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The Ringmaster and the Duke
The cheering of the crowd was deafening, and the spotlights glared the ringmaster’s vision. But he couldn’t be happier; he had captured the audience’s un-divided attention. He was on the tallest pillar in the center ring, and his circus family was crowded around him. The end of the performance had gone out with a bang, and it felt right to hold Chief position, bowing where everyone could see him. The ringmaster would trade this joy for nothing. The Circus was his life.
* * *
Maya was stretching her arms severely, for that was what she did when she was anxious. She wasn’t a nail-biter, a hair twirler, or a knuckle cracker. She was a stretcher. A contortionist. She had been trained at a very young age to stretch, and had been handpicked by the ringmaster himself to lead the Flying Swans contortionist act when she was twelve. Then he had replaced her, filling her with an alarming hatred. She wanted to escape him and his cruelness. But circus was her home, and the only way of life she had ever experienced.
All of this was playing and replaying through Maya’s mind while the circus crew scurried around in a panic. She stood alone in the catwalks of the Top Tent, dry eyed, but grieving. Mr. Redde’s brother was dead, and he’d never be back. Her grief, however, felt forced. Maya wouldn’t miss him. There was no use running around in chaos . . . that would not accomplish a thing. So she stood and watched the panic grow.
* * *
A combination of red and blue lights gave the illusion of purple skin to Mr. Block as he collected his briefcase and stepped out of the car. It was a tragedy, of course. The Redde Family Circus had always been his favorite. Now, the ringmaster’s brother was gone, and everybody was mourning. Except Block. He was the detective. He couldn’t afford to let emotion control him, no matter what that emotion might be. He had to solve the case. That was his prime goal.
“Detective Block!” he glanced over to where the devastated voice was coming from. The ringmaster, the spitting image of his twin, now dead, was moving swiftly toward him, and behind him were a clown and a teenage girl dressed as if she was about to perform. This murder had obviously taken place right before the evening show, he noted.
“You must be Mr. Redde.” The detective said simply. “I’m so sorry about your brother.”
“I just want to find the scoundrel who did it!” Mr. Redde cried violently.
“And that’s what I’m here for,” Block assured. He acknowledged the other two performers. “And who are you two? What is your role in the circus?” Block clicked his briefcase open and retrieved his small notebook. As he slid a pencil from his ear, Ash, the boy dressed in silk trousers, said,
“Well, I’m obviously a clown.” The detective raised his eyebrows and said,
“Please continue.” The foursome headed for the Top Tent, all while Block shot question after question at the clown. When he was satisfied with the clown’s answers, he started in on the girl. They were entering the tent when he asked the very same question the clown had begun with, to which her reply was,
“I’m a contortionist. Apart of the Flying Swan’s act.” The detective blinked. She scrambled to explain more about herself. “My name is Shane, and I’m sixteen . . .” Block stopped her efforts with another question.
“Why were you with Mr. Redde when he came to find me.” This was a question that Ash the Clown hadn’t received.
“Well . . .I’m the one who found Duke’s body . . .”
“Really?” Block had a sudden look of interest. “Mr. Redde’s name was Duke, then?”
“Yeah. Nasty attitude though. Always trying to get Mr. Redde to retire.” She lowered her voice. “Personally, I think he wanted the top job of ringmaster. That’s why everybody shunned him. He had nothing but sneers and scowls to offer.” Apparently, he had hit a hot spot. He made note that this victim wasn’t popular. He also noted that Shane
had a nasty opinion of Duke. Suspect number one.
“Then why is everybody running around in a panic? How was he killed?” Block asked, his eyes sweeping the perimeter of the tent.
“He was stabbed, and nobody knows who did it. We’re in shock,” Shane gulped. “The only one I know who even liked the guy was Maya Carlos,” and before Block could ask, she said, “No, I don’t know where she’s at.” The detective frowned.
“Where did Mr. Redde go?” he inquired.
“Dunno. He’s probably with Duke’s body.” Shane decided. Block nodded. Shane started to walk away, but the detective had one last question.
“Is there any way to tell the twins apart? A physical mark, perhaps?” he asked. Shane paused to think.
“There was never any need to look for a mark . . .their personalities were so different that you could always tell which was which by the expressions on their faces.” Shane explained. “But Duke had a burn mark on one of his lower legs. Not sure which, but he caught on fire from juggling once. Long time ago. Why?” she looked at the detective curiously. He blinked.
“Just a curiosity.” Shane nodded. Block turned around and left her standing there. He needed to examine Duke Redde’s body.
Detective Block was blind to everything as he walked with purpose to where he knew the body lay. It was covered in a white sheet on the ground outside, and there was a crown around it. The ringmaster wasn’t with them . Block’s eyebrows knitted together in suspicion.
“Excuse me,” he murmured as he calmly pushed his way through the surrounding circus people. He could hear the people mutter in confusion when he knelt next to the body and lifted the sheet halfway so he could see the lower legs. He swiftly began cuffing the right pant leg. He continued until he had reached the knee, and there was no burn scar. He did the same with the left leg, but there wasn’t a mark. This heightened his suspicions, but he allotted for the fact that Shane could have been wrong about the burn.
“What are you doing! Step away from my brother!” A panicked voice called out. “Somebody pull down the sheet!” The ringmaster was racing toward the small gathering around the body. He almost looked frightened. As he forced his way through the people, his loose performance pants snagged on somebody’s bag, revealing a large white burn scar on the side of his calf. His eyes flickered to the scar, and then rose to meet Block’s eyes as he hastily yanked the fabric back into place. He gathered from the look on Block’s face that the detective knew about the difference between the two brothers.
At least he had lived a couple hours in the coveted identity as the ringmaster.
* * *
Maya had liked Duke Redde very much. He was like a second father to her. The only one he bothered to be nice to. She liked that. Since nobody cared for him, she always got him to herself, whereas the ringmaster, who was like a mentor to her rather than father, was always dividing his coveted attention between the crew.
Duke had always been spinning tales about what the Circus would be like with him as ringmaster, and Maya had hung on every word. In the back of her mind, she had always known his stories were fiction, but she couldn’t help fantasizing about them. He would be ringmaster, and she would lead the Flying Swans act instead of Shane. Shane who hated Duke Redde just like everybody else.
She loosened her white-knuckle grip on the dagger in her hand. It had been only too easy for Duke to convince her to help him, and she knew it. She didn’t care. She had lived her whole life as an innocent.
Maya’s blade was rimmed in special blood. The blood of an extraordinary leader.