Chapter 6

"She's not the only pregnant woman among us," said Worley. "There's George's wife and the bearded lady."

Stone couldn't suppress a shudder.

"Anyway, I got back in the chest. After a long time, I heard Marco swear loudly so maybe he found the cut rope. Someone else came in because there was angry shouting. Then a horrible sound, then silence."

"What was the shouting about?" asked Finch.

"Stay away from my wife," Worley reenacted. He changed his voice. "She doesn't love you." Then back to his original timbre, "I'll kill you!"

"Did you recognize the killer's voice?" asked the marshal.

"No. First, I thought he left right away but I kept hearing some scratching sound," Worley answered.

"He was erasing one of the cart tracks to mislead us," explained Katie.

Worley continued. "Inside the chest was so warm and since I enjoyed some liquid courage before seeking my revenge, I fell asleep. When I woke up and looked out, it was dark. I saw that fellow sitting across the ring." He pointed to Chip. "I escaped when he wasn't watching."

"But you were seen at Luci's," Finch said.

"I bribed a whore to lie for me. I think her name was uh..Carrie? No that's not it.uh" Worley tried to remember.

"What about Sue, Marigold, Fancy, Barbie..?" Chip began. His face turned red, realizing that his vast knowledge of Luci's girls was better kept secret.

"I think her name was Charity," said Worley.

"I talked to Charity earlier," Finch confirmed.

"Then you believe my story."

"If Mrs. Griswell collaborates being in the big top with Muzzi," Stone replied.

"I'll talk to Mrs. Griswell," Katie volunteered. "A woman would open up to another woman before she'd admit infidelity to a man."

"I agree," said Stone. "I'll pick up Mr. Griswell at the same time so his presence can't intimidate her. Finch, you're sitting out of this one."

Finch, whose head was pounding, didn't argue.

When they got to the circus ground, Marshal Stone posted Chip at the back of Griswell's tent. Stone said loudly, "Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Griswell." He and Katie waited. Slowly the tent door was drawn back and Mrs. Griswell stood there alone. Not even a curious dog came out to sniff, bark or growl.

"My husband isn't home. I'm Alma Griswell. May I help you?" she said.

"I'm Marshal Jared Stone and this is Miss Katie Owen. I'd like to talk to Mr. Griswell. Where can I find him?" Stone asked politely.

"He's with the animals, down that way." She pointed to a large tent, twice the size of hers.

"Thank you, ma'am," Stone said. "Katie, why don't you keep Mrs. Griswell company until I find her husband."

"Please call me Alma. Do come in," Mrs. Griswell invited. "Would you like some coffee?"

"Yes, thank you," Katie said as she looked for a place to sit not covered in animal hair. She gave up and sat in the rocking chair. Alma served the coffee and sat down. There was an awkward silence.

Finally, Katie asked, "When is the baby due?"

"In about a month," Alma responded.

"Do you want a boy or a girl?" Katie attempted to spark a conversation.

"I want a girl. Julian wants to name the baby after him if it's a boy. However, he won't be around and I'll do what I want. I detest the name, Julian!" Alma said vehemently.

"He won't be around?" Katie was curious.

"I asked for a divorce yesterday," she said.

"I'm sorry. It's not going to be easy to raise a child on your own," Katie commented.

Alma's eyes began to tear. "I was the last to see Marco alive. I should have stayed with him in the big top last night, even though I'm legally Julian's wife. You must think I'm an evil woman," she sobbed.

"It's not my place to judge you. Is Marco the baby's father?" Katie asked gently.

"Yes. Oh, how could I have messed up my life so much by marrying Julian? Being his fifth wife, I should have known better."

Katie almost choked on her coffee. However, she had to appear sympathetic. "I'm so sorry I upset you."

"There was no love in our marriage. Sex was a chore. He only wanted to have a child. He blamed childlessness on his other wives. That's why he divorced them all."

"Was Mr. Griswell with you last night taking care of your animals?" Katie hoped she was asking at the right moment.

"For a few minutes giving instructions to Mikey. I was asleep when he came home." Then Alma's eyes grew wide. "You don't think..I mean surely not ..Julian killed Marco!"

"He's using you as his alibi," answered Katie.

"I've got his alibi right here!" Alma started throwing items out of a trunk with tornadic force. Katie dodged back and forth. She froze when Alma hauled out a sawed off shot gun.

"Settle down, Alma. Let Marshal Stone handle this." Katie attempted to say calmly.

Alma ignored her and marched out of the tent. Katie trotted beside her, her mind running wildly. "Do I grab the gun? How do I warn Stone? Can I talk her out of this? Oh, God!"

Alma, with Katie right behind her, burst into the exotic animal tent. Stone and Chip were sitting in chairs with their feet up on a table. "Where is the bastard?" Alma screamed. Startled, both men went over backwards.

Chip started fumbling with his gun. Stone grabbed his wrist. "Shooting a pregnant woman is bad press, Chipper. Besides I don't think she wants to shoot us."

Alma was shaking with rage. "Where?" she screamed again.

"He's cuddling with the very big kitty cats," Stone said. Griswell was sitting in between two tigers in an enormous cage on wheels. "He ran in there as soon as he saw us. I'm waiting for him to come out because I'm sure as hell not going in."

Griswell taunted his wife. "Go ahead and shoot. I hope you don't hit Lincoln or Jefferson."

Alma was beyond caring. Suddenly, she aimed at Griswell and pulled the trigger. Nothing. The shotgun wasn't loaded. She rushed the cage. Then she clutched her stomach in pain. Katie helped her to a chair offered by the marshal.

"What's wrong?" he asked. His earlier queasy feeling returned when he realized the situation. "Aw, no. This is not happening here."

"Find a wagon quick," Katie took charge. Chip ran out of the tent. Alma groaned loudly.

"Can't she wait for the wagon outside? I'd be glad to go out but I have to watch Griswell." Stone was clearly unnerved as he paced the tent.

"You've got to be kidding," Katie admonished.

Chip had returned leading the miniature pony with the cart. "This is all I could find," he apologized.

"No problem." Stone and Katie assisted Alma into the cart. "Run ahead and alert Doc Gates, Chipper." Alma moaned, her whole body shook with the effort. Stone turned pale, expecting the baby to pop out right then. "Go!" They took off.

The marshal breathed a sigh of relief. Griswell didn't seem concerned that his wife was in labor. The animal trainer's hand went to an inside pocket of his coat. Stone automatically reacted by simultaneously drawing his gun.

Griswell froze. "I need my medicine," he whined.

"Let's see it. Slowly," Stone warned. Griswell brought out a bottle of Gude's Pepto-Mangan. "What is that stuff?"

"It cures whatever ails you," Griswell took a huge swallow. "Croup, rabies, hemorrhoids, scurvy, chlorosis, Bright's disease, constipation and uh..when a man needs to be especially potent. Need some."

"Marshal Stone doesn't need any help in that last area. Look how well he's aged," Finch interjected walking into the tent. "Unless, of course, that concoction can improve eyesight."

"Shut up, Finch," Stone said through clenched teeth. "I told you to stay in town."

"I'm better now. First, Chip raced past me. Then Katie with the pony and cart nearly ran over me. What's going on?"

Mr. Griswell spoke drunkenly. "She's going to have Muzzi's baby. I believed the testimonials for Pepto-Mangan but it's a sham cure. I'm still shooting blanks."

"So you killed Muzzi out of jealousy?" Finch was hoping for an easy confession.

Griswell's words were a bit slurred but he managed to say, "I didn't kill him."

"I guess you'll have to shoot the tigers," Finch said.

"I thought I'd wait until the tigers got hungry and gnawed on his legs or something. He'll be screaming to come out then," Stone said instead.

"I'm serious," said Finch.

"Me, too," the marshal shot back.

They sat down, planning to be as stubborn as Griswell. "Speaking of food, didn't you bring something to eat? I haven't eaten since this morning," Stone complained.

"Sorry. I ate before I came out here," replied Finch. "I'll guard 'tiger bait' while you find some supper."

Stone's exit from the tent was delayed by a flood of little dogs. One of the larger dogs was carrying a knife in his mouth. "The murder weapon!" Finch declared. And the chase was on.

Finch tripped over a few mutts as he leapt out of his chair in pursuit. Stone hit his head as he dove under the table after the knife carrier. "Grab him," Stone yelled as he rubbed the lump on his head.

"I'm trying," Finch shouted back.

The detective thought he had the dog cornered but he only caught thin air. Stone lost his balance when the crafty animal changed direction suddenly. He fell against the cage bars. A tiger reached out, snagging Stone's shirt with his huge claws and pinned him in place. Stone cringed as he felt the beast's hot breath on his ear. He expected his shoulder to be shredded but Jefferson began licking his hair.

"He likes you," observed Griswell. He finished the bottle of elixir.

"Get him away," Stone said, "or I'll blow his ugly head off," as he pulled out his peacemaker.

"Back boy, back. Good Jeffy," the trainer cajoled.

Finch crawled on his hands and knees, cautiously toward the dog. The rascal growled; he didn't want to share his toy. Finch pounced, the dog yelped as he pried the knife from the doggy jaws.

"Got it!" he crowed. He took the knife over to the lantern. "Griswell's fingerprints, without a doubt. I recognize them from the cup I borrowed from his tent."

Stone looked perplexed. He didn't know Finch had lifted Griswell's prints for evidence. "When?" he wondered but remained silent.

"This evidence means a conviction for sure," Finch said as he waved the knife in triumph.

"Yeah, come on out Griswell. We have proof you killed Marco Muzzi." Stone played along.

Griswell stumbled from the cage. The tigers began to follow before Stone quickly kicked the door shut with his boot.

Soon both jail cells were occupied. The marshal happily ate delicious roast beef and potatoes. The signed and witnessed confession was on his desk. Finch enjoyed a cup of coffee.

Katie arrived with news. "It's a girl. Mother and child are doing fine. What in the world happened to your hair, Marshal? It's sticking straight up."

"A tiger is a man's best friend," joked Finch.

"Save the comedy routine for your circus act. I hear there are a few openings." Stone said putting on his hat to cover the unruly hair.

Katie noticed Griswell asleep in the cell. Worley was blissfully snoring. "Did Griswell confess?"

"Written statement right here on my desk," Stone said. "But I do have a question for you, Detective." He glanced at the two criminals, ensuring they remained in intoxicated slumber. "How did you ever identify Griswell's prints on the knife just by looking? It doesn't seem quite scientific."

"I didn't," answered Finch, "and I didn't have his fingerprints on a cup for reference either. Furthermore, the knife was clean from the dog's slobbering."

"You lied?" Stone said.

"Yes, but Griswell didn't know that." Finch smiled smugly.

The office door opened and the bearded lady entered. She struck a sultry pose next to Marshal Stone's desk.

"The night's still young, hon. Let's do the town," she purred.

The office emptied of people as fast as a miner could shout, "Fire in the hole!"

"I'd love to, Miss Penelope," Stone managed to say gracefully, "but I have so much paperwork to finish. I spent all day solving a murder, as you know. The paperwork piled up. Maybe another time." He tried to sound disappointed.

"The circus is leaving tomorrow," she pouted.

"Duty first," Stone championed.

The bearded lady blew him a kiss on her way out.

"Ah, paperwork," he thought, "always there when you need it."

THE END