Circus

Circus by Alistair MacLean Read Free Book Online

Book: Circus by Alistair MacLean Read Free Book Online
Authors: Alistair MacLean
enough for all the circus members to have sought their night accommodation aboard the train. Fawcett left the car and hurried into the animal quarters, where Wrinfield had his shabby little portable office. The lighting here was fairly good. Signs of human life there were none, which Fawcett, on first reaction, found rather surprising, for Wrinfield had a four-footed fortune in there: the second and almost immediate reaction was that it wasn’t surprising at all for nobody in his right mind was going to make off with an Indian elephant or Nubian lion. Not only were they difficult animals to control, but disposal might havepresented a problem. Most of the animals were lying down, asleep, but the elephants, asleep or not and chained by one foreleg, were upright and constantly swaying from side to side and in one large cage twelve Bengal tigers were prowling restlessly around, snarling occasionally for no apparent reason.
    Fawcett made for Wrinfield’s office then halted in puzzlement when he saw no light coming from its solitary window. He advanced and tested the door. It wasn’t locked. He opened it and peered inside and then all the world went black for him.

CHAPTER THREE
    Wrinfield hardly slept that night, which, considering the recent events and the worries they had brought in their wake, was hardly a matter for surprise. He finally rose about five o’clock, showered, shaved and dressed, left his luxurious quarters aboard the train and headed for the animal quarters, an instinctive practice of his whenever he was deeply troubled, for Wrinfield was in love with his circus and felt more at home there than anywhere in the world: the degree of rapport that existed between him and his animals certainly exceeded that which had existed between him and the reluctant economics students whom – as he now regarded it – he had wasted the best years of his life teaching. Besides, he could always pass the time with Johnny the night watchman who, despite the vast gulf in status that lay between them, was an old crony and confidant of his. Not that Wrinfield had any intention of confiding in anyone that night.
    But Johnny wasn’t there and Johnny wasn’t the man ever to fall asleep on the job, undemanding though it was – his job was to report to the trainer concerned or the veterinary surgeon any animal that might appear off-colour. No more than slightly puzzled at first, then with increasing anxiety, Wrinfield carried out a systematic search and finally located him in a dark corner. Johnny, elderly, wizened and crippled – he’d taken one fall too many from the low wire – was securely bound and gagged but otherwise alive, apparently unharmed and furiously angry. Wrinfield loosened the gag, undid the bonds and helped the old man to his shaking legs. A lifetime in the circus had left Johnny with an extraordinary command of the unprintable and he didn’t miss out a single epithet as he freely unburdened his feelings to Wrinfield.
    Wrinfield said: ‘Who did this to you?’
    â€˜I don’t know, boss. Mystery to me. I didn’t see anything. Didn’t hear nothing.’ Tenderly, Johnny rubbed the back of his neck. ‘Sandbagged, it feels like.’
    Wrinfield examined the back of his scrawny neck. It was badly bruised and discoloured but the skin unbroken. Wrinfield put an arm round the frail shoulders. ‘Sandbagged you were. Come on. A seat in the office. I’ve got a little something there that’ll set you up. Then we get the police.’
    They were halfway towards the office when Johnny’s shoulders stiffened under the supporting arm and he said in an oddly harsh and strainedvoice: ‘I reckon we’ve got something a bit more important than a sandbagging to report to the cops, boss.’
    Wrinfield looked at him questioningly, then followed the direction of his staring eyes. In the cage of the Bengal tigers lay the savagely mauled remains of

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