I have told the tale of many families in Coldford. I’ve discussed the dark, the dangerous and the ruthless. The Stoker Circus family encompass all three of things. I’ve never known such a group of people willing to stoop to the lowest levels to keep themselves riding high. Desperate times of recession had given them stiff competition but they never ceased to amaze.
They would stop at nothing for the almighty coin. They were a big family so when it came to them against the world the world stood little chance. When it came to being pit against each other there would be a clown parade.
Underneath the cotton candy, the organ music and the balloons there was a real heart beating. If only they could stop to hear it. I’m reporter Sam Crusow and this is what happens when a Stoker is offered loadsa bunce but they are asked to split it.
“Ladies and gentlemen. Boys and girls! Step right up for an outrageous and sometimes dangerous show. I’m Adrien Stoker and welcome to Stoker circus!”
The fan fare erupted around the Big Top as the audience in Luen were drawn into the circus as it passed through town. Adrien Stoker beamed a huge smile. His excitement for his act was palpable. The audience grinned right back at him as the clowns in blue and red face paint danced whimsically around him, tying him into a strait jacket. His brother, Hanz, in red tails, joined him in centre ring, playing the role of the villain who had captured him. Hanz made a show of yelling at the clowns to restrain him tighter. They turned him to show the audience four tightly fastened restraints. They even carried Adrien across to the audience for a member to pull on the buckles and confirm it was in fact fastened tightly. A heavily made up woman tugged on them and yes they were secure.
When back in centre ring blue and red boards were pulled aside to reveal a tank of water, standing up right, not much larger than a coffin.
“The water cell has been banned in the orient. They say once you are submerged there is no escaping. Don’t be alarmed, ladies and gentlemen. I’m willing to give it a try and if I drown … that’s just show business.”
Hanz gave a show of his character being desperate to hurry it along. Adrien was lifted, and he was dropped into the water head first. Hanz secured the lid and he stepped on top of his brother’s watery coffin.
“Not so amazing now!” He cried theatrically. He accepted jeers from the audience with a wave of his arms.
A timer started. The view of Adrien in the water cell was concealed with the boards.
“The longest any one has ever held their breath was for eleven minutes. Let’s see how long the Amazing Adrien can last.”
The fan fare erupted again. The clowns made another showy dance around the ring as the sands on the timer dropped. The boards were pulled aside briefly to show Adrien still in the cell and seemingly struggling with his binds.
“Oh no!” Lady Margerite gasped, watching the show through a set of golden opera glasses.
She hoped Adrien would be okay despite what Hanz was suggesting, doing a little jig on top of Adrien’s coffin before leaping back down into the ring.
The sands in the timer continued to fall. It had now been minutes since Adrien was submerged.
Son’s, Valdrick and Irvine, watched on from the sidelines. The two boys were naturally born showman. Sometimes as the timer ran out Uncle Hanz called upon them to help keep the audience going. It meant audience appreciation. It meant becoming the face of the circus. It meant some coins being thrown their way.
“It’s my show, mucker,” Irvine had said.
He strongly believed he was the one to follow papa. Val disagreed.
“Get down with you,” Val replied with impatience. He had lifted his juggling pins and was waiting for the call.
Meanwhile, outside Hanz was saying to the audience of Adrien, “I hope he took care of his affairs …”
The timer ran out.
“This is it! This is it!” Irvine was muttering to himself.
BARAH BA BOOM!
The music cut. The lights focused centre ring. Hanz took a peek behind the boards. He started calling to the other performers. Something appeared to have gone dreadfully wrong. Lady Margerite sat forward in her chair.
“Oh no,” she gasped as she looked through the opera glasses.
The performers appeared to be in a panic. They pulled the boards back to reveal the tank was now empty. Spotlights danced around the audience and landed on the seat beside Margerite. Imagine her surprise when there stood Adrien Stoker, dripping wet, free of his binds and smiling warmly despite his struggles. He raised a glass of what was presumably water from the tank.
“To you and yours Madame,” he said.
The audience erupted in cheers as Adrien gave a bow and the spotlight followed him back down to the centre ring. Lady Margerite was thrilled.
Irvine and Val took a peek out the curtains but quickly retracted when Uncle Hanz came rushing in. He pulled off his tailed jacket and he threw it backstage.
“One of you,” he barked at the boys. “Move.”
That was when the baby started to cry. Both boys looked back.
‘Not now,’ seemed to be the collective thoughts of the brothers.
“The baby is crying,” Irvine stated.
“Yeah,” said Val. “I can hear that.”
“Move!” Hanz barked again as he headed on back out.
For Valdrick, concern over the infant won out. He had to check on his baby brother. Irvine was not so worried.
“Sucka,” he cheered as he headed out to centre ring.
The boards were pulled back again and to the audience’s amazement there was Hanz in the cell now wearing the strait jacket.
As they removed Hanz from the tank Irvine charmed the audience. Lady Margerite gushed over the boy’s charisma.
Valdrick was rocking the baby in his arms thinking of the bunce he had lost.
“Damn it, Felix,” he groaned. “You choose now to cry?”
The baby grinned a gumsy grin at his brother.
“You know you lost me an earner, right?”
“Never mind,” said Val. “When we’re older we’ll run the show together. We’ll make loadsa bunce.”
“It was a smashing show,” Lady Margarite told her driver on the way home.
Adrien Stoker was so attractive with his dark curls and expressive eyes. He was slim and tall and when she found him stood next to her she could hear the breath in his words from the struggle of his escape.
“To you and yours Madame!” He had said.
Stoker Circus, passing through Luen, had left a lasting impression.
“Ladies and gentlemen. Boys and girls! Step right up for a swinging, stinging and full in your face ringing show. I’m Irvine Stoker and these are the trapeezy easys.”
The spotlight focused on centre ring as Ethel Easy – the female half the trapeze duo climbed a rope to the high wire. She was agile so she reached the top with ease. The music offered an encouraging beat. What audience there was watched her in awe. She gripped the high wire and spun herself round once, twice and three times before holding herself up in a handstand on the wire. She reached her legs out. She let herself drop and her brother Errol had come whizzing across from the high dale of the Big Top. The audience gasped as he caught her in his arms. The two swung across to the other side of the great tent.
Ringmaster Irvine stepped off the ring to leave the Easys to do their thing.
“We got some bad news, boss.”
Irvine had scraped some powder from an old metal box he kept in his coat onto his finger nail. He sniffed and leaned his head back a little.
“What bad news?” He naturally asked.
Strongman Otto, who was delivering said news, looked concerned.
“I’m afraid Aunt Margerite passed away,” said the muscle man.
Irvine gasped. He removed his hat and bowed his head.
“It’s always the good ones,” he said solemnly. “How did she go?”
Otto shrugged his broad shoulders. “Dunno,” he said. “Age I suppose.”
Irvine gasped again. “Time,” he said. “It’s cruel Otto. It’s fucking cruel …’
“Will you be alright, boss?” Otto asked sensitively.
“I will be,” Irvine said. “I just need to collect myself. I just need to figure out who the fuck Aunt Margerite is. Which one is she?”
“Dunno,” Otto answered. “But this letter said she left you a little something.”
Irvine stood up straight. He snatched the letter from the strongman.
“There’s a will? Why didn’t you tell me that?”
“I figured you would want to grieve first.”
Irvine’s eyes were already reading the statement to see just how long a mourning period he was going to need.
They heard the audience react as the Easys swung across the tent and swapped trapezes. Ethel swung above the audience blowing a kiss to an older gentlemen there with his grandkids. Errol threw a rose to an adoring young woman who snatched it up excitedly. The two met in the middle again. Ethel leapt from her trapeze to clasp her brothers feet. As they soared across she flipped onto the dale and climbed onto the tight rope.
“Yes!” Irvine cried out as he read the handsome amount dear Aunt Margerite had bequeathed to him. “Wait a minute,” he said as he read on. “This says I’m to split this with my damn brothers. I was Aunt Margerite’s favourite. She said so all the time … I think … this has to be wrong.”
Otto looked at the paper. He read it slowly.
“Looks pretty legit.”
Irvine snatched the paper away.
“Aunt Margerite was a sweet old dear and she sought to leave this money to her adoring and affectionate nephew. I will not have her wishes besmirched by those scoundrel brothers of mine trying to take what she wanted me to have.”
“Says here you’ve to split it,” Otto reminded him, running a finger across the words that said as such. “Equal … share…” he said slowly and carefully.
Irvine held the letter to his chest. “Who’s side are you even on?” He asked.
“Yours boss,” Otto stated.
“Then don’t breathe a word of this. Does anyone else know?”
“Don’t think so,” said Otto.
“Ooooh!” The audience cheered.
The Trapeezy Easys were wowing them as Ethel danced foot to foot across the tight rope as Eroll climbed hand to hand underneath her. Ethel tucked her foot under the rope and let herself drop. She caught Errol’s feet, flipped herself onto the wire again and spread her arms for balance.
“Whatever you do do not let Val hear about this.” To the heavens he said, “don’t you worry Aunt Margerite. I won’t let your memory be robbed.”
Otto nodded solemnly.
“RIP Aunt Margerite,” he said.
“Was she the one with the mole?” Irvine asked.
Otto could only shrug.
Eroll swung on his trapeze by his feet. He had his sister’s hands and he launched her towards the dale. Ethel landed on the dale and immediately threw herself back off catching her brothers hands again.
Irvine came skipping back to centre ring as the Easys came sliding down the rope as their act came to an finish.
“Wasn’t that something?” He said as he slipped his inheritance letter inside his pocket. “We don’t give half measures here at Stoker Circus.
The Trapeezy Easys took a bow. The audience applauded. It was a meagre audience but that didn’t matter. The whole time Irvine kept thinking of Aunt Margerite. Now If only he could remember who Aunt Margerite was. More importantly, he had to stop his deplorable brother finding out about it. Split it. Equal share. Yeah right!
“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls! Step right up for a dashing, crashing, full in your face smashing show. I’m Val Stoker and welcome to Stoker Circus.”
The audience for the matinee show in the blue tent wasn’t as filled as it used to be but Val let his voice boom to the rafters as if it were a full house.
There were a few scattered guests coughing away and giving a half hearted applause.
Val’s wife Gigi had felt it too. She tried to keep up enthusiasm as best she could but they were losing them. What little there were of them. The only one who was paying the real attention they would expect of a visitor to the Stoker Circus was a small baby who’s push chair had been pressed up to the front. A smile crossed its face as Val juggled three blue pins. His act was delightful. In bygone days it would have been well received but we live in an age of computer games and technology. The old school circus had stiff competition to work with. It was sad to see such old fashioned fun drip away. What was most despairing was the fact it meant the tents were making less bunce.
“We better pull out the big guns, missus,” said Val to his wife. The tall, leggy blonde was already on it. She passed him a set of metal pins. Val flicked them and the ends sparked on fire.
“Huh?” He put to his audience. “Impressed yet?”
The little baby cried with delight as Val danced in front of him. The flaming torches spiralled in a truly exciting fashion. He spun them higher. He spun them faster. He even got a chuckle out of his audience when he made a show as though his hands were burning and he blew on his palms between the throws.
“It’s just not the same these days,” Val commented to Gigi as they stepped out of their ring.
“It’s the end of an era, sugar,” said Gigi solemnly, dusting bits of sand off of his jacket.
“We’ll get by,” Val assured enough for the both of them. “We always do.”
The Stokers were in fact a resilient bunch. They had travelled through the generations and they survived. They survived because they were willing to sink to depths that even the most hardened of people would consider questionable. They robbed houses, they picked pockets, they washed away crime scenes and the tragedy of it all was their show, the thing that was important to all of them, wouldn’t be failing if they were to put their own greed aside and focus on it. Val tried to focus on it. He had loved the tents when his father was around. It was the golden age of the circus and Adrien had made their show one people for miles around would come to see. Now they were lucky if they had half of an audience at matinees. It wasn’t that the quality had dwindled over the years, they were always inventing creative ways to entertain. It was just that they had been so preoccupied keeping themselves on top they forgot the Stokers were a huge family and if they came together they could relive those glory days.
‘Nah! It’s all about the bunce,’ Val thought to himself. ‘What good is anything if you don’t have the cash? The tents would fill again if there was money in the place.’
Val felt a another hand on his shoulder. It was a heavier hand than Gigi’s. It was the hand of Cyril, the Stoker sad clown.
“Aunt Margerite died,” he said sensitively. The painted clown face complete with tears showing just how solemn and grief stricken he was.
“No,” Val gasped. “What took her. Was it her heart?”
“I don’t know,” said Cyril. “I heard Otto telling Irvine.”
“Which one was Aunt Margerite?” Gigi sought to ask.
Cyril shrugged. “I don’t know any Margerite but she left something. Irvine didn’t want you to know.”
Val gave him an affirming pat on the shoulder.
“You’re a good cousin for letting me know,” he told him. To Gigi he said conspiratorially. “That bastard thinks he can hide my inheritance. He thinks he can go against dear Aunt Margerite’s wishes? The scoundrel. The absolute …” He stopped to ask Cyril, “was she the one with the mole?”
Cyril shrugged. “All I know is she left you some inheritance and Irvine doesn’t want to share.”
“Damn that cheating bastard of a brother of mine,” Val exclaimed. To Cyril he asked, “how much was it?”
“Don’t know,” Cyril stated. “But we’ll soon find out.”
“I hope so,” Val said. “Because I need to know just how sad I am about Aunt Margerite’s passing… Did she have all the dogs?”
“That was Angelique,” said Gigi. “And he’s still in Luen.”
When there was a scent of financial gain in the air a Stoker is like a blood hound. As sad clown Cyril informed Val of the deception another deception was taking place. Main clown Olga was sneaking into the back room of the Big Top whilst Irvine was giving his all to his meagre customers.
“You’ll have to forgive me,” he was telling them. “But I’m afraid I’m mourning the loss of a beloved aunt who was as close to me as a mother. Dear Aunt Margerite, you will be sorely missed. But ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls she would have wanted the show to go on. She would also want you to put some extra tuppence in that bucket there to go to her favourite charity. It is what she wanted and what better way to remember such a generous woman.”
The coast was clear which was just as well because Olga’s shoes squeaked, squeaked and squeaked across the boards. There it was. Sat on the desk was the letter detailing the inheritance left behind by Aunt Margerite. Olga smiled as she reached out to collect it, her face paint making that smile ever so big. But just as she collected the letter a claw like hand snatched hers. It was tattooed, bony and the sharp yellowish nails dug in. Gretel, the legless woman from their freak show, heaved herself onto the table.
“Oh shit!” Olga cried.
Gretel Stoker may have been born without legs but she could sure pull her way around a room faster than most people with both legs could run. Gretel leapt onto her and tried to snatch the letter. Olga, was a burly clown. She could throw her rounded body for an audience’s amusement so she had quite the heave on her. She grabbed Gretel by her arms and hammer threw the legless woman across the back room. Gretel bounced off the canopy and came rushing across the boards.
“Give it back!” She warned.
Olga tore out of there with Gretel hot on her heel.
“Oh shit!” Olga cried out again as Gretel lashed out and tore a hole in her clown pants with her long, pointed nails.
Olga didn’t feel good about it, at least that was what she said afterwards, but the only way she was going to get out of there with the letter was if she took Gretel out. She could give her a kick worthy of an rugby player of course but she saw the fire hose and the clown in her couldn’t resist.
She turned the hose on Gretel and sent the legless woman sailing down a small but powerful river back into the back room. She turned on her heel and she bounced out of there. Her shoes were now sounding extra squidgy.
“Val?” She cried out when she returned to the blue tent. “I’ve got the letter.”
“Well done Olga, girl,” said Val.
Olga caught her breath. She leaned over, wheezing a little.
“I had to skoosh Gretel back into her box.”
Val had already started to read the letter.
“Getting Gretel to guard are you, I’m onto you Irvine. Don’t forget I’m the older brother. I’ve been on this planet longer. You can’t outsmart a smartass. Ain’t that right, missus?”
“It is, sugar,” agreed Gigi. “People say it all the time.”
“We’re rich!” Val exclaimed as he read the letter. “Thank you, Aunt Margerite!” He kissed the letter with a firm mwah! They were celebrating. They still had to get the money though.
“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. Step right up for a slicing, dicing, full in your face enticing show. I’m Felix Stoker and welcome to Stoker Circus!”
Felix, the baby of the three brothers, didn’t mind the dwindling audiences so much. Whether it was five or five thousand watching he was thrilled to be entertaining. He didn’t want to think about the tents as a business. He believed in the magic that was bringing a smile to the masses just as his father had.
The music rumbled and the two fire breathers, Gisel and Silke, danced around the ring of the blue tent. They blew on their torches and flames around the fence lit drawing an audible gasp from the evening crowd.
Silke danced back to centre first. Her partner joined her. Gisel raised her torch. She turned the flames to her lips and she ate the fire. She turned to Silke, kissed her. They parted and it was Silke who blew out the flames like an angry dragon.
The thrills were a plenty even if the money wasn’t rolling in. Felix was a knife thrower. He threw them around Silke as she spun on a red and blue wheel. He threw them whilst blindfolded. He threw them whilst balancing on a beam and blindfolded. He always hit the target with those knives. He had so many planted up his sleeves that it just looked like there was no end to them. He would flip and spin and always the knives would stick exactly where they were meant to. Even with the fire breathers throwing flames around him his aim was as accurate as could be.
The audience applauded and he took a congenial bow. Behind the noise of the appreciation he could hear his brothers start to bicker.
“Thank you everyone for coming,” Felix was telling his audience.
“I’m going to ring your fat little neck,’ Irvine could be heard growling at Val.
“You have been a wonderful audience and I do hope you come back and join us again soon,” said Felix.
“You thieving bastard. You were going to cut me out,” was Val’s retort.
“Have a safe journey home and remember …”
“Ouch!” Irvine yelped as Val kicked his long shin.
He lurched towards Val but Val had decided to run at him with his shoulder. What resulted was a grapple that was worthy of a couple of clowns.
“Will you stop this?” Olga requested. “It looks ridiculous.”
Gretel had leapt onto Val’s back leaving Cyril no choice but to pull her off. She turned on him and then there were two ridiculous grapples going on.
They had been so busy with their petty feud it wasn’t until they both felt a knife at both of their throats they stopped. Both brothers took a step back and raised their hands.
“Someone want to tell me what is going on?” Asked Felix.
Cyril and Gretel both raised their hands too. Having no legs, Gretel just tumbled to the ground.
“We’re just upset,” said Irvine. “I don’t know how to tell you this …”
“You might want to sit down,” added Val.
“It’s going to be hard one to take mucker,” said Irvine.
“It’s really sad news,” said Val.
Felix frowned at them both.
“Aunt Margerite died,” said Irvine and Val together, both trying to be the first to break the news.
Felix sighed. Then he thought about it.
“We don’t have an Aunt Margerite,” he said.
“Turns out we do. She left us a little something as inheritance,” Val told him.
“Not much. Just a little token really,” Irvine explained further.
“We don’t even know why we’re fighting over it it is so minuscule,” Val saw fit to add.
“Feels silly now,” Irvine stated.
In that moment it there was an unspoken agreement made between the two elder brothers as the baby scrutinised them.
‘We cannot let him know he’s named on there too,’ Irvine would no doubt be the first to remind.
‘He’ll probably want to give the whole lot to some charitable cause like pox riddled cats or something,’ Val would consider.
This unspoken rule had formed and as untrustworthy as they could be they knew they both had to agree to this or they both would end up with nothing and most likely they both would end up with a sharp end of a knife making them really uncomfortable for causing upset to Felix’s act.
“She left something for you too,” Val decided to be honest. “She left you these.”
From his bag he removed a statue of two lions. He wasn’t being all that honest. The lions had been handed into his pawn shop. They didn’t look worth much and the word around the shop was they were cursed. The seller certainly seemed quite keen to get rid of them and Val’s little shop of costly curiosities seemed the perfect fit. Felix didn’t know any of this though. He took the lions and inspected them.
“She left me these?” He asked.
“She must have thought you the most special all,” said Irvine.
‘No need to ham it up. I got this. Then you and I get back to sorting our shit out,’ Val thought.
“Huh,” Felix smiled with a nod. “They are unusual aren’t they?” He said of his lions. “It was very kind of Aunt Margerite to leave these to me. I’d better take good care of them.”
“You do that,” Val urged. “In fact, you better put them somewhere safe before something happens to them.”
Or before the curse gets out.
“Will you stop fighting?” Felix asked.
Val made the decision for them. “Since it’s just pittance we’ve been given it might be better just to leave it to a charitable cause,” he said.
‘What are you doing?’ Irvine wondered. ‘It needs to be fucking believable.’
Felix was busy inspecting his lions again.
“Maybe pox riddled cats,” said Irvine.
“I don’t think Aunt Margerite would want you to be fighting. She would be really upset that the good thing she did for us, remembering us on her death bed, would cause an argument,” Felix told them sincerely.
“You are right,” Val nodded. He placed an arm around Felix’s shoulder and started to lead him away. “You know, Felix, you never cease to amaze me. Just when I think there are no good men left in this world you remind me of what a gem you are.”
“Thank you,” Felix replied.
Val stretched. “Well you have set us straight and I think it’s time to turn in.”
“Mmmhmmm,” Felix muttered as he departed, still captivated by his lions.
Made in Subala it said on the bottom. ‘I wonder when Aunt Margerite was in Subala.’
Gretel climbed up Irvine’s long legs and into his arms. He had Val looked at each other.
“So we’re agreed on an equal share?” Val put to the ringmaster.
“That sounds fair, mucker,” Irvine told the juggler.
Irvine carried Gretel away. Val led Cyril away. They both looked back over their shoulders because when you are such a devious individual you can’t help but expect everyone you meet to be just as sneaky.
The Rumilaw of City Main was where Val’s pawn shop lay. It was also home to dentists who weren’t necessarily fully licensed and to lawyers who weren’t necessarily sober all the time. However, that was where such people like the Stokers conduct their legal business.
Val and Gigi were making their way to the offices of Friggan and Moore. Moore was no longer part of that team for reasons that involved a suicide attempt with an axe but they kept the sign because Friggan and Moore sounded more of a legal powerhouse than just plain old Friggan. Stanley Friggan wouldn’t be tearing up the High Court of Coldford any time soon but for a moderate fee he could make sure Val got his inheritance.
“What are we going to do with that money?” Gigi was enjoying thinking out loud.
Maybe a trip to Luen? Maybe a nice meal at the Delphine restaurant?
Val had been thinking of the lousy matinees they had been experiencing. Fixing that would be a good place to start.
“I promised Felix when we were kids we would have the best show ever,” Val said to his wife.
“We do have that,” Gigi retorted. “We just need people to come along and see it.”
“I’ll fix that. I’d like to use some of the money to bring our show up to scratch. Make it something people around here really want to come and see.”
“That’s nice,” Gigi agreed.
“I thought so,” said Val. “Felix would like that. He’s a good kid.”
“You could give him his share,” Gigi suggested.
Val frowned. “I said he was a good kid not a fucking bank. Felix wouldn’t know what to do with that money. I’m the eldest brother so it’s best I make the decisions.”
“You are a smart man, sugar,” said Gigi.
There are wise men and there are smart ones. Often the two are not the same. Val was smart. He was very wiley but he was in competition with a creature just as smart and even more shameless.
“Irvine, you bastard!”
Just as they arrived at the office of Friggan and Moore they saw Irvine approaching too. A wise man would stop and have a civilised discussion with his brother as to the benefits all could have with such an inheritance. A smart one would dash in to be the first inside the office.
Irvine’s long legs gave him an advantage but Valdrick’s stocky frame could be carried like a leaping gazelle when there was money involved. The result was the two caught in the doorway.
“We agreed equal share,” Irvine growled.
“I was just checking on it for us,” Val assured. “What are you doing here?”
“The same. Just checking. I wanted to make sure we weren’t shaken by some huckster law man who can’t stay sober an afternoon,” said Irvine.
The finally managed to squeeze inside. Friggan came from his office to meet them.
“Come in. Come in!” He beckoned them in a drunken way that oozed relief that he had clients. “You’re brother is already here.”
Irvine and Val looked at each other. Before they could question it too much the were ushered into Friggan’s office. Seated already was Felix.
“Dear Margarite,” said Felix. “She was a splendid woman.”
“She was,” Val said solemnly but with a little hesitation.
“She was a one of a kind. You don’t meet women like that often,” said Irvine.
“I’ll get the final paperwork,” offered Friggan. As he bounced into his desk and over to his files the three Stokers had a score to settle.
“You rotten little cheat,” Val said to Felix.
“To cheat you would to take something that isn’t yours. I’m just here for what’s mine,” Felix maintained.
“You’re going to give it all away to poxy cats, aren’t you?” Irvine asked.
“Don’t you realise what we could do, how much better off we would be if we worked together?” Suggested the knife thrower.
“You’re too good a liar. I don’t like that,” said Val.
“We just need a signature and we can get the funds released,” the lawyer returned with some documents. “Friggan did good didn’t he? I mean this is a good pay out. You’re gonna want to buy a drink for your old pal Friggan.”
“You just need my signature don’t you, since I’m the eldest,” Val made a last ditch attempt.
“I’ll need all three,” said Friggan leaning over the paper and looking like he was going to hurl. He looked up and pointed at them trying to count to make sure there were actually three. Gigi’s presence confused matters momentarily.
When they finally departed with all the final details taken care of Val wrapped an arm around Felix.
“You know some days I wonder where you came from but you are definitely a Stoker.”
Felix chuckled. “I learned from the best and the worst.”
“We’re going to be alright, baby brother,” Val assured them.
“I do feel a little bad. Margarite left me the lion statue and nothing extra for you both,” Felix told them.
“Because you’ve always been special,” Irvine said, rolling his eyes.
He was still brooding about his payday being cut by two thirds.
The numbers flashed on the screen as the video played.
“You’re going to have the best day.
We’re here to take all your troubles away.
You’re going to dance and sing.
You’ll smile at everything.
Because Stoker Circus are on their way.”
The three brothers watched the old advert play out. The images burned away and were replaced by Adrien, who appeared to just be finishing adjusting his camera.
“Valdrick, Irvine, Felix, if you are seeing this then the chances are something has gone wrong for me. Don’t worry though. It was bound to happen. You can’t outrun the Devil forever. You will be grown men now but if you will still take advice from your father I want you to take a look around yourselves. Our tents and our name has stood the test of time because we are able to brace for toughest times like a slug to the gut. It’s admirable and Irvine you are better at that than anyone I’ve ever known. Just remember not everyone wants to throw a punch. I hope you know the difference. Felix, you have such a kindly nature and I am always proud of you. Sometimes even the kindest need to be armed with knives but don’t let it make you forget who you are though. Valdrick, I know you have always been nervous of the future. You were always worrying about what was to come next. Don’t let that stop you enjoying what you already have. The beauty of what is now is when it’s then it’s no longer now and what seems so important now isn’t such a big deal then.
You all have the chance to make people smile. No matter what goes on in the world what is the point of anything if you can’t make people smile? A Queen or a maid, a king or a pauper, it’s all same. They all need to smile. It’s worth taking those slugs in the gut for. I should probably tell you who Margerite was. She was a lady of the Luen Court. She was of noble birth and I captured her heart. She was your mother. That makes you royalty.”
Val and Irvine’s eyes both widened. Val’s lips pursed in an expression that suggested he had that figured all along. Irvine began flicking his collar wishing he had starched it more. Fuck it. He would have a man servant to do that if he was going to be Royalty.
“We’re the sons of a noble woman!?”
Adrien seemed to savour their expression for a bit. Then he pouted.
“Just kidding. Your mother was a trampolinist who drowned in a barrel of wine,” he told the camera. He smiled. “See? Tragic but you got to smile.”
“Grinning ear to ear,” Groaned Irvine sarcastically.
“My point is,” Adrien went on, “people like Lady Margarite need to smile and they are always appreciative of our own being able to make them. I hope you use her generosity wisely. Most importantly don’t forget to smile yourselves. There is only one rule in the Stoker tents and that is you cannot leave sad.”
There are many terrible deeds attributed to the Stoker family but I for one like to think of the true heart beneath it all. Adrien was an amazing man. Hanz was a war criminal. Felix was an honest hero always willing to help those in need. For Irvine everything had a price, even human lives. Where did that leave Valdrick? He seemed an explosive mix of all these things. His decisions would determine where the circus rolled to next and what kind of impression they would give.
With his father’s voice ringing in his ears Valdrick used some of the money bequeathed by Lady Margerite to improve his show. Not all of it, he wasn’t a complete nonce, but it did breathe life into their dying show. Time would tell just how far this would go but for now I have some hope that Stoker Circus could fulfil Adrien’s wishes and be on hand to make people smile through tough times. Then again, the Circus had rode into Coldford where clowns were right at home.
When the daughter of an enemy comes to Val Stoker looking for a loan, the circus performer thinks his luck as rolled in! He has a conscience though. Not much but it is there and there is a bigger problem brewing.
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