DISCLAIMER: Carnivale and its canon characters are the property of HBO and the show's producers; no copyright infringement is intended.
Libby Jones - that was how she stubbornly thought of herself - staggered out of Ruthie's trailer, sank down on the steps, and tried to light a cigarette. But her fingers shook so that she couldn't do it, and she finally threw it away.
After the third night in a row of helping to nurse Ben through dusk-to-dawn delirium, she was bushed.
The carnival employed a "doctor," of sorts - a shady character named Sloane, who had enough other skills that he could make himself useful when he wasn't doctoring. His license to practice medicine had actually been revoked, a decade ago; the carnies had heard conflicting explanations, some of them lurid.
Doc Sloane had sutured Ben's wounds. But after that, Ruthie had taken over.
As for Libby, she'd do anything, sacrifice anything, for Ben. Whatever might have happened to Jonesy in New Canaan, she'd never forget the miracle Ben had performed to save his life. She was devastated by seeing their savior in this kind of agony - and she refused to believe he might die.
I wish I'd been the only one carin' for him last night, so Ruthie coulda been spared that hour when he kept callin' for Sofie...
Is Jonesy lyin' wounded somewhere, too? Sufferin', maybe in as bad a state as Ben?
She knew in her heart that if he was, the only name he'd be calling out was hers.
Is anyone givin' aid an' comfort to him?
She knew she couldn't let herself drift into brooding about Jonesy. Or about the hell that was her life with the carnival, away from this trailer. Ruthie had just gotten back from a quick trip to the chow tent, and expected her to go over and take her turn. She was famished; she'd be of no use here if she didn't keep up her strength.
She struggled to her feet, and began plodding in the direction of the chow tent.
But halfway there, she stopped. It'll still be crowded at this hour.
Well, "crowded" by the standards of a carnival that had recently lost half its personnel.
She couldn't face it. Not again. The glares, the leers, the whispers.
Burley might be there, or Lila...
One person who wouldn't be there was Samson. Ruthie had mentioned seeing him finish breakfast, and head back to the Management trailer.
Libby made a decision. She hadn't wanted to trouble Samson, with all he already had to deal with...but things had gone too far.
She needed his help.
She knocked on the door of the Management trailer, then opened it and stepped inside.
Samson was sitting at his desk. When he looked up and recognized her, the blood drained out of his face. "Lib? Has somethin' happened -?"
"No, no! Ben ain't no worse - leastways, he warn't no worse five minutes ago. Sorry I scared you."
"That's all right. C'mon in an' sit down - you're always welcome." But he still looked uneasy.
She took a seat, then said, "Samson, I hate to bother you. But I got problems.
"First, I've been meanin' to ask you again - this business 'bout the name o' the carnival?"
He'd explained, two weeks ago, that they were in danger. Possibly from the law, possibly from assassins working for Justin Crowe. So until further notice, the troupe would be "Casey's Curiosities," with Stumpy posing as owner Mick Casey. The few people Crowe or Varlyn Stroud might recognize - Samson himself, Sabina and Bert, Rollo the Rubber Boy - would have to stay out of sight during performance stops. Meaning, of course, that Sabina, her husband, and Rollo wouldn't be able to perform at all. They didn't like that; but they liked the prospect of being killed even less.
"It's temporary, Lib. I told you that."
"But for how long? The way things are, Jonesy won't be able to find us!"
"Uh, sure he will. An' anyway, it may not be for much longer." His eyes were wandering all over the trailer, looking everywhere but at her.
She took a deep breath. "There's another problem. I know you've got a lot on your plate, an' you've probably been so busy you ain't heard about this.
"But...someone's been spreadin' a vicious rumor."
He said quickly, "Lila? That claim o' hers that Hawkins was dead? It's been shot down, Lib.
"An' no one ever really believed it, anyway. Not after her other malarkey, tryin' to claim Management never existed, when folks remembered someone had thrown me out o' this trailer an' got buddy-buddy with Lodz last fall."
"No," she persisted. "Not the rumor about Ben. A new one.
"Someone's got most o' the troupe believin' Jonesy hooked up with Sofie in New Canaan, an' they've run off together." Just saying the words brought tears to her eyes, and she knew her cheeks were scarlet. "As if that warn't bad enough, they're sayin' it's all my fault. That Sofie was the only girl he ever loved, an' they coulda got together right here, if I hadn't gotten him drunk so's I could coax him into marryin' me!"
She choked back a sob. "Samson, we were both drunk that night, both surprised when we woke up with weddin' rings on our fingers. But later, we both had hazy memories o' him havin' suggested it. An' he's told me he never regretted it. He loves me.
"I'm sure it's Burley started this story goin' the rounds. He made advances to both Mama an' me a while back, an' we turned him down.
"Unless maybe it was Lila? She's the champion rumormonger 'round here. But I can't think of a reason she'd want to hurt me..."
Samson said, in an off-hand way, "Burley an' Lila have been spendin' a lot o' time together recently."
"That's right! That's it! It has to be both o' them." Moving her chair so she could look him full in the face, she said, "Please help me. If you tell everyone the rumor ain't true, that'll be the end of it."
He finally met her eyes. Looked away, then looked back.
At last he said, "I'm sorry, Lib. I can't shoot this rumor down, 'cause I started it."
Libby was dumbstruck.
When she found her voice, she whispered, "Y-you actually believe Jonesy's run off with Sofie?"
"No. I didn't say I believed the rumor. I said I started it."
That was even worse.
"You deliberately started a false rumor 'bout us?" Her world was falling apart.
He sighed. "Like I said, I'm sorry. I ain't proud o' what I've done. An' I hoped I'd never have to have this talk with you, but I don't see no way 'round it.
"Here's the truth, Lib. I believe Jonesy's dead -"
"No!" She leapt to her feet. "It's way too soon to give up on him!"
"Sit down, Lib. Please."
Reluctantly, she did.
"I hope I'm wrong," he said gently. "But the odds ain't good. Crowe had a bunch o' downright thugs workin' for him. The place was an armed camp.
"By the time we pulled out o' there, I already felt in my gut that we'd never see Jonesy again. That he'd tried to rescue Sofie - out o' loyalty to one of our own, not 'cause he was in love with her! - an' they both got killed."
"I don't want to hear that."
"You don't have to believe it, Lib. But I'm tellin' you I do. That's just the way it is."
After a long silence, she said, "That don't explain your tellin' a nasty lie 'bout him."
"No. I'm gettin' to that. I don't know if you've realized this, but we're in a bad situation here. We gotta protect Hawkins."
She almost screamed, "He's the last person who'd want you to tell a lie like this 'bout Jonesy an' me!"
Samson grimaced. "Yeah, I know. Down the road, I hope he'll be mad enough to want to skin me alive. But right now, I'm in charge, 'cause I have to be.
"A bunch o' carnies have already walked out, an' I'm tryin' to make sure more o' them don't do that. Or worse."
"I don't see what that has to do with -"
"I believe Jonesy's dead, Lib, but I don't want them believin' it! Most o' the carnies don't give a damn 'bout Sofie - though I do - but they care a lot about Jonesy. They know Hawkins saved his life by performin' a miracle. But there's already been grumblin' 'bout how, after that, Hawkins put us in danger in New Canaan.
"Matter o' fact, he didn't even want us there. He'd hoped to kill Crowe while Jonesy was off lookin' for us. But there ain't no use tryin' to explain that to a troublemaker like Burley.
"When the troupe was willin' to do just about anythin' for Hawkins, they were told he'd gone into New Canaan 'cause Crowe had murdered his pa. Just that, no better explanation. They were eager to help him, 'cause they believed in him, an' most carnies ain't keen on evangelical preachers, nohow.
"When we left New Canaan, they were told there'd been a fight - all Crowe's fault, o' course! - that left Hawkins badly wounded. But Crowe was dead, an' good riddance.
"Trouble is, Hawkins is still at death's door - while Crowe popped right up again, alive an' apparently well.
"Now there's talk that Hawkins' powers may not o' come from a good source - meanin', to most folks, God - in the first place. Or if they did, his not bein' able to heal hisself may be a sign God has 'withdrawn His favor.' "
Libby had begun to see the problem. She whispered, "Oh, no."
She knew she'd have to live with the rumor.
She barely heard - nor did she need to hear - Samson's bottom line.
"If what's left o' the troupe starts blamin' Hawkins for 'gettin' Jonesy killed,' I can't predict what may happen. Worst case: they could decide to finish the job o' killin' him."