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The beginning of it all - Episode 1
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A Winning Argument
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the Whitefaced Clown
Sasse Family Zoo, Manhattan
Massive jaws clamped shut
around the flailing body. The victim's blood spurted, staining rows
of serrated teeth. One gulp and only shreds of silver skin remained.
Mrs. Guirard applauded. "Oh,
fabulous! Do it again!"
At the sound of her voice, the
alligator jackknifed around to face them. Mrs. Guirard squeaked and
seized Papa Sasse's arm.
Papa Sasse grinned. "There,
there, little lady." He pulled another flopping fish out of his
bucket and tossed it into the alligator pit, with gratifyingly gory
So far, the tour of the zoo was
a rousing success. Every animal had displayed itself to advantage.
Mrs. Guirard had been appropriately charmed, awed, impressed, and
shocked. She clutched a lovely fan made from peacock feathers, which
Papa Sasse had given her as a souvenir. To his own surprise, Ginger
found himself genuinely enjoying the visit. It took effort to keep
his mind on the business at hand.
"This way to our aviary,"
Papa Sasse said. He guided them up the path to a large barn whose
roof glittered in the sun. Tar and shingles had been replaced by
thick panes of glass set in a cast-iron framework. Ginger squinted at
it. He suspected Papa Sasse of saving the best for last.
Ginger followed Papa Sasse into
the barn and stepped forward through the seasons into summer. The
panes of glass arched overhead, letting in the winter sunlight but
keeping out the cold. In the corners, four furnaces radiated a
tropical heat. Potted trees towered above their little group, the
green of the leaves a shocking sight in the dead of winter. Birdsong
cascaded over them. Golden orioles, parrots, blue buntings,
cockatiels, yellow-headed blackbirds, and a rainbow of finches
swirled through the aviary.
"Oh!" gasped Mrs.
Guirard. She fluttered the peacock fan excitedly as Papa Sasse led
them through the aviary.
When Mrs. Guirard passed one of
the potted trees, a parrot perched on a branch cocked its head and
said, "Pretty lady! Pretty lady!"
A faint tinge of pink stained
Mrs. Guirard's cheeks. "How charming!" she exclaimed.
clever, Ginger thought. A thin
chain stretched from a cuff on the parrot's leg to the branch it
perched on, making sure that if they walked by that particular tree,
the parrot would be on display for Mrs. Guirard, and vice versa.
Also, the parrot had cocked its head and studied Mrs. Guirard's
brand-new peacock fan before it uttered its compliment. Ginger wasn't
an animal wrangler, but he'd seen enough of their trade to recognize
a trained response.
"This way, please."
Papa Sasse ushered them toward a courtyard in the center of the
aviary, where a marble fountain burbled a merry counterpoint to the
The strong man, the
roustabouts, and Isaac the animal handler moved to sit on
wrought-iron benches at the edge of the courtyard, making themselves
as unobtrusive as possible.
and Mrs. Guirard sat on benches beside the fountain. Ginger leaned
back for a few moments, enjoying the warmth, the sun on his face, and
the birdsong. Rule
Number 15 of being a clown: Enjoy life. How else can you know what
will move your audience?
A chattering sound near at hand
made him sit upright. A small monkey tugged at the hem of Mrs.
Guirard's skirt. It wore a diaper, because the Sasses were taking no
"What a darling creature,"
Mrs. Guirard said, extending her hand to the monkey. It climbed up
onto her palm and wrapped its arms around her wrist, staring up at
her with large, trusting eyes. She lifted it up. It curled up in her
lap and began to play with its tail, now and then reaching out to pat
The time was perfect. Ginger
made a little hand signal. Papa Sasse nodded.
"Allow me to offer
refreshments," he said. A plain-faced young woman in an old gray
dress emerged from behind a row of potted rose trees. She carried a
silver tray with a plate of Mrs. Nave's finest chocolates and three
glasses of cold pomegranate shrub.*
When performing a juggling
routine, Ginger avoided watching the path of any one ball, the better
to track the gestalt. In the same way, he now fastened his gaze on a
point above and slightly to the left of the four men he'd asked to be
Mrs. Guirard's escort. As he observed them, he slid his hand to his
pocket and the weapon he'd concealed there. His plan to have Tonya
show her face in controlled surroundings could misfire badly. If it
worked, however, it would give him four tough men--well, three tough
men and Isaac--whom he knew were innocent of the attack on her. He
had to start somewhere.
None of them gave a second look
to the young woman bringing the refreshments. Tonya set the tray on
the wrought-iron table in front of Mrs. Guirard, curtsied awkwardly,
and retreated. Ginger relaxed. These men, at least, were cleared.
Mrs. Guirard gasped. "It
can't be!" Her hand darted out and seized one of the chocolates.
She brought it to her mouth and sank her teeth into it. Her eyes
half-closed. A blissful expression spread across her face. "Oh,
it is!" The chocolate disappeared in short order, and she leaned
forward and took another one. "However
you managed it, these are wonderful!"
Papa Sasse bowed. "Glad
you think so, ma'am. You might wonder how we acquired the cacao beans
for your chocolates and the pomegranate syrup for your drink. Well,
we got them from sailors, in trade for entry to the zoo! If more
sailors visit us, we will use some of their trade goods to offer an
even wider selection of refreshments. The rest, we will sell in the
"In trade," Mrs.
Guirard said, as if she were trying out how the words tasted on her
tongue. "How marvelous." She looked around her at the
tropical forest and the birds darting through the trees. "And to
think that my husband so carefully explained to me that there was no
way he could peacefully persuade the sailors to give up their cargo."
"We've been setting aside
a portion to pay the trading tax, ma'am," Papa Sasse said. "We
thought maybe half? These are difficult times. We all have to make
sacrifices and pull together. We wouldn't want your husband to think
we were trying to skip out on our responsibility."
"Trading tax," she
"If the zoo remains
open--" his voice faltered, and he paused to compose himself,
"--it would be a regular payment."
"I wonder what other
diversions the sailors would enjoy?" Mrs. Guirard said, half to
"All the city can offer, I
imagine," Ginger cut in smoothly. "Life aboard ship becomes
extremely tedious. Given the right incentive, I'm certain that a
trade could be arranged. Why, they might even agree to a trading
schedule that ensures a regular flow of needed goods. In return, of
course, New York would need to provide the diversions and civilized
comforts that are sorely lacking at sea."
Mrs. Guirard's lips curved up
and her dark eyes sparkled. "What a delightful notion."
the Animal Handler
The Sasse Family Zoo,
Isaac didn't pay much heed to
the fancy aviary or to Mrs. Guirard's reaction, although he reckoned
that a lot of careful thought had gone into creating both. He'd only
come along to the zoo to visit Mr. Ben. Saving the circus by charming
the commissioner's wife was all well and good, but it wasn't really
Isaac's job. His monkey was.
So when Ginger made his excuses
and motioned at Isaac to come along with him, Isaac bounded out of
his seat like a dog who'd scented sausage nearby. He knew it wasn't
polite to look so eager to leave, but he couldn't help himself. He
kept quiet, though, at least until they were outside the building.
"Can I go see--"
"There's something I'd
like your opinion on first," Ginger interrupted.
"What do you need me for?
Mr. Sasse knows his business. He don't need my help."
"Good thing it's not for
him, I suppose." As Ginger spoke, Rosie Sasse walked up the path
to join them.
"What's this about, then?"
Isaac demanded. "If you brought me here just to yammer at me
until I change my mind--!"
"No, no," Ginger
reassured him. "Rosie knows a lot about handling animals, since
she grew up in a zoo. She's particularly good at training, um,"
he paused, "birds! She asked me if she could join the circus,
but she's worried about her safety. She heard about the monster
attack on High Bridge. As you've seen, I'm making arrangements for
the Sasse family to be under the protection of the commissioner. What
do you think would be safest for her?"
"Uh, we'd have been dead
if the monsters attacked us earlier, or if the elephant wasn't
around," Isaac said awkwardly. He wondered why Rosie wanted his
opinion. They didn't exactly see eye-to-eye. "It ain't what most
folks would call safe out there. Circus folk got to roam, but she
ain't got circus in her blood, not yet. I guess she should stay here.
She's got family. Family's important. And if the commissioner's
looking out for them special, I don't figure she could be any safer."
Isaac had seen Ginger's "arrangements" often enough that he
didn't question whether they'd work. He thought of the corpses left
dangling from lampposts. "Nobody in their right mind's going to
do anything to piss him off." He flushed. "Begging your
pardon for my language, miss."
"I think you're right,"
Ginger said. "So the situation with your monkey and the zoo is
"What? No, I didn't say--"
"Because I'm absolutely
certain that Commissioner Guirard will extend his special protection
to the zoo, once his wife has a word with him. Like you said, you
can't get safer than that, can you?"
"And your main concern is
for the safety of your monkey, right?"
"Yes, but the circus
"Oh, don't worry about us.
The zoo has traded us a couple of other monkeys that should make an
interesting addition to our menagerie, though they'll have to be kept
asked. Then he shook his head, pushing away the distraction. "Wait,
I didn't agree that--"
"You said it was safer
here." Ginger leaned forward, his eyes merciless. "You said
it was important to stay with family--loved ones. Your monkey's got a
sweetheart, and your monkey's sweetheart has a family, and they're
all safer here, so by your own logic, your monkey should stay in the
zoo. You'll see him again. You understand how important it is for
sweethearts to stay together, don't you?"
Unaccountably, Isaac found
himself thinking of Pamela the aerialist and the way the purple
ribbons in her hair bounced as she walked. He flushed. "Yes,
"No buts. You've persuaded
me. It's the best thing for the circus, and it's the best thing for
the monkeys. Go say your goodbyes. Then take those new monkeys back
to the circus."
Isaac opened his mouth . . .
and closed it again. He couldn't really argue because it was all his
own opinions. That was the worst part.
"Good," Ginger said
briskly. "I have to get back to Mrs. Guirard. Rosie will help
you get the new monkeys ready to take back to the zoo. Mr. Sasse said
he had an old cage we could use that's plenty strong enough. Once you
get back, let Doc Panjandrum see the new monkeys before you do
Isaac waited until Ginger was
out of sight before he dared look at Rosie Sasse. To his surprise,
she didn't gloat. "We'll take good care of Mr. Ben," she
He nodded. Her sympathy
reassured him and made him feel worse at the same time. After an
awkward silence, she set off towards the monkey enclosure. He trailed
along behind her with his emotions all in a tangle. When they reached
the monkeys, she drew back far enough to be out of earshot unless he
And so he found himself saying
goodbye to his monkey without ever making the decision to leave him
When Mr. Ben saw Isaac, the
monkey strolled over to sit beside him. Isaac crouched to talk to
him. He told him that it was safer in the zoo right now. The monkey
played with Isaac's bootlaces. Isaac explained that the circus would
have to go on without him. The monkey hopped onto Isaac's back and
draped his arms around his neck in a loose hug. Isaac said he'd miss
him. The monkey ran his fingers through Isaac's hair, grooming him.
Isaac said it was for the best. The monkey snaked his paw into
Isaac's shirt pocket, stole the dried apple slices that Isaac kept
there for treats, and bolted away with his prize.
"I'll visit," Isaac
promised Mr. Ben's retreating back. "I will. Somehow." He
stayed crouched for another couple of minutes, watching Mr. Ben and
the other monkeys. When he straightened and walked over to where
Rosie waited, he felt a painful sort of lightness.
"I'll take special care of
him." Rosie's eyes were serious. "I promise."
Isaac nodded. "I know.
Thank you." He added, "I'll take real good care of your
Rosie looked away, like
something about his promise pained her. "Come on. Papa loaded
the monkeys into their cage before you arrived. The wagon is waiting
by the gate. We moved it out of the way for the tour, but as soon as
you'd passed by, we moved it back. One of my brothers will go fetch
the wagon and the donkey back tomorrow. You can keep the cage. You'll
need it." Judiciously, she continued, "Whenever he handled
these monkeys, Papa wore the really heavy gloves and kept my brother
standing by with a musket. You might want to do the same when you
"You make it sound like
they're baboons or something," Isaac said, following her.
"Or something," she
Isaac let the conversation
lapse into silence until they reached the main gate. An old cage sat
on a wagon in front of the gate. At Isaac and Rosie's approach, the
donkey hitched to the wagon brayed loudly.
Rosie buffeted the animal on
the shoulder affectionately. "Quiet down, you! It's risky enough
sending meat on the hoof out there without you announcing it to
The donkey gave her an evil
glare, quite as if it understood exactly what she'd called it.
Isaac turned his attention to
his new charges. The cage holding them was old but strong, with bars
nearly twice as thick as the ones at the circus, and it seemed in
good repair. He couldn't say as much for the monkeys. Two of them
twitched in the corner, one chattered and jerked ferociously on the
bars, and a fourth kept picking at its arm. "They look sick."
Rosie gave him an odd look.
"The sick ones are what Ginger wanted. That's why we're giving
you a separate cage for them."
". . . Oh." It was
true, Ginger had said to take the monkeys to see the doctor
first. Adding sick animals to the circus didn't make much sense to
Isaac, but he had no desire to get into another brain-twisting
argument with Ginger. "All right then. Ginger usually knows what
the Animal Handler
Rumsey, New York City
Back on the docks, Isaac
quickly spotted the circus tent whose painted canvas walls
advertised, "The Great
Doctor Panjandrum and His Amazing Panacea That Cures All Ills!"
"Doc?" Isaac asked,
pulling back the tent flap.
A scene from hell greeted him.
Doc Janzen stooped over a table mounded with offal and gobbets of
flesh. Gore splattered his apron. A stack of disjointed limbs rose
beside him. Shining metal torture instruments gleamed on a bench
nearby. Aether lamps burned brightly inside the perimeter of the
tent, adding ghastly illumination to what should have been dark and
Isaac's gut rebelled. He
dropped the flap and staggered around the side of the tent. Strings
of sour vomit splattered on the dirt. Once he'd mastered himself, he
Doc Janzen looked up, scowling.
Light glittered off his blood-speckled glasses. "You again.
Close that flap. You'll let the flies in."
Isaac stayed in the doorway,
holding the tent flap open and breathing shallowly through his mouth.
He gulped. "Can't breathe. The smell--"
"What?" Doc Janzen
sniffed the air. "I suppose. You get used to it after a while.
Why are you here, then, if not to watch me work?"
"Ginger said I should see
you about the new monkeys?" Isaac blurted. "They're sick?"
"Hm, yes." Doc Janzen
removed his glasses, absentmindedly rubbed them on his filthy apron,
and then frowned when that only moved the smears around. "You
have a strong cage for them?"
"Strong enough for a bull
gorilla, I guess," Isaac said.
Doc Janzen nodded. "That
should do it. Never let them out of the cage unless you've got them
on a collar with a pole to keep them away. An elephant pole." He
thought for a minute. "They might not eat fruits and vegetables.
They'll need lots of meat."
"Monkeys don't eat meat!"
Isaac protested. "Oh, a few grasshoppers or a lizard now and
then, but not lots of meat."
"These ones will,"
Doc Janzen said grimly. "Plan for what you'd need to feed one of
the big cats."
"I know how to take care
of monkeys," Isaac said. "What you're telling me doesn't
make any kind of sense!"
"You don't know how to
take care of these monkeys." Doc Janzen sighed. Suddenly,
he looked like a very tired man instead of a demon out of hell.
"They've got the aether sickness. Ginger arranged for us to take
them because I need test subjects."
"What?" Isaac said.
"You're not going to dissect them, are you?" His horror
must have shown on his face, because Doc Janzen frowned.
"Certainly not," he
Isaac exhaled, relieved.
Doc Janzen took away that
relief by adding, "They must be alive to study the progression
of the disease." He walked to the tent opening, stared at the
monkeys for a moment, and then pointed to the one plucking at its
arm. "I'll start with that one."
"Start what?" Isaac
Doc Janzen raised his eyebrows.
"Amputation, of course. This one appears to be primarily
affected in one limb, which makes him an excellent candidate."
He lifted a wicked-looking saw. "Tie him to the table, if you
would. Make sure the straps are tight. I have neither chloroform nor
laudanum to spare."
I promised--" Isaac began, when another interruption saved the
monkey, if only temporarily.
snake charmer ran up and seized his arm. "Isaac!" she
exclaimed, out of breath. "Where are Ginger and the others?"
"Why?" Isaac asked.
"Something strange is
going on. I was sunbathing with my snakes when I saw two special
patrolmen crawl out from behind the bags of horse fodder. Strangers,
not the men that have been poking around all afternoon. I went
looking for Ginger, since he's been dealing with the commissioner.
While I was looking, I saw at least a dozen other special patrolmen
coming out of hiding. I don't think it'll be safe here for much
longer. Ginger needs to know. Maybe he can do something."
"Um, he's not here,"
Isaac said numbly, as he struggled to figure out what he should do.
The snake charmer huffed in
exasperation. "So go find him! Fast!"
be continued in
Episode 20: Hostages to Fortune
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The Circus of Brass and Bone
is written and recorded by Abra Staffin-Wiebe. My main website is at
is courtesy of Vermillion Lies. Go to their website at
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