“Nothing to see here,” said Officer O’Malley. “Move along.” He waggled his nightstick at the assembled crowd with his right hand. With his left, he lifted the crime-scene tape.
Detective Rogelio Rodriguez, El Paso PD, ducked under the tape and whistled at the sight of the circus tent, fully erect in the rear, but collapsed like a pancake in the front. Much like his erectile dysfunction. It wasn’t like the tent had no structural integrity at all. It was obvious what it was supposed to be. But functionality? Well, that was a big old no. He’d finally talked with his doctor, got the prescription. But that was not germane. He shook his head. Focused. It seemed too familiar. He had a bad feeling.
Sergeant Vazquez, a go-getting, up-and-comer greeted the inspector. He started with “I’ll make a long story short,” but in the end, failed to deliver on that promise. That was okay though, Rodriguez only half-way listened. He already knew most of the story. The elephant, Colmillazo!, featured on all of the circus’ advertising, had gone nuts. What’s it called, rogue? Mid-matinee. Trampled and gored a bunch of folks, then headed uptown leaving mayhem and destruction in his wake. Half the department was currently on pachyderm control duty, trying to bring the beast down with service weapons while Animal Control attempted to locate the honest-to-god elephant gun they swore they had. A sudden silence announced that the sergeant had finished his summation.
Rodriguez lit a menthol. Looked up at the ominous sky. He’d seen clouds like these before. Yes, that was it. Maybe not everyone would recognize or remember. It had been, what, twenty, twenty-five years? But he sure did. The murky queasiness in his gut was coming into sharper relief by the minute. He pointed forward with his cigarette. Said, “Start the tour, sergeant. Came all this way, I don’t want to miss the sights.”
Off to the left, near the trailers, a young boy with a tear-streaked face sat on a steamer trunk. Five, maybe six years old, he was surrounded by four clowns in full regalia – a cluster of grease paint, red noses and floppy shoes. The clowns were working overtime.
“Hey! Chuckles,” one clown said with exaggerated inflection. “Little Juanito here looks like he could use a hand.”
“I think you’re right Slappy!” answered the clown, apparently named Chuckles. Tugging on his gloved left hand with this right, he popped free and proffered forward a prosthetic hand. “Here you go, Juanito!” The clown pack descended into uncontrolled guffawing. The two as yet unidentified clowns pretended to slap fight. Little Juanito, despite a deep and palpable grief, had difficulty suppressing a tiny smile. The clown-group setting, which had apparently been hovering around a six or seven, shot up to a full-on ten.
Rodriguez took in the scene, kept walking. Vasquez pointed, “That was little Juanito’s big sister.” Rodriguez followed the arc of the finger to an object on the ground. What appeared to be a large mu-mu had been commandeered into use as an improvised death shroud. Underneath, a mass of bumpy, pulpy bits. Two saddle-shoe clad feet poked out of one end. Out the other, a red, pink and gray schmear, as if someone had ever bothered to spread a human brain onto a concrete bagel. “Mom, dad, and a brother are still in the tent. They don’t look any better. Dad took a tusk through the mid-section, got skewered like a marshmallow. A couple acrobats got it too.”
“So we’ve got, what, six bodies?”
“Seven counting Lobster Boy. He’s over near the big-top, just outside.”
Rodriguez surveyed the scene. Crying boy. Flattened sis. Collapsed tent. Back towards the neck-craners beyond the perimeter. Up at the roiling, now clearly red-tinged sky. He knew where all this was headed. He didn’t like it. He shivered.
“Somebody walk over your grave, sir?”
“I hope so, sergeant. I sure enough hope so.”
Rodriguez was sitting in an office trailer across a small desk from a tall wiry man in his late fifties. Still wearing his red, white and blue sequined tuxedo, Jeremiah Thornbush, owner and ringmaster of the circus, twirled his waxed mustache. He was speaking, “I gave refunds, and I never give refunds.” Grin. “I mean, you can’t expect me to know if an animal’s gonna go crazy. It’s a tragedy, Inspector but – ”
“Detective, yes.” Thornbush gave a deferential nod. “Like I said, a tragedy. What do you call it? Act of God. I’ve lost three of my own. But I can’t imagine I’ve broken any actual laws. You know, technically. Legally speaking.” Grin, another nod of the head.
Rodriguez stubbed out his cigarette, drawing out the pause. “When the animal in question’s a six ton elephant with five foot tusks, and when the animal in question has trampled four-fifths of a nice family plumb to squash? Well, then, I imagine we can scare up an ordinance or two to cite you for. But we’re just making preliminary inquiries at the moment, Mr. Thornbush. Are you familiar with the Circo Hermanos Jaregui tragedy? Happened on this very spot. Around the early nineties.”
Thornbush, still grinning, shrugged his shoulders, “No, can’t say I know anything about it.”
“Well, if you say so. You look familiar. Anyways, don’t you or any of your crew leave town until I say you can.”
“But officer,” Thornbush said, “we have to be in Poughkeepsie in two days.”
“Upstate New York? In two days?”
“Did I say Poughkeepsie? I meant Laredo.”
Sgt. Vazquez stuck his head in the door, “Detective? You should come out here and see this. People are freaking out.”
“I’m smack-dab in the middle of something sergeant, what is it?”
“Yes, Sir. I’m sorry Sir. You just gotta see it.”
Detective Rogelio Rodriguez, El Paso PD rose from his seat. He already had a good idea what he was about to see. Still, it was a punch to the gut when he stepped out of the trailer and saw he was right.
“Do you see it, Sir? The rain.”
“Shit, yeah sergeant. I see it. You’ve seen a blood rain too. But you’da just been a kid, too young to remember I suppose.” The detective took it in. The metallic smell of blood had begun to waft up off the pavement and into his nostrils. It would be weeks before the smell went away. The heavy, pregnant drops smacked the dusty ground until it looked like a marinara-spattered stove top. Four red-splotched clowns rushed past heading for shelter, trying to shield little Juanito with a piece of corrugated cardboard.
Rodriguez lit another menthol, sighed heavily, clapped his shaken sergeant on the back. Said, “Vazquez, strap in. Next couple of days? You’ll never forget them as long as you live.”
© 2017 Whiskey Leavins