The last of the torches and lanterns were extinguished on the circus grounds of Cirque de l'Enfer. The performances were over and the performers were returning to their wagons and trailers for the night. There was still one lamp burning. That was the lamp in the trailer of the circus owner Laurent Descoteaux.
Laurent flipped through the night's receipts once more hoping that he had added the take wrong. The show would never make it if they kept bringing in so little money. The west was supposed to show promise. He thought he could revive his ailing circus by hitting all the mining camps and new settlements that were cropping up in the west as people started traveling the Oregon Trail. He thought for sure there would be good business along the Pony Express route. So far his notion was a complete bust. He had bet his livelihood that it would be different out here. Cirque de l'Enfer needed a new start. The cities in the east were crowded. He had worked so hard putting together the most interesting sideshow the country had ever seen. His bearded lady was real…unlike the ones at his competitor's show. Who was he kidding? Nobody wanted to see his circus and freak show. The people out here were more concerned with survival than recreation. Maybe in a few years it would be different.
Laurent stood and walked over to the cabinet and pulled out a bottle of whiskey. He was trying to cut down, but it had been a losing battle. He was losing hope. He had been since the accident. He closed his eyes trying to forget, but it kept playing out in his mind. He heard the rope snap and the screams of the crowd as she fell, his precious Juliette. He quickly downed the amber liquid and willed the burn to erase his memories. It was almost a reflex now to refill the glass after it was emptied, but after four repetitions he stopped. Juliette wouldn't approve. He could see the look on her face and he knew he should stop before he passed the point of behaving himself. His clothing was disheveled and had a slight foul odor to it. He needed to change his clothes. He hadn't in days. Juliette would be very cross with him if she could see him now. It was probably for the best that she could not.
Laurent had created this circus for Juliette. She was an aerial artist that moved with such grace and beauty you'd think she could fly. The ropes and swathes of silk that she danced acrossed, twirled about, and tumbled through seemed to do her bidding. She gently floated above the people in the big tent as she performed her aerial ballet. She was trying a new trick that night. A tight rope was suspended over twenty feet from the ground and she walked it without a net. Laurent was nervous about the trick, but she assured him that she would be fine. She was wrong.
She was his good luck charm. Now that she was gone -so was his luck. He didn't have a headliner for the big tent anymore and most of the money came from the side shows. The biggest haul was from the ladies who danced the cooch. Juliette never would have approved of that kind of show, but he was desperate for money and that type of show sold tickets, lots of tickets. He needed to keep the show alive because a piece of her would be alive too. Then they could be together -always and forever.
Laurent went over to the map tacked to the wall of his office. He let his finger trace the line to the next town in line. Rock Creek is what it said next to the dot. He hoped his luck would change there. He always hoped that with each new town they hit. Gilles was there now and he would convince the town to let them come. Gilles was really good at that.
Laurent took the bottle out again and removed the cork. He didn't bother with the glass this time and just drank straight from the bottle. He dropped the bottle as his finished the contents. The sound of breaking glass was the last thing he heard as his vision went fuzzy. Then all he could see was her in his dreams. Just like every night. He could hear her calling and could never reach her, but he always tried. He would always try to save her, but he never could. He had failed her in so many ways.
Teaspoon sighed and pulled on his suspenders as the daylight hit his face. He had sat in that town council meeting for what seemed like days, but had only been a couple of hours in reality. The council was debating whether or not to let a circus set up just outside of town. A representative of the circus had come ahead of the convoy of wagons and trailers to negotiate a deal with the town. The man, Gilles Lemay, seemed awfully shifty to Teaspoon, but the promise of fifteen percent of the gate proceeds was too much for the greedier among the council to overlook and he was outvoted. Teaspoon had been around the block more than once in his life and this circus had all the classic signs of being trouble. If it were anything like the carnivals and circuses he'd been to in Texas, he knew he could expect crooked games and the usual human oddities. Sometimes there was an increase in crime in town as well as several patrons of the circus leaving the event having been relieved of their money by less honorable means. Normally he wouldn't be such a stick in the mud, but something about the man who came to see them today just didn't sit right with him.
Perhaps Teaspoon was just overreacting. He and the boys had just moved into town not long ago and even though they had some initial problems fitting in, it seemed like they had found their place. The boys hadn't done anything fun since they moved here. Maybe it was time they did. Buck and Noah seemed all kinds of uncomfortable in Rock Creek. They were better off in the relative seclusion of Sweetwater. Here, they were constantly confronted by prejudice and suspicion. It was a lot of stress. Lou had to hide who she was all over again. She felt safe in Sweetwater and everything about Rock Creek was so close. The new station was in town for one thing and not miles away like the old one. Kid and Lou didn't have any sort of privacy here and it looked like they would need it. Teaspoon gave a little smile. Ever since they came back from escorting Elias Mills to hang, Kid and Lou were acting different again. Jimmy seemed to feel the eyes of everyone on him all the time in Rock Creek. His reputation preceded him and there wasn't anything he could do to stop it. Ike had come to a sort of peace about being in the new town. He stayed out of people's way and they seemed to ignore him mostly. Cody seemed to be the only one who was tolerating the situation well. He thrived on the attention and reveled in the array of new beauties to flirt with. It seemed like Cody was made for large town and cities.
Teaspoon looked over at the station. It was almost noon. Most of the boys would be at the station. Perhaps he should just deputize the lot of them, like he always did. That way they couldn't get into any trouble once the circus rolled into town. He'd also have more help keeping the town under control. It would be a wise and prudent move, but his motivations weren't exactly pure. He would be depriving his boys of a good time on purpose. It seemed that with the war coming, their opportunities for fun and excitement were arriving at an end. Maybe he should trust his boys to stay out of trouble and let them be kids for another day. He thought of Emma at once, although he wasn't sure that Emma would approve of the kind of attractions this circus was likely to bring with it. He let out a laugh as he neared the bunkhouse. Maybe he would write Emma later. It had been a while since she'd heard from him and he hadn't sent word to her yet that he and the boys had moved from Sweetwater to Rock Creek.
Gilles mounted his horse and looked over the small but industrious town of Rock Creek. This town could get them back on track. It was close enough to St. Jo to be less uptight about their attractions. The circus generally did better when they stuck close to the army forts and the Pony Express route. Still, this circuit they were forging was ill advised. If his sister was still here, he had no doubt she wouldn't tolerate this madness. Of course it was because his sister was no longer here that the madness began.
Gilles kept the gait of his horse slow and controlled. He knew when he got back to the grounds, the first thing he would have to do would be to pick his brother-in-law off the floor of his trailer. The man was falling apart and he was trying desperately to keep it from the performers, venders, and crew. That's why he took over negotiations with the towns. Laurent was getting completely unpredictable and the slightest thing would set him off into a rage. It was bad for business and they had bills to pay and mouths to feed.
A few of their sideshow freaks had already left. Their troupe started out so large and flashy and now it had greatly reduced itself as the population of the towns in the west was nothing compared to places like Chicago and St. Louis. Whatever the reason for their flight, Gilles needed to find more attractions and perhaps the people of the west had some untapped potential. There was bound to be someone with some unique talent out here as well as some human oddities that were a rare sight to behold.
The circus was all Gilles knew. He grew up in a circus with his parents and his sister. He learned to manipulate objects at a very young age. He was what was called a jongleur. To the best of his knowledge, Gilles was near the top in his art. He routinely kept seven brightly painted rings in the air and for his grand finale of the trick he pulled them all down over his head and struck a pose. The crowd always went wild for him. He started juggling dangerous objects too like knifes and torches. The crowd would ooo and ahh. He couldn't let this circus die or a piece of him would die too. He didn't have many marketable skills beyond charming people into doing what he wanted and juggling. He didn't like to stay in one place for very long so life as a nomadic circus performer was perfect for him.
Gilles suspected that their sudden presence in the west had less to do with running away from the city and more about Laurent wanting to find the man who murdered his wife. Even though Laurent would swear to anyone who would listen that her fall had been an accident, Gilles knew that Laurent believed as he did. Juliette was a victim of sabotage.
A/N: I didn't plan this story it kind of is just happening. I hope you enjoy!