Friday, February 28, 2014

The Freaks Come Out At Night- Part 28

Officer A.J. Sands tried to scream. The rag that had been stuffed in his mouth muffled most of the sound but his captors didn’t want to take any risks. The smaller man grabbed a roll of duct tape and firmly pressed a strip across A.J.’s mouth. 
            “That should keep him quiet,” the man laughed.  “C’mon, let’s get ‘ole stinky’ here in the dressing room now so we don’t have to worry about the crowds outside seeing him.”
At the first sign of resistance, their hostage was hit with a Taser.  The raggedy, smelly man fell to the floor with a thud, spasms jolting through his aching frame. 
            “On second thought,” Maven’s assistant muttered.  “Let’s stick him in a steamer trunk and carry him in that way.  I’m sick of smelling his stench anyway and I sure as heck don’t want it getting into my clothes.”
Unbeknownst to Maven’s thugs, their long list of crimes was growing longer by the second.  They never suspected that the unfortunate man they’d just crammed into a footlocker was an undercover cop.  They’d been reaping the benefits of their boss’ schemes for so long that the thought of getting caught was inconceivable. Yet, across the fairgrounds, a plain paneled van sat innocuously parked in the lot concealing surveillance equipment for the Philadelphia Police Department. Private detective Sam Cane and Officer Mike Higgins patiently waited inside the van, listening.  The private, golden-ticket- holder-only show was about to start and this time, Sam was convinced they’d have all the evidence they needed to put Maven behind bars for a very long, time.  Their secretly planted microphones picked up shuffling sounds and muffled conversations as the crowd entered Maven’s tent and found their seats.  Thunderous applause erupted as the show’s star stepped out from behind the curtains onto the stage. 
            “Whew!” At least we know the bugs work,” Sam chuckled as he removed his ear piece and massaged the tender spot between his temporomandibular joint and his ear lobe.  “Maybe we can find a way to tack on hearing damage to Maven’s rap sheet.”
Jenny’s Uncle Mike smiled at Sam’s wisecrack then held his index finger up and pressed it against his lips.  Sam nodded, understanding that he needed to keep quiet so they could hear what was happening inside Maven’s tent. At the first hint of trouble, Mike would radio to the platoon of officers milling around outside the tent to spring into action.  Maven’s sinister voice oozed through the transmitters making Sam’s stomach do flip-flops. 
            “Welcome, welcome, I’m delighted to see so many special guests here this evening.  Please, won’t you all join me up here on the stage?  Let’s have a more intimate and interactive show, shall we?”
Again, the scuffle of the moving crowd muffled Maven’s voice but he had clearly called for his assistants to “bring out their special guest”.  Meanwhile, Maven was sorting his adoring fans into a semicircle around him.
            “Very good,” Maven continued.  “Now, let’s see.  What was the trigger word again…ah, yes, dangling participle.”
As Maven continued spouting more insincere compliments to his audience, Mike tapped Sam on the shoulder and pointed to the piece of paper where he’d written, “What’s he talking about? Dangling participle?”  Sam scribbled back, “It’s the trigger phrase that puts them back under his spell.  Anyone who had been hypnotized before is completely under his influence again whenever he says the trigger words.”  Mike’s eyes grew wide as he hissed a curse under his breath. 
            “Since we managed to tack on two extra shows per evening here in Philly, I don’t have time to play around.  Let’s get the show on the road, righty-right?”  Maven prattled.  “Alec, Drake, bring our unfortunate friend out here and we’ll put him out of his misery.”
At Maven’s command, Sam noticed Mike stiffen. He sat up, ramrod straight, with his walkie-talkie clenched firmly in his hand.  Through the earpieces, they could hear more scuffles.
            “Thank you,” Maven responded to his assistants before continuing.  “Now, each of you take the knife in your hand and plunge it into the bound man on the floor here.”
            “Freeze!  Police!  Don’t move an inch!”

***Please return Monday,  March 3rd for the exciting conclusion to The Freaks Come Out At Night***

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Freaks Come Out At Night- Part 27

     The crowd grew restless as Maven slogged through the beginning of his act.  Sam wondered if boredom helped put the more susceptible in a ‘better frame of mind’ for the next segment. He chuckled softly at his own pun; all the while wishing Maven would just get on with it.  Eventually, Maven switched gears and proceeded with his relaxation method for putting the crowd under his spell.  Sam played along, biding his time and ever so carefully glancing over at Jenny and her cousins.  If any of them appeared to be slipping into a trance, Sam would find a way to break their concentration: a perfectly timed bump with his foot, a muffled cough, an offer of gum, a jab to the ribs, whatever it took to protect the woman he loved and her charming family.  He had been so busy watching out for the ladies, he’d forgotten to keep tabs on the undercover officers.  He was both thrilled and nervous when a few of them were selected to go up front and join Maven on stage.  It was hard to tell whether they were truly under Maven’s spell or they were faking.  Sam decided that if they were faking it, they’d missed their true calling as prime candidates for an Academy Award. 
     Soon the audience was being entertained with outlandish antics inspired by Maven’s depraved mind and boredom was a thing of the past.  Despite her disappointment in not being selected again, Jenny laughed and cheered along with the rest of the audience as the participants obeyed their puppet master’s bidding.  When the show was over, Jenny apologized to her cousins, insisting it had been a better show “the last time”.  The spell seemed to be broken and Jenny no longer regarded Maven’s show as anything spectacular.  Sam took that as a good sign.  As they all waited in line for an ice cream cone, Sam received another text.
Good news! 4 undercover officers got golden tickets. They r not under Maven’s spell so if he’s got Sands, we’ve got him.
Finally, some good news, thought Sam.  Maybe, just maybe, we’ll catch him this time.
While he was busy reading texts, the girls decided they’d had enough of the circus for one night and they were working on plans for the rest of their evening. 
     By a stroke of luck, Sam was able to worm his way out of the girls’ plans and Mike invited him for a “ride along”.
            “This was your case and you came up with the ideas. The least I can do is bring you along when we nail this prick,” was Mike’s reply when Sam tried to thank him.  “I wish I could let you taken him down personally but…rules are rules.  You’ll have to sit in the car but at least you’ll be there.” 
With hours to kill, Mike and Sam headed back to the main gate of Mystic Magill’s Big Top Carnival.  The entire department was on edge waiting for the private ticket show to begin. 
            For hours, Officer A.J. Sands had been trying to break through the binds on his wrists and ankles but his captors had emptied his pockets of anything sharp and the trunk was void of anything useful. He was hungry, thirsty and had no place to void his bowels and bladder.  For the first time, his smell actually matched his disguise and Sands felt his nose wrinkle in disgust.  When he finally heard noises and human voices just outside the trunk where he’d been entombed, he was feeling lightheaded and queasy.  When the lid finally popped open, A.J. was temporarily blinded by the harsh light.
            “Whew! The stench on this guy is brutal,” one of A.J.’s captors complained.  “Aw man, he took a dump in here.  Who’s gonna clean my friggin’ car?”
            “Quit your bellyaching,” his buddy chimed in, angrily.  “Unless you’d like to take it up with the boss man.” 
The complainer clammed up at the mere mention of his boss. He heaved the smelly man from his trunk and shook his head in disgust.
            “Don’t worry, man,” one of the captors muttered, patting A.J. on his shoulder.  “It’ll all be over soon.”  

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Freaks Come Out At Night- Part 26

     All through dinner, Jenny chattered excitedly about Mystic Magill’s Big Top Carnival.  The embedded phrase, “best place on Earth” routinely peppered her end of the conversation.  Opening night festivities were set to being in just a couple of hours and she could barely contain her enthusiasm.  Her cousins seemed doubtful and repeatedly tried to convince her that they had much better thing to do in the city than go to a silly old circus. 
     Sam’s thoughts were preoccupied, drifting to the other side of town and awaiting good news.  When the text message came through, it was what he had expected but he couldn’t help feeling just a little disappointed.
            Searched circus -no sign of Sands.  
            Bugs set in perps tent. So far so good!
Mike’s cryptic, choppy message pulled a tired smile across Sam’s face. He imagined Mike tapping it in with one finger in the “hunt and peck” method the older generation often used when attempting “new fangled” technology.  In spite of his disappointment, Sam tried to make the evening pleasant for Jenny’s sake even when she won out and they were all heading to Mystic Magill’s Big Top Carnival.  While Jenny and her cousins were in line buying the tickets, Sam made a quick phone call to Mike.
            “Look, I know you’re super busy but... Jenny got her way and we’re all over here at the carnival.  She’s going to convince your girls to go to Maven’s show. What do you want me to do?”
     Mike muttered a curse under his breath and then there was silence.  Eventually, he told Sam to keep quiet but not to let those girls out of his sight.  He just hoped none of them were given tickets to the “private” show. On second thought, Sam’s brain cried out, if we can score enough tickets, we can send in undercover officers.  After a quick text back to Mike, he agreed. It seemed like a long shot but if they could fake being under Maven’s spell then it could work. 
We have Maven’s ego on our side. He believes in his ability so much that he’d never imagine anyone could fake him out. 
Sam had watched the audience closely and he believed he could give pointers on how to appear under the spell.  He also had a good idea of the “profile” Maven looked for in his private show audience.  As fast as his fingers could move, Sam texted a description of the “look” that would draw Maven’s eye. Thirty minutes later, a small group of undercover officers dressed exactly to Sam’s specifications arrived at the main gate.  While Jenny and her cousins played games and took an elephant ride, Sam was giving a crash course to the officers.  They picked up the gist easily and from that point on, they were to have no more contact with Sam. 
            “They might remember me so I don’t want to risk tainting your cover by being seen with me.  Between now and the private show, I don’t exist to you, got it? Just remember, if you’re call on stage, no matter what… you can’t hesitate to do what he tells you, no matter how embarrassing, you gotta do it.”    
Sam wished them luck as they scattered off, attempting to blend in with the crowd. 
     As expected, Jenny dragged them all to Maven’s tent to see the show. Her excitement proved contagious and even the cousins waited in line with anxious enthusiasm, hoping at least one of them would make it on stage.  As they moved up the line and closer to the entrance, one of Maven’s assistants eyed Sam warily. 
            “Do I know you?”
            “Hey!  How’s it goin’?” Sam replied, cheerfully extending his hand.  “I didn’t know if you’d remember us.  I’m the knuckle-head private detective who accidentally set off all your equipment.  I’m still embarrassed about that! My girlfriend had such a great time she insisted that we round up her Philly cousins and head on out to see the show again.  I’m all clear this time….I promise.” Sam raised his arms in the air and stepped right up to the security wand. "This time I’m off duty and I’ll be able to enjoy the show.” 
     The security guards spent extra time waving their detection wands over every inch of Sam’s body.  When they finally determined Sam was clean, they allowed him to pass through.  Giggling, Jenny smiled and winked at the men scanning her.  As they took their seats, Sam casually looked around the tent for the undercover officers.  They had followed his advice and sat exactly where he’d suggested. He earnestly hoped his plan would work; Sands’ life just might hang in the balance.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Freaks Come Out At Night- Part 25

     Sam paced; watching as the clock on the wall tick off minutes while he waited for news about Officer Sands.  Knowing that Maven’s “gold ticket” show was the last of the evening did nothing to quell the panic gnawing at his insides.  Each time the phone rang, Sam’s heart leapt into his throat. 
            “Turns out, the only thing they found in Jersey was a stolen car with a beat up pair of size eleven boots in the back seat. The shoes belong to Sands but there’s no trace of him anywhere.”
Sam muttered a curse and racked his brain for a way to track down their MIA officer.  A dicey plan rattled around in his head for a few moments before he finally decided to pick up his phone.  Please let her be able to talk, Sam silently prayed.  On the third ring, a tentative voice said hello.
            “Tina, it’s Sam.  Can you talk?”
            “For a few of minutes, yeah, what’s up?”
            “I’ve got a couple questions….First; do you know if Maven’s lackeys sweep his tent for bugs, meaning transmitters, before each performance?  Second, how cooperative is your boss, BT, with the police?
            “Hmm, I don’t think anyone sweeps Maven’s tent because they don’t let anyone in there unsupervised…ever.  I guess if someone got in they might but it’s pretty well guarded.  As for BT, he really is a stand up guy. He’d do anything for local authorities without complaint, why?  You’re not planning on getting him into any trouble are you?  Seriously, that’s not cool, Sam. Leave BT alone. He’s a good man! He’d never hurt a soul and he sure as hell wouldn’t get involved with anything illegal!”
            “Whoa, calm down, Tina.” Sam interrupted.  “I have no intention of getting BT into trouble.  I was just thinking…suppose a concerned citizen called the local PD with a tip that they saw a wanted criminal sneak into the carnival to hide.  That would be just cause to search the place from top to bottom.  If nothing turns up, they could always drop some bugs in Maven’s tent.”
            “That’s brilliant, Sam!” Tina squealed.  “BT will gladly let them in, now we just have to hope they can catch Maven red handed.”
Sam relayed his plan to Mike and his superiors.  They weren’t as enthusiastic as Tina.
            “Look, I know you want to catch this creep but we’re bound by these little things called Constitutional Rights and upholding the law.  We can’t pretend to receive a phone call that we haven’t received.”
            “I understand completely,” Sam replied, pulling his cell phone from his pocket.  “Hello, police?  Yes, I just witness a strange man breaking in Mystic Magill’s Big Top Carnival.  He looked like one of the criminals from the wanted posters in the Post Office.” 
Both Mike and his supervisor tried not to laugh.  They failed.  Within minutes they were prepping the men and getting their paperwork in order. 
            “I gotta hand it you, Sam,” Mike laughed.  “Not too many people can manage to get our supervisor to crack a smile, let alone laugh.  You’re something else.” 
Sam smiled but, in his heart, all he cared about was catching Maven and finding Officer Sands before someone got hurt. 
     All available patrolmen and detectives sped across town to the site of Mystic Magill’s Big Top Carnival.  Despite Sam’s desire to go along and help, he feared one of Maven’s minions might recognize him so; instead, he took Jenny and her cousins out to eat.  Mike had promised to call with any news but that didn’t make it any easier to sit out on the action. 
     Just like Tina said, BT was more than cooperative.  Even though they were supposed to open in just a couple of hours, BT had the entire ensemble drop everything and assist the officers.  Mike and his team paid special attention to Maven and the lackeys.  While everyone involved in Maven’s show was being questioned at the main gate, Officer Bauer had slipped, unnoticed, into Maven’s tent and planted the transmitters.  He casually made his way back to the others without drawing any attention to himself.  By the time BT asked his employees to give the officers a guided tour, Bauer was back and not even Maven noticed that he’d gone.  Controlling the tour of his own tent, Maven had no reason to be suspicious.  Tina and her friends hoped it would stay that way.  If Maven discovered the bugs, their plan would be ruined but, even worse, if he suspected someone was on to him; he might become desperate.  

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Freaks Come Out At Night- Part 24

Hours before the grand opening ceremony for Mystic Magill’s Big Top Carnival, undercover officer A.J. Sands, disappeared from his post.  His partner radioed it in after Sands hadn’t checked in and a foot search came up empty. 
            “He was right here,” Officer Bauer insisted, pointing to the exact spot for his supervisor’s benefit.  “I only turned my head for a minute and he was gone.  Some preacher-guy came up and tried to offer me a booklet full of scripture verses. I shooed him off as quick as I could but Sands was gone when I finally got free of him.” 
            “Hmm, I wonder if that was deliberate. Maybe they’d already planned to grab Sands and they didn’t want any witnesses.  After all, Sands a good bit smaller than you, Bauer. If I was planning to abduct a homeless guy, I’d be inclined to grab the smallest one I could find.”   
Within minutes, Jenny’s uncle, better known as Officer Mike Higgins, was showing Sam how to use the tracking devices they’d sewn in the clothing of their undercover officers.  We’re coming for you, Maven, you sick, demented twist and when we do; you’d better pray that Sands is alive and well, Sam thought to himself.  Nothing short of an act of God would spare you if you hurt or kill a cop. As the tracker zeroed in on the chip’s location, Mike drummed his fingers impatiently. 
            “This doesn’t make any sense.” Mike muttered. “He’s nowhere near the carnival site.  According to this, he’s in Jersey.” 
Phone calls were made to the appropriate departments in New Jersey and a dispatch sent to the exact coordinates. 
     Officer A.J. Sands woke to a thumping head and scrambled brains.  His throat felt raw and scratchy while the inside of his mouth was Sahara-dry.  Attempts to open his eyes had resulted in blinding white stars bursting on sight.  He groaned, and tried to stretch.  That’s when he noticed the binds on his hands and feet. The dryness in his mouth, no doubt stemmed from the filthy rag someone had rudely stuffed halfway down his throat.  The chill on his feet told him his shoes, and the department’s tracking device, were gone. For the first time in his career, A.J. feared for his life.  Pull it together, man, Officer Sands' inner voice insisted.  You’ll never get out of here if you lose your cool

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Freaks Come Out At Night- Part 23

     Under the guise of showing Sam the city and giving Jenny “girl time” with her cousins, after dinner, Uncle Mike and every other relative associated with the local police force, took Sam down to the station.  He relayed every single detail he could remember to Philadelphia’s dedicated brotherhood in blue and, within the hour, Sam had more men and women at his disposal than he could have possibly imagined.  All surrounding departments in the Philadelphia area were on alert.  
     Meanwhile, Mike was trying to collaborate with Detective Todd Kelley and follow up on packages sent to the post office box address Sam had provided.  Just to be safe, patrolmen were ordered to round up any homeless people and get them to a shelter.  To replace the vagrants, undercover officers were staking out the alleyways and park benches.  If Maven really was snatching up street people and having them murdered just to prove he was the puppet master then he was going to be disappointed. Now, they played the waiting game.  

***Please return Monday, 2/24, for the next installment of The Freaks Come Out At Night***

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Freaks Come Out At Night- Part 22

     It was an unseasonably warm, sunny, autumn day when Mystic Magill’s Big Top Carnival rolled into Philadelphia.  Set up day was always busy and this one was no exception.  Tina, Clara, Manny along with his son, Manuel, GoGo, and Jared struggled to focus on the task at hand. Inside, they all wondered how Sam was going to catch Maven in the act.  As they worked, they sent each other silent messages: sideways glances, a wink, or a nod, all ways to say we’re in this together and we’re doing our part to help BT. 
     Across town, Sam was cementing his relationship with Jenny’s family.  It had been easy to charm her aunts and female cousins.  His boyish charm and disarming smile had them hooked from the first introduction.  Her uncles and male cousins were a tougher nut to crack yet there was something endearing about their blue-collar, family-first demeanor.  He’d gotten off on the right foot when he insisted on sleeping on the couch, rather than expecting to share a bedroom with Jenny.  His second brownie-point had been earned without even trying.  An offhanded remark about hating the New York Giants and he was in. 
            “You’re all right, there Sammy-boy,” Uncle Mike laughed, tossing him a beer.  “There’s nothin’ worse than raisin’ your kids right….teachin’ ‘em to be proud of their heritage and when they head out into the world; they turn their back on their own hometown.”
Mike’s impromptu diatribe inspired the clinking of beer bottles and a few scowls sent in the direction of his daughter, Heather.  Mike’s son Jeremy explained that Heather was dating a Giants fan.
            “There’s a picture of her up on Facebook wearing a Giants jersey,” Mike whispered.  ‘It’s quite the scandal.  Dad nearly had a heart attack.”
Note to self, Sam thought silently, Pick up an Eagles, Phillies, Flyers or any other Philadelphia team, tee-shirt while I’m here. Throughout the rest of the day, he’d managed to win over the remainder of her family.  He hated the thought that their approval might be lost the instant they heard about his case, and Jenny’s involvement. That evening, as Mike manned the grill, Sam had a private chat with him. 
            “So….Mike, Jenny tells me you’re a police officer.”
            “Yup, been on the force a little over twenty years now,” Mike responded while masterfully flipping the steaks and ribs on his grill. “So, if you don’t mind me asking, what made you decided to go rogue instead of joining the police force, Sam?”
            “You know, I never really thought of it as ‘going rogue’ before,” he answered, chuckling.  “I was with the police force for a while and I was shot in the line of duty.  They wanted to relegate me to as desk job after the injury and I wanted to stay active… so, I hung out my shingle and went into business for myself.”     
            “Good for you! Most fellas would more than happy to get out of the line of fire and play desk jockey.” 
As the conversation progressed, Sam got the distinct impression Mike’s opinion of him had elevated dramatically since their introduction, making it that much harder to divulge his true purpose for joining Jenny on her trip. Eventually, he sucked it up and blurted out the whole sordid tale. 
            “So, I’m guessing you’d like a little a help from our department to catch this SOB,” Mike replied.  “Lemme tell you something, it would be my pleasure to nail this freak.  I can’t believe he almost snatched five hundred dollars from our Jenny.  It’s a good thing you were thinking on your feet there and managed to save her cash.  Too bad the rest of those poor suckers didn’t have someone to do the same for them.  After dinner, I’ll make a few calls and we’ll just see what resources we can pull together.”
            “Thank you, sir,” Sam gasped.  “I thought for sure you’d be disgusted that I got Jenny tangled up in this mess.”
            “Well, I’m not particularly thrilled that she was potentially exposed to danger but you couldn’t have known there was some crazy-ass murder and extortion racket running out of a traveling circus for cryin’ out loud. I’m not sure hypnotizing someone and subliminally planting an order to send cash would technically classify as extortion but, geez, it’s gotta be something close.”

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Freaks Come Out At Night- Part 21

Sam had just hung up the phone when Jenny came up from the basement.  Her lips were pressed together in that all-too-familiar, thin, angry line. 
            “Those files are a disaster, Sam!  You should hire a part-timer to get that mess organized. I think I might have found the right crate but I’ll have to dig through it when I get back.”
Biting his tongue, Sam refrained from pointing out that she was the part-time employee and subtly asked where she was headed instead. 
            “I’ve got to stop by my place first, I forgot my wallet. Then I have to pick up my dry cleaning and, since it’s just next door, I’ll pop into Starbucks.  You’re running low on coffee and I know how cranky you get without ten cups of coffee every day. I’ve got to stop at the bank and the post office.  Then I figured I’d pick us up some lunch.  You in the mood for Chinese or would you rather have…”
The rest of Jenny’s ramblings went unnoticed.  It was so subtly slipped into her long “to do” list, Sam was glad he hadn’t missed it but there it was… “Stop at the bank and the post office”.  Even if she didn’t know what she was about to do, Sam certainly did.  He wasn’t going to see her flush five hundred dollars down the drain.  He stuffed a mailing label into his pocket and was at her side in a flash.
            “Ya know, I was thinking.  There’s not much going on today. How ‘bout if I come with you and, when your errands are done, I’ll take you out for a nice lunch? You like that new little bistro off Main Street, right?  Afterwards, we’ll head back to my place.  You were stuck in that dusty basement all morning so I’ll draw you a bubble bath and maybe give you a little foot massage.”
            “I thought you said that place was pretentious and overpriced,” she retorted playfully.  “And since when do you play hooky from work? What are you up to, Sam Cane?” 
            “Okay, okay, you caught me. I’ll fess up.” Laughing, Sam threw his hands in the air as if she’d been a police officer catching a criminal red handed.  “I haven’t met your family yet and I wanted you to be on cloud nine when you see them. You know, so they’ll approve of me.”
Jenny flung her arms around him and kissed him passionately.  She knew Sam could be a touch rough around the edges but Jenny’s suspicions were confirmed. He was just a diamond in the rough.  Her heart melted and, for the first time, she suspected he didn’t just care for her; he truly loved her.  Sam realized that there was more than a hint of truth to his words; he did want her family to approve of him. He suspected that, when his case was finally over, Jenny’s family might have mixed feelings about him. 
     Though highly out of character, Sam let Jenny drive.  His 1968 Shelby Cobra GT 500KR was his pride and joy.  He and his father had rebuilt it together and when his dad passed away, the car went to Sam.  He rarely handed over his keys and, to date, Jenny was the only female he’d ever allowed behind the wheel- though usually it was after he’d had a few too many drinks.  Today, he needed Jenny behind the wheel if his plan was going to work.  He glanced in the back and noticed a small box with a typed mailing label attached and a roll of packing tape next to it. It seemed probable that she was going to mail Maven his money but Sam planned to intercept it.  He said nothing when Jenny exited the bank, put several envelopes into the box and sealed it up.  It wasn’t until they pulled up to the post office that he made his move. 
            “Parking is always such a hassle here.  Tell you what, I’ll take your package inside and mail it. You just stay here with the flashers on.  If you see a police cruiser just go ahead and circle the block. I’ll catch ya when you swing back around.  Cool?”
Jenny agreed and thanked him profusely as he hopped out of the car. As soon as he got inside the post office he veered over to the side counter and set the package down.  He snapped a picture of the label with his phone and sent it to his pal, Todd, before affixing a new label with his home address on the package. Moments after paying the postage, his phone signaled a message.  Todd replied that he would look into the address and maybe he’d run it past an FBI buddy of his.  “Thanks!”  Sam typed back and breathed a sigh of relief. Next he picked up his phone and dialed a number stored under “recent contacts”.  The cheerful female voice that answered had a professional tone that suggested she didn’t recognize his voice or phone number. 
            “Tina?  Hey, it’s Sam”.
            “Oh, hello.”  She stammered.  “Um, I’m at work. I can’t really talk right now.”
 “Good!  I’ll talk. You listen.” Sam replied.  “I’m back on the case.  Jenny and I are headed to Philadelphia this weekend.  I have a buddy of mine from the local police department checking out the P.O. Box where Maven’s victims are sending their cash and I’ll be enlisting the help of the police in Philly too.  It won’t make me a popular guy but Jenny’s uncle and a couple of her cousins are cops. I’ll tell them everything and get their departments involved too.  Look, you guys don’t have to pay me. I tried to walk away but I just can’t let this go. Maven needs to be stopped and I won’t rest until he’s behind bars!”

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Freaks Come Out At Night- Part 20

Sam was quiet on the drive to his office but Jenny more than made up for his end of the conversation.  As she chattered away, he wondered how it had all gone so wrong.  Overwhelmed with feelings of failure, and the guilt of putting Jenny at risk, had Sam’s mind churning overtime.  Yet, in the midst, a plan sprang to mind.  It would require him to swallow his pride but Jenny was worth it.
            “Hey!  Did you hear what I said,” Jenny demanded.
            “Yeah, I didn’t think so,” she grumbled angrily.  “I’ll need to borrow your car at lunchtime. I have a couple of errands to run.”
            “Why do you need my car,” he asked.
            “Hello, my car is at my apartment, remember? You picked me up last night to go out and we spent the night at your place.  What’s with you this morning?
Sam muttered some excuse about not sleeping well and gave her a vague reply regarding the car.  A lot would depend on how far he progressed with his plan.  In order to keep Jenny nearby but also far enough away that she couldn’t overhear him on the phone, he sent her to the basement to dig out an old file on a past customer.  It was a cruel assignment, since his older records were a shambles and she’d have better luck finding a needle in a haystack but it had to be done.  Once she disappeared, he went into his office and shut the door.  He flipped through his stack of business cards until he reached Detective Todd Kelley. As a general rule, Sam tried to avoid the local police but this time he had no choice.  Todd was an old poker buddy so he could be trusted; however, that didn’t make the task at hand any less uncomfortable.  A part of him hoped his cop buddy would be too busy but he answered rather quickly.  After a brief exchanged of pleasantries, Sam got down to business. 
            “Listen, the reason I called is,” he paused for a moment as he peeked his head out the door to make sure Jenny was nowhere to be seen.  “Well, I uncovered something pretty serious while working a case for one of my clients and I didn’t really know who else to call.”
With his heart in his throat, Sam relayed the entire story to his friend.  When he finally finished his friend took a deep breath and sighed.
            “That’s one helluva story, Sam. I had no idea you were so creative.  Maybe you should write a book. Hey, I’m honored that you chose me to bounce your ideas off of…I mean, I’m assuming that’s what’s going on here because, as a detective, you know as well as I do, there’s this little thing called proof that we need to arrest someone for, I dunno, let’s say, murder, or fraud, reckless endangerment.  Even if this was true, I’ve got nothing to base an investigation on.  I’ve got your word against his. I can’t even count the Carney chick you were with since she was drinking.  If you had the recording, that would be different.  It’s inadmissible by law but still enough to give us a reason to investigate.”
            “What about the boxes of cash that are being sent to this jerk?  Can’t we nail him on that?”
            “Gimme the address and I’ll see what I can do, okay?” Detective Kelley grudgingly agreed.  “Tell me you have that, at least.”
            “Not yet, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to get it very soon.  Will you be able to get those poor saps their money back?”
            “Maybe,” Todd answered, though he doubted it.   

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Freaks Come Out At Night- Part 19

Tossing and turning, Sam wished for sleep to overtake him.  Instead his mind reeled, continuously replaying the evening’s events.  His clients had been understanding; they’d even offered to pay Sam for his time which he flatly refused.  It wasn’t the lack of pay that bothered him.  He’d never let down a client before and it was a bitter pill to swallow.  Hours passed and Sam was no closer to sleep than when he’d first rested his head on the pillow.  Across town, the concerned employees of Mystic Magill’s Big Top Carnival mourned their loss.  With no recording they couldn’t prove anything—especially not to BT and definitely not the police. 
 Unaware of the turmoil plaguing Sam and his clients, Jenny slept deeply and woke early, feeling refreshed.  She slipped silently out of bed and padded down the hall to the bathroom.  As the warm, steamy spray enveloped her body, a though popped into her head.  She made a mental note to stop by the bank and make a withdrawal.  While toweling off, another curious thought sprang to mind.  Without hesitation, she reached for her cell phone.
            “Good morning, sleepyhead!” Jenny sang into the phone.
            “Huh, wha….who is this?” A groggy voice answered. 
            “Duh! It’s your cousin, Jenny, silly.  Hey, what are you doing this weekend?”
Jenny’s cousin, Laura, sat up in bed and tried to clear her head of the delicious dream she’d been having before being so rudely woken.  She tried to focus as Jenny prattled on and on.  Her cousin had been blessed with the gift of gab from a very young age but she’d never called this early in the morning before.  I seriously need a couple o’ cups of coffee before I can deal with this kind of cheeriness, Laura thought sarcastically. 
            “Hang on a sec,” she interrupted.  “Are you seriously telling me you called at the crack of dawn to tell me about a flippin’ circus?  Jenny, ya know I love ya but I’m gonna kill you!  What the…?
            “Uh ah, don’t you do it!” Jenny blurted before Laura could complete her sentence.  “If you say what I think you’re about to say, you’ll be in trouble.  Aunt Ellen will skin your hide.”
            “Oh for God’s sake, Jenny, grow up! We’re not kids anymore. You’re not gonna tattle to my mommy and don’t you think I’m a little old for the circus?”
            “C’mon, it’s lots of fun. I swear; it’s the best place on Earth. Wait! I have an amazing idea…What if I come for the weekend? We can hang out, have a few laughs, relive our childhood and we’ll top it all off with a night at Mystic Magill’s Big Top Carnival. Whaddya say?”
Jenny’s enthusiasm was contagious and despite her earlier arguments, Laura was thrilled at the prospect of spending some quality time with her favorite cousin. 
            “Yay! This is gonna be so much fun.  I can’t wait!  I’ll call you tonight and we’ll work out all the details.”
It was Jenny’s squeals of excitement that woke Sam. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he stumbled down the hall and tapped on the bathroom door.
            “Everything okay in there, Hun?  I thought I heard a shriek.  Did you see another spider?”
Giggling, Jenny opened the door.  She planted a kiss on Sam’s cheek and assured him that everything was fine, perfect in fact. 
            “What time is it? He murmured, still trying to fully open his bleary, bloodshot eyes. “And why are you up so early?  I usually have to haul you out of bed kicking and screaming just to get to work on time.  So, what gives?
While Sam brushed his teeth and showered, Jenny filled him in on her plans for the weekend.          
            “I’m so excited.  I haven’t seen Laura in years.  You don’t mind if I go; do you, Sam?  I didn’t think to ask if you’d made any plans for us.”
Sam tried to weigh his words carefully. His gut reaction was to demand that she remain within his line of sight until those carnival freaks left town but he knew that wouldn’t bode well.  Instead, he told her he had been hoping to whisk her away on a romantic weekend for two. 
            “Maybe we can manage a little of both. Why don’t you come with me?  We can find a romantic little Bed & Breakfast place and I’ll get to introduce you to my cousins.  It’ll be great!”
            “Sure,” Sam replied.  “Sounds like fun…where does your cousin live?”
Please don’t say Philadelphia. Please don’t say Philadelphia, the chant repeated in over and over in Sam’s mind but his “talisman chant” did not ward off the evil of Maven’s commands.  His heart leapt into his throat when she replied, “Philadelphia” but he recovered quickly.
            “I’ve never been to Philly.  This should be…interesting.”
            “Oh, you’ll love it!” Jenny insisted.  “We’ll do all the fun touristy stuff: run up the Art Museum steps like Rocky, eat cheese steaks from Pat’s and/or Geno’s, get soft pretzels from street vendors, we’ll go to Independence Hall and…”
            “Whoa, slow down.  Let’s focus on getting to work first. Then we can plan out the weekend.”  

Friday, February 14, 2014

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We now return you to your regularly scheduled program. "The Freaks Come Out At Night" returning Monday, February 17th

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Freaks Come Out At Night- Part 18

It was shortly after midnight as Sam pulled up to his office.  Something seemed wrong yet he could not put his finger on it.  With a turn of the key, the motor cut off and the only sound was a soft click, click, click as his engine cooled.  He grabbed his briefcase and keys before opening the door.  It was the stark light from the overhead dome that finally registered the problem.
            “No, no, no, no, crap, crap, crap!” Sam grumbled as he dashed to the front door. “When did the freaking power go out?”
Up and down the entire street, not a single light was evident.  The streetlamps, neon signs, everything was pitch black.  With his heart in his throat, Sam fumbled with the keys. He exhaled sharply as the key found its home and the latch gave way.  The door swung open and, out of habit, Sam reached for the light switch.  Just then a hand landed on his shoulder and he let out a startled yelp.
            “Sorry about that,” a rugged male voice answered.  “We wanted to let you know we were here without startling you.  I guess we failed.”
Sam turned around and a shadowed group of stood behind him.  Clara held up her keychain and pressed a tiny LED flashlight.  The group was now highlighted in a bluish tint but Sam was able to recognize Tina’s face. 
            “Come on in. I’m sure I’ve got flashlights or something in here…somewhere.” Sam laughed. 
He rummaged through a storage bin and eventually uncovered two battery operated lanterns. 
            “Sorry, guys.  I had no idea the power went out.  Can I get you anything? Some water or cola?  Unfortunately, I can’t make any coffee.”
            “Mr. Cane, I don’t mean to sound ungrateful but we’re kinda on a time crunch here.  Could we just get that recording?” 
Manuel smiled and tried to keep his voice sounding light.  As the current “strong man” at Mystic Magill’s Big Top Carnival, he was painfully aware of how intimidating he could appear.  The others knew he was a big teddy bear just like his dad, Manny, but their investigator had not had the pleasure of getting to know him yet. 
            “Sure, I completely understand.  The only problem is…without electricity I can’t get the…”
Just then, the power kicked on and all of the electronic devices came to life.  Sam whispered a silent prayer, begging, pleading, that the power outage occurred after Maven’s show ended.  The look on his face said it all.  There was no recording. It seemed the cosmic forces were not aligned on the side of good. The expletives flying from Sam’s mouth confirmed it.  

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Freaks Come Out At Night- Part 17

As Sam sprinted back to Maven’s tent, horrific scenes flooded his mind like a “best of” reel from a thousand horror films.  He hated himself for putting Jenny in harm’s way. It wasn’t until he saw her stepping out from the doorway that his nightmare reel finally ended. 
            “Hey! Where have you been?” Jenny asked, brightly.  “I waited inside for a few minutes but then I remembered you came outside for me after the last show.”
            “You don’t remember?” He replied, trying to keep the terror from his voice.  “They wouldn’t let me in, Jen.  I was screaming to you from outside but I guess you couldn’t hear me.”  Or were programmed to ignore me, Sam thought silently.  “How was the show?”
            “I’m so glad you brought me here, Sam.  Mystic Magill’s Big Top Carnival is the best place on Earth!”
Bile rose in Sam’s throat but, before he could respond, his cell phone rang.  He recognized Tina’s number immediately but let it go to voicemail.  His number one priority was getting Jenny home safely. 
            “Why do we have to go so soon?  I’m having a great time, Sam.  I wish this night would never end.  Can’t we at least get a couple of corndogs and some funnel cake before we go?”
Sam sighed.  He didn’t want to set off any red flags but more than anything he wanted the night to end.  While Jenny got in line for her food, Sam checked his messages.  Tina’s recording was short and sweet, “Call me back right away”.  The line was long so he hit redial and before the ring had registered on his phone, Tina answered.
            “Is Jenny okay?”
Sam was touched by her concern, especially since they were his clients and had no real reason to care.
            “She seems okay but she has no idea what went down in there.”
            “Look, I rallied the troops and we need that recording ASAP.” Tina gasped.  We’re supposed to pack up in a couple of days so there’s no time to lose.  We can be at your office in an hour.”
            “Hang on, Tina.  I’ve got to get Jenny home and situated first.  Can we make it two hours?”
Sam disconnected the call just as Jenny returned with her bag full of food. Secretly, he wondered if Maven programmed them to eat as much as possible to boost sales for the food stands.  Despite her assertion that she was having too much fun to call it a night, by the time Sam had maneuvered his car out of the parking lot, Jenny was asleep.  Rather than dropping her off at her apartment, he took Jenny back to his place.  He tucked her into bed, left a note on the nightstand, and hurried back to his office.  

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Freaks Come Out At Night- Part 16

Once the applause died down, Maven had more orders for his lucky ticket-holders. 
            “Tomorrow, each of you will go to the bank and withdraw five hundred dollars in cash.  If you do not have five hundred dollars in your account, you will use your credit cards to get a cash advance.  Instruct the teller that you want small bills.  Repeat it back to me!”
Since the crowd repeated Maven’s instructions verbatim, he proceeded with mailing instructions and the address to a post office box.  Again, his puppets parroted back every word bringing a smug smile to Maven’s face.  He knew they’d obey, they always obeyed. 
            “In two days, Mystic Magill’s Big Top Carnival is pulling up stakes and heading to Philadelphia.  Call your family and friends in Philly.  Tell them they must go to the carnival and to see Maven’s show.  Get on Facebook, Twitter, and any other social media you peasants obsess over and spread the word. Mystic Magill’s Big Top Carnival is the best place on Earth!”
            “The best place on Earth,” the crowd droned. 
Inside Tina’s trailer, she and Sam stared, wide eyed, at the transmitter.  It took several minutes before either spoke.
            “That’s part of the act, right?” Sam demanded.  “Tell me that’s some kind of Carney prank and they did not just murder some helpless bum!”
            “I don’t know,” Tina sobbed.  “Just just don’t know.” 
            “I’m going to get Jenny,” he answered.  “Now!” 
Just as Sam stood to leave, Maven’s cold, sinister voice filled the tiny room again.  Maven gave a few parting instructions and an embedded memory about a fun-filled show before speaking the word that released his audience from their trance.  Tina and Sam were still listening when fists pounded on the door.  Tina froze, icy fingers of fear trailed up and down her spine. Her mind reeled, wondering if Maven could conjure demons from the pits of Hell to rip her apart for hearing what he’d done. 
            “Tina,” a feminine voice hissed.  “It’s me, Clara, open up!” 
Sam placed a comforting hand on Tina’s shoulder before rising to answer the door.  Tina’s sigh of relief when Clara actually entered was audible. 
            “Something terrible has happened, hasn’t it?” Clara asked, her voice was thin and wavering.  “I was babysitting my granddaughter and I caught a flash of something. It all happened so fast, I felt fear and pain then the baby woke, screaming.  I called my daughter to come get baby Chloe. I knew I needed to get over here ASAP.” 
            “Tina will fill you in,” Sam answered gruffly, pushing Clara out of the way.  “I’ve got to find Jenny!”

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Freaks Come Out At Night- Part 15

Breathless and panting, Sam arrived at Tina’s trailer and pounded on the door.  Fear was plastered on his face and Tina sympathized.  Blushing, she led him to her bedroom where she’d hidden the transmitter.  Sam was too preoccupied with concern for Jenny to notice Tina’s lascivious grin.  They turned the volume up and sat wordlessly, waiting for the show to begin. 
            “Can I get you a drink, Sam?”
She held up an empty beer bottle and gave her best impression of a game show model showcasing a prize.  He shook his head no and offered up a weary smile to his host.  Tina merely shrugged and disappeared to the kitchen for a refill.  By the time she returned, Maven had taken the stage. He spoke the password and instantaneously the entire audience fell under his spell again.  Since the only people to receive a ticket to the “select audience show” were the easy marks, there was no reason to weed anyone out.  Patrons highly susceptible to hypnosis were granted the coveted golden ticket because those were the ones who could be programmed to do Maven’s bidding.
   As always, Maven performed a test to ensure that every single one of his audience was completely under his power. His assistants, Alec and Drake, hauled a raggedy, homeless man to the stage. Though the man was bound and gagged, he still thrashed about, struggling against his captors. 
            “I want everyone to line up behind my assist Drake,” Maven commanded.  “Excellent.  Now, one at a time, kick the man on the floor as hard as you can.”
A wicked smile crept across his lips as one by one each of his puppets obeyed. Dull thuds, agonizing groans, and cracking bones blended together to create a bizarre symphony of pain. 
            “Now, I want the gentlemen to move to the left side of the stage, ladies on the right.” 
Maven walked over to the men, tapped the three largest on the shoulder and asked them to join him at center stage.  His assistants draped the men in plastic rain ponchos then handed each of them a dagger. 
            “Everyone, come close so you can get a good look,” Maven hissed.  “I wouldn’t want you to miss out on the fun.”
On Maven’s command, the three men stabbed the bound victim to death while the rest cheered.  

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Freaks Come Out At Night- Part 14

Jenny scarfed down her food, checking her watch even more often than Sam.  He noted the odd change in her behavior but didn’t think much of it until she was forcefully dragging him across the fairground to Maven’s tent.
            “C’mon,” she grunted, pulling on Sam’s arm.  “We’re going to be late.”
            “Well that’s a switch…you’re habitually late for everything.” Sam teased.  “Girl, you were even born late!”
Sam joked but in truth her tendency to be late had been the source of many arguments between the couple.  He finally resolved the issue by bumping up her “arrival time” by an hour or two so that she wouldn’t be late.  In light of her new compulsion to be on time, Sam wondered if hypnosis could resolve Jenny’s other annoying habits.  He fantasized about eliminating the way she popped her gum and, perhaps, even giving her a more positive self image.  How a girl that skinny can be convinced she’s fat is beyond me, Sam thought to himself.  He was still contemplating the finer points of behavior correction hypnosis when the line started to move.  Jenny handed over her ticket and stepped inside the tent.  The surly guard stuck his arm out, preventing Sam’s entrance. 
            “Where’s your ticket?”
            “I’m with her,” Sam insisted.
            “No ticket, no entry.”
Sam’s attempt to weasel his way in was met with steeled denial.  For the first time, Sam feared there might be something behind the claims of his clients.  After all, an act with nothing to hide wouldn’t have a slew of muscle-bound freaks guarding the tent and refusing admission to paying customers.  He screamed Jenny’s name through the doorway but she did not come back for him. 
            “Look, pal.” The bouncer snarled.  “That couple you’re supposed to be trailing isn’t in here and clearly your gal wants to see the show.  Move along or I’ll have you thrown out!”
Having no other choice, Sam backed away from the entrance and far from arm’s reach.   With his heart in his throat, Sam retrieved his cell phone and called Tina. 
            “Tina?  It’s Sam.  Jenny is inside that private show but they won’t let me in.  Have you been listening to the transmitter? Is she in danger?”
            “Honestly…I’ve been in and out.  My sister stopped by so I missed most of the show.  I have no idea what happened.  Why don’t you just come here and we’ll listen in.  It’s closer than driving all the way back to your office.”
Sam’s sigh of relief expressed his fears more than the words he’d spoken.  Tina gave him directions and he raced at high speed to her trailer.
            “Thank God Jenny doesn’t know about the transmitter in her earrings!”