by Stan Smith
Sergeant Harold Cash sidestepped the flipping acrobats and knocked at the trailer door marked DIRECTOR. A husky voice bade him enter.
“Mr. Birdie?” Cash asked. “Clyde Birdie? You the man who runs this circus?”
“Yes. How can I help you?”
“I’m investigating the murder of Larry Conroy, your accountant. I understand you found the body.”
“Yes. The owner hired him to go over our books. I put him up in the trailer next door and gave him all our books, bills, receipts, the works.”
“He didn’t work full time for the circus, then?”
“No way. The owner felt circus people couldn’t be trusted when it came to money, so he always hired someone with no connection to our way of life.”
“How did you come to find the body?”
“Well, while he was working, Conroy would always lock himself in the trailer. Wouldn’t open the door to anyone except a person whose accounts he was going over that day. Anyhow, last night when I walked by his trailer, I noticed the door was open. I looked in and found him slumped over his work with a knife in his back.”
“I also understand he wasn’t quite dead when you found him,” Cash said.
“Yes. I saw his fingers twitching. He was mumbling something. I called for help, but he died before anyone could get here.”
“Did you manage to hear what he was saying?” Cash asked.
“Yes. I told the other police who were here. Mr. Conroy kept saying ‘Joey’ over and over. Then he died.”
“Joey? That could be the name of his killer. Do you have anyone working for you named Joey?”
“No. And I don’t think you understand, Sergeant. Joey is circus talk for a clown. All clowns are called Joey. Mr. Conroy was going over the clowns’ expenses recently.”
“Clown, huh?” Cash thought a moment. “How many clowns do you have working for you?”
“We’re a small traveling circus, Sergeant. Lots of our people do two or three jobs. We have three part-time clowns: Giggles, Happy Boy, and HeeHaw.”
Ten minutes later Cash was talking to a tall, thin man who was feeding chunks of meat to caged lions and tigers.
“Yep. When I’m not taking care of the cats, I’m Giggles,” the man said.
“You weren’t born with the name Giggles,” Cash said.
“No, but that’s what I go by around here. Now, what would you like to know?”
“How well did you know Larry Conroy, the man hired to audit the circus’ books?”
“Didn’t know him at all,” Giggles said, moving from the lions to the tigers. “The owner hired a different accountant every year. Rubes, the lot of them. Usually we got lectures on cutting back on expenses to help out. This circus is always in financial trouble. Got to compete with tv, computer games, and special effects movies.”
“Where were you at about seven o’clock last night?”
“In my trailer putting on my Giggles make-up and costume. We had a show last night, and I was on at eight, right after the high wire act.”
Cash tracked down Happy Boy inside a huge tent, leading horses around a ring.
“Conroy?” the part-time clown asked. “Yeh, I met him once. He asked me about some bills I submitted for shoeing my horses and having a vet check their legs.”
“Your horses?” Cash asked.
“Well, not mine, really, but I’ve grown so close to them I think of them as mine. This Conroy guy had obviously never been around circuses. He asked me if those things were absolutely necessary.”
“A horse’s legs are its most valuable asset, Sergeant. Especially a performing horse. If I don’t take care of them, they’ll be hurt and I’ll be out of a job.”
“Where were you at about seven last night?”
“I had just finished my act, and I was in the stalls, wiping down and combing my horses.”
“Your name wouldn’t be Joey, would it?”
“No. It’s Jake, why?”
“No reason. Could you tell me where I could find HeeHaw?”
“Probably outside tending to the elephants. He loves those big grey beasts about as much as I love my horses.”
HeeHaw was a large man who was waving a white baton in front of three elephants. With each movement the pachyderms performed a different trick, first “dancing,” then rearing on their hind legs like pet dogs.
“I never met the guy personally,” HeeHaw said in answer to Sgt. Cash’s question, “but I found a note from him on my trailer door. He wanted to see me today about some bills I submitted.”
“Was he specific about what he wanted?
“Something about the cost of feed for the elephants. He thought it was too high.”
“You’re as dumb as he was. Do you know how much an elephant eats every day? And I’ve got three of them here to take care of. And I’ll tell you something: I’m not going to starve these beautiful animals just to save a couple of bucks. They not only perform, they do a lot of heavy work around here like putting up the tent supports.”
“May I ask where you were last night at about seven?” Cash asked.
“Sure. I do my clowning bit between the horse act and the high wire act. I had just finished and was in my trailer removing my make-up to get ready for the elephant routine that came later.”
“Do you know of anyone who would want to see Larry Conroy dead?” Cash asked.
HeeHaw shrugged. “Maybe somebody who had a secret he didn’t want uncovered by an audit. Don’t ask me for names– that’s about as specific as I can get.”
Sergeant Cash headed back to his car, his head spinning from the information he had gathered.
“Got to sort all this out,” he told himself. He leaned on the hood of his car and examined his notes from that day.
“Of course,” he snapped his fingers. “I know who killed Larry Conroy. Now all I have to do is investigate him a little more thoroughly.”