Charley de milo, p.5
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       Charley de Milo, p.5

           Daniel F. Galouye
 
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it."

  "I don't know anything about this," Ed said at once. But his face wasstill, his eyes shuttered in the darkness.

  Charley kept after him. They went behind the girlie tent, talkingsoftly. Overhead a rocket burned by, but neither man looked up.

  At last Ed sighed. "Just forget about it," he said. "Just do your job.That's all that matters. You don't want to know anything else."

  "Why don't I?" Charley said. "Sure I do. And it's no good telling me todo my job. The way things are running, Ed, I'm not going to _have_ a jobvery long."

  "There's nothing you can do about it," Ed said. "Believe me. You don'twant to know because knowing wouldn't do you any good. And you wouldn'tbelieve me if I told you."

  "Try me," Charley said. "Go ahead." He scratched at one shin with theother foot.

  "Well," Ed began, and then stopped. He shook his head. "Look, Charley,let me tell this my way. Something like this happened before. A longwhile back--before the Cold War started, let alone ended."

  "Go ahead," Charley said. A drop of sweat ran slowly down his forehead.He tried to ignore it.

  "Did I ever tell you I used to talk for a strong-man act?" Ed said. "Nota sideshow talker, nothing like that; this guy had an act of his own,full tent and flies. Gondo, his name was, and I can still see thoseflies: _Eighth Wonder of the World_ up on top, red on blue, and just_Gondo_ underneath, pure white with red outlining. Class, but flashy, ifyou see what I mean. You never saw the like, kid."

  Charley shook his head. "O.K.," he said. "But what does this have to dowith--"

  "Well," Ed cut in, "that was years ago; I was a youngster, pretty welljust setting out. And Gondo drew crowds--big crowds. Lifting a wagonloadof people on his back--that was one of his tricks. I think Sandowhimself used to do it, but he had nothing on Gondo; the guy had style.Class. And he was a draw; I was working for J. C. Hobart Shows then, andthere was nothing on the lot to top him."

  Ed paused, rubbing at his chin reflectively.

  "Then the crowds started to fall off," he said. "Just like with you,Charley. And nobody knew why. Gondo was doing the same act--no changethere. So the change had to be some place else."

  "Same with me," Charley said.

  "Sure," Ed said. "The same with you. Charley, do you follow thepapers?"

  "I guess so," Charley said. "One, anyway. My mother sends it to me fromChicago. She likes the--"

  "Sure," Ed said. "Well, did you ever hear about a Dr. Schinsake? EdmundCharles Schinsake?"

  Charley snorted in surprise. "Who do you think you are?" he said. "SantaClaus?"

  "What?"

  "Nothing," Charley said. "It's just ... well, nothing. But sure, I knowthe guy. And so do you." He explained.

  "Professor Lightning?" Ed said. "I never saw a picture. But it doesn'tmatter--except maybe it'll make the guy easier to see. Because this isit, Charley; I think you ought to go and see him."

  There was a little silence.

  "You, too?" Charley said. "You mean, so I can stop being a poor, poorcripple and stop making lots of money? Is that what you're talkingabout?"

  "Listen, Charley," Ed said. "I--"

  "Just give up," Charley cut in. "That's what you want me to do. Justgive up and go to the good old doctor and ask him to give me some arms.Is that what you wanted to tell me about this Gondo of yours? How hejust gave up and got a nice little white cottage some place and got anice little low-paying job and lived unhappily ever after, because acarny isn't a healthy, well-adjusted life? Is that it, Ed?"

  Ed Ribbed at his chin. "No, Charley," he said. "No, kid. Not at all. ButI think you ought to--"

  "Well, I won't," Charley said. "Look, Ed: I want you to get thisstraight. I don't care who's against me, or what they've got planned.I'm not going to give up. I'm going to find out what's going on, and I'mgoing to lick it. Have you got it?"

  Ed sighed. "I've got it," he said. "But, Charley: there are some thingsyou don't lick."

  "I'll find out," Charley said. "Believe me, Ed. I'll find out."

  * * * * *

  But nobody else knew a thing--or, at least, nobody was willing to talk.Ned and Ed offered any help they could give--but said nothing thathelped. Erma was puzzled, but ignorant; Senor Alcala knew nothing, andno one else was any better off, as far as Charley could discover.

  After a week, Charley decided there was only one person for him to see.Ed Baylis had recommended him, and so had the little Santa Claus.Professor Lightning didn't look like much of a lead, but there wasnothing else left. The audience was still dropping, little by little,and Charley knew perfectly well that something had to be done, and fast.

  Getting a leave of absence was even easier than he'd expected it to be;and that was just one more proof of how far his standing with the showhad dropped. People just didn't care; he wasn't a draw any more.

  And his standing with the carny was all he had left. He had caughthimself, lately, wondering if he would really be so badly off with twoarms, like everybody else. The idea frightened him, but the way it keptcoming back frightened him even more.

  Leaving the carny lot, of course, he put on his sandals; outside thecarnival, he had to wear shoes. They were laceless, of course, and madeto be kicked off easily. Charley slipped into them and thought wryly ofthe professor and his "scientific Renaissance." The shoes were a newplastic, lightweight and long-lasting, but the dyeing problem hadn'tquite been solved. Instead of a quiet, dull brown, they were a garishshade that almost approached olive drab.

  Well, he thought, nothing's perfect. He shrugged into a harness and hadhis single suitcase attached to it; the harness and case werelightweight, too, and Charley headed for the station walking easily.

  He climbed aboard the train and dropped his suitcase into the AutomaticPorter, and then went to find a seat. The only one available was next toa middle-aged man chewing a cigar in a sour silence. Charley slippedinto his seat without a word, and hoped the man would ignore him. He hada face like an overripe summer squash, and his big hands, clasped in hislap, were fat and white, covered with tiny freckles. Charley leaned backand closed his eyes.

  A minute or so passed in silence.

  Then a voice said: "Heading for New York?"

  "That's right," Charley said tiredly. He opened his eyes. Themiddle-aged man was leaning toward him, smelling of his cheap cigar.

  "Likewise," the man said. His voice was hoarse and unpleasant. "Ithought you might be."

  "That's right," Charley said. "Long trip." He hoped desperately that theman would leave him alone. He wasn't on display now; he wanted the timeto think, to try and figure out what had been happening. He had to havesome questions to ask Professor Lightning, and that meant that he had tohave some sort of plan of action.

  "Going to see that doctor," the middle-aged man said. "That right?"

  "That's right," Charley said. Apparently Professor Lightning had becomea nine-day wonder; anyone going to New York was presumed to be going tosee him.

  Then Charley corrected himself. Not anyone.

  Any cripple.

  "Get the arms fixed, right?" the middle-aged man said.

  "That's right," Charley said for the third time. Maybe the man wouldtake the hint.

  But he had no such luck. "That's a fine thing the doctor is doing," hesaid. "I mean, helping all these people. Don't have to be ... well,look, bud, don't take me personally."

  "I don't mind," Charley said. "I'm used to it."

  "Sure," the man said. "Hey, by the way. My name's Roquefort. AlRoquefort."

  "Charley de Milo," Charley said.

  "Glad to know you," the man said. "So while we're traveling companions,you might say ... might as well get to be friendly."

  "Sure," Charley said tiredly. He looked round the car. A great manypeople seemed to be heading East. There were no other seats. Charleysighed and shrugged himself deeper into the upholstery.

  "You know," Roquefort said suddenly, "I can't help thinking."

  "Oh?" Charley said, fidgeting his
feet.

  "That's right," Roquefort said. "I mean, all these people. And Dr.Schinsake. I remember once, I went to a circus, or a sideshow."

  "Carnival, probably," Charley put in, knowing exactly what was coming.

  "Something like that," Roquefort said. "Anyhow, they
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