. “You, yeah you, ya big lummox, get over there and get that tent up. We ain’t payin’ you to lay around and look pretty. Get over there!” He thrust his hand toward where the rest of the circus group were struggling against the rain to raise the big tent.
Raising the big tent, on a clear sunny sixty degree day, was a chore. In the rain, putting up that patched up old tarp was a real pain. Slipping and sliding in the mud while trying to avoid the elephant droppings as well as making sure the main spar holds and doesn’t fall on you, makes putting the tent up in the rain just the absolute worst.
In the rain, the circus doesn’t really seem to matter. The towns people don’t turn out for our “event” like they will after a couple of sunny days. Too hot, and the animals really begin to smell and they get cranky with the heat too. The circus experience is best during the spring or the fall. But, I need to make a living so I am along for the ride no matter what the weather.
I shrug my shoulders at the new boss. He doesn’t remember me, specifically. There are a couple of “hands” that are nearly as big as I am. Their jobs are to do whatever the boss wants. Big and dumb, that’s the kind of fella the boss likes to have around. But, me, I’m special. I’m the strong man.
I am billed as having; the strength of three men and the speed of a cheetah. I am THE strong man. During the day time shows, I lift weights and have boxing matches with a trained kangaroo. In the evening, after the “snake oil” has come out and been paid for, once the bets are laid, I box a “local”.
Every town has that one or two big young lads, more brawn than brains. Young men eager to prove themselves in front of the rest of the town and even, sometimes, in front of their lady friends. They are doomed to failure from the start. Why they would ever think a round-house punch, with the strength of a tree behind it, wouldn’t be anticipated and outmaneuvered, is beyond me. I do this for a living. It’s not MY first time in a real boxing ring. They invariably go down. Although, sometimes I do take a beating before it’s all over.
“Can’t Boss, I’m the first in the ring as soon as the damn thing finally gets up,” I holler back to him. Boss has hunched his shoulders and shoved his hands in his pockets as he storms towards me. Once my message finally sinks in, he slows and realizes I’m right. I can’t possibly be a “draw” as a prize if the towns people see me hoisting the very tent where my bout will take place.
Leaning against the train car, I spot the local I am to fight. The local is about nineteen. I size him up; about nineteen yet still a mama’s boy, pants too short for his latest growth spurt, arms just a little too long for the shirt sleeves, hair parted down the middle and slicked over both sides. Probably held in place with more than just a little dab of Brylcreem. He has his cronies gathered around him as they punch at one another, egging each other on. All faces are pointed towards me. All faces are wearing a grin as though they had a secret and were desperately trying not to let it out. If they don’t try to pester me, just let me finish my smoke, I will be gentle.
As long as the local is a gentleman, I will be a gentleman as well. Too often, though, they want to get into a brawl instead of fight. Too often, they think it “manly” to pick at me and have the fight outside of the ring. I’m just doing my job. Leave me to my smoke and they get to keep their teeth. Pester me too much and not only will they lose their teeth, but I just may yank a big chunk of their hair out too.
The tent is up; Boss is waving me over to him. I give one last glance at the local and head over to Boss.
“That’s the mayor’s son.” Boss informs me. “ Do not, I repeat, do not take him out in the first round. He is to leave with all of his teeth, however many he came here with at least, and he is not to be bald when he leaves. We want to stay an extra week and be able to return here next year. The mayor is the key. And that’s his bouncing, dumb assed, baby boy. You got me?” Scowling, he leans his face close to mine. His bad breath reeks of onions and bath tub booze.
Boss runs a grimy hand through his greasy hair. “This is one stinking town. Down in the pit of the mountains every wisp of smoke, every cow burp, every goat fart has stayed here. The air is shit-smelling even in the rain.”
He was right. The air filling my lungs just didn’t taste right. My head was just a tad woozy. I shrugged it off thinking it was my reaction to just Boss’s demeanor - overall creepy.
The big tent is up. It has taken all day to raise the tent while tending the animals and foraging for food, not only for the animals but for the circus employees, too. Working for a circus is an iffy proposition. You may or may not get paid, depending on the local turn out. You may or may not get fed, depending on not only the local turn out but, also,the local terrain and what might be foraged. Watercress salad is a gritty fair, but it beats going hungry.
With the Big Tent at least laying on the ground, it has protected it from turning into something we don’t want to slog around in. The mud won’t be unbearably deep until tomorrow. At that point, the mud will be mixed nicely with droppings from every animal we have traveling with us. From elephant shit to pelican poop, every animal will drop inside the tent. They always do.
While the side-show tents are raised, the first boxing match will take place. The bearded lady and the tattooed man can wait until tomorrow. Tonight, the first boxing match takes place. The immediate destiny of the whole circus and all its inhabitants rests on how long I can let this punk dance.
Already wearing my boxing leotard, I spring into the ring upon hearing the announcer call my name. Boss is not the announcer tonight. He has sent in his “second”, Shorty. Must be something big going on for Boss not to announce. I look around expecting something to “jump” out at me. Nothing seems amiss.
Flapping my arms back and forth, I show off my arms and chest. It’s a move that is expected and mostly for show. It’s not lost on my opponent. The young man is big, nearly as big as I am. Closer to him now, I see he isn’t as whippet thin as I first thought. Lean and muscular. This dance may be less of my show and more of our show. If his eyes didn’t give him away, I might be worried. His eyes are too big, too round, they expose his fear. Experience will take the day.
Turning my back to him, with my arms stretched upward, I expose my boxing gloves to the crowd which has gathered inside the tent. The boxing match is taking place in the center ring. Every town wants to make sure their home-boy gets every advantage. They want to make sure it’s a fair fight. They think the size and shape of my gloved might “give something away.” They can’t see the metal rods sewn inside my gloves, that would give part of my edge away. Walking around the ring, posturing, I see her. I feel as though I’ve caught the first punch right in my gut.
Sitting between an older man and an older woman, they must be her parents. Those eyes, almond shaped just like the island girls only blue. So startling blue, that even from the ring, I can tell they are blue.
“Hu-phwumph,” spews out of my mouth. The kid has made contact. I missed the wind up for his round-house. Instinct drove me to side step, he missed my jaw but caught my shoulder. I don’t care if he is young and inexperienced, the blow hurt. Hurt like crazy. Hurt more than normal. Hurt like he had something inside HIS gloves. This is going to be a dangerous dance. The yokel isn’t as wet behind the ears as he looks.
Trying not to look into the stands. Trying to pay attention to the whippet in front of me. I glance away from the task at hand and end up with a broken nose. Blood spurting erratically from my face, I decide it’s time to end this farce and get on with the night. I’m getting tired, and this is beginning to piss me off. Landing a few good gut punches, I get the young lad to heave his last three meals. A few pokes to his face bruises him nicely for the ladies attention. Then, a nice uppercut to put him down. Once I make up my mind, I don’t mess around. I’m big and I’m strong and I know what I am doing once I step into the boxing ring.
After smelling salts are waved under the kids nose, he rouses to a sitting position. Shorty hauls him to his feet. Shorty grabs us by our arms and with all the fanfare someone half my size can muster, he thrusts both our arms in the air and pronounces the bout a tie. A TIE? I don’t make much cash fighting, I make my money from my cut of the bookies bets. A TIE? There won’t be any pay from a tie.
I storm off to my bunk in the rail car and let the local yokel gloat with his buddies. I put on an extra act for the townies, but in truth I am steamed. What is Boss up to? Why an extra week in this smell hole?
In a circus, there is usually some sort of commotion going on. After a short while, the external noise becomes an unheard din just like living next to the ocean. Quickly you simply don’t hear it any more. This noise, this noise was different. High pitched “Oh my God’s” going on. Sliding my feet off the bunk, I was pulling my pants back on, when there was a pounding on my door.
“Sheriff Department, open up!” A million things run through my head at the same time, running was of course the first thing. Already too late for that. Flinging the door to the side, I am yanked off the rail car landing in the middle of a gang of irate locals. Before I can even stand upright, my hands are twisted behind my back and handcuffs slapped on my wrists.
“You’re under arrest and coming with me.” Announced the fat guy. I assume he is the Sheriff, since he’s the one with a badge. With the “lynch mob” all around me, going with the Sheriff seems the best move.
The jail, like most towns, is a squat building attached to the court house. It’s a pretty plain affair, the cot isn’t any more uncomfortable than my rail car bunk. Looking around, I think there may even be fewer bed bugs and fleas. My stomach is telling me breakfast should be in just a few hours. Here’s hoping there IS a breakfast anyhow.
With the mob dispersed, the sheriff walks towards the jail cells. “Why’d ya do it?” he questioned me. It musta been my stupid look, he cocked his head and squinted one eye at me. “What?,” I demanded.
“You don’t know?”
“I haven’t got a clue why I’m here or what’s goin’ on.”
“You really don’t know, do ya?” He looks straight at me squinting those eyes again, like that’ll help him discern the truth. “Jim Brown, the Mayor, and his son, Kevin, their bodies were found shortly ago.”
“What’s that got to do with me? Don’t tell me you think I had anything to do with them?” I’m standing up now, about to walk closer to the cell grating. Must have appeared as menacing as I felt, the Sheriff took a couple of steps backwards.
“Both Jim, the Mayor, and his boy,Kevin, beaten to death. The fight you had with Kevin,in the ring, was fair. It was a tie, we know that, the whole town knows. We know about rigged fights and how you get paid. We also saw you lookin’ at his girl. That hungry look in your eye, a man up to no good. Both those poor people beaten to death, pulverized almost to the point of not being able to recognize them. And so much blood, why I seen less blood spilled while slaughtering hogs. Disgusting, people like you. Think you can waltz into a town like this and just take whatever you want. Someone stands in your way, you just beat them to death.” He was panting by the time he got done with this tirade. Spit collected in the corners of his mouth and his hand instinctively moved to the handle of his pistol.
Backing up, with my hands slightly raised and palms towards the sheriff, I argued, “I didn’t have anything to do with anything. I was just lying in my bunk, minding my own business, when you all but broke down the door.”
“Then how do you explain the blood on your boxing gloves and clothes? Huh? That’s not just from the boxing match.” He is so angry; he actually leans forward with his jaw thrust out at me, itching to get it hit.
“I dunno. But, locked up in here, I’m not gonna be able to find out either. Nice pin, whoever did this. It sure the hell wasn’t me. Someone, anyone, could have taken my gloves and used ‘em. I hang them on a hook near my bunk. Everyone knew my nose got broken in the fight, I drank ‘til I passed out and the bearded lady, Joanna, set it.” Reflexively, I rub my forehead. Think! Think!
“Find out where Boss is.” I blurt it out before I can even think. “He wasn’t the announcer tonight, he ALWAYS announces. I’ve seen him get outta a sick bed to announce. Boss don’t let anybody else announce. Find out why he had Shorty announce.”
I’m not a real smart fella and, based on the looks I get from the opposite sex, I’m not all that handsome either. My nose, broken several times and permanently crooked along with the smashed bones in my face, I have a rather distorted look about me. I know just because I was distracted by a pretty face, it doesn’t mean she was attracted to mine. I also know, if I can figure out that Boss might have something to do with the death of two people near the circus, so can just about anybody else. Which means, I’m in some deep shit.
The next morning brought no comfort, either physically or emotionally. Handcuffed and marched around the jail house to the entrance of the court house, I was buffeted with eggs, tomatoes, heads of lettuce, and all manner of manure. No sign of anyone from the circus. No support, no backup, no one wanting to be noticed from the camp of runaways. Everyone, including the judge, will know; the circus is one of the best hiding places for someone who doesn’t want to be found. Hiding in plain sight. Everyone has a past.
The court house “stadium” is filled, people standing where ever there is room to shuffle their feet. Right in the front row, those steel blue eyes are staring at me. Her ivory skinned face shows no emotion. No malice. She is not snarling, simply staring. I feel the eyes of the room condemning me. If I live through this, it will be a miracle.
The judge reads me my rights again. This is simply an arraignment. I am appointed an attorney. Just my luck, an ugly young woman trying to make a name for herself. Becoming a lawyer, because she knows she is too damn ugly to ever land a husband. Heavy set with a uni-brow, her hazel eyes just look at me. She, too, has already made up her mind on my guilt. None the less, we are ushered into a private chamber for our first conference.
“My name is Ms. Houston. I am your attorney which means we have privilege. I need you to tell me the whole truth and the entire story. ” She shuffles some paperwork out of a high school book bag that she is now using as her brief case. Tell tale sign of either sentimental value or poor as a church mouse. My bet is on the latter.
Telling Ms. Houston what happened, what I saw, and what I thought took only a few moments. I don’t know much, didn’t see anything, and as for thinking….haven’t a clue. Her uni-brow knitted closer together, creating a fat caterpillar. “I don’t like the sound of what I know. So far,” she muttered under her breath, “it seems a little too easy, just a bit set up, if you know what I mean. How convenient for the Mayor and his son to turn up dead, right after a bout with you. Not that you appear to be a Rhodes Scholar, but I don’t think you are stupid enough to commit this heinous a crime, and then lie down for a nap only to be caught. Something smells fishy in Denmark.”
Put in that light, I had to agree with her. I’m NOT that stupid. However, now I’m going to have to prove it.
“You got any money?” She looks up from her note pad scribbling, “For bail. We need to figure out what you can afford for bail.”
My life’s savings. Everything I had been holding onto to get out of the fighting business. All my cash going to this God forsaken stink-hole of a town.
Describing my hiding place on the rail car, I’m hoping neither the cops or my other bunk-mates have already discovered it. I’m also fairly confident, she won’t be able to squeeze her chubby body into the crevice to access the cash. She notices me sizing her up. She straightens her clothing as she rises from her chair. “I can assure you, Mr. Giddings, if your money is still there, I will be in possession of it before I leave the circus grounds.” Thinking to myself, if she isn’t employed by Boss for the circus as another bearded lady, she just might make it back. Chutzpah. The girls got chutzpah.
“When I come back, I want to go over your past. I need to know if there is anything that could tie you to this murder.” She gave me the stink eye and turned to leave. “And don’t say anything to anyone while I’m gone. Period. Not anyone, not anything. You got it?” I bob my head up and down. Satisfied, she exits the room allowing the deputies in to escort me back to my cell. Escort is what they call it, I call it being hauled around the neighborhood by the scruff of my neck, handcuffed, while being alternately kicked and punched by grinning apes.
I lay on my cot, thinking about my past and how it has affected my present and how it might affect my future. Choices made are all too often events lived out. Leaving my step-father’s home at the ripe old age of nine, I learned very quickly how to survive despite adult supervision. I was tired of the beatings. I was tired of him blaming me for his failures as a human being. I was tired of life, at the ripe old age of nine. Leaving the farm, in Aurora, Illinois, I made my way to the big city. Chicago. The windy city. We had been to Chicago many times, enough times I thought I “knew” the town. Living in ditches, hiding from both the police and the pimps, teaches a youngster the other side of city life. I don’t know which of the two groups were the bigger thugs.
Then the circus came to town. What a site. Throngs of people gawking in every direction except at the kid pick pocket lifting wallets. Being caught by Carney security and hauled by the nape of my neck to the rail car holding the big cats, my feet kicking and my eyes as big as saucers. I was certain it was my last day on Earth.
Circus managers are called Boss. Managers may come and managers may go, but they are all called Boss. Boss asked me my age. Looking into his hard eyes. I knew right then that I would never forget those steel blue eyes, just like the girl had. I had the feeling that if I lied it would be my last lie. I told him the truth. I told him everything about my life. I let him have the whole shootin’ match; Mother and the baby she was giving birth to died, Step-father blaming me for his woes and beating me and beating me and beating me. Skipping school to sleep in the neighbor’s corn field since I dare not sleep at night. Hearing the footsteps leading to my bedroom, I would slip out the window leaving the bellowing roars behind me. Too often I felt the edge of his honing strop.
After purging my emotions, with big rivers of tears streaming down my cheeks creating clean spots, Boss looked at me again. Really looked. Calling to one of his henchmen, I was dropped off with Cookie and told to peel potatoes until Cookie said “Stop.” The rest is pretty much history. I helped Cookie with meals, I cleaned up after the animals, I helped pitch the tents, and did pretty much whatever I could handle and was told to do. Growing like a weed, I was soon sparring with Joe, the “Boxer.” When Joe met his match, dying in the ring from one too many gut punches. His kidneys exploded. Internal bleeding is a real pretty way to go, but we all gotta go sometime. I took Joe’s place the next night. Been there ever since. Saving what little money I can, for someday. Not really knowing that this is what my someday would turn out to be.
“Ahem.” Looking up, I am startled to see Ms. Houston back at my cell already. Sweaty and smelling of a mixture of circus , town and lavender. Ms. Houston was beaming. Her straight face was belied by the grin in her eyes.
“Found it. Right where you said it would be.” She waved the cloth sack, with my envelope of money, in the air. “I didn’t count it. I didn’t even open it. If you say there is $500.00 in the envelope, I believe you. Your friends stopped me.” She was looking at the sack. It contained all of my most precious possessions; money and an old worn picture of my mother.
“I don’t have any friends,” I responded. I didn’t want to drag anyone else into this mess. I sure as shit wouldn’t appreciate any of those people dragging me into their drama.
“Well, whether you like them or not, it seems they like you. Seems they believe in you too. I not only got your sack of cash, I was given another to help defend you. Apparently your “not friends” pooled their extra saving together for you. From that sour look on your face, I can see how grateful you are to have so many people caring about you. At any rate, between your saved money and their gifted money, you should have enough money for bail, if the judge will allow it.
A few days later, with the expert arguing, and I do mean arguing, my attorney Ms. Houston, convinced the judge that all of the “evidence” was just circumstantial. Other than the bloody boxing gloves, there was no real evidence with a fool-proof link. With nearly all the cash forked over for bond, I can’t leave town so I’m released to my attorney, AND I can’t box during the trial (which means I can’t earn any more money). Leaving the courthouse, uncuffed, I breathe deeply, trying to inhale freedom. The stink! In a coughing fit, we leave the courthouse behind us.
Ms. Houston drives me to her office. It’s a small room on the back side of the local hardware store. Her shingle outside just has the name “Houston” on it. I guess in a small town, everyone knows what you are doing. Inside, it is neat as a pin and smells faintly of her lavender. I like lavender, smells clean and fresh. Sitting in one of the two chairs is a skinny fella with bad acne scars. His faded clothing is clean, but sparse. He looks me up and down. “This is Jeff. Jeff is our detective. He is going to help us get to the bottom of this. Jeff is probably going to use up the last of your money for expenses, so I thought you should meet him. I know I like to know where my money is going.” Ms. Houston motions for me to take the other chair. “Jeff has a keen nose for what’s not right around here. He has plenty of contacts: some family, some friends and some paid snitches. At any rate, he is going to help us figure this whole thing out.” Ms. Houston is looking directly at me. Her penetrating stare feels like she is trying to look into my soul. I couldn’t stop myself, I started to squirm, both mentally and physically.
Jeff leaned forward, craning his neck, to look at my face. He nearly reached out to touch some of the scarring. My involuntary recoil sent his hand back to his side. Yes, I know, I have some proof of my education. My boxing knowledge is literally written across my face. Get over it. I glare at him. Thinking this skinny little nothing makes me think of a snake in the grass. “Ya know, there was another body found today. One o’ them circus fellas, they think. They think that ‘cause of the smell about him. Sorta stinks, like you.” He spits his chew into a hand held spittoon he is carrying.
Ms. Houston could see my anger as I had started to rise from my chair, “Just settle down. We have to work together. No point in fighting from the get-go.” She motions, again, for me to sit down.
“Jeff has been poking his nose around already, trying to find out what might have actually happened.” Ms. Houston began letting me know, in no uncertain terms, who was the boss and how much information they already had. “Jeff talked with Joanna, the bearded lady. She confirmed setting your nose and even knew what time that happened. So far, your story is panning out. We still haven’t figured out any alternate “why” for the murders. Once we have the why, it’s usually a real short hop to the “who”. I am very interested to know who this newest victim is and how they died.” She was jotting notes down on her legal pad again. It seemed she had enough pages filled to write a book.
Jeff was sent to the cop-shop to find out what he could about the third body. I decided to head to the circus grounds. I may not be able to box, but there are a whole slew of other chores I’m supposed to be doing. Not to mention, I want to find out as much as possible.
Upon spotting me, headed to my portion of the rail car, Joanna, the bearded lady, hails me. Joanna hollered across the dining yard. Every head there turned to look at me. Most were simply blank stares at first. Following recognition, the stares quickly turned to surprise and many toothless grins. Waving, I walked over to chat with everyone. Over and over I explained that the trial hadn’t started yet, that I was simply out on bond and trying to find out who actually did the killing. That’s when grins turned to panic.
To a person, every face there looked like frightened mice; eyes darted, lips were licked, hands smoothed imaginary misplaced hairs. Joanna finally spoke, “Boss is dead. They found his body this morning. Shorty and his pal, Giovanni are both gone. Someone broke into two of the rail cars and set them on fire, but the fire was put out before it spread too far. Got it under control before it got to the big cats. But, the birds, they couldn’t handle the smoke, so all of them are dead.”
That’s when it hit me. It was a beautiful, clear blue sky day, the circus was in town yet there were no townies there spending their money. It was all quiet, with exception of the animals; the quiet roar of the lion, the calling of the monkeys and the braying of the donkeys had a particularly hushed quality about it. Sadness hung over the circus, like a nasty gray cloud.
“Which rail cars were broken into?”, I asked no one in particular.
Several voices, at once, shouted out; those two cars in front of Boss’ car, or car number 235 and 238, or the two green and gold cars. Either way, I knew which two had been set on fire, the two cars at the end of the circus train. Now, the harder question why.
There must have been a dozen cops mulling around. Mostly just jawing at one another and puffing on their smokes. Butts lay scattered everywhere. It appeared there were two officers inside one of the rail cars. Trying to appear nonchalant, I walked over to where the men were just standing around. “Hey, that joke they tell about Polacks and how many to screw in a light bulb? Well, they are gonna change it to cops.” I thought perhaps if I approached with light banter, I would get more information from them. Instead I got the stink eye from several, then they turned their backs to me.
It was then that I noticed the two inside the rail cars were FBI agents. Oh. That explains a lot of the attitude. I gave a nod at local cop closest to me. One word said it all, “Feds.”
So, the FBI was involved. That fact alone didn’t get me outta trouble. I still had some digging to do. The agents said nothing as they worked. They were so stoic, they didn’t exchange knowing glances. But, one had some sort of device he was reading and making notes about. It made a distinct buzzing noise. After hanging around for a while, I decide it need to finish some of my chores only to learn they were all done. No crowds means down time. Down time mean trouble if everyone isn’t kept busy. Joanna had been doing a fine job making certain none of the Carney people got out of line with either the cops or the townspeople. Iron fisted, bearded lady…she could pack a wallop!
Back at Ms. Houston’s office, Jeff has already informed her of Boss’ demise. Jeff went into great detail about the condition of Boss’ body. Somehow, Jeff wrangled his way into the coroner’s office. Boss had been shot, point blank, in the head. They surmised it was at his left temple since most of the right hand side of his head was missing. Jeff watched my face with a little too much interest as he told of the brains oozing out the side. Was he wanting to know my loyalty or just a morbid jerk. I decide, he’s a perverted jerk. Skinny little sneaky sniveler. Jeff pushes his glasses back into place, then runs a hand over the crown of his balding head. “Well, isn’t this the guy you been working for all this time? Don’t you care about him?” He is looking at me like I have bugs crawling from my nose.
“No, he is not the guy I have been working for all this time. Boss was new. He had just hired on a month or so ago. Don’t even know his real name, just Boss.” I looked at Ms. Houston, “Do we know what kind of gun was used? Where was his body found? There are two other people missing from the circus, were their bodies also found? Do we know why the Feds would be investigating? Do we know anything else?” I’m beginning to lose patience with the sniveler. Tell me everything that you know. He seems to want me to reach in and pull it all out.
“Your boss was found near the Brown Mine south of town. His was the only body found. At least, the only one found yet. We haven’t been informed as to why the FBI would be here, at this time. I am sure that information will available, soon enough. You notice anything else out there?”
I told them how eerie it felt; no townspeople milling about, no babies crying or youngsters trying to peek into the peep shows, not even any teenagers rough housing. It seemed even the animals were despondent. Carnival life is dramatic enough, there are acts coming and going all the time. Egos blow up and fist fights ensue. But this, this is murder. This circus has always had a reputation for treating their acts like family. Use don’t abuse. First and foremost, feed the hungry, make a dollar, then move on. I always thought it was a good “ideal” for a company to have. Loyalty is a real tangible thing here, not just a word thrown around as an act is tossed out on its ear. Acts are people. People count.
Making my way back to the circus location, I took a path leading into the woods. It was a dirt lane, but the ruts seems very deep. Something had been hauled through here recently, and it was heavy. “Probably some farmers combine.”, I said aloud to myself. “Hicks and their toys aren’t any different no matter which part of the country you are in.”
Shots rang out, I fell like a sack of potatoes. Hitting the ground and curling into a ball for just a moment. Halting just long enough to get my bearings and make certain I hadn’t been hit. I snake walked deeper into the woods at an angle away from the shooter. I could hear voices. “I told ya that nosy ass-hole would be poking around here ‘fore to long!” and then another voice hushing the first. Their footsteps were coming closer. They weren’t accustomed to the woods, they crashed through the underbrush instead of moving through. I hear their clothing tear on the brambles near my hiding spot. As they cursed again and again, I cautiously moved every away, every backwards from them. Certain, I wouldn’t be detected, I rose and began to move away more quickly. Someone stepped out from behind a tree, just to my right, a rag passed over my face, and the world went black.
I awoke tied and gagged inside a dark dank place. I assumed the mine. I didn’t hear anyone else around, but then my own breathing was ragged and loud in my ears. It seemed to echo off the walls of the mine. Laying on my side with my hands tied behind my back, I rolled over to feel around. I thought perhaps I would have a better grasp of my surroundings if I could just touch something.
Down the tunnel, I could hear distant voices; arguing, naturally. Why is it the bad guys are always so argumentative? Must have something to do with their childhood. Slow the breathing. Lower the heart rate, listen. LISTEN! Crawling down the tunnel, I could just make out people near the entrance. Light shown behind them, creating silhouettes.
“That was a real bird-brained thing to do, numbering the rail cars the same 235 and 238. Any science geek with access to the periodic table could ‘a figured out the cargo was uranium. All they had to do was think. You could have been picked up in any Podunk town you’ve stopped at. Lucky for you, bunch of hicks never gave it a thought.” The unidentified man flung his arms around as he spoke. Gesturing this way and that, feigning a slap at the other person.
“Ya think I don’t know what I’m doin’? This ain’t my first time down the track, ya know. If those two thugs you call partners got it wrong and broke into the wrong rail cars, all Hell would ‘a broke loose. I was just makin’ sure things went smoothly.” The other figure was a woman. And not just any woman, I recognized the voice! Joanna! The Bearded Lady! “You’re guys just had to bump off Boss with a gunshot. Had to make it sloppy. We had it all sewn up with that punk Giddings takin’ the rap for the Mayor and his nosy brat kid, now we got a hornet’s nest buzzing around us. All thanks you your greed and your dumb-assed crew. I still don’t understand why you felt the need to off Boss. He didn’t know nuthin’. He was just starting to poke around, by the time he figured it out, we would ‘a been long gone.” Leaning forward as she spoke, with her hands on her wide hips, Joanna certainly presented a no-nonsense profile.
The unidentified man turned away from her and just snorted a humph and walked deeper into the mine, towards ME. As the man walked toward my position, I could see his face from the glow of his lantern. It was Jeff! I knew I had a bad feeling about that little sniveler.
Jeff came to stand over me. Kicking me in the stomach, he was laughing as he goaded me, “Didn’t realize you have been a smuggler for the past two months, did ja? You been a gun runner, booze mule, cigarettes and now uranium for the big bombs. Dumb-assed, no-brain loser.” He kicked me again.
“Why did you kill the Mayor and his kid? I mean, as long as you plan on killing me, fill in a few blanks.” I thought if I could keep him talking I could figure a way outta there. Jeff spit on me and turned away.
“He’s still alive, for now.” He shouted to the entrance. I assumed to Joanna, but there was no reply. Jeff walked to the entrance calling her name. Still no reply from Joanna, the Bearded Lady. “Joanna, you had better be off to the side takin’ a piss. “Cause I’m gonna knock the shit outta you for not answering me. Shorty, Giovanni, get in here and take care of this piece of meat. Dump him at the local slaughter house, in with the hogs. That oughta take care of him. Make sure you drug him and untie him just before you dump him. We don’t want any fingers pointed our way.”
Again, there was no reply. It was all quiet again, except for Jeff’s heavy breathing. He began to run back towards me. I had flopped and rolled a bit and wasn’t in the same location. There was equipment and jagged rock everywhere. Jeff panicked, swinging the lantern to and fro, trying to find me. He was hissing now, breathing heavily between his teeth. Stumbling in his search. Many silhouettes filled the entrance of the mine.
“FBI!”, someone shouted. The thumping of feet as they followed their flashlights into the mine shaft. If I could just not get hit in whatever cross fire there may be, I might make it outta here. Right on cue, Jeff starts firing his gun at the shadows advancing toward him. Too many guns were trained on that firing point. Jeff went down in a blaze of gory glory.
Later, at the hospital, the Feds came in to talk with me. Of course my attorney, Ms. Houston was there too. It seems Ms. Houston had some misgivings about Jeff long ago, making inquires with an old acquaintance in the FBI. It seems Joanna and Jeff were twins. Fraternal twins. Joanna spilled everything at the mine. She knew they were done when she stepped outside into the sunshine, they had her. The Uranium was inside the mine waiting for pickup with she and Jeff arguing right there.
The twins had conspired with the Mayor to deliver stolen Uranium to sell on the black market. Boss was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Shorty and Giovanni worked for Jeff and Joanna all along. Goons pretending to be goons. The circus train was a perfect cover, moving from town to town, filled with plenty of people who would rather look away then get involved and noticed. Joanna became the Bearded Lady to keep tabs on both the goods and Boss. Making certain no one got too greedy too soon.
When the Mayor decided he needed a bigger cut and to be paid immediately he was dispatched. The kid, happened to be waiting for dear ol’ Dad and when he didn’t appear, the kid put two and two together and came up with a slice for himself. Too young, too pushy, too greedy got him taken out of the game before he understood all the rules.
The FBI and Ms. Houston gathered up the remaining circus acts. Ms. Houston had found another circus willing to take on a few of the acts. The few folks that were even still around were dumbfounded. Most of the acts decided to disband rather than join another circus. Saying it just wouldn’t be the same. Perhaps it was time to settle down. Who would ever look for them in this stink hole of a town?
As for me? Well, needless to say all the charges were dropped. I got my money returned. Ms. Houston offered me Jeff’s job as detective. I rent the room above our office. Sleep in a bed, eat at the diner, and know just about everybody in town. Still haven't figured out if that girls blue eyes were given to her by the original Boss.