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Friday, July 23, 2010 

This weeks installment of the novel. Decided to cut the second chapter in two, it was long... Here's the first half.

Chapter Two

Pennsylvania -- May 1998

You can't go home again...
Or maybe you can...
The prop truck was just north of Harrisburg when Diane picked up the ticket. Mud show luck. What could go wrong, would go wrong. Dirty plates, or a cracked tail-light, a worn tire, or tattered wiper blades, the circus made for an easy mark and the cops could always find something good enough for a ticket. The pissant citations were more of an annoyance than anything else. In the middle of a jump with a late afternoon show in some town on down the road who had time to argue? When they ran her license and it came back from Sacramento with bells and whistles attached, that was mud show luck too. Six weeks out of Durham and she was starting to get used to it.
"M'am, would you mind if I took a look inside your vehicle?" The cop was young and polite, serious and very nervous.
"What for?" said Diane wearily. Just because he was ambitious didn't mean she had to be a dishrag. "Am I under arrest?" It was the kind of question she'd learned to ask sooner rather than later.
"No m'am," said the cop. "Do I have your permission?"
Diane nodded.
"Could you step out of the vehicle please?” That's when he called for backup.
She drew the line when they wanted her to wait in the patrol car. "I'll sit right here," she said planting herself on the guardrail. That was an hour ago. The circus had a matinee in Loch Haven at four-thirty. Diane tried not to worry about it. At least it wasn't raining.
Quite the opposite in fact. Were it not for the circumstances Diane would have called it a lovely day. Springtime along the Susquehanna river, the wide banks lined with willow trees and cat-tails, the warm air alive with the buzz of cicadas and the sharp raucus cries of redwing blackbirds so fiesty in the bright morning sun. Across the highway the dark canopy of maples shaded green grass, buttercups, and the first tiger lilies of the season. There were three cops digging through the circus trailer and one just watching, pretending that he wasn't afraid Diane would dash through traffic then bolt down the embankment and disappear into the trees.
Diane glanced at her watch for at least the fifth time in as many minutes. "Look. This is taking forever. Could I ask you to hurry?" she said, knowing it was pointless.
"We're trying, Ms Cash. We really are," the young cop who was pulling guard duty said. Beneath his acne scars and his short blonde hair he might have been twenty-five. "We get a lot of carnival trucks through here, and some of them are carrying narcotics. We've gotta be careful, you know."
"I'm not with a carnival, I'm with a circus," she said, belaboring the obvious. She couldn't help herself. She had to say something.
"Yes, m'am. We know that." The cop shrugged.
"If we miss our early show because the props aren't there -- because you guys are taking your sweet time with this -- there are gonna to be an awful lot of disappointed children up in Loch Haven."
"I'm sure you're right, m'am. We're doing our best."
If that was true their best was nothing short of pitiful, Diane thought. And not for the first time since the show left Durham she was very glad that Willis was far away. This was just the kind of scene her father would revel in. She was a felon. Of course they wanted to search her truck. It fit so neatly into the official family history. The one where poor Diane ran away from home, landed in San Francisco, smoked a little reefer or crack or whatever it was he thought she did, then went to jail. They’d never talked about what really happened. It was so much easier to see her life as a morality tale.
She did leave home. But home was a travel trailer and a circus lot in Oakland or a fairgrounds in Monterey. And maybe she'd done her share of drugs back then, but she finished high school with honors. She was seventeen when she went to Berkeley, and she was twenty-two when she dropped out of law school. It was only later that everything went to hell.
The blonde cop was getting bored. Diane could tell when he tried to be friendly. "So what's it like doing what you do, working in a circus?" he asked her.
Diane took the cheap shot. "It beats arresting people, but it probably pays less," she told him, smiling. No, that wasn't fair. She tried again. "I don't know. What if you'd become a cop because your dad was a cop and your mother gave birth to you in an empty holding cell? What if you'd grown up in patrol cars, and locker rooms? What would that be like? You wouldn't think about it because you'd never known anything else. Or you'd think about it all the time because you love it so much, or you hate it so much."
The cop laughed. "I think I'd get really tired of donuts," he answered. "You ever do anything else?"
"Yeah. For a while. It didn't work out."
It didn't work out.
That was one way to put it.
The same year she spent at Boalt Hall learning torts, she met a man in San Francisco. Instead of studying contracts, they’d moved to Mendocino. It was a California thing, she thought back then. A place where everyone and everything constantly changed. An actor left the movies to become a politician. A desert became a golf course. A college professor could change his name to Krisna and style himself a guru. The hills, the valleys, and the beaches of California were peopled with folks who'd given up on one life to try another. If that didn't work out, they'd try again. Up north there was a certain down home mystique to all of that. Girls from Connecticut with degrees in social work from Barnard herded sheep and spun wool, and boys groomed for green lawns and swimming pools worked as carpenters or masons.
"You can plant roots in north, " Bucky explained to her the very first time she met him, at a party in Golden Gate Park. Bucky was old Maryland tobacco money, or so he told her then. He was about as far removed from the sawdust and tan bark of the circus as anyone she had ever known. By the time Diane learned that the closest the Boyle clan came to tobacco money was a trip to the liquor store for cigarettes, she was already in love with him. Deeply in love. I want to spend the rest of my life with this man love.
Poor Bucky, such a schemer, so bitter, so charming, so heartless, and so completely corrupt.
They built a cabin on the edge of the redwood forest near Casper, a few short miles from the sea. They'd buy a boat and fish for salmon, Bucky promised. In the meantime he grew a little weed. Season followed season and there was no boat, but there was always green bud. Later, when Bucky announced that he'd found a new girlfriend in Fort Bragg, Diane took to keeping a kitchen garden planted in fresh herbs and got a job as a paralegal. She was hurt, deeply, but she couldn't hate him. She never even told him to move his “business” elsewhere.
She should have hated him. It would have worked out better.
Six years after the move to Mendocino Bucky Boyle was arrested with thirty pounds of marijuana in a parking lot in Willetts. Two hours after that the Campaign Against Marijuana Propogation had their heliocopters hovering over Diane's front lawn.
He got off easy. Nineteen months for possession with intent to sell. He'd been cooperative.
Her sentence was tougher. Nine years for sixty-eight plants hidden along the edge of the treeline behind the barn. She served almost seven with time off for good behavior. Sometimes she thought they were glad to get rid of her. She was a real jailhouse lawyer. Her clients were her friends, women who'd never had a chance with a Public Defender. When Diane filed appeals there was nothing spurious about them.
Too bad she couldn't be a attorney when she got out again.
So instead she drifted. Waiting tables in Redding. Working in a bookstore in Carmel. Helping out at a homeless shelter for families in Los Angeles, then driving a cab back in San Francisco. The worst of it was that the one time she'd seen Bucky again she'd actually slept with him. Even loaned him some money. She was so angry with herself after that, she'd cried for a week. A friend told her that he'd moved back to Baltimore and she was relieved. No more snakes in Eden.
When Jude called to tell her that Willis had suffered a heart attack she was just about ready to move on again. Eureka, this time. Instead she got a plane for Durham. "Of course I'll come, he's my father. I'll take care of him," she'd said, never hesitating.
"He doesn't want you to take care of him, Diane. He wants you to go out with the circus."
The circus.
She should have known. With Willis it was always about the circus. When she was five years old, if someone asked Diane to name the best job in the world she'd have said it was her daddy's job. Ten years later she knew it was the worst.
"The circus killed my brother. I don't want to talk about the circus," Diane used to say when anybody asked what it was like to grow up on the show. But even then she hadn't really put it behind her. She never missed a mud show that camped on the edge of Cloverdale, or a family act playing in a high school gym in Ukiah. She drove all the way to Chico to see the Circus Vargas, and once to the Cow Palace for the Ringling show.
The ring dirt was in her blood.

"Listen, I need to make a phone call," Diane said, now seriously worrying about Loch Haven. She'd grabbed her cell phone when she got out of the truck.
"I should check on that."
Diane shook her head. "Not unless you're ready to put me in handcuffs first." She needed to talk to Jude. If the props didn't make the lot until mid-afternoon he might have to reshuffle the program and put up the high wire during the intermission. Somebody should check on Ricky Meers too. Ricky Meers was a sweet man from Missouri they'd hired for his cats. There young Bengal tigers trained to do tricks like balancing and rolling on a globe, jumping through hoops, and leaping over a set of flaming bars. They weren't Siberians, but they weren't kittens either. Before Diane found him Ricky was doing school shows around Kansas City and St Louis for two hundred dollars a day. Even the Cash and Robbins Circus could beat that.
"Ricky's a wonderful trainer, and he's really working on the stage fright thing," his wife Charlene said when they arrived in North Carolina.
The stage fright thing? The stage fright thing hadn't come up when they'd answered the ad in the Circus Report. Rick could work around kids all day long, but throw in adults and he froze. Even Danny his little boy had a hard time stopping Daddy's shakes. Charlene did it the old fashioned way. She held the bucket while he threw up, then gave him a watered down shot of Jack Daniels. She mothered him. So far it was working, but he made Diane nervous. She wanted to be on the lot when he went in the cage.
The two cops searching the trailer popped out just as she started her dialing. The older cop was a man in his mid-40's with a steel-grey crewcut and a windburned face. "Ms. Cash, is this yours?" he asked ambling her way holding a prop rifle. She shoved the phone back into her pocket.
"It's an air rifle. A clown prop. Makes a loud noise. Go ahead and play with it, if you want," said Diane. Did he really think she was going to confess to being felon in possession of a firearm? Well maybe. "If you keep looking there's a shotgun in there too. The shells are blanks. That isn't mine either. It's circus property, and it's stamped with the name of the show."
"But you own the circus, don't you?" the cop asked still trying to figure out how to work the air gun. He wasn’t being sly, just perplexed.
"My father owns the circus. I just work for him," said Diane.
"But your middle name is Robbins, right? It’s on your license. And doesn't it say Robbins on the side of your truck?"
"And my mother's name was Robbins. And my grandfather's name was Robbins. He was a great clown. Started way back on the Adam Forpaugh Show, then Sells Brothers, then Hagenbeck-Wallace. He's in the Hall of Fame. Dad's name is Cash."
The officer gave up on the prop rifle and headed back to the trailer. They had to be pretty close to finished if they'd found the guns, thought Diane. Maybe she'd make the lot before doors after all.
Cop number three, her babysitter was looking at the unicycle his pals had leaned against the grill of a patrol car. "Can you ride that thing?" he asked her playing at being polite again.
"Sure. You want to see me do it?" For a second Diane thought he was tempted, then he shook his head and pointed toward the highway.
"Too much traffic. Too dangerous. You ride it in the show?"
"Not since I was a kid," Diane said. "My mom did a high-wire act with a unicycle and sometimes she let me ride with her. I was never much of a performer."
"You can walk on a tight rope?"
"I can wire walk."
"When she’s older I’ll bet my daughter would love to learn something that," said the cop. “She climbs and balances on everything.”
"It's a lot easier to learn that kind of thing when you're young."
"I'd never have the balls to watch her on a wire, or a trapeze. She might fall. She'd be fine with it, but I'd be scared to death. I think we'll stick to a pony."
"There you go, something really safe," said Diane. They both laughed. Twenty minutes later the troopers returned her keys and she headed north again.


Diane spotted the first arrows pointing to the showgrounds on the road from Williamsport to Loch Haven. You had to be circus to even notice them. Frank Shepard taped the arrows to mile-posts, road signs, telephone poles, and even to mailboxes if he had to. Frank was the twenty-four hour man. Frank traveled a day in front of the bigtop laying out the lot, marking the route, counting the porta-johns, and glad-handing the Shriners, or the Moose Lodge, the VFW, the PBA, or Loyal Order of Elks. According to Willis there were two things that a twenty-four hour man had to do well. He ought to have a knack for picking just the right spot for the front-door, and he'd better look good in a necktie if the host was a church group, or the Rotary. Frank could do both.
Diane stopped in Plum Creek to check her air-shocks, then thirty miles past Woolrich she found her turn-off. So this was Loch Haven, she thought driving through the pretty little river town. There was college nestled in the foothills beneath the white pines, and the local grade school had a sign that read "Royce Elementary Welcomes The Cash & Robbins Combined Shows." Community spirit. Willis would like that. There were posters in the store fronts along Main Street and a banner near the City Hall. In Loch Haven the sponsor was the volunteer fire department. The lot was a baseball field beside the Junior High. The tent was up and the seats were set, and the concessionaires were busy spotting the candy wagon along the midway when Diane came bouncing across the outfield grass and parked the prop truck near the back door. Jake Thurmond the prop crew boss hussled across the grass and began unloading lights as soon as she stopped.
“Took you long enough, blow the arrows?”
“I wish,” Diane said before she went looking for Jude Washington. She found him tying down the canvas over the pony sweep. "You miss me?" she asked, standing on the fresh tan bark and watching him work.
"Nope. Heard said you were busy with the highway patrol back around Sunbury," Jude said. He grinned. "Guess you didn't kill anybody. Either that or it was mighty low bail."
Jude's smile was infectious and Diane laughed. "Didn't kill anybody. And I only cried for about an hour. You'd have been proud of me," she said. "I just have bad luck with traffic cops, I guess. Maybe I ought to quit driving."
"Why?" said Jude, stepping out onto the midway to inspect the top. "Could have happened to anybody. Happens to me. You're here aren't you?"
"It wouldn't happen to my father," said Diane leaning back against the pipe fence around the ride.
"Are you kidding?" said Jude. "Willis gets more tickets than anybody else on the show. Him and that old Buick Electra of his. Folks won't get in a car with your daddy. The insurance don't let him near no trucks."
"Mom always said that daddy drove like there was nobody else on the road." Diane shook her head. "But that was when I was a little girl."
"Didn't change none. Willis is just a force of nature. Your momma used to drive her own self and make him tag along with me. Claimed he fell asleep during every jump and he snored too loud if he was riding with her."
Her poor mother, Diane thought. It was the probably the only chance in her life she got to be alone….

End Part 1 Chapter II

About me

  • I'm B.E.Trumble
  • From Everywhere, United States
  • Ben Trumble works in circus, carnival, and media relations
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