When he’d been younger, Allen had always dreamt of the circus. Not because he wanted to run away and join, but rather because he had always wondered what it would have been like if he’d been one of the fortunate to experience first-hand the wonder and majesty of spectating. All those stories he heard in school from the other children – the wild retellings of the acrobats and beautiful horses and clumsy clowns – even with their exaggeration, to him, the circus seemed to him like a magic world of secrets and beauty.
As he watched from the window of his small apartment, however, Allen couldn’t help but feel a hollowness as the circus, contained in its faded wooden boxcars, trundled into the small town that had served as the entirety of his world for the past 32 years. Standing still, he quietly watched as his childhood dreams screeched to a gradual stop at the depot, where clouds of steam rushed onto the platform and made the station master look as if he were simply floating towards the first car of the line – the most elaborate of them all, with its cheerful golden light and beautiful, vintage build.
It was a wonder how, no matter the decades that had passed since the last he’d watched the circus pull in, things hadn’t really changed.
Drawing the limp curtains closed, he turned away and, shrugging on his black coat, left. Unconsciously he decided to keep that window covered for the next two weeks; while it was the only source of natural light into his apartment, seeing that ornately designed car opened doors he’d prefer to keep closed. He’d worked so hard to keep them that way, under lock and key; he refused to undo years’ of effort.
Besides, it was only for two weeks. With some luck, they’d be gone before he even realized it.
. . .
“Clearly none of you have read the news lately because none of you are ashamed by the lack of care for the citizens of this town! Just last night we’ve had our eighth murder! Liddell! Why the fuck is this psychopath still running around, doing whatever the fuck he wants, instead of rotting behind bars like he should be?”
“Well, sir, the thing is, all we’ve got to go on are those cards he leaves behind, and they’ve all been hand-stamped. There’s nothing to trace. But I swear I’m working on it.”
“Don’t just work on it! Solve it! Every time someone dies, their blood is on your hands! You get that, Liddell? Your hands!”
And as he sat there, Allen glanced down at his notebook. There had been little scribbled in, both from the morning’s meeting and the hunt for this murderer. Not due to a lack of trying or talent; his track record was a fairly respectable one, and he usually paid a socially acceptable amount of attention when his superior was droning on and on. But these days, for some odd reason, he’d been finding it difficult to put as much thought and effort into his job. Maybe it was because his body had become acclimated to his antidepressants.
Hmm. He’d call Doctor Brue after the meeting and make an appointment. They were supposed to meet next Wednesday as per their usual agreement, but if he was starting to react poorly to the medication… He’d understand. He always did.
“You’ve got yourself until the end of this week, or else I’ll start suspecting that the killer’s you. Got it, Liddell?”
“Yes, sir,” he replied absentmindedly. The Captain was all bark but no bite, as he had learned over the years. Certainly he would begin suspecting him, but that would only last until someone else was taking too long or did something to piss him off, like drinking the last of the coffee or “forgetting” to invite him for after-work “debriefings.” So long as he made some progress, there was no need to shake in his boots like Wyatt, the newest and youngest of them all at the innocent age of 23.
Sighing to himself, he gathered up his things and left the conference room. He could still remember when he’d been 23. The memories were foggy, but they were still there, and while they weren’t memories he particularly relished in reliving – thinking back on them always made him feel so miserable, no matter the dosage he was on – from time to time, it wasn’t so bad to remind himself that he was human too and was capable of feeling those emotions that humans were so infamous for.
Settling into his seat, Allen took a quick sip from his mug before realizing he’d taken a good mouthful of ice cold coffee. Grimacing, he nudged it towards the corner of his desk and opened the worn file of murder victims, when he noticed a shadow out of the corner of his eye. Glancing up, he found himself looking up into the wide, green eyes of Wyatt Dodgson.
“Cap said that I’m supposed to work with you.”
“Just now, during the meeting.”
He frowned but shrugged it off. To be fair, he hadn’t really been paying attention.
“Okay. Well, I was just about to head out. You ready to go?”
“Yeah, let me just grab my jacket. Where are we going?”
Following him, Allen paused as Wyatt snatched his coat from the back of his chair and rejoined him. Leaving the station together, he replied that they were going to visit Liberty Seal & Stamp Co. They were a stamp-producing company with a factory on the outskirts of their town, and after a great deal of trial-and-error, had discovered that the stamps the killer used were produced by said firm.
“So he’s pretty tricky, huh?”
Allen snorted. “Tricky is one way to describe it. Whoever the killer is, man or woman, they’ve done their homework. I can’t seem to find anything on them.”
“Maybe I can,” he said thoughtfully.
“I hope so. In any case, I could use an fresh pair of eyes. The sooner we figure this out, the better.”
As they turned down Main Street, Allen couldn’t help but glance over at the boy. He really did hope Wyatt could figure this one out. He’d been chewing on this for weeks, and spending so much time contemplating why – and because of whom – these innocent people had been meeting their untimely demise was starting to take a toll on him. No longer did he really care for the feeling of satisfaction and triumph that came at the end of a successful deduction.
All he wanted was for some peace and quiet – no matter how or by whom it was achieved.
. . .
By the time Allen returned home, late at night, he could see in the giant empty field behind the squatting rows of homes the enormous red-and-white top. The tiny flag at the tip gently waved at him, as if to tease him and entice him to come and visit.
But as tempting as it sounded, he wouldn’t. He just couldn’t. There was no way, after all these years, that it could possibly live up to his fantasies. It would just be better to stay away, both to preserve what glimmer of light there’d been in his childhood and to keep at bay any bad thoughts. Besides, he had plenty to keep him preoccupied, right? What with Brue and the killer.
Of course there was. There always was.