Charley de milo, p.6
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       Charley de Milo, p.6

           Daniel F. Galouye
 
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had this sideshow,and there was a man there without any legs. Did all kinds of tricks--gotalong real good. But I can't help thinking now: he wouldn't have to getalong that way any more. Because this doctor would fix him up."

  "I guess so," Charley said wearily.

  "Sure," Roquefort said. "It's a great thing, what he's doing. All thesefreak shows ... you understand, it's just a name for them--"

  "I understand," Charley said. "Don't worry about it." He shifted hisfeet nervously. Shoes always felt a little uncomfortable, evenlightweight sandals; he felt trapped in them. Now, if he had arms andhands ...

  He choked the thought off before it got any further.

  "All these shows," Roquefort said, "why, there isn't any need for themany more. I mean the people without legs, or arms, anyhow. See? Becausethis doctor--"

  "I see," Charley said.

  "Why, anybody works in a show like that, I mean without arms orlegs--why, he's just crazy, that's all. When he can get help, I mean."

  "Sure," Charley said uneasily. "Sure, he's just crazy."

  Roquefort chomped on his cigar and looked solemn and well-informed.Charley shivered slightly, and wondered why.

  "Just crazy." Was that what they thought, he wondered. Was that whatthey were thinking when they looked up at him?

  He shivered again and slipped his shoes off quietly. Immediately, hefelt a little better.

  But not very much.

  * * * * *

  New York was a madhouse worse than any carnival Charley had ever seen.He made his way, harness and suitcase on his back, through the stationcrowds and out into the taxi ramp. A line of the new cabs stood there,and Charley managed to grab one inches ahead of a woman with a small,crying child in tow. He gestured to the driver with his head, and thedoor slid open. He stepped inside, released the catch that let hissuitcase thump to the floor, and sat down with a sigh.

  "Tough, hey?" the cabbie said. His glowing nameplate read _David PetersWells_. He turned around, showing a face that had little in common withthe official license photo, under his name. He was swarthy and short,with large yellowing teeth and tiny eyes. "Where to, Mac?" he said.

  Charley licked his lips. "I really don't know," he said.

  The cabbie blinked. "What?"

  "I'm going to need some help," Charley said. "I want to find a Dr.Schinsake, but I don't know where he is. If you can drive me to adrugstore, where we can look him up in a phone book--"

  "Dr. Schinsake?" the driver said. "That's the guy who grows things? Imean, arms and legs? Like that?"

  "That's right," Charley said.

  "O.K., buddy," the driver said. "Just hang on." The cab started with acough and a roar, and shot out of the terminal like a bazooka shell.Over the noise of travel, the cabbie said: "Going to get yourself fixedup? No offense, Mac."

  "No offense," Charley said. "I'm just going to talk to him."

  "Oh," the cabbie said. "Sure." There was silence for a second. Then thecabbie turned around. The machine shot ahead, down a wide avenue filledwith cars. Charley took a deep breath and forgot to let it go. "Youknow," the cabbie said, "I seen something funny the other day."

  "Really?" Charley said, through clenched teeth.

  The cabbie turned back casually, flicked the wheel to avoid an oncomingtruck, and continued: "Funny, yeah. Went to the Flea Museum ... youknow, the sideshow here, on Forty-second?"

  "I know it," Charley said. He'd been offered winter work in the placeseveral times, though he'd never accepted. Everyone in carny life knewof the place.

  "And, anyhow, I went down the other day, and there was this guy ... hewas like you, Mac, I mean no arms. You don't mind me talking about it?"

  Apparently everybody thought he was sensitive on the subject, Charleyreflected tiredly. "I don't mind," he said.

  "Sure," the cabbie said. A red light showed ahead and the cab screechedto a halt. "Anyhow, there he was, like a freak, you know? Hell, Mac, Iwas mad. I mean mad. The guy wants me to pay money to see him; he don'twant to go get cured. He's like lazy, Mac. Lazy. Wants to sit around andlet me pay money I work hard for, like some kind of a stuffed exhibit hethinks he is." The light changed; the cab shuddered and moved on. "Andthis doctor right here in the same city. Now, what do you think ofthat?"

  Charley shrugged. "I wouldn't know," he said cautiously. He took out acigarette with his left foot, lit it with his right, and slid both feetback into his shoes. "Nearly there?" he asked.

  "No offense, Mac," the cabbie said, sounding obscurely troubled. "We'rethere in a minute." He turned and stared narrowly at Charley. The cabshot blindly on. "Say, listen. That with the cigarette. You belong tosome kind of sideshow? I mean, no offense--"

  "No offense," Charley said. "That's right. I'm with a carnival."

  "We'll, you're doing the right thing," the cabbie said, turning back tothe road again. Amazingly, there was no obstruction before them. "Imean, a guy has to be honest. With this doctor around, you can't be ano-arms guy any more; it's not fair. Right?"

  Charley licked his lips. The cab stopped.

  "Here we are," the driver announced.

  Charley indicated his grouch-bag, still heavy with dollar bills, hanginground his neck. With scrupulous care, the driver extracted one bill."Keep the change," Charley said. "And thanks for the conversation."

  He stepped out, hooking the suitcase to his harness as he did so. Andthere, in front of him, was a small white-faced stone building. The cabroared away behind him, and Charley started across the sidewalk.

  Now, in New York, he had found out what he was going to ask ProfessorLightning. And it was the one thing he hadn't thought possible.

  * * * * *

  One flight of stairs led straight up from the doorway, and Charley tookit slowly. At the top was a great wooden door with a brass platescrewed to it, and on the brass plate a single name was incised: _Dr.E. C. Schinsake_. There was nothing else. Charley slipped the shoe offhis right foot, and rang the bell.

  A voice inside said: "Who's there? Who is it, please?"

  "It's me, professor," Charley called. He slipped the sandal back on."Charley de Milo. I came to see you."

  "Charley--" There was a second of silence. "Charley de Milo?" ProfessorLightning's grating voice said. "From the show?" Footsteps came across aroom, and the door swung open. Professor Lightning stood inside, just astall and white-haired as ever, and Charley blinked, looking at him, andpast him at the room.

  People didn't live in rooms like that, he thought. They were only forthe movies, or maybe for millionaires, but not for people, real peoplethat Charley himself knew to talk to.

  The furniture--a couch, a few chairs and tables, a phonograph--wasglitteringly new and expensive-looking. The walls were freshly paintedin soft, bright colors, and pictures hung on them, strange-lookingpictures Charley couldn't make sense out of. But they looked right,somehow, in that room.

  On the floor there was a rug deeper and softer-looking than any Charleyhad ever seen. And, away to the right, two floor-length windowssparkled, hung with great drapes and shining in the daylight. There wereflowers growing outside the sills, just visible above the window frames.Charley gulped and took a breath.

  "Come in," Professor Lightning said. "Come in." In the midst of the riotof wealth, the professor didn't seem to have changed at all. He wasstill wearing the same ratty robe he'd worn in the carnival, his hairwas still as uncombed. It was only on second glance that Charley saw thelook in his eyes. Professor Lightning was Dr. Schinsake now; the eyessaid that, and were proud of it. And the world agreed with Dr.Schinsake.

  Charley came into the bright room and stood quietly until Dr. Schinsakeasked him to sit down.

  "Well, now, my boy," he said. "You haven't given me a word since yourang the bell, and I would like to know why you're here. Frankly, you'relucky to catch me in; but we were up late last night, working in thelabs. I'm afraid I overslept a little." His eyes shone with the mentionof his laboratories. It was a far cry
from the back of the science tent,Charley supposed.

  But he'd come for a definite purpose. He licked his lips, waited asecond, and said: "Professor, it's about my arms. What you said youcould do."

  "Your arms?" The old man frowned. "Now? You've come to me ... Charley,my boy, tell me why. Tell me why you have changed your mind now."

  Charley nodded. "I ... I didn't start out here to
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