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 Kawasaki."

Jojo, the Pale Clown of Death, tapped his temple.  "Wear a helmet this time.  I'm not Silly Puttying you back together again."

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 heads."

Iggy raised his hand, palm out.  "Whose heads?  How will that help?"

"Does it matter?  Busting them makes me feel better."

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 right direction."

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 mansion.

"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 splinters.

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 screamed again.

"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 here?"

"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 earth."

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 need you."

The angel spread its wings with a snap, then flew out the smashed double doorway, skimming the frame with its wingtips.

"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 missing.

*           *            *

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 on it.

"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 Bubbles' elbow.

"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 loud hailer.

"Millard," said Iggy.  "What are you doing?"

"Oh, it's you," echoed from the loud hailer.

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 interested."

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 Commissioner's face.

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 right now."

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 channels."

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 coroner's."

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 ain't Emmaus."

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 Barnum Tech."

"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 local corruption?"

*           *            *

Bubbles giggled around a mouthful of indifferently cooked capybara.  "How do you keep a dead mime from smelling?"

The other three clowns exchanged pained looks.

"Cut off his fucking nose, eh?"  The Red Clown roared with laughter, spewing shredded meat across the scarred metal table.

Jojo wiped down the area around his plate.  "A more pertinent question is perhaps, 'How do we know when a mime is really dead?'"

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.  "Allow me."

*           *            *

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 this!"

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 mime?"

"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 snowing him."

"Control's not going to like this," said Malachi.  "Not if there really is a loose Indulgence out there.  So where's Emmaus now?"

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 standing down."

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 now, Lord."

"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.