The cirus is in town and our hero is the one to play the clown.
Fighting The Mob From Flat On My Back
Part 4 of the “Noir is the Old Black” Series
They’re nourishing me through a straw.
In my arm.
“You’re the stereotype. Redheaded Irish ex-New York cop, turned private detective,” says Jimmy, lolling in a chair beside my hospital bed. “Good with your fists, brains ‘n’ mouth.”
I ain’t in the mood. My good brain’s a pounding sledge-hammer. My skull’s the anvil.
“To be sure,” I drawl, funny as a clown without oversized shoes, wearing mottled purple face-paint instead of the standard white.
At least, I have the big red nose.
I twig. Sit up slow, feeling like my top half’s been strapped to the cot. The sledge-hammer swings, double-time.
“Two ways of rigging a race : afflict one horse; or afflict ‘em all. That’s something Vickers said. Remember?”
Jimmy Sluff, gumshoe, nods.
“Don’t the Mob have some minor family, named Vicario? Doctor Anthony Vickers. Tony Vicario, don’t you think? Dammit, Jimmy! Why couldn’t I see? Everything’s easier once you gots a trusted man on the inside… leading the investigators off of the scent.”
Vickers has Mediterranean skin. Not, as I originally guessed, tanned from working outside in the field. Sick animals convalesce undercover in stables and barns. Vickers spends too long indoors for his deep tan.
“Hey, and thanks for rescuing me, out at the Borland farm, Jim.”
“Shucks. Ain’t nothin’. Nothin’ at all. In fact, weren’t even me. Wife wanted a quiet weekend, fixin’ up the baby’s crib.” Holds up a battered hand. “The saw slipped. Got the news and came straight here. Seems I missed all the fun.”
Rub my stubbled jaw. Wince.
“So Gabriella and Frankie spent time with Garry and Margie, that night, right?”
“Oh yeah. Right.” Jimmy commits everything to memory, and it’s time to recap.
“What’s Gabriella’s story again?”
“She’s Margie MacHeath’s cousin. Runaway kid, joins some circus’s magic act. Time passes, she falls in love with Frankie Fellini, trapeze artist. Sells Margie’s husband some run-down mare what got a sniffle and couldn’t perform. When the circus hits town, the MacHeath’s go double-dating with the Fellini’s. With me?”
“Two couples, the dames are cousins, one recovering hand-me-down horse, check.”
“On the way back, Garry the Mac’s car breaks down. Frankie sees both dames home safe. By the time he’s got back to check on Garry, both he and car have vanished. Presumes Garry’s moving again, gone home to Margie. Thinking nothing more of it, Frankie heads back to the circus. Sound right?”
Nurse comes in, checking on me.
“Mornin’, sleepy-head,” she trills.
I ask about the person what brung me into the hospital. She describes Mort Borland.
“Enough of that now,” interrupts Jimmy. “We should talk with Frankie. I’ve got three tickets to day after tomorrow’s matinee. Oh, and warning : Nina’s got a cross-stitch pal she’s dying to fix you up with. Not for a circus date, but soon.”
“Yeah, sure,” I say, brightening.
Nina’d never want a close friend fretting at home after a battered old mug like mine.
“Nurse, what’re the chances of me getting to scram outta here, next couple days?”
“Let’s ask doctor when he comes by, on his rounds.”
* * *
Bright colors and gaudy piped organ music assault me as surely as those goons did, back at Borland’s stables. Nina soaks in it with child-like wonder. Taken aback once she gets an eyeful of my mug. Never mentions her friend once, on the ride over
I shoot Jimmy a knowing wink. Nearly bust my stitches.
We split up. Couples learn more, going around the sideshows arm in arm. Carnies are mostly gypsies, and won’t have nothing to do with Garry’s disappearance. One may’ve been our anonymous tipster, but that’s all.
Jimmy’s good at putting pieces together. He’ll hear chatter, evade pickpockets, try his hand at that High Striker strong-arm challenge. The one that’s enchanted so’s the devil hisself can’t win. Jimmy’ll find the knack and ring the bell. Win Nina some big ugly kewpie doll.
I’m at the Flying Fellini’s wagon. Cops ain’t getting nowhere, sniffing ‘round a circus. Ask three performers the same question, get four different answers. Gabriella wanted to clear up any misunderstandings. She’d verified Garry’s whereabouts. Sounded real convincing. Until Jimmy ‘n’ me’d got that second credible story.
And the third.
* * *
A feminine face answers the door. She claps a hand on each of my shoulders. Pallid skin, pink lips drawn back in a welcoming smile. Red turban, with a matching jewel. Gold pendant dangles between the onyx eyebrows. Pencil moustache. Black eye-lashes make the iridescent liquid green eyes pop out. They swirl – one clockwise, the other, counter-clockwise. Drawing me into ink-black pupils.
“Good morning, Mysterio,” a deep baritone sings.
“Good morning, Mysterio.” I’m a monotone.
“I’m not here to harm anyone, see, here’s my piece.”
“Ain’t here to harm no-one,” I find myself repeating, fighting to lift my head outta whirlpools, gulp some air. “See, here’s my piece.”
“Thank you,” smiles the hypnotist, pocketing it.
He calls out. “All yours!”
Mysterio the Magnificent performs a half-bow. That good brain of mine’s up and taken a five-minute vacation again, leaving the rest of me behind. I’m tied securely to some creaky old chair.
Mysterio sweeps out. Departing the caravan by another door, red-jewelled turban leading the way. Cape flaps, allowing several men to magically appear.
“Where’s Gabriella?” I ask.
A wave of familiarity washes over me as I recognise the menacing shapes that gave me my current rosy complexion.
Strongman Jorgen and three Flying Fellini’s.
“You tell us,” says Jorgen, flexing. “Where’s Gabriella?”