Image of a Clown

By Sue Simpson

Chain Border

Matt was in a real pisser; having to drag your four-year-old kid brother along all day was no joke. The only way he'd been able to get some much-needed dosh from his folks was by agreeing to take Jack along to the fair with him. Matt was not a happy man.

The travelling fair only came to town twice a year and all the local youth looked forward to its arrival. Matt was just turned sixteen and having to baby-sit the little arse was a blight on his otherwise worry free life. He knew that having Jack with him in regard to pulling was a double-edged sword. On the one hand it was great for reeling the birds in. Once he had them, he knew it wouldn't be long before they succumbed to the irresistible Matty charm. However, Jack's pretty blonde looks and girlie curls had them in raptures. "Oh isn't he sweet? Isn't he cute? Isn't he adorable, I could just eat him." And it had the added bonus of giving the girlies the idea that he was a caring and sensitive type of guy which in the 'getting into their knickers' game was no bad thing. On the other hand, just ten minutes in the company of Mafia Jack and they were offski down the road as fast as their platform shoes would carry them.

Jack's two favourite words this week were 'tits' and 'bollocks.' He had the limited vocabulary of your average four-year-old and yet his ability to insert those two words into a multitude of sentences, on a vast array of subjects, was worthy of the grudging respect of even his elder brother. However, no matter how secretly 'cool' Matt thought the kid's colourful language to be, alas the girls did not.

Matt had some great eye contact going with the girl on the hot-dog stall. Two minutes ground work, a little time being attentive and big-brotherly to Jack and she was his for the taking. She was, that is, until Jack had to go and steal not only his thunder but also his chances of a leg over that night.

"Now then sweetie," said the glorious Lori as she leaned right out over the kiosk counter, revealing her name tag and the fantastic alpine view of a sweeping cleavage. "What would you like on your burger?" She smiled that condescending smile that all girls on reaching puberty seem to adopt when mushing over a small child. The one that doesn't leave until they have kids of their own and realise what horrible little shits they really are.

'Oh no,' thought Matt. He knew that look, he'd seen it before. You could almost see the cogs turning in Jack's brain as he searched through his repertoire for the most attention grabbing choice of word.

"Tits," said Jack, in a loud, clear, piping yet somehow angelic voice.

"What?" Said Lori obviously and visibly shocked

"Tits!" Repeated Jack, only this time twice as loud. "You've got tits and sweaty bollocks." Okay; so Matt had to admit to himself that Jack had problems understanding the biological make-up of the female anatomy, but he certainly knew how to get a girl's attention.

Anyway that was that! Matt considered himself lucky not to be wearing his burger and yelled at Jack for the forty third time that afternoon as they turned away. While Matt yelled Jack munched happily on his burger and wore a tomato sauce and mustard smile.

Matt's mood only darkened as he watched his mates flying round on the waltzers. Some had already pulled and had an arm protectively round the landed girl of their choice. As they posed and looked manly and macho, the girls screamed and acted typically girlie. Once or twice Matt caught sight of the tantalising triangle of exposed white panties as one girl's short skirt rose high on her thighs when the waltzer car threw her from side to side.

When Matt couldn't stand it any longer, he forced a rather dubious, but none the less game for anything Jack, on the waltzer's with him and was punished for this by having Jack projectile vomit in a three hundred and sixty-degree circle as the car spun. They left the waltzer's with Matt muttering apologies and headed in the direction of the public toilets for a major clean up operation. Jack, already feeling much better, grinned and wore a vomit smile. He asked for another burger.

As they went into the toilets Jack spotted a clown selling balloons by one of the stalls. He wanted a balloon, he wanted a balloon so badly that he said he might be sick again if he couldn't have one. All through being wiped down with soggy paper towels he asked for a balloon; and a burger and a candyfloss and another go on the waltzers.

"I need to pee," said Jack finally changing the conversation from his shopping list of desperate needs.

"Oh for Christ sake Jack. I've just finished washing your hands, why didn't you say before?" said Matt, shaking his head in frustration.

"Didn't wanna go before. D'ya fink the clown wiv the balloons will still be there?"

"I don't know do I? Listen you go to the bog an I'll wait outside and have a fag. Okay?"

Matt waited until he heard the lock on the stall door slide into position before heading outside. Whilst Jack sat on the toilet, with his pants round his ankles and his feet that were nowhere near touching the floor swinging, he sang, "Big tits and sweaty bollocks!" over and over again in an impossibly high pitched voice.

Matt stood just outside the toilet block and lit a cigarette. He wanted to remain in view of the door in case Jack came out and didn't seem him. He also wanted to see if anyone went into the toilets. Couldn't be too careful with kids these days he told himself. Especially a kid like Jack who despite constant warnings would insist on talking to anyone and everyone he came into contact with.

As he inhaled deeply on his cigarette Sally Jones walked past.

"Hey Mattie how's it going mate? Coming on the speedway?"

"Hey Sal Good to see you. Nah I can't, kid brother's in the bog, got to look after him."

They stood and talked for a couple of minutes and then Sally went off towards the speedway ride. Matt watched her until she walked out of sight. She was one fine lass. Damn the fact that he had the sprog. He took the last drag on his fag and ground it aggressively into the grass verge at his feet.

Thinking about Jack and pulling his mind away from Sally Jones' firm buttocks reminded Matt that the youngster hadn't appeared from the toilets yet. What the hell was the kid up to now, he'd been ages. Bet he's flooded the bloody bogs he thought as he went in to see if Jack was ready.

The first thing that hit Matt as he went back into the toilets was as always the smell stale urine and even more stale disinfectant; it was disgusting. The second thing that hit Matt was the silence. Jack had stopped singing about tits and bollocks and the door to the stall that he had been in was standing open. Jack was not in the toilets.

Matt was furious. This was just the last straw. He'd only been standing outside the door waiting for him. Jack must have snuck past as he was talking to Sally Jones. Matt went outside and began to shout for Jack. He was nowhere to be seen.

"`Scuse me love. Have you seen a little boy with blonde hair please?" he asked a lady walking towards the car park.

The lady crumpled her nose in thought. "Er yes I think I have seen a little boy looking a bit lost. But don't you worry love he's with the balloon seller. I expect the clown was taking him to the information kiosk. It's just over there, next to the hook-a-duck."

"Oh that's brilliant, thank-you. I'll kill the little sod when I get hold of him, wandering off like that."

Matt had been more annoyed than worried about Jack. Jack was one of those kids that didn't get phased by much. Some four-year-olds on finding themselves separated from their family would scream the place down. Not Jack, he'd just find something to amuse himself until his family found him. Matt wasn't at all surprised that he had sneaked past him to find the clown. 'What's the betting he's managed to con him out of a balloon with his little boy lost act?' thought Matt with a wry grin. He loved the little bugger, but my god he was a pain in the arse sometimes.

Matt strode up to the information kiosk where yet another pretty girl waited attendance on the impossible public. He adopted his most charming smile and flashed his perfectly kept teeth at the young girl.

"'Scuse me darlin`. Have you got my little brother here? Apparently the clown was bringing him in this direction."

The girl looked confused, not least by the fact that it never failed to amaze her that we caring, nurturing humans have such a vast ability to lose our children. This would be the seventh lost kid today, luckily the other six had all been rounded up and handed back to their respective families.

"Er no love, there's no little kids here. When did he go missing?"

"Oh about ten minutes ago. A lady saw the clown with him and assumed he was bringing him here."

"What clown?"

"You know the balloon seller dressed up as a clown? He was standing near the hook-a-duck, over by the lavvies."

"I'm sorry but we don't have a clown," She reached under her counter and came up with some papers that she quickly sorted through. "Yes I thought so, Linda Weston and Jane Cross are on balloon sales this week." She cracked a smile. "Now I admit Linda puts the slappy on with a trowel, but she's no clown. Don't worry though We'll soon find your brother. I'll take some details and get a message over the tanoy. We usually find them within about five minutes. Here at Garson's amusements we pride ourselves on great security and safety."

Matt felt the first stirrings of genuine worry. "Listen love, some bloke dressed up as coco-the-fucking-clown was seen with my kid brother and you'd better find him before I do. I know he works here because I saw him myself. You know a clown, pasty make-up, goofy shoes, poor fashion sense. Now either you find him right here right now. Or I will."

"Okay. Okay I'm sure there's a simple explanation for this and we'll get it sorted out. Now can you tell me your brother's name please and what he's wearing?"

Matt went through Jack's details with the girl who constantly tried reassuring him that Jack would soon be found. Matt was getting more and more irate, and the minutes ticked by and still there was no sign of Jack. Sheila the information girl put an urgent request over the tanoy for Jack to be located and brought to the desk.

After ten minutes Jack had not been found and an almost automatically mechanical system of security went into operation. The park gates were locked and security guards were places by each entrance and along the perimeter of the park. All cars attempting to leave the town's park were searched. Half the catering kiosks were shut down and a ground force of staff searched the park and questioned the fair goers in an attempt to find the missing boy.

Matt felt helpless. Sheila's constant pleasantries and words of encouragement and confidence were irritating and he was ranting at her, himself, and anybody else within ranting distance. A man walked over and introduced himself as Billy Garson, owner of the travelling fair. Matt had someone he could really vent his frustrations on. He jumped and swore at the fair owner, who in turn remained calm and polite and offered the same assurance of confidence in his staff that Sheila had.

"Confidence in your staff?" shouted Matt enraged. "You don't even know who you've got on your bloody staff. This girl didn't even know that you had a clown."

Something altered in Bill Garson's expression. A look that may have been fear passed across his eyes before being quickly replaced by his former guarded expression. His voice held a defensive note when he replied to Matt. "We don't have a clown sonny. Haven't had one for over ten years."

"Well maybe someone ought to tell that to bilbo-fucking-baggins out there because you have got a bloke on your fair ground running round selling balloons to the kids looking for all the world like a clown to me. And what's more Mr. Bloody Garson sir, he's got my little brother, and I warn you arsehole, if he's harmed so much as one hair on my brother's head…"

Matt tailed off as a tense voice came over the tanoy.

"Boss you'd better get over to the wild mouse quick. Something weird's going down. It's Jefferson. I swear, it's Jefferson boss." Had not Matt been already out of the door and racing across the fairground, he would have seen the fairman go as white as a clown's make-up.

By the time Matt reached the wild mouse quite a crowd had gathered. Matt followed their gazes up the huge wood and metal structure. On the very top girder stood a clown, his big shoes hanging over the three inches of angle iron on either side. He swayed a little struggling with his balance. Standing next to him with his little hand in the clown's big one was Jack.

"Jack! Jack! Hang in there mate, I'm coming to get you. You bastard you hurt him and I'll kill you. I mean it dog breath, you let him go!"

The clown focused on Matt and just smiled. Then he continued to look out among the crowd as though he was waiting for someone, as though it was perfectly natural for him to be standing on the top of a seventy-foot structure with three inches of cold iron between him and a long fall.

Matt ran to the bottom of the wild mouse and started to climb. He didn't give a second thought to the fact that he was terrified of heights and that even walking on a thick carpet made him dizzy. He had only just got his second foot off the ground when two large security men pulled him down and wrestled him kicking and screaming to the ground.

"Don't be a fool lad, don't you think we've already thought of that. There's nothing to stop him throwing the kid if we go near him."

Matt crumpled, all the fight gone out of him. He had icy cold sweat running in rivers down the back of his neck. He said in a small voice, "And there's nothing to stop him if we don't."

"Leave it to us lad, we are professionals, you'll only make the situation worse." Matt allowed himself to be led meekly to a side stall.

The man standing behind the rifle range was sheet white and visibly trembling as his eyes bore into that of the clown. "It's Jo-Ho Jefferson. No doubt about it. He was my best mate for fifteen years and I'd know him with or without make-up." The man shook his head as if to clear an obstinate fog that clouded his judgement. "But it can't be. It can't be."

"Look mate," said Matt "If you know anything about this psycho that might help then you'd better start spilling because that's my brother up there."

The man seemed almost relieved to be able to release the words that were struggling to get out of his mouth. He began to talk slowly and monotonously as though he were in a daze.

"It all happened ten years ago. That was the last time we played this town, haven't been back since till now. Jo-Jo `an me, we shared a trailer see, mates we was. He was the best clown alive. Held the kids enthralled when he played his tricks and got up to his antics. He was a good man, you know, a good man. Couldn't believe it at the time, but well he was seen see? Seen runnin` away and seen by the kid." He shook his head again. "It doesn't make sense, he was a good man."

Matt's blood had turned to ice. "What did he do?"

"Well one night after the fair had closed we all decided to go into town for a drink. Jo-Jo had a headache and said that he was going to stay behind and go for a walk along the river before turning in. The grounds were pretty much deserted except for the boss who was in his office doing some paper work. Anyway cutting a long story short the next morning a little kid's found sitting by the river. All vacant and shocked you know, not speaking or nuffin`." The man lowered his voice to an exaggerated whisper supported by hand gestures. "He'd been messed with, you know, down there. Later like, when he'd `ad a cup a tea an` was feelin` better, he gave a full description of Jo-Jo right down to the floppy shoes and shade of lipstick. Boss corob. Coro, ah shit, boss said it was right `cause `ee'd seen Jo-Jo runnin` across the fair yard 'bout the same time. The fair was searched and blood was found from the kid in our trailer." The man's voice tailed off and he looked nervously up at the clown on the fair ride as though he couldn't believe his eyes.

"That's not it all is it? I can tell there's something you're not telling me. What is it?" asked Matt.

"You're damned right there's something else lad, and that's what doing `me `ead in now. Two days later Jo-Jo hung himself from the top girder of the Wild Mouse. Cut `im down meself, I did,`an it was `im all right."

At that moment Garson came huffing and puffing up to the ride. As Matt and the crowed looked on, something in the clown's attitude altered. He straightened up and stared down on the portly man.

Garson was deathly white and looked as though he might pass out at any moment. "Let me send some men up for the boy Jefferson, you know this is not the answer. Let the past rest man. It's over, go back to where you came from and let it be done."

Jack's voice was clear and sharp when he next spoke. The crowed were silent despite the police having closed in around them. The officers were in the process of closing the park and getting the fairgoers out. A core of fair personnel still gathered in a tight group at the foot of the Wild Mouse. Many of them dated back to the time of Jo-Jo Jefferson and the excited mingle of voices instantly froze as Jack spoke.

He says he won't hurt me. He's nice and I can come down now, but he wants everybody to know the truth." Jack fell silent for a second and tilted his head towards Jefferson. He may have been listening to words spoken by the clown that only he could hear or may have been getting the clown's information some other way but his head was turned toward Jo-Jo in a pose of concentration.

"He says he's innocent," continued Jack "He never hurt that little boy, but he knows who did and he wants that man to come forward now so that Jo-Jo can clear his name."

At that moment bedlam erupted. A scream went up from the crowd as a lady was pushed to the ground. Garson grabbed Lori the hot-dog seller from behind and held a long bladed knife to her throat. The police backed off forming a semi-circle round the fairowner and his hostage.

"Let me go now, or so help me God I'll kill her. I've got nothing to lose. I want a bag stuffed with used notes from all the vending booths and rides and I want a car and a clear four hours to get away. That's the deal gentlemen or I'll cut the girl from ear to ear." Lori whimpered quietly and tears streamed down her cheeks and dripped off the cold steel of the knife at her throat.

"Okay Mr. Garson. I'm Chief Superintendent Grey and I'm prepared to talk this through with you."

Garson's eyes darted from one police officer to the next and saw that he was cornered. He was sweating and his blue shirt developed a large oily looking stain under each armpit and down the centre of his back. He was a desperate man in a desperate situation and the knife began to shake uncontrollably in his hand. He tightened his grip both on Lori and the knife and a thin drizzle of bright red capillary blood oozed down between the girl's breasts. "Let the girl go Garson," shouted Grey.

"I can't can I? I've had it. Cornered and trapped, so you meet my demands inspector, or I'll have no choice but to kill the girl, and then hopefully if I have time, myself as well, I swear to you here and now though that it was only ever the one time. My God how I hated myself for it and despite the urges I have never once touched a kid before or since." Garson raised his eyes to the clown on top of the ride. "I'm so sorry Joey, I never really meant for you to be blamed, but you see I looked out of the window and saw the curious kid looking through the windows of your trailer. Your spare clown gear was hanging in my office back from the cleaners, and Joey I swear to you it just happened that way." Garson was sobbing but still held Lori as firmly as before.

"He says rot in hell," said Jack and then he paused momentarily before adding, "you scummy rat's bollocks." The police continued to reason with Garson, but the man was becoming more and more hysterical. If they didn't find a way to get to Lori soon he would act out of desperation. He had already said he had nothing to lose.

Something somewhere near the end of Garson's tether snapped and everyone assembled sensed that this was it. He moved the point of the blade into the cleft of Lori's throat. Then he looked up at Jefferson. "You pushed me to this. This one's for you Jo-Jo." His arm tensed and there was an almighty crack as he fell to his knees. Lori, feeling the knife go slack, at once twisted away from his grip. She stumbled as he fell and became entangled in his arms and legs, but then she was free and running across to the waiting police officers with tears streaming down her cheeks.

Garson rolled on the ground screaming in pain and clutching his right thigh as a pond of dark red arterial blood splurged in an arc from the gun shot wound.

The man from the rifle range walked over to the nearest policeman and handed over the spent pistol. In the confusion he had run to Garson's office where he knew a browning was kept in the drawer. He had shot the fair owner in the leg with his own gun.

Two security men were already scaling the ride to get Jack. Somehow they knew that there was no longer any threat of danger. Two more security men were holding back a determined Matt.

The rifle range man looked up at Jo-Jo Jefferson and raised his right hand in salute. "That one was for you my friend."

The climbers were nearing the top of the ride and all eyes were turned on them and the clown. The sun unexpectedly came from behind a cloud and glinted off the girders of the ride, momentarily blinding everyone on the ground below. The intense glare only lasted a matter of seconds. When they could see, the men were clambering over the top girder and taking a firm hold of Jack. The clown was gone.

Jack and Matt were taken home in a police car. Although he said he was never even a little bit scared because the clown had been very nice to him and promised all along that he wouldn't hurt him, the emotion of the day had all become too much for Jack and he rested in Matt's arms and cried quietly. Matt wasn't crying so quietly and sobbed openly as he held his brother tightly.

Jack explained that although it looked scary he had never been in any danger, because the clown was 'magic' and that they had "sort of flown" up to the top of the ride. Jo-Jo was his friend he said and had asked him first if he would help him. "You see Matt," Jack explained, "He knew it would worry you but he had to do it to make Mr. Garson tell the truth, and he held my hand real tight all the time. I like Jo-Jo. Do you like Jo-Jo Matt?"

When he could speak he said. "Hey bro' you've got big tits and sweaty bollocks. And yes, I suppose Jo-Jo's one of the good guy's. But I gotta` tell you now little man if he ever takes you up on anything like that again I'll…"

Jack turned his face towards his brother. He had two brown rivers of muck flowing down his otherwise angelic cheeks, and he was grinning widely.

"Dog breath." he said to his brother, giving his latest phrase its first public airing.

"Oh Mum is just going to love that one," said Matt grinning back.

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