Twilight Eyes Page 6

This prank of God spoke again, and his voice was soft and kind: “I’m sorry. Did you say something? I was wool-gathering.”

“Um . . . uh . . . I said . . . lovely morning.”

“Yes. I guess it is. You’re new, aren’t you?”

“Uh . . . I’m Carl . . . Slim.”

“Carl Slim?”

“No . . . uh . . . Slim MacKenzie,” I said, head tilted back to stare up at him.

“Joel Tuck,” he said.

I could not adjust to the rich timbre and soft tone of his voice. From the look of him, I expected a broken-glass, shattered-rock voice full of cold hostility.

He offered a hand. I shook it. It was like anybody else’s hand, though bigger.

“I own the ten-in-one,” he said.

“Ah,” I said, trying not to look at the blank orange eye but staring, anyway.

A ten-in-one was a sideshow, usually a freak show, with at least ten attractions—or freaks—under the same tent.

“Not just the owner,” Joel Tuck said. “I’m the star attraction too.”

“No doubt,” I said.

He burst out laughing, and I flushed with embarrassment, but he would not permit me to sputter through an apology. He shook his deformed head and put one massive hand on my shoulder and, grinning, assured me that no offense had been taken.

“In fact,” he said, surprisingly garrulous, “it’s refreshing to meet a carny for the first time and have him show his shock. You know, most of the marks who pay to get in the ten-in-one, they point and gasp and talk about me right in front of my face. Very few of them have the wit or grace to leave the sideshow a better person, with gratitude for their own good fortune. A bunch of crass, small-minded . . . well, you know what marks are like. But carnies . . . sometimes, in their own way, they can be just as bad.”

I nodded, as if I knew what he was talking about. I had managed to look away from his third eye, but now I couldn’t seem to take my eyes off his steam-shovel mouth. It clapped open and shut, and his knotted jaws creaked and bulged, and I thought of Disneyland. The year before my father died, he took us down to California, to Disneyland, which was new then, but even in those days they had what they called the audio-animatronic robots, with lifelike faces and movements, convincing in every detail except for their mouths, which clapped open and shut with none of the intricate and subtle movements of real mouths. Joel Tuck seemed like a macabre audio-animatronic robot that the Disneyland guys had built as a joke, intending to put a good scare into Uncle Walt.

God pity me for having been so insensitive, but I expected that grotesque man to be equally grotesque in thought and word.

Instead he said, “Carnies are all so painfully aware of their tradition of tolerance and brotherhood. Sometimes their diplomacy is irritating. But you! Ah, now, you have struck just the right note. Not morbidly curious or smugly superior or full of effusive declarations of false pity like the marks. Not unstintingly diplomatic, not given to studied indifference like most carnies. Understandably shocked, not ashamed of your instinctive reactions, a boy who knows his manners but still has a wholesome curiosity and a welcome frankness—that’s you, Slim MacKenzie, and I’m pleased to make your acquaintance.”


His generosity in analyzing my reactions and motivations made me blush even brighter, but he pretended not to notice. He said, “Well, I must be going. There’s an eleven o’clock show call, and I’ve got to get the ten-in-one ready to open. Besides, when there are marks on the midway, I don’t go outside the tent with my face uncovered. Wouldn’t be right if someone who didn’t want to see this mug got exposed to it. Besides, I don’t believe in giving the bastards a free show!”

“See you later, then,” I said, my gaze drifting back to his third eye, which blinked once, almost as if winking at me.

He took two steps, his size fourteen shoes raising small clouds of white dust from the August-parched earth. Then he turned to me again, hesitated, and at last said, “What do you want from the carnival, Slim MacKenzie?”

“What . . . you mean . . . from this carnival in particular?”

“From the life in general.”

“Well . . . a place to sleep.”

His jaws bunched and shifted. “You’ll get that.”

“Three square meals a day.”

“That too.”

“Pocket money.”

“You’ll do better than that. You’re young, bright, quick. I can see all that. You’ll do well. What else?”

“You mean . . . what else do I want?”

“Yes. What else?”

I sighed. “Anonymity.”

“Ah.” His expression might have been a conspiratorial smile or a grimace; it was not always easy to tell what that twisted face meant to convey. His mouth was open slightly, his teeth like the stained and weathered pickets of an ancient fence, as he contemplated me and what I’d said, as if he might inquire further or offer advice, but he was too good a carny to pry. He merely said “Ah” again.

“Sanctuary,” I said, almost wishing he would pry, suddenly struck by the crazy urge to take him into my confidence and tell him about the goblins, Uncle Denton. For months, since the first time I had killed a goblin, I had required unfaltering strength of purpose and character in order to survive, and in that time and through all my travels I had not encountered anyone who seemed to have been tempered by a fire as hot as that which had tempered me. Now, in Joel Tuck, I sensed that I had found a man whose suffering, anguish, and loneliness had been far greater than mine, endured far longer; he was a man who had accepted the unacceptable with uncommon strength and grace. Here was someone who might understand what it was like to live always in a nightmare, without a moment’s respite. In spite of his monstrous face, there was something fatherly about him, and I had the extraordinary urge to lean on him and let the tears flow at last, at long last, and tell him about the demonic creatures that stalked the earth unseen. But self-control was my most precious possession, and suspicion was the asset that had proven most valuable for survival, and I could not easily put aside either attitude. I merely repeated: “Sanctuary.”

“Sanctuary,” he said. “I believe you’ll find that too. I surely hope you do because . . . I think you need it, Slim MacKenzie. I think you need it desperately.”

That comment was so out of character with the rest of our brief conversation that it jolted me.

We stared at each other for a moment.

This time I looked not at the blind, orange orb in his forehead but at his other eyes. In them I thought I saw compassion.

Psychically I sensed in him a reaching-out, a warmth. However, I also perceived a secretiveness that was not apparent in his manner, a discomfiting indication that he was more than he seemed to be—that he was, in some vague way, perhaps even dangerous.

A shudder of dread passed through me, but I didn’t know if I should be afraid of him or of something that would happen to him.

The moment broke like a fragile thread—abruptly but with no great drama.

“See you around,” he said.

“Yeah,” I said, my mouth so dry and my throat so constricted that I couldn’t have said more.

He turned and walked away.

I watched him until he was out of sight—the same way that the mechanic, Red Morton, had watched me when I walked away from the Whip.

Again I thought of leaving the carnival and finding a place where the omens and portents were less disturbing. But I was down to my last few pennies, and I was tired of being on the road alone, and I needed to belong somewhere—and I was enough of a seer to know that you can’t walk away from destiny no matter how ardently you might wish to do so.

Besides, the Sombra Brothers Carnival was obviously a good and companionable place for a freak to settle down. Joel Tuck and me. Freaks.

Chapter six


The carnival headquarters was lodged in three brightly painted trailers—each white with a brilliant rainbow design sweeping across it. They were arranged in an incomplete square, the front side missing. A portable picket fence surrounded the enclosure. Mr. Timothy “Jelly” Jordan had an office in the long trailer on the left, which also housed the accountant and the woman who dispensed rolls of tickets every morning.

I waited for half an hour in the plain, linoleum-floored room where the bald accountant, Mr. Dooley, was poring through piles of papers. As he worked, he nibbled steadily from a dish of radishes and pepperoncinis and black olives, and his spicy breath permeated the room, though none of the people who came in seemed bothered by it—or even aware of it.

I half expected one of the visitors to rush in with word that a carny was missing or even that one had been found dead in the vicinity of the Dodgem Car pavilion, and then they would all look at me because I was an outsider, the newcomer, a likely suspect, and they would see guilt in my face, and . . . But no alarm was raised.

At last I was told that Mr. Jordan was ready to see me, and when I entered his office at the back of the trailer, I saw at once why he had been given his nickname. He was a good two or three inches shy of six feet, six or seven inches shorter than Joel Tuck, but he weighed about as much as Tuck, at least two hundred and seventy pounds. He had a face like a pudding, a round nose that might have been a pale plum, and a chin as shapeless as a dumpling.

When I walked through his door, a toy car was running in circles on the top of his desk. It was a little convertible with four tiny clowns sitting in it, and as it moved, the clowns took turns popping up and then sitting down again.

Winding up another toy, he said, “Look at this one. Just got it yesterday. It’s absolutely great. Absolutely.”

He put it down, and I saw that it was a metal dog with jointed legs that propelled it across the desk in a series of slow somersaults. He watched it, eyes shining with delight.

Glancing around the room, I saw toys everywhere. One wall was fitted with bookshelves that held no books, just a colorful collection of miniature windup cars, trucks, figurines, and a tiny windmill that probably boasted moving blades. In one corner two marionettes hung from a peg to prevent the control strings from tangling, and in another corner a ventriloquist’s dummy was perched attentively on a stool.

I looked back at the desk in time to see the dog complete one last, even slower somersault. Then, with the power provided by the final unwinding length of spring, it sat up on its haunches and raised its forepaws, as if begging for approval of its stunts.

Jelly Jordan looked at me, grinning broadly. “Ain’t that just absolutely the absolute?”

I liked him immediately.

“Terrific,” I said.

“So you want to join up with Sombra Brothers, do you?” he asked, leaning back in his chair as soon as I had settled in another.

“Yes, sir.”

“I don’t suppose you’re a concessionaire with your own shop, looking to pay a privilege for a spot on the midway.”

“No, sir. I’m only seventeen.”

“Oh, don’t plead youth with me! I’ve known concessionaires that young. Knew a kid who started at fifteen as a weight-guesser, had a real attractive spiel, charmed the marks and did real well, added a couple of other small games to her little empire, then managed to buy herself a duck shoot by the time she was your age, and duck shoots don’t come cheap. Thirty-five thousand bucks, in fact.”

“Well, I guess by comparison to her I’m already a loser in life.”

Jelly Jordan grinned. He had a nice grin. “Then you’ll be wanting to be an employee of the Sombra Brothers.”

“Yes, sir. Or if one of the concessionaires is looking for a helper of any kind . . .”

“I suppose you ain’t nothing but a roughie, dime-a-dozen muscle, can’t do more than put up the Dive Bomber and the Ferris wheel and load trucks and hump equipment around on your back. Is that right? Nothing more to offer than your sweat?”

I leaned forward in my chair. “I can operate any hanky-pank there ever was, any winner-every-time game. I can run a mouse-in-the-hole as slick as anyone. I can barker a little, hell, better than two-thirds of the guys I’ve heard chatting up the tip in the gillies and ragbags where I’ve worked, though I don’t claim to be as good as the born pitchmen who probably wind up in the best outfits, like yours. I’m a real good Bozo for a pitch-and-dunk because I don’t mind getting wet, and because the insults I throw at the marks aren’t nasty but funny, and they always react to funny better. I can do lots of stuff.”

“Well, well,” Jelly Jordan said, “seems like the gods are smiling on the Sombra Brothers today, damned if they ain’t, sending us such a splendid young jack-of-all-trades. Absolutely splendid. Absolute.”

“Kid me all you want, Mr. Jordan, but please find something for me. I swear I won’t disappoint you.”

He stood up and stretched, and his belly jiggled. “Well, Slim, I think I’ll tell Rya Raines about you. She’s a concessionaire. She needs someone to run the high-striker for her. Ever done that?”


“Okay. If she likes you, and if you can get along with her, you’re all set. If you can’t get along with her, come back and see me, and I’ll set you up with someone else or put you on the Sombra Brothers payroll.”

I got up, too. “This Mrs. Raines—”


“Since you brought it up . . . is she difficult to get along with or something?”

He smiled. “You’ll see. Now, as for sleeping arrangements, I figure you ain’t come rolling in here with your own trailer any more than your own concession, so you’ll want to bunk down in one of the show’s dormitory trailers. I’ll find out who needs another roommate, and you can pay the first week’s rent to Cash Dooley, the accountant you met in the other room.”

I fidgeted. “Uh, well, I left a backpack and sleeping bag out there, and I really prefer bunking down under the stars. Healthier.”

“Don’t allow that here,” he said. “If we did, we’d have a bunch of roughies sleeping on the ground, drinking out in the open, copulating with everything from women to stray cats, which would make us look like some absolute ragbag outfit, which we sure ain’t. We’re a class act all the way.”


He cocked his head and squinted at me. “Broke?”

“Well . . .”

“Can’t pay rent?”

I shrugged.

“We’ll carry you for two weeks,” he said. “After that you pay like everybody else.”

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies