I stood in the empty ring wearing my practice leotard, tears freely spilling from my eyes. There was nobody around to witness my weakness and even if there was I wouldn’t be able to staunch the flow. I had taken Kaveh and Ensi through the usual motions: bathing, feeding, warming up. There was no denying it now that these lions weren’t the ones I knew like the back of my hand—they were wrong, unnatural.
They showed zero emotion or reaction to my touch or the warmth of their bath. When I fed them they attacked the slices of antelope meat with such ferocity that I jumped away from them and couldn’t stop shaking. All of their previous playfulness during practices was gone. They stood completely still waiting for my commands—their tails didn’t wag, they didn’t blink, they seemed to not even breathe.
I wanted my babies back. Considering how I would put on a show without suffering from an emotional breakdown was what set me off on my crying rampage in the first place. At a time like this I really wanted to call my grandmother, but what would I say? Hey, Grandma Tesla, I think the lions have been turned into cyborgs…or possessed…or something…
Yeah right. This was just another thing I would have to find a way to fix on my own. As for putting on the show, I was just going to have to put my big girl panties on and work some magic.
“Nasledujte ma,” I said stiffly, urging the cats to follow me to their holding room. I hadn’t spoken Slovak since my grandfather was alive and it was like some perverse new form of torture that Wiseacre was forcing me to speak it now.
After locking them away I sulked all the way to my dressing room, hoping to relax for a little bit before meeting up with Camille and the others. No such luck. My belongings had been rifled through and I had a brief moment of sheer panic until I located my handgun safe in its hiding place in the secret compartment beneath my vanity. The next thing I noticed was a newspaper headline taped to my vanity mirror. I ripped it down and my mouth fell open in horror at the title.
Famed Tent Circus Owner’s Son Found Murdered
I skimmed the article quickly but my eyes kept darting back to the full color picture of Aaron Wiseacre’s lifeless body sprawled across an abandoned alley, covered in blood from multiple bullet wounds to the chest. Against my will, my body was starting to shake again. I prided myself on being a tough chick, a child of divorce and the natural death of loved ones, a survivor of the worst heartaches known to man, but murder? I slumped in a corner and wrapped my arms around myself trying to get the shudders under control.
Without knocking, Camille burst through my dressing room door nearly out of breath. She stopped and looked around the room in irritation.
“They got you too? I wonder what exactly they think we’re hiding in our dressing rooms. Nixie, are you alright?” She had just noticed my current state and rushed over to my side.
All I could do was hand her the article and watch as her facial expression darkened with each word she read. “You don’t think…” Camille looked up at me and I nodded. “You think Wiseacre had his son killed?”
“I wouldn’t put it past him for a second,” I said bitterly. “You didn’t see the way he worked over that stagehand. If he can do this to his own son, imagine what he would do to us if he found out that we were at Merriweather’s.”
“Weren’t you and Aaron—"
I shook my head to stop her. I didn’t want to be reminded of all the good Aaron had done in my life. Just thinking about the last time I’d seen his smile almost caused me to unravel.
Camille was quiet for a moment, rereading the article to herself. Finally she folded it up and tucked it into her pocket. “We’ve got to warn Myah and Stinger to stay on their toes. I asked Bruno about Sandra, to try and get an idea of what her motivations for helping Wiseacre might be. I definitely found one, she and Wiseacre are lovers.”
“That’s disgusting!” I said with a grimace. “She’s so pretty, what the hell would she want with a prickly old thug like him?”
“I don’t know, but whatever it is that she likes about him is apparently worth getting into illegal activities. Come on, let’s get off the circus grounds so we can meet up with the others.”