by Douglas McPherson
A serial killer is stalking the circus and an arsonist is on the loose. Can the four fiesty ladies of the Blue Rinse Brigade catch the killer? Find out in the final part of my three-part comedy crime caper which first appeared in My Weekly. (If you missed Parts 1 and 2, just scroll down the blog and find them below).
|Murder at the Circus as it originally appeared|
in My Weekly
"Shall we call the fire brigade?" asked one of the officers, waving aside the smoke.
"Bit late for that," said Evelyn as she set a fire extinguisher down on the grass. "But nice of you to stroll over and say hello."
"If it hadn’t been for these ladies, I’d have been burnt alive," said the girl who had been serving in the hotdog wagon.
Ted gazed at the badly blackened back of the otherwise intact wagon and said, "If the fire had reached those gas cylinders it would have wiped out half the circus."
"I think that was the intention," said Pam. She pointed her walking stick at a paraffin can casually discarded next to the remains of some hay bales that had formed the seat of the fire. "This was deliberate."
A little way off, Jane used a pair of eyebrow tweezers to pick up a matchbox. "It looks like the arsonist went this way."
"Heading for the caravans," Evelyn deduced. "I reckon whoever sawed through Tamsin’s tight-wire realised their plan had been foiled and stayed around to wreck more havoc."
"Which means they could strike again," Maude said, darkly.
"Agreed," said Evelyn. Turning to Ted, she asked, "Are there any particularly dangerous stunts in the second half of the show?"
"Well, there’s the knife-throwing, Marko catching a bullet in his teeth, Luigi juggling with chainsaws... nothing out of the ordinary."
"You’d better warn the performers to be on their guard for another attack," said Evelyn. "Maude, you’re needed as the plant for Tony’s gorilla routine, so you can keep an eye on things ringside. Pam, cover the backstage area. Jane and I will search around the lorries and caravans for clues to where our saboteur may be hiding.
"As for you two," the former Chief Inspector pointed at the constables, "Guard the main entrance to the big top - and if anything happens, try to react a bit quicker this time."
"Yes ma’am!" One of the officers saluted.
"The killer must be someone who knows their way around the circus," said Evelyn, as she and Jane perused the vehicles that encircled the big top. "Always watching and able to slip away unseen. But where can they be hiding?"
"Over here!" Jane hissed, suddenly. She pointed to a wet handprint on a caravan door and mouthed: "Paraffin!"
They checked the windows, but the blinds were down.
"Shall we call for back up?" Jane whispered.
"From Pinky and Perky back there?" Evelyn scorned. "I think we can handle this. Cover me."
Jane drew her miniature pistol and Evelyn rapped loudly on the door. "Open up! We‘ve got you surrounded!"
There was no sound from inside the caravan.
"Looks like nobody’s home," said Evelyn, "Shall we take a look inside?"
"Allow me," said Jane. Taking a hairclip from her blue rinsed ‘do, the former spy poked it into the lock and sprung the simple mechanism.
Inside, they found just the normal signs of recent habitation: the remains of a meal on the worktop, some clothes on the bed.
"Well, there’s no sign of... Eeeek!"
Having idly opened a wardrobe door, Jane jumped back as a young man fell forward and crashed full length on the floor.
"Is he...?" Jane asked shakily.
Evelyn nodded grimly and pointed to a flash of glittery nylon wound tightly around the man’s neck: "Strangled with a pair of circus tights."
"But who is he, and who’d want to kill him?"
Evelyn noticed a brightly illustrated circus poster on the wall and said, "My guess is someone wanted to steal his identity."
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The Blue Rinse Brigade
"Where’s the Masked Assassin?" Helga shouted above the music coming through the sparkly curtain.
"The Masked Assassin?" Pam asked, dubiously.
"He shoots the bullet I catch in my mouth," explained Marko the Magician, who was checking the mechanism of a powerful rifle.
"That doesn’t look like a fake gun," Pam observed.
"It’s real!" Marko said proudly. "The trick is he aims past my head, at a sandbag concealed in the wings, and I produce another bullet from under my tongue."
He grinned, and was suddenly holding a bullet between his teeth.
"He fires that rifle straight past you?" Pam marvelled. "You must trust him like a brother."
"He is my brother," said Marko.
At that moment, the rear tent flap was thrust aside by a sinister looking figure, clad in a long black trench coat and slouch hat. His ‘face’ was a featureless black satin mask.
"And about time," snapped Helga.
Ignoring the ring-mistress, the Assassin strode towards Marko and reached out with leather gloved hands to take the rifle.
"Don’t give it to him!" Evelyn shouted, as she and Jane burst into the tent.
As the Assassin spun around in surprise, Jane covered him with her pistol and Evelyn yelled, "Grab him Chewbacca!"
Still dressed in his gorilla suit, Tony wrapped his arms around the Assassin from behind.
"Get your paws off me!" came a muffled hiss from behind the mask. But although the trench-coated figure squirmed and struggled, the self-defence instructor’s grip was unbreakable.
"Now let‘s see who the circus murderer really is," said Evelyn.
Tugging off the Assassin’s hat and mask, Evelyn stepped back in surprise as she revealed the red with rage face of a woman in her 60s.
"Cora!" Ted exclaimed. "I thought you’d joined Zippos!"
"What as?" Cora snarled, "A 65-year-old trapeze artist? Not that you cared what happened to me as long as I was out of the way and you could shack up with this harlot!"
"How dare you!" exclaimed Helga.
"And how dare the lot of you steal my circus!"
"It’s my circus," Ted corrected.
"What do you know about circuses?" Cora raged. "It might have your name on it, Elvis, but it should bear the name of this country’s finest circus family, The Flying Flynns!"
"You had a generous divorce settlement," Ted mumbled.
"But where’s my brother?" Marko asked, confused.
"Gone to that great curtain call in the sky!" Cora spat unrepentantly. "Just as I’d have picked off the rest of you, one by one, if it wasn’t for these geriatric crime-busters!"
"You killed my brother?" Marko stammered. Suddenly he began stuffing bullets in his rifle. "Then I’ll kill you!"
"Stop him!" Evelyn commanded. "The law will take care of Cora."
As Helga and Tamsin tried to wrest the rifle from Marko, it went off and shot a hole in the canvas roof.
Taking advantage of the confusion, Cora stamped on Tony’s foot and elbowed herself out of his embrace.
"Sorry I can’t stick around for the rest of the show," she said, "But I promise I’ll be back!"
"You’re not going anywhere!" said Ted.
The grey-haired Teddy Boy grabbed the lapel of his ex-wife’s coat. But with an acrobat’s ease, Cora slipped out of the coat and left him holding the empty garment.
Underneath, she was wearing her old trapeze costume.
"Yes, it still fits!" Cora crowed. "And I can still do this!"
With a high kick worthy of a can-can dancer, Cora booted the pistol out of Jane’s hand. It went off with a loud bang and shot another hole through the roof.
Turning on her heel, Cora darted through the sparkly curtain towards the ring.
"After her, Galen!" said Evelyn.
In the spotlight, Luigi almost dropped the dumbbell he was holding, but the audience cheered as Cora ran across the ring chased by a gorilla.
Evelyn pulled a whistle from her bag and blew it loudly, causing the two constables to join the affray and try to block Cora‘s escape.
Around the edge of the ring were four metal pillars that held the tent up. Each was made from criss-crossed steel, like a crane.
Nimbly evading the police, Cora dashed towards one of the pillars and began climbing it, hand over hand.
Tony, in his gorilla costume, began scaling it behind her.
"He’s gaining on her!" Jane cheered.
Just out of Tony‘s reach, Cora came to a rope coiled around the pillar. The audience let out an admiring "Oooooh!" as she uncoiled the rope and swung diagonally across the ring.
There was applause as she leapt off the rope and landed with a loud clang on another pillar.
"Follow that, monkey boy!" Cora taunted.
As the rope swung back, Tony made a grab for it, missed and lost his footing. The crowd gasped as he hugged the pillar for dear life.
Cora, meanwhile continued climbing, past the spotlights into the murky heights of the roof.
"Where’s she going?" asked Jane.
Evelyn shaded her eyes against the spotlights and made out a faint ring of light around the top of the pillar where it poked through the canvas into the evening sky.
"She’s going onto the roof!" Evelyn shouted. "Everyone outside!"
Evelyn, Pam and Jane rushed towards the tent flaps as fast as their joints - collective age 236 - would carry them.
Backing against a caravan, they and the rest of the cast squinted up at the huge dome of the big top, which was silhouetted like a mountain against the sunset.
"There she is!" said Pam, as a tiny figured shinned up one of the four columns that poked through the roof of the tent, each topped with a flag.
"And there she goes!" said Evelyn, as the silhouetted figure disappeared over the central ridge.
"I’ll get her!" Helga sprinted off around the perimeter of the tent.
"I‘ll come with you!" said Tamsin.
"Me too!" said Ted.
In the meantime, a second, hairier silhouette emerged on the roof.
"It’s Tony!" Jane cheered.
On the sunny side of the big top, Cora sat on the canvas and whooshed down the steeply sloped roof as if on a toboggan.
At the bottom of the slope, she rolled athletically over the edge and dropped the final six feet, feet first into a clown car waiting below.
As Cora started the car, the noise was drowned by a protracted "Waaaaaaagh!" as a gorilla came slithering and rolling down the slope of the tent in a much less graceful manner.
Unprepared for the drop at the bottom, Tony flew straight off the edge and landed face first in a heap of straw that had recently been mucked out of the horses’ paddock.
Having no idea what was happening on the other side of the tent, Jane suddenly said, "There she is!"
As the Blue Rinse Brigade watched powerlessly, Cora came into view around the edge of the big top, driving a spluttering and bouncing clown car that sporadically let out a fire cracker bang from the exhaust pipe, accompanied by several clangs as various doors and mudguards fell off onto the grass.
Despite its condition, the car was moving remarkably quickly.
As it bumped away, heading for the edge of the green, it was followed by a straw-covered gorilla on a wobbly bicycle, which was in turn being chased by the leggy shapes of Helga and Tamsin in their circus tights.
A grey-haired aging Teddy Boy followed them, angrily shaking his fists, and two policemen brought up the rear, waving their truncheons.
"If only Mervyn was here to see this," Evelyn breathed.
"I’ve just called him," boomed Maude, who had finally emerged from the tent. "By the way, do you think she’s forgotten this?"
Maude was holding a remote control handset with a long, floppy aerial. She began thumbing the controls and the clown car abruptly veered away from the edge of the green.
For a moment, the car appeared to be on a collision course with the box office wagon, then it swerved away once more.
"Ah, I’m getting the hang of it now," said Maude.
As Cora wrestled uselessly with the steering wheel, and Tony and the other pursuers tried to keep up with the constant changes of direction, the little car settled into a wide arc that brought it trundling back the big top.
With a final shudder and bang, the brightly coloured vehicle came to an obedient halt right in front of the four ladies of the Blue Rinse Brigade.
"Nice driving," said Pam, clapping Maude on the back.
"It seems all those Sunday mornings playing with my great-granddaughter’s boats in the park finally paid off," Maude smiled.
"Give me that!" Cora made a grab for the handset, but Jane levelled her pistol and stopped the trapeze artist in her tracks with a stern, "Not this time."
"That was quite a performance," said Evelyn, "But you can save your encore for the judge."
After the formalities had been completed at the police station, Ted invited everyone back to the big top for a much needed drink.
Evelyn watched fondly as Tamsin threw her arms around Tommy the Clown, who had been released without charge.
"I tried to tell them I wasn’t doing a runner," he explained. "I was chasing a suspicious looking woman dressed as a fortune teller. But you know what the Old Bill’s like - they didn’t believe a word I said."
Mervyn blushed and cleared his throat, awkwardly. "Well you must admit, sir, it seemed an unlikely story at the time."
Ted clinked his glass with Helga and said, "I can’t believe Cora went so psycho... although she was always a bit fiery."
Helga slipped her arm around the showman’s waist and said, huskily, "I thought that’s how you like your women."
Noticing Tony glancing wistfully from Tamsin to Helga, Evelyn said, "Well, Kong, you may not have got the girl, but I’m sure that after your performance today there’s a job for you on the circus anytime you want it."
"I‘ve had enough monkey business for one lifetime..." Tony began.
But the electric blue sleeve of a Teddy Boy jacket was suddenly draped around his shoulders.
"I’ve been thinking," Ted began, "We should recreate that chase every night. The audience would love it...!"
As Ted moved away, with an arm each around Tony and Helga, making plans for the show, Mervyn sidled up to Evelyn, Jane, Pam and Maude with a sheepish expression on his face.
Evelyn gave her son-in-law a triumphant look and said, "Have you come to apologise for once again doubting our ability to assist in the fight against crime?"
"Well, the thing is," Mervyn began, "I thought Cora would turn out to be responsible for those cat burglaries the circus was accused of. But it seems I was wrong again. So I was wondering..."
Evelyn exchanged a look with her friends and said, "It sounds to me like another case for the Blue Rinse Brigade."
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