“Go! Go! GO!” Mike barked into his radio. “Everyone move! Get inside that tent!”
Sam was forced to sit and listen as Mike dashed from the van and scores of undercover officers swarmed Maven’s tent. Through the earpiece, he heard the pandemonium: shrieks, shouts, and clomping feet, amplified. He imagined Maven and his cohorts scrambling to get away as Philadelphia’s finest slapped the cuffs on them. Inside, the scene was far more chaotic.
“Breach!” Maven snarled, just after the very first plant in his audience screamed, “Police”.
In a blink, the unfortunate souls under Maven’s spell reacted to his embedded command. They immediately attacked the undercover officers in their group. Those responding to Mike’s call received an unpleasant welcome as they stormed inside the tent. With fists and feet, Maven’s puppets lashed out at anyone who tried to get near their commander. As rapidly as possible, the offenders were snapped into handcuffs but that didn’t keep them from continuing their attack. They kicked, bit, and even head-butted until, eventually, enough back up arrived to contain the assailants.
“He’s on the run,” one of the officers screamed into his radio.
In the confusion, Maven managed to slip through the curtain. As he dashed through the fairgrounds, pieces of his costume fluttered to the grass below, to be trampled underfoot. To cover his jet black hair and help him blend into the crowd, he snatched a baseball cap from a nearby vendor’s table. Two patrolmen followed on foot, desperate not to let Maven give them the slip. They had him in their sights; pressing hard to close the gap between themselves and their quarry when Maven did the unthinkable. Realizing that the law was gaining on him, he launched his body into a crowd of people. Bodies flew in all directions; an elderly woman fell from her wheelchair and babies toppled from their strollers. A flailing teen on crutches crashed into a hotdog cart; spilling scalding, greasy water, overly processed meat-by-products, condiments and buns, everywhere. The domino effect was in full force, knocking a clown with a massive balloon bouquet down on top of screaming children. The officers had no choice but to assist the downed civilians. They radioed to their compatriots hoping somebody could intercept Maven in his attempted escape.
“Suspect, white male, black hair, dark eyes, approximately five-eleven, weighing one hundred fifty pounds now wearing black denim jeans and a black t-shirt.”
Defying Mike’s orders, Sam sprang from the van, sprinting full speed toward Maven’s suspected route. With flashing lights and blaring sirens, Philadelphia’s Police Department squad cars wove through traffic, speeding to assist. Vowing to reinstate his gym membership, Sam ran despite the cramps and his seemingly narrowing windpipe. Just as he was about to give up, he caught sight of Maven scrambling down the side of an overpass. Newly invigorated, Sam pressed on. Without taking his eyes off his target, Sam pulled his cell phone from his pocket.
“Call Mike,” he commanded to the voice dial option.
It took a few repetitions but eventually his phone obliged. Panting, he told Mike where he was and requested backup.
“You’re supposed to be in the van!” Mike bellowed, angrily. “Just what do you think you’re…”
Mike’s rant stopped dead. The distinct sound of gunshots choked the words before they escaped his lips.
“Sam? Sam! Oh God, please tell me you didn’t shoot him, Sam.”
There was no reply. Mike’s mind reeled with the implications. He shouted Sam’s name again but still there was no answer. Furious, Mike flagged down a squad car and hopped a ride. He fully expected to see Sam in cuffs and Maven’s dead body outlined in white. Instead, Maven was nowhere to be found and Sam was strapped to a gurney, blood pouring from the wound in his chest.
Every word was a struggle to produce. Sam’s face had paled and he struggled to keep his eyes open. The EMT placed a comforting hand on Mike’s shoulder and confirmed that they’d already injected Sam with something to ease the pain.
“Shh, don’t try to talk right now, buddy,” replied Mike as soothingly as possible. “They’re gonna patch you up and then.…then I’m gonna kick your ass! What were you thinking?”
“I’m no doctor but I don’t think screaming at him is gonna help much, Mike,” his partner interrupted.
Mike regained his composure and was permitted to ride along in the ambulance while the others continued the search for Maven.
In an attempt to plea bargain, Maven’s assistants not only spoke the command to release those trapped under their bosses spell, they spilled the beans. They revealed every single detail they could remember, incriminating Maven for everything from murder to extortion, blackmail and fraud. They could not; however, come up with anything to help the police find the man himself.
Sam had been fortunate. The bullets had not pierced any major organs or arteries. Despite his threats, Mike did not kick Sam’s ass after he recovered. Instead, he threw a huge bash the next time Sam and Jenny visited …to celebrate their engagement.
The negative press did irreparable damage to Mystic Magill’s Big Top Carnival. In wake of the scandal, BT had no choice but to close down and sell off all shares and assets associated with his beloved carnival. Using his own personal funds, anyone who filed a claim for damages, received compensation. Though he was no longer the owner; the spirit of Mystic Magill’s Big Top Carnival endured. All of the titles and equipment was purchased by BT’s original staff. The name, of course, was changed but BT was hired on as the ring leader. He changed his appearance and went by Big Bill or BB but being a part of the circus was all he’d ever wanted. His joy was beheld by all, in each and every performance. Tina made sure to send Sam and Jenny an invitation to the grand opening of their brand new circus: Chancley, Bankes & Deene Family Traveling Circus. A wonderful time was had by all.
In spite of a strenuous search and a joint venture with the FBI, Maven was never found. It was discovered that he had used a fake ID when he applied to Mystic Magill’s Big Top Carnival. Even the rentals on the various PO Boxes where victims had mailed in their cash yielded no results. The original owner of the boxes had all died, possibly even by Maven’s hand, but there was no connection between the box holders. Eventually, the hunt ended and the manpower reassigned to other, more pressing, cases.
ONE YEAR LATER: A scraggly man with a shock of platinum blonde hair sprouting from darker roots, stroked his greasy goatee as he absorbed the ambiance of his surroundings. A fleabag traveling carnival with rusted, deathtrap rides and plywood stands for rigged games sagged under the recent downpour that had tapered to a gloomy drizzle. He pushed through the unlocked gate, looking for a sign of life.
“We’re closed,” a surly man slurred before taking another swig from a lukewarm can of beer.
“I’m looking for the owner,” he replied with a commanding tone that didn’t suit his emaciated frame. “I can assure you, he wants to see me. Tell him, I come bearing an offer to help turn this pigsty into an event to rival Ringling Brothers in their heyday.”
Shrugging, the disinterested guard staggered off in search of his boss. As he waddled off, the man at the gate smiled.
“Dance, puppet,” he hissed. “Dance. Soon, I’ll own you all.”