Nowhere Left to Run

No-No the Clown was the star of the Cabbage Brothers Circus. He didn’t set out to be a clown. He was looking for a job that paid cash and didn’t ask a lot of questions. Before he became No-No, he worked behind the scenes setting up the tents. Once the circus was open for business, he kept busy, but out of sight, working in the Freak Show tent maintaining the equipment.

When one of the clowns failed to report, he was drafted to fill in. The bald, bearded man suddenly found himself donning a large purple afro and white face paint accented with a large red grin and red dots on his cheeks. The orange suit and green tie were a loose fit. His hands and feet were shoved into giant oversized white gloves and black shoes. He had no idea what he was doing that first day as the other clowns made him the butt of their jokes. He reacted to each assault with a waggle of his finger, but allowed himself to continue to be hit with foam clubs, kicked in the rear, and doused with seltzer to the delight of the audience.

As his popularity increased, No-No went out of his way to make friends with children and to ease the fears of the little ones who cried or screamed at the sight of a clown. It wasn’t unusual for No-No to sidle up to a fearful child and take off his gloves to show them that there was a person underneath all that fabric and face paint. The sight of human hands was usually enough but No-No always had an ace up his sleeve. “Cheer up little one. I’m just like you under all this makeup. Here; have a piece of chocolate.” He broke off a small piece and handed it to the child. Chocolate cured a multitude of tears.

Calming a frightened child always stirred up memories. No-No remembered a little boy named Jake Haller. Jake wasn’t afraid of clowns. Back then, he was afraid of his drunken stepdad. Jake’s father died when Jake was ten. A year later, his mom remarried. His stepdad was a mean drunk, but his mom refused to leave him. It wasn’t unusual for the man to come home drunk and demand more to drink. If he didn’t get what he wanted, he took it out on Jake.

Jake ran away from home when he was sixteen. He should have joined the circus then. Instead, he dyed his blond hair black and grew a mustache. He picked up a name off a tombstone of some child who died about the time Jake was born. After sending away for a birth certificate, Jake became Francis Turner. It didn’t take long for Frankie to get involved with the mob.

Frankie got involved in Mickey “Meatball” Marinara’s shady business because nobody did background checks. If you were a bag man for a mobster, as long as you were on the up-and-up, you could earn trust and move up in the business. Three years later, Frankie moved up. Soon after his promotion, he started dating the boss’s daughter, Olive. Dating Olive hadn’t been his idea, but he didn’t want to make waves by saying no.

Everyone that knew them said they made a cute couple. Six months later, they were married. Things went pretty smooth until the babies started coming. Olive was always too tired, so Frankie looked elsewhere. It wasn’t hard to find someone. He was fairly handsome and he had money.

Frankie made the mistake of not telling his mistresses that he was married. Celia was a waitress at a local bar. He wasn’t her only steady, but he had money. When she got pregnant, she started pushing Frankie to marry her. Becky had taught him how to shoot, a skill that came in handy in his line of work. They met at a carnival where she ran the booth with the ducks. She got pregnant about the same time. Becky insisted that Frankie had to marry her now. “I can’t,” he told them. “Why not?” they demanded. “Because it wouldn’t be fair. I got six months to live. But I’ll open up a bank account for the kid.” That was the last either of them heard from him.

Frankie didn’t want his wife to know about his pregnant mistresses. He had skimmed some money, a little here and there, figuring his boss wouldn’t notice. Before he could deposit the money, the shit hit the fan. His father-in-law couldn’t give two cents that Frankie was cheating on Olive. But Frankie’s skimming was a major no-no in his line of work. All Frankie had to do was give back the money. Instead, Frankie ran with it.

Francis Turner was a wanted man. He was wanted by pretty much everybody. The mob wanted him for stealing money. The cops wanted him to testify against the mob. His wife wanted him for alimony and child support. His two mistresses each wanted the money that he’d promised them. Frankie had run away from all that and joined the circus.

The circus was always on the move – across the North in the summer and across the South in the winter. It never stayed more than a week in any town. No-No never made a public appearance without his makeup. When he needed sex, he always paid cash. It was easier and safer. He never saw the same girl twice. He was always polite and completely forgettable. He avoided trouble, never let himself get drunk, and never stayed at the same fleabag twice.

After seventeen years with the circus, the owners told No-No and his co-workers some bad news. The circus was shutting down because they weren’t drawing the crowds that they had in the past. They weren’t making enough money to pay everyone. Once the assets were sold, the owners were retiring. Half the crew set out for Hollywood figuring that their best chance of employment would be in the movies. The rest of them went looking for work in the big cities across the South.

Only a few people remained behind, uncertain of where their future might lie. No-No spent a little time at an Internet Café checking up on his past. Six months after Jake left home, his mom shot his stepdad. They had gotten into an argument over finding Jake. His mom wouldn’t take “No” for an answer and grabbed her husband’s gun from the hall closet. She shot him until she ran out of bullets. At her trial, her only statement was “the son-of-a-bitch had it coming”. All he could think was “What took you so long?” His mom went to prison for life. About six years into her sentence, Jake Haller’s mom got sick and died in prison.

Frankie’s father-in-law had died of a heart attack. His death canceled the contract on Frankie’s life. Olive had divorced Frankie for deserting her and married a lawyer. Of his two mistresses, Celia had married the true father to her baby. The only person still looking for Frankie was Becky. She had posted his picture all over the social media sites. Becky had an axe to grind and Jake had inadvertently let her know where to find him.

The circus held a two-day auction to sell off its assets. No-No helped with the auction, bringing the smaller assets to the stage and leading the potential buyers to the larger objects. Becky showed up on the day the last of the circus auction. The last object offered was a large gas-powered freezer containing a frozen sea monster that everyone assumed was just a grotesque fake. The monster was just over eight feet long. Its limbs ended in long razorlike claws. Its open maw was lined with shark-like teeth. It had a green leathery skin much like an alligator. Every time that Jake looked at it, it gave him the willies.

Becky had worked her way through the crowd trying to get close to the stage. Her movement through the group of bidders didn’t go unnoticed. No-No recognized her immediately. She was older, but still the beautiful woman that he had run away from seventeen years ago. He tried to keep a safe distance from her just in case she meant her threat. Becky once told him that if he ever left her, she’d end him. No-No remembered her as a damn good shot.

A local farmer won the bid on the freezer, but did not want its freak show contents. No-No had to empty it out so the new owner could pick it up in the morning. The freezer had been without power for over a week. No-No carried a siphon hose over to the water-filled freezer. He set it on the lid while he took out the keys to the two padlocks holding the freezer lid securely closed. He dropped each padlock in the bucket as he removed them along with the keys. When he grabbed the siphon off the freezer lid, he could sense something pushing against it, forcing it open. It eased briefly, allowing the hasps to fall, before slamming the door wide open. Startled, No-No fell backward to the ground. No-No shrieked when he saw the creature standing inside the open freezer looking down at him.

No-No stared in horror as Becky suddenly appeared holding a gun and laughing. He couldn’t tell who or what she was aiming at, but he feared the worst. If anyone was going to kill Jake, it would be her. Her face was flushed red as she took aim and fired. She shot the creature’s neck nicking a major artery and planted a few shots in its torso aiming for its heart. It fell on her fifth shot.

No-No hadn’t moved. He had been paralyzed by fear at the sight of the creature looming over him, at the possibility of a violent death. All in all, it was nothing compared to the fear of Becky putting a bullet in his skull. He wasn’t sure if she had recognized him or not. Even after the creature fell, he was afraid to get up, afraid to face her. Afraid that his past had finally caught up with him. Becky put away her gun and ran over to him. “You owe me an explanation, Jake Haller.” She should have just shot him.