Murder Under the Big Top
Tess Bodine, the beautiful bareback rider of Bailey’s Northland Circus, was found shot to death. Despite wanting to do some sleuthing of his own, Richard Bailey, the owner, immediately called the police. He had hoped he could keep things quiet for awhile, but that wasn’t possible. Now there was no telling how this would hurt business.
When Dirk Mallory, the trapeze artiste, came down from where he was practicing, Bailey explained to him what happened. Rodney, the clown, discovered the body outside the trailer that Dirk and Tess had shared. The trailer stood some distance from the other trailers as Tess liked privacy.
Half an hour later, Sheriff Stryker arrived with his assistant, Sergeant Kelly. Bailey led them to the victim.
“We’ll need to question everybody,” the sheriff informed the owner of the circus. “Did she have any enemies.”
“I can’t think of any. But you can ask her boyfriend, Dirk, one of our trapeze artistes,” Bailey told him.
The sheriff and Sergeant Kelly found Dirk by the large net under the big top, looking dazed and they introduced themselves.
“We have to ask you a few questions,” Sheriff Stryker said gently.
Dirk nodded glumly.
“Did Ms. Bodine have any enemies?”
“What do you think? She was beautiful and talented. She could have,” Dirk said fiercely.
The sheriff couldn’t decide if he preferred the victim’s husband in a glum or a fierce mood. “How long have you known her?” he asked.
“A year. That’s when I joined the circus,” Dirk said.
“Where were you before you joined Bailey’s?”
“At the Mason’s Three Ring Circus,” Dirk said. “You can ask about me there.”
“Thanks. You have been very helpful,” Sheriff Stryker said.
The sheriff and Sergeant Kelly walked over to the lions’ cages, where Jason, the animal trainer, was working with one of the big cats.
He saw them and came out to introduce himself still holding his whip. “Can I help you?” he said. He was a big man with an amiable smile.
“We’re investigating the death of Ms. Bodine,” Sheriff Stryker said. “Mr. Bailey said that Rodney, the clown, found her. Is that right?’
“That’s what I heard,” Jason said. “Poor Tess was shot on the head. Who could have done that?”
“That’s’ what we aim to find out,” the sheriff said. “When did you hear about it?”
“About seven in the evening. We had just finished a performance and things were winding down.” He coiled the whip he was holding.
“What did you do then?”
“I went to find Rodney and asked him what happened and he said he’d just found her. He was very upset. He and Tess were going together before Dirk joined the circus,” Jason explained. “And then Tess left Rodney for Dirk and married him.”
Sheriff Stryker made a mental note of that. “Where were Mr. Mallory and Rodney right after the performance?”
“Dirk was under the big top and I saw Rodney holding a bunch of helium balloons and talking to some children. He’s very popular with the children because of the balloons. He lets them hold them for him if he’s doing something and needs an extra pair of hands,” Jason said.
The murder weapon, a small caliber gun, was missing. The sheriff and Sergeant Kelly searched the immediate area of the trailer and inside it, and in the clump of bushes, but came up empty-handed.
Dirk seemed composed when the sheriff questioned him again. “Where were you at the time Ms. Bodine was shot?”
“I was checking some of the ropes on the swing to make sure they were secure,” Dirk said, wiping his sweaty face with a bandana. “Can’t be too careful.”
The sheriff and his assistant went in search of Rodney, the clown. They found him engrossed in fixing his costume and told him why they were there.
“What were your activities after the performance?” Stryker asked.
“I talked to a few kids, then went to my trailer to change. That’s when I saw Tess, slumped outside her trailer.”
“Now you may not like our asking you this, but we understand that Tess was your girlfriend before she married Mr. Bodine. Was there any animosity between you and Mr. Bodine?” the sheriff asked.
“No animosity. But I could have strangled him,” Rodney said with a dry laugh.
When they were done questioning Rodney, sheriff and his assistant moved away to compare notes.
“Odd that Ms. Bodine would be the victim. You’d think in a love triangle like this, one of the rivals would be the victim,” Kelly said. “And where’s the murder weapon?”
“It probably flew away,” Sheriff Stryker said, “and I’m not being snide.”
“What do you mean?”
“Rodney shot Tess and tied the gun to the bunch of helium balloons,” Stryker said. “His reasoning for killing her was that if Tess wasn’t his girlfriend anymore, she shouldn’t be anyone else’s. When he said he saw Tess slumped outside her trailer, he lied, since her trailer was a distance away from the rest and he couldn’t have seen her slumped on the ground.”
The sheriff put out an APB on a bunch of helium balloons heading downwind and a possible gun attached to it.
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Rekha Ambardar has published over one hundred short genre and mainstream stories in print and electronic magazines. She is the author of two romance novels, His Harbor Girl and Maid to Order, published by Whiskey Creek Press and Echelon Press. She is an associate professor of Marketing at a University in Upper Michigan.