When given the choice between happiness, fame, wealth or love. A normal man chooses happiness. A narcissist chooses fame. A rich man chooses love. A poor an chooses wealth. And a criminal? Well he smiles, then chooses all four.
The lights dimmed in the massive tent, casting the crowd in partial shadow as the circus show finally began. 'Praise be to Jesus,' Michael muttered under his breath. After standing for close to half an hour while the tent slowly filled up with more and more people his legs had started to ache, he didn't even want to watch this bloody show. If Dannal hadn't dragged him here he wouldn't have come, who would pay three coppers to watch people dressed as clowns juggle and make complete prats of themselves?
'Stop being a miserable bastard!' Dannal had said when he voiced these opinions back aboard the Emerald Rose. 'It's the best show in London. Besides we're stuck here until they re-open the docks, might as well do something.'
He was right about that at least, they weren't going anywhere. With the plague getting worse and more people dying every day London had become a virtual ghost town. People were too scared to even leave their houses now, the paranoia of the disease spreading made Parliament order to close her docks. Like a good whore closing her legs nobody was allowed to come or go until the quarantine had finally cornered the bastards. But every time they flung up a wall they would find a sick person beyond it and the whole cycle would start again. They were looking at least four weeks in dry dock, if they were lucky.
A powerful gust of wind snapped Michael back into reality, blowing out all the lanterns around the tent and plunging the whole space into darkness. Some people gasped at the suddenness and totality of the darkness, children screamed and people swore as they were pushed and pulled by the watchers beside them. Then, a powerful spotlight shone down into the centre of the circular stage, revealing a man sat crossed legged on the floor, a crumpled green top hat casting most of his face in shadow as he looked up to the crowd. 'Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls,' he began, voice drifting through the silence like a cold wind. 'Welcome. In ancient times, before our beautiful mechanised age, legends told of wizards and witches, of heroes and monsters, of titans and gods. Dismissed in our age of science and logic as simple stories...I will not influence you with my opinion. Instead, as you watch allow your mind to think on of these stories, and as you do...wonder if titans, witches and gods...might actually roam the very city you call home.'
In a blur of techno-coloured movement the figure shot to his feet, turning his back on the audience and pulling a brass topped cane from thin air. Peering over a sloping shoulder at the crowd the Ring Leader turned into the light, showing the profile of his young face, thin and pale with high cheeks and a blade like sneer. 'I am Solitaire!' he declared quietly, as if it was some secret only they were supposed to know. 'And welcome to the Carnival!'
The lights around the tent suddenly burst into life and from the depths of the shadows colourful acrobats leapt onto the stage. The crowd 'oooed' and 'ahhed' as they flipped and spun, cartwheeled and somersaulted around them. All wore strange masks decorated with bright paint and colourful crystals, and seemed to be based on the suits of playing cards, Michael saw a diamond there, and a spade the other-side of the stage. Their movements were hypnotic with the powerful, pounding base of the music, and before he knew it, Michael was lost to the show.
Over the next hour and a half he saw some of the most spectacular sights he had ever seen, forty years of travelling all across the world, sailing the seas for most of his life and seeing lands that most people didn't even know existed...and nothing compared to what he saw right in the heart of London.
A woman of such astounding beauty he couldn't take his eyes off her, her act accompanied by a robot so massive it made Dannal look small. Two children, dark skin suggesting their home was somewhere over the dead sea, twisted and danced across the stage before billowing great jets of flames from their mouths. A strongman, with two mechanical arms and a body so muscular most gods would be jealous, pull a whole steam car into the tent with a single finger, before picking it up clean over his head and carrying it over the crowd. A knife thrower who claimed to hit any target with the edge of his blade, and then proved it by cutting a mans cigar from his mouth from more than fifty paces. A man who's act included the most astounding and technically amazing feat of robotics Michael had ever seen. A magician who made the impossible possible. A gypsy who could answer any question posed to her. And a man fight a beast that put the story of Saint George and the Dragon to shame.
Each act was introduced by the ring leader, his charisma and charm off putting at times, his eyes scanning the audience as if they were cattle about to be slaughtered.
And then came the final act! A great display of every performance of the night, blended together into one seamless and flawless display. Michael didn't know where to look as the acrobats soared overhead on multicoloured pieces of fabric, the mechanic released his entire menagerie of mechanical pets and the ring leader orchestrated them all with swipes of his cane. Then, at the apex of their performance, Solitaire slammed the cane into the floor and in a burst of smoke and confetti the whole troupe disappeared. Thunderous applause erupted through the crowd as they whooped and whistled and smacked their hands together, Michael whistled loudly enough to nearly deafen the man beside him.
'Now look who's f*uckin' chipper!' grinned Dannal as they walked out of the tent.
'Alright alright I admit it, that was incredible.' said Michael reluctantly. Buttoning up the jacket of his hand-me-down suit his hand brushed against his breast pocket, and found it empty. Stopping dead in his tracks he rummaged through his pockets. 'Do you have my wallet?'
'Huh?' said Dannal, still walking.
'My wallet. Do you have it?'
'Why would I have your wallet?'
'F*uck it! I must have dropped it. I'll see you back at the dock.' he said to Dannal who gave him a quick thumbs up before staggering off towards the nearest whorehouse. Lifting the heavy fabric of the tents entrance Michael walked over to where he had been standing and examined the ground, looking under the tiered benches and even at the stages edge to see if it had been kicked over there by someone. But it was no where to be seen. F*uck. That's a months pay out of pocket.
A child's scream made him spin like a top. She stood stock still a few paces from him, her arms and pockets filled to bursting with dozens of wallets and purses. 'You thieving little sh*it!' Michael said charging at her. The little sh*it screamed her head off as she took off running, leaping over the stage and disappearing through a hidden door on the floor. Dropping in after her Michael slipped through the small tunnel and scrambled up a rickety set of stairs after the girl. 'Get back here!' he yelled.
Something cold, metal and circular pressed against his head as he emerged from underground. In front of him stood the man in the tophat, smiling coyly and rubbing the head of the mucky blonde girl that carried the wallets in her hands. 'Well who do we have here?' he asked. Never dropping his smile.
'That little f*uck stole my money!' hissed Michael.
'Oh I know, I taught her how.' said the ring leader confessed like it was nothing. 'And I wouldn't swear, my friend doesn't like it when people swear.' Turning his head against the gun Michael looked up and saw the beautiful woman with the massive robot stood at his side, a triple barrelled revolver in her gloved hands and a stoney expression over her face.
'I just want my money.' said Michael, turning back to Solitaire.
'Me too, and slightly more so than you. And I can't have you running off and exposing our little operation here...sorry old chap. It's just good buisness. Rin.' he said with a final nod.
The last thing he heard in his life was the brass hammer clicking against the firing pin.