Today’s prompt was:
Inspector Karl Evanson pulled up outside the large three-ring circus tent and got out of his car. The place was deserted this early in the morning and had an empty, almost forlorn look to it. There were a few birds flying around investigating debris on the ground but no one was visibly out and about.
Karl shrugged as he walked up to the tent entrance. Circus people probably liked to sleep in just like everyone else. And given that the circus is open until late, probably more than most. He stopped just inside the big entrance, allowing his eyes to adjust to the dimmer light inside the tent. Here at least was a little bit of activity. Some of the animal trainers had their charges out and were working with them.
The circus master spotted him as he looked around and hurried over. “Inspector, I’m Mark Gimmel. Thank you for coming so quickly.” Mark was an elderly gentleman, probably in his late fifties or early sixties, Karl thought. Despite his age he looked to be in excellent shape and capable of performing many of the acts circuses were famous for.
“What seems to be the issue, Mr. Gimmel?” Karl asked. “You sounded quite upset on the phone.”
“Well,” Mr. Gimmel replied, “it seems that, Barbra Dalton, one of our star performers, has disappeared.”
“Disappeared? When was she last seen?”
“Last night at her performance. She returned to her trailer and then she just vanished.”
“Okay,” Kark said. “I assume someone tried to talk to her at some point and she wasn’t there. There are any number of possible explanations. What makes you think there is something more involved than that she just stepped out for a bit and will be back? And what exactly is her role here?”
“Barb is our magician,” Mr. Gimmel said in response to the last question. “As for why I think it’s something more, it would be easier if I just showed you.”
As Mr. Gimmel passed him and led the way back out of the tent, Karl rolled his eyes. Why did every incident related to circuses always seem to involve the magician. It’s like no one else in the entire company ever had issues. And invariably the owners claimed a supernatural event that always turned out to be something completely mundane.
As Karl followed Mr. Gimmel across the compound, he began to see more people stirring. They were also staring. At him. “How many others know about this?” he asked as they walked.
“Only a few people so far, why?”
“Your crew is wondering what a stranger is doing walking across the compound with the boss this early in the morning,” Karl commented as they stopped in front of an RV and Mr. Gimmel pulled out his keys.
“Well, I’m sure they’ll find out quick enough,” Mr. Gimmel said. “We’re a small, close group and Barb’s disappearance won’t stay quiet for long.” He found the key was looking for and started to unlock the door.
“Shouldn’t we knock first?” Karl asked. “Just in case she has mysteriously reappeared.”
“Not very likely,” Mr. Gimmel replied. But he knocked anyway. After a few moments of no response, he opened the door, stood aside, and gestured for Karl to enter.
Karl climbed up the steps into the RV. “Hello,” he called out looking around. The room was fairly clean and organized with everything seemingly in its place. Although it appeared that Barbara Dalton had a thing for lizards as there were hundreds of figurines, stuffed animals, posters, and other knick-knacks all shaped as or decorated with the reptiles. The loft area above the driver’s seat was sealed off with a fine wire mesh and had been turned into a terrarium. Looking closely, Karl noticed a large iguana staring back at him.
“I’m guessing she uses reptiles in her act,” Karl commented to Mr. Gimmel who was still standing outside the trailer watching him.
“Yes she does,” he replied.
Karl continued to scan the interior of the RV. The sleeping area in the back was closed, so he couldn’t see in there without going back and opening the door. The kitchenette looked as if it had been used to cook something but not cleaned up. The table had a plate with a half-eaten meal on it as if the person had stopped mid-meal to do something else. There was no sign of struggle anywhere in the RV. And with all the decorations, any amount of struggle would have made a mess.
Then he saw what had probably freaked Mr. Gimmel out. Crumpled on the seat and floor at the table were clothes: slippers, sweat pants, and a T-shirt, that look like they once contained a person who had just disappeared and the clothes had collapsed down once the body vanished. It was actually quite eerie. Karl started to walk over toward the table to get a closer look when the hackles on the back of his neck started to rise. Just then he heard Mr. Gimmel let out a squawk of fright, the iguana hissed in anger, the light in the room dimmed, and he heard a woman’s voice let out a wail of terror.