I wouldn't be performing in New Orleans, Admiral Wiseacre informed me the next morning after the disaster of Merriweather's cirque. The rumor was he was packing up and leaving town earlier than expected. Wiseacre didn't give anything away though as he woke me up from where I was curled up in the corner of the baggage car. I could sleep just about anywhere, and I hadn't spoken with anyone about coach assignments, but Wiseacre seemed to be in a particularly foul mood when he nudged me with the toe of his shiny black ringmaster's boots. I stood sleepily and gathered up what little I had, following him to a brightly painted coach, decorated in stars and filled to the ceiling with junk.
"This is where the old magic act lived. You'll be sleeping here from now on."
I'd nodded dumbly as he'd left, staring at all of the magic props around me. Most of it was old fashioned, lavishly painted, and broken. Rolling up my sleeves, I decided to find out if any of it could be saved, and what had to be thrown away. No one had handled this magician's props with any sort of care, and in digging through the wreckage of the coach, I nearly severed my fingers on broken mirror glass and splintered wood. I found the frames of no less than three shattered mirrors '21 years bad luck to you, Admiral,' I thought ruefully, and what looked like evidence at least one rabbit had survived getting pulled out of a hat.
Eventually I had the junk and trash pushed out the door onto the gravel of the train yard, and was left with a generally small pile of useable props, including a fancy cape that, when I wore it, dropped nearly down to the floor, and when I spread my arms it made me look like a star-spangled butterfly. Now that the train car was empty of trash, I could make out two narrow beds, for the assistant and the magician, a vanity with lights around where it's mirror should have been, but the mirror was shattered and so were most of the old bulbs, and an old sewing machine that looked like it was still serviceable. The room still needed the services of a good broom and mop combo, but it looked livable now. Satisfied, I hopped out of the car and called for somebody to take the broken stuff away, while I compiled a list of new stuff I'd need to buy.
It was late in the day when I finally made it out of my new home, but as I wandered down the train, looking at the other cars, most of them empty, with everyone heading out to the big top for tonight's show, so I was surprised to see Stinger stumbling out of Nixie's coach, with Nixie right behind him.
"Stinger? Nixie? What's going on between you two? I thought you thought he was some kind of rogue-" the look on Nixie's face stopped me.
"Ugh, don't shout so loud..." Stinger groaned, "and somebody turn off the sun. I've got a splitting headache."
I listed as they both explained what Stinger had discovered last night, after getting two of Wiseacre's head thugs completely drunk, as well as himself.
"So, your lions are in Africa?" I clarified.
"Yeah," Nixie said bitterly, "and I didn't even know it!"
"Hey, it's not your fault the Admiral made evil twins." I said, thinking up a plan. "Did this Fred guy say which company he used to ship them?"
"Some animal rights group, that's all."
"Animal rights..." I thought about it, then it hit me. "I think I know which group has them, and with some luck, they haven't left the country yet. I have to make some phone calls, bring in some favors. Just... Let me do my magic act before you go on tonight."
"What? Why?" Nixie seemed suddenly suspicious.
"Because I know you don't want to go out there with zombie lions 1 and 2, but we can't let the Admiral know why they're going to not be backstage when you go on." I said pointedly, bringing my cell phone to my ear, speed dialing the number. "I plan to use them in my act." The phone on the other end of the line rang several times.
"Hey Reese," I said into it when I heard someone on the other side pick up.
"Hey Myah, long time no call, my brother misses you." Reese said in the other side. Reese was a willowy blonde girl in charge of the Animal Protection program "Animals to Africa" and I'd done magic shows for her for free to drum up some publicity and money for the program. As for Reese's brother...I blushed at the thought.
"Yeah, well, he was cute and all, but, I'm calling to ask for a favor. Do you have big cats on your next shipment out of New Orleans?"
"Are two of the, Asiatic Lions, perchance? Small, dark and speckled?"
"Well, good, I'd like to make a trade, I've got two asiatic lions here, just dying to go to Africa, but the two you have... Well, their mother misses them terribly, you think you could send those back by about 8 tonight?"
"Oh, they have a mother?" Reese's voice was sympathetic. "They're already on the boat, but I think I could make a deal with the shipping agency."
"That would be much appreciated," I said. "Send them in a big colorful box if you could."
Nixie could hardly contain herself. She looked like she wanted to rip the phone out of my hand, but I just grinned and hung up the phone.
"Pack up the evil twins for travel, we're going to get Kaveh and Ensi back!"