This is different, she told herself that night, as she listened to Stumpy haggle, outside the tent, with the man who'd be her first john. It ain't admittin' Jonesy's dead, ain't goin' back to what I was. It's all for Ben, so's we can buy drugs - morphine, whatever - to help get him through the crisis he'll have when he learns about Crowe.

She wondered, darkly, whether Lila had a year's supply of opium in her trailer. The "Bearded Lady of Brussels" was so ornery that Ben's friends weren't willing to ask her for anything.

Rita Sue and Stumpy, however, had immediately agreed that in this emergency, their share of Rita Sue's hard-earned cash would, like Libby's, go to the "medical supplies fund." The share normally taken by Samson - income for the carnival - would be routed to the same end.

I'll work all night if there's takers, Libby resolved. An' all day too, with just enough time out for the dancin' an' strippin'! It'll only be for, maybe, a few weeks. Just till Ben's out o' the woods.

She tried to dismiss the traitorous thought Or till he's dead.

Stumpy and the john finally came to terms, and the man slunk into the tent. Where she was already posed seductively on the bed, wearing only a G-string.

She wasn't surprised to see that he was the one who'd been ogling her most intently during the striptease.

Old enough to be my grandpa. Hell, he probably is someone's grandpa. An' the creep ain't even had the decency to take off his weddin' ring.

Hers was safely stashed away. She wouldn't defile it by wearing it while she was doing this.

The creep unzipped his fly.

She gave him her prettiest smile.

And carnies began shouting, not far away. The shouts were followed by actual screams. Within moments, it sounded as if the whole troupe was in an uproar.

The john stammered, "Wh-what the hell's goin' on?"

"I dunno."

She was terrified. Was it a police raid? Or had something happened to Ben?

She couldn't make out what emotion lay behind the shouting. It was just an infernal din.

Coming closer.

Then, right outside the tent, a very familiar - and very angry - voice yelled, "Stumpy! Have you been pimpin' my wife?"

Libby let out a shriek.

Stumpy protested, "It ain't as bad as you think, Jonesy - owww!"

She knew from the assorted crashing sounds that her husband had sent her father sprawling.

Jonesy burst into the tent, took one look at Libby - and then, spun around and vented his fury on the terrified john. With no concern for the age difference, he gave the man the same treatment he'd given Stumpy. Finally, he picked him up bodily and hurled him out of the tent.

By then, a half-clad Rita Sue had rushed over from her curtained-off section, and was hanging onto Jonesy and trying to restrain him. "It really ain't what you think! Special circumstances. Tonight was the first, an' they hadn't done nothin' yet -"

"I don't care!"

He shoved Rita Sue away, and strode over to the quaking Libby.

She thought he was about to hit her.

But instead, he swept her into his arms, holding her so tight that she was afraid he'd break her bones without meaning to.

There was no mistaking his erection.

"You're hittin' the sack with me!" he commanded. "Me, an' no one else. Now!"

She'd never be sure what would have happened if she'd refused.

But refusing him was the furthest thing from her mind. She leapt up on him, wrapped her legs around him...and didn't even notice when Rita Sue went to find the red pig.

x

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x

In between bouts of frenzied lovemaking, Jonesy explained that when he'd tried to "rescue" Sofie, she'd inexplicably shot him. (Libby growled, "That bitch" - and decided that thereafter, that was the way she'd always refer to her onetime seducer.) The wound had been relatively minor. But he'd still had to seek treatment in New Canaan, and hide out there for a week.

He'd learned that Varlyn Stroud was dead - he'd evidently managed to kill him. He'd clobbered him with a log, only catching him in the shoulder; but when the thug went down he'd hit his head, hard, on a wooden porch floor. That had seemingly done him in.

Sofie appeared to be a loyal disciple of Crowe's, not under any kind of duress. And Crowe himself was "unwell," but only slightly inconvenienced.

"I thought o' stealin' a gun an' tryin' to kill him myself," Jonesy said ruefully. "But I figured that if Hawkins hadn't been able to do it, an ordinary man wouldn't stand a chance."

He'd lost track of the carnival, and guessed Samson must have changed its name. So he'd chased after other carnivals, checking out their personnel, till he found some former Carnivale rousties who'd quit recently enough that they could tell him its new name. After that, finding it had been time-consuming, but otherwise fairly easy.

He looked stricken when Libby told him about Ben's condition.

"Shit. I'd heard from them rousties that he was in bad shape when they split. But I was sure, bein' what he is, he'd be okay by now.

"I meant to see you first, quick, an' then, right away, go find him or Samson an' ask what's been goin' on. But when some o' the carnies told me what Stumpy had you doin', I just snapped. Samson tried to stop me an' talk to me, an' I damn near bowled him over."

"Uh, don't blame Daddy -"

But before she could say more, he covered her mouth with a kiss.

x

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x

Libby woke first in the morning, and did a lot of thinking while she lay snuggled against the man she loved.

When he woke, he kissed her passionately, but then said, "I gotta rush, Lib. Maybe a quick shower - then I gotta find Samson, apologize for last night, an' ask what I can do to help.

"After that, I'm gonna come back here an' give Stumpy a talkin'-to. Maybe another drubbin', if I think he needs it! There's no way I'm lettin' him use you like that!"

She sat up in bed. "Clayton. I tried to tell you this last night, but I couldn't get a word in edgeways.

"Daddy wasn't forcin' me to sell myself. No one was forcin' me. It was my idea.

"An' while last night was rightly just for us, I am gonna have johns tonight. Not in our tent, but here, in the Dreifuss family tent. I'm gonna keep it up for a while, 'cause we need the money. To help Ben."

Jonesy had turned purple. " 'Help Ben'? That's ridiculous! Help him how?"

She explained about the "medical supplies fund." About needing to have something better than aspirin and whiskey on hand, before they risked giving Ben news that might kill him. "He saved your life, Clayton! I ain't forgotten that, an' I never will."

"There's gotta be another way. I won't have no wife o' mine whorin'."

"If you want to have this wife, you'll damn well put up with it! I'm a grown woman, an' I ain't your property!"

They glared at each other for a minute.

And then Jonesy began to chuckle.

She was exasperated. "What?"

He shook his head. "Whorin' for a worthy cause. If that don't beat all!

"Woman, I love your gumption." Suddenly, he was on top of her, pinning her down - and flashing a brilliant grin. "I don't know exactly where your 'gumption' is, so I reckon I'll explore the various parts o' you till I find it!"

"You were gonna apologize to Samson -"

"Samson can wait."

x

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The End