They slowly moved in under cover of the pale moon. Enough light to see what they needed to do; but not enough to attract much attention. The convoy of trucks pulled into the center of the expansive twenty acres of still untouched desert land. In one corner of the property sat construction equipment and supplies to soon build the most expensive and most glamorous towers of condos in Las Vegas, but the work had been delayed while the investors battled over profit division.
The trucks came to a stop in formation for the building of another type of attraction; the men flowed out of the cabs and started to pull out equipment and parts to build the rides on which people would find thrills and chills.
A huge tent went up at the perimeter where the rides were being set up and a gaily colored banner was strung across the front of the tent where it could be seen easily from the road. It read "Jacob S. Dark's Traveling Carnival and Wonder Shows."
Three hours later, the tent was equipped with all that was needed to amaze and amuse the crowds with the greatest sideshow of geeks and freaks found on earth.
From the edge of the lot, two young boys were watching the activities. They had told their parents that they were camping in the backyard in the pup tent they had set up. But the flyer they had found blowing in the street summoned them to the lot where a bigger tent and rides were growing before them. So when it was finally dark, they'd snuck out of the yard and walked the mile from their home to the place where they knew magic would happen. They quietly moved up to the back of the tent and listened carefully at the canvas.
Suddenly a flap in the tent opened and there stood a tall, dark man, in a black suit, the type a funeral director from the western movies would wear. Tall stovepipe hat, a pencil thin mustache and he had what the hip folks on the strip would call a soul patch beard.
The boys froze, one felt a trickle of wetness running down his leg, the other just made a small yelp. The man smiled and said loud and boisterously, "Welcome boys, don't be frightened, this is my carnival and you can come in to help set up the side shows and the games of chance. I pay well, and you get to go on the rides for free. Just step on in and I'll take care of you."
The older boy looked to the other and nodded, then they happily ran into the tent. The tall, dark man grinned, looked out to the vast area to see if anyone was watching, and then slowly closed the flap.
It was Saturday morning and I wanted to sleep in, so I had already warned my beautiful wife Penny not to disturb me under penalty of death. I, of course, couldn't sleep so I just stared at the ceiling as Willy, our tiny toy Yorkie licked my foot hanging over the edge of the bed. I usually slept in strange positions but my leg over the side of the bed was not one of them. Moreover, Willy's tongue tickling my foot wasn't on my list of favorite things.
I gave up and swung my other leg over the bed causing Willy to rush out of the room before I could trample him. I stood and stretched, went to my bathroom and started my day.
A half-hour later I came out to the kitchen, but it was empty. No Angelo, no Penny. Odd, I thought and saw the patio door was open. I went out and stopped by the ugly Greek God statue that still occupied the patio, reached down into the can at the foot of the statue and pulled a handful of feed, throwing it into the Koi pond in front of the statue. The huge goldfish devoured the pellets and I ventured on past them. I could smell food cooking and went to the backyard and found Angelo and Penny at the incinerator, which is what we called our BBQ.
"Smells great, what's cooking?" I asked.
"What are you doing up? I thought you wanted to get some sleep?" Penny asked.
"Willy kept waking me," I said with a grin.
She walked over and gave me a kiss, then said, "Sure, blame the pup. You just couldn't sleep in on such a beautiful day. Angelo decided to make breakfast burritos and he asked if he could cook on the grill for the meat, onions and peppers."
"Good morning Mr. R. I'll have these ready shortly," Angelo said as he was flipping the foods on the skillet.
"Thank you Angelo, it smells great." I turned my attention to Penny and continued, "I hope Lynn and Deacon are enjoying their honeymoon," I said, talking about our friends finally getting married a week ago, it was a good ceremony, then Penny and I sent them to Hawaii for their honeymoon. "I checked the online weather in Hawaii and they have no monsoons or volcanic activities."
"And as long as there are no murders, they should be happy," Penny offered as we sat on the picnic table watching Angelo do his magic with food.
"What are we planning on doing today?" I asked.
"I was reading in the Review-Journal that there was a carnival in town, I haven't been to one in years, shall we go there?" Penny said with a hopeful look.
I thought back to my hometown in Michigan and the carnival that would set up every year behind my parent's home. "I used to go help get the side show games set up when the carnival came to my town years ago. It was fun to be around and they would give me tickets to go on the rides free. I think it's a good idea."
"Good, because I already invited Angelo to go with us."
"Sure of yourself, eh? What if I said no?"
"I would have taken Angelo and went anyway." She stuck her tongue out and stood as Angelo said the food was ready.
We gathered our soft shells and spooned on the ingredients, rolling them to eat. "Angelo, you're Italian, where did you learn to make Mexican food?" I asked.
"When I was young, mom had a cook on the estate that was Mexican and she taught me," he said with a laugh.
"Your grandmother had a restaurant and taught you to cook, now you tell me you learned to make Mexican treats. You should open a restaurant and call it ItaliMex. It would be something different," I said.
"Angelo, how is Francis doing?" Penny asked.
"Mom still calls me every couple days. I miss her but I had to get away from the family life. Being a enforcer for the mob was not something I wanted to do all my life. I like it here and as we talked about, I may still open a restaurant."
"What about the bodyguard work you're doing for Buck?" I asked.
"I like that but I need something more creative, food has always been a passion of mine," he replied.
"Thankfully for us," Penny whispered to me.
"Yes dear, I'm very thankful you don't have to cook." She whacked my arm, I was getting used to it by now.
We finished our breakfast and went in to finish getting ready for the day. My cell phone buzzed and Penny gave me an evil eye.
"If that's a murder case, forget it," she said.
"The caller ID says it's Earl," I told Penny and answered it.
"What's up chief?" I said and put it on speakerphone.
"Just wanted to see what you guys are up to, we haven't gotten together very much since Paula and I have been out here," he said.
I looked to Penny and she said to me, "Ask them if they want to go to the carnival?"
Earl heard her and said, "Carnival? I love carnivals. Where is it?"
"Out south of the strip in the area where they are doing all the new construction. The property is still open desert land and the thing is being sponsored by some community group to give a good family spin on Vegas. Interested?" Penny said.
"Sure, shall we come meet you at your place?
I spoke, "No, go to the office, it's just up the road from where they are set up, we can meet there."
"Sounds good, how soon?"
"We're getting ready to go now, see you shortly," I said and hung up.
We gathered everything we would need to start our journey; Angelo met us in front by the van.
"Gee, Mrs. R. I haven't been to a carnival in years. Last time, we had to run out because the Feds were after my late father."
Penny was trying not to laugh, and got in the van and buckled up. We were all seated and I drove to the office on Industrial Road. It was about three miles from the desert area that would soon be a luxury complex of condos for the rich, now inhabited by the carnival.
I pulled into the parking lot of the office and saw Earl talking to a man and woman. I pulled in and parked. Earl waited until Penny, Angelo and I got up close, and then introduced the people.
"Jim, this is Mr. and Mrs. Walker, they just pulled in before you and they told me they have a problem."
The man came forward and held out his hand to shake, I took it. "Mr. Richards, we need your help. The police can't help us right now. Our boys are missing, they were supposed to be camping in our backyard, but early this morning we found they were gone. We don't know where they could have went to, but we found this in the tent." He handed me a folded yellow sheet of paper.
I opened the folded sheet and read the announcement about the carnival coming to town. I had a feeling this was going to be interesting.
I hadn't planned on opening the office, but invited everyone in. I had them all sit in the waiting area, mainly because the couches were more comfortable than the chairs in my office and because there were too many people.
I said hi to Paula, I hadn't seen her in since Lynn and Deacon's wedding and then asked everyone to sit.
"Mr. Walker, you said the police can't help?" I asked.
"They told us it was too early to have them classified as missing; they could have just wandered off. But our sons would never just wander off. We are concerned, this is not something they would do."
I thought back to all the crazy things I did without telling my parents. "I can understand your concern, do you think they might have gone off to this carnival?"
"We were hoping it was just that, but we went by the carnival and didn't see them anywhere. We showed pictures of our sons to a couple of the carnival people, but they said they hadn't seen them. We went to the police then, but where told to wait till later to see if they return."
"Maybe they will, but tell you what, we were planning on going to that carnival today, so maybe my associate and I could do some snooping and see what we can find, how's that for now?"
"We'd appreciate that, Mr. Richards, I don't have a lot of money but we could pay you for your efforts."
"No you won't, we're just happy to help. We'll go take a look and let you know what we find. If we could borrow the pictures of your sons, that may help also." He pulled out a picture of the two boys together and handed it to me. "Good this will help. Now I think you should go back home in case they come back and you aren't there."
The father looked shocked at the thought there was no one at their house. "Oh God, I didn't think of that. Thank you." He stood and took out a business card and handed it to me. "We'll wait to hear from you." They left as I looked at the card.
"He's a furniture salesman. Maybe we can get a discount on some new office furniture," I said with a laugh.
TO BE CONTINUED...