Four Clowns of the Apocalypse
by Jay Lake
"Forty brass ducats a day!" Bubbles, the
Red Clown of War, was in rare form as the concrete floor under him began to
crack and steam. "I don't bother to fart beneath the fucking sheets
for forty brass ducats! I'm a God-damned Force of Nature, laying waste to
cities and tearing people's colons out through their noses. Governor or
not, the Demon Malathion can go roast his weenie for forty God-damned ducats
a day. Somebody's killing mimes, for Christ's sake. Mimes! Give
that bastard a medal, I say. I'm not going to track them down."
Iggy, the Weedy Clown of Famine, took a
deep draft off his cigar. "Now that that's out of the way, can we
consider some constructive suggestions for finding out who murdered Marcel
Emmaus? Let me remind you that we need the rent money. Even Forces of
Nature have to sleep somewhere." The clowns leased the otherwise abandoned
premises of Bailey Gum and Novelty at a steep discount, but the terms were
cash only, due at the first of every month.
Mungo, the Green Clown of Pestilence, spat
a blob of lumpy green tissue into his hand, glanced at it briefly, then
tossed it over his shoulder. "Coroner's report. I'll go get it. I get
great service down there."
"I'll bet," muttered Iggy. More loudly,
"You need a ride?"
Mungo pushed back his chair. "I'll take my
Jojo, the Pale Clown of Death, tapped his
temple. "Wear a helmet this time. I'm not Silly Puttying you back together
Mungo limped out of the room. Iggy looked
at the other two clowns, the Red and the Pale. "Fine. Coroner's report
will help. Probably not much point in getting a police report, since the
cops are already stonewalling the governor. What else?"
"Our original note from the mimes said
Emmaus was murdered at his mansion on Mount Kelly," said Jojo. "We should
go look, before the souvenir hunters drag everything away."
Bubbles jumped up. "I'll go bust some
Iggy raised his hand, palm out. "Whose
heads? How will that help?"
"Does it matter? Busting them makes me
Jojo stepped around the table, placing
chrome claws on Bubbles' shoulder. "You're coming with us, fat boy. I'm
sure there'll be something you can destroy at the mansion."
* * *
Every time Iggy found a good deal on a
Cadillac or an old school bus, it always fell through. Every time Bubbles
laid waste to one of their Yugos in a fit of pique, another one turned up.
And even without Mungo, the Yugo was crowded. Bubbles had to squat sideways
to fit in the back, while riding shotgun Jojo's knees rubbed against his
chin. The shocks creaked like a trap door. The duct-taped plywood patch on
the roof above the driver's seat leaked like a trick corsage -- insurance
companies had lost no time in finding policy exclusions to keep from paying
out to repair Rapture damaged roofs.
The little Yugo strained up Auguste Way.
Mount Kelly loomed just west of downtown Barnum, a round-shouldered mesa
sprinkled with pines, elms, maples and dozens of expensive, misbegotten
conceptions of desirable landscaping.
"Nice view," Jojo commented as the car
lurched around a hairpin curve, clipping a low retaining wall to send
plastic shards of bodywork bouncing hundreds of feet below.
The smog-bound city lay before them,
scattered buildings rising from indistinct obscurity like teeth from a
rotted gum. Gray estuarine waters stretched in the distance, dotted with
occasional trawlers. Only a few building fires blazed around town.
Iggy swung the Yugo left onto Kelly Loop.
"Forty Two Kelly Loop, let's see . . . eight . . . ten. We're going in the
A massive red paw grasped the back of the
driver's seat, causing it to shift as the floor bolts threatened to shear
off. "Don't see no cop cars," rumbled Bubbles. "Where's the murder?"
The truck shuddered to a halt in front of a
set of wrought iron gates with the initials 'ME' worked in the design in an
offensively florid script.
Iggy studied the gates for a moment. "No
police tape, no crime scene investigation. Well, it says Forty Two. Jojo,
go see if they're locked."
Bubbles shoved Jojo's seat forward,
plastering the Pale Clown of Death against the windshield with his knees
around his ears, then squeezed out the door through the resultant narrow
aperture. "I'll do it." The Yugo popped up on its suspension as the
Red Clown of War left.
Iggy and Jojo watched Bubbles stump to the
gates. He grabbed the right hand gate, perhaps ten feet high and fifteen
feet long, and yanked upward. It tore loose with a squeal, the bars bending
around Bubbles' grip. Bubbles hefted the gate, then tossed the whole thing
over the ivy-covered wall that had anchored its hinges. He then kicked the
left gate so hard it bent almost double as it swung back.
Iggy ground the Yugo into gear and crept up
the drive, trailing Bubbles' advance. Jojo stared around the grounds of the
"Iggy, 'ME' seems a tad egotistical to put
on your gates. Even for a mime."
"Marcel Emmaus, Jojo. Head
mime and general pain in the ass. Ran a lot of organized crime." Iggy
paused, clearly considering his next words. "Mimes never squeal, you know."
They rolled slowly after Bubbles, who
slowed every few steps to sniff the air with his bulbous nose. As the drive
curved to the front of the pillared plantation style mansion, Bubbles broke
into a lumbering run, then sped up to an eye-blinding blur.
"Shit." Iggy shoved the accelerator down,
chasing after Bubbles. The car almost made it to walking speed.
Bubbles went through the oak and glass
front doors like they weren't there. Iggy stopped the Yugo just short of
the pillars lining the porch, then he and Jojo bailed out to chase Bubbles
into the mansion through the still-settling cloud of wood and glass
Bubbles stood with one red-booted foot
planted on a feathered wing. His hands held the other wing, the arched
manlike body of a mal'akh, or messenger angel, hanging between the
forcibly outspread wings. Bubbles pulled one of the great white pinions out
as the angel screamed.
Iggy groaned. "Oh, Christ, Bubbles, he's
one of the Good guys. You couldn't just pull the wings off some flies?"
"Thought I smelled something a little too
clean from the driveway. What's this little brown-noser doing hanging
around the place, that's what I'd like to know." Bubbles yanked another
yard-long pinion as the angel continued to screech. He flicked the feather
at Iggy, who watched it glitter and gleam as it rolled in the air of Emmaus'
hallway. The feather seemed in no great hurry to tumble to the ground.
The angel rolled its violet eyes,
white-rimmed in panic. "Get this monster off me. Please. I'll do
anything. I'll pass the word for you guys upstairs. Oh, God--" It
"Bubbles." Jojo's voice was flat. "We'll
never get anything out of him if you can't control yourself."
Bubbles sneered. "Oh yeah. Forty brass
ducats. Pay the rent. Right." The Red Clown dropped his grip, but ground
his heel further into the other wing, keeping the angel pinned.
Iggy looked around at the polished granite
floor, the twenty-foot ceiling, the oil paintings, the grandfather clock --
visual props of a successful life. He shook his head. "What's a mime doing
with a place like this?" He glanced down at the angel. "For that matter,
what's a featherweight like you doing in a place like this?"
The angel gasped, eyes still rolling. "I
don't understand how you could catch me. No mortal man should even see me."
Iggy smiled, his toothiest grin. "Let's
just say we're close personal friends of Agnus."
"Shit." The angel slumped its head against
the wing Bubbles was still torturing. "I know who you are. Aren't there
supposed to be four of you? With armor and horses?"
Bubbles' voice rumbled like dysentery
looking for an exit. "Pestilence took his skinny green ass down to the
coroner's office. Which is where you're likely to be real soon."
"And don't ask about the armor and stuff."
Iggy rolled the stump of his cigar around in his mouth. "Things didn't work
out quite the way we'd expected."
"But you guys are . . . uh . . . you know .
. . ." The angel stammered to halt.
Bubbles gave a shove to the wing under his
boot. "Clowns?" He made it vile, filthy, a curse.
"Oh shit," gasped the angel. "I swear, I
wasn't going to use that word."
"Enough," said Jojo. "What were you doing
"Emmaus, he doubled for us sometimes." The
angel closed its eyes, sobbed softly for a moment. "Control sent me down
here to see what happened to him."
Bubbles jeered. "Not a sparrow falls,
birdbrain. We may be clowns, but we're not goofy."
"It's different now, since Agnus popped the
Seals. I swear, half the people on Earth don't even know the world ended,
the other half couldn't care less. But ever since the Rapture . . . well,
Control doesn't see everything as clearly as it used to. Too much Hell on
Iggy tapped one large white shoe,
thinking. "What did Emmaus do for you?"
"Information, a few names. Safe house,
sometimes, for one of our guys on the run. You can use mimes to hide a lot
of stuff." The angel smiled, his glorious dental work radiating Heavenly
peace. "Nobody ever blabs, for one thing."
"Yeah, we know," said Iggy. "But your guys
didn't off him?"
"Why?" The angel seemed genuinely
puzzled. "We don't off people. Besides, what good would that have
done?" It shrugged. "That's what I know."
"Good enough for me," said Bubbles. "Iggy,
you want I should cap this gusher now?"
Iggy glanced at Jojo, who shook his head,
then answered. "Let him go, Bubbles. No point in pissing off Control.
Besides, we might need this chump again some time. Jojo, you grab those
stray feathers. Mal'akh, you got a name?"
"Malachi Constant," the angel muttered.
"Oh, good one." Jojo laughed. "Eternal
messenger. We've got your feathers, see? As I understand it, we light one
of these things on fire, you come running."
Malachi nodded, glum. "Yeah. I hear it
hurts like Heaven, too."
Pulling his foot away, Bubbles reached down
to toss the angel up into the air. "Split, small fry. You'll know when we
The angel spread its wings with a snap,
then flew out the smashed double doorway, skimming the frame with its
"Shall we search the house?" Jojo said.
They spread out, War looking for signs of
violence, Death for evidence of Emmaus' passing and Famine for what might be
* * *
Iggy surveyed Emmaus' vast bedroom
upstairs. In addition to a waterbed big enough for its own zip code and
some really bad religious art on the walls, the dead mime had a lot of weird
toys -- wind machines, glass boxes and the like. The Weedy Clown couldn't
figure if they were sex toys or what. And something smelled funny -- oily
and neutral at the same time, but he couldn't quite put a puffy white finger
"In the house!" Someone outside was
shouting on a loud hailer, words masked by ear-splitting feedback. "Come
out with your hands up!"
Oh, crap, thought Iggy as a helicopter
chattered over the house. The mime must have had a silent alarm. Iggy was
worried about what Bubbles would do to the cops. He raced out of the room and
down the stairs.
The Red Clown of War stood on the terrazzo
tile of the front hall, hyperventilating as he prepared to charge out the
shattered door. Jojo ran in from the kitchen just as Iggy got a hand on
"Keep a lid on him," Iggy said to Jojo.
The Pale Clown of Death dug chrome steel claws into Bubbles' other elbow.
"Blow that for a kettle of dwarves," said
Bubbles, staring out the door. "Come out with my hands up. I'll show them
their hands, inside out. Nobody tells me what to do."
"What we do, Bubbles," said Iggy, "is I go
to the door and explain to the nice policemen they should go away before you
hurt them. Simmer down, you can come look threatening. But don't start any
fights unless I say so."
Jojo jerked his head toward the door,
mouthing the word "go" at Iggy. Iggy went.
* * *
There were about forty cops outside in the
driveway, with an armored personnel carrier and a helicopter in support.
Iggy wondered how they'd gotten the APC up the mountain. Police
Commissioner Millard Sicola stood behind a translucent riot barrier with the
"Millard," said Iggy. "What are you
"Oh, it's you," echoed from the loud
Iggy marched to the riot barrier, gave it a
hard yank to pull it down -- along with the three cops bracing it -- grabbed Sicola's loud hailer and twisted it four times to make a crumpled
metal-and-plastic daschund. "Here," the Weedy Clown said as he handed it
back, "turn that damned thing off."
Sicola looked at the balloon-shaped ruin in
his hand. "That was city property," he said in a small voice. "You can't
do that kind of thing."
"Try me." Iggy grinned his best famine
grin, a hollow rictus of starvation and rotten teeth that contrasted
horridly with his wide ruffled collar. "Governor Malathion tells me the
Brotherhood of Mimes sustained a terrible loss. Police don't seem to be too
Recovering his spunk, Sicola grinned back,
a pallid imitation of Iggy's soul-searing leer. "I have it on highest
authority Governor Malathion won't be around long enough to care."
As the cops around them started to pack up
their riot gear, Iggy thumped a puffy white finger into Sicola's chest.
"Hell may be headquartered in New Jersey, but this is Barnum. Infernal
politics aren't our problem, living here is our problem." He glanced down
at his own costume. "So to speak. Now, is Emmaus dead or ain't he?"
"Ask the coroner."
"We are," said Iggy. "But you don't seem
to be producing a police report or nothing, and you're awfully quick to call
out the troops to defend a dead man's place. So tell me, where do you store
your hostages? The ones the cops snatch and don't book?"
Bubbles and Jojo stepped up to each side of
Iggy, an overwhelming kaleidoscope of color, aggression and power in the
Sicola's voice developed a squeak. "Cops
don't do that kind of thing."
Jojo leaned in, tapping on Sicola's chest.
His claws snagged and tore at the worsted wool weave of the Commissioner's
suit coat. "Good cops don't. All the good cops went to Heaven,
remember? Now it's just you bad cops."
"And us fucking Forces of Nature," added
Bubbles. He gave Sicola's shoulder a squeeze, the grinding bones audible
even over the clatter of the cops packing up. The boys in blue studiously
ignored their boss's conversation with the clowns.
Sicola gasped, trying to step back against
the Red Clown's grip. Bubbles leaned over and whispered in his ear, "Now
cough up the God-damned mime, or I'll give you a loud-hailer enema. From
the top downward."
"Oh Christ almighty, if I had a mime
I'd give him to you." Sicola gasped, fighting tears. "We're not
holding any mimes. And if my boys picked one up, I'd know. Mimes are hot
Jojo grabbed Sicola's chin, tilting his
face to examine the man's eyes. Beads of blood stood out where the Pale
Clown's chrome tipped claws broke skin. "Hot?"
"Word came down, lay off mimes. Some kind
of problem going on."
"From New Jersey?"
"Channels." Commissioner Sicola was
defiant even as the last of his cops drove away. "Word came down through
Jojo squeezed Sicola's chin a little
harder. "No mimes?"
"Enough," snapped Iggy. "He's not this
good a liar. Let's go."
"Remember," rumbled Bubbles as he gave
Sicola's shoulder a farewell squeeze, "don't fuck with Mother Nature."
The three clowns wedged into their Yugo and
puttered past the Commissioner, who was alone now except for his driver
leaning against a limo parked across the street. The driver gave Iggy a
wave, so Iggy tootled the little horn bolted on where the outside mirror
used to be.
* * *
The Yugo lurched back down the steep slope
of Auguste Way, brakes smoking. The smog had cleared somewhat, revealing
more of the indifferent city. Bubbles was in the back again.
"Nothing," grumbled the Red Clown. "I
can't fucking believe it. That was no crime scene. No body, no chalk
marks, nothing. The commissioner was worried about something, but it wasn't
us disturbing evidence."
"Nobody died in that house," Jojo said. "I
would have known."
Iggy watched the road, simultaneously
thinking about the plunging drop ahead of him and the missing body. "The
house was a bust, the cops were a bust. Maybe Mungo had better luck at the
Bubbles giggled. "It wasn't a total loss.
At least we got the angel feathers."
* * *
Back at Bailey Gum and Novelty, Mungo's
eyes leaked a particularly rancid bluish fluid. He wiped his face with a
square of green silk, into which he coughed before pocketing it. The Green
Clown grinned, poking at the handkerchief. "Some people really dig these.
Kind of a specialist market, though."
"Fine, fine." Iggy chewed his cigar.
"Everybody's got to have a hobby. What'd you find at the coroner's?"
Their underground home stank more than
usual, due to Jojo and Bubbles' attempt at cooking. Mungo had brought home
an enormous capybara, claiming it was road kill. Iggy had said it looked
more like a rabies casualty, but that only stoked the interest of the Red
and Pale Clowns.
"There's a dead mime over there, but it
Iggy shook his head. "I don't see how it
works yet, but that jibes with what we didn't find at the house. How
certain are you?"
"You can't get prints off a mime, the
gloves are permanent just like ours, but you can run gene scans.
Coroner just happened to have a genetic assay file on Emmaus he got from
Barnum Tech. Seems just before the Rapture, Emmaus was volunteering in a
life extension research project. Afterwards, well, he got that mime gig as
his Affliction. No more need for life extension."
Iggy shrugged. "Hey, it could have been
worse. That's embarrassing, but not nearly as painful as some we've seen."
"Yeah, well, apparently before the Rapture,
Emmaus was a big wheel, pillar of the community, deacon of the church.
Coroner's aide worked on the assessment project. The aide ran into Emmaus a
week after the Rapture, Emmaus said he'd been left behind by accident. The
tech brought all the life extension files with her when the demons shut down
"So we got a guy who really wants to go to
Heaven, maybe carrying a grudge about being missed in the Rapture. Suddenly
he turns up dead, only we got no crime scene, no body, just a messenger
angel skulking the halls looking for clues." Iggy drummed the table.
"Looks like Emmaus doubled on everybody. But who reported him dead?"
Mungo scratched his forehead, scraping off
some greenish skin. "Whoever dropped the body. Which my little friend at
the coroner's office told me was two cops who forgot to sign the log. No
names, no badge numbers, just a couple of blues with an unmarked car."
"They simply showed up with some random
dead mime and said, 'Here. This is Emmaus.'"
"Basically, yeah." Mungo scrubbed the
inside of his left nostril with a cracked fingernail.
Iggy leaned back, staring at the concrete
beams of the ceiling. He chewed on his cigar, trying to ignore the stench
of burnt capybara. "Why the Heaven would the cops do that? Do you suppose
it was something the big bosses back in New Jersey wanted, or just everyday
* * *
Bubbles giggled around a mouthful of
indifferently cooked capybara. "How do you keep a dead mime from smelling?"
The other three clowns exchanged pained
"Cut off his fucking nose, eh?" The Red
Clown roared with laughter, spewing shredded meat across the scarred metal
Jojo wiped down the area around his plate.
"A more pertinent question is perhaps, 'How do we know when a mime is really
Iggy snorted. "It's not like they're any
quieter. I guess they move around less."
Jojo stopped wiping the table. "That
angel, Malachi, he said Control sent him down to see what had happened to
Emmaus. They'd know if he was dead."
Bubbles grabbed the feathers from the
sideboard, each the size of a large slapstick. "We got these," he said,
brandishing them like swords. "Call that little flying monkey back, break
some bones until he makes Control tell us where Emmaus went."
Iggy tapped his soggy cigar on the table.
"For Hell's sake, Bubbles, you'd set fire to a haystack to find the needle
in the ashes. Malachi told us Control couldn't see him. It's the mime, I
tell you. Something about mimes. This doesn't fit together right."
Jojo gave Iggy a sidelong stare. "Mimes
are clowns in white face who never, never talk."
"Right." Iggy shoved his cigar back in his
mouth. "And nobody ever puts on whiteface, on account of all the people who
got Damned into it for ever after the Rapture. We're lucky, we got some
power -- most of those poor clowns are just victims waiting to happen." He
spat out some ragged brown paper. "Mungo!"
The Green Clown snorted, raised his head
from between his knees where he had been draining his sinuses. "What?"
"Your friend at the coroner, she told you
Emmaus 'said' it was a mistake? Were those her exact words?"
Mungo rolled his eyes in thought. "Yes,
she used 'said'."
"As in 'spoke'?"
"Voice," said the Green Clown. "You're
asking if he had a voice."
Iggy slapped the table. "Damnation! It's
all about whiteface. That's what I smelled in his bedroom. Cold cream.
The only thing Emmaus would use cold cream for was to strip off his grease
paint. He was never a mime, he just faked it. That's why there's no body.
Emmaus could be anyone, anywhere, now."
Bubbles grinned, all toothy fangs and
scarlet tongue. "Told you we can't ever trust a mime."
Iggy snapped his puffy white fingers. "Now
I want to talk to that damned angel again. We might even need his help.
Jojo, you've got that feather of Malachi's. Who's got a light?"
"Oh." Bubbles looked remarkably pleased.
* * *
The stench of the burning feather filled
their underground lair, like hair on fire but gamier. Bubbles waved the
flaming pinion around, chuckling. "Come on bird brain, I know you can feel
The metal table jumped as the angel fell
out of thin air to slam into it. "Jesus Christ, put that thing out!" the
angel screamed. "And I think I broke my God-damned arm."
Jojo yanked the angel off the table,
slamming it into the floor. "That's no way for a messenger of Heaven to be
talking now, is it?"
Malachi whimpered in the Pale Clown's
chrome tipped grasp. "What do you psychos want from me this time?"
"Emmaus is alive," said Iggy. "And Sicola
knows all about it. That's why they scrambled to his place when we busted
in. He didn't want it disturbed, didn't want his secret stash of cold cream
found. Emmaus just stripped off his whiteface and walked away."
The angel looked confused. "Emmaus isn't a
"Nah." Iggy glanced down at Malachi's
beautiful violet eyes. "He made the mistake, early after the Rapture, of
talking to someone. None of the Damned mimes can talk, not ever. He's been
hiding behind the whiteface ever since."
"He doubled on Control," said Malachi.
Iggy nodded. "Emmaus doubled on
everybody. And he finally sold out for good to New Jersey so someone with a
grudge could push Malathion out of the governor's chair here. Emmaus offed
some poor Damned mime about the same size as Emmaus, to get a legit body,
then New Jersey told the cops to back off, just in case they stumbled over
any real clues. Nobody knew there was a gene assay around to blow his
cover. Hell, Emmaus probably didn't know the coroner had those files.
Barnum Tech's been closed a couple of years.
"Without the gene tags, everybody in town
would have figured it was Emmaus on the slab, and been running around
looking for the killer. Malathion looks like he can't handle his territory,
New Jersey sends him back to pits of Hell, and someone political gets the
job." He grinned in admiration. "Is that murder, suicide or a
murder-suicide? Heaven of a crime, whichever way."
"I don't fucking get it," said Bubbles.
"What did New Jersey offer Emmaus? He was a big man here, nice house, ran
the Brotherhood of Mimes. What would be worth him ditching this?"
Malachi smiled, face glowing like a sunbeam
on an altar. "I might know. Emmaus had been holding people for Control,
but Control wouldn't let him ascend to Heaven. The big guys in Hell that
moved to Jersey, they talk all the time under the rose to some of the
seraphim and cherubim. Drinking buddies from way back, before.
You know. I'll bet someone in New Jersey copped an Indulgence from on high
and offered it to Emmaus to sell out Malathion."
Jojo rattled his claws against the table.
"And Emmaus would know a real Indulgence when he saw one, because he'd been
running a safe house for your people. So he'd know New Jersey wasn't
"Control's not going to like this," said
Malachi. "Not if there really is a loose Indulgence out there. So where's
Bubbles growled. "Funny. Sicola even told
us the truth. He wasn't holding a mime. He just had Emmaus."
Iggy grabbed the keys to the Yugo. "God, I
hate to be wrong. We're going down to the cop shop. This time, no more
mister nice clown."
* * *
The Four Clowns of the Apocalypse, plus a
representative of the Heavenly Host, stormed police headquarters in their
Yugo. The little car rattled up the marble steps and bounced off the
brass-bound doors. The four clowns piled out, Mungo and Jojo jamming into
one another in the doorframe as Bubbles ripped open the hatch and unfolded
the angel from the tiny trunk.
They kicked their way into the building
through the sprung doors. Three cops with riot shotguns stood in the lobby,
alarms ringing in the hall behind them. Bubbles' red boots echoed on the
marble floor as he walked right up to the cops and said, "Hold it."
They held it.
One by one, the Red Clown of War took the
weapons from the unresisting police officers and tied the barrels into
bows. "Boys shouldn't play with toys." He laughed. "It's good to be a
fucking Force of Nature."
"We've just made an appointment with
Commissioner Sicola," said Iggy. "We'll see ourselves up." The cops broke
and ran, leaving behind them the hot smell of urine.
The clowns raced up the stairs. Malachi
flew with them, gleaming like a full moon to flood the station with silvery
light. Bubbles snagged one of the angel's wings, nearly spilling Malachi
out of the air as the Red Clown said, "If you start singing 'Onward
Christian Soldiers', I'll rip your God-damned wings off."
"Save it for Emmaus," the angel snapped.
The two cops on duty in front of Sicola's
office fled down the hall when the four clowns cleared the stairwell in the
company of an angel. Bubbles kicked open the door.
Sicola was on the phone. His steward
was opening the window behind Sicola -- it was the same man who had been driving
the limo earlier. The Commissioner slammed down the handset. "I've been
talking to New Jersey about this case. You boys might want to consider
Iggy pulled the stump of his cigar from his
mouth. "We're not after you, Sicola. Not yet, anyway."
"Get away from that window, Emmaus,"
rumbled Bubbles, "or I'll make you wish you'd jumped."
"I've got an Indulgence!" Emmaus shouted.
He waved a sparkling silver token in one hand. "I can go to Heaven.
There's my pick-up, right there!" He pointed at Malachi Constant. "Take me
"Emmaus." The angel's voice was gentle.
"Who killed the other mime? The body they said was yours?"
Emmaus looked around the room, at the four
clowns and the angel, then at Commissioner Sicola. "Doesn't matter." He
clutched the token to his chest. "I've got an Indulgence. Christian
forgiveness and everything."
"Control would never let me bring in a
murderer," said the angel.
Emmaus spread his arms to fall backward out
of the window. Bubbles leaped across Sicola's desk, a red blur like he had
been at the mansion. The Red Clown grabbed Emmaus' ankle as the mime
slipped from view. There was a resounding crack as Emmaus' head slammed
into the wall below the window.
Bubbles dragged Emmaus over the sill,
taking no care to be gentle. "We're hauling you in front of the governor,
friend, to be charged with the murder of Marcel Emmaus, chief of the
Brotherhood of Mimes."
Sicola protested. "You can't arrest a man
for his own murder."
"Two of Barnum's finest i.d.'d a corpse to
the coroner's office as Emmaus," said Iggy. "That ought to satisfy
Malathion. Probably go over pretty well in Jersey, too, once it's a done
deal." The Weedy Clown stuck his cigar stump in the Commissioner's mouth
and lit the soggy thing. "Sit tight, Sicola. Things will blow over."
As they walked out the door, Bubbles
dragging Emmaus by his heels, Jojo tapped Malachi's arm. "Is that true,
about murderers and Heaven?"
"Don't be ridiculous. Of course not. The
place would be half-empty. I just wanted to buffalo him out of presenting
the Indulgence. Control wouldn't want him now." Malachi's smiled was
radiant moonlight. "Speaking of that, where is the Indulgence? Control
would like that back."
"Don't worry about it, bird brain. Part of
the cost of doing business with us." The Pale Clown grinned at the angel,
dark teeth sharp against his ebony lips. "And if you decided to make a
fuss, remember, we've still got one of your feathers."
Behind them, the muffled thump of Iggy's
cigar exploding echoed from Sicola's office. "Another problem solved," said
Iggy. "Let's go cash in our mime."
About the Author:
A fifth-generation Texan now transplanted
to the Pacific Northwest, Jay Lake is the 2004 Campbell Award winner. His work
appears in major markets worldwide, as well as his collections Dogs in the
Moonlight, American Sorrows and Greetings From Lake Wu. His
new novel Rocket Science is just out from Fairwood Press.
Jay can be reached through his web site.
Story © 2005 Joseph E. Lake, Jr. Woodcut by Albrecht Dürer, circa 1498.